The foreign policy establishment is realigning itself in anticipation, and support, of a Hillary Clinton administration. With Donald Trump self-destructing at last, this process involves a rightwing-center solidification upon the belief that Russia is the new American enemy in the Middle East. A couple of Clinton endorsers have all but called for war with Russia and Iran, one of them saying the U.S. should be killing Russians in Syria.
Here are manifestations of this realignment and the new cold war with Russia– and of that traditional pattern among 9/11 hawks, conflating American and Israeli interests.
Fifty Republican former security officials published a letter saying Donald Trump would be the “most reckless” president in history, and that he has “little understanding” of the country’s “indispensable alliances.” The signatories include many neoconservatives, including Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, Aaron Friedberg, and Dov Zakheim. Trump’s warmth toward Russia and “abandonment” of NATO motivated some signatories, reports the The New York Times. Democratic neocons are also lining up behind Clinton: this morning, Joe Lieberman.
Taking on Russia is now part of the consensus of many on the right and center who are getting ready for the Clinton administration. That consensus is, dangerously, making President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry onlookers at the very time that they are trying to reach a deal with the Russians to end hostilities in Syria. The new foreign policy establishment-in-formation regards the Iran-Assad-Putin axis as a serious threat to U.S. interests, and to Israel’s ability to fight off everything from Hezbollah and Hamas to the French peace initiative and international delegitimization efforts (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions; labeling of goods from the West Bank; anti-Zionism).
A few days ago in the New York Times, longtime peace processor Dennis Ross and another expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has close ties to the Israeli security establishment, called for abandoning the US-Russia talks and instead “bombing Assad” positions in Syria.
Ross and his co-author Andrew J. Tabler asserted that Obama’s own administration doesn’t want the US and Russia to get along. This line is about the deep state:
the Obama administration’s plan, opposed by many within the C.I.A., the State Department and the Pentagon, is flawed.
Ross and Tabler characterized Hezbollah, Israel’s enemy, as a “brutal sectarian” force, and all but sided with the Nusra front, the al-Qaeda spinoff that has been a key part of the Assad opposition. The end of their article is a drumbeat for war.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have long said there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. Unfortunately, Russia and Iran seem to think there is — or at least that no acceptable political outcome is possible without diminishing the rebels and strengthening the Syrian government. It is time for the United States to speak the language that Mr. Assad and Mr. Putin understand.
(The piece might be seen as Ross’s application for high position in a Clinton administration; though Ross will have to overcome his remarks to a synagogue audience that American Jews must not advocate for Palestinians but for Israel: “Plenty of others are advocates for the Palestinians… We need to be advocates for Israel.”)
On National Public Radio last weekend, Ross said that Obama’s diplomacy isn’t working, And seeming to relish a new cold war with Russia, he said that the U.S. has good motives and the Russians have imperial ones:
I think that we have an interest in bringing this to an end and focusing on the Islamic State, on ISIL. I think the Russians have an interest in demonstrating that they are the arbiter of events in Syria. Now, if what we’re doing is consistent with that, that’s fine from their standpoint. But if what we’re doing doesn’t fit with that, they will continue to exert pressure on the ground and continue to change the realities on the ground, the balance of power on the ground. And that’s what we’ve seen the Russians do.
A friend explains that Ross is cloaking Russia’s better aims in Syria.
The most predictable element in Ross’s comments is the Cold War revivalism – “I think the Russians have an interest in demonstrating that they are the arbiter of events in Syria.” How we need that old enemy!
The truth he want to hide is that the Russians and Assad are aiming to retake Aleppo from ISIS, al-Nusra and the less well known Salafist organizations and if they can do it the war will be effectively over, Russia will then press Assad to make a gradual and dignified withdrawal and will have shown policy more coherent and far less reckless than any emanating from the US in a generation. The US, Turkey, and the Saudis want to call it a stalemate before the fall of Aleppo and demand that their original ultimatum, i.e. “Assad must go” immediately, was right and can now be obeyed.
Next, here is Michael Morell, a former acting director of the CIA who served in the Bush and Obama administrations, saying he’s for Hillary Clinton, in The New York Times. And again, the theme is a hawkish policy on Russia and Syria. Trump is Russia’s big mole:
During the early debates about how we should respond to the Syrian civil war, [Clinton] was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach, one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Syria…
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests …
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
At the Intercept, Murtaza Hussain says that Morell went on the Charlie Rose show and called for the killing of Russians and Iranians in Syria:
“What they need is to have the Russians and Iranians pay a little price,” Morell said. “When we were in Iraq, the Iranians were giving weapons to the Shia militia, who were killing American soldiers, right? The Iranians were making us pay a price. We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price.”
Morell said the killing of Russians and Iranians should be undertaken “covertly, so you don’t tell the world about it, you don’t stand up at the Pentagon and say ‘we did this.’ But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”
That’s a declaration of war, on the most questionable of grounds. Philip Giraldi at the Unz Review says that Morell is a member of a military-industrial elite that has positioned itself, along with the neocons, to preserve its access to power and employment by selling a “largely fabricated narrative regarding the war on terror and diversified foreign threats… and the Russians and Iranians are inevitably behind it all.”
