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TBR News April 19, 2014

Apr 18 2014

The Voice of the White House

       

         Washington, D.C. April 17, 2014: “ Blogger Alex Jones (Prison Planet) did articles on the Bundy Ranch business recently that clearly demonstrates the problems with alleged “alternative” news sites. According to Jones, Senator Harry Reid and a group of Chinese businessmen were interested in getting their hands on the Bundy ranch to put up solar panels. Jones cites an article that had appeared in the Guardian in January of this year as proof.   Flashback: Sen. Reid Breaks Ground for Nevada Solar Farm Near Bundy Ranch –read the link. Unfortunately for the breathless discovery, the Guardian article clearly pointed out that the area the Chinese were interested in lay 90 miles south of Las Vegas. And the Bundy ranch was 87 miles northeast of Las Vegas. This is typical of the blog errata. And it is also interesting to note that none of the Bundy business was ever mentioned, not a line given to it, in either the New York Times or the Washington Post. This more than confirms Beltway belief that both papers are firmly in the government’s pocket and will print, or not print, whatever is ordered by their controllers.”

 

Special Report: How the U.S. made its Putin problem worse

 

April 18, 2014

by David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed

Reuters

 

WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK – – In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington’s imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War.

 

He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.

 

During Putin’s visit to President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch two months later, the U.S. leader, speaking at a local high school, declared his Russian counterpart “a new style of leader, a reformer…, a man who’s going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States.”

 

For a moment, it seemed, the distrust and antipathy of the Cold War were fading.

 

Then, just weeks later, Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect NATO allies and U.S. bases from Iranian missile attack. In a nationally televised address, Putin warned that the move would undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

 

“This step has not come as a surprise to us,” Putin said. “But we believe this decision to be mistaken.”

 

The sequence of events early in Washington’s relationship with Putin reflects a dynamic that has persisted through the ensuing 14 years and the current crisis in Ukraine: U.S. actions, some intentional and some not, sparking an overreaction from an aggrieved Putin.

 

As Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border, Putin is thwarting what the Kremlin says is an American plot to surround Russia with hostile neighbors. Experts said he is also promoting “Putinism” – a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism – as a global alternative to Western democracy.

 

NOT PAYING ATTENTION?

 

It’s also a dynamic that some current and former U.S. officials said reflects an American failure to recognize that while the Soviet Union is gone as an ideological enemy, Russia has remained a major power that demands the same level of foreign policy attention as China and other large nations – a relationship that should not just be a means to other ends, but an end in itself.

 

“I just don’t think we were really paying attention,” said James F. Collins, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1990s. The bilateral relationship “was seen as not a big deal.”

 

Putin was never going to be an easy partner. He is a Russian nationalist with authoritarian tendencies who, like his Russian predecessors for centuries, harbors a deep distrust of the West, according to senior U.S. officials. Much of his world view was formed as a KGB officer in the twilight years of the Cold War and as a government official in the chaotic post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s, which Putin and many other Russians view as a period when the United States repeatedly took advantage of Russian weakness.

 

Since becoming Russia’s president in 2000, Putin has made restoring Russia’s strength – and its traditional sphere of influence – his central goal. He has also cemented his hold on power, systematically quashed dissent and used Russia’s energy supplies as an economic billy club against its neighbors. Aided by high oil prices and Russia’s United Nations Security Council veto, Putin has perfected the art of needling American presidents, at times obstructing U.S. policies.

 

Officials from the administrations of Presidents Bush and Barack Obama said American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with Putin. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow.

 

COMMON CAUSE

 

Bush and Putin’s post-2001 camaraderie foundered on a core dispute: Russia’s relationship with its neighbors. In November 2002, Bush backed NATO’s invitation to seven nations – including former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – to begin talks to join the Western alliance. In 2004, with Bush as a driving force, the seven Eastern European nations joined NATO.

 

Putin and other Russian officials asked why NATO continued to grow when the enemy it was created to fight, the Soviet Union, had ceased to exist. And they asked what NATO expansion would do to counter new dangers, such as terrorism and proliferation.

 

“This purely mechanical expansion does not let us face the current threats,” Putin said, “and cannot allow us to prevent such things as the terrorist attacks in Madrid or restore stability in Afghanistan.”

 

Thomas E. Graham, who served as Bush’s senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, said a larger effort should have been made to create a new post-Soviet, European security structure that replaced NATO and included Russia.

 

“What we should have been aiming for – and what we should be aiming for at this point,” Graham said, “is a security structure that’s based on three pillars: the United States, a more or less unified Europe, and Russia.”

 

Graham said small, incremental attempts to test Russian intentions in the early 2000s in Afghanistan, for example, would have been low-risk ways to gauge Putin’s sincerity. “We never tested Putin,” Graham said. “Our policy never tested Putin to see whether he was really committed to a different type of relationship.”

 

But Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and other conservatives, as well as hawkish Democrats, remained suspicious of Russia and eager to expand NATO. They argued that Moscow should not be given veto power over which nations could join the alliance, and that no American president should rebuff demands from Eastern European nations to escape Russian dominance.

 

DEMOCRACY IN OUR TIME

 

Another core dispute between Bush and Putin related to democracy. What Bush and other American officials saw as democracy spreading across the former Soviet bloc, Putin saw as pro-American regime change.

 

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, without U.N. authorization and over the objections of France, Germany and Russia, was a turning point for Putin. He said the war made a mockery of American claims of promoting democracy abroad and upholding international law.

 

Putin was also deeply skeptical of U.S. efforts to nurture democracy in the former Soviet bloc, where the State Department and American nonprofit groups provided training and funds to local civil-society groups. In public speeches, he accused the United States of meddling.

 

In late 2003, street protests in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, known as the Rose Revolution, led to the election of a pro-Western leader. Four months later, street protests in Ukraine that became known as the Orange Revolution resulted in a pro-Western president taking office there.

 

Putin saw both developments as American-backed plots and slaps in the face, so soon after his assistance in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials.

 

In 2006, Bush and Putin’s sparring over democracy intensified. In a press conference at the first G-8 summit hosted by Russia, the two presidents had a testy exchange. Bush said that the United States was promoting freedom in Iraq, which was engulfed in violence. Putin openly mocked him.

 

“We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq,” Putin said, smiling as the audience erupted into laughter, “I will tell you quite honestly.”

 

Bush tried to laugh off the remark. “Just wait,” he replied, referring to Iraq.

 

A PITSTOP IN MOSCOW?

 

Graham said the Bush administration telegraphed in small but telling ways that other foreign countries, particularly Iraq, took precedence over the bilateral relationship with Moscow.

 

In 2006, for example, the White House asked the Kremlin for permission for Bush to make a refueling stop in Moscow on his way to an Asia-Pacific summit meeting. But it made clear that Bush was not looking to meet with Putin, whom he would see on the sidelines of the summit.

 

After Russian diplomats complained, Graham was sent to Moscow to determine if Putin really wanted a meeting and to make clear that if there was one, it would be substance-free.

 

In the end, the two presidents met and agreed to ask their underlings to work on a nonproliferation package.

 

“When the Russian team came to Washington in December 2006, in a fairly high-level … group, we didn’t have anything to offer,” Graham said. “We hadn’t had any time to think about it. We were still focused on Iraq.”

 

Graham said that the Bush administration’s approach slighted Moscow. “We missed some opportunities in the Bush administration’s initial years to put this on a different track,” Graham said. “And then later on, some of our actions, intentional or not, sent a clear message to Moscow that we didn’t care.”

