Barry’s Blog # 202: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Thirteen

“Missile Defense”

Do you remember Reagan’s spaced-based “Strategic Defense Initiative”, known derisively as “Star Wars”? It was never built because it was costly, provocative and consistently unreliable. Since then, however, each successive administration has continued to lavish vast resources on it, with the total costs over $180 billion so far.  Any normal person could ask why, and the truth comes down to this: the defense industry, knowing a cash cow, has never relinquished its hold on elected politicians.

And this: despite the fact that even the newest version of the program has less than a 50% success rate under even the simplest of scenarios, the generals have always coveted a workable missile defense system that could be an indispensible part of a first-strike threat against either Russia or China. They have always known that, rather than protecting America from some mythical, unprovoked attack, the system would actually be insurance against retaliation by anyone the U.S. might choose to attack first. For this reason, the Obama administration expanded the program.

Presidential Powers

Even Time Magazine wonders:

Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars…and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist…Although he backed down from his threat to invade Syria last summer, President Obama proclaimed then the power to use unilateral force for purely humanitarian ends without congressional or United Nations or NATO support.

Should the government be able to kill its own citizens without explaining to a court why and what it’s doing? This awesome power is no longer subject to any judicial oversight. Now, with Trump in office after a campaign in which he promised to revive the torture program and carry out war crimes such as killing the families of suspected terrorists (and at the date of this posting he already has), we have to wonder what box of horrors Obama – the assassin-in-chief – opened up. If he could order the murder of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, what limits will Trump recognize? John Knefel writes:

For the past eight years, critics of Obama’s secret assassination programs and mass surveillance operations have made two critical points. The first is that…these kinds of broad authorities invite abuse, mistakes and errors, even if those calling the shots are operating in good faith. But the second point, now made painfully relevant, is that someday you might not trust the people calling the shots. You might realize, instead, that they are terrifying. That day has come.

Trump has inherited not only the drone assassination program but the Special Forces units that Obama expanded so greatly, essentially the President’s private army – 70,000 men, many of them Christian extremists and blatant racists – operating in secrecy, seldom discussed in the media except in action movies. Tomdispatch reports:

Now, in these last weeks of (Obama’s) presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.”  As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all. Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House.

 Arms Dealer in Chief:

Obama stood on the high ground of moral righteousness, publicly weeping as he decried gun violence in America. But behind the sanctimonious finger-pointing, he discreetly brokered and authorized the sale of more arms to foreign governments than any president since World War II. Arms exports totaled over $200 billion, exceeding the amount Bush had approved by $60 billion. Over half of that amount went to the Saudis. Cui bono?

The U.S. did temporarily ban some of the worst human rights offenders from these weapon deals. However, when Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Republics and Qatar “donated” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s foundation, she waived those restrictions.

Nuclear Proliferation:

In April 2009 Obama pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons.” Six months later, despite having escalated the war in Afghanistan, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. In a bizarre twist on the “Watch what we do, not what we say” theme, the Nobel Committee cheapened itself by rewarding someone for things he said he might do, rather than for actually doing any of them.  But even in his acceptance speech, Obama could not resist defending American militarism.

The truth became clear soon enough, as he announced plans to build redesigned nuclear warheads (smaller and thus much more likely to be used), new bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants. Under Obama nuke spending rose higher than under any other president. The cost over thirty years would exceed $1 trillion and violate the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed, he reduced the nuclear arsenal far less – about 5 % – than any of his three immediate predecessors had.

In 2015 his belligerent and costly policies led a member of the Nobel Committee to openly regret awarding him the Peace Prize. Two weeks before leaving office, and with the obviously unstable Trump arriving, Obama still ignored requests to take the nuclear attack program off its provocative and dangerous “hair-trigger alert” status.

Waste and Corruption:

Obama’s final year was a festival of self-congratulation for the waste and corruption that took place on his watch. In May he presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to the war criminal Henry Kissinger.

In June the Defense Department’s Inspector General admitted that the Army – the Army alone, not including the Navy and Air Force  – made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year, and that it lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. Dave Lindorff writes:

…the Pentagon has been at this dodgy game for decades. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring all federal agencies to comply with federal accounting standards, to produce budgets that are auditable and to submit an audit each year…two decades later, the Pentagon has yet to comply…the only federal agency that is not complying or, the IG’s report suggests, even trying to comply.

And in December, he very publicly added fuel to the “blame the Russians for hacking the election” fires with feeble and purely symbolic sanctions, including deporting the chef of San Francisco’s Russian consulate. These actions, of course, were merely the beginning of what would be daily media attacks on Trump, and this story is certainly not over. I’ve already dealt in great detail with the real reasons why the Democrats lost the election here. Juan Cole offers a few fundamental questions about this charade:

…if the charge is that the Russians influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, then either they did or they didn’t. If they didn’t, they aren’t very good hackers and might have been safely ignored. If they did, then why no demand that the results of the election be set aside and new elections held? Why are no specific effects of the Russian hacking demonstrated?

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, Obama signed into law the Defense Authorization Act that further strengthened the repressive capacities of the state. He could have closed the Guantanamo prison by executive order but didn’t. And he quietly ensured that the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 would remain classified for at least another 12 years. No one would be prosecuted for torture (or for causing the financial collapse), and none of Trump’s thugs need worry about future war crimes.

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Barry’s Blog # 201: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Twelve

Sub-Saharan Africa:

American troops swarmed over the continent during the Obama years, allegedly to fight terrorism. They were also there to prop up friendly regimes with horrific human rights records, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda. And they were driven by a new scramble for resources – such as the rare-earth minerals so crucial to producing cell phones – and by intensified competition with China, now Africa’s, as well as Asia’s, largest trading partner. But it was mostly about oil.

Africa has about 10% of global oil reserves, and imports from Africa to the U.S. equal those from the Mid-East. Huge reserves have been discovered in Uganda. South Sudan now controls about three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil production. The Guardian claims that in Somalia the “potential is comparable to that of Kuwait, which has more than 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves,” and that “if true, the deposits would eclipse Nigeria’s reserves and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.”

As always, securing access to oil underpinned Obama’s security concerns. Bush had created the AFRICOM military command in 2007. Yet under Obama, AFRICOM’s budget rose to $302 million, almost tripling since its launch. And these funds don’t include vast sums spent on training, arming and financing African militaries, which climbed to about $1 billion, plus another $1 billion for private military contractors.

Lee Wengraf writes:  “It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops.” U.S. troops are now in Uganda, Mali, Chad, Burundi, Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Congo, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles, South Sudan, Nigeria and several other African nations.

