EU Association Agreements: NATO Expansion By Other Means

March 12, 2015 at 4:43 PM

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The tragedy that has unfolded in Ukraine over the last fifteen months was entirely avoidable. There was no political, economic, or socio-cultural necessity for it; Ukraine was entirely capable of mutually beneficial relations both with Russia and the West. However, it was the EU Association Agreement, and the subsequent toppling of the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych by an unholy trinity of oligarchs, fascists, and Euro-liberals, which precipitated the conflict raging today. However, the critical point is not merely what happened, but why it happened. Specifically, what were the policies and initiatives that created the conditions for the war?

While many, especially in the US and EU, are quick to unsheathe the eternal “Russian aggression” sword, the reality is that Russia made no provocative moves in Ukraine until long after the EU (and by extension the US and NATO) did. That is to say, Russia’s policies vis-à-vis Ukraine are a product of, not a catalyst for, the continuing conflict.

Rather, it was the EU Association Agreement, a fait accompli for Yanukovych, which forced Ukraine into a Hobson’s choice – either become a vassal of Europe and spurn Russia, or accept Russian partnership and risk destroying your own government. Yanukovych chose the latter, and today he has become a historical footnote.

But of course, the story does not begin and end with Ukraine. Rather, the narrative must reflect a broader regional context within which Ukraine was and is merely one part. Included in the geopolitical agenda of Western strategic planners (read imperialists) are both Georgia and Moldova, both of which are integral to the broader Western outlook in the post-Soviet space. In all three countries, the Trojan horse of EU Association Agreements has served as the pretext for NATO expansion.

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Washington’s Al Qaeda Ally Now Leading ISIS in Libya

March 10, 2015 at 10:04 AM

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The revelations that US ally Abdelhakim Belhadj is now leading ISIS in Libya should come as no surprise to those who have followed US policy in that country, and throughout the region. It illustrates for the umpteenth time that Washington has provided aid and comfort to precisely those forces it claims to be fighting around the world.

According to recent reports, Abdelhakim Belhadj has now firmly ensconced himself as the organizational commander of the ISIS presence inside Libya. The information comes from an unnamed US intelligence official who has confirmed that Belhadj is supporting and coordinating the efforts of the ISIS training centers in eastern Libya around the city of Derna, an area long known as a hotbed of jihadi militancy.

While it may not seem to be a major story – Al Qaeda terrorist turns ISIS commander – the reality is that since 2011 the US and its NATO allies have held up Belhadj as a “freedom fighter.” They portrayed him as a man who courageously led his fellow freedom-lovers against the “tyrannical despot” Gaddafi whose security forces at one time captured and imprisoned many members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), including Belhadj.

Belhadj served the US cause in Libya so well that he can be seen receiving accolades from Sen. John McCain who referred to Belhadj and his followers as heroes. He was initially rewarded after the fall of Gaddafi with the post of military commander of Tripoli, though he was forced to give way to a more politically palatable “transitional government” which has since evaporated in that chaotic, war-ravaged country.

Belhadj’s history of terrorist activity includes such “achievements” as collaboration with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq, and of course his convenient servitude to the US-NATO sponsored rampage across Libya that, among other things, caused mass killings of black Libyans and anyone suspected of being part of the Green Resistance (those loyal to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya led by Gaddafi). Although the corporate media tried to make a martyr of Belhadj for his alleged torture via the CIA rendition program, the inescapable fact is that wherever he goes he leaves a violent and bloody wake.

While much of this information is known, what is of paramount importance is placing this news in a proper political context, one that illustrates clearly the fact that the US has been, and continues to be, the major patron of extremist militants from Libya to Syria and beyond, and that all talk of “moderate rebels” is merely rhetoric designed to fool an unthinking public.

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Europe and the Politics of Russian Gas

March 3, 2015 at 1:34 PM

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The recent announcement of a lucrative new gas contract between Hungary and Russia is certainly beneficial to both countries. Perhaps more significant however, is the fact that Russian energy supplies, and the political conflict between Europe and Russia, is drawing dividing lines all over the map. By allowing Washington to drive European policy vis-à-vis Ukraine, sanctions, energy infrastructure and investment, and myriad other political and economic issues, Europe has transformed Russia from a partner into an obstacle.

Hungarian Politics and Russian Gas

The new deal between Russia and Hungary will secure reliable, affordable energy for Hungary, while ensuring a continued partnership and market for Russia. While the finer points of the deal will be finalized in the weeks to come, essentially the new contract provides Budapest with more flexibility in terms of its consumption and purchases. By eliminating the “take or pay” principle – the provision that required Hungary to pay for unused gas that it initially contracted – Hungary will be able to reduce its costs by rolling over unused gas supplies into the following year.

