“I think that when Americans talk about the Vietnam War … we tend to talk only about ourselves. But if we really want to understand it … or try to answer the fundamental question, ‘What happened?’ You’ve got to triangulate,” says filmmaker Ken Burns of his celebrated PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.” “You’ve got to know what’s going on. And we have many battles in which you’ve got South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors or … their counterparts and Vietcong or North Vietnamese. You have to get in there and understand what they’re thinking.”
Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick spent 10 years on “The Vietnam War,” assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisors, and others. They assembled 25,000 photographs, feature close to 80 interviews of Americans and Vietnamese, and spent $30 million on the project. The resulting 18-hour series is a marvel of storytelling, something in which Burns and Novick take obvious pride. “The Vietnam War” provides lots of great vintage film footage, stunning photos, a solid Age of Aquarius soundtrack, and plenty of striking soundbites. Maybe this is what Burns means by triangulation. The series seems expertly crafted to appeal to the widest possible American audience. But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that.
Like Burns and Novick, I also spent a decade working on a Vietnam War epic, though carried out on a far more modest budget, a book titled “Kill Anything That Moves.” Like Burns and Novick, I spoke with military men and women, Americans and Vietnamese. Like Burns and Novick, I thought I could learn “what happened” from them. It took me years to realize that I was dead wrong. That might be why I find “The Vietnam War” and its seemingly endless parade of soldier and guerrilla talking heads so painful to watch.
Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak with Professor Ervand Abrahamian, author of Iran Between Two Revolutions, about the newly declassified State Department documents which show oil contracts played a key role in the U.S.-backed 1953 coup in Iran that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. (Democracy Now!)
Aaron Maté speaks with Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archives about the quiet release of long-awaited and long-hidden CIA documents offering key details on how the U.S. and Britain overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953. (The Real News)
[…] The Brennan-Clapper line insinuating that the Kushner request for contacts with the Russians was potentially treasonous collapses in light of the well-documented story of how President-elect Richard Nixon’s national security adviser-designate Henry Kissinger established his own personal backchannel to the Soviet leadership in 1968 using a known KGB operative with whom he had been meeting for years as his contact.
Historian Richard A. Moss of the Naval War College recently published an authoritative book-length study of the Kissinger backchannel showing that that Kissinger began setting up his backchannel to the Soviet government leadership through his Soviet contact in December 1968 soon after being named Nixon’s choice for national security adviser.
And it shows that Kissinger seized on the one Soviet government contact he already had to establish the backchannel. That was Boris Sedov, whom Kissinger knew to be a KGB operative. Kissinger had been acquainted with Sedov from the latter’s visits to Harvard. The two continued the contacts after Nixon’s election in 1968.
Moss’s book recounts how Kissinger used the Sedov channel to introduce the concept of “linkage” of different policy issues into negotiations with the Soviets. Sedov gave Kissinger a Soviet government paper on Middle East policy, according to Moss’s account. Only after Nixon’s inauguration did Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin agree that all further communication would be through Dobrynin.
Both the Kissinger-Sedov and Kissinger-Dobrynin channels were kept secret from the rest of the Nixon administration’s national security apparatus, as recounted by Moss. Nixon agreed to set up a secure phone line in the White House linking him directly to Dobrynin. The U.S. intelligence agencies, the National Security Council staff and the Pentagon were kept in the dark about these conversations.
And to complete the parallels between the Kissinger backchannel episode and the Flynn and Kushner contacts with the Russians, Moss reveals that Sedov later bragged to a Lebanese-American about his contact with Kissinger –- a boast that was immediately picked up by FBI surveillance of Sedov.
On a day in early December, one of Moscow’s agents in the United States, working undercover as a journalist for Izvestia, reported a private meeting with the president-elect’s “closest adviser.” The adviser, who met privately with the Russian spy, was frank and hopeful about a significant improvement in relations from the previous administration. He “stressed that was not merely expressing his personal opinion but the position of the future president.” The two men met alone, and there was no American record made of the encounter.
