Trading Places: Neocons and Cockroaches

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Trading Places: Neocons and Cockroaches

The cockroaches will tell the most terrible tales of humanity's demise. And they'll be right. (Photo: Dan Markeye/flickr/cc)

If the human species extinguishes itself in a flash of thermonuclear craziness and the surviving cockroaches later develop the intellect to assess why humans committed this mass suicide, the cockroach historians may conclude that it was our failure to hold the neoconservatives accountable in the first two decades of the Twenty-first Century that led to our demise.

After the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq – an aggressive war justified under false premises – there rightly should have been a mass purging of the people responsible for the death, destruction and lies. Instead the culprits were largely left in place, indeed they were allowed to consolidate their control of the major Western news media and the foreign-policy establishments of the United States and its key allies.

Despite the Iraq catastrophe which destabilized the Middle East and eventually Europe, the neocons and their liberal interventionist chums still filled the opinion columns of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and virtually every other mainstream outlet. Across the American and European political systems and “think tanks,” the neocons and the liberal hawks stayed dominant, too, continuing to spin their war plans while facing no significant peace movement.

The cockroach historians might be amazed that at such a critical moment of existential danger, the human species – at least in the most advanced nations of the West – offered no significant critique of the forces leading mankind to its doom. It was as if the human species was unable to learn even the most obvious lessons needed for its own survival.

Despite the falsehoods of the Iraq War, the U.S. government was still widely believed whenever it came out with a new propaganda theme. Whether it was the sarin gas attack in Syria in 2013 or the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, U.S. government assertions blaming the Syrian government and the Russian government, respectively, were widely accepted without meaningful skepticism or simple demands for basic evidence.

Swallowing Propaganda

Just as with the Iraqi WMD case, the major Western media made no demands for proof. They just fell in line and marched closer to the edge of global war. Indeed, the learned cockroaches might observe that the supposed watchdogs in the American press had willingly leashed themselves to the U.S. government as the two institutions moved in unison toward catastrophe.

The few humans in the media who did express skepticism – largely found on something called the Internet – were dismissed as fill-in-the-blank “apologists,” much as occurred with the doubters against the Iraqi WMD case in 2002-2003. The people demanding real evidence were marginalized and those who accepted whatever the powerful said were elevated to positions of ever-greater influence.

Killing the Messenger

If the cockroach historians could burrow deep enough into the radioactive ashes, they might discover that – on an individual level – people such as Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wasn’t fired after swallowing the WMD lies whole and regurgitating them on the Post’s readership; that New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and dozens of similar opinion-leaders were not unceremoniously replaced; that Hillary Clinton, a neocon in the supposedly “liberal” Democratic Party, was rewarded with the party’s presidential nomination in 2016; and that the likes of Iraq War architect Robert Kagan remained the toast of the American capital with his opinions sought after and valued.

The cockroaches might observe that humans showed little ability to adapt amid very dangerous conditions, i.e., the bristling nuclear arsenals of eight or so countries. Instead, the humans pressed toward their own doom, tagging along after guides who had proven incompetent over and over again but were still followed toward a civilization-ending precipice.

These guides casually urged the masses toward the edge with sweet-sounding phrases like “democracy promotion,” “responsibility to protect,” and “humanitarian wars.” The same guides, who had sounded so confident about the wisdom of “shock and awe” in Iraq and then the “regime change” in Libya, pitched plans for a U.S. invasion of Syria, albeit presented as the establishment of “safe zones” and “no-fly zones.”

After orchestrating a coup in Russia’s neighbor Ukraine, overthrowing the elected president and then sponsoring an “anti-terrorism operation” to kill ethnic Russian Ukrainians who objected to the coup, Western politicians and policymakers saw only “Russian aggression” when Moscow gave these embattled people some assistance. When citizens in Crimea voted 96 percent to separate from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the West denounced the referendum as a “sham” and called it a “Russian invasion.” It didn’t matter that opinion polls repeatedly found similar overwhelming support among the Crimean people for the change. The false narrative, insisting that Russia had instigated the Ukraine crisis, was accepted with near-universal gullibility across the West.

A Moscow ‘Regime Change’

Behind this fog of propaganda, U.S. and other Western officials mounted a significant NATO military build-up on Russia’s border, complete with large-scale military exercises practicing the seizure of Russian territory.

Russian warnings against these operations were dismissed as hysterical and as further proof for the need to engineer another “regime change,” this time in Moscow. But first the Russian government had to be destabilized by making the economy scream. Then, the plan was for political disruptions and eventually a Ukraine-style coup to remove the thrice-elected President Vladimir Putin.

The wisdom of throwing a nuclear power into economic, political and social disorder – and risking that the nuclear codes might end up in truly dangerous hands – was barely discussed.

Even before the desired coup, the West’s neoconservatives advocated giving the Russians a bloody nose in Syria where Moscow’s forces had intervened at the Syrian government’s request to turn back Islamic jihadists who were fighting alongside Western-backed “moderate” rebels.

