TBR News July 15, 2014

Jul 15 2014

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. July 14, 2014: “It is always entertaining to watch the official propaganda machinery spew out its confusion to delude the public.

            As a case in point, there is the issue of the rapid sea level risings around the world.

             Because this will severely interdict the areas of residence of millions of Americans and as the current government is unable, and unwilling, to do anything about it, we see the myth-makers at work.

            Yes, they now have to admit, there is a sea level rise but at the same time, the land is sinking so there really isn’t much to worry about. This is one invented story. The land is not sinking and there is a great deal to worry about.

            And the second howler is the fiction that the rising sea levels will take a century to impact and since we will all be gone by then, we should not worry.

            The sea level rise is coming upon us far sooner than a hundred years. Ten would be more reasonable.

            There have been three serious news stories on this looming catastrophe. Two were in the New York Times and concerned the serious and increasing problems at the huge U.S. naval base at Norfolk. The third story is included below and concerns the very serious problems at Miami, but even this has vague references to the century-long slow rise, a statement that is at odds with the rest of the story.

            There is no point in warning the population because they do not want to move away from their homes so perhaps the kindly government can supply wet suits so the millions of coastal dwellers can put them on to swim down to their living rooms and rescue what is left of their cat.”


Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away

Low-lying south Florida, at the front line of climate change in the US, will be swallowed as sea levels rise. Astonishingly, the population is growing, house prices are rising and building goes on. The problem is the city is run by climate change

July 11, 2014

by Robin McKie, science editor, in Miami

The Observer


A drive through the sticky Florida heat into Alton Road in Miami Beach can be an unexpectedly awkward business. Most of the boulevard, which runs north through the heart of the resort’s most opulent palm-fringed real estate, has been reduced to a single lane that is hemmed in by bollards, road-closed signs, diggers, trucks, workmen, stacks of giant concrete cylinders and mounds of grey, foul-smelling earth.

            It is an unedifying experience but an illuminating one – for this once glamorous thoroughfare, a few blocks from Miami Beach’s art deco waterfront and its white beaches, has taken on an unexpected role. It now lies on the front line of America’s battle against climate change and the rise in sea levels that it has triggered.

“Climate change is no longer viewed as a future threat round here,” says atmosphere expert Professor Ben Kirtman, of the University of Miami. “It is something that we are having to deal with today.”

Every year, with the coming of high spring and autumn tides, the sea surges up the Florida coast and hits the west side of Miami Beach, which lies on a long, thin island that runs north and south across the water from the city of Miami. The problem is particularly severe in autumn when winds often reach hurricane levels. Tidal surges are turned into walls of seawater that batter Miami Beach’s west coast and sweep into the resort’s storm drains, reversing the flow of water that normally comes down from the streets above. Instead seawater floods up into the gutters of Alton Road, the first main thoroughfare on the western side of Miami Beach, and pours into the street. Then the water surges across the rest of the island.

The effect is calamitous. Shops and houses are inundated; city life is paralysed; cars are ruined by the corrosive seawater that immerses them. During one recent high spring tide, laundromat owner Eliseo Toussaint watched as slimy green saltwater bubbled up from the gutters. It rapidly filled the street and then blocked his front door. “This never used to happen,” Toussaint told reporters. “I’ve owned this place eight years and now it’s all the time.”

Today, shop owners keep plastic bags and rubber bands handy to wrap around their feet when they have to get to their cars through rising waters, while householders have found that ground-floor spaces in garages are no longer safe to keep their cars. Only those on higher floors can hope to protect their cars from surging sea waters that corrode and rot the innards of their vehicles.

Hence the construction work at Alton Road, where $400m is now being spent in an attempt to halt these devastating floods – by improving Miami Beach’s stricken system of drains and sewers. In total, around $1.5bn is to be invested in projects aimed at holding back the rising waters. Few scientists believe the works will have a long-term effect.

“There has been a rise of about 10 inches in sea levels since the 19th century – brought about by humanity’s heating of the planet through its industrial practices – and that is now bringing chaos to Miami Beach by regularly flooding places like Alton Road,” says Harold Wanless, a geology professor at the University of Miami. “And it is going to get worse. By the end of this century we could easily have a rise of six feet, possibly 10 feet. Nothing much will survive that. Most of the land here is less than 10 feet above sea level.”

What makes Miami exceptionally vulnerable to climate change is its unique geology. The city – and its satellite towns and resorts – is built on a dome of porous limestone which is soaking up the rising seawater, slowly filling up the city’s foundations and then bubbling up through drains and pipes. Sewage is being forced upwards and fresh water polluted. Miami’s low topography only adds to these problems. There is little land out here that rises more than six feet above sea level. Many condos and apartment blocks open straight on the edge of the sea. Of the total of 4.2 million US citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less, 2.4 million of them live in south Florida.

At Florida International University, geologist Peter Harlem has created a series of maps that chart what will happen as the sea continues to rise. These show that by the time oceans have risen by four feet – a fairly conservative forecast – most of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Virginia Key and all the area’s other pieces of prime real estate, will be bathtubs. At six feet, Miami city’s waterfront and the Florida Keys will have disappeared. The world’s busiest cruise ship port, which handles four million passengers, will disappear beneath the waves. “This is the fact of life about the ocean: it is very, very powerful,” says Harlem.

Miami and its surroundings are facing a calamity worthy of the Old Testament. It is an astonishing story. Despite its vast wealth, the city might soon be consumed by the waves, for even if all emissions of carbon dioxide were halted tomorrow – a very unlikely event given their consistent rise over the decades – there is probably enough of the gas in the atmosphere to continue to warm our planet, heat and expand our seas, and melt polar ice. In short, there seems there is nothing that can stop the waters washing over Miami completely.

It a devastating scenario. But what really surprises visitors and observers is the city’s response, or to be more accurate, its almost total lack of reaction. The local population is steadily increasing; land prices continue to surge; and building is progressing at a generous pace. During my visit last month, signs of construction – new shopping malls, cranes towering over new condominiums and scaffolding enclosing freshly built apartment blocks – could be seen across the city, its backers apparently oblivious of scientists’ warnings that the foundations of their buildings may be awash very soon.

Not that they are alone. Most of Florida’s senior politicians – in particular, Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings of people like Wanless or Harlem or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said recently. Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem. Or as Wanless puts it: “People are simply sticking their heads in the sand. It is mind-boggling.”

Not surprisingly, Rubio’s insistence that his state is no danger from climate change has brought him into conflict with local people. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, has a particularly succinct view of the man and his stance. “Rubio is an idiot,” says Stoddard. “He says he is not a scientist so he doesn’t have a view about climate change and sea-level rise and so won’t do anything about it. Yet Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, is holding field hearings where scientists can tell people what the data means. Unfortunately, not enough people follow his example. And all the time, the waters are rising.”

Philip Stoddard is particularly well-placed to judge what is happening to Miami. Tall, thin, with a dry sense of humour, he is a politician, having won two successive elections to be mayor of South Miami, and a scientist, a biology professor at Florida International University. The backyard of the home that he shares with his architect wife, Grey Reid, reflects his passion for the living world. While most other South Miami residences sport bright blue swimming pools and barbecues, Stoddard has created a small lake, fringed with palms and ferns, that would do justice to the swampy Everglades near his home. Bass, koi and mosquito fish swim here, while bright dragonflies and zebra lapwing butterflies flit overhead. It is a naturalists’ haven but Stoddard is under no illusions about the risks facing his home. Although several miles inland, the house is certainly not immune to the changes that threaten to engulf south Florida.

“The thing about Miami is that when it goes, it will all be gone,” says Stoddard. “I used to work at Cornell University and every morning, when I went to work, I climbed more elevation than exists in the entire state of Florida. Our living-room floor here in south Miami is at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level at present. There are significant parts of south Florida that are less than six feet above sea level and which are now under serious threat of inundation.”

Nor will south Florida have to wait that long for the devastation to come. Long before the seas have risen a further three or four feet, there will be irreversible breakdowns in society, he says. “Another foot of sea-level rise will be enough to bring salt water into our fresh water supplies and our sewage system. Those services will be lost when that happens,” says Stoddard.

“You won’t be able to flush away your sewage and taps will no longer provide homes with fresh water. Then you will find you will no longer be able to get flood insurance for your home. Land and property values will plummet and people will start to leave. Places like South Miami will no longer be able to raise enough taxes to run our neighbourhoods. Where will we find the money to fund police to protect us or fire services to tackle house fires? Will there even be enough water pressure for their fire hoses? It takes us into all sorts of post-apocalyptic scenarios. And that is only with a one-foot sea-level rise. It makes one thing clear though: mayhem is coming.”