This is not a report about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose activities during the transition are now being investigated. Nor it is about Jared Kushner, who, the Washington Post reported on Friday, approached Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December to propose a secret communications channel. The meeting described above took place in 1960, and the “close adviser” was the incoming president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy. It is not unusual for the Russians to want to establish contacts with an incoming presidential administration, especially when there is tension between the two countries. It is also not unusual for an American administration to use back channels to probe the intentions of adversarial powers. But December 1960 was not December 2016. The RFK meeting likely came at the request of the Russians, not the Americans. It was not held in secret—it was noted on RFK’s telephone log. And Robert Kennedy, despite general encouraging words, made no promises, suggested no follow-up, and was in no way working against the outgoing Eisenhower administration. The Russians were smart in focusing attention on the president-elect’s brother. He would eventually be involved in historic back channel activity, but well after the inauguration. And all these years later, such communications have been revealed as a canny and patriotic initiative by the Kennedy administration.
This Monday John F. Kennedy would have turned 100, and it has taken nearly this long to develop a full picture of his presidency: The more we learn about it, the more impressive he becomes. Much of the biographical work until recently has been filling in the gaps created by censors—mainly close allies and family members—who did not want the public image of the fallen leader to be tarnished by his addiction to sex and his physical frailties. But what should most dramatically change how we view his presidency is the flood of new information (and some of it not new but underappreciated from Russian records) about how he did his job. JFK had a taping system installed in the White House a decade before Nixon, and these recordings have only been fully opened since late 2012. Unlike the technophobic Nixon, whose taping system would turn on at the literal drop of a hat, Kennedy’s was controlled by a button usually pressed by him alone. The Kennedy tapes, and the increasing release of that era’s national security documents, are revising the picture of a very creative moment in U.S. foreign policy.
Some of the most notorious of the CIA’s operations to kill world leaders were those targeting the late Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Attempts ranged from snipers to imaginative plots worthy of spy movie fantasies, such as the famous exploding cigars and a poison-lined scuba-diving suit.
But although the CIA attempts proved fruitless in the case of Castro, the US intelligence agency has since 1945 succeeded in deposing or killing a string of leaders elsewhere around the world – either directly or, more often, using sympathetic local military, locally hired criminals or pliant dissidents.
According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.
The attempt, according to the ministry, involved “the use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance” and the advantage of this was it “does not require access to the target (as) their lethal results will appear after six or 12 months”.
The person directly responsible was allegedly a North Korean working for the foreign intelligence agencies.
A CIA spokesman refused to comment on the allegations.
[…] The Bad Dictators are arguably Bad, and some are war criminals. But Washington tends to deal with the pro-American dictators by just not bringing them up much, or by stressing their friendliness rather than their rapaciousness when they are brought up.
Some of those Washington sees as Bad Dictators, however, are either not dictators or not bad, or not either one. Evo Morales of Bolivia was called “Taliban” by W.’s ambassador, presumably because he represents workers and the indigenous population rather than big business. I’m not aware that anyone has suggested he hasn’t been fairly elected, and he has been a good steward of the economy for workers and the middle classes.
Then of course above all you’re not allowed to bring up that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rules millions of Palestinians by military force, keeping them occupied and stateless and stealing their land while depriving them of the most basic human and civil rights. No Palestinian was allowed to vote for or against Netanyahu even though he rules them with an iron fist.
Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: in a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.
Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policy makers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.
The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for the mass killings it carried out, and aggressively enabled the genocide by one of the 20th Century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.
[…] On a per-capita basis, the Korean War was one of the deadliest wars in modern history, especially for the civilian population of North Korea. The scale of the devastation shocked and disgusted the American military personnel who witnessed it, including some who had fought in the most horrific battles of World War II.
World War II was by far the bloodiest war in history. Estimates of the death toll range from 60 million to more than 85 million, with some suggesting that the number is actually even higher and that 50 million civilians may have perished in China alone. Even the lower estimates would account for roughly three percent of the world’s estimated population of 2.3 billion in 1940.
