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The omnipresent hawks-in-waiting of the Clinton administration

Have you noticed the distressing pattern in the media these days? Hawkish voices are dominating the discussion of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Russia, Iran and Syria. As everyone who’s anybody gets ready for the inevitable Clinton administration, these experts are being given a platform that allows them to shout down both the Obama administration’s officials who are guiding our policy in Syria and also all the non-hawkish experts who disagree with them. And the greasiest part of this is, Some of these hawks are using that platform to audition for jobs under Clinton.

Syria is a problem that we can’t claim to solve. One thing we are sure of, though, is that the American people have a right to a wide-open discussion of that policy. Just 14 years after a similar chorus of no-doubters got the country into Iraq, shattering the Middle East, why is National Public Radio opening its doors to folks like Dennis Ross? Ross has gotten a microphone twice in the last two weeks.

In that vein, yesterday National Public Radio interviewed retired Admiral James Stavridis, who has been spoken of as a top foreign policy aide if Hillary Clinton becomes president, and Stavridis made the case for intervention in Syria with a lot of familiar talking points.

He and host David Greene agreed that President Obama’s policy in Syria had failed then lamented Russia’s use of an Iranian air base to conduct strikes in Syria. Stavridis described the Russians as bad actors across Eastern Europe, and deprecated the likelihood of a political solution in Syria, saying a solution would have to be imposed from the outside.

Dennis Ross is also surely auditioning for a role in the Clinton administration (and trying to live down the fact that in June he called on American Jews to be advocates for Israel, in what he thought was a private audience at a New York temple). His first appearance on NPR was August 6, when he explained to weekend host Scott Simon why he’d co-authored an op-ed in the Times calling for bombing Syria, regime change by another name:

I understand the fear [of getting into war]. There’s good reason for that. We have effectively been at war, in one way or the other, since 2001 in the Middle East, and none of those conflicts have come out very well . . . What I’m suggesting is think about how you use the threat of force as a lever to try to get a political process. Because right now, that political process isn’t working.

Then just a couple days ago, Ross got a callback from host Ari Shapiro, and he said the Russians don’t want a political solution.

[T]he Russians are focused right now not on attacking ISIS. They’re focused right now on carrying out strikes against the opposition, the Syrian opposition in the Aleppo area. If in fact the agreement with us is supposed to change what’s going on in Syria, reduce the level of violence in Syria and produce a political process in Syria, strengthening Assad’s hold, choking off the opposition in the Aleppo area is actually sending a signal that suggests that the Russians are more interested in cementing Assad’s hold than they are in reducing the level of violence in Syria . . . I don’t see how it can get us closer to that. Assad has produced so much blood in Syria that the idea that he would be the one who remains in power and you could put together some kind of political settlement in Syria I think is a complete illusion.

NPR is surely reflecting the establishment consensus, which anticipates a Clinton administration and seems to want a revival of the cold war. Former CIA chief Mike Morell, for instance, called for killing Russians in Syria even as he endorsed Clinton. Nicholas Kristof has repeatedly called for military intervention in Syria in the Times, and in his latest used the word “genocide” or “genocidal” seven times in one article.

We are not knowledgeable enough about Syria to confidently offer comprehensive solutions of our own, other than the anti-interventionist instinct that less violence is preferable to more violence and that Obama’s restraint has been wise. What concerns us is the unanimity of these predictably interventionist voices. It is also troubling that these experts, eager to ramp up the Clinton administration in waiting, are seeking to undermine Obama administration efforts to talk to the Russians and work out a deal in Syria. Every night on MSNBC, commentators say that Donald Trump or his aides are bought and paid for by the Russians. Do they really want to have dogfights between US and Russian warplanes over Damascus? That’s no answer.

Right on time, today NPR has another piece on Russia treating it as a fait accompli, but without offering any hard evidence, that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee emails, in order to influence our election.

What might Russia hope to gain from influencing the American vote?

[Investigative journalist Andrei] Soldatov says President Vladimir Putin believes Clinton is a Russia-hater who was behind anti-government demonstrations that took place in Russia in 2011 and 2012.

American readers, and influential American ones at that, are being fed a line without any counter-narrative. And the pity is that a counter-narrative is available, from leftists, realists, and libertarians, but the mainstream media is indifferent as it warms the beds for Clintonite hawks.

Why isn’t the Times running pieces by Stephen F. Cohen, who is publishing at the Nation? He describes the “factional” war inside the administration over Syrian policy in an audio piece The Nation summarizes:

Factional politics were even clearer regarding Syria, where Obama had proposed military cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State — in effect, finally accepting Putin’s longstanding proposal — along with important agreements that would reduce the danger of nuclear war. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post had reported strong factional opposition to both of Obama’s initiatives — in effect, a kind of détente with Russia — and both have been halted, though whether temporarily or permanently is unclear.

