“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

“Perpetuating the war for the greater Middle East is not enhancing American freedom, abundance and security. If anything, it is having the opposite effect.”

After 15 Years of ‘Milestones,’ War in the Middle East Still Has No End in Sight

The Pentagon’s recent “successes” don’t bring the United States any closer to ending its military entanglements. 

We have it on highest authority: The recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a US drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary—The New York Times reporting, for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.”

But a question remains: a milestone toward what exactly?

Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that US military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose.

Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised.

One imagines that Obama himself understands this perfectly well. Just shy of five years ago, he was urging Americans to “take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president insisted, “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

“These long wars,” he promised, were finally coming to a “responsible end.” We were, that is, finding a way out of Washington’s dead-end conflicts in the Greater Middle East.

Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity, or question his oft-expressed wish to turn away from war and focus instead on unattended needs here at home? But wishing is the easy part. Reality has remained defiant. Even today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama show no sign of ending.
Like Bush, Obama will bequeath to his successor wars he failed to finish. Less remarked upon, he will also pass along to President Clinton or President Trump new wars that are his own handiwork. In Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and several other violence-wracked African nations, the Obama legacy is one of ever-deepening US military involvement. The almost certain prospect of a further accumulation of briefly celebrated and quickly forgotten “milestones” beckons.

During the Obama era, the tide of war has not receded. Instead, Washington finds itself drawn ever deeper into conflicts that, once begun, become interminable—wars for which the vaunted US military has yet to devise a plausible solution.
The Oldest (Also Latest) Solution: Bombs Away
Once upon a time, during the brief, if heady, interval between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 when the United States ostensibly reigned supreme as the world’s “sole superpower,” Pentagon field manuals credited US forces with the ability to achieve “quick, decisive victory—on and off the battlefield—anywhere in the world and under virtually any conditions.” Bold indeed (if not utterly delusional) would be the staff officer willing to pen such words today.

To be sure, the United States military routinely demonstrates astonishing technical prowess—putting a pair of Hellfire missiles through the roof of the taxi in which Mansour was riding, for example. Yet if winning—that is, ending wars on conditions favorable to our side—offers the measure of merit by which to judge a nation’s military forces, then when put to the test ours have been found wanting.
Not for lack of trying, of course. In their quest for a formula that might actually accomplish the mission, those charged with directing US military efforts in the Greater Middle East have demonstrated notable flexibility. They have employed overwhelming force and “shock-and awe.” They have tried regime change (bumping off Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, for example) and “decapitation” (assassinating Mansour and a host of other militant leaders, including Osama Bin Laden). They have invaded and occupied countries, even giving military-style nation-building a whirl. They have experimented with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention, retaliatory strikes and preventive war. They have operated overtly, covertly, and through proxies. They have equipped, trained, and advised—and when the beneficiaries of these exertions have folded in the face of the enemy, they have equipped, trained, and advised some more. They have converted American reservists into quasi-regulars, subject to repeated combat tours. In imitation of the corporate world, they have outsourced as well, handing over to profit-oriented “private security” firms functions traditionally performed by soldiers. In short, they have labored doggedly to translate American military power into desired political outcomes.

In this one respect at least, an endless parade of three and four-star generals exercising command in various theaters over the past several decades have earned high marks. In terms of effort, they deserve an A.

As measured by outcomes, however, they fall well short of a passing grade. However commendable their willingness to cast about for some method that might actually work, they have ended up waging a war of attrition. Strip away the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel reassurances regularly heard at Pentagon press briefings or in testimony presented on Capitol Hill and America’s War for the Greater Middle Eastproceeds on this unspoken assumption: If we kill enough people for a long enough period of time, the other side will eventually give in.
On that score, the prevailing Washington gripe directed at Commander-in-Chief Obama is that he has not been willing to kill enough. Take, for example, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by that literary odd couple, retired General David Petraeus and Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon, that appeared under the pugnacious headline “Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban.” To turn around the longest war in American history, Petraeus and O’Hanlon argue, the United States just needs to drop more bombs.