These are staggering numbers, and the death rate during the Korean War was comparable to what occurred in the hardest hit countries of World War II.
Several factors contributed to the high casualty ratios. The Korean Peninsula is densely populated. Rapidly shifting front lines often left civilians trapped in combat zones. Both sides committed numerous massacres and carried out mass executions of political prisoners. Modern aircraft carried out a vast bombing campaign, dropping massive loads of napalm along with standard bombs.
In fact, by the end of the war, the United States and its allies had dropped more bombs on the Korean Peninsula, the overwhelming majority of them on North Korea, than they had in the entire Pacific Theater of World War II.
[…] Why is it so hard to talk about nuclear weapons the way we did 30 years ago?
For starters, nuclear weapons have always been synonyms for death, and people don’t like thinking about death. (This goes triple for “megadeath,” the unit-measure for every million people killed in a nuclear war.) Nuclear weapons also involve, not one, but two apparent paradoxes. The first cuts through morality and human nature: How can we be so smart, and yet so dumb? How can we barrel down a highway lined with flashing neon signs reading, “Horrific Mass Suicide, 1 mile”? The second paradox is just the physics mindfuck of it all: An atom can flatten a city. Like the vastness of our expanding universe, it doesn’t seem real. It can’t be.
Even during the Cold War, nobody wanted to think about nukes. It took Hiroshima, Nagasaki, a series of major crises, a superpower standoff, and a media focused on the gruesome details of nuclear war to spark even a modest global disarmament movement. The world of 2017 is a different place. There is no binary Cold War frame. The shared culture that could focus a conversation with something like The Day After is no more. The attention span required for sorting through our nuclear dilemma—also pretty close to gone. Nothing embodies this better than the devolution of the “peace” symbol: Born as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a group that organized mass sit-ins in downtown London, it is now hippie marketing shorthand used to sell hazy nostalgia for a nonpolitical counterculture.
Abby Martin speaks with Mark Ames, known for his work as a Moscow-based expatriate American journalist and editor. Ames founded the eXile with Matt Taibbi spent a decade reporting from Yeltsin’s and Putin’s Russia while witnessing the country’s transformation from an American “colony” to it’s “number one threat”. (The Empire Files)
We might take the demonstrative demise of strongmen such as Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and – more recently and unobtrusively – Fidel Castro in Cuba to indicate that the day of the dictator has largely passed. Alas, authoritarianism is staging a comeback. Yet it is clear to poets and political scientists alike that the new authoritarians – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary – are not like the old ones. In his recent poem ‘Some Advice for the New Government’, the poet Adam Zagajewski gave Poland’s newly elected cabinet some mock advice on how to be a new authoritarian:
All professors of constitutional law should be interned for life.
Poets can be left alone. No one reads them anyway.
You’ll need isolation camps, but gentle ones that won’t annoy the United Nations.
Most journalists should be sent to Madagascar.
These new strongmen seem milder, less openly brutal than the likes of Stalin or Hitler. In the words of the Austrian publicist and historian Hans Rauscher: ‘Brutal, naked mass violence against subjects is, at least in Europe and around Europe, no longer declared, insofar as Putins, Erdoğans, and Orbáns govern with the consent of a becalmed people, “freed” from all critical voices.’
But the difference goes well beyond their choice of whom to oppress and how. The autocrat of the mid-20th century was a strict and demanding father out to shape you into an ideal. He wanted you to modernise, learn self-discipline and, above all, self-sacrifice. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk addressed soldiers during the Entente attack on Ottoman-held Gallipoli in 1915, he told them: ‘I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die.’ ‘In the Soviet army,’ said Stalin, ‘it takes more courage to retreat than to advance.’
Tough love was thus the signature attribute of the 20th-century dictator. Even when he wasn’t demanding the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted you to lose a few pounds, mothball your fez, lay some more bricks, join a state-run youth organisation (or five), learn a new alphabet (or even a new language) and call it your own, memorise some poems, songs or passages penned by the supreme leader and call them ‘history’. Even democratic heads of state once had higher expectations of their citizenry. That line from John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – now sounds like an admonition from an earlier, distant century.
