(February 20, 2014) — Following the earthquake in Haiti and the invasion of Iraq, US policymakers turned to America’s traditional sources of strength to reconstruct these countries. They deployed the private sector, the military and huge amounts of money. In both cases, relying on these strengths simply hasn’t worked.
The failures of US efforts to reconstruct Iraq have been well documented, and the recent upsurge in violence speaks for itself. Despite areas of progress in Haiti since the earthquake, the US recovery effort there has in many ways been a similar fiasco.
Last month, on the fourth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake, roughly one out of every six people in Port-au-Prince still slept in a tent camp. The country remains poor; its place on the UN development index has fallen by 16 countries since the earthquake. Despite Bill Clinton’s call to “build Haiti back better,” both Haiti and Iraq show the limits of what the United States can accomplish with its customary methods.
The most overreaching application of American power in these two countries has been the unrestrained use of the US private sector. In Haiti, 48 percent of USAID funds following the earthquake went to contracts for US for-profit companies. Granted, many Haitians institutions were literally flattened by the quake, but a 2013 USAID study showed that Haitian NGOs had received less than 1 percent of aid.
As with the reconstruction in Iraq, the billions designated for recovery in Haiti haven’t been spent transparently. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee that would require a comprehensive report on spending in Haiti. Barbara Lee’s role may sound familiar: she also fought to uncover murky spending in Iraq.
The United States relied on another hallmark of its strength, the military, in Iraq. Surprisingly, it also did in Haiti. In its immediate response to the quake, the United States diverted about a third of funds meant for earthquake relief to pay for the temporary US military presence. The troops soon left Haiti, but the United States has continued to help finance U.N. peacekeeping troops in the country.
In both countries the United States also leaned on a more sinister source of strength: it has put pressure on governments that have dubious legitimacy. Since 2011 the United States has partnered with a government in Haiti that depends on US financial support and that only 16.7 percent of the population voted to elect. In Iraq, the United States literally wrote the country’s constitution following the invasion.
During the Cold War, the theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr cautioned that the United States was hubristically ignoring its fundamental limitations. He warned that America wasn’t as innocent as it wanted to believe, and that it had overstepped what it could accomplish with its power.
As humanitarian aid leaves Haiti despite continued need, it seems we’re seeing a twenty-first century iteration of Niebuhr’s fears. These reconstructions have exposed the limits of US power, and the United States has by no means been innocent saviors for these two countries.
In addition to the military occupations of Iraq and Haiti, the United States has enacted embargoes, overseen transitions of power and transformed the economies of both countries with massive amounts of humanitarian aid. US agricultural subsidies have also had huge and detrimental effects on Haiti.
A form of American exceptionalism contributes to the pattern of rushing from crisis to crisis while brandishing power. This conception of the United States includes a willfulness to ignore uncomfortable questions about how US history and policies fit into these crises. Instead, this American exceptionalism clings to a resolute belief that what this country is doing is right and a confidence in this country’s strengths.
As Niebuhr suggested, history has made it so that the United States has an obligation to help other countries. But Niebuhr, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, also called for humility. He cautioned, “We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the ‘happiness of mankind’ as its promise.”
If the United States thinks of itself only as a benevolent rescuer with an exceptional private sector and military, the pattern of Iraqs and Haitis will continue. The question of how the United States responds to its obligation to address humanitarian crises is bound up in how the United States sees itself.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Wars Are Ending but the Pentagon Budget Is Growing? Friends Committee on National Legislation
(February 28, 2014) — Thirteen years of war are drawing to a close — but you wouldn’t know it from the Pentagon budget Secretary Hagel laid out on Monday. For all the headlines about a shrinking Army (part of a 6 percent decrease in overall force structure), Secretary Hagel actually proposed spending more than allowed by current law.
Shifting the military’s focus away from large-scale troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq has the potential to save both lives and treasure. But only if it doesn’t shift to anything else. If, as seems likely, the Pentagon instead expands military action in Africa and takes on cyber attacks from China, the savings from scaling down in the greater Middle East will go unrecognized.
The increases in Secretary Hagel’s proposed budget suggest that the U.S. is ramping up for more war around the world.
This budget doesn’t reflect peacetime: It reflects endless war.
The Wars Are Ending, Why Is the Pentagon Still Wanting More Money?
Tila Neguse and Jim Cason / Friends Committee on National Legislation
(February 28, 2014) — We were glad to hear Secretary of Defense Hagel recognize this week that with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the US needs to cut back the size of our military to 440,000-450,000 — more or less the same U.S. troop size before WWII. We can and must support those individuals who have served our country in the past, but the administration and Congress can do a great deal to keep from putting more of our young people in harm’s way.
Congress and the administration have more work to do in the coming months and years to bring down Pentagon spending and redirect funds toward other priorities of our nation. For starters, members of Congress should declare immediately that they will not accept the proposals from Secretary Hagel for new increases in Pentagon spending over the next five years.
Secretary Hagel’s 5-year plan refuses to accept the reality of sequestration and proposes $115 billion in spending over the caps. We are no longer a nation at war and have yet to realize the savings that reflect such. Even if the entirety of sequestration had been left in place, by 2021, the Pentagon would still be spending about as much as it did during the height of the Cold War.
Congress also has a tough job ahead, as Secretary Hagel noted when he pleaded with lawmakers to accept a future round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017. Congress has blocked every Pentagon effort to eliminate excess base capacity through a BRAC commission for many years. The most recent 2005 BRAC round had high up-front costs that did not match the savings.
The good news is that there are federal funds available to help communities impacted by BRAC. The DoD’s own Office of Economic Adjustment provides financial and technical assistance to communities to aid in the transition. A BRAC in 2017, if modeled off pre-2005 BRACs, could close unused and unnecessary infrastructure and yield long-term savings in the future.
After over a decade of costly wars, the nation needs major reductions in Pentagon spending not new increases. Yesterday, Secretary Hagel began to address some of the difficult fiscal issues facing the Pentagon. As he put it, implementing some of these reforms “will require Congress to partner with the Department of Defense in making politically difficult choices.”
That’s just it. Congress and the Pentagon have choices and both should exercise their options by reviewing the Pentagon’s spending practices and determining whether those practices serve the nation’s actual needs.
(February 24, 2014) — On Monday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a sweeping plan for defense policy reform, including a plank that would shrink US Army active duty personnel to what the New York Times called “pre-World War II levels.” That sounds scary to a lot of people, including House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX), who told Fox News that American security was “being sacrificed . . . on the altar of entitlements.”
But that’s wrong. If Hagel’s plan makes it through Congress, it would represent a long overdue fix to America’s post-9/11 over-correction. Here’s five reasons why cutting the US Army down to size won’t threaten American security — or the world’s.
1. The Army isn’t really going to pre-World War II levels.
From the headlines, you might think that the American army is shrinking to the level it was at when post-World War I isolationism carried the day. Not so: in fact, we’d be returning to a troop level higher than it was in the early days of World War II.
The 440,000-450,000 number of troops on active duty Hagel proposes is above the 426,000 troops that were in the Army by the end of 1940 — and well above the 280,000 it began that year with. That matters because, by the end of 1940, President Roosevelt and the Pentagon had begun a significant ramp-up designed to prepare America for involvement in the European and/or Asian theaters of history’s deadliest conflict. “By the time of Pearl Harbor,” an official US army publication explains, “Congress had spent more for Army procurement than it had for the Army and the Navy during all of World War I.”
A return to pre-WWII isolationism this isn’t.
2. We need them less, because there’s less war.
Accuracy aside, the comparison to World War II is ridiculous on a deeper level: we’re not actually fighting World War II anymore. There’s no global conflict ongoing, nor is there one on the horizon. In fact, over the past several centuries — and particularly over the past 70 years — war casualties have declined precipitously. This chart of battle deaths per 100,000 people tells you everything you need to know: [Click here to view Wall Street Journal chart.]
Moreover, the kind of war you really worry about if you’re an American war planner — wars with another state, like China or Iran — are practically extinct. “Since the end of the Second World War, the number of ongoing interstate conflicts involving at least 25 battle casualties has ranged from zero to six,” war scholars Christian Davenport and Scott Gates write. “Moreover, the trend has been one of decline:” from 2003-2008, there wasn’t a single interstate war.
In short: we live in the safest time in human history. Hagel’s plan to limit (not end) America’s ability to fight two wars at once is hardly out of line.
3. But also because the Cold War is over.
The 50 years between 1939 and 1989 were dominated by the threat of fascist world domination and then, subsequently, the risk of nuclear war between superpowers. Neither of those are particularly plausible anymore, nor has any other ideological or security challenge risen to replace them. The United States and its liberal-democratic allies unquestionably lead the world both militarily and ideologically.
This is both a cause and a consequence of the world’s unprecedented stability. Cause, in the sense that the American alliance’s military dominance deters great power war. Consequence, in that the spread of democracy, capitalism, and international institutions make war less likely and less deadly.
The global order works so well, in fact, that even rising states like China are more interested in working inside the existing world order than radically transforming it (though even if China wanted to, it couldn’t).
We live in a time, as Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko put it, of “clear and present safety.” We don’t depend on an oversized US Army for security anymore.
4. Don’t forget science!
Military strength isn’t determined by troop numbers alone. American military superiority is underpinned by technology, alliances, and basing; the United States and its allies make up three-quarters of global military spending, and the United States alone has bases in the same percentage of countries worldwide.
According to, respectively, the Pentagon and a cross-ideological consensus report, both basing and military spending could be cut without any meaningful harm done to US security. So even if you think global peace depends on the force of American arms alone, there’s no reason to think cuts to the size of the Army should matter terribly much.
There’s also another important technology that separates today from the bad old days: the bomb. America’s nuclear stockpile means that, even if the regular military shrank enormously, no rational opponent would pick a fight with the US
5. Finally, the things that are actually problems aren’t really solveable with lots of troops.
There are certainly some distinctively 21st century security challenges: climate change, most importantly, but also transnational terrorism and nuclear-armed rogue states. But these aren’t the sorts of threats large armies are good at solving.
Climate change is a political/humanitarian problem, not something that Army artillery shells can pummel into oblivion. America’s track record in using ground invasions to address terrorism and rogue states since 9/11 has been pretty shoddy, to say the least.
