Eric Draitser of http://StopImperialism.org provides his analysis (July 24, 2016) of the failed coup in Turkey, and the implications both for Turkish society and on the international scene. Draitser explains the relaitonship between the CIA and Turkish military coups in the past, the connections between US-NATO intelligence and the Gulenist network, and the broader strategy for the region. He also places the latest developments in the context of a shifting political landscape where Turkey’s loyalties to the West and NATO are increasingly in question. All this and more in this in depth conversation.
The failed coup in Turkey last week was a political and geopolitical earthquake as it has the potential to fundamentally alter the Middle East, NATO, and potentially the balance of power globally. But while the implications of the recent developments are clear, what actually took place on the night/morning of July 15 – July 16 is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. But why is that? Why are the connections for the most part not being made by Western pundits and journalists alike?
Here again we run into the controlled corporate media apparatus, one which is dominated by the very same interests that dominate the governments of the US and EU, and its incredible power to misinform. As the great Michael Parenti famously wrote, “[The media’s] job is not to inform but disinform, not to advance democratic discourse but to dilute and mute it. Their task is to give every appearance of being conscientiously concerned about events of the day, saying so much while meaning so little, offering so many calories with so few nutrients.”
Nowhere is Parenti’s contention more true than with the coup in Turkey. For while the media has certainly reported the allegations from President Erdogan and his government of the hidden hand of US-based billionaire Fetullah Gulen, almost none of the major media outlets have done the necessary investigation to uncover the real significance of Gulen and his movement. Specifically, and almost as if by magic, there is virtually no mention of Gulen’s longstanding ties to the CIA, his penetration of the various institutions of the Turkish state, nor is there any serious investigation into the financial networks and connections leading from Gulen to nearly every corner of the Islamic (and non-Islamic) world.
And while Gulen, along with many neocons in the US, have been propagating the narrative that President Erdogan and his forces themselves staged the coup in order to justify the ongoing crackdown on political rivals, secularists, and other anti-Erdogan forces, the media by and large has not connected the events in Turkey to their larger geopolitical significance, one which should shed some light on what may have happened. And, in a further dereliction of duty, the media has also mostly ignored the absolutely critical likelihood of the involvement of US-NATO intelligence.
History as a Guide
From Iran in 1953 to Chile in 1973 and countless other countries, the CIA and its intelligence agency cousins in NATO have been involved in myriad coups similar to the one that took place in Turkey last week. However, one would be remiss in not noting the striking similarities between the 2016 coup in Turkey and the one that took place on September 12, 1980.
Throughout the mid to late 1970s Turkey saw a major upsurge of terrorism and violence, much of which was attributed to fascist formations such as the Grey Wolves, along with other groups. However, what is now known is that much of the violence took the form of provocations which many experts allege were orchestrated by CIA-affiliated individuals and networks.
Perhaps the most significant of these was Paul Henze, a man who spent decades as an intelligence coordinator in Ethiopia, Turkey, and elsewhere throughout the Cold War. As Daniele Ganser noted in his book NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe, “A right wing extremist on trial later plausibly argued that the massacres and terrors of the 1970s had been a strategy to bring [coup leader General] Evren and the military right to power: ‘The massacres were a provocation by the [Turkish intelligence agency] MIT. With the provocations by the MIT and the CIA the ground was prepared for the September 12 coup.’” (p. 239)
But of course, these actions did not take place in a vacuum; there were intelligence operators in place who facilitated the events that took place. As renowned author and media critic Edward Herman and co-author Frank Brodhead wrote in their 1986 book The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection:
“Paul Henze began his long CIA career under Defense Department cover as a “foreign affairs adviser” in 1950. Two years later, he began a six-year hitch as a policy adviser to Radio Free Europe (RFE) in Munich, West Germany. By 1969, Henze was CIA chief of station in Ethiopia, and he served as station chief in Turkey from 1974 through 1977. When Zbigniew Brzezinski assembled his National Security Council team for President Jimmy Carter, Henze was hired as the CIA’s representative to the NSC office in the White House.”