The new contract will provide much needed flexibility in terms of gas purchases for the Hungarian government. Additionally, Hungary will now have the ability to expand its storage of unused gas in underground facilities, allowing the country to deal more effectively and efficiently with everything from unexpectedly cold winters, to politically motivated energy shortages.

Even more important for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the cementing of close ties with the Kremlin and Russian President Putin amid a growing climate of political pressure, both internal and external.

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Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and the Corporate Media Phantasmagoria

March 3, 2015 at 12:22 PM

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The scandals that have erupted around the exposure of Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams as having lied about their wartime experiences provide us with a glimpse into the nature of corporate media.

These revelations demonstrate just how easily “facts” and narratives can be manufactured to serve a personal and, more importantly, political agenda.

Let’s begin with the obvious: it’s selfishly satisfying to see two of America’s leading corporate media mouthpieces exposed as liars. Undoubtedly, there are many (myself included) who smile with delight at seeing the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams squirming under the spotlight of media scrutiny.

O’Reilly in particular has made a career of spewing venom at all the “pinheads” and “liberal liars” who he accuses of “deceiving America” with their “secular progressive” agenda, or some such nonsense. So, one can’t help but revel in seeing him have to defend his obvious lies – they are lies, not exaggerations or memory lapses – on national TV and in the press.It is akin to seeing a crooked cop go to jail for corruption, or a parasitical bank executive imprisoned for money laundering.

But of course, those of us who are interested in global issues, and how propaganda works in the service of the political and geopolitical agenda of powerful actors, have much more to take from these stories than simply the vicarious pleasure we get from watching these debacles. Rather, it is our responsibility to examine the larger significance of these stories. Specifically, what do O’Reilly’s and Williams’ humiliations tell us about the nature of media in America? And how do we translate that understanding into a broader structural critique of the propaganda matrix that passes for “news media” today?

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ISIS Online: A Pretext for Cyber COINTELPRO?

March 3, 2015 at 12:15 PM

 

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In its ever expanding war against Syria, now under the broader pretext of “fighting ISIS,” the US Government has employed a variety of tactics. From arming terrorists whom it dishonestly labels “moderates,” to encouraging Turkey and Jordan to host jihadi training centers, to theCIA working with the Muslim Brotherhood to funnel weapons and fighters into Syria, the US and its allies have demonstrated the multi-faceted approach they’re taking to fighting ISIS, extremism, and the Syrian Government.

The war, once believed to be relegated solely to Syria and Iraq, has now been broadened to a regional, and indeed, a global war with no geographical boundaries or time limits. And now, the Obama administration has announced that its war will also be waged in cyberspace. As the NY Times reported:

At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies. The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State.

While the use of social media and other online platforms is nothing new, the coordinated nature of the program demonstrates the broader capacity the US State Department and intelligence agencies are going to employ in penetrating cyberspace to, in theory, counter ISIS and other extremists groups’ propaganda. But is this all they’ll be doing? There is good reason to doubt the seemingly innocuous sounding mission of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC).

Countermessaging or Counterintelligence?

It is clear that the US Government is actively going to expand its social media and cyberspace presence vis-à-vis online extremism. According to the expressly stated goal, the CSCC is intended to:

…coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism… CSCC is comprised of three interactive components. The integrated analysis component leverages the Intelligence Community and other substantive experts to ensure CSCC communicators benefit from the best information and analysis available. The plans and operations component draws on this input to devise effective ways to counter the terrorist narrative. The Digital Outreach Team actively and openly engages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali.

Although the description makes the program seem harmless enough, a close reading should raise very serious questions about just what exactly the CSCC will be involved in. The so called “integrated analysis” and “plans and operations” components provide an ambiguously worded description of collaboration with US intelligence agencies – CIA, DIA, DHS, and NSA undoubtedly among them. These agencies, aside from gathering intelligence and performing surveillance in every corner of the globe, are also involved in everything from espionage to “black ops” and “dirty ops” and other shadowy activities.

In effect, the CSCC will act in concert with these agencies both in the realm of information and activity. Does anyone seriously doubt, especially in light of the Snowden revelations about the all-encompassing nature of US surveillance and counterintelligence capabilities, that ultimately part of the CSCC’s responsibilities will be to act as a de facto arm of US intelligence in the cyberspace realm, with specific attention to global hotspots such as Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Libya etc.?

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