In November 2013, a full moon and high tides led to flooding in parts of the city, including here at Alton Road and 10th Street. Photograph: Corbis And then there is the issue of Turkey Point nuclear plant, which lies 24 miles south of Miami. Its operators insist it can survive sea surges and hurricanes and point out that its reactor vessel has been built 20 feet above sea level. But critics who include Stoddard, Harlem and others argue that anciliary equipment – including emergency diesel generators that are crucial to keeping cooling waters circulating in the event of power failure – are not so well protected. In the event of sea rise and a major storm surge, a power supply disruption could cause a repeat of the Fukushima accident of 2011, they claim. In addition, inundation maps like those prepared by Harlem show that with a three-foot sea-level rise, Turkey Point will be cut off from the mainland and will become accessible only by boat or aircraft. And the higher the seas go, the deeper it will be submerged.

Turkey Point was built in the 1970s when sea level rises were not an issue, of course. But for scientists like Ben Kirtman, they are now a fact of life. The problem is that many planners and managers still do not take the threat into account when planning for the future, he argues. A classic example is provided by the state’s water management. South Florida, because it is so low-lying, is criss-crossed with canals that take away water when there is heavy rainfall and let it pour into the sea.

“But if you have sea level rises of much more than a foot in the near future, when you raise the canal gates to let the rain water out, you will find sea water rushing in instead,” Kirtman said. “The answer is to install massive pumps as they have done in New Orleans. Admittedly, these are expensive. They each cost millions of dollars. But we are going to need them and if we don’t act now we are going to get caught out. The trouble is that no one is thinking about climate change or sea-level rises at a senior management level.”

The problem stems from the top, Kirtman said, from the absolute insistence of influential climate change deniers that global warming is not happening. “When statesmen like Rubio say things like that, they make it very, very hard for anything to get done on a local level – for instance for Miami to raise the millions it needs to build new sewers and canals. If local people have been told by their leaders that global warming is not happening, they will simply assume you are wasting their money by building defences against it.

“But global warming is occurring. That is absolutely unequivocal. Since the 1950s, the climate system has warmed. That is an absolute fact. And we are now 95% sure that that warming is due to human activities. If I was 95% sure that my house was on fire, would I get out? Obviously I would. It is straightforward.”

This point is backed by Harold Wanless. “Every day we continue to pump uncontrolled amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we strengthen the monster that is going to consume us. We are heating up the atmosphere and then we are heating up the oceans so that they expand and rise. There doesn’t look as if anything is going to stop that. People are starting to plan in Miami but really they just don’t see where it is all going.”

Thus one of the great cities of the world faces obliteration in the coming decades. “It is over for south Florida. It is as simple as that. Nor is it on its own,” Wanless admits.

“The next two or three feet of sea-level rise that we get will do away with just about every barrier island we have across the planet. Then, when rises get to four-to-six feet, all the world’s great river deltas will disappear and with them the great stretches of agricultural land that surrounds them. People still have their heads in the sand about this but it is coming. Miami is just the start. It is worth watching just for that reason alone. It is a major US city and it is going to let itself drown.”


Other areas at risk



            With eight power stations, 35 tube stations and all of Whitehall in the tidal Thames floodplain, the threat of floods has long loomed large, posing a risk to the economy, infrastructure and national heritage. With sea level rises and increased rainfall on the cards thanks to climate change, measures are being put in place to revamp and boost the ageing flood defences. Meanwhile, the south-east of England is sinking by around 1.5mm a year.



The Dutch are often looked to as the masters of flood defence engineering with their impressive array of dams, dikes and barriers. It’s a skill they have had to acquire as almost half the population lives less than 3ft above sea level and many livelihoods depend on the country’s strong flood defences. They have adopted a “live with water, rather than fight it” attitude in recent years, with innovations including “floating homes” being built in Amsterdam.


New Orleans

Bearing in mind that roughly half of New Orleans is below sea level, its future in terms of coastal flooding does not look too bright. Indeed, according to the World Bank it is the fourth-most vulnerable city to future sea level rise in economic costs, with predicted average annual losses of $1.8bn in 2050. It is predicted that rising waters and subsiding land could result in relative sea level rises of up to 4.6ft by 2100, one of the highest rates in the US.



The Maldives is generally thought of as an island paradise but is critically endangered by the rising ocean that both supports and surrounds it. Of its 1,192 islands, 80% are less than 3ft above sea level, with global warming putting the Maldives at risk of becoming the Atlantis of our time. So perhaps it is unsurprising that the Maldivian president is looking at the options of buying land should the country’s 200 densely inhabited islands need to be evacuated.There’s even a pot of money especially allocated for buying land overseas and moving the islands’s residents to safer ground.



Bangladesh is a nation in which three majestic Himalayan rivers converge, before meandering their way to the sea via the Ganges delta: beautiful on a map, but not ideal in terms of river flooding, or tidal flooding for that matter. The country is basically a massive floodplain, with more than 20% of its land awash with water every year and around 70% experiencing severe flooding in extreme cases. As one of the world’s least developed countries, it cannot afford the technology others use to mitigate the effects of flooding and has to turn to more imaginative means, such as creating houses built on stilts in coastal areas.


What Does the U.S. Look Like after 3 Meters of Sea Level Rise?

New research indicates that climate change has triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, eventually leading to at least three meters of global sea level rise

May 14, 2014

by Ben Strauss and Climate Central


 By the metric of most people living on land less than 10 ft above the high tide line, New York City is most threatened in the long run, with a low-lying population count of more than 700,000.

Courtesy of Climate Central, new research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end.

What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.

These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)


Cities with the Most Population on Affected Land


           CITY           POPULATION

 1.  New York City 342,000

 2.  New Orleans  275,000

 3.  Miami 224,000

 4.  Hialeah, FL  195,000

 5.  Virginia Beach 160,000

 6.  Fort Lauderdale 157,000

 7.  Norfolk 142,000

 8.  Stockton, CA 142,000

 9.  Metairie, LA 138,000

10. Hollywood, FL 126,000


 All cities 703,000


More than half of the area of 40 large cities (population over 50,000) is less than 10 feet above the high tide line, from Virginia Beach and Miami (the largest affected), down to Hoboken, N.J. (smallest). Twenty-seven of the cities are in Florida, where one-third of all current housing sits below the critical line — including 85 percent in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Each of these counties is more threatened than any whole state outside of Florida – and each sits on bedrock filled with holes, rendering defense by seawalls or levees almost impossible.

By the metric of most people living on land less than 10 ft above the high tide line, New York City is most threatened in the long run, with a low-lying population count of more than 700,000. Sixteen other cities, including New Orleans, La.; Norfolk, Va.; Stockton, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Jacksonville, Fla.; are on the list of places with more than 100,000 people below the line. (Much of New Orleans is already below sea level, but is protected at today’s level by levees.)

Climate Central’s enhanced analysis paints a much more detailed pictured for completed states. For example, more than 32,000 miles of road and $950 billion of property currently sit on affected land in Florida. Threatened property in New York and New Jersey totals more than $300 billion. And New England states all face important risks.

The predicted sea level rise will take a long time to unfold. The numbers listed here do not represent immediate or literal threats. Under any circumstances, coastal populations and economies will reshape themselves over time. But the new research on West Antarctic Ice Sheet decay — and the amount of humanity in the restless ocean’s way — point to unrelenting centuries of defense, retreat, and reimagination of life along our coasts.


This article is reproduced with permission from Climate Central. The article was first published on May 13, 2014.


Germany’s Choice: Will It Be America or Russia?

For decades, Germany’s position in the West remained unquestioned. Following the NSA spying and other political scandals, many Germans want greater independence from the US. But does that mean getting closer to Moscow?

July 10, 2014

by Markus Feldenkirchen, Christiane Hoffmann and René Pfister

Der Spiegel


John Emerson never stops smiling. On the evening of Friday, July 4 — Independence Day — the United States ambassador shook hands on the red carpet at a reception given by his embassy at Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, which has since been transformed into a park. Emerson greeted his guests with a diplomat’s practiced joviality. He faced an endless line of businesspeople, German government officials and celebrities, and although he could be seen sweating, his smile remained unbroken, as if to convey the message that all was still well in the world.

It’s been a common scene at recent encounters between American and German officials. But behind the perfect façade, relations are cracking. Even as workers were decorating Tempelhof Field with pennants and small flags last Friday, a report was making the rounds in the German capital that could very well drag relations between Washington and Berlin to a new low.

During questioning, an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), told German authorities he had sold secret documents to the Americans. Given that special encryption technology was found during a raid of his apartment, it seems highly unlikely that selling the classified information was his idea.

This Wednesday, the spying scandal took on a new dimension when investigators with the Federal Criminal Police Office raided the home and offices of a Defense Ministry employee whom officials also suspect may have spied for the Americans.

The developments are only the latest tussle in a relationship between Germany and the United States that has suffered in recent years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already abandoned hope that the United States will come to its senses and rein in its intelligence agencies. During Merkel’s last visit to Washington, US President Barack Obama wasn’t even willing to commit to a no-spy agreement guaranteeing Germany a modicum of security.