The neocon/liberal-hawk plans for “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” inside Syria required the U.S. military’s devastation of Syrian government forces and presumably the Russian air force personnel inside Syria with the Russians expected to simply take their beating and keep quiet.

The cockroach historians also might note that once the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks decided on one of their strategic plans at some “think-tank” conference – or wrote it down in a report or an op-ed – they were single-minded in implementing it regardless of its impracticality or recklessness.

These hawks were highly skilled at spinning new propaganda themes to justify what they had decided to do. Since they dominated the major media outlets, that was fairly easy without anyone of note taking note that the talking points were simply word games. But the neocons and liberal hawks were very good at word games. Plus, these widely admired interventionists were never troubled with self-doubt whatever mayhem and death followed in their wake.

So, when the decision was made to invade Iraq, Libya and Syria or to stage a coup in Ukraine or to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia, the neocons and their friends never countenanced the possibility that something could go wrong.

And when setbacks and even catastrophes resulted, the messes were excused away as the failure of some politician to implement the neocon/liberal-hawk scheme to the precise letter. If only more force had been used, if only people on the ground were more competent, if only the few critics were silenced and prevented from sowing doubts about the wisdom of the plan, then it would have succeeded. It was never their fault.

As the West’s new foreign-policy establishment, the neocons and their liberal helpers validated their own thoughts as brilliant and infallible. And who was there to doubt them? Who had the necessary access to the West’s mass media and who had the courage to counter their clever arguments and suffer the predictable ridicule, insults and slurs? After all, there were so many esteemed people and prestigious institutions that stamped the neocon/liberal-hawk plans with gilded seals of approval.

Still, the cockroach historians might yet be puzzled by how thoroughly the world’s leadership failed the human species, particularly in the West, which prided itself in freedom of thought and diversity of opinion.

So, the pressures kept building, unchecked, until – perhaps accidentally amid excessive tensions or after some extreme nationalist had exploited Russia’s “regime change” chaos to seize power – the final line was crossed.

‘Extending American Power’

Though much of human information would likely have been lost in the nuclear firestorms that were unleashed, the cockroach historians could learn much if they could get their antennae around a 2016 report by a group called the Center for a New American Security, consisting of prominent neocons and liberal interventionists, including some expected to play high-level roles in a Hillary Clinton administration.

These “experts” included foreign-policy stars such as Robert Kagan (formerly of the Reagan administration’s State Department, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century – an early advocate for the Iraq War – and later a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a Washington Post columnist), James P. Rubin (who served in Bill Clinton’s State Department and made a name for himself as a TV commentator), Michele Flournoy (the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during Barack Obama’s first term and touted as Hillary Clinton’s favorite to be Secretary of Defense), Eric Edelman (who preceded Flournoy in her Obama job except he served under George W. Bush), Stephen J. Hadley (George W. Bush’s second-term national security advisor), and James Steinberg (a deputy national security advisor under Bill Clinton and Deputy Secretary of State under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).

In other words, this group, which included many other big names as well, was a who’s who of who’s important in Washington’s foreign-policy establishment. Their report was brazenly entitled “Extending American Power” and painted an idyllic picture of the world population living happily under U.S. domination in the seven decades since World War II.

“The world order created in the aftermath of World War II has produced immense benefits for peoples across the planet,” the report asserted, ignoring periodic slaughters carried out across the Third World, from Vietnam to Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, often inflicted by the massive application of U.S. firepower and other times by tribal or religious hatreds and rivalries exacerbated by big-power interference.

Also downplayed was the environmental devastation that has come with the progress of hyper-capitalism, threatening the long-term survival of human civilization via “global warming” – assuming that “nuclear winter” doesn’t intervene first.

Even though many of these benighted “experts” were complicit in gross violations of international law – including aggressive war in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere; lethal drone strikes in multiple countries; torture of “war on terror” detainees; and subversion of internationally recognized governments – they deluded themselves into believing that they stood for some legalistic global structure, declaring:

“United States still has the military, economic, and political power to play the leading role in protecting a stable rules-based international order.” Exactly what stability and what rules were left fuzzy.

In line with their underlying delusions, these “experts” called for feeding more money into the maw of the Military-Industrial Complex and flexing American military muscle: “An urgent first step is to significantly increase U.S. national security and defense spending and eliminate the budgetary strait-jacket of the Budget Control Act. A second and related step is to formulate policies that take advantage of the substantial military, economic, and diplomatic power Washington has available but has been reluctant to deploy in recent years.”

Battling Russia over Ukraine

The bipartisan group – representing what might be called Official Washington’s consensus – also urged a tough stand against Russia regarding Ukraine, including military assistance to help the post-coup Ukrainian regime crush ethnic Russian resistance in the east.

“The United States must provide Ukrainian armed forces with the training and equipment necessary to resist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces operating on Ukrainian territory,” the report said, adding as a recommendation: “Underwrite credible security guarantees to NATO allies on the frontlines with Russia. Given recent Russian behavior, it is no longer possible to ignore the possible challenge to NATO countries that border Russia. The Baltics in particular are vulnerable to both direct attack and the more complicated ‘hybrid’ warfare that Russia has displayed in Ukraine.