Indeed, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars point to the real virtue of Hagel’s plan. Since 9/11, we’ve overspent massively on defense and homeland security — arguably playing into al-Qaeda’s hands. It’s time we recognized that throwing money at the Army isn’t a substitute for clear thinking about the threats, or lack thereof, to American and global security.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 28, 2014) — The very first act of the Western-backed insurrectionists (which represent a small percentage of the population and have managed to overthrow the government) was to attempt rob Russian speakers in Ukraine of their language.
This denial by the Bandera nazi [sic] extremists and the illegitimate power in Kiev of a basic human rights for a huge percentage of the population runs contrary to international law and the European Convention of Human Rights to which Ukraine is a signatory.
According to the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of Principles of International Law and under the terms of the United Nations Charter, effectively the Russia population have a right to secede from Ukraine. In an interview with the Voice of Russia, Harvard Professor Francis Boyle says that there is no real government in Ukraine right now, and called it a gang of neo-Nazis, fascists and rightist thugs.
This is John Robles, you are listening to an interview with Professor Francis Boyle. He is a Professor in International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign in Illinois.
Robles: Hello, sir.
Boyle: Hi, John, how are you doing? My best to your listening audience.
Robles: And thanks for agreeing to speak with me. I’m doing well by the way. You’ve made several comments and youâ€˜ve written several very hard-hitting pieces regarding the rights of people to secede. In this case, we are speaking about Ukraine and the Russian speaking population which is a very large percentage of the population in that country. Can you give us some details on that and your views on what is going on in Ukraine right now, please?
Boyle: Right, John. Well, let me just look at it to start out as a legal matter. What you had here, as you know, was this rump Ukrainian Parliament voted to terminate Russian as one of the official languages of Ukraine and you have, I would say, maybe a 30% or more of the population are native Russian speakers.
Now the problem with this is that it does provide, or at least start to provide, grounds for succession under international law. I’m not saying here I’m asking for succession, although I do note there are now people in the Russian speaking areas of Ukraine especially in Crimea and Sevastopol asking for succession.
So the test for succession, and let me read it here for you, taken from the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of Principles of International Law under the terms of the United Nation’s Charter, and it’s set forth in a paragraph which I sent to you, effectively what it says is that if a government, and here in Ukraine right now there is no government, there is just a gang of neo-Nazis, fascists, rightist thugs and whatever in charge of Kiev
But if a government does not quote: “conduct themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and possess a government representing the whole people, belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or color”, then that provides grounds for succession.
And here you have the Russians being stripped of their language, so it’s clear cut discrimination here against Russians. You are hearing public demands in Kiev that Russians be killed, and things of this nature.
So I’m not saying that I’m supporting succession, but this is very dangerous what the rabble in charge of Kiev have done here in stripping the Russian speakers of their native language, and as we know the capability to speak a language goes to the very heart of any people, no matter who they are.
And this is a serious issue between the First and Second World War, when you had collapse of all these empires and the arbitrary creation of nation states, and speakers of one language put in, as a minority in another state.
So it is a very dangerous step they have taken here. As you know they have also outlawed the Communist Party — that is serious. I don’t think legally it is as serious as stripping Russian speakers of their language, in dealing with the state. But even there, Ukraine is a party to the European Convention of Human Rights.
There is a right of association, and political association, and to establish political parties. I’m not a Communist myself, I’m a political independent, but they certainly have a right to have a Communist Party if they want to, and today we just saw that the leader of the Communist Party in Kiev — they burned his home down. So, we have a chance that Russians and Communists and Jews should be killed over there. So it’s a very bad sign for maintaining the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Now so far, I think Foreign Minister Lavrov has taken the correct position, that is: â€˜we are not going to interfere in the domestic affairs of Ukraine’, which is correct under international law. But he said â€˜others should not do the same either’, but unfortunately, as we know, the United States and Germany, at a minimum, are over there interfering in the domestic affairs of Ukraine.
So, it is a very difficult, dangerous situation. I think the thugs ruling there in Kiev right now are playing with fire.
Robles: Now you mentioned some things that are very alarming, and they have been alarming for many Russian officials. I’d like your comment, if you could, first off: Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, he said that this was a violation.
Let me pull up the quote here, he said: â€˜the attack on the Russian language in Ukraine is a blatant violation of the rights of the ethnic minority; it is against the principal of the rule of law’. That was stated by Konstantin Dolgov today. The figures that we have â€¦
Boyle: He is correct, he is certainly correct, and I’m suggesting it’s far more serious than that — in that it provides a legal basis for the Russian speakers in the Russian areas of Ukraine to declare succession,if that’s what they want to do.
So it’s even far more serious than your minister there is pointing out, there was far more grave, serious violation of their basic human rights. Yes, but I agree with what he is said, yes.
Just a reminder you are listening to an interview with Professor Francis Boyle.
Robles: You mentioned death threats against Russians and Jews. Can you tell us about a little bit about those? And how is it possible that the West is continuing to support these people, these thugs that have basically just occupied all the houses of government?
Boyle: But, the United States’ government has been overthrowing democratically elected governments since the Mosaddegh Government in Iran and putting the Shah of Iran in power — that was Kermit Roosevelt — and even as he publicly bragged about it in his book Countercoup, and even have a manual in circulation there at the CIA based on this, on how you overthrow governments.
So that is people that they were working with to overthrow ademocratically elected government, and basically shred the Constitution. They are paying no attention at all to any constitutional arrangement there. And as we know, as of today, Tuesday evening my time, they still don’t have a government in Kiev, they can’t agree on one.
So, it does appear the Americans favor putting Tymoshenko back in power, because you had that very famous picture of her with Ambassador Pyatt, that was clearly a symbol that she is the American favorite. But I think the neo-Nazis, and the fascists, right sector don’t even want her.
So I don’t know how all this is going to shake out. And in the meantime, it is extremely dangerous in Kiev and the non-Russian speaking parts for Communists, Jews, Russian speakers. We will have to see what happens, I really don’t know.
Robles: Couple of other things here now. Klitschko said, earlier today Moscow time, that he wanted to run for president. Then we have Yarosh, he is the leader of the nationalists who have been training in western Ukraine for about a decade to carry all this out — he wants to be the president — he wants to lead the country. And it would be something unbelievable in modern times, something like a Nazi regime is what he wants to bring about. People call him “The FÃ¼hrer.”
Also, Jewish leaders have called for Jews to leave Kiev, and possibly leave the country. Was the US aware of all this? I find that hard to believe they were that ignorant what they were unleashing.
Boyle: I’m sure they knew exactly what they were doing. Look, the United States government works with anyone they need to work with, to accomplish their objectives, as you see in Syria-they are working with Muslim extremist terrorist groups to overthrow the Assad government in Syria — I’m not saying he is democratically elected.
They did the same thing in Libya to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi — I’m not saying he was democratically elected. So it doesn’t really matter, whatever gets the job done- they will do.
So in Ukraine they decided to work with the neo-Nazis, fascists, right sector, Bandera people, those who trace their origins back to the German invasion of Ukraine and exterminating millions of Ukrainians, including maybe 2 million Jews, we don’t even know the exact number.
Nuland made it clear in that conversation that she does not support Klitschko, and she called him Klits, he is basically a creation of the German government, and Yatsenyuk, he is in there, and Svoboda- they don’t support them, they are too far right.
But they made it clear they support Tymoshenko. She is their errand girl, and they want her in power. They figure she is the best â€˜face’, but as Nuland said: she should be talking to Klitschko and the head of Svoboda there, was it four times a week? Or something like that.
Robles: Yeah, four times a week she said.
Boyle: So, that is what the Americans want. Whether they’ll get it, I don’t know.
Robles: There’s one problem — that is not what the Ukrainian people want. I mean, when Tymoshenko was rolled out, most of the people were not that happy to see her.
So, I mean, sure that’s somebody the US wants, but how they are going to put her in power if the Ukrainian people don’t want her?
So if it doesn’t appear she is going to work, the Americans willplay a little around and find someone else who does work, and is more acceptable. I can’t say, John.
But the Americans want their person in power, in Kiev, and if it is not Tymoshenko, then maybe they will go with Klitschko first -who knows? If that doesn’t work out they could even go with Svoboda, and try to rehabilitate Svoboda. I can’t say. I’m still trying to figure this out now.
Robles: Yeah, we are talking about this matter-of-factly, like we are discussing like the choosing of a team, but what we are talking about here is completely illegal under international law, isn’t it? You can’t install governments at will no matter who you are.
Boyle: Well, that is correct. It is clearlyillegal, we discussed this before — it’s condemned by the World Court and the Nicaragua decision,when the Reagan Administration tried to overthrow theSandinistagovernment in Nicaragua, and they were not democratically elected at all, but the United States government has been doing this starting with the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, then Guatemala, and moving on from there, I mean, I can’t recall the exact number of governments they’ve overthrown.
Robles: Over 70.
Boyle: Yeah, Bill Blum has a book called â€˜Killing Hope’.
Robles: Yeah, I read it, I know Bill, I know Bill. I think 77 he said.
Boyle: He has got the exact number and the circumstances — all in his book “Killing Hope”. And Bill used to work for the State Department, and resigned in protest over the Vietnam War. He is a very solid person.
Robles: Yeah, I’ve interviewed him several times. Professor Boyle, we are out of time. I really appreciate it, if maybe if you could in less in a minute if you could give us your prediction and your advice for all the players in this.
Boyle: Oh, John, I mean, we did discuss this the last time, and at this point I really don’t know what to say. All I can say is that Foreign Minister Lavrov has so far — I’ve commended him before — I think he is an outstanding diplomat and representative of the Russian Federation and far superior to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of State Kerry, but he has taken the principle position under international law, that Russia is not going to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. And that is a correct position to take.
Now, beyond that, I would not know how to advise the Russian government right now what to do. I think president Putin and his National Security Council, as you know they met last week, are trying to sort all this out. You know, it could be, President Putin might decide to try to stabilize the situation in Ukraine. He might decide that he doesn’t really want a civil war in Ukraine right on the borders with Russia.