Considering the intimate connection between Henze and Brzezinski, it is not hard to see that Henze was essentially involved in the same global operation as Brzezinski, namely the weaponization of terrorism for strategic gain against the Soviet Union. And while Brzezinski famously masterminded the creation of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, Henze already had achieved similar results in Turkey, organizing right wing forces for the purposes of destabilization. In his book, Gansler cites counter-terrorism scholar and expert on GLADIO operations Selhattin Celik, who wrote in 1999 that:
“[When US President Jimmy Carter] heard about [the 1980 coup in Turkey] he called Paul Henze, former Chief of the CIA station in Turkey who had left Ankara shortly before the coup to become a security adviser to President Carter in Washington on the Turkey desk of the CIA…Carter told Henze what the latter already knew: ‘Your people have just made a coup!’ The President was right. Paul Henze, the day after the coup, had triumphantly declared to his CIA colleagues in Washington: ‘Our boys have done it!”
Celik bluntly referred to Henze as “the chief architect of the September 12, 1980 coup.” It’s not hard to see why. From having been on the ground in the early to mid-1970s, to then becoming a coordinator in Washington while being the point person on Turkey for the National Security Council under Brzezinski, Henze was clearly instrumental. As Gansler notes, according to Celik, “Brzezinski supported the position of Henze. During a discussion in the National Security Council of the situation in Iran where in 1979 Khomeiny [sic] had seized power Brzezinski expressed his view that ‘for Turkey as for Brazil a military government would be the best solution.’”
While none of this should come as a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with how US intelligence operated in the Cold War, perhaps the depth of the connections between US intelligence, its NATO cousins, and the Turkish military and deep state represent something of an epiphany. As Turkish politician and social activist Ertugrul Kurkcu wrote in Covert Action Quarterly in 1997:
The close ties between the Turkish, US military, and intelligence circles, along with US concerns over Turkey’s military cooperation, have been major obstacles in Turkey’s path to broader democracy. [Turkish politician and journalist Fikri] Saglar charges that US interest in Turkish affairs is not confined to official NATO relations and trade ties. He points to the notorious message by the CIA’s then-Turkey Station Chief Paul Henze in Ankara to his colleagues in Washington the day after the 1980 coup “Our boys have done it!” Henze crowed. Saglar concludes that foreign intelligence organizations including the CIA, have coopted collaborators from among the extreme-right and exploited them for their particular interests.
In effect, what the 1980 coup demonstrates more than anything is that the Turkish military, as well as the far right fascist terror gangs such as the Grey Wolves, are in various ways assets of the US, and under the thumb of US intelligence. To be sure, one could quibble about the degree to which they are entirely assets, proxies, or simply longtime collaborators, but this distinction is of minor importance. What matters is that the historical record clearly indicates collusion between the Turkish military and deep state and the CIA.
But this is all ancient history, right? Surely these networks and connections have eroded over time, and what happened in 1980 is of only secondary significance to the internal politics of Turkey and the ongoing struggles for power. Well, yes…but on second thought, maybe not.
Who’s Who on the Turkish Chessboard?
In trying to provide analysis of what just took place in Turkey, one must have some understanding of the political factions vying for power in Turkey. They can roughly be broken down into three camps, though there is often overlap between the groups.
The first faction is that of President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan and the AKP come from the “moderate Islamist” milieu of the Muslim Brotherhood, having spent years fighting against the militantly secular Turkish military and state order. As Dr. Essam al-Erian, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, explained in 2007, “the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic group that has a close relationship with all moderate Islamists, the most prominent of which is the Justice and Development Party.”
This point is of critical importance because it connects Erdogan and his political machine to a much broader international network active throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It further provides an explanation as to Erdogan’s seeming fanaticism over the war in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad whose father crushed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, as well as his unwavering support for former Egyptian President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader deposed by current President Sisi.
The second faction is that of the Kemalists, with its power generally residing in the military and elements of the deep state. They see themselves as the custodians of the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. The Kemalists are deeply connected to major capitalist interests in the country, and have a long history of collaboration with the US and NATO. As noted above, the Turkish military has long-standing ties to the CIA and NATO intelligence, and has long been understood as one of the most reliable US-NATO partners.