The rules of engagement currently governing air operations in Afghanistan are, in their view, needlessly restrictive. Air power “represents an asymmetric Western advantage, relatively safe to apply, and very effective.” (The piece omits any mention of incidents such as the October 2015 destruction of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz by a US Air Force gunship.) More ordnance will surely produce “some version of victory.” The path ahead is clear. “Simply waging the Afghanistan air-power campaign with the vigor we are employing in Iraq and Syria,” the authors write with easy assurance, should do the trick.

When armchair generals cite the ongoing US campaign in Iraq and Syria as a model of effectiveness, you know that things must be getting desperate.
Granted, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are on solid ground in noting that as the number of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan has decreased, so, too, has the number of air strikes targeting the Taliban. Back when more allied boots were on the ground, more allied planes were, of course, overhead. And yet the 100,000 close-air-support sorties flown between 2011 and 2015—that’s more than one sortie per Taliban fighter—did not, alas, yield “some version of victory.” In short, we’ve already tried the Petraeus-O’Hanlon take-the-gloves-off approach to defeating the Taliban. It didn’t work. With the Afghanistan War’s 15th anniversary now just around the corner, to suggest that we can bomb our way to victory there is towering nonsense. 
In Washington, Big Thinking and Small
Petraeus and O’Hanlon characterize Afghanistan as “the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight.” Eastern sinkhole might be a more apt description. Note, by the way, that they have nothing useful to say about the “broader fight” to which they allude. Yet that broader fight—undertaken out of the conviction, still firmly in place today, that American military assertiveness can somehow repair the Greater Middle East—is far more deserving of attention than how to employ very expensive airplanes against insurgents armed with inexpensive Kalashnikovs.
To be fair, in silently passing over the broader fight, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are hardly alone. On this subject no one has much to say—not other stalwarts of the onward-to-victory school, nor officials presently charged with formulating US national security policy, nor members of the Washington commentariat eager to pontificate about almost anything. Worst of all, the subject is one on which each of the prospective candidates for the presidency is mum.

From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford on down to the lowliest blogger, opinions about how best to wage a particular campaign in that broader fight are readily available. Need a plan for rolling back the Islamic State? Glad you asked. Concerned about that new ISIS franchise in Libya? Got you covered. Boko Haram? Here’s what you need to know. Losing sleep over Al Shabab? Take heart—big thinkers are on the case.

As to the broader fight itself, however, no one has a clue. Indeed, it seems fair to say that merely defining our aims in that broader fight, much less specifying the means to achieve them, heads the list of issues that people in Washington studiously avoid. Instead, they prattle endlessly about the Taliban and ISIS and Boko Haram and al-Shabab.

Here’s the one thing you need to know about the broader fight: There is no strategy. None. Zilch. We’re on a multitrillion-dollar bridge to nowhere, with members of the national security establishment more or less content to see where it leads.

May I suggest that we find ourselves today in what might be called a Khe Sanh moment? Older readers will recall that back in late 1967 and early 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, one particular question gripped the national security establishment and those paid to attend to its doings: Can Khe Sanh hold?
Now almost totally forgotten, Khe Sanh was then a battlefield as well known to Americans as Fallujah was to become in our own day. Located in the northern part of South Vietnam, it was the site of a besieged and outnumbered Marine garrison, surrounded by two full enemy divisions. In the eyes of some observers, the outcome of the Vietnam War appeared to hinge on the ability of the Marines there to hold out—to avoid the fate that had befallen the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu slightly more than a decade earlier. For France, the fall of Dien Bien Phu had indeed spelled final defeat in Indochina.

Was history about to repeat itself at Khe Sanh? As it turned out, no… and yes.
The Marines did hold—a milestone!—and the United States lost the war anyway.
In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that those responsible for formulating US policy back then fundamentally misconstrued the problem at hand. Rather than worrying about the fate of Khe Sanh, they ought to have been asking questions like these: Is the Vietnam War winnable? Does it even make sense? If not, why are we there? And above all, does no alternative exist to simply pressing on with a policy that shows no signs of success?