Merkel Fears Growing Anti-American Sentiment


The chancellor did, however, expect the Americans to at least refrain from involving her in any further embarrassing incidents — she has no interest in seeing a continued rise in anti-US sentiment in Germany, a development that would ultimately offer her no choice but to distance herself from the Americans once again. But that point may have already been reached.

As of the end of last week, the BND had not yet fully investigated the spy scandal. But if the story turns out to be true, it will mean that the Americans paid a mole to copy documents for them, some of which were even intended for the German parliamentary committee set up to investigate the NSA’s activities in Germany. It would represent a new level of audacity.

The initial reports alone were enough to enrage key members of Germany’s coalition government composed of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) — so much so that some now feel US intelligence agencies are capable of anything.

“If it is confirmed that the spying activities against the BND also targeted the work of the NSA investigative committee, it will be an unprecedented assault on the parliament and our democratic institutions,” said Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of the SPD. By Wednesday of this week, with fresh suspicions of spying at the Defense Ministry, Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, indicated a German-American relations had hit a new nadir and spoke for the first time of “profound differences of opinion” between Berlin and Washington.

The German Foreign Ministry summoned Ambassador Emerson on Friday afternoon, before the Fourth of July festivities began. Employees at the German Chancellery were instructed to restrict their communications with the United States to essential matters. Some in the German government have even considered setting an example and expelling an American diplomat. And nearly a week later, on Thursday, the government in Berlin asked the CIA’s station chief in Germany to leave the country. Although less serious than a formal expulsion, the action is still tantamount to a diplomatic kick in the knees.


Is Germany Caught Between East and West?


Of course, this isn’t really what the chancellor wants. She would prefer to see the Germans remain firmly rooted in the Western alliance and loyal to their American partners. But she has also noticed how much anti-American sentiment the NSA scandal has stirred up among Germans. The Körber Foundation recently commissioned a study on Germans’ attitudes toward German foreign policy. With which country should Germany cooperate in the future, respondents were asked? In a near-tie between East and West, close to 56 percent named the United States while 53 percent named Russia.

Therein lies the deeper tension. On the one hand, Germans are disappointed by the Americans and their unceasing surveillance activities. At the same time, they have demonstrated a surprising level of sympathy for the Russians and their president, Vladimir Putin, in the Ukraine crisis. This raises the fundamental question of Germany’s national identity. In the long run, Germans will have to decide which side they prefer.

In the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the issue had become less of a priority because the contrast between East and West, and the polarization between the United States and Russia, seemed to have been eliminated. Germany didn’t have to choose sides because there was no real dividing line. But the Ukraine crisis and the NSA scandal have put an end to this comfortable phase, and now that antagonism between the West and Russia has erupted once again, Germany can no longer avoid the question of which side it supports.

According to a SPIEGEL poll, 57 percent of Germans feel that their country should become more independent of the United States when it comes to foreign policy. Uncomfortable questions are also being raised, including whether Berlin’s close relationship with the West was merely a transitional phenomenon.


Embassies Reflect a Nation’s Image


If embassy buildings are meant to project the psyche of a nation, the US Embassy in Berlin is an effective symbol. The exterior consists of an inviting light-colored sandstone structure with an American flag flying above the entrance’s curved glass roof. At second glance, however, the building at Pariser Platz 2 also resembles a fortress protected by barriers, surveillance cameras and bullet-proof glass.

Ambassador Emerson’s office is on the fifth floor. Visitors are required to leave their mobile phones in the reception area downstairs and must then pass through three security checkpoints. Even Emerson’s press secretary has to deposit her cell phone in a small wooden box before entering the ambassador’s floor. His office is secured with a steel door, and the glass windows looking out on Tiergarten Park and Brandenburg Gate are so thick that they would probably withstand a nuclear strike.

Emerson’s ebullience stands in stark contrast to the security paranoia surrounding him. He is a jovial former attorney and investment banker from Chicago, who raised millions of dollars for Obama’s election campaigns and now, at the end of his career, has been given an attractive ambassadorship in Europe. Emerson, like many of his predecessors, hardly speaks a word of German.

For many years, this wasn’t an issue. American ambassadors in the past had no need to vie for the affections of Germans, because it was a matter of course. Konrad Adenauer, the country’s first postwar chancellor, opted for the young republic’s integration into the West, which culminated in West Germany’s accession to NATO in 1955.

As a result of Adenauer’s decision, the question of which side Germany belonged to remained off the table for decades. Even after German reunification in 1990, which then US President George Bush passionately supported, the German-American partnership was not fundamentally questioned.


A Sea-Change in Relations


The presidency of George W. Bush was a turning point in the Germans’ relationship with America. When then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) openly opposed the White House’s decision to invade Iraq twelve years ago, it marked a sea change. Bush justified the Iraq war with a lie and cemented the image of a superpower that believes it is no longer required to abide by rules and laws.

Emerson is not in an easy position. His predecessor had to grapple with the WikiLeaks scandal, in which American embassy cables describing senior German politicians in less than flattering terms were leaked to the public. The excitement had just subsided when it was revealed that the NSA was listening in on Merkel’s mobile phone. At the time, Emerson had only been in his position in Berlin for a few weeks.

During a visit in late May, Emerson had no illusions about the public mood in Germany. Anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon — many of those who demonstrated against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s or NATO’s 1970s missile policy weren’t only motivated by a desire for peace. Even back then, members of the German left were determined to send a message opposing the evil empire across the Atlantic. “I’m afraid of your fantasies and your ambition, America, oh America,” German musician Herbert Grönemeyer sang on his album “Bochum,” released in 1984. His words captured the mood of an entire generation.

This time there is more at play than the usual resentments, given all that has happened in recent years: the Iraq war, Guantanamo, the use of drones for targeted executions, the financial crisis, the NSA and fears of Google. The Germans feel they have every reason to mistrust the United States, an erstwhile friend whom many now see as sinister.

For a time, it seemed as if Obama could close the divide between the two nations. For Germans, he was the presidential candidate they had always wished for: powerfully eloquent and charismatic, sophisticated and not nearly as ordinary and rough around the edges as George W. Bush, the trigger-happy cowboy from Texas.

But to the Germans’ chagrin, Obama didn’t transform the White House into the United Nations headquarters, not even when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in a rush of euphoria only 11 months after his inauguration in 2009. He neither closed Guantanamo nor eliminated the death penalty. And instead of American Special Forces killing foreigners, drone pilots in air-conditioned barracks were checking off names on execution lists signed by Obama.

During an interview in his heavily secured office, Ambassador Emerson says he comes from the financial industry, an industry in which a rule applies that is also valid in politics: “Satisfaction is expectations minus results.” Emerson’s apparent implication is that Obama was already fighting a losing battle when he came into office — the Germans’ expectations were simply too high.

Emerson doesn’t deny that a few things have gone wrong in recent years. But at the end of the day, he adds, the decision to maintain close ties between Germany and the West should be obvious. Which country has a free press? The United States or Russia? Which president takes a stand and is willing to discuss the limits of intelligence activity with the entire country? Obama or Putin? “We share the same values,” Emerson says, and that must be emphasized again and again.


The Last Straw?


This may be true in theory, but in practice Europe and America are drifting farther and farther apart. This is even evident to people like Friedrich Merz, whose job description includes keeping the divide as narrow as possible. Merz is the chairman of the Atlantic Bridge, a group that has promoted friendship between Germany and the United States for more than 50 years. At the moment, Merz is busy promoting the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. “The agreement would be a sign that Western democracies are sticking together,” he says.

But even a conservative advocate of the market economy like Merz is often baffled by what is happening in the United States. Merz welcomes all forms of political debate, but when he sees how deep the ideological divides are in the United States, he is pleased over Europe’s well-tempered form of democracy. Responding to the new spying allegations last Friday, he said: “If this turns out to be true, it’s time for this to stop.”


America Has Become Unattractive


To put it differently, it has become uncool to view America as a cool place. Only a few years ago, for example, the post of head of the German-US Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Bundestag was a highly coveted one, filled by such respectable politicians as former Hamburg Mayor Hans-Ulrich Klose. Today it is less desirable. After the most recent parliamentary election, Philipp Missfelder, the head of the youth organization of Germany’s conservative sister parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), decided to resign from his post Coordinator of Trans-Atlantic Cooperation and assume the position of CDU treasurer in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia instead. For Missfelder, managing party finances took a priority over a once attractive trans-Atlantic post.

He was eventually succeeded by Jürgen Hardt, an affable man who has had little contact with the United States in the past: Before becoming a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in 2009, he was head of corporate communications for vacuum cleaner-maker Vorwerk. At least he has experience selling relatively unglamorous products.

Hardt plans to launch a marketing offensive in the United States soon. “I’m still searching for a way to reach as many people as possible,” he says. He envisions interviews in American regional newspapers to promote the trans-Atlantic alliance, in an echo of Adenauer’s decision to announce Germany’s willingness to engage in rearmament in the Cleveland Plain Dealer rather than the Washington Post. After that, Hardt intends to embark on a marketing tour across the United States.


