Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fast and Furious: Now They’re Really Gunning for Trump




Here’s what I saw unfold in the media during the 24 hours from Monday to Tuesday afternoon (May 15-16).

On Monday, I saw blaring headlines throughout the day on Twitter about how Trump had betrayed some “highly-classified” intelligence secrets to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting last week. I was busy and paid little attention to this news, but I figured Trump must have committed one of his hallmark impetuous faux-pas involving some massive security breach, given the hysterical tone of the coverage.

I awoke Tuesday to read the stories in the New York Times (NYT), and the Washington Post (WaPo), sourced to anonymous “current and former government officials,” recounting that Trump had told the Russians a big secret—the NYT did not specify what, but WaPo identified it as an “Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.” As both papers acknowledge—though WaPo makes the irrelevant point that it would be illegal “for almost anyone in government”—Trump, as president, did nothing illegal in telling the Russians this, and, according to the NYT’s own sources, and to National Security advisor Lt. Gen. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—the only people cited who were actually in the room—Trump “discussed the contents of the intelligence, but not the sources and methods used to collect it.”

Per McMaster: “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” Neither of the articles, and no one cited in them, disputed this. Per WaPo: “He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances.”

So far, I was seeing nothing to break a sweat over. Is there some problem with notifying Russia—or anyone else, for that matter—of an Islamic State threat to blow up civilian aircraft with laptop bombs? Is the idea that we’re supposed to sit back and let it happen? What sane person wouldn’t be glad this warning was given to Russia, and wouldn’t want Russia to give it to us if the circumstances were reversed? Is this not a routine exchange of threat information in a closed principals’ meeting?

Monday, January 30, 2017

No Apology: Syria, Interrupted (Part 2)



In a previous essay, I stated that Russian military help to the Syrian State was a response to a direct threat from the United States to attack Syrian armed forces, that I understood the Syrian uprising since 2011 as an instance of the ongoing program of regime change via jhiadi forces driven by the United States and its allies, and that, as a result, the Syria-Russia alliance was a necessary, legal, and legitimate defense of state sovereignty and independence that averted an impending victory of those foreign-sponsored jihadi forces. I found this interruption of imperialist chaos state destruction to be a net positive for the world, and a result I welcomed as a leftist.  I’ll call this the “anti-imperialist” position.

I also said that I recognized there are leftists out there committed to democracy, social justice, and anti-imperialism (excluding here obvious partisans of American exceptionalism, Zionism, and Euro-American capitalist globalism) who can disagree with my position as a matter of political analysis and judgement, but that—as I would explain in a later post—I disagreed vigorously with some of the spurious rhetorical tactics used to attack positions like mine and defend the alternative. Here’s that explanation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Syria, Interrupted
Game Change

CBC News

The recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies marks a turning point not only in the conflict in Syria, but also in the dynamic of international conflict. For the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the rolling imperial engine of regime change via American-led military intervention has been stopped in its tracks. To be sure, it’s certainly not out of service, even in Syria, and it will seek and find new paths for devastating disobedient countries, but its assumed endgame for subjugating Syria has been rudely interrupted. And in our historical context, Syria interrupted is imperialism interrupted.


Let’s remember where things stood in Syria seventeen months ago. After a four-year campaign, directed by the United States, thousands of jihadis in various groups backed by the US/NATO, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Israel, were on the offensive. ISIS occupied Palmyra, Raqqa, and swaths of territory, and was systematically raping, beheading, and torturing Syrian citizens and looting and destroying the country’s cultural treasures. Al-Qeada/al-Nusra had triumphantly poured into the eastern part of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city (and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world), were beheading and crucifying their newly-subjugated Syrian captives, and were beginning their siege of the larger and more populous part of that city. Turkey had commenced military operations on Syrian territory against Kurdish forces (who had won significant victories against ISIS), and was enabling the transit of foreign jihadis into Syria and convoys of ISIS oil through its territory. Against these dispersed offensives, the Syrian Arab Army was undermanned and overstretched.

As John Kerry himself later admitted, in a meeting with Syrian opposition, the Obama administration saw the ISIS advance as a positive development: “[W]e know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that DAESH [ ISIS] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. [We] thought, however, we could probably manage that. Assad might then negotiate.”(By “negotiate,” Kerry meant “capitulate”—negotiate the terms of his abdication.) For the Serious People in Washington, this—the impending takeover of Syria by ISIS and Al-Qaeda jihadis—meant things were going swimmingly. (Al-Nusra was at the time—and still is, less officially—the affiliate of Al-Qaeda in Syria.) As Daniel Lazare pointed out: “After years of hemming and hawing, the Obama administration has finally come clean about its goals in Syria.  In the battle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, it is siding with Al Qaeda…[R]ather than protesting what is in fact a joint U.S.-Al Qaeda assault, the Beltway crowd is either maintaining a discreet silence or boldy hailing Al Nusra’s impending victory as ‘the best thing that could happen in a Middle East in crisis.’”