“To provide reassurance to U.S. allies and also to deter Russian efforts to destabilize these nations, it is necessary to build upon the European Reassurance Initiative and establish a more robust U.S. force presence in appropriate central and eastern Europe countries, which should include a mix of permanently stationed forces, rotationally deployed forces, prepositioned equipment, access arrangements and a more robust schedule of military training and exercises. …

“The United States should also work with both NATO and the EU to counter Russian influence-peddling and subversion using corruption and illegal financial manipulation.”

Apparently that last point about “influence-peddling” was a reference to the need to silence dissident voices in the West that object to the new Cold War and dispute U.S. propaganda aimed at justifying the increased tensions with Russia. The report’s Washington insiders clearly understand that their future career prospects are advanced by taking a belligerent approach toward Russia.

Regarding Syria, the bipartisan group of neocons and liberal hawks urged a U.S. military invasion with the goal of establishing a “no-fly zone” while building up insurgent forces capable of compelling “regime change” in Damascus, a strategy similar to those followed in Iraq and Libya to disastrous results.

“In our view, there can be no political solution to the Syrian civil war so long as the military balance continues to convince [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad he can remain in power. And as a result of Iran’s shock troops and military equipment deployed to Syria, and the modern aircraft and other conventional forces Russia has now deployed, the military balance tilts heavily in favor of the Assad regime,” the report said.

“At a minimum, the inadequate efforts hitherto to arm, train, and protect a substantial Syrian opposition force must be completely overhauled and made a much higher priority. In the meantime, and in light of this grim reality, the United States, together with France and other allies, must employ the necessary military power, including an appropriately designed no-fly zone, to create a safe space in which Syrians can relocate without fear of being killed by Assad’s forces and where moderate opposition militias can arm, train, and organize.”

How a U.S.-led invasion of a sovereign country and the arming of a military force to overthrow the government fit with the group’s enthusiasm for “a rule-based international order” is not explained. Clearly, the prescribed actions are in violation of the United Nations Charter and other international legal standards, but apparently the only real “rules” the group believes in are those that serve its purposes and change depending on the needs for “extending American power.”

Similar hypocrisy pervaded the group’s other recommendations, but the blind obedience to these double standards – indeed the inability to see or acknowledge the blatant contradictions – might be of interest to the cockroach historians because it could help them understand how the U.S. foreign policy establishment lost its mind and blundered into unnecessary conflicts that could easily escalate into strategic warfare, even thermonuclear conflagration.

A Steady Drumbeat

But this collection of neocons and liberal hawks wasn’t just an odd group of careerist “thinkers” trying to impress Hillary Clinton. Their double-thinking “group think” extended throughout the American establishment in the second decade of the Twenty-first Century.

For instance, The New York Times and other major publications were dominated by both neocon and liberal-hawk commentators, writers like Roger Cohen, who was one of the many pundits who swallowed the Iraq War lies whole and — despite the disaster — avoided any negative career consequences. So, in 2016, that left Cohen and his fellow Iraq War cheerleaders still pressing political leaders to expand the war in Syria and ratchet up tensions with Russia at every opportunity.

In a column about the mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, on June 12 – in which the shooter was reported to have claimed allegiance to ISIS – Cohen tacked on a typically distorted account of President Obama’s approach to the Syrian conflict. Ignoring that Obama had the CIA and the Pentagon covertly train and arm rebel groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, Cohen wrote:

“Yes, to have actively done nothing in Syria over more than five years of war — so allowing part of the country to become an ISIS stronghold, contributing to a massive refugee crisis in Europe, acquiescing to slaughter and displacement on a devastating scale, undermining America’s word in the world, and granting open season for President Vladimir Putin to strut his stuff — amounts to the greatest foreign policy failure of the Obama administration. It has made the world far more dangerous.”

But Cohen did not acknowledge his own role as a brash supporter of the Iraq War in sparking the creation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which later morphed into the Islamic State or ISIS. Nor did he address the fact that the United States and its allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have essentially kept the Syrian civil war going, a point even acknowledged by some supporters of Syrian “regime change.

For instance, Thanassis Cambanis of the “progressive” Century Foundation produced a report entitled “The Case for a More Robust U.S. Intervention in Syria,” which acknowledged that “most of the armed opposition has survived only because of foreign intervention.” In other words, much of the death and destruction in Syria, which also has fueled political instability in Europe because of the massive refugee flow, resulted from intervention from the United States and its allies.

So, the cure to the mess created by these not-thought-through interventions, at least in the view of Cohen and other eager interventionists, is more intervention. It was just such obsessive and irrational thinking – embraced as Official Washington’s “conventional wisdom” – that pushed the world toward the eve of destruction in 2016.

Contemplating all this human foolishness, the cockroach historians might be left using one of their six legs to scratch their heads.

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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