Do Germans Suffer from an Excess Dose of Morality? t’s a necessary effort. Many Americans view the Germans the way parents treat an adult son who still lives at home and is reluctant to venture out into the harsh, real world.

The United States bore the largest burden in the Afghanistan war, it must rein in rising superpower China and it accounts for more than 70 percent of the military spending of all NATO countries. The glaring paradox of West Germany’s former pacifism was that it was only made possible by the American nuclear umbrella. Now that the Cold War is over, the United States would have no objection to the Europeans taking on greater responsibilities, at least in their own neighborhood.

But this is precisely where the problem begins, at least according to Gary Smith, head of the American Academy in Berlin. Smith, who has lived in Germany for more than 20 years, feels that Germans suffer from one thing above all: an excess dose of morality. He can certainly understand why Germans are upset over the NSA spying on Merkel’s mobile phone, he says. On the other hand, he adds, the United States is the only democratic world power, and it faces rivals like China and Russia, which have few scruples when deploying their intelligence agencies. “The Germans are completely obsessed with Merkel’s mobile phone, but they don’t see the big picture,” says Smith.

This is what the big picture looks like for Smith: On the one hand, the Germans are always quick to criticize the minute the Americans apply their military muscle or give their NSA technologists their marching orders. On the other hand, they have a tendency to back off when the situation becomes serious on the global political stage, most recently during the West’s military mission in Libya. And who, Smith asks, is expected to stop Putin if he feels the urge, once again, to swallow up parts of other countries?


Germans ‘Closer To Russian’ Than any other Europeans


Unlike the Americans’ fortress, the Russian Embassy embodies a nation filled with longing: longing for greatness, longing to be respected and admired and longing to impress and please others. But it has no apparent need for security.

Anyone arriving at the Russian Embassy for an appointment merely has to press a doorbell and state his or her name. Then a buzzer rings, the door opens and the visitor is allowed to enter the building. There is no identification check, bags are not inspected and there are no security checkpoints. Visitors are not asked to leave their mobile phones, recording devices and pocketknives at the front desk. Security checks could be interpreted as a sign of mistrust of visitors — and that would be impolite.

The interior is spacious, vast and empty, like Russia. A female staff member accompanies visitors up an enormous black marble staircase, which, as she explains, Finnish Marshall Carl Gustaf Mannheim gave Hitler to be used in a victory monument in Moscow. Sound reverberates in the Cathedral-like domed hall, where daylight faintly filters through a glass mosaic depicting the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. Everything is oversized and slightly gloomy, the kind of architecture that gives the visitor the sense of being in the midst of a religious service.

Ambassador Vladimir Mikhailovich Grinin walks out to meet his guests through a gigantic banquet room. The rooms are furnished in precious wood, heavy materials and splendid chandeliers — old-fashioned but tasteful.

Grinin greets his guests in polished German — the only sign that it isn’t his first language is a slight Russian accent. He embodies the close relationship between Germany and Russia, which he invokes during our conversation. Grinin’s father and father-in-law fought on the front during World War II. This is his third diplomatic posting in Germany. He was in Bonn in the 1970s and in East Berlin during the period surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is very familiar with Germany and has kept a close eye on today’s top politicians, in some cases for decades. “The Germans,” he says, “are closer to the Russians than any other nation in Europe.”

For the Russian ambassador, there is no contradiction between East and West. He views the relationship between Russia and the West as a triangle consisting of the United States, Russia and the European Union. And the EU, he says, consists mainly of Germany. “It would be good if the Germans would use their special situation to achieve greater understanding within the triangle,” says Grinin. Germany, which understands both the Russians and the Americans better than anyone else, should play the role of an intermediary, so as to ensure “that everyone can find a common language.”


‘Never Another War against Russia’


During his chancellorship, Gerhard Schröder saw this as Germany’s destiny. He believed that the country’s geographic location in the heart of Europe gave it a special responsibility. “Germany, as a country in the middle of Europe, was always on both sides; it was always its task to overcome Europe’s civilizational tension,” says political scientist Herfried Münkler.

For many Germans, the close relationship with Russia that Ambassador Grinin invokes is part of an identity that has developed over time — and not just in the eastern part of the country. The phrase “never another war” has become part of German DNA. But there is also another version of the phrase: “Never another war against Russia.” But Germans’ unique understanding of Russia doesn’t merely stem from radical pacifism and Germany’s post-1945 aversion to conflict.

             Russendisko, or “Russian Disco,” a dance club held in Berlin’s Mitte district for the last 15 years, is usually an indulgent event where the alcohol flows freely. Its founder, best-selling author Vladimir Kaminer, who writes humorous books about Germany written from a foreigner’s perspective, is eating a salad with goat meat and says that Russia has always been a dream for the Germans.

He quotes German historian Karl Schlögel, who said: “Germans see spirituality in the Siberian landscape,” and notes that there is something to Schlögel’s words. Why, Kaminer asks with a smile, do German television networks always broadcast major stories from Siberia every year after Christmas? According to Kaminer, no other country in the world offers as much TV coverage of Siberia as Germany.

Kaminer came to Berlin from Moscow in 1990, at the age of 23, and stayed. One of the reasons his books are so popular is that he is so adept at getting to the heart of the German-Russian relationship. Although his prose seems almost childishly clumsy, it is far cleverer and trenchant than many academic treatises.

“For the Germans, the United States is the evil father who ought to be slugged in the face. Russia, on the other hand, is like a little brother to the Germans, one that has to be coddled.”

The Germans and the Russians, says Kaminer, are “all sitting in the same kitchen. We have a shared history and we have made serious mistakes repeatedly.” He points out that Czar Peter the Great asked the Germans to help Russia modernize. “Germany and Russia, as neighbors of sorts, will always be dependent on one another.”

He has always benefited from the Germans’ affection for the Russians, says Kaminer. In addition to his traditional monthly Russendisko in Berlin, he also takes the event to other German cities. He has wanted to give up his role as party host for a long time. “I simply can’t listen to the music anymore,” says Kaminer. “But the Germans happen to like it.” They love these evenings, when the vodka flows, the polkas are loud, the dancing is more exuberant than at other parties and the kissing is less inhibited.

Kaminer believes that the pedantic Germans, who are always thinking of the future, have an underlying yearning for the Russian present, for the art of forgetting tomorrow, and for the wild and unruly character of his fellow Russians. “At Russendisko, you don’t need insurance to get up onto the tables,” says Kaminer.

In recent years, it’s been easy to believe in a good Russia. There was no reason to be fearful: Germany was grateful for unification, economic ties expanded, and it seemed as though Moscow was being incorporated into Western structures through the G-8 and the NATO-Russia Council. And despite various difficulties, Russia appeared on the path to a democratic future. Many believed that divisions within Europe had been overcome.

But the Ukraine crisis has called everything into question. “Currently, Russia is not a partner,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently told SPIEGEL. Now Berlin finds itself having to build bridges to a Russia that is increasingly the source of anti-Western and nationalist rhetoric, is intolerant of national, religious and sexual minorities and is motivated by the desire to regain its former significance.

Germans are divided over their relationship with Russia. Those who have always mistrusted Russia now feel fully vindicated, while those who have advocated sympathy for Russian positions are now calling for even greater understanding. In the SPIEGEL poll, three-quarters of Germans indicate it is “more likely” their trust in Russia has “declined.” Nevertheless, some 40 percent of respondents said that they would like to see Germany cooperate more closely with Russia in the future.


 SPIEGEL Poll on Foreign Relations


For German foreign policy, which has prided itself on a special closeness with Russia, Moscow has become unpredictable. No one knows what Putin’s true intentions are. Is he trying to prevent NATO and the EU from expanding farther eastward? Or does he want to rebuild the Soviet Union, the decline of which he once described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century?”

This difficult new Russia was on display in Berlin in mid-May, when Russian official and Putin confidant Vladimir Yakunin attended a meeting of the German-Russian Forum, a lobbying organization similar to the Atlantic Bridge.

The event was titled “Europe: Lost in Translation?” Yakunin, a tall, bulky man with a large, bulky head, portrayed himself as a representative of the new Russian nationalism. “I am Russian,” his speech began, “and I’m proud of it.” But the kind of Western values he wants Russia and Europe to share aren’t the kind that most people in enlightened Christian societies would like to see: anti-Americanism, homophobia and narrow-mindedness.

“The Americans don’t even know where Crimea is,” he scoffed, calling upon the Europeans to join Russian in a common fight against “totalitarian liberalism.” “The essence of democracy,” said Yakunin, in a reference to the Eurovision Song Contest and its 2014 winner, Austrian singer and drag persona Conchita Wurst, “is not bearded women, but the rule of the people.”

Can Russia be democratic? This question always remains in the background when Germany considers its relationship with Moscow. Hardly any statement in recent years has attracted more attention and notoriety than former Chancellor Schröder’s characterization of Putin as a “flawless democrat,” seemingly denying his authoritarian tendencies. Pro-Russian Germans are also often seen as having authoritarian tendencies. In a SPIEGEL essay, historian Heinrich August Winkler even accused them of being intellectually akin to the Nazis and their propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.