Cohen thinks we will soon know, because Putin needs a decision by Obama now as the crucial battle for Aleppo intensifies. Under his own pressure at home, Putin seems resolved to end the Islamic State’s occupation of Syria, Aleppo being a strategic site, without or with US cooperation, which he would prefer to have.

Cohen, a distinguished historian who is the top expert on Russia in the United States, goes further in saying that the New York Times is running a McCarthyite campaign against Trump-Putin, almost out of whole cloth:

[The Times is] discarding its own longstanding journalistic standards in the service of US policy in the new Cold War and now on behalf of the Clinton presidential campaign, which is trying to run against “Trump-Putin.” In the latter connection, the Times had already published what can only be viewed as a number of neo-McCarthyite articles against Trump and his associates, labeling them Putin’s “agents.”

Why doesn’t the mainstream also listen to Charles Glass, an accomplished journalist with decades of experience in the Middle East, who has reported on the ground from Syria in recent years? His recent, short, and valuable book, Syria Burning, makes a number of essential points, including arguing that the anti-Assad rebels may have been misled into turning to armed uprising in 2011 by the Western intervention in Libya.

The rebels calculated that, as in Libya, NATO would ensure their swift victory. The US decided that the regime was so unpopular that the rebels would overthrow it without NATO help. Both were wrong.

(At the time, we both [cautiously and not] supported the West’s intervention in Libya, but Glass’s argument about its impact in Syria is one more reminder about the danger of unintended consequences.)

Juan Cole offers a similar, realist analysis of why Russia is doing what it’s doing on his site; Russia and Iran are combining to take on ISIS in eastern Syria and to counter Israel’s saber-rattling.

From an Iranian point of view, closer military relations with the Russian Federation at this juncture have advantages. They are some protection from the belligerence toward Tehran of Binyamin Netanyahu’s far-right, expansionist Israeli government, and of the new and reckless Saudi government, which is bombing Yemen, supporting Salafi extremists in Syria, and rattling sabers at Iran.

Asked about the Russian basing, Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, said that it was a matter of strategic cooperation against terrorism – given the importance of defeating ISIL.

A. Trevor Thrall at Cato Institute says that overall the Obama administration’s efforts have reflected a clear-headed reading of the situation. And not “Obama’s worst mistake,” as Kristof contends:

Kristof joins a bipartisan choir in accusing Obama of wrongly believing there is nothing the United States can do to make things better in Syria. Among his suggestions: implementing a no-fly zone, creating safe zones for civilians, and grounding the Syrian government’s air force. . .

On a practical level, American intervention would be dangerous on multiple levels. Thanks to Russia’s support for Assad, trying to enforce no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors would increase tensions with Russia and risk confrontation between U.S. and Russian aircraft. Beyond that the United States would need ground troops to manage humanitarian corridors and the safe movement of civilians, raising the likelihood of American casualties.

Dogfights over Damascus. And no end in sight.

Most fundamentally, the political interests of those engaged in the civil war far outweigh America’s humanitarian interests in Syria. Calling Syria ‘Obama’s mistake’ both misdirects moral responsibility for the conflict and obscures the fact that the combatants are far more motivated than the United States. Both the Assad regime and the rebels have suffered incredible losses; all sides are clearly in it for the long haul.

Against such motivation the United States can certainly bring overwhelming military force. But as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, military superiority does not always translate to peace and stability.

Christopher Preble and Emma Ashford of Cato attack Clinton’s interventionist ideas: 

She continues to call for the creation of a “safe space” or no-fly zone inside Syria, a decision that could escalate into imposing regime change, as it did in Libya, or even bring U.S. forces into direct conflict with Russia. More broadly, she advocates more intervention around the world when the American people want to focus on problems closer to home.

Clinton’s approach — the idea that America must meddle in every global dispute — has already been tried and has proven costly, dangerous, and unnecessary.

These voices ought to be in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. We knock the establishment all the time on this site; and this pattern of inclusion and exclusion shows why we are right. “Too much of the media seems hot for turf & favor in an ever more plausible & unashamed American public-private state-steered press,” Walter Kirn says. With their keen sense for who is in and who is out, establishment media have unified around a group of leading experts who appear likely to have high position in a few months’ time. When they ought to reflect on the lessons of Iraq, and let some air into the room.

P.S. Ari Shapiro told listeners on NPR that Dennis Ross’s latest book is titled Doomed to Succeed, thereby leaving out the subtitle, “The U.S. Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.” An omission similar to Scott Simon’s, when he left out the fact that Ross and his co-author of that Bomb Syria Now piece are fellows at a spinoff of the Israel lobby group, AIPAC — the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Here are the rules: It’s absolutely fine for the media to talk up Russia’s supposed influence in American politics. But no one can say a word about Israel’s demonstrable presence.