Today the United States finds itself in a comparable situation. What to do about the Taliban or ISIS is not a trivial question. Much the same can be said regarding the various other militant organizations with which US forces are engaged in a variety of countries—many now failing states—across the Greater Middle East.
But the question of how to take out organization X or put country Y back together pales in comparison with the other questions that should by now have come to the fore but haven’t. Among the most salient are these: Does waging war across a large swath of the Islamic world make sense? When will this broader fight end? What will it cost? Short of reducing large parts of the Middle East to rubble, is that fight winnable in any meaningful sense? Above all, does the world’s most powerful nation have no other choice but to persist in pursuing a manifestly futile endeavor?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine the opposing candidates in a presidential campaign each refusing to accept war as the new normal. Imagine them actually taking stock of the broader fight that’s been ongoing for decades now. Imagine them offering alternatives to armed conflicts that just drag on and on. Now that would be a milestone.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Time for NATO to Make a Deal With Russia and Start by Throwing Turkey Out

Turkey warns EU it will abandon refugee deal if no visa-free travel

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (AFP photo)

Turkey has threatened to quit a deal with the European Union (EU) to stem the flow of refugees if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel to the 28-nation bloc.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a group of journalists at the southern holiday resort of Antalya on Monday that it was “impossible” for Ankara to meet Brussels’ demands in exchange for visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.
"We have told them 'we are not threatening you' but there's a reality. We have signed two deals with you (the EU) and both are interlinked,” the minister said, stressing, "This is not a threat but what is required from an agreement."

Cavusoglu also went on to say that Turkey will not change its anti-terror laws as one of the 72 conditions demanded by the EU before the visa exemption is approved.

"Which definition are you talking about? Each country in Europe has different terror definitions,” the minister said, noting, "In such a circumstance, it is impossible to change terror laws."

Building on a recent threat by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the top Turkish diplomat said Ankara would use “administrative" measures to block the deal if needed.

On May 24, Erdogan said, “If that (the visa exemption) is not what will happen... no decision and no law in the framework of the readmission agreement will come out of the parliament of the Turkish Republic."

Based on the deal, which was struck in March, boat refugees arriving on European soil via the Aegean Sea may be sent back to Turkey. For each refugee returned, the EU will take one Syrian refugee currently living in Turkey.

A mother and her children walk past tents during a police operation to clear a makeshift camp for refugees at the border between Greece and Macedonia near the village of Idomeni, northern Greece, on May 25, 2016. (AFP photo)

In return, the EU has made several commitments to Ankara, including financial aid, visa-free travel to the bloc for Turks, and progress in negotiations on its membership to the bloc.

Ankara has insisted that the visa-free travel be made possible by the end of June, but EU authorities have recently given indications to the contrary. 
Granting visa waiver to Turkey, a country of 75 million, is highly controversial among EU states where some fear it would open the way for more refugees to the bloc.

The EU leaders are insisting that Turkey meet 72 conditions before the visa exemption is approved, including an end to prosecuting academics and journalists.

The bloc has conditioned meeting its side of the bargain on a whole host of measures by Ankara, including its modifying the country's anti-terror laws.
Last year, over a million refugees entered Europe through Turkey and Greece and then made their way through the Balkans to Germany and other northern member states of the bloc.

The influx of refugees has crippled the bloc, particularly the countries on its external borders.


Russia's got a point: The U.S. broke a NATO promise

Vladimir Putin
Moscow solidified its hold on Crimea in April, outlawing the Tatar legislature that had opposed Russia’s annexation of the region since 2014. Together with Russian military provocations against NATO forces in and around the Baltic, this move seems to validate the observations of Western analysts who argue that under Vladimir Putin, an increasingly aggressive Russia is determined to dominate its neighbors and menace Europe. 