 

THREE TRAIN WRECKS

 

Bush’s relationship with Putin unraveled in 2008. In February, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia with the support of the United States – a step that Russia, a longtime supporter of Serbia, had been trying to block diplomatically for more than a decade. In April, Bush won support at a NATO summit in Bucharest for the construction of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

 

Bush called on NATO to give Ukraine and Georgia a so-called Membership Action Plan, a formal process that would put each on a path toward eventually joining the alliance. France and Germany blocked him and warned that further NATO expansion would spur an aggressive Russian stance when Moscow regained power.

 

In the end, the alliance simply issued a statement saying the two countries “will become members of NATO.” That compromise risked the worst of both worlds – antagonizing Moscow without giving Kiev and Tbilisi a roadmap to join NATO.

 

The senior U.S. official said these steps amounted to “three train wrecks” from Putin’s point of view, exacerbating the Russian leader’s sense of victimization. “Doing all three of those things in kind of close proximity – Kosovo independence, missile defense and the NATO expansion decisions – sort of fed his sense of people trying to take advantage of Russia,” he said.

 

In August 2008, Putin struck back. After Georgia launched an offensive to regain control of the breakaway, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, Putin launched a military operation that expanded Russian control of South Ossetia and a second breakaway area, Abkhazia.

 

The Bush administration, tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, publicly protested but declined to intervene militarily in Georgia. Putin emerged as the clear winner and achieved his goal of standing up to the West.

 

ONLY ONE MAJOR ISSUE

 

After his 2008 election victory, Barack Obama carried out a sweeping review of Russia policy. Its primary architect was Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and vocal proponent of greater democracy in Russia who took the National Security Council position previously held by Thomas Graham.

 

In a recent interview, McFaul said that when Obama’s new national security team surveyed the administration’s primary foreign policy objectives, they found that few involved Russia. Only one directly related to bilateral relations with Moscow: a new nuclear arms reduction treaty.

 

The result, McFaul said, was that relations with Moscow were seen as important in terms of achieving other foreign policy goals, and not as important in terms of Russia itself.

 

“So that was our approach,” he said.

 

Obama’s new Russia strategy was called “the reset.” In July 2009, he traveled to Moscow to start implementing it.

 

In an interview with the Associated Press a few days before leaving Washington, Obama chided Putin, who had become Russia’s prime minister in 2008 after reaching his two-term constitutional limit as president. Obama said the United States was developing a “very good relationship” with the man Putin had anointed as his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and accused Putin of using “Cold War approaches” to relations with Washington.

 

“I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new,” Obama said.

 

In Moscow, Obama spent five hours meeting with Medvedev and only one hour meeting with Putin, who was still widely seen as the country’s real power. After their meeting, Putin said U.S.-Russian relations had gone through various stages.

 

“There were periods when our relations flourished quite a bit and there were also periods of, shall we say, grayish mood between our two countries and of stagnation,” he said, as Obama sat a few feet away.

 

At first, the reset fared well. During Obama’s visit, Moscow agreed to greatly expand Washington’s ability to ship military supplies to Afghanistan via Russia. In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a new START treaty, further reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Later that year, Russia supported sweeping new U.N. economic sanctions on Iran and blocked the sale of sophisticated, Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Tehran.

 

Experts said the two-year honeymoon was the result of the Obama administration’s engaging Russia on issues where the two countries shared interests, such as reducing nuclear arms, countering terrorism and nonproliferation. The same core issues that sparked tensions during the Bush administration – democracy and Russia’s neighbors – largely went unaddressed.

 

A VAPORIZED RELATIONSHIP

 

In 2011, Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of secretly organizing street demonstrations after disputed Russian parliamentary elections. Putin said Clinton had encouraged “mercenary” Kremlin foes. And he claimed that foreign governments had provided “hundreds of millions” of dollars to Russian opposition groups.

 

“She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work,” Putin said.

 

McFaul called that a gross exaggeration. He said the U.S. government and American non-profit groups in total have provided tens of millions of dollars in support to civil society groups in Russia and former Soviet bloc countries since 1989.

 

In 2012, Putin was elected to a third term as president and launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and re-centralization of power. McFaul, then the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, publicly criticized the moves in speeches and Twitter posts.

 

In the interview, McFaul blamed Putin for the collapse in relations. McFaul said the Russian leader rebuffed repeated invitations to visit Washington when he was prime minister and declined to attend a G-8 meeting in Washington after he again became president. Echoing Bush-era officials, McFaul said it was politically impossible for an American president to trade Russian cooperation on Iran, for example, for U.S. silence on democracy in Russia and Moscow’s pressuring of its neighbors.

 

“We’re not going to do it if it means trading partnerships or interests with our partners or allies in the region,” McFaul said. “And we’re not going to do it if it means trading our speaking about democracy and human rights.”

 

Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that clashes over democracy ended any hopes of U.S.-Russian rapprochement, as they had in the Bush administration.

 

“That fight basically vaporizes the relationship,” said Weiss.

 

In 2013, U.S.-Russian relations plummeted. In June, Putin granted asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama, in turn, canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin in Moscow that fall. It was the first time a U.S. summit with the Kremlin had been canceled in 50 years.

 

Last fall, demonstrators in Kiev began demanding that Ukraine move closer to the European Union. At the time, the Obama White House was deeply skeptical of Putin and paying little attention to the former Soviet bloc, according to Weiss. White House officials had come to see Russia as a foreign policy dead end, not a source of potential successes.

 

Deferring to European officials, the Obama administration backed a plan that would have moved Ukraine closer to the EU and away from a pro-Russian economic bloc created by Putin. Critics said it was a mistake to make Ukraine choose sides.

 

Jack F. Matlock, who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, said that years of escalating protests by Putin made it clear he believed the West was surrounding him with hostile neighbors. And for centuries, Russian leaders have viewed a friendly Ukraine as vital to Moscow’s defense.

 

“The real red line has always been Ukraine,” Matlock said. “When you begin to poke them in the most sensitive area, unnecessarily, about their security, you are going to get a reaction that makes them a lot less cooperative.”

 

A PLIANT RUSSIA?

 

American experts said it was vital for the U.S. to establish a new long-term strategy toward Russia that does not blame the current crisis solely on Putin. Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, argued that demonizing Putin reflected the continued failure of American officials to recognize Russia’s power, interest and importance.

 

“Putin is a reflection of Russia,” Rojansky said. “This weird notion that Putin will go away and there will suddenly be a pliant Russia is false.”

 

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called for a long-term strategy that exploits the multiple advantages the U.S. and Europe enjoy over Putin’s Russia.

 

“I would much rather be playing our hand than his over the longer term,” the official said. “Because he has a number of, I think, pretty serious strategic disadvantages – a one-dimensional economy, a political system and a political elite that’s pretty rotten through corruption.”

 

Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador, said it was vital for Washington and Moscow to end a destructive pattern of careless American action followed by Russian overreaction.

 

“So many of the problems in our relationship really relate, I would say, to what I’d call inconsiderate American actions,” Matlock said. “Many of them were not meant to be damaging to Russia. … But the Russian interpretation often exaggerated the degree of hostility and overreacted.”

 

(Edited by John Blanton)

 

 

In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington’s imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War.

 

He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.

 

During Putin’s visit to President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch two months later, the U.S. leader, speaking at a local high school, declared his Russian counterpart “a new style of leader, a reformer…, a man who’s going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States.”

 

For a moment, it seemed, the distrust and antipathy of the Cold War were fading.

 

Then, just weeks later, Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect NATO allies and U.S. bases from Iranian missile attack. In a nationally televised address, Putin warned that the move would undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

 

“This step has not come as a surprise to us,” Putin said. “But we believe this decision to be mistaken.”