There is a secret network of drone bases in East Africa, especially Somalia, which has suffered over two decades of civil war. One Somali told David Axe, “You Americans, you’ll destroy an entire city to get three people.” Both Kenya (which receives a billion dollars in U.S. aid) and Ethiopia have launched invasions into Somalia. The U.S. now has its largest military presence there since it left the country in 1993. The conflict has generated hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of refugees.

But the death toll was far higher in South Sudan, where tens of thousands died and three million people joined the refugee flow toward the Mediterranean. The U.S., predictably, was the source of this misery. According to Thomas C. Mountain, the CIA was funding a dirty war “little different than the wars the CIA funded in Angola and Mozambique” to overthrow the government. As it had done in those countries, it used a “rebel leader” with arms funneled from U.S.-friendly Ethiopia to wage an ethnic-based war, pushing for regime in the name of a doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” (much the same rationale as in their war against Libya).

Why? Because South Sudan was doing business with China. The oil fields there are the only Chinese owned and operated in Africa. Despite horrifying tales of black on black tribal violence, the U.S. was the only beneficiary, having been able to repeatedly damage or shut down the Chinese oil fields as a result of the rebellion. As Obama left office, South Sudan, despite its oil riches, was on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war and famine. “It’s that simple,” writes Mountain, “…the war in South Sudan is about denying China access to Africa’s oil.” Cui bono?

Latin America:

The region has been under Washington’s thumb for nearly 200 years, and again Obama’s policies were completely consistent with those of the past: protecting Wall Street’s investments, training and supporting thugs who promised to return their countries to the old authoritarian rule, and destabilizing democratically-elected leaders who opposed it. Bush’s attempts to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with its own vast oil reserves, are well known. Less known perhaps is the fact that both before Chavez’ death in 2013 and since then, against Chavez’s elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, Obama pursued the same actions.

Tactics included speculation that led to collapse in the price of crude oil and subsidization of protestors and anti-government media. Once again, the mainstream media functioned as cheerleaders for this effort, as the Washington Post trumpeted, “How to derail Venezuela’s new dictatorship.”

During the Obama years the U.S. meddled repeatedly in Haiti, Guatemala, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador (fomenting a failed coup),

Rafael-Correa-580x386

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, claiming that the CIA was trying to overthrow his government

Bolivia, Colombia (where $450 million per year was widely seen as merely a cover for U.S. military power projection in South America) and Brazil, where the new President Michel Temer openly boasted that he’d led the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff not for any crime but for her refusal to implement a right wing economic plan.  Paraguay experienced a similar parliamentary coup in 2012, and the U.S. tellingly refused to join the rest of the hemisphere in condemning it.

But Obama’s worst Western Hemisphere crime – and this was not a continuation of something Bush had begun – was crushing democracy in Honduras and turning it into a narco-state that now serves as a primary transit point for drugs into the U.S. In June 2009, the Honduran army seized President Manuel Zelaya and whisked him away in a plane that refueled at a U.S. military base. The OAS, the U.N. and others refused to recognize the subsequent sham election, but the U.S., predictably, did. The coup leaders, like so many others, had trained in the U.S. at the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which had formerly changed its name from School of the Americas because of its long-term association with torture.

The tiny country, formerly used by Reagan in the 1980s as a base for the Contra war, now has the highest murder rate on Earth. The Obama administration cynically provided the military with plenty of aid for fighting the drug trade ($18 million in 2016 alone), knowing full well that it is used to repress indigenous activists such as Berta Caceres,

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Berta Caceres, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize

who, shortly before being murdered in March 2016, quite specifically blamed Hillary Clinton for the coup. Indeed, Clinton openly boasted of her role.

The causes were America’s insatiable demand for resources – in this case, cocaine – and its stubborn refusal to let nations determine their own destiny. Once again we see a tragic pattern. The U.S. destabilizes an independent country, causing violent coups, civil wars, repression or large-scale, drug-related violence, even famine. Thousands leave, unable to find work or basic safety, and add themselves to the vast flow of refugees attempting to enter Western Europe or the U.S., where right-wing groups demonize them and blame them for our internal problems.

Was this some kind of cruel joke? Did he do this just because he could do it? As one of his very last acts, a week before Trump’s inauguration, with no evidence of any threat and months after the opening to Cuba, Obama signed an executive order renewing the status of both Venezuela and Cuba as “national security threats.”

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Barry’s Blog # 200: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Eleven

“Others”: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Cuba, Korea and China:

It’s instructive to see how consistent Obama’s “regime change” strategies were with those of his predecessors, and how culpable he was in the destruction of nations. Evidently, the threat of Muslim terrorism was not enough on its own to justify the ongoing state of fear in America. The Deep State needed another external Other and it found it by rekindling the old enmity that had seemingly disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now, Russia is as fully capitalist as the U.S., but it represents an economic competitor as well as an opportunity for more military engagement. I do not use the word “opportunity” lightly. As the old Irish joke goes: Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?

Washington planned and funded the classic destabilization and regime change in Ukraine as part of a larger strategy to surround Russia with NATO-allied and nuclear-armed states. Once again, Ukraine is a pawn in big-power games.

Ukraine illegally annexed Crimea in 1991, and repeated attempts by the Crimean people to redress this injustice met with opposition from Kiev. Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. When the Ukraine government refused to sever ti

Ukrainian Neo-Nazis

es with Russia in 2014, the U.S. fomented a violent coup, led by Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.  As with Syria and Libya, the covert money expended by U.S. intelligence is staggering, allegedly some $5 billion.

That year, the Crimeans (84% of whom speak Russian as their native language) again overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia, which already had military bases there and offered them help. The U.S. denounced these actions as Russian intervention and, as it always does in these situations, quickly recognized and funded the new government.

Clearly, the Russians were neither innocent nor pacifistic, but this U.S.-sponsored coup happened on their doorstep, in a region that had been part of Russia for centuries. Russia was lured into involvement, just as it had been in Afghanistan in 1979. The U.S. generously supplied Ukraine with military aid, and the madness of civil war was on. Over 8,000 have died. In addition, Ukraine’s decision to sever all economic and political ties with Russia caused living standards to fall by more than 50%, and inflation to rise to 43%. The mainstream media, of course, simply blamed the Ukraine crisis on the new bad guy du jour, Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. and the E.U. placed costly sanctions on Russia, and the Cold War rose again from its grave. Soon the media and liberal politicians were commonly referring to Russia as an “adversary” once again and to Putin as a dictator and master manipulator, with reverberations that continued into the 2016 election and beyond. Again, as with Assad and Gaddafi, Putin’s character and motives are utterly irrelevant to this inquiry, unless you still believe that Obama’s intervention was for innocent and humanitarian reasons.