This is flat-out wrong. Germany can be the country that understands Russia better than others without jeopardizing its establishment in the West. It is not a question of having to maintain equidistance to both the West and Russia, and certainly not one of democracy versus autocracy. Embracing a policy that arises from Germany’s central geographic location is not the same as embracing a central ideological position.

Sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas recently warned that Germany is slipping back into a “highly dangerous, semi-hegemonic position.” But his concerns aren’t justified. Germany no longer has to be afraid of itself. According to international polls, many now view Germany as world’s most popular country. The calls for Germany to assume more responsibility are nearly unanimous abroad. During the euro crisis, Germany assumed a greater burden in fiscal and economic policy, and, like any leading power, was attacked for doing so. This simply comes with the territory.

Extracting itself from the Western alliance is not an option for Germany. NATO membership has brought Germany more than half a century of security and peace, and three-quarters of Germans are convinced that it is still necessary now that Cold War is over. The overwhelming majority of Germans do not question their country’s ties to the West.


A Special Role for Germany


Still, Germany can make itself more independent of the United States. Schröder’s refusal to become involved in the Iraq war was the right decision — it was a signal that Germany, while remaining true to its alliances, is not willing to participate in a deluded policy based on lies that, as is evident today, has plunged an entire region into chaos. Obama has abandoned Bush’s war policy, but not his intelligence-gathering methods.

Merkel could make it unmistakably clear to the United States that she is not willing to accept the NSA’s machinations. So far, the chancellor’s mild admonitions have not made an impression on Obama, as the latest spy scandal apparently indicates. This is why it would be correct to grant asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Of course, this comes with a price. It will mean that relations with Washington will become very frosty for a while. But Germany can only credibly criticize Putin’s policies if it points to the flaws in the Western alliance. At the moment, German sympathy for Putin is partly derived from the sense that the United States isn’t much better, and that it is prepared to violate international law if it happens to further its political ends.

Germany has spread its wings in the last 20 years. It can no longer hide behind others. Instead, Germany can lead Europe to an independent political role. It must offer an outlook to Russia in its yearning to become part of the West. But it must also set clear boundaries if Moscow reintroduces violence as a political tool and threatens allies. For America, a Germany that assumes this role may not be a convenient partner, but in the end, may be a source of relief.


 Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


How Washington protects itself

July 8, 2014

by Noam Chomsky

Asia Times


The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs. In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons. First, the US is unmatched in its global significance and impact. Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it. Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the US – and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices. The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.

There is a “received standard version”, common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse. It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the US and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.

There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine. One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989? Answer: everything continued much as before.

The US immediately invaded Panama, killing probably thousands of people and installing a client regime. This was routine practice in US-dominated domains – but in this case not quite as routine. For first time, a major foreign policy act was not justified by an alleged Russian threat.

Instead, a series of fraudulent pretexts for the invasion were concocted that collapse instantly on examination. The media chimed in enthusiastically, lauding the magnificent achievement of defeating Panama, unconcerned that the pretexts were ludicrous, that the act itself was a radical violation of international law, and that it was bitterly condemned elsewhere, most harshly in Latin America. Also ignored was the US veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by US troops during the invasion, with Britain alone abstaining.


All routine. And all forgotten (which is also routine).


From El Salvador to the Russian border


The administration of George H W Bush issued a new national security policy and defense budget in reaction to the collapse of the global enemy. It was pretty much the same as before, although with new pretexts. It was, it turned out, necessary to maintain a military establishment almost as great as the rest of the world combined and far more advanced in technological sophistication – but not for defense against the now-nonexistent Soviet Union. Rather, the excuse now was the growing “technological sophistication” of Third World powers. Disciplined intellectuals understood that it would have been improper to collapse in ridicule, so they maintained a proper silence.

The US, the new programs insisted, must maintain its “defense industrial base”. The phrase is a euphemism, referring to high-tech industry generally, which relies heavily on extensive state intervention for research and development, often under Pentagon cover, in what economists continue to call the US “free-market economy”.

One of the most interesting provisions of the new plans had to do with the Middle East. There, it was declared, Washington must maintain intervention forces targeting a crucial region where the major problems “could not have been laid at the Kremlin’s door”. Contrary to 50 years of deceit, it was quietly conceded that the main concern was not the Russians, but rather what is called “radical nationalism”, meaning independent nationalism not under US control.

All of this has evident bearing on the standard version, but it passed unnoticed – or perhaps, therefore it passed unnoticed.

Other important events took place immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, ending the Cold War. One was in El Salvador, the leading recipient of US military aid – apart from Israel-Egypt, a separate category – and with one of the worst human rights records anywhere. That is a familiar and very close correlation.

The Salvadoran high command ordered the Atlacatl Brigade to invade the Jesuit University and murder six leading Latin American intellectuals, all Jesuit priests, including the rector, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, and any witnesses, meaning their housekeeper and her daughter. The Brigade had just returned from advanced counterinsurgency training at the US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and had already left a bloody trail of thousands of the usual victims in the course of the US-run state terror campaign in El Salvador, one part of a broader terror and torture campaign throughout the region. All routine. Ignored and virtually forgotten in the United States and by its allies, again routine. But it tells us a lot about the factors that drive policy, if we care to look at the real world.

Another important event took place in Europe. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to allow the unification of Germany and its membership in NATO, a hostile military alliance. In the light of recent history, this was a most astonishing concession. There was a quid pro quo. President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker agreed that NATO would not expand “one inch to the East”, meaning into East Germany. Instantly, they expanded NATO to East Germany.

Gorbachev was naturally outraged, but when he complained, he was instructed by Washington that this had only been a verbal promise, a gentleman’s agreement, hence without force. If he was na?ve enough to accept the word of American leaders, it was his problem.

All of this, too, was routine, as was the silent acceptance and approval of the expansion of NATO in the US and the West generally. President Bill Clinton then expanded NATO further, right up to Russia’s borders. Today, the world faces a serious crisis that is in no small measure a result of these policies.


The appeal of plundering the poor


Another source of evidence is the declassified historical record. It contains revealing accounts of the actual motives of state policy. The story is rich and complex, but a few persistent themes play a dominant role. One was articulated clearly at a western hemispheric conference called by the US in Mexico in February 1945 where Washington imposed “An Economic Charter of the Americas” designed to eliminate economic nationalism “in all its forms”. There was one unspoken condition. Economic nationalism would be fine for the US whose economy relies heavily on massive state intervention.

The elimination of economic nationalism for others stood in sharp conflict with the Latin American stand of that moment, which State Department officials described as “the philosophy of the New Nationalism that embraces policies designed to bring about a broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses”. As US policy analysts added, “Latin Americans are convinced that the first beneficiaries of the development of a country’s resources should be the people of that country”.

That, of course, will not do. Washington understands that the “first beneficiaries” should be US investors, while Latin America fulfills its service function. It should not, as both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations would make clear, undergo “excessive industrial development” that might infringe on US interests. Thus Brazil could produce low-quality steel that US corporations did not want to bother with, but it would be “excessive”, were it to compete with US firms.

Similar concerns resonate throughout the post-World War II period. The global system that was to be dominated by the US was threatened by what internal documents call “radical and nationalistic regimes” that respond to popular pressures for independent development. That was the concern that motivated the overthrow of the parliamentary governments of Iran and Guatemala in 1953 and 1954, as well as numerous others. In the case of Iran, a major concern was the potential impact of Iranian independence on Egypt, then in turmoil over British colonial practice. In Guatemala, apart from the crime of the new democracy in empowering the peasant majority and infringing on possessions of the United Fruit Company – already offensive enough – Washington’s concern was labor unrest and popular mobilization in neighboring US-backed dictatorships.

In both cases the consequences reach to the present. Literally not a day has passed since 1953 when the US has not been torturing the people of Iran. Guatemala remains one of the world’s worst horror chambers. To this day, Mayans are fleeing from the effects of near-genocidal government military campaigns in the highlands backed by President Ronald Reagan and his top officials. As the country director of Oxfam, a Guatemalan doctor, reported recently,

“There is a dramatic deterioration of the political, social, and economic context. Attacks against Human Rights defenders have increased 300% during the last year. There is a clear evidence of a very well organized strategy by the private sector and Army. Both have captured the government in order to keep the status quo and to impose the extraction economic model, pushing away dramatically indigenous peoples from their own land, due to the mining industry, African Palm and sugar cane plantations. In addition the social movement defending their land and rights has been criminalized, many leaders are in jail, and many others have been killed”.

Nothing is known about this in the United States and the very obvious cause of it remains suppressed.

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles explained quite clearly the dilemma that the US faced. They complained that the Communists had an unfair advantage. They were able to “appeal directly to the masses” and “get control of mass movements, something we have no capacity to duplicate. The poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich”.

That causes problems. The US somehow finds it difficult to appeal to the poor with its doctrine that the rich should plunder the poor.