 

The sequence of events early in Washington’s relationship with Putin reflects a dynamic that has persisted through the ensuing 14 years and the current crisis in Ukraine: U.S. actions, some intentional and some not, sparking an overreaction from an aggrieved Putin.

 

As Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border, Putin is thwarting what the Kremlin says is an American plot to surround Russia with hostile neighbors. Experts said he is also promoting “Putinism” – a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism – as a global alternative to Western democracy.

 

NOT PAYING ATTENTION?

 

It’s also a dynamic that some current and former U.S. officials said reflects an American failure to recognize that while the Soviet Union is gone as an ideological enemy, Russia has remained a major power that demands the same level of foreign policy attention as China and other large nations – a relationship that should not just be a means to other ends, but an end in itself.

 

“I just don’t think we were really paying attention,” said James F. Collins, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1990s. The bilateral relationship “was seen as not a big deal.”

 

Putin was never going to be an easy partner. He is a Russian nationalist with authoritarian tendencies who, like his Russian predecessors for centuries, harbors a deep distrust of the West, according to senior U.S. officials. Much of his world view was formed as a KGB officer in the twilight years of the Cold War and as a government official in the chaotic post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s, which Putin and many other Russians view as a period when the United States repeatedly took advantage of Russian weakness.

 

Since becoming Russia’s president in 2000, Putin has made restoring Russia’s strength – and its traditional sphere of influence – his central goal. He has also cemented his hold on power, systematically quashed dissent and used Russia’s energy supplies as an economic billy club against its neighbors. Aided by high oil prices and Russia’s United Nations Security Council veto, Putin has perfected the art of needling American presidents, at times obstructing U.S. policies.

 

Officials from the administrations of Presidents Bush and Barack Obama said American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with Putin. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow.

 

COMMON CAUSE

 

Bush and Putin’s post-2001 camaraderie foundered on a core dispute: Russia’s relationship with its neighbors. In November 2002, Bush backed NATO’s invitation to seven nations – including former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – to begin talks to join the Western alliance. In 2004, with Bush as a driving force, the seven Eastern European nations joined NATO.

 

Putin and other Russian officials asked why NATO continued to grow when the enemy it was created to fight, the Soviet Union, had ceased to exist. And they asked what NATO expansion would do to counter new dangers, such as terrorism and proliferation.

 

“This purely mechanical expansion does not let us face the current threats,” Putin said, “and cannot allow us to prevent such things as the terrorist attacks in Madrid or restore stability in Afghanistan.”

 

Thomas E. Graham, who served as Bush’s senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, said a larger effort should have been made to create a new post-Soviet, European security structure that replaced NATO and included Russia.

 

“What we should have been aiming for – and what we should be aiming for at this point,” Graham said, “is a security structure that’s based on three pillars: the United States, a more or less unified Europe, and Russia.”

 

Graham said small, incremental attempts to test Russian intentions in the early 2000s in Afghanistan, for example, would have been low-risk ways to gauge Putin’s sincerity. “We never tested Putin,” Graham said. “Our policy never tested Putin to see whether he was really committed to a different type of relationship.”

 

But Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and other conservatives, as well as hawkish Democrats, remained suspicious of Russia and eager to expand NATO. They argued that Moscow should not be given veto power over which nations could join the alliance, and that no American president should rebuff demands from Eastern European nations to escape Russian dominance.

 

DEMOCRACY IN OUR TIME

 

Another core dispute between Bush and Putin related to democracy. What Bush and other American officials saw as democracy spreading across the former Soviet bloc, Putin saw as pro-American regime change.

 

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, without U.N. authorization and over the objections of France, Germany and Russia, was a turning point for Putin. He said the war made a mockery of American claims of promoting democracy abroad and upholding international law.

 

Putin was also deeply skeptical of U.S. efforts to nurture democracy in the former Soviet bloc, where the State Department and American nonprofit groups provided training and funds to local civil-society groups. In public speeches, he accused the United States of meddling.

 

In late 2003, street protests in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, known as the Rose Revolution, led to the election of a pro-Western leader. Four months later, street protests in Ukraine that became known as the Orange Revolution resulted in a pro-Western president taking office there.

 

Putin saw both developments as American-backed plots and slaps in the face, so soon after his assistance in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials.

 

In 2006, Bush and Putin’s sparring over democracy intensified. In a press conference at the first G-8 summit hosted by Russia, the two presidents had a testy exchange. Bush said that the United States was promoting freedom in Iraq, which was engulfed in violence. Putin openly mocked him.

 

“We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq,” Putin said, smiling as the audience erupted into laughter, “I will tell you quite honestly.”

 

Bush tried to laugh off the remark. “Just wait,” he replied, referring to Iraq.

 

A PITSTOP IN MOSCOW?

 

Graham said the Bush administration telegraphed in small but telling ways that other foreign countries, particularly Iraq, took precedence over the bilateral relationship with Moscow.

 

In 2006, for example, the White House asked the Kremlin for permission for Bush to make a refueling stop in Moscow on his way to an Asia-Pacific summit meeting. But it made clear that Bush was not looking to meet with Putin, whom he would see on the sidelines of the summit.

 

After Russian diplomats complained, Graham was sent to Moscow to determine if Putin really wanted a meeting and to make clear that if there was one, it would be substance-free.

 

In the end, the two presidents met and agreed to ask their underlings to work on a nonproliferation package.

 

“When the Russian team came to Washington in December 2006, in a fairly high-level … group, we didn’t have anything to offer,” Graham said. “We hadn’t had any time to think about it. We were still focused on Iraq.”

 

Graham said that the Bush administration’s approach slighted Moscow. “We missed some opportunities in the Bush administration’s initial years to put this on a different track,” Graham said. “And then later on, some of our actions, intentional or not, sent a clear message to Moscow that we didn’t care.”

 

THREE TRAIN WRECKS

 

Bush’s relationship with Putin unraveled in 2008. In February, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia with the support of the United States – a step that Russia, a longtime supporter of Serbia, had been trying to block diplomatically for more than a decade. In April, Bush won support at a NATO summit in Bucharest for the construction of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

 

Bush called on NATO to give Ukraine and Georgia a so-called Membership Action Plan, a formal process that would put each on a path toward eventually joining the alliance. France and Germany blocked him and warned that further NATO expansion would spur an aggressive Russian stance when Moscow regained power.

 

In the end, the alliance simply issued a statement saying the two countries “will become members of NATO.” That compromise risked the worst of both worlds – antagonizing Moscow without giving Kiev and Tbilisi a roadmap to join NATO.

 

The senior U.S. official said these steps amounted to “three train wrecks” from Putin’s point of view, exacerbating the Russian leader’s sense of victimization. “Doing all three of those things in kind of close proximity – Kosovo independence, missile defense and the NATO expansion decisions – sort of fed his sense of people trying to take advantage of Russia,” he said.

 

In August 2008, Putin struck back. After Georgia launched an offensive to regain control of the breakaway, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, Putin launched a military operation that expanded Russian control of South Ossetia and a second breakaway area, Abkhazia.

 

The Bush administration, tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, publicly protested but declined to intervene militarily in Georgia. Putin emerged as the clear winner and achieved his goal of standing up to the West.

 

ONLY ONE MAJOR ISSUE

 

After his 2008 election victory, Barack Obama carried out a sweeping review of Russia policy. Its primary architect was Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and vocal proponent of greater democracy in Russia who took the National Security Council position previously held by Thomas Graham.

 

In a recent interview, McFaul said that when Obama’s new national security team surveyed the administration’s primary foreign policy objectives, they found that few involved Russia. Only one directly related to bilateral relations with Moscow: a new nuclear arms reduction treaty.