So those, very well, might be his calculations, and I certainly would not disagree with those conclusions if that was what he and his National Security Council were to decide. I think if there were to be a civil war in Ukraine it would make what happened in Yugoslavia child’s play. So, that might be the way President Putin is seeing things now as we speak.
John Robles with Professor Francis Boyle, professor in International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign, Illinois.
(February 27, 2014) — Reality on the ground in Ukraine contradicts the incompetent and immoral Obama regime’s portrait of Ukrainian democracy on the march.
To the extent that government exists in post-coup Ukraine, it is laws dictated by gun and threat wielding thugs of the neo-Nazi, Russophobic, ultra-nationalist, right-wing parties. Watch the video of the armed thug, Aleksandr Muzychko, who boosts of killing Russian soldiers in Chechnya, dictating to the Rovno regional parliament a grant of apartments to families of protesters.
Thug Aleksandr Shevchenko informed the CEC that armed activists will remain in CEC offices in order to make certain that the election is not rigged against the neo-nazis. What he means, of course, is the armed thugs will make sure the neo-nazis win. If the neo-nazis don’t win, the chances are high that they will take power regardless.
Members of President Yanukovich’s ruling party, the Party of Regions, have been shot, had arrest warrants issued for them, have experienced home invasions and physical threats, and are resigning in droves in hopes of saving the lives of themselves and their families. The prosecutor’s office in the Volyn region (western Ukraine) has been ordered by ultra-nationalists to resign en masse .
Jewish synagogues and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches are being attacked.
To toot my own horn, I might have been the first and only to predict that Washington’s organization of pro-EU Ukrainian politicians into a coup against the elected government of Ukraine would destroy democracy and establish the precedent that force prevails over elections, thereby empowering the organized and armed extreme right-wing.
This is precisely what has happened. Note that there was no one in the Obama regime who had enough sense to see the obvious result of their smug, self-satisfied interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
If a democratically elected president and ruling party are so easily driven from power by armed neo-nazis, what chance do Washington’s paid stooges among the so-called “moderates” have of forming a government?
These are the corrupt people who wanted President Yanukovich out of office so that they could take the money instead. The corruption charge against Yanukovich was cover for the disloyal, undemocratic “moderate” schemers to seize power and be paid millions of dollars by Washington for taking Ukraine into the EU and NATO.
The Washington-paid schemers are now reaping their just reward as they sit in craven silence while neo-nazi Muzychko wielding an Ak-47 challenges government officials to their face: “I dare you take my gun!”
Only Obama, Susan Rice, Victoria Nuland, Washington’s European puppets, and the Western prostitute media can describe the brutal reality of post-coup Ukraine as “the forward march of democracy.”
The West now faces a real mess, and so does Russia. The presstitutes will keep the American public from ever knowing what has happened, and the Obama regime will never admit it. It is not always clear that even the Russians want to admit it.
The intelligent, reasonable, and humane Russian Foreign Minister, a person 100 cuts above the despicable John Kerry, keeps speaking as if this is all a mistake and appealing to the Western governments to stand behind the agreement that they pressured President Yanukovich to sign.
Yanukovich is history, as are Washington’s “moderates.” The moderates are not only corrupt; they are stupid. The fools even disbanded the Riot Police, leaving themselves at the mercy of the armed right-wing nazi thugs.
Ukraine is out of control. This is what happens when an arrogant, but stupid, Assistant Secretary of State (Victoria Nuland) plots with an equally arrogant and stupid US ambassador (Pyatt) to put their candidates in power once their coup against the elected president succeeds.
The situation will almost certainly lead to war. Only Putin’s diplomatic skills could prevent it. However, Putin has been demonized by Washington and the whores who comprise the US print and TV media. European and British politicians would have their Washington paychecks cut off if they aligned with Putin.
War is unavoidable, because the Western public is out to lunch. The more facts and information I provide, the more emails I receive defending the “sincere [and well paid] protesters’ honest protests against corruption,” as if corruption were the issue.
I hear from Ukrainians and from those of Ukrainian ethnicity in Canada and the US that it is natural for Ukrainians to hate Russians because Ukrainians suffered under communism, as if suffering under communism, which disappeared in 1991, is unique to Ukrainians and has anything to do with the US coup that has fallen into neo-nazi hands,
No doubt. Many suffered under communism, including Russians. But was the suffering greater than the suffering of Japanese civilians twice nuked by the “Indispensable people,” or the suffering by German civilians whose cities were firebombed, like Tokyo, by the “exceptional people”?
Today Japan and Germany are Washington’s puppet states. In contrast, Ukraine was an independent country with a working relationship with Russia. It was this relationship that Washington wished to destroy.
Now that a reckless and incompetent Washington has opened Pandora’s Box, more evil has been released upon the world. The suffering will not be confined to Ukraine.
There are a number of reasons why the situation is likely to develop in a very bad way. One is that most people are unable to deal with reality even when reality directly confronts them. When I provide the facts as they are known, here are some of the responses I receive: “You are a Putin agent;” “you hate Ukrainians;” “you are defending corruption;” “you must not know how Ukrainians suffered at the hands of Stalin.”
Of course, having done Russian studies in graduate school, having been a member of the US-USSR student exchange program in 1961, having traveled in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, having published in scholarly journals of Slavic and Russian studies, having twice addressed the Soviet Academy of Sciences, having been invited to explain to the CIA why the Soviet economic collapse occurred despite the CIA’s predictions to the contrary, I wouldn’t know anything about how people suffered under communism.
The willingness of readers to display to me their utter ignorance and stupidity is astonishing. There is a large number of people who think reality consists of their delusions.
Reality is simply too much for mentally and emotionally weak people who are capable of holding on to their delusions in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The masses of deluded people and the total inability of Washington, wallowing it its hubris, to admit a mistake, mean that Washington’s destabilization of Ukraine is a problem for us all.
The Defense Minister said: “The drills are not connected with events in Ukraine at all.”
Yes, of course. The Defense Minister says this, because Putin still hopes that the EU will come to its senses. In my opinion, and I hope I am wrong, the European “leaders” are too corrupted by Washington’s money to have any sense. They are bought-and-paid-for. Nothing is important to them but money.
Ask yourself, why does Russia need at this time an urgent readiness test unrelated to Ukraine? Anyone familiar with geography knows that western and central Russia sit atop Ukraine.
Let us all cross our fingers that another war is not the consequence of the insouciant American public, the craven cowardice of the presstitute media, Washington’s corrupt European puppets, and the utter mendacity of the criminals who rule in Washington.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Africa Grows in Importance for Defense Companies United Press International
NEWTOWN, Conn. (January 17, 2014) — Africa is an increasingly attractive market for international arms and military equipment suppliers as economies and defense spending grow.
Market research and analysis firm Forecast International said in a report titled “The Military Market for Africa,” the continent’s overall arms market has traditionally been driven by a small handful of key players with more established economic environments but the situation has now changed.
With smaller market countries increasingly taking positive steps toward democracy and overall stability, and governments focusing more on creating strong economies, it’s projected that defense spending among African nations will surpass $46 billion by 2018, Forecast International said.
“As optimism about the continent’s prospects increases, global defense firms have started to eye the African market more closely,” said the report’s author, Nicole Auger. “It has ignited an intense competition between non-African defense companies while opening up an array of possible joint ventures and technology transfer agreements with African defense firms.”
Nation-on-nation war among African countries has been on the decline, the report noted, and although conflicts between countries still flare up on occasion they rarely escalate to extreme levels.
If the trend continues, decade-long sanctions and arms embargoes could be lifted and opportunities for global defense firms would expand, particularly in the area of internal security products and services.
“Key arms purchases will likely be state-of-the-art surveillance equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles and electronics,” to counter the threat of rising Islamic fundamentalism within some countries.
Porous borders, illegal arms trafficking, and challenging socio-economic conditions have made it difficult for nations to control this escalating problem, the IF report said. North African nations have already experienced firsthand how the lack of proper military surveillance equipment can handicap their militaries and security forces.
As an example, the report cited Mali, where Islamic militants suspected of having ties to the terrorist group al-Qaida staged a rebellion in 2011 and now control the north of the country — where they are being battled by French expeditionary forces called in to aid the country.
Libya, the report noted, has found it “nearly impossible” to control the rebel-run southern portion of the nation following the rebellion that toppled dictator Moammar Ghadafi. Chaos in the country has sparked increased weapon smuggling, which threatens regional security.
Elsewhere on the continent Somalia’s terrorist group al-Shabaab has been showing signs of evolving into a transnational terror group; rebel groups have grabbed control of major towns in the oil producing region of South Sudan; and Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, is roiling Nigeria with massacres, bombings and other acts of violence.
“Globally, there is concern that terrorism in Africa could spread, affecting the stability of non-African countries,” Forecast International said. “A number of Western nations are therefore eager to help equip African militaries, which remain open to practically all weapons suppliers.”
(c) 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Russia War Games over Ukraine
Prompt US Warning Associated Press
KIEV, Ukraine (February 26, 2014) — Russia ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness Wednesday in a show of force that prompted a blunt warning from the United States that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”
Vladimir Putin’s announcement of huge new war games came as Ukraine’s protest leaders named a millionaire former banker to head a new government after the pro-Russian president went into hiding.
The new government, which is expected to be formally approved by parliament Thursday, will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. Its fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the capital last week.
In Kiev’s Independence Square, the heart of the protest movement against Yanukovych, the interim leaders who seized control after he disappeared proposed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country’s new prime minister.
The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.
Across Ukraine, the divided allegiances between Russia and the West were on full display as fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russia protesters in the strategic Crimea peninsula.
Amid the tensions, Putin put the military on alert for massive exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia, and announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
The maneuvers will involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships, and are intended to “check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
The move prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.
“Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, a grave mistake,” Kerry told reporters in Washington. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected.”
In delivering the message, Kerry also announced that the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic.
Still, Kerry insisted that U.S. policy was not aimed at reducing Russia’s influence in Ukraine or other former Soviet republics, but rather to see their people realize aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies.
“This is not ‘Rocky IV’,” Kerry said, referring to the 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an aging American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman. “It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-U.S. or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that’s a very powerful force.”
