Letting the Neocons Lead

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Letting the Neocons Lead

At the G-20 meeting, Putin-bashing was all the rage, as President Obama and other Western leaders berated Russian President Putin for his supposed “aggression” in Ukraine. The mainstream media also piled on. But the reality is much more complex.

Barack Obama steps from Air Force One on his arrival in Brisbane last weekend. (Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In a rational political system, the American neocons would be the most discredited group in modern U.S. history. If not in the dock for complicity in war crimes – from Central America in the 1980s to Iraq last decade – they would surely not be well-regarded scholars at prominent think tanks and welcomed as op-ed columnists at major publications.


But the United States doesn’t currently have a rational political system. Instead of being prosecuted or ostracized, the neocons continue to dominate Official Washington’s foreign policy thinking. They and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks continue to demonize disfavored “enemy” leaders – just as they did in Central America and Iraq – and bait doubters for “weakness” if they don’t climb onboard.


And, the mainstream U.S. news media, led by the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, falls into line or is actually led by neocons. Then, politicians, even those who should know better like President Barack Obama, don’t dare alienate the opinion leaders and thus end up reinforcing the neocon themes by sounding “tough.”


It may be highly naïve at this point to think that President Obama will ever demonstrate true leadership by repudiating the neocon “group think” regarding a whole variety of issues including today’s hotspots, such as Iran, Syria, Iraq, Russia and Ukraine.


But just pause for a minute and contemplate what would have happened if President Obama had followed neocon advice last year and launched massive air strikes to take out Syria’s military over dubious allegations that it was responsible for a Sarin gas attack.


Though Official Washington’s “group think” is that somehow, magically, the virtually non-existent “moderate” Syrian opposition would have taken over and everything would have worked out just wonderfully, the much more likely result would have been that radical Islamists, either the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, would have seized power. The black jihadist flag might very well have been flying over Damascus.


And then what? Could the West tolerate a Syria, in the heart of the Middle East, controlled by Al-Qaeda or the even more extremist Islamic State? Plus, with the relatively secular government of Bashar al-Assad gone, one could bet that there would be horrendous accounts of massacres against Christians, Shiites, Alawites and other minorities that have supported Assad’s regime.


Would the United States and Europe stand by and watch? There would be more demands for Obama to “do something.” And, at that point, the only “something” would be a massive U.S. military intervention, meaning hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of billions of dollars without any realistic possibility of ultimate success.


How We Got Here


One should also remember how we got here. There was no Al-Qaeda presence in Iraq or Syria before President George W. Bush embraced the crazy neocon scheme of invading and occupying Iraq in 2003. The brutal Islamic State arose in Iraq in resistance to the U.S. military occupation as “Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”


Under the leadership of Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” developed an ultra-violent strategy of relying on extreme brutality, including the slaughter of Shiites and Westerners, to drive these supposedly heretical forces out of Muslim land.


Though Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006, his strategy lived on, inspiring the unapologetic cruelty of the Islamic State, which even Al-Qaeda has renounced in favor of its preferred Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.


So, if the neocons hadn’t prevailed a decade ago in their insistence on invading and occupying Iraq – with the enthusiastic support of the mainstream U.S. media’s “liberal” careerists – there might not be the current crisis in Iraq and Syria. Yet, Official Washington continues to submit to a neocon-driven consensus about what must be done in the Middle East and elsewhere.


Granted, the situation is now such a mess that it is hard to decide what the best course of action is. But rational policymaking would surely rule out the advice of the people who created the mess in the first place.


Instead of being sent to sit in the corner in dunce caps, the neocons have been allowed to expand the range of their operations, now spreading their influence to the conflict over Ukraine and the decision to make Russia and its President Vladimir Putin the latest bogeymen to justify a new Cold War.


The neocons charted this geopolitical strategy by stirring up trouble in Ukraine, knowing its sensitivity to Russia’s security. In September 2013, as Putin was helping Obama avert the neocon-desired, U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian government, neocons decided to take aim at Ukraine and Putin.


The plan was even announced by U.S. neocons such as National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman who took to the op-ed page of the neocon-flagship Washington Post to call Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important interim step toward eventually toppling Putin in Russia.


Gershman, whose NED is funded by the U.S. Congress, wrote: “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.  … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”


In other words, from the start, Putin was the target of the Ukraine crisis, not the instigator. But even if you choose to ignore Gershman’s clear intent, you would have to concoct a bizarre conspiracy theory to support the conventional wisdom about Putin’s grand plan of “aggression” against Ukraine as a first step toward rebuilding the Russian Empire. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize  Russia.”]