 

The result, McFaul said, was that relations with Moscow were seen as important in terms of achieving other foreign policy goals, and not as important in terms of Russia itself.

 

“So that was our approach,” he said.

 

Obama’s new Russia strategy was called “the reset.” In July 2009, he traveled to Moscow to start implementing it.

 

In an interview with the Associated Press a few days before leaving Washington, Obama chided Putin, who had become Russia’s prime minister in 2008 after reaching his two-term constitutional limit as president. Obama said the United States was developing a “very good relationship” with the man Putin had anointed as his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and accused Putin of using “Cold War approaches” to relations with Washington.

 

“I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new,” Obama said.

 

In Moscow, Obama spent five hours meeting with Medvedev and only one hour meeting with Putin, who was still widely seen as the country’s real power. After their meeting, Putin said U.S.-Russian relations had gone through various stages.

 

“There were periods when our relations flourished quite a bit and there were also periods of, shall we say, grayish mood between our two countries and of stagnation,” he said, as Obama sat a few feet away.

 

At first, the reset fared well. During Obama’s visit, Moscow agreed to greatly expand Washington’s ability to ship military supplies to Afghanistan via Russia. In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a new START treaty, further reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Later that year, Russia supported sweeping new U.N. economic sanctions on Iran and blocked the sale of sophisticated, Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Tehran.

 

Experts said the two-year honeymoon was the result of the Obama administration’s engaging Russia on issues where the two countries shared interests, such as reducing nuclear arms, countering terrorism and nonproliferation. The same core issues that sparked tensions during the Bush administration – democracy and Russia’s neighbors – largely went unaddressed.

 

A VAPORIZED RELATIONSHIP

 

In 2011, Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of secretly organizing street demonstrations after disputed Russian parliamentary elections. Putin said Clinton had encouraged “mercenary” Kremlin foes. And he claimed that foreign governments had provided “hundreds of millions” of dollars to Russian opposition groups.

 

“She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work,” Putin said.

 

McFaul called that a gross exaggeration. He said the U.S. government and American non-profit groups in total have provided tens of millions of dollars in support to civil society groups in Russia and former Soviet bloc countries since 1989.

 

In 2012, Putin was elected to a third term as president and launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and re-centralization of power. McFaul, then the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, publicly criticized the moves in speeches and Twitter posts.

 

In the interview, McFaul blamed Putin for the collapse in relations. McFaul said the Russian leader rebuffed repeated invitations to visit Washington when he was prime minister and declined to attend a G-8 meeting in Washington after he again became president. Echoing Bush-era officials, McFaul said it was politically impossible for an American president to trade Russian cooperation on Iran, for example, for U.S. silence on democracy in Russia and Moscow’s pressuring of its neighbors.

 

“We’re not going to do it if it means trading partnerships or interests with our partners or allies in the region,” McFaul said. “And we’re not going to do it if it means trading our speaking about democracy and human rights.”

 

Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that clashes over democracy ended any hopes of U.S.-Russian rapprochement, as they had in the Bush administration.

 

“That fight basically vaporizes the relationship,” said Weiss.

 

In 2013, U.S.-Russian relations plummeted. In June, Putin granted asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama, in turn, canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin in Moscow that fall. It was the first time a U.S. summit with the Kremlin had been canceled in 50 years.

 

Last fall, demonstrators in Kiev began demanding that Ukraine move closer to the European Union. At the time, the Obama White House was deeply skeptical of Putin and paying little attention to the former Soviet bloc, according to Weiss. White House officials had come to see Russia as a foreign policy dead end, not a source of potential successes.

 

Deferring to European officials, the Obama administration backed a plan that would have moved Ukraine closer to the EU and away from a pro-Russian economic bloc created by Putin. Critics said it was a mistake to make Ukraine choose sides.

 

Jack F. Matlock, who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, said that years of escalating protests by Putin made it clear he believed the West was surrounding him with hostile neighbors. And for centuries, Russian leaders have viewed a friendly Ukraine as vital to Moscow’s defense.

 

“The real red line has always been Ukraine,” Matlock said. “When you begin to poke them in the most sensitive area, unnecessarily, about their security, you are going to get a reaction that makes them a lot less cooperative.”

 

A PLIANT RUSSIA?

 

American experts said it was vital for the U.S. to establish a new long-term strategy toward Russia that does not blame the current crisis solely on Putin. Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, argued that demonizing Putin reflected the continued failure of American officials to recognize Russia’s power, interest and importance.

 

“Putin is a reflection of Russia,” Rojansky said. “This weird notion that Putin will go away and there will suddenly be a pliant Russia is false.”

 

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called for a long-term strategy that exploits the multiple advantages the U.S. and Europe enjoy over Putin’s Russia.

 

“I would much rather be playing our hand than his over the longer term,” the official said. “Because he has a number of, I think, pretty serious strategic disadvantages – a one-dimensional economy, a political system and a political elite that’s pretty rotten through corruption.”

 

Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador, said it was vital for Washington and Moscow to end a destructive pattern of careless American action followed by Russian overreaction.

 

“So many of the problems in our relationship really relate, I would say, to what I’d call inconsiderate American actions,” Matlock said. “Many of them were not meant to be damaging to Russia. … But the Russian interpretation often exaggerated the degree of hostility and overreacted.”

 

(Edited by John Blanton)

 

Ukraine and the grand chessboard

by Pepe Escobar

 

          The US State Department, via spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, said that reports of CIA Director John Brennan telling regime changers in Kiev to “conduct tactical operations” – or an “anti-terrorist” offensive – in eastern Ukraine are “completely false”. This means Brennan did issue his marching orders. And by now the “anti-terrorist” campaign – with its nice little Dubya rhetorical touch – has degenerated into farce.

 

            Now couple that with NATO secretary general, Danish retriever Anders Fogh Rasmussen, yapping about the strengthening of military footprint along NATO’s eastern border: “We will have more planes in the air, mores ships on the water and more readiness on the land.”

             Welcome to the Two Stooges doctrine of post-modern warfare.

Pay up or freeze to death
           

            Ukraine is for all practical purposes broke. The Kremlin’s consistent position for the past three months has been to encourage the European Union to find a solution to Ukraine’s dire economic mess. Brussels did nothing. It was betting on regime change to the benefit of Germany’s heavyweight puppet Vladimir Klitschko, aka Klitsch The Boxer.

            Regime change did happen, but orchestrated by the Khaganate of Nulands – a neo-con cell of the State Department and its assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nulands. And now the presidential option is between – what else – two US puppets, choco-billionaire Petro Poroshenko and “Saint Yulia” Timoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister, ex-convict and prospective president. The EU is left to pick up the (unpayable) bill. Enter the International Monetary Fund – via a nasty, upcoming “structural adjustment” that will send Ukrainians to a hellhole even grimmer than the one they are already familiar with.

            Once again, for all the hysteria propagated by the US Ministry of Truth and its franchises across the Western corporate media, the Kremlin does not need to “invade” anything. If Gazprom does not get paid all it needs to do is to shut down the Ukrainian stretch of Pipelineistan. Kiev will then have no option but to use part of the gas supply destined for some EU countries so Ukrainians won’t run out of fuel to keep themselves and the country’s industries alive. And the EU – whose “energy policy” overall is already a joke – will find itself with yet another self-inflicted problem.

            The EU will be mired in a perennial lose-lose situation if Brussels does not talk seriously with Moscow. There’s only one explanation for the refusal: hardcore Washington pressure, mounted via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

            Again, to counterpunch the current hysteria – the EU remains Gazprom’s top client, with 61% of its overall exports. It’s a complex relationship based on interdependence. The capitalization of Nord Stream, Blue Stream and the to-be-completed South Stream includes German, Dutch, French and Italian companies.