Russia denied the military maneuvers had any connection to the situation in Ukraine, but the massive show of force appeared intended to show both the new Ukrainian authorities and the West that the Kremlin was ready to use all means to protect its interests.
While Russia has pledged not to intervene in Ukraine’s domestic affairs, it has issued a flurry of statements voicing concern about the situation of Russian speakers in Ukraine, including in the Crimea.
The strategic region, which hosts a major Russian naval base and where the majority of the population are Russian speakers, has strong ties to Moscow. It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia — a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.
Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel of the Russian military’s General Staff, wrote a commentary in a Russian online newspaper, slon.ru, saying “if illegal armed formations attempt to overthrow the local government in Crimea by force, a civil war will start and Russia couldn’t ignore it.”
Still, while the exercises include most units from Russia’s Western Military District and some from the Central Military District that spreads across the Urals and part of Siberia, it does not involve troops from the Southern Military District, such as the Black Sea Fleet and areas in southern Russia that neighbor Ukraine.
This seemed to signal that Moscow does not want to go too far. By flexing its military muscles Russia clearly wants to show the West it must seriously consider its interests in Ukraine, while avoiding inflaming tensions further.
In Crimea, fistfights broke out between rival demonstrators in the regional capital of Simferopol when some 20,000 Muslim Tatars rallying in support of Ukraine’s interim leaders clashed with a smaller pro-Russian rally.
The protesters shouted and attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, as police and leaders of both rallies struggled to keep the two groups apart.
One health official said at least 20 people were injured, while the local health ministry said one person died from an apparent heart attack. Tatar leaders said there was a second fatality when a woman was trampled to death by the crowd. Authorities did not confirm that.
The Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Crimea for centuries, were brutally deported in 1944 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but have since returned.
One of the first jobs for Yatsenyuk and other members of his new Cabinet will be seeking outside financial help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Economists say Ukraine is close to financial collapse, with its currency under pressure and its treasury almost empty. The acting finance minister has said Ukraine will need $35 billion in bailout loans to get through the next two years.
Any such deal will require a new prime minister to take unpopular steps, such as raising the price of gas to consumers. The state gas company charges as little as one-fifth of what it pays for imported Russian gas. The IMF unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to halt the practice under two earlier bailouts, and halted aid when Kiev wouldn’t comply.
The European Commission’s top officials held a meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss how the 28-nation bloc can provide rapid financial assistance to Ukraine.
Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Maria Danilova and David McHugh in Kiev, Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, and Yuras Karmanau in Simferopol contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
(February 26, 2014) — President Obama insists he does not regard the conflict in Ukraine “as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia.”
He’d be more credible if he were not following his predecessors in acting as though the Cold War still exists. Although the Soviet empire, including its Warsaw Pact alliance, disbanded beginning in 1989, Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued aggressively anti-Russian policies up to the present.
Most glaringly, NATO, the Western alliance created after World War II ostensibly to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, did not also disband. On the contrary, at US insistence and in violation of promises to Russia’s leaders, the alliance has grown and found new missions, such as intervening militarily against Russia’s ally Serbia and in Afghanistan and Libya.
That would have been bad enough, but former members of the Soviet bloc, as well as former Soviet republics, have been admitted to NATO: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Besides that, US officials have talked up two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and — surprise! — Ukraine, as potential members of the alliance.
Moreover, the US government had a hand in the Georgian and Ukrainian “color revolutions,” which brought pro-US politicians to power, at least for a time. The Obama administration is still at it today.
The hostile push of NATO up to the doorstep of Russia (along with other threatening measures) has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. One can imagine the howls we’d hear from American politicians, not least of all the ever-belligerent Sen. John McCain, if Russia were doing something similar in the vicinity of the United States.
The sorry fact is that America’s rulers did much more than spike the football when the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated. In every conceivable way, they exploited the occasion to assure that the United States would maintain its status as sole superpower and global hegemon. They humiliated Russia’s leadership, apparently not caring that it would never passively accept the insult.
It’s about time American politicians saw how their foreign policies look to those on the receiving end.
What’s happening in Ukraine is sad. The country is divided between those who want closer ties to Western Europe and those who want closer ties to Russia. Since becoming independent of Russia, Ukraine has suffered corruption and worse offenses at the hands of legal plunderers.
Now demonstrations in the streets — even mob rule featuring neo-Nazis — have resulted in turmoil and death, and the Russia-leaning president, Viktor Yanukovich, has fled the capital, while the parliament has named an interim replacement. To make things worse, outsiders won’t keep their hands off.
One thing we can know for sure — and one need not be an admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin to see it — is that the United States should steer clear of Ukraine. It is none of the US government’s business whether that country is economically closer to Russia or the European Union (EU).
The Obama administration should not only forswear direct and covert intervention, it should also shut up. American presidents must learn to mind their own business, even where Russia is concerned. The potential for a nuclear confrontation is nothing to take lightly.
It would be best if Russia and the EU did not press agreements on Ukraine — Europe appears more guilty here than Putin — but that is not for the US government to decide. Someday, if we’re lucky, people will stop thinking of trade as a matter of state policy.
Why must Ukraine — meaning its politicians — sign an agreement with either the EU or Russia? Why can’t individual Ukrainians and private Ukrainian companies trade freely with whomever they want? (This question also applies to America and every other country.)
There are many sources of political tension in the world, but historically a principal one has been the idea that governments must set the terms of trade with people in other nations. Bad idea. Free trade should mean individual freedom.
In the meantime, the Obama administration should steer clear of Ukraine. Despite what Americans have believed for over 200 years, the United States was not placed on this earth to right the world. Intervention is more likely to make things worse than better.
Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF’s monthly journal, Future of Freedom.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ACTION Let us vote on Afghan war
Congress and the American people have an important responsibility to weigh in on decisions of war and peace.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the public helped to end the Vietnam War. Now, we need the American people to help stop the US role in the Afghanistan war.
A bipartisan resolution in the Senate would request that President Obama get congressional approval before he can extend the war in Afghanistan beyond 2014. This resolution would give the American people a say in how long the war goes on. Will you call your Senators and ask them to support this measure?
Hereâ€™s how Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), one of the sponsors, explained his legislation:
“The American people deserve a voice in decisions of war and peace. Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war.â€
Whether your Senators are Republicans or Democrats, whether they support continuing the war effort or not, they should support giving Congress and the public a voice in how long the war goes on.
Weâ€™ve made it easy to call your Senators on this key issue: please click here to make your voice heard!
Currently, the billâ€™s co-sponsors are: Merkley (D-OR), Manchin (D-WV), Paul (R-KY), Lee (R-UT), Harkin (D-IA), Wyden (D-OR), Begich (D-AK), Leahy (D-VT) and Whitehouse (D-RI).
â€¢ If one of your Senators is a co-sponsor, make sure you call anyway â€“ they need to hear that they have your support!
â€¢ If you donâ€™t see your Senator on this list, call and ask them to sign onto the Merkley-Manchin-Paul-Lee resolution!
All the instructions are on our easy-to-use form: just click here to start calling!
Thanks for getting involved.
John Isaacs & Guy Stevens / Council for a Livable World
ACTION ALERT: Congress Should Vote on Extending US Troops in Afghanistan Let’s Vote Before Extending the War
Shouldn’t Congress and the American public have a say before our longest war gets longer?
If the Pentagon and the White House want to extend the war in Afghanistan, Congress should vote on it. A bipartisan group of Senators is sponsoring a resolution that would require congressional authorization for troops to be left in Afghanistan beyond December 31, 2014.
Congressional authorization will give the American public a vote on whether or not the troops come home this year. Please call your Senators — ask them to co-sponsor this sensible resolution!
Make Phone Calls
1. Call 202-224-3553
2. Ask for “Staffer handling foreign policy”
3. Discuss talking points with contact
â€¢ Point 1: We’ve been in Afghanistan for over twelve years, and the American public is tired of war.
â€¢ Point 2: The Senator should sign onto this resolution, so that Congress and the American people can get a vote before we make a majorly consequential decision to extend the war.
â€¢ Point 3: The resolution co-sponsored by Senators Merkley, Manchin, Paul and Lee would give Congress and the American public a say on how long the war will continue.
â€¢ Point 4: President Obama’s official end date for the war is December 31, 2014. If US soldiers are to remain in Afghanistan longer than that, then there should be a vote.
4. Provide Feedback
Did you make the call?
Tell us about the call
(February 20, 2014) — A new report on the US drone missile strike that killed 12 members of a Yemeni wedding convoy has renewed calls for the Obama administration to make public its own investigations into the incident — and explain how such strikes are consistent with international laws of war.
The detailed, 28-page report from Human Rights Watch (“A Wedding That Became a Funeral”) describes conflicting accounts of the December 12 attack, but nevertheless concludes that some, if not all, of the victims may have been civilians.
The laws of war prohibit attacks on civilians that are not discriminate or attacks that cause civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage.
The report also calls on the US government to explain how the attack could possibly have complied with the new policies President Obama announced in May 2013, and repeated less than three months before the wedding strike, that he had “limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.”
Obama administration officials have insisted since the strike that only members of al Qaeda were killed. Defense Department spokesman Bill Speaks reiterated to The Intercept on Wednesday “that the Yemeni Government has stated that the targets of this operation were dangerous senior al Qaeda militants,” but he declined to provide any details or evidence to support that conclusion. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden also declined.
The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that, according to three anonymous US officials, two government investigations concluded that only members of al Qaeda were hit in the strike:
Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, ordered an independent investigation by an Air Force general and the White House requested another by the National Counterterrorism Center. Both concluded no civilians were killed. Votel’s staff also showed lawmakers video of the operation. Two US officials who watched the video and were briefed on the investigations said it showed three trucks in the convoy were hit, all carrying armed men.
But the officials provided no details, no evidence — and were not quoted by name. The AP explained:
The officials said the Pentagon can’t release details because both the US military and the CIA fly drones over Yemen. By statute, the military strikes can be acknowledged, but the CIA operations cannot. The officials said that if they explain one strike but not another, they are revealing by default which ones are being carried out by the CIA.
