By Tina Dupuy: Iraq Makes Request For Weapons:

No, this is not The Onion. No, this is not a rip-off of The Onion. This is not satire. This is the plea from Iraq’s Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and the Minister of National Security Affairs. All of whom happen to be the same person: Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraq is what he describes as a “vibrant democracy” in a New York Times op-ed in anticipation of a visit to the U.S. and a meeting with President Obama this week.
Maliki says he’s fighting terrorism. Al Qaeda is in Iraq killing the Iraqi people, he explains. “It has been almost two years since American troops withdrew from Iraq. And despite the terrorist threats we face, we are not asking for American boots on the ground,” he writes. “Rather, we urgently want to equip our own forces with the weapons they need to fight terrorism, including helicopters and other military aircraft so that we can secure our borders and protect our people. Hard as it is to believe, Iraq doesn’t have a single fighter jet to protect its airspace.”
Now if arming a Middle Eastern country with a solid history of sectarian violence sounds vaguely familiar and like an acutely bad idea—it’s because we’ve done it before. In Afghanistan in the ‘80s, we armed the Mujahedeen to aid their fight against the Soviets. And when we invaded the country a decade later, we were met with our own weapons. Poetic.
Maliki’s op-ed starts off by mentioning terrorism and then goes into the civil war in Syria. “These mutual interests include combating terrorism and resolving the conflict in Syria. The war in Syria has become a magnet that attracts sectarian extremists and terrorists from various parts of the world and gathers them in our neighborhood, with many slipping across our all-too-porous borders. We do not want Syria or Iraq to become bases for Al Qaeda operations, and neither does the United States.”
In March, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Baghdad and discussed with Maliki the daily flights (presumed to be arms) from Iran, across Iraq, into Syria. These daily deliveries being a lifeline to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is most noted for gassing thousands of Sunnis (including children), and then blaming it on Sunni rebels.
According to reports, Maliki refuses to stop the flights to Syria, regardless of the request by Kerry.
When Maliki says, “resolving the conflict in Syria,” that warrants a follow-up question: whose side are you on? His government has had a history of helping Iran evade sanctions beyond just the use of their airspace. David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a written statement given to The New York Times last year said Iran “may seek to escape the force of our financial sanctions through Iraqi financial institutions.”
If you’ve caught yourself confusing Iran and Iraq, it’s not just because they’re one letter different. It’s because there’s every indication they’re in a storied bromance.
We dropped a trillion dollars to replace an Iraqi dictator with this Prime Minister/Minister of the Interior/Minister of Defense/Minister of National Security Affairs guy. A man who spent the ‘80s in exile in Syria and then in Iran under the protection of the infamous Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Often in cognitive dissonance, after disconfirmation or the failure of prediction (greeted as liberators, anyone?) there is a doubling-down phenomenon as described by psychologist Leon Festinger. Meaning when the evidence doesn’t match up with our hopes, we often just hope harder. “Rationalization can reduce dissonance somewhat,” wrote Festinger. We’ve spent the last decade nation-building in what we’d hoped would at least be a friend in the region.
It’s not panning out.
It appears Maliki is at the very least complicit in arming Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in a civil war that has claimed 115,000 lives. This September, 52 Iranian dissidents were slaughtered at Camp Ashraf; it was carried out by Iraqi forces—armed with American weapons. There are still seven Iranian exile hostages the European Parliament has demanded be released, going so far as to threaten ending trade with Baghdad.
You know what could make this worse? Some WMDs.
What’s a jet fighter or two among frenemies?

By Shamus Cooke: Is Obama Fundamentally Shifting His Middle East Strategy?

