Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria: another US war on an Arab nation to "protect" Israel?

Obama on PBS News Hour Aug. 29, 2013
The US's real reason for attacking Syria now

America is poised to bomb Syria, though for now, the UK isn't supporting it. Once again Obama is out-Bushing Bush, and getting away more easily with the US's imperial tactics. As many have pointed out, the heinous chemical weapon massacre of several hundred Syrians is a pretext of choice. This is clear because many thousands have already died in Syria's civil war and nothing was done to stop it. What's different now is that after a period of the rebel forces having the upper hand, Bashar al-Asad's, the government's, side in Syria has regained strength. The US doesn't want this. Washington declares it's not after "regime change" with the planned attacks, which is perhaps true of this particular strategic moment. But Obama has said it's time for al-Asad to go. And why does the US want this outcome? Because Syria is the only Arab ally of Iran, the neighbor Israel wants to wipe out. So, Israel wants to get rid of Iran, Iran is supported by and supports Syria, therefore the Syrian regime must go. It's breathtaking how stupid this hidden, yet obvious, set of motives and plan of action are. Yet as usual it's trumpeted from all parts of the US government, and the mainstream American media blindly repeat the claims.

Contrived, cynical pretext

It's different this time from 2003, or course, but there are also clear parallels. Notably, the US government is poised to act regardless of the facts, because there isn't any decisive proof that the chemical attack came from Bashar's government side. Obama even made Bush's cynical claim that Syria's chemical weapons are a possible threat to the US, adding fear-mongering to pretended moral outrage, both of which are contrived.

Robert Fiosk of The Independent 
Of course the issue at hand is hard to think about clearly. How can we look idly by when people are cruelly slaughtered using illegal weapons? But this is exactly what we have done before. First of all, the US has used chemical weapons. It used Agent Orange widely in Vietnam, causing enormous and ongoing suffering on both sides; US soldiers too are the victims. It used depleted Uranium in Iraq, causing an explosion of deformed babies we don't hear much about. Second, America has looked the other way when similar but worse crimes were committed in the not-so-distant but apparently forgotten past. Saddam Hussein used gas against the Kurds in 1988. That was fine, and was a much larger massacre than the current Syrian one. Iraq also used gas on the Iranian army. Saddam was the US's ally then, so it went unpunished. All this points to the hundreds dead by chemical weapons, maybe at government hands, maybe not, as a cynical pretext for attacking Syria now.   Robert Fisk of The Independent has made these points forcefully. He asks if Obama knows he is now fighting on Al-Qaida's side in Syria.

Ignoring more peaceful alternatives

Certainly the Syrian civil war is bringing on dire consequences. The refugee crisis is reportedly as bad as the Rwanda genocide, according to the UN. Up to 1.8 million Syrian refugees this year have registered in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. But why would US bombs -- and let's not pretend they'll be "surgical" -- make this situation better? As Phillis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies has pointed out recently, the US is ignoring the diplomatic solutions that might be pursued to bring about a cease-fire in Syria. That is what is needed. Why does the US ignore peaceful alternatives? Because they do not allow Washington as forceful a role in its imperial chess game. Warships armed with rockets in nearby waters are not an aspect of peace negotiations. Anything that brings more troops and weaponry, and, perchance, military bases, increases the US's regional domination.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous
Rough times for the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring that began officially with Tunisia in December 2010 was an awakening from a long sleep under exploitative and totalitarian regimes. This is a remarkable, historic development that ultimately can only move forward. But these are rough times for the Arab Spring. The results of the uprisings in Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen have not been very happy at this point. The visibly worst current state of the Arab Spring is represented by the war in Syria and the decline in democracy in Egypt. The spirit of change had its moment of greatest hope and glory in Egypt's "Youth Revolution of 25 January 2011." Public demonstrations led to the dictator Hosni Mubarak's downfall. The hitherto ever-hopeful, and often inspiring young English-language Egyptian reporter for Democracy Now wrote recently in The Nation about how deeply challenged his hope has become. "'Despair is betrayal,' he said, "is the mantra that has echoed throughout Egypt during the many tough times over the past two and half years. Today, it is very hard not to feel like a traitor."

Complexities of the Egyptian situation led to the current violent, no-win state of chaos. The bottom line is that the "deep government" of the Egyptian military headed by the SCAF or Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and representing enormous economic power was never dislodged or weakened. Elections led somewhat by a fluke to the presidency of Mohammad Morsi, not the leading Muslim Brotherhood party's primary leader, and Morsi ruled like a dictator himself, ignoring the possibilities for democratic coalition and trying to embed his party everywhere in power. His outrageous conduct led to the most massive public demonstrations yet, and he was out, in a military coup, if you like, but one demanded by the masses. This time, the people, aided willy-nilly by the SCAF, overthrew an elected president -- who represented the country's largest and best-organized political party. This has led to constantly increasing polarization and also, worse yet, to more violent repression, a virtual pogrom, of the Islamists by the SCAF forces. And this goes on. It is hard to see how the military "deep government" can be ousted, but it must be, for parliamentary democracy to be achieved.

Head of SCAF, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi
The UK, on the other hand, gave a demonstration of a real parliamentary democracy yesterday when Parliament, with the Prime Minister, David Cameron on hand, ceded to the will of the English public and a majority vote and promised, for now anyway, not to support America's plans to attack Syria. When do we ever see Congress listening to the American people and Obama listening to Congress, and standing in the same hall, in open and volatile discussion, with its members? These are ideas and practices not in play in the American empire, land of the free, home of the brave, where the suicide rate of its veterans who bear the brunt of the country's warlike policies, on the brink of a destructive new Middle Eastern adventure, is twice that of the ordinary citizen.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Obama's war on free information

Obama, who once spoke so glowingly of the value of whistleblowers and a free press in a democracy, has turned out to be the most secretive president in modern times. His war on journalists and whistleblowers is an all-out campaign against freedom of information.