[…] Few foreign villains have been vested with omnipotence and ubiquity like Vladimir Putin has been — at least ever since Democrats discovered (what they mistakenly believed was) his political utility as a bogeyman. There are very few negative developments in the world that do not end up at some point being pinned to the Russian leader, and very few critics of the Democratic Party who are not, at some point, cast as Putin loyalists or Kremlin spies.
Putin — like al Qaeda terrorists and Soviet Communists before him — is everywhere. Russia is lurking behind all evils, most importantly — of course — Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And whoever questions any of that is revealing themselves to be a traitor, likely on Putin’s payroll.
As The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it on Tuesday in the Washington Post: “In the targeting of Trump, too many liberals have joined in fanning a neo-McCarthyite furor, working to discredit those who seek to deescalate U.S.-Russian tensions, and dismissing anyone expressing doubts about the charges of hacking or collusion as a Putin apologist. … What we don’t need is a replay of Cold War hysteria that cuts off debate, slanders skeptics and undermines any effort to explore areas of agreement with Russia in our own national interest.” That precisely echoes what Stone observed 62 years ago: Claims of Russian infiltration and ubiquity are “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect” (Stone was not just cast as a Kremlin loyalist during his life but smeared as a Stalinist agent after he died).
I’ve written extensively about all this throughout the last year, as Russia Fever reached (what I hope is) its apex — or, more accurately, its nadir. I won’t repeat that all here.
But I do want to draw attention to an outstanding article in today’s Guardian by the Russian-born American journalist Keith Gessen, in which he clinically examines — and demolishes — all of the hysterical, ignorant, fearmongering, manipulative claims now predominant in U.S. discourse about Russia, Putin, and the Kremlin.
The Labour Party is “in the hands of urban leftists given to ideological extremes with only fringe appeal”.
That isn’t an assertion about today’s politics. It was the verdict of the US Central Intelligence Agency on Labour back in 1985, in a memo for the agency’s director on the early phase of Neil Kinnock’s leadership.
This memo is one of millions of the CIA’s historical records which have just been made available online. Previously researchers had to actually visit the US National Archives in Maryland in order to access this database of declassified documents.
The records reveal the deep level of concern inside the CIA about the strength of the Left within Labour in the early 1980s, a political force which the agency regarded as anti-American.
Johan Galtung, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated sociologist who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, warned that US global power will collapse under the Donald Trump administration.
The Norwegian professor at the University of Hawaii and Transcend Peace University is recognized as the ‘founding father’ of peace and conflict studies as a scientific discipline. He has made numerous accurate predictions of major world events, most notably the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
Galtung has also accurately predicted the 1978 Iranian revolution; the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989 in China; the economic crises of 1987, 2008 and 2011; and even the 9/11 attacks—among other events, according to the late Dietrich Fischer, academic director of the European University Center for Peace Studies.
Back in 2000, Galtung first set out his prediction that the “US empire” would collapse within 25 years. After the election of President Bush, though, he revised that forecast five years forward because, he argued, Bush’s policies of extreme militarism would be an accelerant.
After the election of Trump, I thought it might be prudent to check in with Galtung to see how he was feeling about the status of his US forecast. Galtung told Motherboard that Trump would probably continue this trajectory of accelerated decline—and may even make it happen quicker. Of course, with typical scientific caution, he said he would prefer to see what Trump’s actual policies are before voicing a clear verdict.
Decades ago, the CIA declassified a 26-page secret document cryptically titled, “clarifying statement to Fidel Castro concerning assassination.”
It was a step toward greater transparency for one of the most secretive of all federal agencies. But to find out what the document actually said, you had to trek to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland between the hours of 9 am and 4:30 pm and hope that one of only four computers designated by the CIA to access its archives would be available.
But today the CIA posted the Castro record on its website along with more than 12 million pages of the agency’s other declassified documents that have eluded the public, journalists, and historians for nearly two decades. You can view them here.