You read that right. As one al-Nusra commander said: "We are one part of al-Qaeda…The Americans are on our side.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ship of Fools: What Trump Teaches


It happened.

Yes, I was surprised. Since I spend a lot of time in western Pennsylvania, I knew there was more support for Trump than the media let on, but he just seemed too incompetent, incoherent, and disorganized a candidate to defeat the Clinton machine. I enjoyed torturing my friend who has been very close to Hillary for decades with scary stories about Trump surging. But in our early election day texting, I confessed that I thought it would be called for Hillary by 11PM at the latest. I was as wrong as everyone else.

I did not vote for either Hillary or Trump, and was resigned to taking my chances with either horrible outcome, but I was implicitly anticipating the dangers of a Clinton administration. I also thought, however, that there might be one positive effect of Hillary’s presidency. Contrary to what might be considered the usual leftist line that electing the explicitly ultra-reactionary Trump would foment the revolution, or at least radical discontent, I thought that, in the American context, Hillary being president would help the left the most.

If Trump wins, I argued, and his policies fail miserably and obviously, Democrats and liberals would spend the next four years saying: “See, you should have voted for Hillary,” and channeling oppositional energy into a familiar anti-Trump, anti-Republican, “Let’s make sure we elect a Democrat in 2020” politics—as we saw after Bush’s election in 2000.  The Democrats would once again present themselves as the system’s way out.

On the other hand, I thought that, if Hillary were to win and wreak her expected havoc on America and the world, Democrats and liberals would not be able to blame the Republicans. It would be the left that could say “See what you voted for?” The system would have failed in its Democratic guise. Because this might finally persuade more progressive-minded people to break with the Democratic Party once and for all. It was Hillary’s presidency, not Trump’s, that would open new paths for the left.

Now we have Donald Trump as president. His election is a disgrace, and we know what a disaster his administration will be for the country and the world. Mr. Anti-establishment, “drain the swamp,” tribune of the forgotten, is already filling up his clown car cabinet with the same-old tired Republican reactionaries and incompetents (Sarah Palin, Giluliani, Christie, Bolton), not to mention turning to industry and Wall Street lobbyists (and here) and, of course, Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin) to run the Treasury. As business news site Quartz so aptly headlines: Trump criticized Clinton for her Wall Street ties, but he’s the best thing to happen to big banks.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tom Hayden's Haunting

George Brich, AP

As an old SDS-er, I found it hard to see Tom Hayden go. However meandering his path, he was at the heart of radical history in the 60s, an erstwhile companion, if not always a comrade, on the route of every boomer lefty.

One of his finer moments for me, which I’ve never seen mentioned (including among this week’s encomia) since he wrote it, was his 2006 article, published on CounterPunch with an introduction by Alexander Cockburn, in which he apologized for a "descent into moral ambiguity and realpolitick that still haunts me today.” It would be respectful of Hayden’s admirers and critics, on the occasion of his passing, to remember which of his actions “haunted” him the most.

The title of the article says it clearly: “I Was Israel’s Dupe.” In the essay, Hayden apologizes for his support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which was for him that “descent into moral ambiguity” More importantly, he explains why he did it, in a detailed narrative that everyone should read.

Hayden sold out, as he tells it, because, in order to run as a Democratic candidate for the California State Assembly, he had to get the approval of the influential Democratic congressman Howard Berman. Berman is a guy who, when he became Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was proud to tell the Forward that he took the job because of his  “interest in the Jewish state” and that: “Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist.”

Hayden had to meet with Howard’s brother Michael, who, acting as “the gatekeeper protecting Los Angeles’ Westside for Israel’s political interests,” told Hayden: "I represent the Israeli Defense Forces”—a sentence that could serve as the motto of most American congress critters today. The “Berman-Waxman machine,” Hayden was told, would deign to “rent” him the Assembly seat on the “one condition: that I always be a ‘good friend of Israel.’”

Featured Post From The Archive:

Ship of Fools: What Trump Teaches

It happened. Yes, I was surprised. Since I spend a lot of time in western Pennsylvania, I knew there was more support for Trump than...