In the spring of 2016, NATO troops began  military exercises in Estonia, right on the Russian border, timed to start immediately after the Russian Victory Day commemoration of their victory and massive losses in World War Two. “If this doesn’t qualify as a provocation,” asks John Wight, “what does?”

Why is the West…intent on pursuing a cold war strategy when it comes to Russia? How can it possibly profit Western countries and their citizens to experience a return to the decades of enmity previous generations endured, with all the dangers that such a state of mutual antagonism brings?…Are these people actually mad?

In the fall, Obama announced that 6,000 more U.S. troops would deploy, initially in Germany and Poland, and eventually to Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Slovakia, as well as to naval units in the Black Sea. All this, he said, was “to reassure Eastern Europe.” The U.S. planned to deploy its dubious “missile defense” system (actually part of a first-strike strategy) throughout these countries, offering the comic justification that their missiles were intended to defend against attacks from “rogue states like Iran.”

Again the Russians took the bait – who wouldn’t? – and responded by deploying their own missiles around Moscow. All this was happening just before the U.S. election. Was this costly and frightening theater of the absurd more about Russia or more about Trump? In either case, it was cynical in the extreme. Obama, accusing Trump’s candidacy of being a Russian plot, demanded that Russia “act responsibly.”

Of course, we mythic commentators cannot be privy to the complex machinations of great powers. But sometimes things are simpler than they seem. Everything we know about Obama’s attitude towards Russia and much of what we know about the election seem to point towards a major conflict between two forces within the Deep State: those who want to dominate or even make war on Russia, and those who want to attack China. But Obama’s fear-mongering backfired; the second group would win the election.

Iran and Cuba:

Ever since the Russians removed their missiles after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, no honest, intelligent person has ever suggested that either Cuba or Iran was an actual threat to America. Of course the Iran deal was a good thing, but as I wrote earlier, it was “characterized by the stench of mendacious bloviating, grandstanding, preaching to the choir and absurd political theater…”

This included continual statements that the deal would rein in the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions, despite the fact that all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies – as well as the Israeli Mossad – agreed that Iran had given up any intention of building a bomb many years before. Obama had continued Bush’s painful sanctions on Iran in full knowledge of this information. And his rhetoric was horrifying: “Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it’s resolved through force, through war.”

Eventually, the temptation of investing in these two new markets, before other countries could monopolize trade with them, exceeded the value of fear-mongering. Obama mollified conservatives by claiming that long-term Cuba strategy remained regime change. But these were business decisions, dictated by Wall Street, which had grown immeasurably richer during the Obama years, and so was his support of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Similarly, in the 1970s, Nixon’s opening to China had been dictated by Wall Street’s desire for new markets. Fifty years before that, Calvin Coolidge had preached: The business of America is business.

North Korea:

From this perspective, America will never stop provoking North Korea until Wall Street desires new consumer markets and the Deep State identifies a different “other”. For some background, consider that In the Korean War the U.S. destroyed all of North Korea’s 78 cities, and thousands of villages, killing three million people, nearly a third of the population. Over sixty years later it still keeps 29,000 troops in the south, along with nuclear weapons, in its bogus campaign to restrain this “rogue state” and charter member of the “Axis of Evil.”

Once again, the character of its “erratic” and “irresponsible” (Obama’s words) leadership is irrelevant. Indeed, they make warlike statements so often and so inappropriately that it almost seems that they’re working for us. But seriously: who could blame them for maintaining a state of militarized readiness and even suppression of civil liberties in the face of what they have long perceived as threats from the American empire?

It’s very complicated. But if you’ve stayed with me this far, please understand that over these years the two Koreas initiated many attempts at peace and reunification, and that every time they did, the U.S. sabotaged their efforts. For his part, Obama did nothing to reduce either the tension or the money drain, but, like his successors, kept the Korean threat alive in the public consciousness. In April 2016, he chastised Kim Jong-un for testing a missile, warning that America’s nuclear arsenal could “destroy” his country.

China:

Russia was not the only power that the Pentagon was encircling. Global competition drove Obama’s battle with China for worldwide economic preeminence. The aim was to contain China’s growing reach. The Economist reported a Department of Defense announcement that by 2020, 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in Asia, along with “a range of other ‘investments’ to ensure that despite China’s fast-growing military might, America would still be able to ‘rapidly project military power if needed to meet our security commitments.'”

More background: the U.S. has over a thousand overseas bases. China has only one, but it does have over a trillion dollars in U.S. treasury bonds, and it has replaced the U.S. as the biggest trading partner of all Asian nations. The Deep State remains conflicted over whom to demonize, Russia or China, and whether pushing either too far risks the two of them becoming allies again. But the short-term interests of the arms merchants, the energy corporations, the generals, the opportunistic politicians and the need to maintain fear of the Others prevailed under Obama and set the stage for Trump.

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Barry’s Blog # 199: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Ten

Further American Complicity in the Mid-East

After the Israelis, the Egyptian military have been the greatest recipients of American military generosity. In 2012 they responded to the Arab Spring uprisings with another brutal coup. Regardless, the Pentagon continued the aid.

Two years later, despite warnings from some officials that the U.S. could be implicated in war crimes, Obama sent massive weapon sales, intelligence and troops to the Saudi thugs for their war in Yemen. The campaign has killed over ten thousand people, wounded 40,000, made two million children malnourished and created yet another massive refugee flow. Ninety percent of Yemen’s ten million people now require humanitarian aid. In terms of American consciousness, this tragedy is a textbook example of mainstream media neglect and obfuscation. And the Saudis, writes Vijay Prashad, 

…have begun to rely upon al-Qaeda to conduct the ground war…So the West has tacitly allied with al-Qaeda in this conflict.

The Kill List:

Prior to the 2012 election, Obama told the media about “Terror Tuesday.” Each week on that day his advisors submitted a list of foreign terror suspects. Many of the entries had no names, but were based solely on metadata (such as which SIM card was calling whom, when, and for how long).