The title of the Castro document, as it turns out, was far more interesting than the contents. It includes a partial transcript of a 1977 transcript between Barbara Walters and Fidel Castro in which she asked the late Cuban dictator whether he had “proof” of the CIA’s last attempt to assassinate him. The transcript was sent to Admiral Stansfield Turner, the CIA Director at the time, by a public affairs official at the agency with a note highlighting all references to CIA.
But that’s just one of the millions documents, which date from the 1940s to 1990s, are wide-ranging, covering everything from Nazi war crimes to mind-control experiments to the role the CIA played in overthrowing governments in Chile and Iran. There are also secret documents about a telepathy and precognition program known as Star Gate, files the CIA kept on certain media publications, such as Mother Jones, photographs, more than 100,000 pages of internal intelligence bulletins, policy papers and memos written by former CIA directors.
In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country. As we focus on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead we should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil — and how they often point the finger of blame back at our own shores.
America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria — little-known to the American people yet well-known to Syrians — sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIL. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely only to compound the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry this week announced a “provisional” ceasefire in Syria. But since U.S. leverage and prestige within Syria is minimal — and the ceasefire doesn’t include key combatants such as Islamic State and al Nusra — it’s bound to be a shaky truce at best. Similarly President Obama’s stepped-up military intervention in Libya — U.S. airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp last week — is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the radicals. As the New York Times reported in a December 8, 2015, front-page story, Islamic State political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention. They know from experience this will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.
To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.
[…] Political scientist Dov Levin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, found that the U.S. attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000. Often covert in their execution, these efforts included everything from CIA operatives running successful presidential campaigns in the Philippines during the 1950s to leaking damaging information on Marxist Sandanistas in order to sway Nicaraguan voters in 1990. All told, the U.S. allegedly targeted the elections of 45 nations across the globe during this period, Levin’s research shows. In the case of some countries, such as Italy and Japan, the U.S. attempted to intervene in four or more separate elections.
Levin’s figures do not include military coups or regime change attempts following the election of a candidate the U.S. opposed, such as when the CIA helped overthrow Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, in 1953. He defines an electoral intervention as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides.” According to Levin’s research, that includes: peddling misinformation or propaganda; creating campaign material for preferred candidates or parties; providing or withdrawing foreign aid, and; making public announcements that threaten or favor certain candidates. Often, it also includes the U.S. covertly delivering large sums of cash, as was the case in elections in Japan, Lebanon, Italy, and other countries.
Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who defected to the West in 1951, was struck by the ostentatiousness of American cultural programs: “You could smell big money from a mile away.” The era’s finest little magazines, titles like Partisan Review and The Paris Review, published enduring fiction, poetry, and essays. The writings of Clement Greenberg and Lionel Trilling set the high-water mark for art and literary criticism. Richard Wright wrote the mournful poem that would provide the title for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 best-seller, Between the World and Me. The artists who waged the radical political battles of the 1930s emerged in the 1950s as cultural institutions, achieving a prominence—even a celebrity—that has eluded subsequent generations.
Plenty of observers, however, suspected that the free market of ideas had been corrupted. World tours, fancy conferences, prestigious bylines and book contracts were bestowed on artists who hewed to political positions favored by the establishment, rather than on the most talented. In 1966, The New York Times confirmed suspicions that the CIA was pumping money into “civil society” organizations: unions, international organizations of students and women, groups of artists and intellectuals. The agency had produced the popular cartoon version of George Orwell’s anticommunist classic Animal Farmin 1954. It flew the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a European tour in 1952, to counter prejudices of the United States as uncultured and unsophisticated. It promoted the work of abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock because their artistic style would have been considered degenerate in both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The propriety of such largesse, both for the CIA and its beneficiaries, has been hotly debated ever since. Jason Epstein, the celebrated book editor, was quick to point out that CIA involvement undermined the very conditions for free thought, in which “doubts about established orthodoxies” were supposed to be “taken to be the beginning of all inquiry.” But Gloria Steinem, who worked with the CIA in the 1950s and ’60s, “was happy to find some liberals in government in those days,” arguing that the agency was “nonviolent and honorable.” Milosz, too, agreed that the “liberal conspiracy,” as he called it, “was necessary and justified.” It was, he allowed, “the sole counterweight to the propaganda on which the Soviets expended astronomical sums.”