James North and Philip Weiss

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18 Responses

  1. Boomer on August 19, 2016, 2:22 pm

    The Clintons say that their foundation will stop accepting gifts from corporations and foreign nations . . . IF Mrs. Clinton is elected. I’m not sure whether that will take effect the day after the election, or not until she is sworn in. Either way, now is the time for the military-industrial complex, and all other interested parties foreign and domestic to pay up.

    • JWalters on August 19, 2016, 7:59 pm

      Yup, I’m thinking the very same thing. Not OK as President, but OK as Secretary of State. It’s truly amazing how blatant the corruption can get when the mainstream media is completely controlled. The profits of war are SO huge, and can buy so many news outlets and members of Congress. So many criminals, so many traitors. Historians of the future will busy in brigades tracing the corruption that almost destroyed America. Because Americans WILL find out. These people will live in infamy.

  2. Keith on August 19, 2016, 8:01 pm

    PHIL/JAMES- “Have you noticed the distressing pattern in the media these days?”

    Indeed I have. It would appear that the imperial elite have united behind Clinton as their champion of increased militarism. If we put the personalities of Clinton and Trump aside and simply look at who is advising them and who is likely to be a high level official in a Clinton administration, it becomes rather obvious that the virtually assured Clinton administration will be a neocon dominated war administration. We are at the end of an era and the elites are pursuing hegemony at all costs prior to the turbulent transition to the new order. They have chosen Hillary as the soon to be Warmonger-in-Chief. Danger? Everyone should be aware that Presidential authorization is for strategic nuclear weapons only. Tactical nukes (up to 100 kt) are approved for operational use and can be launched by a three star general. Cheers. Below is a quote and link guaranteed to bring you down.

    “A new Clinton presidency can be expected to further boost the U.S./NATO drive to strangle and isolate Russia, which means aggravated “crises” in Ukraine and worrisome encounters with a rival military power in a region saturated with (tactical, “usable”) nuclear weapons. Regime change in Syria? Hillary has indeed strongly pushed for that self-defeating act of war, combined with an illegal and provocative no-fly zone — having learned nothing from the extreme chaos and violence she did so much to unleash in Libya as Secretary of State. There are currently no visible signs she would exit the protracted and criminal war in Afghanistan, a rich source of blowback (alongside Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Israel). Increased aerial bombardments against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere? More deployments of American troops on the ground? Such ventures, with potentially others on the horizon, amount to elaborate recipes for more blowback, followed by more anti-terror hysteria, followed by more interventions. Uncompromising economic, diplomatic, and military support of Israeli atrocities in Palestine? Aggressive pursuit of the seriously mistaken “Asian Pivot”, strategy, a revitalized effort to subvert Chinese economic and military power – one of Clinton’s own special crusades? No wonder the Paul Wolfowitzes and Robert Kagans are delighted to join the Hillary camp.” (Carl Boggs)

    • Sibiriak on September 13, 2016, 11:06 pm

      Keith: If we put the personalities of Clinton and Trump aside and simply look at who is advising them and who is likely to be a high level official in a Clinton administration, it becomes rather obvious that the virtually assured Clinton administration will be a neocon dominated war administration.


      Absolutely. As for her opponent:

      Donald Trump named former CIA director and extremist neoconservative James Woolsey his senior adviser on national security issues on Monday. Woolsey, who left the CIA in 1995, went on to become one of Washington’s most outspoken promoters of U.S. war in Iraq and the Middle East.

  3. hophmi on August 19, 2016, 9:34 pm

    Funny how you can’t just admit the truth – you stand with the butcher Bashar al-Assad.

    I guess it’s ok when Muslims die, as long as they’re murdered en masse by other Muslims.

    • oldgeezer on August 19, 2016, 11:44 pm


      So assad is a sob. So what?

      Regime change is illegal under international law. As is Israel’s aid to Al Queda/Al Nusra in that fight.

      The reason is that it is illegal is that it causes a heck of a lot on innocents civilians to be killed and creates instability which wrecks the lives of those that survive.

      Put away your fake concern for Muslims. Your rancid bigotry shines in every post you make concerning them.

      Killing Muslims and destroying Middle Eastern countries to strengthen the rogue and criminal state of Israel is the foulest and most immoral of motives
      Take your yinon plan and shove it up your yang, you apologist and proponent of mass slaughter.

      • inbound39 on August 20, 2016, 9:35 am

        I agree with you oldgeezer. Problem with sufferers of Ziocaine addiction like Hophmi et al is they are incapable of looking at what they support and cause by their support. This following article link will make Israel’s crimes plain and this is the result of Israeli actions on one child. Be warned it is not a pretty site but one that needs to be seen and read……..