Each Tuesday he signed the list, condemning people halfway across the world, some of them American citizens, to extrajudicial execution by drone attack. The CIA made it clear in late 2014 that this murder-by-drone program was counterproductive, but Obama continued it. Jakob Reimann summarizes the implications of a policy that has killed over 5,000 people:

The bitter irony herein is self-evident: the studied constitutionalist Obama is acting as prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time, thus abandoning the separation of powers — the cornerstone of a constitutional democracy…authorized the execution of people who often happened to be in their family circle or in public places when the drones struck. Time and again, the U.S. has bombed wedding parties, as well as, most cynically, a funeral ceremony of drone victims. As an act of retaliation, the children of alleged terrorists are also killed by drones…(to which) former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs once so despicably declared, “…you should have a far more responsible father.”…The proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes is inevitably extremely high. In Pakistan, for example, only 4 percent of casualties were confirmed al-Qaeda members. Because of this blatant injustice, drone killings are widely regarded to be the main recruiting tool for new terrorists. This is Obama’s legacy: he has made the illegal drone war the norm…

The obvious metaphor here is trying to douse a fire with gasoline, and it leads once again to the basic question: naïve, ignorant and colossally stupid policies – or cynical, deliberate and colossally stupid policies? Either way, says Noam Chomsky, the drone program is “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”

Libya:

In 2011 the African Union offered a plan to avoid further violence in the internal struggles of oil-rich Libya. As with Syria and Ukraine, the U.S. ignored it, opting instead to escalate hostilities. It sent 26,000 air sorties costing over $1 billion, allegedly to intervene for humanitarian reasons. Obama dismissed criticism from Congressional liberals, saying that his unilateral actions didn’t amount to a “war.”

But it was yet another case of regime change, and it was easily sold to the American public because even though Muammar Gaddafi (whom Obama had met with only two years before) had become an ally in the war on terror, the media had cultivated his Arab bad guy image for decades.

As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book, “It is as if the U.S. keeps them on ice, allowing them to quietly do their work until it needs to reveal them as the Devil’s latest incarnation.  Then they become expendable…” Hillary Clinton crowed, “We came, we saw, he died.” Her emails, later released, revealed that her concern was less about human rights and more about oil and about blocking Gaddafi’s plan to harness Libya’s funds to establish independent financial organizations located within the African Union and an African currency that could serve as an alternative to the dollar.

Predictably, as with Saddam Hussein, the strongman’s death led to chaos. Libya, which formerly had the highest standard of living in all of Africa, is a failed, impoverished state. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled hoping to reach Europe. Of the 2,500 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016 alone, most had taken this route. And the power vacuum has allowed ISIS to expand into the country.

Obama eventually admitted that Libya was his “biggest regret” – but not because he had destroyed a nation and killed thousands of civilians but because he hadn’t planned for “the day after.” Again we have to ask: good-intentioned mistake or deliberate policy?

The Libya intervention marked the third time in a decade that Washington embraced regime change and then bungled the consequences. Are our leaders really that stupid? Or – again we ask, cui bono? Who profited from yet another ratcheting-up of instability in the Mideast? Certainly ISIS did. And if they did, then media coverage and American public opinion grew more fearful and more willing to support the continuation of the same stunningly ignorant policies. In this perfect, impenetrable, vicious circle of cause-and-effect, the ultimate winner was Obama’s primary sponsor, the Deep State. And Trump.

It is important to acknowledge that any presidential servant of these corporate powers would have pursued the same policies across the globe – Romney, McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore and especially Hillary Clinton. It’s a very old story, as old as the American empire. General Smedley D. Butler wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business…I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

But this truth does not absolve Obama, and I continue the criticism because of the lingering, naïve, liberal idealism that still insists: At least he wasn’t as bad as ______. Remember please: when we speak of the mythic image of the King (or at least the man upon whom we have projected that image), we are speaking about ourselves and our own desperate quest to make sense of our complicity in violence, to convince ourselves of our own innocence. The King embodies us. What we’re really saying is: At least we weren’t as bad as ______.

Israel / Palestine:

For eight years Obama perpetuated the obscene lies of his predecessors – that Israel is a democracy; that his government sought a peaceful solution to the conflict; that the Palestinians deserved human rights and their own political autonomy; that the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was inappropriate; and that its apartheid policies, its ongoing siege and its ethnic cleansings in Gaza were regrettable, yet always justified by Palestinian provocations.

For most of those years he was part of the chorus warning about Iranian nuclear goals, while ignoring the open secret that Israel possesses 200 nukes. And for eight years, just like his predecessors, he gave the Israelis – even as they became increasingly belligerent and mendacious, insulted him personally and intervened in the Iran negotiations – all the money and arms they requested.

His celebrated feud with Netanyahu may have been based in personal animosity, but it meant nothing in practical terms. Watch what we do, not what we say. After each of the Gaza invasions – including the 2014 atrocity that killed 550 children – Obama quickly resupplied the depleted Israeli arms.

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Gaza

Behind this charade are three simple facts. The first is that Israel has served for decades as the American empire’s primary surrogate in the Mideast, and successive U.S. governments of both parties have fallen over themselves to richly reward it for its services. The second is that Israel’s genocidal policies – indeed, its entire economy – are greatly dependent on American aid. The third fact is that the U.S. – at any single moment in the last forty years – could have immediately brought peace to Israel/Palestine by simply threatening to plug this financial pipeline.

The U.S. had already been giving $3.1 billion every year to Israel — more than any other country by far — more indeed than all other countries combined.

And, as a 2012 Congressional Resources Service report documented, “Almost all U.S. aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.” But in September of 2016, with no need to appease the domestic Israel lobby because he wasn’t running for re-election, he raised that amount to $3.8 billion/year and guaranteed it for ten years, even though Israeli citizens enjoy state benefits such as universal heath care that U.S. citizens would literally die for.

The White House bragged that it was the largest military aid deal in history. Immediately afterwards, Israel announced news, “deeply troubling” to the State Department, of increased settlement construction. “So,” writes Greenwald,

…Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation…And the leading protector and enabler of this apartheid regime is the U.S. — just as was true of the apartheid regime of the 1980s in South Africa…(and it) has attempted to render illegitimate all forms of resistance to it. Just as it did with the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela

That same month, Obama told the U.N., “Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” Ali Abunimah, however, pointed out that “It was classic Obama: tricky and deceptive language that seeks balance where there is none – equating alleged Palestinian ‘incitement’ with real Israeli colonialism and occupation – and floating lofty goals belied by his actions.”

This is false equivalency, a topic I’ll return to in a future blog. The aid deal sent seven messages to the world, writes Zeina Azzam:

  1. Might makes right.
  2. A shot in the arm for the Middle East arms race.
  3. Israel = Impunity.
  4. Palestinian lives don’t matter.
  5. Funding Israel’s military is more important than funding American social programs.
  6. Destruction trumps construction.
  7. US citizens’ public opinion doesn’t count.