Today’s intellectuals approach their labors in a very different set of circumstances. The struggle for academic patronage and the strained conditions of nearly all media properties have led to fewer jobs and fewer venues for substantial writing; the possibility of leading a public-facing life of the mind now seems vanishingly small, which only heightens nostalgia for the golden age of the 1950s. Yet the shadow of the CIA lurks behind the achievements of that time. The free play of ideas—the very thing that was supposed to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union in the first place—turned out to be, at least in part, a carefully constructed illusion. What if the prominence of midcentury intellectuals, the sense that they were engaged in important political and artistic projects, is inseparable from the fact that they were useful to America’s Cold War empire?
Let’s take a moment to savor what looks to be Henry Kissinger’s final act. The man is 93 years old. At that age, most people are lucky to have enough energy for “Wheel of Fortune” and a few Facebook posts. Not Kissinger. These days, he’s playing the influence game against insiders who hadn’t even been born when he was Richard Nixon’s secretary of state.
Officials with Donald Trump’s transition team tell me Kissinger has spent several hours since the election advising incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn and his team. He’s also putting his network in place. He recommended his former assistant, K.T. McFarland, to be Flynn’s deputy, and urged Trump to nominate Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, as his secretary of state. Kissinger is one of the few people in Trump’s orbit who can get him on the phone whenever he wants, according to one transition adviser.
That’s just behind the scenes. Consider that Kissinger is also an important validator for Trump in the press. When some Republicans questioned Tillerson’s closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kissinger defended the pick on “Face the Nation.” Kissinger helped soften the blow of Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president in December before the Committee of 100, which advocates for the U.S.-China relationship. Before that, Kissinger winged his way to Oslo to urge his fellow Nobel laureates to give the next president’s foreign policy a chance. It feels like 1975 all over again. I’m half-expecting to read something in the tabloids about a Kissinger affair with a Hollywood starlet.
During a holiday getaway to India, I picked up the local newspaper, The Times of India, and encountered an article entitled “From Russia with Love” by Indian political observer Swagato Ganguly with the subtitle: “A rapprochement between Putin and Trump could transform the world in 2017.”
The author set this prediction within the broader context of a possible return to the “Westphalian principle of sovereignty, which bars intervention in another state’s domestic affairs.” The article goes on to ask: “What If Trump were to repeat Nixon’s rapprochement in reverse? President Nixon’s handshake with Chairman Mao in 1972 may have decisively tilted the Cold War in America’s favour, as it broke the Chinese away from the Soviet bloc. Today China, rather than Russia is America’s principal strategic rival.”
This Indian international affairs prognosis was based on Henry Kissinger’s identification of the Peace of Westphalia principles as the key to Realpolitik and on implementation of his signature strategy from the past even if Kissinger was not mentioned. Kissinger’s strategy was to ensure that Washington was closer to Beijing and to Moscow than either of the two was to one another, a relevant point again given Kissinger’s reappearance on the political scene in recent days.
The question of Henry Kissinger’s possible designation as a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump and specifically as intermediary between Trump and Vladimir Putin for normalization of relations arose after the 93-year-old Kissinger gave a series of interviews to the German newspaper Bild and other media in the days before Christmas.
[…] My book “Command and Control” explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently. “Command and Control” focusses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low—and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war. The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election. On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal. “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?
Army Veteran William Penner used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Similar worries struck vet Mike Blackledge when staffers at a local Veterans Affairs hospital suggested his children’s diseases could be linked to his time in Vietnam. His son has inflammatory bowel disease so advanced he wears a pouch to collect his waste, and his youngest daughter has neuropathy, spinal problems and gastrointestinal issues. His oldest daughter — the one born before he went to fight in Vietnam — is fine.