But at its core, the Human Rights Watch report makes the case that a swirling mix of competing accounts surrounding the strike demands a transparent investigation and publicly available findings. In an interview with The Intercept Wednesday, Letta Tayler, the author of the report, said the contradictory claims her team uncovered investigating the strike were “mind boggling.”
“It would be comical if we were not talking about human beings who were killed and yet, that is what we’re talking about,” Tayler said. “And that’s why the silence is unconscionable.”
“The contradictory accounts that we documented cry out for an official explanation,” she added. “The families of those killed deserve to know what happened and why the US turned this wedding procession into a funeral.”
Tayler said her organization has “serious questions about how intelligence is gathered in Yemen and how it is being used.” But, she noted: “We do not know if faulty intelligence led to this strike or not, because we do not know enough about the strike itself.”
A Feb. 10 article in The Intercept described the National Security Agency’s role in locating targets for lethal drone strikes, raising concerns that the US has been overly relying on the activity of mobile phones that targets are believed to be using, rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground.
A former Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) drone operator and NSA analyst told The Intercept that during his time in Yemen, the US gathered “almost zero” human intelligence before strikes. “Every one of their strikes relies on signals and imagery for confirmation,” he said.
The level of detail in the Human Rights Watch report impressed close observers of the US drone program. Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations and a leading expert on US targeted killings, told The Intercept, “It’s just a very careful and cautious study.” He said the report “raises incredibly troubling evidence” that “the United States might have blown itâ€¦might have killed civilians unintentionally.”
“The report is well documented and it is carefully measured in saying what the researchers know and don’t know,” Ryan Goodman, law professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of the national security blog, JustSecurity.org, said in an email to The Intercept.
“Of course mistakes happen in wartime, but a key question for the laws of war is whether the mistake resulted from a failure to take the proper precautions,” Goodman added. “The report includes evidence that clearly suggests violations of the laws of war may have occurred.”
The attack took place late in the afternoon of December 12, 2013. According to the report, four Hellfire missiles slammed into a convoy of 11 cars stopped by a flat tire. The cars, Human Rights Watch confirmed, were carrying 50 to 60 wedding-goers. They had been traveling from the bride’s home to the groom’s village.
Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi, a local sheikh, was driving one of the vehicles. “Everyone was happy; everyone was celebrating the wedding,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Then the strike turned happiness to grief.”
Al-Tisi said he watched as four men piled out of 2005 Toyota Hilux pickup truck ahead of him and ran. Moments later a missile tore into the vehicle. Soon after, three more missiles rained down, throwing shards of hot metal through the air.
“Blood was everywhere, the bodies of the people who were killed and injured were scattered everywhere,” al-Tisi, a father of three, recalled. “I saw the missile hit the car that was just behind the car driven by my son. I went there to check on my son. I found him tossed to the side. I turned him over and he was dead. He was struck in his face, neck, and chest.”
In addition to the 12 men who died, 15 others were wounded. Shrapnel cut the bride’s face and tore her clothing. Roughly half the wedding party was killed or wounded. The youngest man to die was 20, the oldest 65.
Anonymous US officials told reporters the military’s elite JSOC operatives carried out the strike — not the CIA.
The day after the attack, Yemen’s official news news agency cited an unnamed “official source” who claimed that a car belonging to an al Qaeda “leader” that was carrying “many terrorist members and leaders who were involved in plotting attacks against armed forces, police, and vital public facilities” had been targeted.
There was no mention of civilian casualties until the following day, when a Yemeni general apologized for the attack at a local community meeting. The general said the attack was a “mistake,” and provincial officials paid the families a total of $159,000 in reparations and gave them 101 Kalashnikov assault rifles, a tribal gesture of apology.
Human Rights Watch found three government sources who disputed the official news agency account of the strike. Those sources said five civilians were killed in the attack. None of the Yemeni sources said who among the dead was al Qaeda and who was a civilian wedding celebrant. One of the sources did say, however, that the dead included, “smugglers and arms dealers. They were guys for hire — shady.”
Unnamed US officials later told the AP that the target was Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who they said was one of Yemen’s most wanted terrorists and a key figure in the plot that resulted in the closure of 22 US diplomatic posts the preceding summer. The officials claimed he was wounded in the strike but escaped.
Human Rights Watch found two Yemeni government sources who claimed the first vehicle struck by the American missile was al-Badani’s and that he did indeed escape. Two other Yemeni sources, however, said he was residing in a city more than 100 miles from the scene of the strike.
Witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch they did not know al-Badani and that he was most certainly not at the wedding. Other sources who spoke to the human rights organization claimed an entirely different AQAP member â€“ Nasr al-Hotami — was in the truck that was fired upon. Again, relatives denied the claim. Some Yemeni officials suggested AQAP “had joined the procession, possibly as â€˜camouflage.'”
“The conflicting accounts, as well as actions of relatives and provincial authorities, suggest that some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians,” the report concludes.
Tayler, the report’s author, said the strike invites questions that have become frustratingly commonplace for US drone strike investigators.
“How do the laws of war apply here? How can you assume that civilian loss will not be disproportionate to the expected military advantage if you are striking a wedding convoy?” she said. “There may be an answer but the US sure has not given it.”
“There are now a host of questions about the Obama administration’s self-professed killing-policy restrictions, how malleable they are in practice, and the extent to which the killing policy is unlawful,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project said in an email to The Intercept. “In response to those questions, the administration has responded with self-serving statements from anonymous government officials and deafening official silence.”
“The Obama administration has not only refused to disclose its legal memos justifying the killings of U.S and non US citizens far from any battlefield,” Shamsi added. “It won’t even provide the public with basic information about the number and identity of the thousands of people who have died as a result of its lethal program.”
Edited by Dan Froomkin.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Yahoo Webcam Images from
Millions of Users Intercepted by GCHQ Spencer Ackerman and James Ball / The Guardian
(February 27, 2014) — Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery â€“ including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications â€“ from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy”.
GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.
The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.
OPTIC NERVE â€“ Yahoo Webcam display and target discovery
A report on the development of OPTIV NERVE â€“ a web interface to display Yahoo Webcam images sampled from unselected intercept and a system for proportionate target discovery.
Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.
Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” â€“ intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.
One document even likened the program’s “bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events” to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.
“Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,” it reads. “The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”
The agency did make efforts to limit analysts’ ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.
However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display “webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target”.
Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ’s huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA’s XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo’s webcam traffic.
Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because “Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets”.
At the moment of OPTIC NERVE’s data supply (run by B13) does not select but simply collects in bulk, and as a trade-off only collects an image every 5 minutes. It would be helpful to incorporate selection and collect images at a faster rate (all?) for targets. CS to find out from B13 if this is feasible.
Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to “minimize”, or remove, domestic citizens’ information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.
There are no such legal safeguards for searches on people believed to be in the US or the other allied “Five Eyes” nations â€“ Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.
The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: “[I]f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target’s ID”.
The undated document, from GCHQ’s internal wiki information site, noted this capability was “now closed â€¦ but shortly to return!”
The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”
Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “Unfortunately â€¦ it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”
The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”. Discussing efforts to make the interface “safer to use”, it noted that current “naÃ¯ve” pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people’s faces as pornography.
27. Unfortunately, there are issues with undesirable images within the data. It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.
28. A survey was conducted, taking a single image from each of 323 used ids. 23 (7.1%) of those images contained undesirable nudity. From this we can infer that the true proportion of undesirable images in Yahoo webcam is 7.1% +/- 3.75 with confidence 95%.
GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results â€“ a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts.
The system was not perfect at stopping those images reaching the eyes of GCHQ staff, though. An internal guide cautioned prospective Optic Nerve users that “there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them”.
It further notes that “under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence”.
 Potentially Undesirable Images We use face detection to try to censor material which may be offensive but this does not work perfectly so you should read the following before using OPTIC NERVE: * It is possible to handle and display undesirable images. There is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open the. * You are reminded that under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence. * Retrieval of or reference to such material should be avoided; see IB 150 for guidance on dealing with offensive material.
Once collected, the metadata associated with the videos can be as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves.
It is not fully clear from the documents how much access the NSA has to the Yahoo webcam trove itself, though all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts through their routine information-sharing. A previously revealed NSA metadata repository, codenamed Marina, has what the documents describe as a protocol class for webcam information.
In its statement to the Guardian, Yahoo strongly condemned the Optic Nerve program, and said it had no awareness of or involvement with the GCHQ collection.
“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” said a spokeswoman. “This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.
“We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”
Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken technology companies objecting to the NSA’s bulk surveillance. It filed a transparency lawsuit with the secret US surveillance court to disclose a 2007 case in which it was compelled to provide customer data to the surveillance agency, and it railed against the NSA’s reported interception of information in transit between its data centers.
The documents do not refer to any specific court orders permitting collection of Yahoo’s webcam imagery, but GCHQ mass collection is governed by the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and requires certification by the foreign secretary, currently William Hague.
The Optic Nerve documentation shows legalities were being considered as new capabilities were being developed. Discussing adding automated facial matching, for example, analysts agreed to test a system before firming up its legal status for everyday use.
“It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate),” the 2008 document reads.
The document continues: “This is allowed for research purposes but at the point where the results are shown to analysts for operational use, the proportionality and legality questions must be more carefully considered.”
Optic Nerve was just one of a series of GCHQ efforts at biometric detection, whether for target recognition or general security.
While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360’s Kinect camera, saying it generated “fairly normal webcam traffic” and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.
Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.
Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash last year when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.
Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras â€“ “think Tom Cruise in Minority Report”, one presentation noted.
The same presentation talks about the strange means the agencies used to try and test such systems, including whether they could be tricked. One way of testing this was to use contact lenses on detailed mannequins.
To this end, GCHQ has a dummy nicknamed “the Head”, one document noted.
In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.
“Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
“All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”
The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens’ data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs.
However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.
“As we’ve said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself,” she said.
“The NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.
“A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons.”
(February 27, 2014) — One common reaction to Edward Snowden’s exposure of the National Security Agency’s pervasive surveillance of Americans and people around the world has been: Well, at least they aren’t doing what US government agents did in the 1960s and 1970s — targeting dissident political activists, spying on and disrupting their constitutionally-protected activities, and seeking to discredit them with programs like Cointelpro.