Global Research, November 03, 2013
The Saudis and Israelis are fuming. Obama’s talks with Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani point to a possible new direction in U.S.-Middle East policy. Iran is the regional arch-rival of the Saudis and Israelis, who for decades have shared the mantle as the main U.S. allies in the Middle East. 
The Arab Spring has — along with the ascendance of Russia and China — shifted the geo-political ground of the region, and the U.S. is trying to maintain a dominant position with a new strategy. This shift, if successful, has the potential to create a political crisis within the U.S. government as well as abroad. Israel and Saudi Arabia, for example, won’t quietly accept a diminished role in the Middle East.
Israel gave a thunderous response to Obama’s Iranian talks last week by committing its fourth war crime against Syria in the last year, by launching a bombing raid against a Syrian military installation. Since Obama is currently pursuing “Geneva II” peace talks with Syria and Russia, the timing of the Israeli bombing suggests that Israel is intent on not being ignored.

The Saudis, too, have fired missiles, though of the diplomatic type, aimed at the U.S. by refusing a seat at the UN Security Council. The Saudis have also threatened a fundamental break from their long-standing U.S. ally, which in reality means a shift towards Russia and China. 

There are three main factors that appear to be pushing Obama in a new Middle East direction: Obama’s political defeat in the Syrian conflict, the United States’ new ocean of natural (shale) gas, and the new Egyptian government’s shift away from a long-standing U.S. alliance. The Middle East is changing fast.
The Syrian conflict exposed the United States’ Middle East strategy as bankrupt; Obama planned a Bush-like bombing campaign to terrorize Syria into submission, but backed down at the last minute, due to immense domestic and international opposition, not to mention the fact that Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda were certain to come to power if Obama opened the gates of hell with U.S. missiles. Obama’s last minute retreat was a historic blow to U.S. foreign policy, along the lines of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.
By agreeing to the Russian plan of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, Obama admitted humiliating defeat and signaled that the U.S. was abandoning the proxy war against the Syrian government, the war now completely dominated by Islamic extremists and foreign jihad fighters; those who maintain that a legitimate mass “revolution” is still in play fool only themselves. Furthermore, those who claim that “the Israeli tail wags the American dog” were again proved wrong when the full force of Israeli/AIPAC lobbying — to attack Syria — was ultimately ignored.
Obama’s Syria shift also left Saudi Arabia in the lurch, which went “all in” against Syria by shipping huge amounts of money, arms, and Saudi nationals to destroy Assad’s Syria, no doubt with immense initial encouragement from Obama. If a Syrian peace deal is hatched at “Geneva II” (if in fact it ever happens), it’s certain that any outcome will make explicit Saudi Arabia’s waning influence in Syria.
Obama is also finally using the new U.S. flood of shale gas as a political weapon in his Middle East approach. The “natural gas revolution” threatens to change the face of the global oil/gas industry, and has energy giants Saudi Arabia and Russia shaking in their boots. This influx of American gas simply makes the Middle East less important.
An interesting Reuters article reports:
“…surging North American energy production [shale gas] has brought the United States closer to a long-dreamed “energy independence” that is reshaping its goals and role in the Middle East.”
Henry Kissinger, arch-war criminal and modern architect of the oil-focused U.S. foreign policy, was quoted in the Reuters article:
“You could not make plans in the Middle East or involving Middle East crises, without keeping in mind the considerations of the oil market…but that is now changing substantially with the, I wouldn’t say ‘self sufficiency’ but narrowing the gap between supply and demand in North America [shale gas], that is now of huge strategic consequence.”