The Cuban example


A clear illustration of the general pattern was Cuba, when it finally gained independence in 1959. Within months, military attacks on the island began. Shortly after, the Eisenhower administration made a secret decision to overthrow the government. John F Kennedy then became president. He intended to devote more attention to Latin America and so, on taking office, he created a study group to develop policies headed by the historian Arthur Schlesinger, who summarized its conclusions for the incoming president.

As Schlesinger explained, threatening in an independent Cuba was “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands”. It was an idea that unfortunately appealed to the mass of the population in Latin America where “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes, and the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living”. Again, Washington’s usual dilemma.

As the CIA explained, “The extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power… Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change”, for which his Cuba provides a model. Kennedy feared that Russian aid might make Cuba a “showcase” for development, giving the Soviets the upper hand throughout Latin America.

The State Department Policy Planning Council warned that “the primary danger we face in Castro is… in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries… The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half” – that is, since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when the US declared its intention of dominating the hemisphere.

The immediate goal at the time was to conquer Cuba, but that could not be achieved because of the power of the British enemy. Still, that grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the intellectual father of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, informed his colleagues that over time Cuba would fall into our hands by “the laws of political gravitation”, as an apple falls from the tree. In brief, US power would increase and Britain’s would decline.

In 1898, Adams’s prognosis was realized. The US invaded Cuba in the guise of liberating it. In fact, it prevented the island’s liberation from Spain and turned it into a “virtual colony” to quote historians Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. Cuba remained so until January 1959, when it gained independence. Since that time it has been subjected to major US terrorist wars, primarily during the Kennedy years, and economic strangulation. Not because of the Russians.

The pretense all along was that we were defending ourselves from the Russian threat – an absurd explanation that generally went unchallenged. A simple test of the thesis is what happened when any conceivable Russian threat disappeared. US policy toward Cuba became even harsher, spearheaded by liberal Democrats, including Bill Clinton, who outflanked Bush from the right in the 1992 election. On the face of it, these events should have considerable bearing on the validity of the doctrinal framework for discussion of foreign policy and the factors that drive it. Once again, however, the impact was slight.


The virus of nationalism


To borrow Henry Kissinger’s terminology, independent nationalism is a “virus” that might “spread contagion”. Kissinger was referring to Salvador Allende’s Chile. The virus was the idea that there might be a parliamentary path towards some kind of socialist democracy. The way to deal with such a threat is to destroy the virus and to inoculate those who might be infected, typically by imposing murderous national security states. That was achieved in the case of Chile, but it is important to recognize that the thinking holds worldwide.

It was, for example, the reasoning behind the decision to oppose Vietnamese nationalism in the early 1950s and support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony. It was feared that independent Vietnamese nationalism might be a virus that would spread contagion to the surrounding regions, including resource-rich Indonesia. That might even have led Japan – called the “superdomino” by Asia scholar John Dower – to become the industrial and commercial center of an independent new order of the kind imperial Japan had so recently fought to establish. That, in turn, would have meant that the US had lost the Pacific war, not an option to be considered in 1950. The remedy was clearly largely achieved. Vietnam was virtually destroyed and ringed by military dictatorships that kept the “virus” from spreading contagion.

In retrospect, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that Washington should have ended the Vietnam War in 1965, when the Suharto dictatorship was installed in Indonesia, with enormous massacres that the CIA compared to the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. These were, however, greeted with unconstrained euphoria in the US and the West generally because the “staggering bloodbath”, as the press cheerfully described it, ended any threat of contagion and opened Indonesia’s rich resources to western exploitation. After that, the war to destroy Vietnam was superfluous, as Bundy recognized in retrospect.

The same was true in Latin America in the same years: one virus after another was viciously attacked and either destroyed or weakened to the point of bare survival. From the early 1960s, a plague of repression was imposed on the continent that had no precedent in the violent history of the hemisphere, extending to Central America in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, a matter that there should be no need to review.

Much the same was true in the Middle East. The unique US relations with Israel were established in their current form in 1967, when Israel delivered a smashing blow to Egypt, the center of secular Arab nationalism. By doing so, it protected US ally Saudi Arabia, then engaged in military conflict with Egypt in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the most extreme radical fundamentalist Islamic state, and also a missionary state, expending huge sums to establish its Wahhabi-Salafi doctrines beyond its borders. It is worth remembering that the US, like England before it, has tended to support radical fundamentalist Islam in opposition to secular nationalism, which has usually been perceived as posing more of a threat of independence and contagion.


The value of secrecy


There is much more to say, but the historical record demonstrates very clearly that the standard doctrine has little merit. Security in the normal sense is not a prominent factor in policy formation.

To repeat, in the normal sense. But in evaluating the standard doctrine we have to ask what is actually meant by “security”: security for whom?

One answer is: security for state power. There are many illustrations. Take a current one. In May, the US agreed to support a UN Security Council resolution calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria, but with a proviso: there could be no inquiry into possible war crimes by Israel. Or by Washington, though it was really unnecessary to add that last condition. The US is uniquely self-immunized from the international legal system. In fact, there is even congressional legislation authorizing the president to use armed force to “rescue” any American brought to the Hague for trial – the “Netherlands Invasion Act”, as it is sometimes called in Europe. That once again illustrates the importance of protecting the security of state power.

But protecting it from whom? There is, in fact, a strong case to be made that a prime concern of government is the security of state power from the population. As those who have spent time rummaging through archives should be aware, government secrecy is rarely motivated by a genuine need for security, but it definitely does serve to keep the population in the dark. And for good reasons, which were lucidly explained by the prominent liberal scholar and government adviser Samuel Huntington, the professor of the science of government at Harvard University. In his words: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate”.

He wrote that in 1981, when the Cold War was again heating up, and he explained further that “you may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine”.

These simple truths are rarely acknowledged, but they provide insight into state power and policy, with reverberations to the present moment.

State power has to be protected from its domestic enemy; in sharp contrast, the population is not secure from state power. A striking current illustration is the radical attack on the Constitution by the Obama administration’s massive surveillance program. It is, of course, justified by “national security”. That is routine for virtually all actions of all states and so carries little information.

When the NSA’s surveillance program was exposed by Edward Snowden’s revelations, high officials claimed that it had prevented 54 terrorist acts. On inquiry, that was whittled down to a dozen. A high-level government panel then discovered that there was actually only one case: someone had sent $8,500 to Somalia. That was the total yield of the huge assault on the Constitution and, of course, on others throughout the world.

Britain’s attitude is interesting. In 2007, the British government called on Washington’s colossal spy agency “to analyze and retain any British citizens’ mobile phone and fax numbers, emails, and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet”, the Guardian reported. That is a useful indication of the relative significance, in government eyes, of the privacy of its own citizens and of Washington’s demands.

Another concern is security for private power. One current illustration is the huge trade agreements now being negotiated, the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic pacts. These are being negotiated in secret – but not completely in secret. They are not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers who are drawing up the detailed provisions. It is not hard to guess what the results will be, and the few leaks about them suggest that the expectations are accurate. Like NAFTA and other such pacts, these are not free trade agreements. In fact, they are not even trade agreements, but primarily investor rights agreements.

Again, secrecy is critically important to protect the primary domestic constituency of the governments involved, the corporate sector.

The final century of human civilization?

There are other examples too numerous to mention, facts that are well-established and would be taught in elementary schools in free societies.

There is, in other words, ample evidence that securing state power from the domestic population and securing concentrated private power are driving forces in policy formation. Of course, it is not quite that simple. There are interesting cases, some quite current, where these commitments conflict, but consider this a good first approximation and radically opposed to the received standard doctrine.

Let us turn to another question: What about the security of the population? It is easy to demonstrate that this is a marginal concern of policy planners. Take two prominent current examples, global warming and nuclear weapons. As any literate person is doubtless aware, these are dire threats to the security of the population. Turning to state policy, we find that it is committed to accelerating each of those threats – in the interests of the primary concerns, protection of state power and of the concentrated private power that largely determines state policy.

Consider global warming. There is now much exuberance in the United States about “100 years of energy independence” as we become “the Saudi Arabia of the next century” – perhaps the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.

That illustrates very clearly the nature of the concern for security, certainly not for the population. It also illustrates the moral calculus of contemporary Anglo-American state capitalism: the fate of our grandchildren counts as nothing when compared with the imperative of higher profits tomorrow.

These conclusions are fortified by a closer look at the propaganda system. There is a huge public relations campaign in the US, organized quite openly by Big Energy and the business world, to try to convince the public that global warming is either unreal or not a result of human activity. And it has had some impact. The US ranks lower than other countries in public concern about global warming and the results are stratified: among Republicans, the party more fully dedicated to the interests of wealth and corporate power, it ranks far lower than the global norm.

The current issue of the premier journal of media criticism, the Columbia Journalism Review, has an interesting article on this subject, attributing this outcome to the media doctrine of “fair and balanced”. In other words, if a journal publishes an opinion piece reflecting the conclusions of 97% of scientists, it must also run a counter-piece expressing the viewpoint of the energy corporations.