Leaders in Moscow, however, tell a different story. For them, Russia is the aggrieved party. They claim the United States has failed to uphold a promise that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe, a deal made during the 1990 negotiations between the West and the Soviet Union over German unification. In this view, Russia is being forced to forestall NATO’s eastward march as a matter of self-defense. 

The West has vigorously protested that no such deal was ever struck. However, hundreds of memos, meeting minutes and transcripts from U.S. archives indicate otherwise. Although what the documents reveal isn’t enough to make Putin a saint, it suggests that the diagnosis of Russian predation isn’t entirely fair. Europe’s stability may depend just as much on the West’s willingness to reassure Russia about NATO’s limits as on deterring Moscow’s adventurism.

After the Berlin Wall fell, Europe’s regional order hinged on the question of whether a reunified Germany would be aligned with the United States (and NATO), the Soviet Union (and the Warsaw Pact) or neither. Policymakers in the George H.W. Bush administration decided in early 1990 that NATO should include the reconstituted German republic.

In early February 1990, U.S. leaders made the Soviets an offer. According to transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9, then-Secretary of State James Baker suggested that in exchange for cooperation on Germany, U.S. could make “iron-clad guarantees” that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward.” Less than a week later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to begin reunification talks. No formal deal was struck, but from all the evidence, the quid pro quo was clear: Gorbachev acceded to Germany’s western alignment and the U.S. would limit NATO’s expansion. 

Nevertheless, great powers rarely tie their own hands. In internal memorandums and notes, U.S. policymakers soon realized that ruling out NATO’s expansion might not be in the best interests of the United States. By late February, Bush and his advisers had decided to leave the door open. 

After discussing the issue with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on February 24-25, the U.S. gave the former East Germany “special military status,” limiting what NATO forces could be stationed there in deference to the Soviet Union. Beyond that, however, talk of proscribing NATO’s reach dropped out of the diplomatic conversation. Indeed, by March 1990, State Department officials were advising Baker that NATO could help organize Eastern Europe in the U.S. orbit; by October, U.S. policymakers were contemplating whether and when (as a National Security Council memo put it) to “signal to the new democracies of Eastern Europe NATO’s readiness to contemplate their future membership.”
At the same time, however, it appears the Americans still were trying to convince the Russians that their concerns about NATO would be respected. Baker pledged in Moscow on May 18, 1990, that the United States would cooperate with the Soviet Union in the “development of a new Europe.” And in June, per talking points prepared by the NSC, Bush was telling Soviet leaders that the United States sought “a new, inclusive Europe.”
It’s therefore not surprising that Russia was incensed when Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and others were ushered into NATO membership starting in the mid-1990s. Boris Yeltsin, Dmitry Medvedev and Gorbachev himself protested through both public and private channels that U.S. leaders had violated the non-expansion arrangement. As NATO began looking even further eastward, to Ukraine and Georgia, protests turned to outright aggression and saber-rattling. 
NATO’S widening umbrella doesn’t justify Putin’s bellicosity or his incursions in Ukraine or Georgia. Still, the evidence suggests that Russia’s protests have merit and that U.S. policy has contributed to current tensions in Europe.  
In less than two months, Western heads of state will gather in Warsaw for a NATO summit. Discussions will undoubtedly focus on efforts to contain and deter Russian adventurism — including increasing NATO deployments in Eastern Europe and deepening NATO’s ties to Ukraine and Georgia. Such moves, however, will only reinforce the Russian narrative of U.S. duplicity. Instead, addressing a major source of Russian anxieties by taking future NATO expansion off the table could help dampen Russia-Western hostilities.  
Just as a pledge not to expand NATO in 1990 helped end the Cold War, so too may a pledge today help resuscitate the U.S.-Russian relationship.
Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson is an international security fellow at Dartmouth College and assistant professor at the Bush School of Government, Texas A&M University. His article, "Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion" was published in the spring issue of International Security.

Iraqi commanders says their forces have entered Fallujah in a major victory against Daesh militants.