In December 2016 the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories for Israeli settlements reached a 10-year high. Obama’s decision to abstain on the U.N. vote demanding a halt to settlement construction angered Israel and the war hawks, but it had absolutely no practical import. John Kerry’s final speech as Secretary of State bewailed the problem – which had been removed from the Democratic Party platform five months before at Clinton’s insistence.

I cite these events and quotes partially because we could easily insert them into the narrative of any administration going back to Jimmy Carter, but also because Obama was simply the most hypocritical – and, given the two slaughters that occurred in Gaza under his watch, the most deadly – of them all.

But sometimes things are simpler than we think: any child could look at what radical Muslims, religious or secular, have been saying, quite publicly, for decades about why they fight – Stop raiding our homes. Stop funding autocrats who steal everything. Stop bombing us – and ask, why don’t we just get the hell out of there and let them make their own destinies?

But the Mideast was by no means the only area where the American empire was working overtime under the cover of a benign, rational and caring president.

 

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Barry’s Blog # 198: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Nine

Syria, Iraq and ISIS:

For several years the media have persisted in telling us that the U.S. “won” in Iraq because of the troop surge that Bush began in 2007 and Obama continued into 2011, when he announced a formal end to the occupation. However, this included maintaining 5,000 private security contractors and 16,000 State Department “civilian employees” there. Knowing their history of engaging in war crimes, he tried unsuccessfully to pressure the Iraqi government to grant them immunity from prosecution.

Full-scale war, of course, never stopped, nor did massive American expenditures. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz contends that the total, including hidden costs, will exceed $3 trillion.  It is now a civil war between Shias and Sunnis, who are the main leaders and supporters of ISIS. Major Danny Sjursen, an Iraq veteran, writes:

…the surge was incapable of addressing, and barely pretended to face, the true conundrum of the invasion and occupation: any American-directed version of Iraqi “democracy” would invariably usher in Shia-majority dominance over a largely synthetic state. The real question no surge cheerleaders publicly asked (or ask to this day) was whether an invading foreign entity was even capable of imposing an inclusive political settlement there. To assume that the United States could have done so smacks of a faith-based as opposed to reality-based worldview – another version of a deep and abiding belief in American exceptionalism.

Cui bono? Do you remember when the embarrassed Bush administration changed the title of the invasion to “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF) after someone noticed the acronym formed by the letters of its original name, “Operation Iraqi Liberation”?

Obama claimed that his wars were legal under the 2001 and 2003 authorizations for the use of military force to pursue Al-Qaeda. But Syria has nothing to do with 9-11. How did this war, with its half million dead and seven million refugees, begin? First, let’s acknowledge that Bashar Assad’s cruel regime is irrelevant, unless you still believe that the U.S. intervenes in other countries for “humanitarian” reasons. Cui bono? We are talking about “regime change” – and oil pipelines. Bush had planned to overthrow Assad as far back as 2006. Obama’s second major foreign policy crime – war crime – was to deploy Bush’s plans. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. writes:

Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria…was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective…In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria.

In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned that the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda were “the major forces driving the insurgency. But Obama preferred a different narrative. All it took was an alleged massacre – by the old standby “gassingweapons of mass destruction” – for him to threaten missile attacks on the Syrian government. The media happy complied. All Things Considered claimed that he “…has done everything he can to avoid another foreign military involvement, but he can’t avoid it after the widespread use of chemical weapons on this scale.” Chemical weapons? Were we really going down that rat hole once again?

Let’s be real clear on this point: Obama, like Bush and Lyndon Johnson before him, was lying to the nation to get it into another war. And he was also distracting it from the real history of American involvement in mass atrocities. He did this because, as I wrote:

Americans, though naïve, are no more inherently violent than other peoples. The state must regularly administer massive dosages of indoctrination to reanimate our sense of innocence. Propaganda merges with belief; every student learns that America never starts wars but always aids those in need. The mythic appeal is so fundamental that occasional disclosures of the truth – cracks in the myth of innocence – do little to alter popular consciousness…Still, the narrative of innocence requires constant ceremonial maintenance, including the regular creation of new images of “evildoers.”

A year later, the U.S. reached further heights of hypocrisy when it demanded that Syria eliminate all chemical weapons by June 30, 2014. Around the same time it requested an extension for itself to 2023 of the U.N. Convention on Chemical Weapons, a treaty it had ratified in 1997. The Syrians had already proposed years earlier to get rid of these weapons. The Russians made a similar proposal, which Washington rejected. When the Syrians called Obama’s bluff and did remove them, Congress restrained direct intervention.

Undeterred by public opposition, the administration gave the green light to the Saudis, who began to funnel massive aid to their Salafi jihadist surrogates. The U.S. itself was spending a billion dollars per year arming and training these “ moderate rebels”. Without this aid, Assad – for better or for worse – would have crushed the rebellion quickly. With it, the carnage increased, and so did the refugee flow.

Let’s be clear (as clear as we can) about another thing. The world is experiencing the greatest refugee crisis since at least World War Two. Many thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Literally tens of thousands of unaccompanied child refugees are wandering the streets of Europe. And the resultant backlash and scapegoating among Islamophobic Americans led directly to the fiasco of the 2016 election. We have Trump not despite Obama but because of him.

This crisis has many causes. But Obama’s decisions to destabilize Syria and Libya (see below) were the major factors. Let’s be clear about this as well: his wars of regime change and his refusal to leave Afghanistan directly contributed to the growth of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

We have to see American policy – and Obama’s role in it – in the proper context. The only states in the Muslim world that are not U.S. puppets are Iran and Syria, and the U.S. labeled them as threats only because they resisted American hegemony. And for quite a while, Syria was the only such state actually fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda. After visiting Syria, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard accused her own government of funding and arming ISIS.  Glen Ford bluntly argues:

The U.S. claim that it is waging a global “war on terror” is the biggest lie of the 21st century …In reality, the U.S. is the birth mother and chief nurturer of the global jihadist network …deployment of jihadists has become central to U.S. imperial policy…And, there is no question that “internal rivalries” do abound in the U.S. war machine, with CIA-sponsored jihadists attacking Pentagon-sponsored jihadists in Syria – the point being, the U.S. backs a wide range of jihadists that have conflicts with one another…the general aim of the Obama administration’s jihadist policy, now deeply in crisis: to preserve the Islamic State as a fighting force for deployment under another brand name, under new top leadership. The Islamic State went “rogue,” by the Americans’ definition, when it began pursuing its own mission…Even so, the U.S. mainly targeted top ISIS leaders for elimination, allowing the main body of fighters, estimated at around 30,000, to not only remain intact, but to be constantly resupplied and to carry on a vast oil business, mainly with NATO ally Turkey.