They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam veterans, have also harmed their children?
For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.
[…] Clinton wanted a friendly and stable Russia as a foreign policy success story. Yeltsin needed American money to avoid a total economic collapse. When Clinton raised plans to expand the NATO alliance into eastern Europe, Yeltsin didn’t object. The men even agreed that Russia itself might one day join NATO—a concept that seems downright ludicrous today, as Putin threatens the alliance with nuclear exercises. At a press conference afterwards, the two men clowned around. Yeltsin was in an antic state that one White House aide dubbed “high jabberwocky,” while Clinton himself doubled over with laughter at his Russian friend’s playfulness.
Looking back today, the scene is infused with almost unbelievable optimism: the idea that the U.S. and Russia could be military allies, with one helping the other to grow an open and truly democratic society.
But for one man in Russia, it symbolized a profound humiliation. Vladimir Putin was then a minor public official, serving as a deputy city functionary in St. Petersburg after ending his career as a KGB agent, withdrawn from East Germany after its communist government fell. The notion that the Soviet state in which he’d been raised and trained, whose demise he once called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” had become a client state with a leader who was a source of Western amusement was stinging. It was a sting he never forgot, and when Putin met with Russian troops shortly after he took power on the first day of the new millennium, January 1, 2000, he told them their mission included “restoring Russia’s honor and dignity.”
“He sees the 1990’s as one long period of humiliation—domestically and internationally,” says James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University and a former top Russia official on Clinton’s national security staff. “From Putin’s standpoint, the ‘Bill and Boris show’ was basically Boris saying yes to everything Bill wanted—and that was the U.S. basically defining the order of the world and what Russia’s place in it could be, and that Russia was too weak to do anything but go along.”
[…] What brings these episodes to mind is the wave of indignation sweeping this capital over “fake news” allegedly created by Vladimir Putin’s old KGB comrades and regurgitated by U.S. individuals, websites, and magazines that are anti-interventionist and anti-war.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says the “propaganda and disinformation threat” against America is real, and we must “counter and combat it.” Congress is working up a $160 million State Department program.
Now, Americans should be on guard against “fake news” and foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
Yet it is often our own allies, like the Brits, and our own leaders who mislead and lie us into unnecessary wars. And is not meddling in the internal affairs, including the elections, of regimes we do not like, pretty much the job description of the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy?
History suggests it is our own War Party that bears watching.
I was recently in the Marshall Islands, which lie in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia and south of Hawaii. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, ‘Where is that?’
When I mention Bikini, their reference is the swimsuit. Few seem aware that the bikini was named after the nuclear explosions that destroyed life on Bikini atoll; its Paris designer hoped his ‘unique creation’ would ‘cause an explosion right round the world’. Sixty-seven nuclear bombs – each of them massive – were exploded in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958: the equivalent of more than one Hiroshima every day for 12 years.
As my aircraft banked low over Bikini lagoon, the emerald water beneath me disappeared into a vast black hole, a deathly void. This is the crater left by the 1954 Hydrogen bomb known as Bravo. When I stepped out of the plane, my shoes registered ‘unsafe’ on a Geiger counter. Palm trees stood in unworldly formations. There were no birds.
I trekked through the jungle to the bunker where, at 6.45 on the morning of 1 March 1954, the button was pushed on the most powerful force on earth. That morning, the sun had risen; then it rose again as apocalypse. Now claimed by the undergrowth, the concrete bunker is like a capsule to modern times. There are cartons of Milkmaid powered milk, packets of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a sign that is beyond irony: ‘Please leave this property as you find it. Thank you for kindness and understanding.’
The explosion vaporized an entire island, its fall-out spreading over a vast area. There was a ‘miscalculation’, according to the official history; the wind ‘changed suddenly’. These were the first of many lies, as declassified documents and the victims’ testimony have since revealed.