Iraqi commanders says their forces have entered Fallujah in a major victory against Daesh militants.   
One commander, quoted by AFP, said troops entered the city from three directions on Monday in a new phase of the operation to recapture it.
"We started early this morning our operations to break into Fallujah," Sabah al-Norman, a spokesman for Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service, said.
The city, located about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is one of the last major Daesh strongholds in Iraq. The Takfiri group still controls territory in the country's north and west, including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul.
In a televised speech to parliament on Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on residents of Fallujah to either leave the city or stay indoors. 
Government officials and aid groups estimate that more than 50,000 people remain inside the center of the city.

Fallujah, which saw some of the heaviest fighting of the US military invasion between 2003 and 2011, was the first city in Iraq to fall to Daesh. 

The Takfiri extremists seized control of Fallujah in January 2014, six months before they swept across northern and western Iraq and declared a caliphate.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Former CIA Director David Petraeus Advocated Arming al-Nusra Front in Syria, an Offshoot of al-Qaida: How is that Working?

ISIS captures 5 villages from ‘moderates’ as Al-Nusra continues shelling Aleppo – Russia’s MoD

© Stringer

ISIS terrorists have captured a number of villages from the “moderate” opposition in the Aleppo province, as a fragile Russian-US brokered truce is holding despite regular provocations and onslaught by terrorist groups that aren’t part of the ceasefire.

In Saturday’s press release the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria reported that the Islamic State terror group (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has retaken five villages in the vicinity of Azaz in northwestern Syria, roughly 20 miles of the city of Aleppo.

“Militants of the Daesh terrorist organization carried out the attack on the Free Syrian Army positions near the town of Azaz, Aleppo province and established control over [several] settlements,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a daily bulletin. The statement added that the terrorist advances were halted by the Kurdish militia in the vicinity of Ain Dakna.

Besides the IS faction, another equally notorious terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusra continues to attack government-controlled areas. According to the Center, Al-Nusra is continuing to assault Aleppo using rocket launchers and mortars.

“Units of al-Nusra Front international terrorist organization continue their provocative actions aimed at disrupting the ceasefire. In the past 24 hours [the group] attacked the settlement of Handcart, Aleppo’s neighborhoods of Sheikh Maqsood and Halidia, as well as Nayrab airport, with mortars and multiple rocket launcher systems,” the ministry said.

At least four civilians were killed in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood, including two children, SANA reports. The shelling injured at least 18 others. Additional casualties were reported in al-Midan residential neighborhood and al-Ashrafiyeh neighborhood.

Earlier this week, the Russian General Staff warned that Al-Nusra is receiving daily arms shipments across the border from Turkey. The Russian side estimates that more than 6,000 terrorists are now running freely in the Aleppo province.
As terrorist resilience to the government-led forces continues around Aleppo, another three settlements joined the reconciliation agreement in that province, bringing the total number of towns observing the truce to 125. Sixty armed opposition groups have now officially joined the Syria-wide ceasefire regime. According to the latest bulletin, only two violations of truce by ceasefire parties have been registered in Damascus province Friday-Saturday.

The ceasefire introduced on February 27 does not apply to internationally-recognized terror groups such as IS and Al-Nusra Front, which means strikes can be delivered against their outposts. The Russian reconciliation center noted that Russian and Syrian air force have not carried out any sorties against the opposition groups which have joined the truce.

Despite their close tie to recognized terror groups and reported massacres, the groups such as Ahrar Al-Sham Jaish al-Islam have been spared from blacklist and are even considered by Washington as parties to the truce, although neither of them ever applied to join the ceasefire. According to the bulletin, Jaish al-Islam has yet again shelled the town of Marj al-Sultan as well as government positions near the village of Harasta in the east of Damascus.

Amid the Islamic State and Al-Nusra offensive this week in close proximity to Turkish border, the UN refugee agency reported that some 165,000 civilians are trapped between near the town of Azaz between the violence in northern Aleppo and Turkey.