Except they are, as it turns out.
The latest revelations and newly-released documents, detailed by Glenn Greenwald in a shocking piece for his new outlet, The Intercept, show that’s exactly what they’re doing. Whereas J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI used old-fashioned methods — primitive bugging devices, poison pen letters, and physical infiltration of “suspect” groups — today’s Thought Police use the Internet to, as Greenwald puts it, “control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the Internet itself.”
In a presentation by the British spy agency GCHQ to the NSA, and the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand intelligence agencies, the top-secret JTRIG unit instructed their allies in the methodology of targeting and destroying political dissidents, and countering their influence on the Internet. Their approach is oh-so-“scientific,” citing social science theories about human motivation, giving the whole document the aura of an academic study — albeit one written by someone with a sensibility that veers from the playful to the downright sinister.
The goal of this covert action program is to create what GCHQ describes as “cyber-magicians,” who can work their “magic” on the Internet and their designated targets — and indeed the presentation is illustrated with a photo of John Mulholland, the renown “magician” who was hired by the CIA in the 1950s to write a manual on the uses of “misdirection, concealment, and stagecraft,” as Noah Shachtman put in it Wired.
Also pictured are Jasper Maskelyne, a British stage magician of the 1930s recruited by British intelligence, and Houdini, who is noted for his “1865 mission on behalf of Napoleon III to help quell the Marabout-led uprising in Algeria.”
Interesting that GCHQ and their American and other partners would identify with Napoleon III and his mostly unsuccessful attempts to plant the French flag far and wide. In the Algerian case, however, he was relatively successful: the Arab rebels, it seems, had been inspired to rise by religious figures, charismatic imams supposedly capable of performing magic.
The French decided to out-do the imams with some magic tricks of their own, and so they brought in Houdini, who performed the old bullet-between-the-teeth stunt. This supposedly so impressed the rebels that they became too afraid to go on with their rebellion — although the horrific slaughter inflicted on Algerian villages by occupying troops may have had something to do with it as well.
This unrestrained violence, while motivated by the usual racism, was also a manifestation of something new. Edward Burke III, professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, traces it to the anti-clericalist legacy of the French Revolution. The wholesale destruction of the rebels’ religious and ideological infrastructure — which Burke refers to as “the French kulturkampf in Algeria” — was “a Jacobin step toward the diffusion of reason and science.”
Utilizing the techniques of the social and psychological “sciences,” our “cyber-magicians,” in waging their cyber-kulturkampf, see their targets — us — the same way 19th century French colonialists viewed their Algerian helots. If you look through the slides published by Greenwald the theme is crystal-clear: human beings are depicted as emotion-driven easily manipulated idiots who have to be fooled into behaving properly.
How to fool them? In 19th century Algeria it was Houdini awing the natives with magic tricks: in the online world of the 21st century, it’s “cyber-magicians” planting “false flags” — posts attributed to the target that were not written by him or her. Or posts ostensibly by people who are members or sympathizers of a targeted group.
This is what the FBI did to the antiwar movement of the 1960s: entire “cells” of radical groups were set up and controlled by the feds, who then used them to divide, disrupt, and discredit rising antiwar sentiment.
Another GCHQ ploy: what Greenwald calls “fake victim posts,” in which alleged victims of the target describe their victimization at the hands of the targeted individual or group. This technique seems to have been used to great effect against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, who have racked up a record number of “tell-all” books and articles by former associates relating Assange’s alleged sins.
Aside from the above, a number of other techniques are listed, most of which are fairly descriptive:
Anything is possible — and everything is permitted — with the kind of “cyber-magic” performed by our government sneaks: if you want to discredit a target, you can “set up a honey-trap” — a sexual assignation — or if you’re in a juvenile mode you can “change their photo on social networking sites.” And there’s always the old tactic of sending “emails/texts to their colleagues, neighbors, friends, etc.”
Again, there’s nothing new under the sun as far as the immorality and cheap vulgarity of our rulers is concerned: they did the same thing in the 1960s to Martin Luther King and a host of other civil rights and assorted “radical” figures, the only difference being they used the Post Office rather than email and texting. The technology may change, but the venality is a constant.
Of particular interest to GCHQ and its eager students at the NSA are techniques designed to “pull a group apart.” Listed as likely points of rupture are issues of “personal power,” “preexisting cleavages,” “competition,” and “ideological differences.” Again, these are old techniques empowered by new technology and gussied up in the pseudo-“scientific” language of sociology and behavioral psychology.
What’s new, however, is the nature of some of the targets: it’s not only high profile political dissidents like Assange (and Greenwald) alongside criminal suspects who might find themselves in the sights of GCHQ/NSA, but also private companies, as explicitly stated in the new documents.
Suggested covert actions against these corporate targets include leaking confidential information to rival companies and the media “via blogs, etc.”, and posting “negative information in appropriate forums,” resulting in stopping the target’s business deals and ruining business relationships.
Given the amount of purely industrial espionage detailed in previously released documents, the scope — and cost — of this destructive rampage across the corporate landscape by our vaunted “cyber-magicians” is absolutely mind-boggling.
The new documents describe a “cyber-offensive session” by two GCHQ officers on “Pushing the Boundaries and Action Against Hacktivism” which does indeed push the boundaries very far beyond the ostensible purpose of “fighting terrorism.”
The fine line between “hacktivist” and any sort of online political activism is not one likely to be precisely defined by these people: Julian Assange’s and Edward Snowden’s defenders, as well as those two individuals themselves, are fair game in this grand scale “cyber-offensive.” And what about the corporate entities enabling these revelations to come out in the first place?
Pierre Omidyar, the financial force behind First Look Media, which puts out The Intercept, is a principal of eBay, and has a financial interest in other companies. Will those companies now find themselves under attack? Will confidential information sucked up by the NSA “leak” onto various blogs and into the media?
Speaking of the media, this whole covert action program assumes easy access on the part of government agents to sympathetic contacts in the “mainstream” news and opinion outlets: it posits a ready consumer base of “journalists” hungry for a constant diet of smears, “false flags,” and compromising material. And we can all guess as to who some of them might beâ€¦.
Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s close advisor and head of a commission to “reform” the NSA, has long advocated infiltrating online communities devoted to supposedly dangerous “conspiracy theories,” and otherwise steering online discourse in a more pro-government direction — and it looks like his ideas are being put into practice. The new documents promise a “full rollout complete by early 2013,” with “500+ GCHQ analysts” on the job — and how many from the NSA and US law enforcement agencies?
So let’s be clear about this: individuals, groups, and private companies accused of no crime are having their reputations destroyed, their private lives exposed and their financial affairs disrupted by a government-orchestrated smear campaign extending all across the globe.
If that doesn’t unmask our rulers as the ruthless authoritarians we libertarians always said they were, then I don’t know what will. Behind the mask of “democracy” and “progressivism” lurks the same old ugly face of a J. Edgar Hoover, only updated to look like the dome-headed professorial Cass Sunstein.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Kerry Rails Against ‘New Isolationism’ Among Americans Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(February 27, 2014) — In an hour-long screed to reporters, Secretary of State John Kerry railed against polls showing opposition to aggressive US military intervention abroad, dubbing it a “new isolation.”
“We are beginning to behave like a poor nation,” Kerry said of Americans’ unwillingness to support ever-larger, ever more calamitous wars the world over. He vowed that the US wouldn’t retreat anywhere in the world.
The US spends more on its military than nearly the whole rest of the world combined, and throws billions of dollars in military aid at other nations, subsidizing their own wars. Yet budget concerns have slowed the rate of growth of this spending in recent years, inconveniencing Kerry’s plans to start new wars.
Kerry insisted Americans “do not perceive the connection between US engagement abroad and the US economy, their own jobs and wider US interests.”
Indeed, most Americans have begun to notice that runaway deficit spending to pay for “US engagement abroad” has been a major drag on the economy in recent years, and that America’s checkered history of military conquest has not netted any decisive victories in decades, let alone any major economic boons.
Secretary Kerry was at the lead of an attempt to lie the American public into a war with Syria late last year, and after being rebuffed by overwhelming public opposition, has remained resentful about the prospect that the administration might conceivably not be able to launch whatever wars it wants whenever it wants.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 19, 2013) — US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks on Ukraine at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.:
I want to thank Fred, and my friend Damon Wilson, for inviting me here today. Under the leadership of Fred, Damon, and others, the Atlantic Council has transformed itself in recent years into one of the premier intellectual leaders on foreign policy and national security — not just on transatlantic but global issues.
As you know, I traveled last weekend to Ukraine with my friend and fellow member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. We met with senior government officials, including President Yanukovich; the major opposition leaders; members of civil society, including the daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko; many of the so-called oligarchs; Ukrainian youth and students; and some of the hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the Maidan.
In all of my many years and travels abroad, I have never seen anything like what we witnessed last weekend in Ukraine. On Saturday night, we stood in the Trade Union building overlooking the Maidan while roughly a quarter of a million Ukrainians cheered and jumped up and down in a sea of sparkling cell phones.
On Sunday, when we addressed the crowd, it was estimated to be as many as a million people. There were Ukrainians of all walks of life, men and women, young and old, from all parts of the country. There were Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan helping to protect the demonstrators and securing our passage through the crowd. And as we spoke, thousands interrupted us with cheers of, ‘Thank you, USA!’ It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.
Senator Murphy and I did not go to Ukraine to interfere in its internal affairs or to favor one leader, or group, or party over another — but rather to support the peaceful aspirations of all Ukrainians and to affirm their sovereign right to determine the future of their independent nation by themselves, in freedom.
Obviously, the major development since we returned was Russia’s decision to purchase about $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds and reduce the price of gas it sells to Ukraine — an estimated annual savings of $2-3 billion. This was a big deal, to be sure, but we need to recognize a few things about Russia’s financial intervention.
First, all of this Russian money will not solve Ukraine’s structural economic and political problems. It will at best postpone them, and likely exacerbate them. By most estimates, President Yanukovich has bought about a year before Ukraine is once again staring down the barrel of an economic crisis.