That indeed is what happens, but there certainly is no “fair and balanced” doctrine. Thus, if a journal runs an opinion piece denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the criminal act of taking over the Crimea, it surely does not have to run a piece pointing out that, while the act is indeed criminal, Russia has a far stronger case today than the US did more than a century ago in taking over southeastern Cuba, including the country’s major port – and rejecting the Cuban demand since independence to have it returned. And the same is true of many other cases. The actual media doctrine is “fair and balanced” when the concerns of concentrated private power are involved, but surely not elsewhere.

On the issue of nuclear weapons, the record is similarly interesting – and frightening. It reveals very clearly that, from the earliest days, the security of the population was a non-issue, and remains so. There is no time here to run through the shocking record, but there is little doubt that it strongly supports the lament of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which was armed with nuclear weapons. In his words, we have so far survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion”. And we can hardly count on continued divine intervention as policymakers play roulette with the fate of the species in pursuit of the driving factors in policy formation.

As we are all surely aware, we now face the most ominous decisions in human history. There are many problems that must be addressed, but two are overwhelming in their significance: environmental destruction and nuclear war. For the first time in history, we face the possibility of destroying the prospects for decent existence – and not in the distant future. For this reason alone, it is imperative to sweep away the ideological clouds and face honestly and realistically the question of how policy decisions are made, and what we can do to alter them before it is too late.


Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.




Rick Perry, Neocon Tool

His pathetic “comeback” is going to go nowhere – fast


July 14, 2014

by Justin Raimondo


The media hates Republicans, and so naturally they’re elevating Texas Governor Rick Perry to the status of a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender who must be taken seriously. After his last embarrassing run – embarrassing not only for him, but for the much-maligned state of Texas (see the video above) – one would think he’d put his presidential aspirations in the back of the garage, along with that Stairmaster he never uses. But no: dumber than a steer who’s been zapped by a cattle-prod and still won’t move, Perry is going along with the joke. He’s been busy lately inveigling himself into the good graces of those Republican grandees who think they can dictate whom the candidate will be. And he’s doing that by taking on the prospective candidate the GOP Establishment is determined to stop at any cost: Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

This job was supposed to be left to former UN ambassador John Bolton, but given his almost nonexistent name recognition, his abrasive personality, his one percent base of support, and that distinctively Prussian mustache – for cryin’ out loud! – there’s some doubt Bolton could even make it into the presidential debates. So Perry is auditioning for the role of Rand’s designated nemesis – and if his recent op ed in the Washington Post is any indication, he’s doing as well at that as he did in that fatal 2011 debate – when he forgot what agencies he supposedly wants to abolish.

The first paragraph deploys the “isolationist” epithet twice, but it’s tempered by what can only be called appeasement: “I can understand the emotions behind isolationism,” he avers. “Many people are tired of war” – but Gov. Perry isn’t among them, as the rest of his piece makes clear. What’s interesting, though, is that he feels obligated to apologize for dissing those bad old “isolationists”: “Unfortunately,” he writes, ” we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our nation even further.”

In a more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone, Perry goes on to bewail how “disheartening” it is “to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. The main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world.”

So how and why is a group financed and run by our Saudi “allies” suddenly a threat that requires us going back to Iraq – a country 999 out of 1,000 Americans never want to hear of again? One expects to hear the old “safe haven” argument, which kept us in Afghanistan well beyond our expiration/exhaustion date, but no, Perry has come up with a new one: the They-Have-US-Passports argument. Not only is the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham [Syria] (ISIS) scarier than even al-Qaeda, according to Perry they are so “adept at recruitment” that they have “thousands of people with European passports fighting” in their ranks, “as well as some Americans.” So, you see, the threat to our precious bodily fluids emanates from the fact that “any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa.”

Does Perry think the feds don’t have a very clear idea of who these American jihadis are? Why oh why do we have this all-pervasive surveillance of the American people if not to pick out these individuals and put them on the terrorist watch list? Of course, that’s assuming the government is actually doing its real job rather than what we know they’re doing – which is spying on ordinary Americans for no good reason – but surely it would be far easier and much less costly to identify these potential culprits from a distance, as opposed to re-invading Iraq. Perry is the one screaming about the lack of border security, so presumably under his presidency (shudder!) this would become a top priority.

Perry’s lame argument gives way to an extended discussion of just what Ronald Reagan would do in this situation, a ritual performed by every GOP presidential aspirant as a matter of course. Yet Perry’s version of what a Reaganite foreign policy transplanted into today’s world would look like elides the entire history of how the cold war actually ended: in negotiations rather than confrontation, as Reagan signed a nuclear disarmament treaty, hailed glasnost and perestroika, and was denounced by some of the very same neocons who are now giving Perry such bad foreign policy advice.

Last time around the GOP presidential racetrack, Perry conferred “for hours” with Douglas Feith, former defense secretary for policy at the height of the Iraq war, as well as Bill Luti, whose “Office of Special Plans” during Feith’s tenure manufactured “talking points” that made it what Mother Jones magazine called “the lie factory.” As the chief source of those lies, Ahmed Chalabi, came under investigation for being an Iranian double agent, Feith hurriedly resigned rather than face the music.

Perry’s problem is that this horse is too lame to run. Indeed, hoping my readers will let me stretch the equine analogy to its limit: if neoconservative foreign policy can be likened to a racehorse, this one would’ve been put out of its misery long ago. Saddled with the Feith-Luti gang, the Perry-for-President bandwagon is going to be stuck in the mud at the opening bell. The reason is because Americans aren’t just tired of war, as Perry admits – they’re tired of the warmongers, i.e. the same all-too-familiar neocons who lied us into Iraq the last time.

One almost has to feel sorry for Perry, who can’t seem to stop embarrassing himself: his “argument” for intervening in Iraq is so contradictory that he winds up pulling back at the end of his op ed. He stupidly brings up the “red line” – the one Obama said he was drawing around Syria’s chemical weapons – and attacks the President for using it as a “rhetorical device rather than a promise of action.” The problem for Perry is that the American people were horrified at the “promise of action” in Syria and rose up as one to demand that the President drop his plans to bomb. Obama wanted to act, the political class was chomping at the bit to act, but ordinary everyday Americans said “No!” – and Obama wisely drew back. Just like Perry does in the latter half of his op ed:

“There are no good options in Iraq or Syria. The window to shape events for the better passed years ago. The lousy choices we face today are the price of failed leadership. Nonetheless, the president can and must do more with our military and intelligence communities to help cripple the Islamic State. Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes.”

So it’s too late to charge in there guns blazing, and we can blame everything on Obama. “Nonetheless” we can do something – which just happens to be exactly what Rand Paul has come out in favor of. For far from advocating “inaction,” the junior Senator from Kentucky has indeed said he’s for using our “hi tech” military to do everything Perry wants us to do – he’s even said he “would not rule out” air strikes.

Perry’s argument is cowardice standing in fear of itself: he doesn’t dare come out and say we need to send ground troops back to Iraq, although his neocon advisors would dearly love to see that happen. On the other hand, he doesn’t say he would never do it: he simply doesn’t mention the prospect in hopes that no one will bring it up. Ah, but Sen. Paul brought it up in his response:

“Unlike Governor Perry, I am opposed to sending American troops back into Iraq; I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat.

“I also want to stop sending U.S. and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Governor Perry doesn’t even address. I asked Governor Perry, ‘How many Americans should send their sons and daughters to die for a foreign country, a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves?’”

This is the question Perry – and his neocon puppeteers – don’t want to answer because they can’t tell the truth without being driven out of the public square. The overwhelming majority of Americans aren’t just opposed to re-entangling ourselves in that mess – they don’t think the war was ever worth fighting. And that includes half of Republicans.

This is a nearly insurmountable barrier for the War Party – and any presidential wannabe who plans on running as their chosen candidate. Sure, the warmongers will shower him with plenty of moolah and take out ads attacking the alleged “isolationism” of Paul, but the problem is they have to reverse a verdict that’s already been handed down by the court of public opinion: Iraq was a disaster, and going back there will only exacerbate the failure. And whose failure is it? Although both parties were complicit in dragging us into that quagmire, the Republicans are taking the lion’s share of the blame because the war defined the Bush era.

Does the GOP want to be stuck with that albatross hung around their necks forever? That will ensure their permanent status as a rapidly-shrinking minority party – which is just what the GOP Establishment is supposedly trying to prevent. So the party’s “grandees” are faced with a seemingly insoluble contradiction: they insist they are all about picking a “winner,” but refuse to dump their losing obsession with maintaining and expanding our foreign policy of global meddling.