[…] Despite some esoteric aspects, the so-called Russian hacks, as promoted by interested parties in politics and industry, are firmly in the tradition of Cold War threat inflation. Admittedly, practitioners had an easier task in Selin’s day. The Cold War was at its height, America was deep in a bloody struggle against the communist foe in Vietnam, and Europe was divided by an Iron Curtain, behind which millions chafed under Soviet occupation.
Half a century later, the Soviet Union is long gone, along with the international communist movement it championed. Given that Russia’s defense budget is roughly one tenth of America’s, and that its military often cannot afford the latest weapons Russian manufacturers offer for export, resurrecting this old enemy might seem to pose a challenge to even the brightest minds in the Pentagon. Yet the Russian menace, we are informed, once again looms large. According to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Russia “has clear ambition to erode the principled international order” and poses “an existential threat to the United States” — a proclamation endorsed by a host of military eminences, including General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his vice-chairman General Paul Selva, and NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander, General Philip Breedlove.
True, relations with Moscow have been disintegrating since the Bush Administration. Yet Russia achieved formal restoration to threat status only after Putin’s takeover of Crimea in February 2014 (which followed the forcible ejection, with U.S. encouragement, of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government just a few days earlier). Russia’s intervention in Syria, in the fall of 2015, turned the chill into a deep freeze. Still, the recent accusation that Putin has been working to destabilize our democratic system has taken matters to a whole new level, evoking the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)
[…] To be sure, there’s a much larger context behind today’s bluster. As my colleague Andrew Rothnotes, whatever their government’s alleged actions in 2016, Russia’s leaders enjoy casting aspersions on the American democratic process. And, in recent years, they have also bristled at perceived American meddling in the politics of countries on Russia’s borders, most notably in Ukraine.
While the days of its worst behavior are long behind it, the United States does have a long history of interfering and sometimes interrupting the workings of democracies elsewhere. It has occupied and intervened militarily in a whole swath of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and fomented coups against democratically-elected populists.
The most infamous episodes include the ousting of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 — whose government was replaced by an authoritarian monarchy favorable to Washington — the removal and assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, and the violent toppling of Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende, whose government was swept aside in 1973 by a military coup led by the ruthless Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
For decades, these actions were considered imperatives of the Cold War, part of a global struggle against the Soviet Union and its supposed leftist proxies. Its key participants included scheming diplomats like John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger, who advocated aggressive, covert policies to staunch the supposedly expanding threat of communism. Sometimes that agenda also explicitly converged with the interests of American business.
hen I told friends and colleagues that I was writing a book about the legacy of Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy, many made mention of Christopher Hitchens’s The Trial of Henry Kissinger. But I saw my purpose as antithetical to Hitchens’s polemic, which is a good example of what the great historian Charles Beard, in 1936, dismissed as the “devil theory of war”—placing the blame for militarism on a single, isolable cause: a “wicked man.” To really understand the sources of conflict, Beard argued, you had to look at the big picture, to consider the way “war is our own work,” emerging out of “the total military and economic situation.” In making the case that Kissinger should be tried—and convicted—for war crimes, Hitchens didn’t look at the big picture. Instead, he focused obsessively on the morality of one man, his devil: Henry Kissinger. W
Aside from assembling the docket and gathering the accused’s wrongdoings in one place, The Trial of Henry Kissinger isn’t very useful and is actually counterproductive; righteous indignation doesn’t provide much room for understanding. Hitchens burrows deep into Kissinger’s dark heart: The statesman was implicated in horrors in Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Vietnam, East Timor, Latin America, southern Africa, and Washington, DC (the assassination of Orlando Letelier), as well as against the Kurds. Readers are left waiting for Hitchens to come out and tell us what it all means (that is, besides the obvious: Kissinger is a criminal). But Hitchens never does. In the end, we learn more about the prosecutor than the would-be prosecuted; the book provides no insights into the “total situation” in which Kissinger operated, and makes no effort to explain the power of his ideas or how they tapped into the deeper intellectual currents of American history.