            So yes, Gazprom does need the EU market. But up to a point, considering the mega-deal of Siberian gas delivery to China which most probably will be signed next month in Beijing when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits President Xi Jinping.

The crucial spanner in the works
           

Last month, while the tortuous Ukraine sideshow was in progress, President Xi was in Europe clinching deals and promoting yet another branch of the New Silk Road all the way to Germany.

            In a sane, non-Hobbesian environment, a neutral Ukraine would only have to gain by positioning itself as a privileged crossroads between the EU and the proposed Eurasian Union – as well as becoming a key node of the Chinese New Silk Road offensive. Instead, the Kiev regime changers are betting on acceptance into the EU (it simply won’t happen) and becoming a NATO forward base (the key Pentagon aim).

            As for the possibility of a common market from Lisbon to Vladivostok – which both Moscow and Beijing are aiming at, and would be also a boon for the EU – the Ukraine disaster is a real spanner in the works.

            And a spanner in the works that, crucially, suits only one player: the US government.

            The Obama administration may – and “may” is the operative word here – have realized the US government has lost the battle to control Pipelineistan from Asia to Europe, despite all the efforts of the Dick Cheney regime. What energy experts call the Asian Energy Security Grid is progressively evolving – as well as its myriad links to Europe.

            So what’s left for the Obama administration is this spanner in the works – still trying to scotch the full economic integration of Eurasia.

            The Obama administration is predictably obsessed with the EU’s increasing dependency on Russian gas. Thus its grandiose plan to position US shale gas for the EU as an alternative to Gazprom. Even assuming this might happen, it would take at least a decade – with no guarantee of success. In fact, the real alternative would be Iranian gas – after a comprehensive nuclear deal and the end of Western sanctions (the whole package, not surprisingly, being sabotaged en masse by various Beltway factions.)

            Just to start with, the US cannot export shale gas to countries with which it has not signed a free trade agreement. That’s a “problem” which might be solved to a great extent by the secretly negotiated Trans-Atlantic Partnership between Washington and Brussels (see Breaking bad in southern NATOstan, Asia Times Online, April 15, 2014.)

            In parallel, the Obama administration keeps applying instances of “divide and rule” to scare minor players, as in spinning to the max the specter of an evil, militaristic China to reinforce the still crawling “pivoting to Asia”. The whole game harks back to what Dr Zbig Brzezinski conceptualized way back in his 1997 opus The Grand Chessboard – and fine-tuned for his disciple Obama: the US ruling over Eurasia.

            Still the Kremlin won’t be dragged into a military quagmire. It’s fair to argue Putin has identified the Big Picture in the whole chessboard, which spells out an increasing Russia-China strategic partnership as crucial as an energy-manufacturing synergy with Europe; and most of all the titanic fear of US financial elites of the inevitable, ongoing process centered on the BRICS-conducted (and spreading to key Group of 20 members) drive to bypass the petrodollar.

             Ultimately, this all spells out the progressive demise of the petrodollar in parallel to the ascent of a basket to currencies as the reserve currency in the international system. The BRICS are already at work on their alternative to the IMF and the World Bank, investing in a currency reserve pool and the BRICS development bank. While a tentative new world order slouches towards all points Global South to be born, Robocop NATO dreams of war.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

 

How America’s Wars Came Home With the Troops: Up Close, Personal, and Bloody

 

by Ann Jones

 

After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America’s biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded.  When he did so, he also pulled America’s fading wars out of the closet.  This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political “extremist.”  He seems to have been merely one of America’s injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands.

 

Some 2.6 million men and women have been dispatched, often repeatedly, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to a recent survey of veterans of those wars conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third say that their mental health is worse than it was before they left, and nearly half say the same of their physical condition.  Almost half say they give way to sudden outbursts of anger.  Only 12% of the surveyed veterans claim they are now “better” mentally or physically than they were before they went to war.

 

The media coverage that followed Lopez’s rampage was, of course, 24/7 and there was much discussion of PTSD, the all-purpose (if little understood) label now used to explain just about anything unpleasant that happens to or is caused by current or former military men and women. Amid the barrage of coverage, however, something was missing: evidence that has been in plain sight for years of how the violence of America’s distant wars comes back to haunt the “homeland” as the troops return.  In that context, Lopez’s killings, while on a scale not often matched, are one more marker on a bloody trail of death that leads from Iraq and Afghanistan into the American heartland, to bases and backyards nationwide.  It’s a story with a body count that should not be ignored.

 

War Comes Home

 

During the last 12 years, many veterans who had grown “worse” while at war could be found on and around bases here at home, waiting to be deployed again, and sometimes doing serious damage to themselves and others.  The organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has campaigned for years for a soldier’s “right to heal” between deployments.  Next month it will release its own report on a common practice at Fort Hood of sending damaged and heavily medicated soldiers back to combat zones against both doctors’ orders and official base regulations. Such soldiers can’t be expected to survive in great shape.

 

Immediately after the Lopez rampage, President Obama spoke of those soldiers who have served multiple tours in the wars and “need to feel safe” on their home base. But what the president called “that sense of safety… broken once again” at Fort Hood has, in fact, already been shattered again and again on bases and in towns across post-9/11 America — ever since misused, misled, and mistreated soldiers began bringing war home with them.

 

Since 2002, soldiers and veterans have been committing murder individually and in groups, killing wives, girlfriends, children, fellow soldiers, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and — in appalling numbers — themselves. Most of these killings haven’t been on a mass scale, but they add up, even if no one is doing the math.  To date, they have never been fully counted.

 

The first veterans of the war in Afghanistan returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002.  In quick succession, four of them murdered their wives, after which three of the killers took their own lives. When a New York Times reporter asked a Special Forces officer to comment on these events, he replied: “S.F.’s don’t like to talk about emotional stuff.  We are Type A people who just blow things like that off, like yesterday’s news.”

 

Indeed, much of the media and much of the country has done just that.  While individual murders committed by “our nation’s heroes” on the “home front” have been reported by media close to the scene, most such killings never make the national news, and many become invisible even locally when reported only as routine murders with no mention of the apparently insignificant fact that the killer was a veteran.  Only when these crimes cluster around a military base do diligent local reporters seem to put the pieces of the bigger picture together.

 

By 2005, Fort Bragg had already counted its tenth such “domestic violence” fatality, while on the West coast, the Seattle Weekly had tallied the death toll among active-duty troops and veterans in western Washington state at seven homicides and three suicides.  “Five wives, a girlfriend, and one child were slain; four other children lost one or both parents to death or imprisonment. Three servicemen committed suicide — two of them after killing their wife or girlfriend.  Four soldiers were sent to prison.  One awaited trial.”

 

In January 2008, the New York Times tried for the first time to tally a nationwide count of such crimes.  It found “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.” It listed headlines drawn from smaller local newspapers:  Lakewood, Washington, “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife”; Pierre, South Dakota, “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress”; Colorado Springs, Colorado, “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

 

The Times found that about a third of the murder victims were wives, girlfriends, children, or other relatives of the killer, but significantly, a quarter of the victims were fellow soldiers.  The rest were acquaintances or strangers.  At that time, three quarters of the homicidal soldiers were still in the military.  The number of killings then represented a nearly 90% increase in homicides committed by active duty personnel and veterans in the six years since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.  Yet after tracing this “cross-country trail of death and heartbreak,” the Times noted that its research had probably uncovered only “the minimum number of such cases.”  One month later, it found “more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans.”