Of course, the U.S. is simply not going to leave the Middle East for the foreseeable future, but Kissinger’s comments make clear that the U.S. now has more strategic flexibility than it had before, and the blunt Bush Jr. policy of bombings and invasions has had to give way at some point to some actual strategy (bombings will of course remain as “leverage” in peace talks and be re-introduced if talks fail).
Finally, the long-standing strategic U.S. partnership with Egypt is crumbling before Obama’s eyes. The revolutionary mobilizations against U.S. ally Muhammad Morsi brought forth a military government that, according to its public statements and state media, is taking a staunchly anti-U.S. position. The many analysts who called Morsi’s ouster a “U.S. coup” should be re-thinking their position, as Morsi was profoundly more pro-U.S. than his replacement.
The New York Times reports:
“Relations between the United States and Egypt, once-close allies, have grown increasingly strained…Since the military takeover, Egypt’s generals and their backers have lashed out at the United States, accusing it of showing favoritism toward Mr. Morsi and his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood by, among other things, criticizing the military government’s withering crackdown on Islamists.”
Egypt is also at the center of the U.S.-Saudi Arabia divorce, since Saudi Arabia is a huge backer of the new Egyptian military regime, displacing the Qatar-U.S. backed Muslim Brotherhood.
Again from The New York Times:
“Saudi Arabia, which strongly backs Egypt’s generals, has also rebuked the United States over its Egypt policy.”
Of course Obama still has time to give sufficient military aid and other bribes to bring Egypt back into the U.S.’ diplomatic orbit, but for now relations are spoiled.
Why would Obama potentially risk long-standing regional alliances to make peace with Iran? For one, Iran’s new president is a “reformer,” which in Iran means that he wants to completely “open up” Iran’s economy to foreign investors, and Obama sees an ocean of oil that could result in a sea of cash for U.S corporations and investors.
Iran’s former president, Ahmadinejad, went on a privatization frenzy that U.S. corporations and investors watched with forlorn eyes, as U.S. sanctions limited U.S. investments, while corporations from other nations enriched themselves off Iran’s formerly public assets. But Ahmadinejad viewed Iranian oil as a sacred cow, which, as the Economist explains, is set to be butchered and sold by Rouhani to the highest bidder (or at potentially reduced rates to U.S corporations as part of a peace deal).
If Obama can get his hands on Iranian oil — without having to physically destroy Iran — he’ll have little problem reducing the sanctions that have been economically destroying the country.
A peace with Iran will also have other profound regional implications.  Doing business with the United States will push Russia and China out of the Iranian picture, amounting to a diplomatic coup for the United States, while Iran will likely be “urged” to cut off support for the Syrian government and Hezbollah, while making Shia-led Iraq more amenable to U.S. regional interests.
But achieving this major diplomatic shift will be incredibly difficult, and maybe impossible. Many U.S. congressmen from both parties want to maintain the status quo. As Obama initially announced his warming relations with Iran, Congressmen were preparing to increase the already-criminal sanctions, no doubt in an attempt to prevent any peace deal, causing tension between Obama and Congress.
Israel, too, is just crazy enough to ruin the whole enterprise by unleashing a reign of terror; the recent attack on Syria may have been just a warning shot. An Israeli attack on Iran — ostensibly to destroy its “nuclear capabilities” — would be enough to annihilate any U.S. diplomatic effort.
Whatever happens ultimately will reflect the power shift occurring across the Middle East and the re-alignment that has occurred since the Arab Spring, as well as the rise of China and Russia in the region. For now the U.S. is attempting to use diplomacy to gain a strategic advantage in the Middle East, which can very quickly revert to military actions if its goals of economic dominance aren’t peacefully achieved.
Shamus Cooke is a social worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com