Distracted by Sochi


The truth is that when the Ukrainian crisis erupted in February 2014, Putin was distracted by the Sochi Winter Olympics – and he was supporting the status quo in Ukraine, i.e. the government of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, not seeking to expand Russian territory into Ukraine.


It was the United States and the European Union – behind neocons like Gershman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – that were supporting the toppling of Ukraine’s constitutionally elected government.


These facts are obvious and indisputable. They were even recognized by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said in an interview with Der Spiegel:


“Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”


In other words, Putin actually wanted to cooperate with the United States and the West, as he had demonstrated both in getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal and in encouraging Iran to agree to an interim agreement for constraining its nuclear program.


But both policies represented a challenge to the neocon agenda, which continues to seek “regime change” in countries considered hostile to Israel. Thus, Putin and his behind-the-scenes collaboration with Obama on finding political solutions to disputes with Syria and Iran had become threats to what the neocons ultimately want to accomplish, i.e., more wars. So, Putin became the new target.


Yet, the Western news media and virtually all of the West’s political leaders embraced the neocon narrative that the Ukraine crisis was entirely the fault of Putin and Russia, both in the larger context and in each and every incident, including the Kiev regime’s slaughter of thousands of ethnic Russians. The West’s double-think went that if Putin hadn’t caused the crisis in the first place, these people wouldn’t have to be killed.


Thus, the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev got almost a free pass on its brutal “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russian rebels in the east and south who have resisted the overthrow of their leader Yanukovych and the imposition of a new order that seeks to enact harsh International Monetary Fund “reforms.”


When ethnic Russians in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia – a move accepted by Moscow – the Western press mocked the referendum as a “sham” and accused Russia of an “invasion” though Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of an agreement for maintaining the naval base at Sebastopol.


As Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” killed thousands of ethnic Russians in the east – even enlisting neo-Nazi militias to do much of the dirtiest work – the U.S. mainstream media either ignored the brutality or somehow shifted the blame onto Russia again.


The Shoot-down: Whodunnit?


On July 17, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, the Kiev regime, Washington’s officialdom and the MSM rushed to blame the rebels for killing all 298 people onboard – and Russia for supposedly supplying powerful anti-aircraft missiles capable of bringing down a commercial airliner at 33,000 feet.


Soon after the shoot-down, I began hearing indirectly from U.S. intelligence analysts that their investigation was actually going in a different direction, that there was no evidence that the Russians had supplied such sophisticated weapons, and that suspicions were focusing on extremist elements of the Ukrainian government. I’m further told that President Obama was apprised of this intelligence analysis.


But Obama has been unwilling to correct or even update the record. Why step on a useful propaganda theme? He also may fear being called “soft” on Putin by deviating from the “tough-guy” conventional wisdom that blames Putin for everything. Obama has even continued to imply that Russia was at fault for the atrocity.


Speaking in Australia on Nov. 15, Obama left the impression of Russian guilt as he reprised the self-congratulatory “America is No. 1” themes favored by the neocons. He declared: “As the world’s only superpower, the United States has unique responsibilities that we gladly embrace.


“We’re leading the international community in the fight to destroy the terrorist group ISIL [Obama’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State]. We’re leading in dealing with Ebola in West Africa and in opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine — which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17, a tragedy that took so many innocent lives, among them your fellow citizens.


“As your ally and friend, America shares the grief of these Australian families, and we share the determination of your nation for justice and accountability.”


If you parse Obama’s phrasing carefully, you might note that he does not explicitly blame Russia for the shoot-down of MH-17, but he leaves that inference. It seems clear that hope is quickly fading – if it ever existed – that Obama would seize the post-election opportunity to chart a more realistic and honest approach to U.S. foreign policy.


Obama seems content to follow the lead of the neocons, albeit sometimes reluctantly and possibly deviating from their most extreme policies at the last minute – as he did in deciding not to bomb the Syrian military in summer 2013.


But there are grave dangers in Obama not honestly informing the American people about what he knows regarding these crises. Yes, he would face condemnation from the insider community of Official Washington and face broader Republican accusations of “weakness” and “capitulation.”


Still, he would at least give the thoughtful part of the U.S. populace a chance to resist the next neocon-scripted disaster.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'.

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