Even with such dubious intentions, the Pentagon admits that it has spent over $11 billion on the air war against ISIS. In 2016 alone, it dropped at least 26,171 bombs – three bombs per hour, 24 hours a day. Each combat drone required a team of at least 150 people to maintain and prepare to fire it. While most of these attacks were in Syria and Iraq, they also killed people in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan (the same seven majority-Muslim countries from which Trump has tried to ban immigration). Medea Benjamin reminds us that

We have no idea how many civilians have been killed in the massive bombings in Iraq and Syria, where the US military is often pursuing ISIS in the middle of urban neighborhoods. We only sporadically hear about civilian killings in Afghanistan, such as the tragic bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that left 42 dead and 37 wounded …Pushed to release information about civilian deaths in drone strikes, in July 2016 the US government made the absurd claim it had killed, at most, 116 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between 2009 and 2015…The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has tracked drone strikes for years, said the true figure was six times higher. Given that drones account for only a small portion of the munitions dropped in the past eight years, the numbers of civilians killed by Obama’s bombs could be in the thousands.

The administration’s response to these reports was that they may have been marred by “terrorist propaganda.” Indeed, since Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were areas of “active hostilities” it excluded them from the calculations. In June 2011, John Brennan claimed “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” But the Pentagon had defined as a terrorist any male between the ages of 20 and 40 exhibiting “behavior deemed suspicious” and thus liable to what it euphemistically called “signature strikes.” Daniel Lazare writes:

…the President had in fact signed a secret Executive Order allowing such strikes to continue in Pakistan, directly contradicting his public stance. In June 2016 evidence also emerged that signature strikes were ongoing in Yemen as well, likely through a similar secret policy.

Even the Military Times admits:

The American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan…The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.

Of course, all recent presidents have been aware of unpublicized CIA assassinations. However, as Tom Engelhardt writes:

In previous eras…presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability…We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief… assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president…

What the administration did “disclose” was the existence of yet another “other” – the “Khorasan group”, which CBS News called “a more immediate threat to the U.S. homeland.” It was worse than ISIS, which was worse than Al Qaeda, which was worse than the Taliban (even if they were all fighting each other). But when no evidence of this threat was offered, it quickly disappeared from view.

Consider for a moment what these people are doing, their rationales, their religious belief in their own moral purity, their autocratic sense of privilege, their unlimited budgets, their confidence in knowing that they are accountable to no one, and the fact obvious to any idiot that such policies were creating far more new terrorists than they were killing (by one count 10-15 civilians killed for every militant), and then place them into a slightly different context:

…thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

Or consider another perspective, the mythological. We are in the realm of Apollo, who can kill from a distance with his bow and arrow.  This god – at least a poor version of him – opposes the inevitable Dionysian upswelling of revolutionary energy by repressed people. Or, as James Hillman noted in discussing the detached, Apollonic consciousness that characterizes all of Western Civilization, “…his distance kills.”

Apollo had reigned ever since our ancestors realized that they could harm each other, and minimize danger to themselves, by throwing rocks and then inventing spears, archery, catapults and guns. American pilots had destroyed inconceivably vast areas of Viet Nam in their B-52 bombers, where they’d been too high in the sky to even hear the explosions.

It was merely another step in advanced battlefield technology to have men with joysticks in air-conditioned offices commanding drones to destroy people of color at wedding parties hundreds of miles away. And who better to serve as the face of this modern, unemotional carnage than the calm, detached, cerebral Obama?

Could any strategy expert have invented a scheme more likely to create more enemies and extend more wars into an infinite future? At what point do we begin to ask: was this really the purpose?

Tragedy or farce? In October 2016, Obama sanctimoniously warned that in the future “…you (could) end up with a president who can carry on perpetual wars all over the world, and a lot of them covert, without any accountability or democratic debate.” But he claimed that the accountability and transparency measures he was instituting would make that less likely. “By the time I leave here, the American people are going to have a better sense of what their president is doing.” Indeed.

Deliberate design or incompetence? Again, what was he doing in (to) Syria? Was he actually in charge? Former CIA officer Ray McGovern reveals that the Pentagon and the CIA had created various groups of “moderate rebels” who were in fact fighting each other:

It has been sort of a helter-skelter choosing process, reminiscent of the people we chose to go into Iraq and set up a government more amenable to our influence. The “moderate” rebels that we are allegedly supporting – you know it is really bizarre because the President of the U.S. two years ago said: ‘There are no moderate rebels. This is a fantasy’. Well, if it is a fantasy and there are no moderate rebels, whom we are supporting there…once you have a covert action program with 500 million dollars like the Defense had, you’ve got all this money and people say: ‘Let’s find some moderate rebels because we have all this money.’

And though the administration claimed that the main fight was against ISIS, some of the CIA-backed groups were affiliated with Al Qaeda and primarily fighting against Assad.

Meanwhile, lest we forget the crucial fact, ISIS was receiving most of its support from U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It is absolutely inconceivable that the Pentagon and the CIA were not aware of this.

U.S. support for a particular group changed from one part of Syria to another. The Pentagon backed Kurdish YPG forces in eastern Syria but not the YPG in northern Aleppo. Indeed, the YPG north of Aleppo has attacked U.S.-backed forces.

In January 2017, American airstrikes “mistakenly” attacked Syrian army positions, killing 62 soldiers. For an analysis of the complex machinations and internal backstabbing that led Russian U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin to ask, “Who is in charge in Washington? The White House or the Pentagon?” see Gareth Porter’s article.

At best, Obama could not control the murderers. At worst, he was indistinguishable from them, and thus utterly complicit in the fix. The administration wanted both to limit the influence of ISIS and to overthrow Assad, and the military and CIA were backing – and on the ground with – opposing camps. And this certainly led to the possibility of U.S. forces (more likely mercenaries) shooting at each other. Who was the only group to profit from this mess? Cui bono…Ford expands on the four-decade-long history of the U.S.’s creation of Islamic terrorism here:

ISIS did not exist when President Obama took office and put Hillary Clinton in charge at Foggy Bottom. His (and her) regime change in Libya and massive, terroristic pivot to Syria “created” ISIS…the U.S. did not reject the jihadist death cult that became ISIS; rather, the Islamic State divorced itself from the U.S. and its European and royal allies. Yet, it still took the Russian intervention in Syria in September of last year to push Washington to mount more than token air assaults against ISIS.

I hear your voice: Perhaps Obama ended up as a war criminal, but he began with such high ideals. Let’s move on.