Obama, NSA Spying and the Dangers of Secretive, Authoritarian Government By John W. Whitehead

“The perception here is of a United States where security has trumped liberty, intelligence agencies run amok (vacuuming up data of friend and foe alike), and the once-admired “checks and balances” built into American governance and studied by European schoolchildren have become, at best, secret reviews of secret activities where opposing arguments get no hearing.” – New York Times columnist Roger Cohen
Recent reports indicating that President Obama was aware of and personally approved an NSA program that involved spying on the personal communications of various international leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have once again highlighted the deception and intransigence of the Obama administration in dealing with the revelations that the National Security Agency has been acting outside the bounds of the law, sucking up electronic communications the world over.

While this may come as a shock to most Americans, I’ve been writing about the NSA’s illegal surveillance tactics since the 1980s, which features prominently in my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. However, this latest development in the spying saga—that the NSA has been aiming its surveillance activities at the citizens of allied countries, including France and Germany—has thrown a kink into the Obama administration’s attempts at maintaining a cozy relationship with its foreign allies.

Specifically, according to comments by an anonymous “high-level” NSA official to a German newspaper, President Barack Obama personally approved spying on the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. These comments come despite claims made by the White House last week that Obama had no idea that the NSA had tapped her phone. The NSA has denied the reports that Obama was personally briefed on the Merkel spying operation in 2010, but did not indicate whether he may have learned about it via other means.

According to a report by German newspaper Der Spiegel, the NSA had been spying on Merkel since 2002, before she was Chancellor and acting as an opposition leader. The NSA had also allegedly been spying on French and German citizens, an accusation which prompted both countries to demand an explanation from the United States about the purpose and reasoning behind the spying programs. The US spying on German communications was apparently conducted from the American embassy in Berlin.

According to another anonymous US official, the United States was engaged in espionage on 35 world leaders, but most of these programs have been terminated or are set to be terminated. This official also claims that Obama was unaware of the program, and that the NSA had chosen not to brief him on all their various spying operations, saying, “These decisions are made at the NSA. The president doesn’t sign off on this stuff.”

Whatever the exact truth of the matter, there are two possible scenarios. Either the President was fully aware of the extent of the NSA’s criminal activities, which violate both domestic and international law, and was willing to go along with them or the NSA has amassed so much power in Washington that it literally operates outside the chain of command and above the rule of law. In either case, we face a tyrannical force the likes of which have never been seen in the United States before.

In just one month (January 2013), the NSA spied on some 125 billion phone calls worldwide, 3 billion of which originated in the United States. In addition to German and French citizens, the NSA has targeted Spain as well, sweeping up some 60 million communications in the span of one month.

Of course, this global surveillance program should come as no surprise. Since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent over $500 billion on an intelligence community that, according to the Washington Post, constitutes an “espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War.” The CIA and NSA have both begun to engage in so-called “offensive cyber operations,” which involves hacking into foreign computer networks in order to either steal information or sabotage the network itself.

In fact, the NSA has been conducting worldwide surveillance for quite some time. Echelon, a global electronic surveillance network that allows security agencies of Great Britain and the United States, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to collect and exploit intelligence collected worldwide, was developed by the NSA. Created in the heat of the Cold War, Echelon intercepts and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax and email message sent anywhere in the world. It does so by positioning “listening stations” (including land bases, satellites and ships sailing the seven seas) all over the globe to capture data, satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications traffic.

Although Echelon was originally established as an international spy system, suspicions arose at the dawn of the new millennium that its intelligence ambitions might have turned inward. A Congressional investigation determined that Echelon had not only turned inward, targeting such peaceful political groups as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and several Christian groups, but had actually broadened the scope of its mission to include political espionage. It also became a means of benefiting big business and advancing personal political agendas. For example, in March 2003, the British Observer asserted that the Bush Administration had used its Echelon satellite station in New Zealand to spy on council members from Angola, Bulgaria, Camaroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan in its effort to garner support for the impending war against Iraq.

The other main object of Echelon seems to be corporate espionage. In 1993, President Bill Clinton directed the NSA to use Echelon facilities to spy on Japanese car manufacturers developing zero-emission cars and to pass on critical information to the three largest American car manufacturers, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. In the 1990s, German firm Enercon, a wind generator manufacturer, developed innovative wind related technology. However, by the time it was ready to sell the technology to the US, the US rival company had already patented a similar project. Later, an NSA employee admitted to stealing the technology through phone taps and computer link line spying.

Given the NSA’s history, there is nothing innocent about a worldwide program of surveillance. Rather, this is the dawning of a new era, an expansion of the Cold War mentality of tracking an unknown enemy which only exists in the imagination of those who seek more power. Al-Qaeda’s capability to penetrate the American homeland is nil. The chances of dying in a terrorist attack are miniscule. There is no justification for these programs, which is why they have been conducted and approved in secret. Any public scrutiny would demonstrate their ineffectiveness and uselessness.