 

More cases were already on the way. After the Fourth Brigade Combat team of Fort Carson, Colorado, returned from Iraq later in 2008, nine of its members were charged with homicide, while “charges of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault” at the base rose sharply. Three of the murder victims were wives or girlfriends; four were fellow soldiers (all men); and two were strangers, chosen at random.

 

Back at Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in a nine-month span between December 2007 and September 2008.  By that time, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright had identified at least 15 highly suspicious deaths of women soldiers in the war zones that had been officially termed “non-combat related” or “suicide.” She raised a question that has never been answered: “Is there an Army cover-up of rape and murder of women soldiers?”  The murders that took place near (but not on) Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, all investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, raised another question: Were some soldiers bringing home not only the generic violence of war, but also specific crimes they had rehearsed abroad?

 

 

Stuck in Combat Mode

 

While this sort of post-combat-zone combat at home has rarely made it into the national news, the killings haven’t stopped.  They have, in fact, continued, month by month, year after year, generally reported only by local media.  Many of the murders suggest that the killers still felt as if they were on some kind of private mission in “enemy territory,” and that they themselves were men who had, in distant combat zones, gotten the hang of killing — and the habit. For example, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Army veteran, went to a party in Seattle in 2012 and got into a gunfight that left four people wounded.  He then fled to Mount Rainier National Park where he shot and killed a park ranger (the mother of two small children) and fired on others before escaping into snow-covered mountains where he drowned in a stream.

 

Barnes, an Iraq veteran, had reportedly experienced a rough transition to stateside life, having been discharged from the Army in 2009 for misconduct after being arrested for drunk driving and carrying a weapon. (He also threatened his wife with a knife.) He was one of more than 20,000 troubled Army and Marine veterans the military discarded between 2008 and 2012 with “other-than-honorable” discharges and no benefits, health care, or help.

 

Faced with the expensive prospect of providing long-term care for these most fragile of veterans, the military chose instead to dump them.  Barnes was booted out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, which by 2010 had surpassed Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Carson in violence and suicide to become the military’s “most troubled” home base.

 

Some homicidal soldiers work together, perhaps recreating at home that famous fraternal feeling of the military “band of brothers.” In 2012, in Laredo, Texas, federal agents posing as leaders of a Mexican drug cartel arrested Lieutenant Kevin Corley and Sergeant Samuel Walker — both from Fort Carson’s notorious Fourth Brigade Combat team — and two other soldiers in their private hit squad who had offered their services to kill members of rival cartels. “Wet work,” soldiers call it, and they’re trained to do it so well that real Mexican drug cartels have indeed been hiring ambitious vets from Fort Bliss, Texas, and probably other bases in the borderlands, to take out selected Mexican and American targets at $5,000 a pop.

 

Such soldiers seem never to get out of combat mode.  Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, well known for his work with troubled veterans of the Vietnam War, points out that the skills drilled into the combat soldier — cunning, deceit, strength, quickness, stealth, a repertoire of killing techniques, and the suppression of compassion and guilt — equip him perfectly for a life of crime. “I’ll put it as bluntly as I can,” Shay writes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, “Combat service per se smooths the way into criminal careers afterward in civilian life.”  During the last decade, when the Pentagon relaxed standards to fill the ranks, some enterprising members of at least 53 different American gangs jumpstarted their criminal careers by enlisting, training, and serving in war zones to perfect their specialized skill sets.

 

Some veterans have gone on to become domestic terrorists, like Desert Storm veteran Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, or mass murderers like Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran and uber-racist who killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. Page had first been introduced to the ideology of white supremacy at age 20, three years after he joined the Army, when he fell in with a neo-Nazi hate group at Fort Bragg.  That was in 1995, the year three paratroopers from Fort Bragg murdered two black local residents, a man and a woman, to earn their neo-Nazi spider-web tattoos.

 

An unknown number of such killers just walk away, like Army Private (and former West Point cadet) Isaac Aguigui, who was finally convicted last month in a Georgia criminal court of murdering his pregnant wife, Sergeant Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui, an Army linguist, three years ago. Although Deirdre Aguigui’s handcuffed body had revealed multiple blows and signs of struggle, the military medical examiner failed to “detect an anatomic cause of death” — a failure convenient for both the Army, which didn’t have to investigate further, and Isaac Aguigui, who collected a half-million dollars in military death benefits and life insurance to finance a war of his own.

 

In 2012, Georgia authorities charged Aguigui and three combat veterans from Fort Stewart with the execution-style murders of former Private Michael Roark, 19, and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17.  The trial in a civilian criminal court revealed that Aguigui (who was never deployed) had assembled his own private militia of troubled combat vets called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), and was plotting to take over Fort Stewart by seizing the munitions control point.  Among his other plans for his force were killing unnamed officials with car bombs, blowing up a fountain in Savannah, poisoning the apple crop in Aguigui’s home state of Washington, and joining other unspecified private militia groups around the country in a plot to assassinate President Obama and take control of the United States government.  Last year, the Georgia court convicted Aguigui in the case of the FEAR executions and sentenced him to life.  Only then did a civilian medical examiner determine that he had first murdered his wife.

 

The Rule of Law

 

The routine drills of basic training and the catastrophic events of war damage many soldiers in ways that appear darkly ironic when they return home to traumatize or kill their partners, their children, their fellow soldiers, or random strangers in a town or on a base.  But again to get the stories we must rely upon scrupulous local journalists. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reports that, since 2003, in the area around Fort Hood in central Texas, nearly 10% of those involved in shooting incidents with the police were military veterans or active-duty service members. In four separate confrontations since last December, the police shot and killed two recently returned veterans and wounded a third, while one police officer was killed.  A fourth veteran survived a shootout unscathed.

 

Such tragic encounters prompted state and city officials in Texas to develop a special Veterans Tactical Response Program to train police in handling troubled military types.  Some of the standard techniques Texas police use to intimidate and overcome suspects — shouting, throwing “flashbangs” (grenades), or even firing warning shots — backfire when the suspect is a veteran in crisis, armed, and highly trained in reflexive fire.  The average civilian lawman is no match for an angry combat grunt from, as the president put it at Fort Hood, “the greatest Army that the world has ever known.”  On the other hand, a brain-injured vet who needs time to respond to orders or reply to questions may get manhandled, flattened, tasered, bludgeoned, or worse by overly aggressive police officers before he has time to say a word.

 

Here’s another ironic twist. For the past decade, military recruiters have made a big selling point of the “veterans preference” policy in the hiring practices of civilian police departments.  The prospect of a lifetime career in law enforcement after a single tour of military duty tempts many wavering teenagers to sign on the line. But the vets who are finally discharged from service and don the uniform of a civilian police department are no longer the boys who went away.

 

In Texas today, 37% of the police in Austin, the state capitol, are ex-military, and in smaller cities and towns in the vicinity of Fort Hood, that figure rises above the 50% mark.  Everybody knows that veterans need jobs, and in theory they might be very good at handling troubled soldiers in crisis, but they come to the job already trained for and very good at war.  When they meet the next Ivan Lopez, they make a potentially combustible combo.

 

Most of America’s military men and women don’t want to be “stigmatized” by association with the violent soldiers mentioned here.  Neither do the ex-military personnel who now, as members of civilian police forces, do periodic battle with violent vets in Texas and across the country.  The new Washington Post-Kaiser survey reveals that most veterans are proud of their military service, if not altogether happy with their homecoming.  Almost half of them think that American civilians, like the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t genuinely “respect” them, and more than half feel disconnected from American life.  They believe they have better moral and ethical values than their fellow citizens, a virtue trumpeted by the Pentagon and presidents alike.  Sixty percent say they are more patriotic than civilians. Seventy percent say that civilians fail absolutely to understand them.  And almost 90% of veterans say that in a heartbeat they would re-up to fight again.