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Barry’s Blog # 197: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Eight

OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY

A reader posits: If presidents are so completely bound, can we really blame them for being complicit? Isn’t voicing soul and decency at least superior to abandoning it altogether? Or, as you say, is it better we face the monster unmasked, as we are doing now? These are precisely the inquiries that lead to the kind of soul work – for ourselves and our world – that I’m trying to provoke. And of course, struggling with them is more important than answering them.

Just as with his economic policy appointments, Obama’s initial pick of cold warriors Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton signaled that there would be no change in foreign policy from the Bush years.  He came into office making two promises: to end the Iraq War, which he dismissed as “the stupid war,” and to win in Afghanistan, “the necessary war.” But he retired having been at war longer than any president in U.S. history, and the only president to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

One could certainly frame his domestic and financial decisions, harmful as they were, as part of the old liberal story, as well-intended failures – a phrase, by the way, that conventional historians used to describe the mad, genocidal atrocity of the Viet Nam war and now use to describe both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But even a cursory investigation of Obama’s foreign policies reveals his true roles – the functions he was originally vetted for – in maintaining the influence of the American empire and restoring faith in American innocence.

Any honest discussion of American foreign policy in this century must begin with 9-11. We don’t need to argue about whether it was an inside job or whether the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the impending attacks; after 15 years you have your own opinions. My own writings on the matter have always tried to focus on its implications for the myth of innocence – how Americans responded to it.

But few can deny that Bush’s crowd happily used the tragedy and manipulated public opinion to support their imperial aims in the Mideast. And few can deny that this included how the “intelligence community” (the same people now put forth as Trump’s noble opponents) lied to justify invading both Afghanistan and Iraq. What did Obama do after inheriting these policies? He served George W. Bush’s third and fourth terms.

Whatever you think about 9-11, it is abundantly clear that Saudi Arabia provided operational and financial support to the hijackers and that the U.S. government – half of that time on Obama’s watch – covered up that fact for fifteen years.

In July of 2016, when the infamous 29 pages on ties between the hijackers and Saudi officials were finally made public,  Obama’s only response was that he stood by the investigation of the 9/11 Commission. And in October, he vetoed the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” that would have made it easier to sue Saudi Arabia for its complicity.  For eight years, he criticized Syrian despotism but ignored Israeli, Saudi and Qatari repression, misogyny and religious intolerance at home and warmongering throughout the region.

How do we re-invigorate outdated myths? In 2012, he put his personal stamp on the narrative of American exceptionalism by announcing a 13-year, $65 million commemoration of the war against Viet Nam, praising the veterans who had been “fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans.” So much for learning from the past.

That’s all mere background to his conduct of the War on Terror, which was now being fought not primarily by the regular Army but by high technology and by specialists with no accountability. Nick Turse describes     Obama’s use of “special operations” units whose annual budget approaches $20 billion. Bush had deployed them to around 60 nations; Obama ultimately raised that number to 138:

…a secret force (functionally the president’s private army) cocooned inside the U.S. military – now at almost 70,000 personnel…carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers…far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind. Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about.

Afghanistan:

We have no strategic plan. We never had one. – Anonymous senior military commander.

I have argued that the gatekeepers of the empire vetted Obama to re-invigorate the myth of innocence. Part of that role was to be the symbolic, if seemingly reluctant, face of the empire’s wars. One of his first acts, barely a month after being inaugurated in 2009, was to order a massive troop surge in Afghanistan, after claiming that the surge in Iraq had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Let’s get some terminology straightened out. When we hear the phrase “intelligence community”, please substitute “the CIA, which has been overthrowing democracy everywhere for seventy years”. And when we hear about “private defense contractors” we are really being told about mercenaries who are paid far more than regular soldiers.

Tens of thousands of these private contractors remained in Iraq, which was collapsing into civil war. But this would become the new strategy to limit popular resistance at home: fewer American military personnel would be dying. Another early act that year was to convince a Spanish court to stop prosecuting Bush and his team as war criminals. Mark Karlin reminds us that for Afghanistan,

The original impetus was, ostensibly, to punish the Taliban government in the wake of the 9/11 attacks for harboring Al Qaeda. Yet it would be hard to define why we are there now except for the imperatives of U.S. hegemony and military empire.

People get rich from war, legally or otherwise. Lest we forget, Afghanistan is (not was) the longest war in U.S. history. We hear little about it these days because it is overshadowed by conflicts elsewhere – and because there have been more contractors than U.S. troops there since the middle of 2011. Their deaths and injuries are not part of the official count, which accordingly appears smaller than it really is.

117,000 contractors and 88,000 U.S. troops were deployed there in 2012. As of March 2016, there were still approximately 28,600 contractors and 8,700 U.S. troops, despite Obama’s claim in December 2014 that the U.S. military’s combat mission in Afghanistan had come to a “responsible conclusion.” From 2007 to 2015, the U.S. spent roughly $220 billion for private contracts there and in Iraq. By that point, over 1,600 Americans had died in Afghanistan since he had taken office — well over half of all the dead during the entire war – along with countless Afghans. Over 115,000 troops were suffering from traumatic brain injuries and half a million had applied for disability benefits.

Some three million Afghans are refugees. Tens of thousands have attempted to enter Europe, and thousands have drowned trying. The Taliban control about 10% of the population and half of the land, more than at any time since 2001. Only about half of the 1.5 million guns given to the Afghan government can be accounted for. The war killed 3,500 civilians in 2016, the highest toll since 2009. Nation building? The U.S. was spending $100 billion annually on the war and only $2 billion on sustainable development, much of that siphoned off by the corrupt Karzai government.

Those of us old enough to remember the endless “quagmire” of Viet Nam, our loss of innocence about America’s good intentions, and the optimistic statements by U.S. officials right up to the final evacuation observed a succession of NATO commanders – 17 of them – issuing their own pronouncements that “We’re making real progress.”

Why – after having created, funded, supported and trained the Afghan Army for some 15 years – why hasn’t the U.S. handed the war completely over to them? Why are we still there? The answer, of course, is resources, including a potential natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean, as Brzezinski has admitted. A J.P. Morgan mining expert claimed that “Afghanistan could be one of the leading producers of copper, gold, lithium, and iron ore in the world…”

And then there are the drugs. Since the American invasion began, heroin production has increased 40 times. And, since a million people worldwide have died from Afghan heroin since 2001, I invite readers to investigate the long history of the CIA’s involvement in the drug trade.  