Now that group is ready to serve Clinton:
When not fronting as a handsomely paid national security consultant for the CBS television network, Morell is employed by Beacon Global Strategies as a Senior Counselor, a company co-founded by Andrew Shapiro and Philippe Reines, members of the Clinton inner circle. As he has no experience in financial markets, he presumably spends his time warning well-heeled clients to watch out for random terrorists and Russians seeking to acquire “unwitting agents.” The clients might also want to consider that unless Morell is being illegally fed classified information by former colleagues his access to valuable insider information ended three years ago when he retired from CIA.
The national security industry that Morell is part of runs on fear. His current lifestyle and substantial emoluments depend on people being afraid of terrorism and foreigners in general, compelling them to turn to a designated expert like him to ask serious questions that he will answer in a serious way, sometimes suggesting that Islamic militants could potentially bring about some kind of global apocalypse if one does not seek knowledgeable counsel from firms like Beacon Global Strategies. And the Russians and Iranians are inevitably behind it all.
Morell, also a CIA torture apologist and a George Tenet protégé, was deeply involved in many of the intelligence failures that preceded and followed 9/11.
Beacon Global Strategies is a Clintonite/liberal interventionist/neoconservative consulting shop in Washington. Its principals include Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton’s schmoozer-intriguer at State; and on its advisory board is Edelman, who served in the Bush administration and was also advising Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and who signed the Trump “would be the most reckless” president letter.
Co-founder Andrew Shapiro is a former Clinton State Department official who has said that Zionism goes back to John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln. (Herzl and Weizmann and Brandeis– chopped liver.)
A lot of the rhetoric is imperialist. A friend reports on watching CNN:
One of the 50 Republican security people who came out publicly for Hillary was on CNN this AM and I saw him say she would be so much better than Trump because she understands the importance of minding “the perimeter of the empire.” He must have meant those worthless sand bars the Chinese are claiming in the South China Sea, and Ukraine. Ukraine! as the perimeter of the American Empire; which means Poland, Estonia etc. are now considered by people like him to be part of the empire. We are living at a time of deep insanity.
James Bamford at Reuters points out that many offenses we are accusing the Russians of– including hacking the Democratic National Committee emails– we do ourselves. And did during the great cold war:
leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents show that the Obama administration has long been involved in major bugging operations against the election campaigns — and the presidents — of even its closest allies.
The United States is, by far, the world’s most aggressive nation when it comes to cyberspying and cyberwarfare. The National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on foreign cities, politicians, elections and entire countries since it first turned on its receivers in 1952. Just as other countries, including Russia, attempt to do to the United States…
There is a strange irony in this. Russia, if it is actually involved in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic National Committee, could be attempting to influence a U.S. election by leaking to the American public the falsehoods of its leaders. This is a tactic Washington used against the Soviet Union and other countries during the Cold War…
Yet the American public manages to be “shocked, shocked” that a foreign country would attempt to conduct cyberespionage on the United States.
The New York Times acknowledges this. We spy deeply into Russia’s daily life, David Sanger reported in the New York Times:
Even if officials gather the proof [of Russian hacking], they may not be able to make their evidence public without tipping off Russia, or its proxies in cyberspace, about how deeply the National Security Agency has penetrated that country’s networks. And designing a response that will send a clear message, without prompting escalation or undermining efforts to work with Russia in places like Syria, where Russia is simultaneously an adversary and a partner, is even harder.The Russians tried to make it tougher still on Saturday when they declared that they had found evidence of American activity in their government systems.
It was hardly a shocking revelation; anyone who leafed through Edward J. Snowden’s revelations saw evidence of daily efforts to break into Russian spy agencies, nuclear installations and leadership compounds.
Two more voices on the new consensus. First, Gareth Porter writes at antiwar.com that the Nusra front in Syria changed its name just so that it would be even more amenable to the foreign policy establishment that wants to work with it against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and thereby undermine the Obama administration’s talks with the Russians. The group changed its name, Porter says,
in part on the hope that the US bureaucratic and political elite, who are lining up against a new US-Russian agreement, may block or reverse the Obama administration’s intention to target the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria….
[I]t was obviously a blow to Nusra hopes when the US-Russian negotiations on a joint military effort against the group were revealed. But the deal still has not been completed, and Nusra Front leaders knew from the Washington Post that Pentagon and CIA officials were strongly opposed to US cooperation with Russia in Syria against their group. They knew the argument against such an agreement was that it would play into the hands of the Russians and their Syrian client by weakening the main source of military pressure on Assad.
In fact, most of the news media, think tank specialists on the Middle East, and the Democratic Party political elite aligned with Hillary Clinton, now lean toward treating al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate as a strategic asset rather than a security threat.
Finally, Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy, takes a middle path. He disparages Trump’s bromance with Putin and though he expresses concern about the emerging Clinton consensus, he says, She’s not going to go to war.
Americans ought to look askance at Trump’s fondness for foreign dictators, most notably Vladimir Putin. I’m a realist, and I recognize that Washington has to do business with plenty of countries that don’t share its particular political values, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Singapore, and many, many others. But Trump’s open admiration for Putin — and, even worse, his invitation for a foreign government to illegally interfere in a U.S. election by hacking the Democrats’ computers — is almost too bizarre to believe. It suggests a man bereft of any genuine commitment to America’s own democratic principles…
Indeed, some insiders think she’ll be quick to abandon Obama’s somewhat more cautious attitude and take a more interventionist approach to trouble spots like Syria.
Maybe, but I’m not so sure. The days when the United States could manage most of the globe simultaneously are behind us…
To be continued!
Thanks to Todd Pierce, Donald Johnson, and Susie Kneedler.