 

Americans on the “home front” were never mobilized by their leaders and they have generally not come to grips with the wars fought in their name. Here, however, is another irony: neither, it turns out, have most of America’s military men and women. Like their civilian counterparts, many of whom are all too ready to deploy those soldiers again to intervene in countries they can’t even find on a map, a significant number of veterans evidently have yet to unpack and examine the wars they brought home in their baggage — and in too many grim cases, they, their loved ones, their fellow soldiers, and sometimes random strangers are paying the price.

 

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013).

 

 

NSA spying seems here to stay

 

April 16, 2014

by Jim Hightower

Stillwater News Press

 

 On Monday, April 14, the the Washington Post and the Guardian U.S. newspapers received the Pulitzer for Journalism Public Service for their reports on NSA spying. In light of their hard work, let’s recap events of the last year.

 

Embarrassed and irritated by Edward Snowden’s leaks, Obama charged last year at a press conference that Snowden was presenting a false picture of NSA by releasing parts of its work piecemeal: “… America is not interested in spying on ordinary people,” he assured us. The government, he went on, is not “listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s emails.”

 

Six days later, a Washington Post headline declared: “NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year.” In an internal audit in May 2012 of its DC-area spy centers, the agency itself found 2,776 “incidences” of NSA overstepping its legal authority. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, surveillance laws themselves “are extraordinarily permissive,” so it’s doubly troubling that the agency is surging way past what it is already allowed to do. The ACLU adds that these reported incidents are not simply cases of one person’s rights being violated – but thousands of Americans being snared, totally without cause, in the NSA’s indiscriminate, computer-driven dragnet.

 

The agency’s surveillance net stretches so wide that it is inherently abusive, even though its legal authority to spy on Americans is quite limited. U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the sponsor of the PATRIOT Act (which NSA cites as its super-vac authority), said that Congress intended that it should apply only to cases directly tied to national security investigations. No lawmaker, he said, meant that government snoops should be able to conduct a wholesale grab of Americans’ phone, email and other personal records and then store them in huge databases to be searched at will.

 

Yet look at what NSA has become:

 

The three billion phone calls made in the U.S. each day are snatched up by the agency, which stores each call’s metadata (phone numbers of the parties, date and time, length of call, etc.) for five years.

 

Each day telecom giants turn over metadata on every call they have processed.

 

Every out-of-country call and email from (or to) a U.S. citizen is grabbed by NSA computers, and agents are authorized to listen to or read any of them.

 

The agency searches for and seizes nearly everything we do on the Internet. Without bothering with the constitutional nicety of obtaining a warrant, its XKeyscore program scoops up some 40 billion Internet records every month and adds them to its digital storehouse, including our emails, Google searches, websites visited, Microsoft Word documents sent, etc. NSA’s annual budget includes a quarter-billion dollars for “corporate-partner access” – i.e., payments to obtain this mass of material from corporate computers.

 

Snowden says that in his days as an analyst, he could sit at his computer and tap into any American’s Internet activity – even the President’s.

 

The sheer volume of information sucked up by the agency is so large that as of 2008, it maintained 150 data processing sites around the world.

 

NSA’s budget is an official secret, but a Snowden document shows that it gets about $11 billion a year in direct appropriations, with more support funneled through the Pentagon and other agencies.

 

President Obama recently announced an “overhaul” of the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. The reform may require phone companies to store metadata it collects for 18 months for the NSA’s use with the approval from a special court. This might sound reasonable, but it is still gathering bulk data on millions of innocent Americans – by corporations for the government. And what about Internet, email and other surveillance? NSA is too heavily vested in its programs; it is not going to give up spying on us.

 

Jim Hightower is the former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and is now a columnists for Creators Inc. Syndicate.

 

 

 

German Minister: ‘US Operating Without any Kind of Boundaries’

Interview Conducted By Jörg Schindler, Alfred Weinzierl and Peter Müller

 

April 9, 2014

Spiegel

 

            In an interview, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, 60, warns that American spying has become “boundless” and expresses sorrow that approval ratings for the United States have plummeted in Germany.

 The following is an excerpt from a longer interview conducted with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière.

——————————————————————————–

SPIEGEL: Minister de Maizière, nine weeks ago at the Munich Security Conference you demanded that the United States provide detailed information about its spying activities in Germany. Have you received anything from them yet?

 

 

ANZEIGEDe Maizière: The information we have received thus far is insufficient. That remains my opinion. The US’ surveillance measures are largely a result of its security needs, but they are being implemented in an excessive, boundless fashion.

 

SPIEGEL: How did you come to this conclusion?

 

De Maizière: If even two-thirds of what Edward Snowden has presented or what has been presented with his name cited as the source is true, then I would conclude that the USA is operating without any kind of boundaries.

 

SPIEGEL: Are you hopeful that anything will change in the near future — perhaps when Chancellor Angela Merkel visits President Barack Obama in May?

 

De Maizière: I have low expectations that further talks will prove to be successful. But of course these talks are continuing.

 

SPIEGEL: So you don’t expect a no-spy agreement to result from these discussions?

 

De Maizière: Going by everything that I’ve heard, that’s the case.

 

SPIEGEL: If you’ll allow us: We’ve been learning about the NSA’s activities through Snowden for 10 months now and none of the pledges made by the Americans have been fulfilled. Why not just use Germany’s own counterintelligence authority to uncover the extent of the Americans’ activity?

 

De Maizière: Counterespionage work cannot be the subject of an interview with SPIEGEL. Please understand that. If all of our suspicions are correct, everything that we are discussing right now isn’t even taking place on German soil. That also makes it difficult to assess. However, I do want state again that cooperation between the intelligence services of the United States, Great Britain and Germany is indispensable to us. It is in our national interest and it cannot be allowed to be harmed — not even through the parliament’s investigative committee.

 

SPIEGEL: Where is there a threat that damage will be done?

 

De Maizière: I am thinking of the foreign policy damage. Because the greater damage has actually been inflicted by the Americans and not the Germans. And I say this as a staunch trans-Atlanticist. Approval ratings for Americans in German polls are lower right now than they have been in a long time. The last time this was the case was during a certain phase of the policies of George W. Bush. It saddens me. Even if Obama’s initial popularity may have been exaggerated, the US cannot be apathetic to the fact that approval ratings have shifted to such a degree within just one year. America should have an interest in improving them. Words alone will not suffice.

 

SPIEGEL: In internal documents, Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service spoke of “mastering the Internet”. Does that worry you?

 

De Maizière: Yes, it worries all of us. The Internet, and this is one of its true strengths, depends on freedom. But the explosive propagation of communication has led to problems of order and choice — a situation that has been exacerbated by the market power of corporations. Because if a net provider and a content provider join forces, then they can steer the Internet and determine its content. So I don’t even need to be talking about state censorship here.

 

SPIEGEL: You believe that private companies represent a greater threat than state institutions?

 

De Maizière: Yes. I find a country’s unrestrained collection of information, even for the sake of exaggerated security need, to be less objectionable than the capture of all movement profiles, thoughts and emotions by people for the sake of business interests.

 

SPIEGEL: Can politics influence this development?

 

De Maizière: In the case of the USA, for example, we would like to address this through the so-called cyber dialogue that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has proposed to his US colleagues.

 

SPIEGEL: What can we expect there?

 

De Maizière: We want to discuss questions, together with experts, about the reform of the digital agenda: What happens when so-called back-doors are built into operating systems — gateways through which the agencies can get onto a computer? How can we create a secure cloud? How does artificial intelligence compare to human intelligence? What about the recognition of emotion? Are there, as in the stem-cell debate, limits that should not be crossed?