In 2009, writes Tariq Ali, NATO’s Secretary General gushed over the possibility of “a permanent NATO presence in a country that borders the ex-Soviet republics, China, Iran, and Pakistan (that) was too good to miss.” In 2010 Gates assured the Afghans, “…we’re not ever leaving at all.” 

The next year even Karzai denounced the Americans: “They’re here for their own purposes, for their own goals.”

Next: Syria, Iraq and ISIS

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Barry’s Blog # 196: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Seven

OBAMA’S ECONOMIC POLICIES

The first thing to understand about Obama is that he was Wall Street’s man from the beginning. He was, after all, the first candidate to turn down public campaign financing, because he didn’t need it. As I mentioned earlier, Goldman Sachs had been his largest campaign contributor in 2008, despite his criticism of “the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street”. He also took huge donations from the defense industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry, which reversed years of supporting Republicans and contributed more than three times as much to him as it did to McCain.

And the most revealing information in the leak (not a hack) of the DNC emails is that prior to that election, Citigroup executive Michael Froman sent a list of suggested cabinet appointees to John Podesta. Obama appointed nearly everyone on the list, including free marketeers Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, all three of whom had been involved in previous policies, including deregulation, that had led to the financial crisis. c_11262008_520Citigroup itself became the recipient (over $300 billion) of the largest government bailout and Froman became U.S. trade representative. Obama made GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt his chief outside economic advisor even as GE was outsourcing jobs and cutting benefits.

Certainly, no one should be surprised that, despite massive public support for jailing the perpetrators,  no one was indicted, let alone jailed. Nor should we be surprised that those same banks that Obama declared “too big to fail” are now much larger and much more likely to create the next financial crash. too-big-to-fail-2

Early on, he called a meeting of banking executives. “The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability,” one of them told Ron Suskind in his book Confidence Men. “At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.” This included defying Congress to avoid limiting executive pay, even to those companies receiving bailout funds. And with those funds they could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. Quickly, their compensation reached record levels, especially among hedge fund managers.

In 2010 a member of an independent congressional oversight panel told Treasury officials: “We can either have a rational resolution to the foreclosure crisis, or we can preserve the capital structure of the banks. We can’t do both.” They chose the latter, beginning by extending Bush’s tax cuts. The stimulus program led to a dubious “recovery” that benefited almost exclusively the top one percent. For the rest, wages and benefits declined, a fact that Trump would shape into his own narrative later. By 2011, the one percent had more wealth than the bottom 90%. And although 58% of the country wanted the government to help stop foreclosures, Obama did nothing. in-here-somewhere

I suggested in Chapter Eight of my book that in 2008 Obama, Wall Street’s candidate, beat McCain, the oil industry’s man. Obama did respond to liberal pressure and blocked the Keystone and (temporarily) Dakota Access pipelines. But the energy titans are equal partners in the Deep State, and Obama was certainly no enemy to them, as he allowed them to charge excessive rates and blessed them with billions in tax breaks.

I certainly don’t pretend to understand finance. But writers such as Michael Gray  claim that rather than using the term “Great Recession,”

…The years 2008 through 2015 should be known as the Great Fleecing. During that time period the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world occurred. Some $4.5 trillion was given to Wall Street banks with the American people picking up the IOU and getting little more than working ATMs for the misery.

Almost all of that money, of course, went to the ultra-rich.  And, as conservatives always promise, did they invest in job-creating industries on American soil? No, they did what the rich always do; they took advantage of the massive network of global tax evasion detailed in 2016’s “Panama Papers”. Rebecca Wilkins of Citizens for Tax Justice, says:

A tax haven…has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of noncooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters…Panama has all three of those…They’re probably the worst.

A 2012 report by the British Tax Justice Network estimated that unreported tax havens worldwide shelter between $21 and $32 trillion. Apparently the rich wanted even more. Obama’s Panama Free Trade Agreement of 2011 actually encouraged corporations to thwart efforts by regulatory agencies to combat financial secrecy in tax haven countries. Major financial firms already supported by taxpayer bailouts praised the deal, which made it easier for them to set up offshore bank accounts and avoid paying many taxes altogether.

Even among the corporate stooges in Congress, it turned out that not enough of them could stomach Obama’s attempt to force the Trans-Pacific Partnership down the nation’s throat. This truly terrible giveaway to the rich, negotiated in secrecy, would have permitted Big Business to sue the U.S. and eleven other governments before a panel of three corporate lawyers that could award unlimited sums, including for loss of future expected profits if they claimed U.S. policies might violate the new entitlements.

If this monstrosity had ever come up for a vote, Obama would have had to ally himself with the Republicans against his own party. In the election, Clinton’s mild but transparently false opposition to something she herself had crafted was another factor in her loss to Trump, who (whatever you think of him) accurately criticized it as yet another job killer.

The bailout of the auto industry (actually, only General Motors and Chrysler) is a hugely complicated issue and open to much interpretation, as is Obama’s claim that “The auto companies have now repaid taxpayers every dime and more…”, as well as his claim that a million and a half jobs were saved. Many certainly were saved, but many just as certainly would have transferred over to Toyota and the several other companies that did not need government assistance. Why not? Because with the exception of Ford, they hadn’t put all their chips on gas-guzzling SUVs.

And all of the Asian and European automakers had greatly improved their technology, something in which the American companies had shown little interest over the decades. The implications: perhaps saving those dinosaurs was worth it, but at base, Obama richly rewarded two giant companies (and their stockholders) for their bad business practices and effectively punished others for their good business practices.

Did wrecking the middle class and increasing the disparity between rich and poor to the greatest point since the 1930s (some would say the 1880s) amount to bad business practices? As I implied above, that money didn’t just go away. Much of it went over to the other side of the ledger. Although this is not entirely Obama’s responsibility, the National Debt did increase under his watch from about $10 trillion to about $20 trillion. It’s another vastly complicated question, but it is instructive to ask just who profits – cui bono? – when the debt increases. After all, it’s reasonable to assume that whenever something happens at the federal level, somebody is profiting.

At the very least, the administration and the Congress profit, because deficits are a way of hiding the fact that military spending and reducing taxes have been bankrupting the nation ever since the Viet Nam war. In this sense, the debt amounts to nothing more than future taxation, a mortgage cast upon future taxpayers – our grandchildren – and politicians not currently in office. And after foreign nations such as China, much of the debt, some 15%, is held by private banks and investors. Mutual funds alone hold more than $1 trillion in Treasury debt. So the bottom line, so to speak, is that only those (increasingly few) who can afford to invest in the stock market get to play with that money. Obama didn’t create this shell game, but he did nothing to reform it.

Next: Foreign policy.

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