“The UNHCR is deeply concerned about the plight of some 165,000 displaced persons reportedly massing near the Syrian town of Azaz in northern Syria,” saidthe UN refugee agency, as it called on Ankara to opens its borders. “People have started to flee due to heavy fighting in northern Aleppo. Fleeing civilians are being caught in cross-fire and are facing challenges to access medical services, food, water and safety.”

\The UNHCR says it has alerted Turkey of the situation and reiterates the rights to refugee protection and safe passage, as enshrined in international law.
The Human Rights Watch, on Friday also lashed out against Turkish unwillingness to help refugees get to safety.

“While the world speaks about fighting ISIS, their silence is deafening when it comes to the basic rights of those fleeing ISIS,” the NGO said. “The fact Turkey is generously hosting more than 2.5 million Syrians does not give it a right to shut its border to other endangered Syrians.”

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Trump and Clinton Have Something in Common: Neither is Fit to be President


Why The Young Turks, and their viewers, love Bernie Sanders

“A lot of you know the Young Turks?” asked Sanders, referring to the online news empire Uygur launched in 2002. The cheers gave him his answer. “We live in a world where the corporate media, people who own our country, give us their definition of reality. What Cenk and a few other people are trying to do is give us a different perspective on reality; the reality facing the middle class, working people.”

Uygur was beaming, but he had to race up the freeway to his Culver City studio. The Young Turks, which has grown in surges since before the dawn of YouTube, has become something akin to the state network of the “political revolution.” Its hosts run from the merely Sanders-philiac, like Uygur, to the Sanders-obsessed, like comedian Jimmy Dore. Sanders was scheduled to give the Young Turks his second interview Friday in just two months.

“In the old days, TV had a lot of power, but that’s shifting now,” Uygur said in an interview at TYT’s Culver City headquarters, a former bar that’s home to two fully outfitted studios, a shelf of awards and an iguana mascot — Mayaguana — who just showed up one day. “So we’d better figure out how to use that power for the issues we care about, because cable TV is worse than propaganda. It’s marketing for the rich and powerful.”

Sanders’s campaign for president has sent progressives in search of friendlier media, especially since he fell prohibitively behind Hillary Clinton in the delegate hunt. Formerly reliable sources of news and analysis, like MSNBC, began to look like Clinton PR; comic anchors from Trevor Noah to Samantha Bee to John Oliver have mocked the Sanders voters who can’t see that he’s losing.

Cenk Uygur, center, of the Young Turks, departs after speaking at a Bernie Sanders rally at Santa Monica High School this month. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
“PolitiFact looked into the charges of rigging in Nevada and found no clear evidence the state party hijacked the process,” said Oliver last week, “and you can disagree with that, as I’m sure Bernie supporters in the comment section will.”
That’s not a message Sanders diehards want to hear. The search for analysis of how the candidate can still win has built a massive Reddit group, turned freelance columnist H.A. Goodman into a viral hitmaker (typical column: “Bernie Sanders Will Become Democratic Nominee Even If Clinton Leads in Delegates”), and boosted the Young Turks.

“MSNBC and CNN are horrible,” said Afton Tarin, 30, a photographer who attended the Anaheim rally. “Cenk is really big on making sure he explains what the media is saying, and explains the reality it’s not covering. I’m seeing these events from the same perspective. Nevada’s a good example. MSNBC said we were throwing chairs. I watched every video — nobody threw a chair. And Cenk was honest about that.”

“The Young Turks,” hosted by Uygur, is the flagship program of the YouTube channel of the same name. Like the rest of the channel’s coverage (sports, comedy, movies), the program looks like any other TV show — two hosts riff on a subject as images and punny titles flash behind them. Uygur’s co-hosts often end up as straight men as the founder, clad in a blazer over an open-collar shirt or branded TYT T-shirt, marvels at the stupidity of the media and the establishment.
Since the start of 2015, and accelerating with the campaign, TYT has more than doubled its YouTube shares (to more than 4 million), tripled its Facebook likes (to more than 1 million), and grown its subscriber base by 75 percent, including many paid subscribers.