Perry’s op ed, and his appearance on “Face the Nation,” where he was confronted with Sen. Paul’s rebuttal, was supplemented by the obligatory appearance of John McCain on CNN’s “State of the Union,” during which the Senator went into the usual neocon riff about the alleged history of the “isolationist” movement:

“’Senator Paul is part of a wing of the party that’s been there ever since prior to World War I in our Republican Party, and that is a withdrawal to fortress America,’ McCain said, comparing Paul to American isolationists who wanted to keep the US out of World War II.”

McCain needs a course in basic history, starting with the history of his own party: the GOP in the run up to World War I was solidly in favor of intervening. Indeed, one of McCain’s heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, demanded we go to war long before Woodrow Wilson dragged us into it. Henry Cabot Lodge, the influential Republican Senator from Massachusetts, was a major proponent of intervention, and military “preparedness,” and applauded Wilson’s decision to enter the war. Lodge’s main worry was that Wilson would conclude a peace without demanding unconditional surrender.

In any case, the same tired bromides about how refusal to go along with another cockamamie neocon scheme to involve us in a foreign war is “isolationism” isn’t going to cut it, this time. Both McCain and the nutso Peter King (R-IRA) – who’s threatening to cut into Bolton’s one percent by running for President – keep evoking the shade of Charles Lindbergh as if the Battle of Britain were still raging, but they are merely underscoring their own irrelevance.

It may be true that for the neocons it’s always 1939 – but the rest of us aren’t stuck in that time-warp. ISIS isn’t Nazi Germany: it isn’t even Fascist Italy. The very idea that this ragtag army – subsidized and supported by our “allies” in the Gulf – poses a threat to the territory of the United States is a gruesome joke: gruesome because the consequences of taking such a view seriously would result in many more thousands of American (and Iraqi) deaths in the second part of a war that was a disaster from the beginning.

The neocons have a major problem: their own party, the GOP, is rebelling against their hegemony in the foreign policy realm. If Sen. Paul succeeds in breaking the neocons’ hold, he’ll have destroyed the monopoly the War Party has enjoyed when it comes to the vital issue of our relations with the rest of the world. This has been their greatest strength: never having to encounter any real opposition in the arena of presidential politics. The pro-peace camp has never been defeated – because they’ve never been heard.

All that may be changing – and that’s why nary a week goes by without some stand in for the neocons – Dick Cheney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, McCain, Lindsey Graham – unloading on Sen. Paul. The great irony of these attacks is that they accomplish the exact opposite of what’s intended: instead of hurting Paul’s presidential aspirations they help him by underscoring the fact that his views – unlike his opponents’ – are exactly in accord with the views of the American people.

So keep it up, guys. Or, as George W. Bush would put it: “Bring it on!”

Ukrainian Military Plane Is Shot Down as Russia Adds to Presence at Border

July 14, 2014

by Sabrina Taveriise 

New York Times


LUHANSK, Ukraine — A military transport plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Monday, Ukrainian officials said, while new reports emerged that Russia was building up forces along its border with Ukraine.

A Russian-made AN-26 cargo plane was brought down not far from the Russian border, near the town of Davydo-Nikolskoye. It contained food rations and water, and lay in a crumpled, smoking heap in a field on Monday evening. A spokeswoman for the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, Oksana Chigrina, said rebel forces had taken five members of its crew hostage, although the claim could not be verified.

It was not immediately clear who shot down the plane or the circumstances surrounding the incident. Ukraine’s minister of defense, Valeriy Heletey, said the plane was flying at 6,500 meters, or more than 21,000 feet, well beyond the reach of the shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles the rebels are known to have used before.

He speculated that it had been “downed by another, more powerful missile that probably was launched from the territory of the Russian Federation.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

            But many here in this battered eastern city believed the most likely culprits were the rebels, who last month shot down a plane in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers and officers. Ms. Chigrina, the rebel spokeswoman, did not say whether rebels had brought down the plane, but said of the Ukrainians, “obviously they didn’t shoot themselves.”

As relations between Kiev and Moscow continue to deteriorate, a NATO official said Monday that the Kremlin had been rebuilding its forces on the border with Ukraine and now had an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 troops in the area. Russia had amassed about 40,000 troops on the border earlier this year, after a pro-Western revolution in Kiev toppled Ukraine’s government. But Russia subsequently pulled nearly all of them back, with levels falling to below 1,000 last month.

“Since mid-June we have seen evidence of a progressive buildup of thousands of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border,” said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “This is not a step in the right direction. It is a step away from de-escalating the situation.”

Ukraine’s state news agency reported over the weekend that a column of rebels in military vehicles, including tanks, had broken through the border from Russia. Western leaders and Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, have accused Russia of surreptitiously arming the rebels, even while calling for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Russia has denied providing the rebels with military assistance.

Luhansk, close to the Russian border and crucial to the survival of the pro-Russian insurgency, was the scene of intense shelling over the weekend.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Monday that troops had retaken several villages around the city, including Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne. But on Monday there was no evidence of Ukrainian troops in at least two of those areas.

 Valentina, an accountant who had come back to her home in Oleksandrivsk from her dacha to collect some of her belongings, said she had not seen any Ukrainian soldiers, but she had heard the artillery, which she described as a quick whistle and then a boom. It was not clear whose artillery hit the area, but many assumed the Ukrainians were to blame.

“They are forcing us to make a choice — become a separatist or leave,” said a young man with a backpack and a ponytail who identified himself only as Yuri, out of concern for his safety. “For every 10 rebels, they kill 50 peaceful people.”

In all, health authorities in Luhansk said that shelling killed six people on Saturday, three on Sunday and at least two on Monday, including a woman who was apparently pushing a baby carriage.

Deepening the mystery, many of the city’s main streets and nearby highways were gouged by tank treads, suggesting a large movement of military vehicles, but whose was unclear.

Several residents said that they saw tanks on Sunday, but that they did not know whether they belonged to the rebels or the Ukrainians. It seemed possible the tanks belonged to the rebels, as the treads continued down a large swath of the highway from Luhansk to Donetsk, the rebel-controlled regional capital.


David Herszenhorn contributed reporting from Moscow, and James Kanter from Brussels.


Time to scrap the CIA

July 14, 2014

by Ryan Cooper |



Back in March, I wrote that the United States was embroiled in a full-blown constitutional crisis. In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the CIA of monitoring the computers of her staffers, who were working on a scathing report on the CIA’s torture program. It raised fundamental questions about the legitimacy of the agency: Without oversight, secret spying cannot possibly be justified in a democracy.

In part, Feinstein’s speech was a response to the agency asking the Department of Justice to prosecute her staffers for allegedly stealing classified documents. Given the incentives in play, and the CIA’s wretched recent history, I concluded this was an attempt to sandbag the Senate investigation, discredit the report should it be released, and prevent a DOJ investigation. Feinstein herself described it as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”

This effort is paying dividends. According to McClatchy, the DOJ will not investigate Feinstein’s claims of illegal CIA spying on her staffers:

“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr. [McClatchyDC]

I for one find that almost impossible to believe. The path of political least resistance was to split the difference between competing claims and decline to prosecute either one, probably just as the CIA wanted. Effectively, DOJ is running interference for the agency, just like they did when they declined to prosecute Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of war crimes.

The ball is now back in the Senate’s court. Clearly, President Obama and the rest of the executive branch are going to be no help whatsoever in protecting the legitimacy of American democracy. It’s time to start thinking big: Congress ought to scrap the CIA. They created the agency in 1947 with the National Security Act; they can reverse that whenever they choose.

The fact that the agency is gnawing at the roots of American democracy in the service of fighting a report about their war crimes is one reason to ditch it all together. Another is that for basically their entire existence, they have completely sucked at their job.


            The CIA is supposed to gather information about what is happening in the world. Here is a partial list of things the CIA failed to predict:


•The first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949


•The invasion of South Korea in 1950


•Installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962


•The Iranian revolution in 1979


•The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989




•Iraq’s lack of WMDs in 2003


And that isn’t the half of it. If you read Tim Weiner’s sweeping history of the agency, A Legacy of Ashes, you find a nearly uninterrupted litany of failure, ignorance, and buffoonish incompetence. Scrapping it could quite plausibly improve American security.

What would replace the CIA? Well, given that much of it has evolved into a paramilitary drone strike operation, that part can be folded into the Pentagon, which also has its own intelligence branch. There would still be the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaisance Office, the General Defense Intelligence Program, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Program. If we were concerned about developing a better intelligence collection system, these could conceivably be reorganized under a single heading, or just handed off altogether to the military.

But the major objective is to get rid of a basically worthless agency that has become a clear threat to America’s democratic system. Trying to figure out an ideal future is less important than dealing with that problem.

Naturally, this kind of bold defense of its prerogatives is hard to imagine with this Congress. It doing anything at all, on any subject, is hard to imagine. But this really ought to be a hair-on-fire emergency for every single member of Congress. The constitutional crisis didn’t end — the CIA just appears to be winning it. Representatives and senators are supposed to be the direct representatives of the American people, and the CIA just spat on the very idea that they are entitled to conduct meaningful oversight. A legislature that took democracy seriously wouldn’t stand for it.

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