    • Keith on August 20, 2016, 1:08 am

      HOPHMI- “Funny how you can’t just admit the truth – you stand with the butcher Bashar al-Assad.”

      Funny how you can’t just admit the truth – you stand with al-Nusra and al Qaeda terrorists! Good for Israel? Good for the empire? Good for the Jews?

    • Egbert on August 20, 2016, 1:43 am

      And you apparently support the carefully vetted ‘moderates’ who recently decpitated a 12 year old boy in Syria. That was sufficiently outrageous to give the US ‘pause’ in supplying weapons to them. Interestingly, the photographer who produced the recent now viral image of the boy in the ambulance is also best buddies with these carefully vetted moderate head choppers.

      • Stephen Shenfield on August 22, 2016, 7:22 am

        Head chopping is an old European custom. It used to be very popular in England (at the Tower of London). After the French revolution a more humane and efficient means of head chopping was invented in the form of the guillotine. Surely there can be no objection to head chopping provided that it is applied nonviolently to adults with their informed consent.

      • Mooser on August 22, 2016, 1:53 pm

        “Surely there can be no objection to head chopping provided that it is applied nonviolently to adults with their informed consent.”

        Well, I’m not sure, but I think I would rather wait for the blade face-down.

    • Mooser on August 20, 2016, 5:47 pm

      “Hophmi’s” substantive, (and copiously footnoted) critique of this article (and every other article, too) can be found here.

  4. lonely rico on August 19, 2016, 9:40 pm
  5. Boomer on August 20, 2016, 7:20 am

    re “Have you noticed the distressing pattern in the media these days?”

    There are so many. What you say about Russia and warmongers is certainly true, and has been evident for a long time. Following the course set by our “best and brightest” in the State Dept. and in the media, we meddled in Ukraine, helped to orchestrate things, then were surprised and angered when Russia responded in a predictable way. But it’s okay for us to do this, not for them.

    But the depressing pattern in the media that I have been focused on for the past week has been the reaction to the Lutherans’ resolution, which Annie reported back on August 12

    Every day I have searched the U.S. edition of Google News to see how mainstream media sources in the U.S.–the kind of news sources most Americans rely on–have treated that development. As I reported in comments to Annie’s story, day after day I found plenty of stories in Israeli sources, or those targeting a Jewish readership, but none in major MSM. Until, finally, yesterday, as I reported, I found a hit-piece by Elliott Abrams in the new Newsweek. Newsweek isn’t what it used to be, but I suppose it is considered still MSM.

    So, if Google News is representative of U.S. news media, most Americans don’t know about the Lutherans’ action, and those who do read about it see a ridiculous pro-Israel screed.

    I knew that our media are bad and biased when reporting on Palestine, but I didn’t realize just how bad. It is true amazing.

    • Boomer on August 20, 2016, 8:18 am

      PS: I know that Google News stopped carrying AP content years ago, due to objections from AP. I suppose it is possible that AP had a story on this which was picked up by some newspapers. I’m not sure how to determine whether that happened. Perhaps one could check that via a paid service such as Lexis-Nexis.

      • Boomer on August 20, 2016, 3:22 pm

        PPS: I don’t have ready access to Lexis, but I did try searching at the AP and UPI sites. I did not find any news stories about the recent Evangelical Lutheran resolution that the U.S. make aid to Israel contingent on improvements for the Palestinians, but I did find a golden oldie from 2010 that some people may recall:

        “JERUSALEM, Jan. 10 (UPI) — Israel would forego U.S. economic aid rather than be pressured into prematurely advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, its finance minister said Sunday.

        “Mideast envoy George Mitchell has threatened the United States could freeze aid if Israel fails to advance the talks, reported.

        “Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel was trying to resume negotiations with the Palestinians but would give up U.S. aid if it meant accepting unreasonable conditions.

        “We don’t have to use those (loan) guarantees,” Steinitz said. “We are doing very well without them.”

        “Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday condemned rocket attacks by Hamas fired from Gaza into Israeli territory.

        “Some 20 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel last week,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of his cabinet meeting. “The government’s policy is clear and any firing of rockets will be seriously retaliated.”

      • Boomer on August 20, 2016, 8:27 pm

        PPPS: I don’t want to hijack this thread with more OT comments, but feel that I should mention that I did finally find a reference (albeit somewhat misleading) to the Lutherans’ action in the MSM. I posted details about it in the comments on Annie’s report on the evening of August 20. I don’t how to link directly to my comments in that long thread, but I hope that Annie and others interested in the topic will find them there.

  6. CigarGod on August 21, 2016, 9:22 am

    Right on, James and Philip.
    NPR is a @$#& Trojan Horse.
    The shadowy David Greene and just about all the other regulars sell their subversive propaganda like state sponsored employee’s. Not our state. No, that that state either. They are as occupied as we are.

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