Nearly 3 million people subscribe to TYT’s YouTube channel; for comparison, 1.4 million subscribe to CNN, and 100,000 subscribe to the millennial-focused and consciously hip Fusion. At Sanders’s California rallies, TYT personalities risk being mobbed by fans. On Sunday, as he tried to cover a Sanders speech in Irvine, Jimmy Dore was spotted by dozens of fans who turned and shouted his catchphrase — “Don’t freak out!” So many of them rushed him for photos that the event’s security had to shoo them away.

“It’s hard to get any work done,” said Dore, not exactly crestfallen.
Uygur himself sidestepped the crowd by speaking from the stage. “Do you trust the establishment media?” he asked a booing crowd in Anaheim. “Do you think they’ve treated Bernie Sanders fairly?”

When the boos subsided, he offered a theory of why Sanders couldn’t get fair coverage: “corporate media” and its advertisers.

“This cycle alone, they are going to put $4 billion into political ads,” he said. “You think TV wants to change that? They look at Bernie Sanders and say, ‘Whoa, that guy’s gonna rock the boat.’ We look at Bernie Sanders and say: ‘Damn right he is!’ ”

For a while, as documented in a warts-and-all film called “Mad As Hell,” Uygur tried to infiltrate that system. He began his punditry career as a Rush Limbaugh Republican. After the impeachment of Bill Clinton, he switched sides and built a cult reputation as a liberal talker who was as loud and fearless as right-wingers — with a home-brewed talk show network. By the end of the George W. Bush administration, he was guest-hosting on MSNBC, shuttling between Los Angeles and New York for a dream job.

“I made $70,000 in the 1990s, when I was a corporate lawyer,” said Uygur. “I didn’t see that salary again until I was on MSNBC.”

In 2011, Uygur was finally offered a show of his own — a weekend slot for $1 million. He had wanted a weekday slot. TYT fans had even campaigned for it, as if Uygur were a candidate for office. When Uyghur turned it down, he told viewers that he’d made a moral stand against the network sidelining him because he criticized the Obama administration from the left.

“If I take the money, and I get a reduced role, and I just do whatever I do with it — maybe I rise up in the ranks again — what’s the point?” he asked.

TYT moved to Al Gore’s Current TV, then (after Current’s acquisition by Al Jazeera) back to total independence. By taking Sanders’s campaign seriously, it has given his voters the shocking, comforting image of confident pundits, talking on a screen, about how Sanders can actually win.

The next question is how it can cover the news when he doesn’t win. The night of New York’s primary, which Clinton won easily, Uygur’s role in TYT live coverage was to look ahead — in the world of a likely Clinton victory. “I got a lot of flack for that,” he said.
Uygur is aware, more than most Sanders supporters, of how wrenching a defeat could be. Some progressives, who will have seen a political insurgency almost overthrow the leadership of the Democratic Party, will wonder why they should stick around. “Jimmy’s almost ‘Bernie or Bust’ already,” he said. Uygur was not.

“I’ve defended the Clintons longer than I’ve been a liberal, but I don’t have any nostalgia for that,” he said. “I know what I’ll be getting — the same thing I’m getting my whole life. Screwed, but in a reliable way. But that saying, stick with the devil you know? This is the one time it’s true. The devil I know is the establishment, and I’m gonna beat that devil. It’s a matter of time. Trump is a maniac.”

In a month, people who discovered the show during the primary might be looking to the Young Turks for debate or analysis of whether they could possibly vote for Clinton. Until then, as Sanders camps out in California and works toward a historic win, Uygur will be besieged by true believers. One of them pounced as he left the Sanders rally in Anaheim.

“Can you come speak at our convention?” asked Patrick Kelly, 69, a Teamster.
“You’ve got to run for office, man!”