Unfortunately, our so-called representatives in Congress are doing very little to combat the menace of unlawful surveillance, going out of their way to justify these programs and give them the trappings of legitimacy. For example, Rep. Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, made the bizarre claim that the rise of fascism in Europe in the early 20th century could be attributed to the United States failing to spy on its allies: “We said: ‘We’re not going to do any kinds of those things, that would not be appropriate’ Look what happened in the 30s: the rise of fascism, the rise of communism, the rise of imperialism. We didn’t see any of it. And it resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people.”

Battles are being waged between civil liberties-minded representatives and law-and-order types such as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is drafting a bill that would codify the NSA’s program of collecting the metadata of American communications. She supports her position by making nonsensical statements such as, “People believe it’s surveillance, but it’s not.”

Contrary to Feinstein’s claims, the NSA is collecting personal information on every single person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. The NSA is able to crack the security of all major smartphones, including iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices, which gives agents access to information such as contacts, SMS messages, and location data. The NSA is also suspected to be engaging in so-called “man in the middle” attacks, which involve NSA agents pretending to be legitimate web services (in this case search engine Google) in order to obtain private information. These and other programs, such as PRISM and XKEYSCORE, open our private lives to government agents who are only a computer click away from knowing what we do on a daily basis.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you want an open, transparent and therefore free government or a closed, secretive, authoritarian regime. For those who claim to want open and free government, it’s time to restore the rightful balance in government and make it clear to our leaders that these spying programs are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Remember, a true patriot is one who upholds the principles upon which his country was founded, not the power of those who have hijacked the nation.

John Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization.

By David Swanson: Doughboys and Dumb Things Humans have Done!

This November 11th at 11 a.m. will mark 95 years since World War I ended. Next July 28th will mark 100 years since it started. The world war, the great war, the war for no  good reason, the war of poison gas, the war to end all wars, the war for mass stupidity, the war that went on for days after the Germans agreed to end it, the war that continued until 11 a.m. as that time had been set to end it, the war whose last man killed in action was a suicidal American who ran at the Germansat 10:59.the war that in fact was intentionally not ended but extended into mass-punishment of the German people until World War II could be commenced, this century-old piece of historical stupidity that shames our species is about to be commemorated on a serious scale, so dust off your gas masks and get ready. A hundred years. A hundred years. A hundred ever-loving years, and we've neither learned that wars don't end wars nor ever really ended World War II, ever brought the troops home from Japan and Germany, ever scaled back the taxation and military spending and foreign basing and war profiteering. The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten War by Richard Rubin is 500 pages of excellent history of World War I but without the appropriate rejection of the decision to go to war or the embarrassment one should feel for those who thought they could find glory or goodness by joining in this mass murdering madness. We tend to look down on all sorts of aspects of early 20th century morality. Colonialism, sexism, racism, corporal punishment in schools, creationism you name it, we've moved on. Yet writers still recount wars as if the decision to take part in them were neutral or admirable. In a way this makes sense, given what we're all taught about history. The Khan Academy is a wonderful website for kids, or anyone to use in learning math. But if you click over to the section on history its literally nothing but wars. Perhaps they plan to add in a few unimportant things that happened during the pauses in between wars, but they haven't done so yet. Its' nothing but war after war. That's history. President Kennedy supposedly said Lincoln would have been nothing without the Civil War, it takes war to make greatness. It takes war to be in the history books. Richard Rubin found and interviewed the last remaining U.S. veterans of World War I before they died. As he spoke with them their average age was 107. Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it's like to become 107. Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it's like to become 107. Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it's like to become 107. Such a study could have been done of non-veterans. A comparison could hsve been done of non-veterans. A comparison could have been made of veterans and non-veterans. Or a study like this one could have looked at World War I resisters. That there's not a similar book about them, and now can never be, says little about them and a great deal about all of us. A comparison of the lifespan of veterans and refuseniks would have been an interesting test of the author's theory that going along to get along increases your life.