The third political faction of note is that of Turkish billionaire Fetullah Gulen whose global network of schools has made him into one of the single most powerful individuals in the region, though he runs his network from the comfort of his Pennsylvania estate. Not only has the Gulen network made significant inroads penetrating nearly every state institution in Turkey, it is also hugely influential in the US, both in terms of long-standing ties to US intelligence, and perhaps equally important, its massive lobbying and influence-peddling apparatus. Indeed, in 2010 six major Turkish-American federations with ties to the Gulen movement joined together to create the Assembly of Turkic American Federations (ATAF), a non-profit organization that has become one of the more prominent lobbying groups in Washington dealing with Turkish and Turkic peoples issues.
It is essential to remember that although it is known that last week’s coup was carried out by elements of the military, it is unclear exactly which faction they were representing, or if it was a combination of two. But here it is useful to examine the recent history of the Gulen network (known as Hizmet) and its penetration of state institutions in order to assess what potential role it may have played in the coup.
Connecting the Dots: Fetullah Gulen and CIA Fingerprints on Turkey Coup?
While it is easy to point the finger at the CIA and US-NATO intelligence for anything that happens anywhere in the world – the Empire’s reach is truly global – one must be cautious not to simply assert US culpability without properly drawing out the tangible connections. And in this case, that is doubly true. However, it is here that Gulen’s significance really comes into play, for it is his far-reaching network of contacts, surrogates, and proxies that have penetrated nearly every significant state institution.
Long before last week’s failed coup, analysts had been making the connection between Gulen, infiltration of the Turkish state, and the CIA. As political analyst Osman Softic wrote in 2014:
“Given that the Hizmet sympathizers skilfully [sic] infiltrated some of the most sensitive structures of the state such as the police, intelligence, judiciary and public prosecution, it is quite plausible that this movement may have served as a convenient mechanism for destabilization and even overthrow of the Erdoğan government, by much more powerful and sinister international actors… Gülen himself may have become a convenient pawn in their attempt to destabilize Turkey.”
The allegation that Gulen agents have penetrated all throughout the Turkish state is nothing new. In fact, such assertions have dogged Gulen and the Hizmet movement for at least the last two decades. But it is the connection to US intelligence and the elite circles of US foreign policy that truly completes the picture.
Enter Graham Fuller, former Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council, whose links to Gulen’s movement run deep. Fuller has gone so far as to defend Gulen on Huffington Post in recent days in an article entitled The Gulen Movement Is Not a Cult — It’s One of the Most Encouraging Faces of Islam Today in which he admits – he had no choice as it is well documented – that he wrote a letter in support of Gulen’s green card application to the US in 2006. Although his rhetoric attempts to distort the nature of, and reason behind, his support for Gulen, Fuller does imply that Hizmet represents a social movement aligned with, and amenable to, US interests, one which could be used as a potent weapon in a critical NATO ally.
Fuller fails to note that he doesn’t simply have a passing connection with the Gulen movement, but that he has attended numerous Gulenist functions including large events, such as those organized by the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians, a reputed Gulenist umbrella organization run by Kemal Oksuz (a.k.a. Kevin Oksuz), a prominent member of the Gulen network.
In addition to Fuller, infamous former CIA operative and US Ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, also wrote a letter backing Gulen as he sought sanctuary in the US. Interestingly, Abramowitz was also the co-author, along with fellow neocons Eric Edelman and Blaise Misztal, of a fiery January 2014 op-ed in the Washington Post that all but demanded that the US topple Erdogan’s government. Yes, chin-scratchingly interesting.
So, let’s see if we got it all down. Gulen leads a multi-billion dollar business empire and charter/private school network with global reach. He is directly connected to two of the most notorious CIA operatives in the recent history of US-Turkish relations. He has a political lobbying network whose tentacles stretch from Washington to Central Asia. Oh, and by the way, according to former Turkish intelligence chief Osman Nuri Gundes, Gulen’s network of schools in the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan provided the cover for at least 130 CIA agents in the mid to late 90s.