We can all hope he uses this time wisely to address the sources of this looming crisis — namely, Ukraine’s mounting debt burden, unsustainable currency peg, and large distortive energy subsidies — as the IMF has insisted. Somehow I doubt it. More likely, President Yanukovich will just kick the can down the road, and when the Russian money runs out in a year, Ukraine will again be facing all of the same problems it is now.
We also need to recognize the reality of how President Putin’s temporary bail-out of Ukraine fits into his larger ambition toward Russia’s so-called ‘near abroad.’ In recent months, President Putin has pulled out all the stops to coerce, intimidate, and threaten Ukraine away from Europe.
Russia has blocked large amounts of Ukrainian trade, especially chocolate. It has threatened to cut off its gas supplies in the dead of winter, which it has done before. And according to Ukrainian officials we met in Kyiv, President Putin threatened President Yanukovich with far worse economic retaliation if he signed the Association Agreement with the EU.
President Putin stressed on Tuesday that Russia’s financial assistance to Ukraine is free of conditions. If you believe that, I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.
Russia’s bullying extends beyond Ukraine to the other so-called EU Eastern Partnership countries. In the past few months, Russia coerced Armenia into joining its Eurasian Customs Union. It sought to prevent Moldova from signing its own Association Agreement with the EU by blocking imports of Moldovan wine, threatening to cut off its supply of gas, and suggesting it would stoke separatism in Transnistria.
Russia has blocked Lithuanian trade and deployed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. It is working to establish hardened borders for Abkhazia and South Ossetia by building fences that encroach deeper into Georgian territory. And today we hear news that Russia will soon deploy new rail-based, nuclear-capable ICBMs.
This pattern of behavior amounts to a Russian bid for a kind of quasi-imperial dominance over its neighbors — a newfound assertiveness that has only grown in the void left by the Administration’s absence of leadership in other parts of the world, especially Syria. President Putin has been emboldened by President Obama’s empty threats of red lines and the resulting loss of US credibility.
We now have the bizarre situation in which we are working with Russia to dismantle chemical weapons in Syria while Russia is supplying Assad with conventional weapons to continue the slaughter and maintain his hold on power. President Putin has taken a clear lesson from all of this: If the United States is unwilling to stand up to him in the Middle East, he can do as he wishes closer to home. And he has.
The key to President Putin’s geopolitical ambitions is Ukraine. It is more populous than all of the other Eastern Partnership countries combined. It shares the same cultural, religious, and historical heritage as Russia. And President Putin still does not accept that Ukraine is an independent country. He has said as much publicly. For all of these reasons, the Russian-led Customs Union cannot be viable without Ukraine.
Indeed, the idea of a modern, democratic Ukraine that is part of Europe is President Putin’s worst nightmare — because eventually, Russian citizens would look at that flourishing Ukraine and ask, ‘Why not us?’ That is why President Putin will stop at nothing to thwart Ukraine’s aspiration to become part of Europe.
That’s the bad news. But we also need to recognize the good news: Regardless of the short-term pain that President Putin can inflict on Russia’s neighbors, history is not on his side. The Eastern Partnership countries want the benefits of European integration — a reality that was demonstrated clearly last month, when Georgia and Moldova bucked Russian pressure and signed their own Association Agreements.
There are also reasons for hope in Ukraine. No matter how much money President Putin commits, he cannot change the fact that a majority of Ukrainians — not just in the west, but in the south and east as well — see their future in Europe. Poll after poll confirms this, as does any time spent with young Ukrainians, who have no memory of the Soviet Union, and who want everything Europe has to offer.
For this reason, no Ukrainian president — not this one or any other — will ever be able to take Ukraine off the path to Europe. Doing so would be political suicide. And for Russia to insist on it would only engender the animosity of millions of Ukrainians.
The fact is, Russia is not ten feet tall, and it cannot bail out Ukraine forever. Russia’s economy is growing sluggishly, plagued by corruption and capital flight and dependent on hydrocarbons. Under these circumstances, I imagine many Russians are not too happy to see $15 billion of their national resources heading to a foreign country in furtherance of President Putin’s selfish ideological ambitions.
So the question now is, where do we go from here?
First, we must continue to support the peaceful aspirations of Ukrainians for democracy, rule of law, uncorrupt governance, equal opportunity, and integration with Europe. We must insist that the Ukrainian government uphold the human rights of all Ukrainians, especially the freedom of speech and association. And where Ukrainian citizens remain detained for peacefully exercising these basic rights, we should continue to call and work for their immediate release.
Second, we must continue to demand that all sides in the current political crisis refrain from violence — something the Maidan demonstrators have done to a remarkable degree. Both the Administration and the Congress have put Ukrainian authorities on notice that any further use of violence or other human rights violations against peaceful citizens will be met with targeted sanctions against those responsible.
This is not an idle threat, and I hope we never have to make good on it. But we will vigilantly monitor events in Ukraine, and whether the demonstrations continue or not, we will be prepared to respond as necessary.
Third, we must support Ukrainian demands for accountability for those who ordered and carried out past acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators. President Yanukovich has initiated this process, and we should support Ukrainian efforts to see it through and to expand its scope where the evidence warrants.
Fourth, we must support popular Ukrainian demands for transparency on the terms of the agreement that was signed in Moscow this week. Many Ukrainians fear that President Yanukovich has made a decision that puts his own self-interests above the best interests of the country. It would not be the first time. We think Ukraine’s citizens have a right to know the details of what Russia will get out of this deal.
Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend — from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development. Decisions such as these are for Ukrainians to make — no one else — and if they request our assistance, we should provide it where possible.
Finally, we must encourage the European Union and the IMF to keep their doors open to Ukraine. Ultimately, the support of both institutions is indispensible for Ukraine’s future. And eventually, a Ukrainian President, either this one or a future one, will be prepared to accept the fundamental choice facing the country, which is this: While there are real short-term costs to the political and economic reforms required for IMF assistance and EU integration, and while President Putin will likely add to these costs by retaliating against Ukraine’s economy, the long-term benefits for Ukraine in taking these tough steps are far greater and almost limitless.
This decision cannot be borne by one person alone in Ukraine. Nor should it be. It must be shared — both the risks and the rewards — by all Ukrainians, especially the opposition and business elite. It must also be shared by the EU, the IMF and the United States.
All of us in the West should be prepared to help Ukraine, financially and otherwise, to overcome the short-term pain that reforms will require and Russia may inflict. In short, the West must show Ukraine’s leaders and people that they will not face short-term economic destruction in pursuit of a better future.
This is the challenge we now face with Georgia and Moldova, which have decided to deepen ties to Europe and the West. These countries must know that we will help them weather any loss of economic activity or energy supplies. In a sense, by helping Georgia and Moldova to meet their short-term needs during this transition, we in the West can convince Ukraine and others that they can count on us too.
Ultimately, if we are committed to expanding the promise of the Euro-Atlantic community, we will have to stand up more forcefully to Russia. This is not the way it should be, and certainly not the way we want it to be. Eastern European countries should not have to choose between good relations with the EU or good relations with Russia.
That is not a choice we are asking them to make. It is a false choice, premised on an outdated, zero-sum view of the world. Unfortunately, this is exactly the choice that President Putin wants to impose on these countries.
As long as this remains the case, there will be tension with Russia that no amount of happy rhetoric or resets in relations can rectify. For the past two decades, administrations of both parties have sought to cooperate with Russia where possible and compete with Russia where necessary.
The unfortunate reality is that despite our best intentions and efforts, there is more competition than cooperation. We must face this reality squarely. And we must be willing to support our partners when they face undue Russian pressure for making their own sovereign decisions.
Now, many Americans will ask: Why should we care? Why should we care what happens to a country like Ukraine? Why does that affect our national interests? Here is why: For the entirety of the last century, the United States and our friends and allies pursued the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.
We sacrificed our resources and shed our blood for it, time and time again. And we did so not simply because this vision of Europe’s future is just and right, though it’s both, but also because it is the only path to lasting stability on the continent, because it benefits our people economically, and because ultimately it makes our nation safer.
Despite growing challenges in the Middle East, and Asia, and other parts of the world, we cannot forget that the work of a Europe whole, free, and at peace is not finished. This struggle continues today in Ukraine, and Moldova, and Georgia, and other countries in Eastern Europe.
We must be no less committed now than before in pursuing our national interest of a Europe whole, free, and at peace — and supporting the right of all countries to share the benefits of it. That includes Russia.
This vision has always drawn Europeans and Americans, Ukrainians and Americans, together. And we see evidence of that all around us. Just a mile west of here, off of Dupont Circle, is a statue of the great Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko.
It was dedicated nearly 50 years ago by President Eisenhower, who expressed his hope that the statue would, ‘rekindle a new world movement in the hearts, minds, words and actions of men — a never-ending movement dedicated to the independence and freedom of peoples of all captive nations of the entire world.’
After Eisenhower spoke, a Ukrainian chorus led the assembled crowd in singing one of Shevchenko’s most famous poems, which concludes with this plea:
‘Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains,
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.’
America will always remember Ukraine. And we will always support the peaceful aspirations of her people, as we do on behalf of all people, in Europe and beyond.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 23, 2014) — More than five years into his presidency, Barack Obama has failed to take full control over his foreign policy, allowing a bureaucracy shaped by long years of Republican control and spurred on by a neocon-dominated US news media to frustrate many of his efforts to redirect America’s approach to the world in a more peaceful direction.
But Obama deserves a big dose of the blame for this predicament because he did little to neutralize the government holdovers and indeed played into their hands with his initial appointments to head the State and Defense departments, Hillary Clinton, a neocon-leaning Democrat, and Robert Gates, a Republican cold warrior, respectively.
Even now, key US diplomats are more attuned to hard-line positions than to promoting peace. The latest example is Ukraine where US diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, are celebrating the overthrow of an elected pro-Russian government.
Occurring during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the coup in Ukraine dealt an embarrassing black eye to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had offended neocon sensibilities by quietly cooperating with Obama to reduce tensions over Iran and Syria, where the neocons favored military options.
Over the past several weeks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was undercut by a destabilization campaign encouraged by Nuland and Pyatt and then deposed in a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias.
Even after Yanukovych and the political opposition agreed to an orderly transition toward early elections, right-wing armed patrols shattered the agreement and took strategic positions around Kiev.