Uygur laughed, like he’d heard it before. “No way,” he said. He kept heading toward the door, to make the hour drive back to Culver City, and host the Young Turks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Heron Oblivion

How the US Meant Well

From Hiroshima, America built a self-serving myth

Peter Van Buren, who worked for the US state department in Iraq, says America’s justification for destructive attacks abroad literally began with its dropping of the first atomic bomb

TODAY Barack Obama becomes the first sitting American president to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. Though highly photogenic, the visit will otherwise be one that avoids acknowledging the true historical meaning of the place.

Like his official predecessors (secretary of state John Kerry visited the Peace Memorial in early April, as did two American ambassadors before him), Obama will not address the key issues surrounding the attack.

“He [Obama] will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb,” Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, stated well ahead of time.

With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end the Second World War is debated only deep within the safety of American academic circles:
  • Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided?
  • Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities?
  • Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese?
  • Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima — and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?
But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is sidestepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.

The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, but of grudging military necessity. As a result, the attacks have not generated deep introspection and national reflection over their morality.

The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former secretary of war Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conan described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”

The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in The New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was the moment the Hiroshima myth was created.

The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical afterthought — “and Nagasaki, too” –— only drives home the point), echoes forward through today. It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition, and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization [in America] that if we do it, it is right.

And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of even a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified, simply based on who held the knife.

We Americans may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end the war. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.

Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime acts. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since the Second World War, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and nobody in 1945 knew if the plan would even work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future serial attacks on defenseless cities with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.

For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimised city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st-century consequences.

Peter Van Buren, who served in the US state department for 24 years, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fallujah has been in trouble since the US invaded in 2003. In the late Baath period under Saddam Hussein, in the 1990s and early zeros, Fallujah was a center both of Baathism (secular Arab nationalism and socialism) and of a growing Salafi fundamentalism, inspired in part by the brutality of the Israeli regime toward Gaza and in part by Jordanian truckers and smugglers who had come under Saudi, Wahhabi influence.

Iraq’s Fallujah: Grand Ayatollah Sistani Calls on Shiite Forces to protect Civilians

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistine on Wednesday called on both regular Iraqi army forces and the popular mobilization units (Shiite militias) to avoid killing innocent noncombatants as they close in on Fallujah.

An hour west of Baghdad and largely peopled by the Sunni Arab Dulaym tribe, Fallujah has been in trouble since the US invaded in 2003. In the late Baath period under Saddam Hussein, in the 1990s and early zeros, Fallujah was a center both of Baathism (secular Arab nationalism and socialism) and of a growing Salafi fundamentalism, inspired in part by the brutality of the Israeli regime toward Gaza and in part by Jordanian truckers and smugglers who had come under Saudi, Wahhabi influence.

The George W. Bush administration overthrew the Baath and put a condominium of religious Shiite parties and Kurdistan nationalist parties in power in Iraq, demoting the previously dominant Sunni Arabs to second class citizens. Some in Fallujah took up arms against the US and the new, Shiite-dominated government. Others accepted the new reality and joined the local police. One of the groups that became ensconced in the city was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Tawhid (Unity), which morphed into al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and ultimately into Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Bush destroyed Fallujah in November of 2004, allegedly in an attempt to wipe out terrorism there. It turns out destroying a city just doesn’t make for social peace. If anything, al-Qaeda and then Daash were strengthened by the government’s hard line against them.

Fallujah fell to Daesh in January of 2014, which turned out to be a harbinger for the entire Sunni Arab region of the country. By mid-June, the major city of Mosul had fallen.

The Iraqi government feels that it has to retake Fallujah before launching an assault on the metropolis of Mosul in the north.

But as Sistani’s statement suggests, there are many who fear that the popular mobilization units are just Shiite vigilantes and may be looking for reprisals against Sunnis.

Sistani’s spokesman in Karbala, And al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, underscored that it is necessary to abide by the laws of jihad, which forbid killing innocent non-combatants, even when non-Muslims are being fought.

On the other hand, some of the shine on this campaign may have come off a little when al-Karbala’i described it as a jihad.

The Iraqi military  and the Shiite militias have closed in on Fallujah since Saturday, liberating a dozen or so villages.
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