Now let’s add to that equation the fact that the RAND corporation, one of the most influential think tanks within US policy circles, suggested in a detailed 2004 report entitled Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies that US policy should:
“Support the modernists first, enhancing their vision of Islam over that of the traditionalists by providing them with a broad platform to articulate and disseminate their views. They, not the traditionalists, should be cultivated and publicly presented as the face of contemporary Islam…Support the secularists on a case-by-case basis.”
It would seem that, more than a decade ago, and at a time when Gulen and Erdogan were still friendly, their organizations still allied, that US policy was to push Gulen and the moderate Islamist elements that he and Erdogan represented. It seems quite likely that the falling out between Erdogan and Gulen had less to do with personal issues and egos (though that undoubtedly played a part) than it did with policy and loyalty.
The Geopolitics and Strategy of the Failed Coup
Despite his commendable service to US imperialism in Syria, including hosting both terrorist and Syrian expatriate proxies of the US, Erdogan has clearly upset the apple cart with Washington. Perhaps his most egregious crime came just recently when he issued an apology for the November 2015 downing of a Russian jet. But, of course, it wasn’t the apology itself that set off official Washington, it was the reorientation of Turkish foreign policy away from the US, NATO, and Europe, and towards Russia, China, and the emerging non-western power bloc. This was his grave sin. And it wasn’t the first time, though undoubtedly Washington wanted to make sure it would be his last.
One must recall that Erdogan has a nasty habit of making deals with US adversaries, including the signing of the massive Turk Stream pipeline deal, the decision to purchase missile systems from China (which Erdogan later reneged on), the signing of a lucrative nuclear energy deal with Russia, and many others. In short, for Washington, Erdogan proved to be an unreliable ally at best, and a dangerous political manipulator at worst. So, as with so many leaders who came to be seen that way by the US political elites, he had to go. And Gulen’s network would come in handy.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the events of the failed coup was the use of the NATO base at Incirlik. As the Los Angeles Times noted:
“Turkish officials said the organizers of the uprising were given crucial aid from officers at Incirlik Air Base, a facility that hosts most of the 2,500 U.S. military personnel stationed in Turkey and is a key base for the U.S.-led coalition’s ongoing air campaign to defeat the Islamic State militant group in neighboring Iraq and Syria… official media reported the arrest of the top Turkish military official at Incirlik, Gen. Bekir Ercan Van. Van was among 10 soldiers arrested at the base, part of an operation Turkish officials say provided air-to-air refueling for F-16 fighter jets…[which] were a crucial part of the coup attempt, used to intimidate government supporters in the streets.”
The implications of this information should not be understated. While it is entirely possible that the story was concocted by Erdogan’s people in order to carry out a purge of top military officials perhaps seen as disloyal to Erdogan or much too loyal to secular Kemalists, it is also plausible that the Turkish government’s narrative is correct.
Were that to be the case, then the obvious implication would be that Incirlik was a base of operations for the coup, the locus of Turkish military power behind the coup, and US intelligence and military behind them. Considering the centrality of Incirlik to NATO operations in the Middle East, it is not unreasonable to assume that aside from just military personnel, Incirlik is a node in the global CIA network. In fact, considering that the base is home to both US drones conducting operations in the Syria-Iraq theater, as well as a hub of the US “extraordinary rendition” program, it almost goes without saying that Incirlik houses significant CIA assets.
Seen from this perspective then, Incirlik was obviously pivotal to the failed coup plot, and has since become essential to Erdogan’s purging of his rivals from the ranks of the military. Moreover, it was long a bone of contention between Ankara and Washington, with Erdogan’s government wanting to assert more control over the base than Washington was prepared to allow. In many ways, Incirlik became the nexus of a tectonic shift in Turkish politics, and in the geopolitics of the region.
Ultimately, the failed 2016 coup in Turkey will have lasting ramifications that will impact the years and decades ahead. With Turkey now clearly breaking with the US-NATO-EU axis, it is rather predictable that it will seek to not only mend fences with both Russia and China, but to place itself into the non-western camp typified by BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China’s One Belt One Road strategy, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, etc.