Despite these ominous signs, Ambassador Pyatt hailed the coup as “a day for the history books.” Most of the mainstream US news media also sided with the coup, with commentators praising the overthrow of an elected government as “reform.” But a few dissonant reports have pierced the happy talk by noting that the armed militias are part of the Pravy Sektor, a right-wing nationalist group which is often compared to the Nazis.
Thus, the Ukrainian coup could become the latest neocon-initiated “regime change” that ousted a target government but failed to take into account who would fill the void.
Some of these same American neocons pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, not realizing that removing Saddam Hussein would touch off a sectarian conflict and lead to a pro-Iranian Shiite regime.
Similarly, US military intervention in Libya in 2011 eliminated Muammar Gaddafi but also empowered Islamic extremists who later murdered the US ambassador and spread unrest beyond Libya’s borders to nearby Mali.
One might trace this neocons’ blindness to consequences back to Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Reagan administration supported Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, in a war against Soviet troops, only to have Muslim extremists take control of Afghanistan and provide a base for al-Qaeda to plot the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
Regarding Ukraine, today’s State Department bureaucracy seems to be continuing the same anti-Moscow geopolitical strategy set during those Reagan-Bush years.
Robert Gates described the approach in his new memoir, Duty, explaining the view of President George H.W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”
Vice President Cheney and the neocons pursued a similar strategy during George W. Bush’s presidency, expanding NATO aggressively to the east and backing anti-Russian regimes in the region including the hard-line Georgian government, which provoked a military confrontation with Moscow in 2008, ironically, during the Summer Olympics in China.
As President, Obama has sought a m/ore cooperative relationship with Russia’s Putin and, generally, a less belligerent approach toward adversarial countries. Obama has been supported by an inner circle at the White House with analytical assistance from some elements of the US intelligence community.
But the neocon momentum at the State Department and from other parts of the US government has continued in the direction set by George W. Bush’s neocon administration and by neocon-lite Democrats who surrounded Secretary of State Clinton during Obama’s first term.
The two competing currents of geopolitical thinking — a less combative one from the White House and a more aggressive one from the foreign policy bureaucracy — have often worked at cross-purposes. But Obama, with only a few exceptions, has been unwilling to confront the hardliners or even fully articulate his foreign policy vision publicly.
For instance, Obama succumbed to the insistence of Gates, Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009, though the President reportedly felt trapped into the decision which he soon regretted.
In 2010, Obama backed away from a Brazilian-Turkish-brokered deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program after Clinton denounced the arrangement and pushed for economic sanctions and confrontation as favored by the neocons and Israel.
Just last summer, Obama — only at the last second — reversed a course charted by the State Department favoring a military intervention in Syria over disputed US claims that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians. Putin helped arrange a way out for Obama by getting the Syrian government to agree to surrender its chemical weapons. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Showdown for War or Peace.”]
Stirring Up Trouble
Now, you have Assistant Secretary of State Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, acting as a leading instigator in the Ukrainian unrest, explicitly seeking to pry the country out of the Russian orbit.
Last December, she reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the US goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves.”
The Kagan family includes other important neocons, such as Frederick Kagan, who was a principal architect of the Iraq and Afghan “surge” strategies. In Duty, Gates writes that “an important way station in my â€˜pilgrim’s progress’ from skepticism to support of more troops [in Afghanistan] was an essay by the historian Fred Kagan, who sent me a prepublication draft.
“I knew and respected Kagan. He had been a prominent proponent of the surge in Iraq, and we had talked from time to time about both wars, including one long evening conversation on the veranda of one of Saddam’s palaces in Baghdad.”
Now, another member of the Kagan family, albeit an in-law, has been orchestrating the escalation of tensions in Ukraine with an eye toward one more “regime change.”
As for Nuland’s sidekick, US Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt previously served as a US diplomat in Vienna involved in bringing the International Atomic Energy Agency into a line with US and Israeli hostility toward Iran.
A July 9, 2009, cable from Pyatt, which was released by Pvt. Bradley Manning, revealed Pyatt to be the middleman who coordinated strategy with the US-installed IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano.
Pyatt reported that Amano offered to cooperate with the US and Israel on Iran, including having private meetings with Israeli officials, supporting US sanctions, and agreeing to IAEA personnel changes favored by the United States. According to the cable, Pyatt promised strong US backing for Amano and Amano asked for more US money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]
It was Ambassador Pyatt who was on the other end of Nuland’s infamous Jan. 28 phone call in which she discussed how to manipulate Ukraine’s tensions and who to elevate into the country’s leadership. According to the conversation, which was intercepted and made public, Nuland ruled out one opposition figure, Vitali Klitschko, a popular former boxer, because he lacked experience.
Nuland also favored the UN as mediator over the European Union, at which point in the conversation she exclaimed, “Fuck the E.U.” to which Pyatt responded, “Oh, exactly â€¦”
Ultimately, the Ukrainian unrest — over a policy debate whether Ukraine should move toward entering the European Union — led to a violent showdown in which neo-fascist storm troopers battled police, leaving scores dead.
To ease the crisis, President Yanukovych agreed to a power-sharing government and to accelerated elections. But no sooner was that agreement signed then the hard-right faction threw it out and pressed for power in an apparent coup.
Again, the American neocons had performed the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, unleashing forces and creating chaos that soon was spinning out of control. But this latest “regime change,” which humiliated President Putin, could also do long-term damage to US-Russian cooperation vital to resolving other crises, with Iran and Syria, two more countries where the neocons are also eager for confrontation.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 3, 2014) — In a rare moment of cooperation between the Syrian government and rebel forces, aid agencies say hundreds of people were allowed to evacuate over the weekend from a suburb of Damascus where the nearly three-year-old civil war has yielded yet another horror: Hunger so severe that a significant number of people are said to be now starving to death.
The evacuation from Yarmouk Camp, a rebel-held suburb just south of Damascus, comes after 89 people, most of them children and elderly people, have died of malnutrition-related diseases since January 1, according to Jamal Hammad, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent. He said his count only includes cases with confirmed death certificates.
In a suburb of Damascus, the nearly three-year-old civil war in Syria has yielded yet another horror: Hunger so severe that a significant number of people are said to be now starving to death.
Children under the age of one and elderly people over 65 account for 60 percent of the deaths, he said.
Yarmouk Camp is a neighborhood of mostly Palestinians who fled to Syria in the 1950s and are now caught in the crossfire of the civil war. The United Nations estimates that some 20,000 people remain there, virtually cut off from the rest of the world.
Hammad is one of multiple credible sources reached inside Yarmouk, including three relief workers and two photographers, who all said hunger is so severe there that people are dying in significant numbers. (The England-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said more than 80 people have died in recent months from both starvation and a lack of medical care.)
Hammad’s wife Amal Ahmad, a trained x-ray technician who is also a relief worker, said that she is concerned that the rate of hunger-related deaths could soon spike, as many people are now in a weakened state. She said “many women have suffered miscarriages or died in childbirth due to extreme malnourishment.” Ahmad was one of several sources who described the situation as nearing a tipping point.
Some sources asked that their last names not be used out of fear for their personal safety, including Osama, a 26-year-old former graduate student in economics who is also a local relief worker. He said that in Yarmouk, people are eating cats, grass and cactus they are so hungry.
Snipers have shot people dead while they are gathering grass to eat, he said. Ahmad said these dead are being called â€œmartyrs of the grassâ€ in Yarmouk.
The situation has become so desperate, Osama said, that people are now drawing blood in fights over food, and he’s afraid of what may come next. Asked to name his greatest fear, he said, “Maybe the people can eat each other. I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t imagine. Before, no one can imagine that a family can just cook a cat. Now it’s happened.”
Hammad corroborated Osama’s account about people eating cats. He said people have also eaten dogs.
In recent days, a small amount of food aid has trickled in through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Ahmad said this was the first actual food she and many she knows have eaten in at least four months. She said many people, especially children, had problems digesting the food since their stomachs are completely empty, and they vomited their first meals.
She said the few families who were able to get food aid are sharing it with families who were not as lucky, but the overwhelming majority of people in Yarmouk did not get any aid.
Osama said some people are down to consuming only water. “Sometimes we do this . . . drink some water with some sugar or some salt and go back to sleep. But when you go to the street you will find maybe the people next door . . . they’re dead,” he said.
Photographs of emaciated children have emerged across the Internet in recent days, purportedly from Yarmouk. Sources confirm that photos obtained by NBC News are of children in Yarmouk, and were taken in recent days and weeks.
NBC contacted two photographers who also confirmed they are seeing children and elderly people terribly weakened by hunger. One photographer named Niraz took most of the photos shown in this report, including one of two young children wrapped in white, lying next to one another on a blue cloth. Niraz identified them as 4-month-old Leila Khaled and 25-day-old Rahaf. Osama said those two children died on Tuesday, and that children die in Yarmouk every day now.
An analysis of the photos by NBC News has determined there to be no obvious signs of digital manipulation.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that while he cannot confirm the number of starvation-related deaths, there are “widespread reports of malnutrition” including children with rickets and anemia. He also said, “people, including infants, are eating animal feed.”
Gunness said the aid allowed into Yarmouk so far is “shockingly inadequate to meet the dire needs of these civilians,” and called on Syrian authorities and all parties in the conflict to facilitate the rapid access of substantial quantities of food to civilians in Yarmouk.
A representative at the Syrian Consulate in New York City declined to comment on the situation, including why substantial quantities of food are being blocked from getting into Yarmouk.
Relief worker Osama estimated that there are about five dozen rebel fighters inside Yarmouk among the thousands of civilians.
When asked if there is any pressure on these fighters to stop firing at the Syrian Army in an effort to get more food into the area, Osama said, “Yes, people make pressure but there is no reason to let children starve to death, no reason to siege all of this area.”
Children cry “all the time, not just the night, all of the time,” Osama said. “You can hear their moms also. Most families just spend their day just looking for anything to eat.”
Asked what Yarmouk needs most, he said, “We need to save the children inside Yarmouk. Maybe send them out of Syria . . . our families will be happy, believe me. Just save the children.”
Sharaf Mowjood, Ziad Jaber and Justin Balding contributed to this report.
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