 

SPIEGEL: The technical components that make up the online world primarily come from two large companies: Cisco in the United States and Huawei in China. What does that mean for the critical infrastructure of a country like Germany?

 

De Maizière: We are a country with open borders in the middle of Europe. To think we could be self-contained in any way, we can forget that. On the other hand, we should ask ourselves whether a country of our size requires a modicum of self-monitoring and independence — even in the form of an enlightened patriotism. The chancellor and, for example, the foreign minister, need to be able to have a conversation that is secure enough that no foreign country can listen to it. We can’t be dependent on an industry that, in the worst case, is working together, in this area, with a different country.

 

SPIEGEL: What might a solution look like?

 

De Maizière: It has technical, economic and legal aspects. An example: We have a foreign trade law through which can prohibit certain sales of products by individual companies for reasons of national interest. We need to examine how this law works in the digital age and if it should be expanded.

 

SPIEGEL: Would a modified law mean that companies that aren’t trusted are excluded from open bidding?

 

De Maizière: Not with this law. But that would also be a possibility.

 

Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations

 

April 10. 2014

by Adam Goldman and Julie Tate

Washington Post

 

When U.S. Special Operations forces raided several houses in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in March 2006, two Army Rangers were killed when gunfire erupted on the ground floor of one home. A third member of the team was knocked unconscious and shredded by ball bearings when a teenage insurgent detonated a suicide vest.

 

In a review of the nighttime strike for a relative of one of the dead Rangers, military officials sketched out the sequence of events using small dots to chart the soldiers’ movements. Who, the relative asked, was this man — the one represented by a blue dot and nearly killed by the suicide bomber?

 

After some hesi­ta­tion, the military briefers answered with three letters: FBI.

 

The FBI’s transformation from a crime-fighting agency to a counterterrorism organization in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been well documented. Less widely known has been the bureau’s role in secret operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations around the world.

 

With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.

 

The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

 

The wounded agent in Iraq was Jay Tabb, a longtime member of the bureau’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT) who was embedded with the Rangers when they descended on Ramadi in Black Hawks and Chinooks. Tabb, who now leads the HRT, also had been wounded just months earlier in another high-risk operation.

 

James Davis, the FBI’s legal attache in Baghdad in 2007 and 2008, said people “questioned whether this was our mission. The concern was somebody was going to get killed.”

 

Davis said FBI agents were regularly involved in shootings — sometimes fighting side by side with the military to hold off insurgent assaults.

 

“It wasn’t weekly but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see one a month,” he said. “It’s amazing that never happened, that we never lost anybody.”

 

Others considered it a natural evolution for the FBI — and one consistent with its mission.

 

“There were definitely some voices that felt we shouldn’t be doing this — period,” said former FBI deputy director Sean Joyce, one of a host of current and former officials who are reflecting on the shift as U.S. forces wind down their combat mission in Afghanistan. “That wasn’t the director’s or my feeling on it. We thought prevention begins outside of the U.S.”

 

Not commandos’

 

In 1972, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, exposing the woeful inadequacy of the German police when faced with committed hostage-takers. The attack jolted other countries into examining their counterterrorism capabilities. The FBI realized its response would have been little better than that of the Germans.

 

It took more than a decade for the United States to stand up an elite anti-terrorism unit. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was created in 1983, just before the Los Angeles Olympics.

 

At Fort Bragg, N.C., home to the Army’s Special Operations Command, Delta Force operators trained the agents, teaching them how to breach buildings and engage in close-quarter fighting, said Danny Coulson, who commanded the first HRT.

 

The team’s mission was largely domestic, although it did participate in select operations to arrest fugitives overseas, known in FBI slang as a “habeas grab.” In 1987, for instance, along with the CIA, agents lured a man suspected in an airline hijacking to a yacht off the coast of Lebanon and arrested him.

 

In 1989, a large HRT flew to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to reestablish order after Hurricane Hugo. That same year, at the military’s request, it briefly deployed to Panama before the U.S. invasion.

 

The bureau continued to deepen its ties with the military, training with the Navy SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, based in Dam Neck, Va., and agents completed the diving phase of SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

 

Sometimes lines blurred between the HRT and the military. During the 1993 botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., three Delta Force operators were on hand to advise. Waco, along with a fiasco the prior year at a white separatist compound at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, put the FBI on the defensive.

 

“The members of HRT are not commandos,” then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told lawmakers in 1995. “They are special agents of the FBI. Their goal has always been to save lives.”

 

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

 

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces.

 

What JSOC realized was their networks were similar to the way the FBI went after organized crime,” said James Yacone, an assistant FBI director who joined the HRT in 1997 and later commanded it.

 

The pace of activity in Afghanistan was slow at first. An FBI official said there was less than a handful of HRT deployments to Afghanistan in those early months; the units primarily worked with the SEALs as they hunted top al-Qaeda targets.

 

“There was a lot of sitting around,” the official said.

 

The tempo quickened with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At first, the HRT’s mission was mainly to protect other FBI agents when they left the Green Zone, former FBI officials said.

 

Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids.

 

“As our effort expanded and . . . became faster and more complex, we felt the FBI’s expertise in both sensitive site exploitation and interrogations would be helpful — and they were,” a former U.S. military official said.

 

In 2005, all of the HRT members in Iraq began to work under JSOC. At one point, up to 12 agents were operating in the country, nearly a tenth of the unit’s shooters.

 

The FBI’s role raised thorny questions about the bureau’s rules of engagement and whether its deadly-force policy should be modified for agents in war zones.

 

“There was hand-wringing,” Yacone said. “These were absolutely appropriate legal questions to be asked and answered.”

 

Ultimately, the FBI decided that no change was necessary. Team members “were not there to be door kickers. They didn’t need to be in the stack,” Yacone said.

 

But the FBI’s alliance with JSOC continued to deepen. HRT members didn’t have to get approval to go on raids, and FBI agents saw combat night after night in the hunt for targets.

 

In 2008, with the FBI involved in frequent firefights, the bureau began taking a harder look at these engagements, seeking input from the military to make sure, in police terms, that each time an agent fired it was a “good shoot,” former FBI officials said.

 

‘Mission had changed’

 

Members of the FBI’s HRT unit left Iraq as the United States pulled out its forces. The bureau also began to reconsider its involvement in Afghanistan after nearly a dozen firefights involving agents embedded with the military and the wounding of an agent in Logar province in June 2010.

 

JSOC had shifted priorities, Joyce said, targeting Taliban and other local insurgents who were not necessarily plotting against the United States. Moreover, the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan had plummeted to fewer than 100, and many of its operatives were across the border, in Pakistan, where the military could not operate.

 

The FBI drew down in 2010 despite pleas from JSOC to stay.

 

“Our focus was al-Qaeda and threats to the homeland,” Joyce said. “The mission had changed.”

 

FBI-JSOC operations continue in other parts of the world. When Navy SEALs raided a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that Somali pirates had hijacked in 2011, an HRT agent followed behind them. After a brief shootout, the SEALs managed to take control of the yacht.

 

Two years later, in October 2013, an FBI agent with the HRT was with the SEALs when they stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack that had killed dozens.

 

That same weekend, U.S. commandos sneaked into Tripoli, Libya, and apprehended a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist named Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai as he returned home in his car after morning prayers. He was whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean and eventually to New York City for prosecution in federal court.

 

Word quickly leaked that Delta Force had conducted the operation. But the six Delta operators had help. Two FBI agents were part of the team that morning on the streets of Tripoli.

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