Demonizing Edward Snowden, smashing Bradley Manning: the war on whistleblowers and a war on the press

Obama spoke about his desire for transparency and its importance in a democracy early on, but his has been the most secretive presidency in recent times. It has classified many more documents than Bush's adminsistration has -- so many, that everything is a secret now, and revealing any information is to breach "security." To heighten the effect, four million people have security clearances. Something has to give. The Obama administration is much more tight lipped and hostile to the press than Bush's was. Most notably of all, it has evoked the 1917 World War I Espionage Act to to prosecute Americans twice as often as all other previous American administrations put together. In general, the mainstream media has been eager to go along, demonizing Edward Snowden and virtually ignoring the burying of Private Bradley Manning, who was held in solitary confinement for three years without trial, a hunk of it naked. A New Yorker writer in a blog Jeffrey Toobin, was quick to get the Snowded-smearing bandwagon rolling, calling him a "grandiose narcissist." Even pro-left Nation film critic Stuart Klawans published a review in the New York Times dismissing Robert Greenwald's documentary, War on Whistleblowers, as a "Bar Mitzvah video"; others too have criticized this film as not fully sounding the alarm (because under an hour long), slipshod, or too sensationalist. But Greenwald did sound the alarm. So have many others. But what Greenwald does is merely provide a quick outline of whistleblowers and show how they are being prosecuted. We need such outlines, because there are going to be more Snowdens and Mannings and more prosecutions.

Manning and Snowden

A whistleblower is nothing like a spy

Whistleblowers are being charged with espionage over and over nowadays. But this is propaganda and intimidation. The important thing is to see the differences between a spy and a whistleblower. A spy traditionally works for a foreign power; he or she gathers secrets from another country and is paid for it. None of the American whistleblowers have done that. A spy steals secrets. The US government, the NSA particularly, does that all the time, but does not sell them; it keeps them for itself, enormous volumes of them it turns out, with minimal positive results but an invasion of everyone's privacy. Whistleblowers customarily have acquired the information they reveal legitimately, in the course of their work. Manning and Snowden revealed only information they were already given access to in their jobs. Whistleblowers usually are troubled by things they find are going on -- that their government is doing in our name. They inform their superiors of their concerns. They are brushed off, and when they, repeatedly, try to go through channels, they must choose either to slink away and say nothing, or to go public. They do not give their information to "the enemy" -- unless you, like, apparently, the Obama administration, regard the press in that light -- but to the public.

The effort to demonize Julian Assange is part and parcel of the effort to demonize whistleblowers, only the method has differed. He has been defamed, threatened with charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden, and accused of being a sensationalist, not a journalist. The government doesn't know how to regard Assange, because he is a new animal, a hactivist turned conduit for whistleblowers.

This is the digital age. This means that vast amounts of documents can be easily accessed and conveyed, as Manning did to Wikileaks, which acted as a conduit to the press. No need for the hours of furtive photocopying that Daniel Ellsberg had to do in the Pentagon Papers days, and you can't stop the press before printing: it's out and all over the Internet the instant the decision is made to reveal it.

If you want to claim that Assange, Snowden, and Manning are traitors and spies, you have to ask yourself how come the information they provided was immediately published wholesale by the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde, the most eminent journals of four of the West's leading countries. We remember that in the Pentagon Papers case Nixon at first tried to indict the New York Times, for publishing Ellsberg's revelations, but that was dropped. This time Obama didn't bother. He just went for little Bradley Manning, a sitting duck, so to speak, since he was serving in the military and could be manhandled, so they thought, in secret, and tried without a jury by a military court where the press had poor access. But how Manning has been treated is no secret. The more you try to hide, the more will come out: the more secrets you create, the more will be revealed.

James Goodale on  Democracy Now!
 !It is interesting to see what James Goodale, a distinguished First Amendment lawyer and the New York Times' attorney in the Pentagon Papers case, had to say when interviewed on Democracy Now! about the Obama administration. He said that Obama is "behind Nixon and ahead of Bush II," but "close to Nixon now," and added that if Obama prosecutes Julian Assange, he will "surpass Nixon." It appears that the Obama administration has an indictment of Assange ready on file (for conspiracy, according to Goodale) and is poised to use it. Goodale discussed the revelations of the administration's surveillance of 100 AP reporters and indictment of six -- showing that Obama's unprecedented war on whistleblowers is paralleled by an even more wholesale war on journalism in America.

David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now!
In this light David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, was also interviewed on Democracy Now! about the administration's war on the AP. He described how Obama "campaigned on transparency," yet his White House from the first was hostile to the press. People would refuse to give information, say "What do you want that for?," refuse to say who they were, and even hang up on him. This is a secretive administration and it makes no bones about it. Johnston said "I rate them worse than the Bush administration."

This is what we're dealing with. Think about this when you hear Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, whose revelations have been an enormous influence in the world already, called traitors and spies. Snowden is demonized and sought for prosecution by the US, yet in Congress a big investigation is under way spurred by his revelations. This is the same kind of disconnect as the prosecution of Manning, while his revelations, published in the New York Times, are referenced constantly, part of common knowledge. This makes no sense. Whistleblowers break rules to serve a higher cause, often at great cost to themselves. They deserve protection, not prosecution. This presidency's mania for secrecy poses grave dangers to journalism.


 Article on The Whistleblower, "180° Flip Flop on Espionage Act Now That Journalists are in Cross-hairs"

LA Times review, 'Warn on Whistleblowers' fails to fully sound alarm ... 3586.story

New Yorker blog, "Demonizing Edward Snowden" ... ou-on.html