The failure of the coup is clearly a failure for the US and its allies who see in Erdogan an adversary, not a partner. For his part, Erdogan has much criminal behavior to answer for. From his illegal fomenting of war in Syria, to the purges and arbitrary detentions ongoing in Turkey today, to the attacks on secular institutions and human rights, Erdogan has a rap sheet a mile long. But of course sharing a bed with criminal regimes has never been a problem for Washington.
No, the problem has been, and will continue to be, that Erdogan doesn’t play by the rules; rules set forth by the US. And with this US-backed coup, he will only get stronger. Surely, many sleepless nights lay ahead for the strategic planners in Washington.
President Obama’s true priorities were on full display this past week as he attended the NATO Summit in Poland’s capital of Warsaw. For while Obama met with other NATO heads of state to discuss raising troop levels, bringing more military hardware into Eastern Europe and to the doorstep of Russia, and generally heightening tensions with a nuclear power, America found itself in crisis.
After the horrific, criminal murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the sniper attack in Dallas, racial tensions were running high; millions of black, brown, and white people, mostly young, poured into the streets of cities across the country to express their indignation at the ceaseless murder of innocent citizens at the hands of the police. And, predictably, the police forcibly suppressed the protests, demonstrating before the world what militarized law enforcement looks like, and what it can do.
So, with state-sanctioned paramilitary storm-troopers roaming the streets and attacking protesters, the First Black PresidentTM couldn’t be bothered to come home and use the power of his position to calm the tensions and speak to issues of mass incarceration and police violence. No, instead Obama remained in Poland where he did everything in his power to heighten international tensions. Such is the reality of the Obama presidency: shed crocodile tears for political expediency while pursuing a belligerent foreign policy that has the potential to escalate out of control.
Obama’s Legacy: Setting the Stage for War in Europe?
Shock, horror, revulsion – these are some of the appropriate reactions to seeing the state-sanctioned murders of innocent black and brown people like Castile, Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and countless others. But those same reactions are equally appropriate when evaluating the US-NATO policy in Eastern Europe, one which could have far-reaching consequences which for the moment are unimaginable. I mean, war with Russia? Really?
Indeed, the Obama administration has made it a centerpiece of its strategy in Eastern Europe to fully commit to massive militarization rather than negotiation. The NATO Summit in Warsaw saw the signing of a raft of agreements that will undeniably raise the potential for military conflict. Some highlights of the agreements include:
- Stationing four battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis beginning in 2017
- Development of a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of the Alliance
- Declaring Initial Operational Capability of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense
- Expanding NATO’s mission to cyberspace and cyber defense
- An agreement to start training and capacity building inside Iraq.
- An expanded maritime presence in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Extending NATO mission in Afghanistan until at least 2020
- A Joint Declaration of new NATO-EU cooperation, including in maritime security and countering hybrid threats
These developments are deeply worrying when you consider that they are, in effect, anti-Russia “defense” measures which will be correctly interpreted by Moscow as a major escalation which will, in turn, necessitate escalation from the Russian side. There was a time in the not so distant past when disarmament and negotiation was the order of the day when it came to US-Soviet relations. Unfortunately, it seems the cooler heads have all retired or passed away, and today it’s just the hotheads and warmongers making policy.
Despite the danger already evident from the new NATO agreements listed above, one must also recall that the US and its NATO allies have engaged in countless military exercises with nearly every country in Southern and Eastern Europe, with Russia providing the necessary villain. Here is just a small sampling of the myriad drills and exercises:
- Rapid Trident 2016 (June 27 – July 8) in Yavoriv, Ukraine. According to U.S. Army Europe’s website, “Participating nations’ forces Ukraine, United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Great Britain, Moldova, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Turkey. The Rapid Trident exercise comes at the explicit request of the Ukrainian government and military.”
- Noble Partner 2016 (May 11 – May 26) in Vaziani, Georgia. The exercise includes US and Georgian military participants and is designed specifically to increase capabilities to confront Russia. As U.S. Army Europe’s website noted, “The exercise focuses on Unified Land Operations…[and] emphasizes USAREUR’s abilities to quickly move soldiers and equipment throughout Europe and operate together within a coalition in any potential future operation.”
- Trident Joust 2016 (April 12 – April 22) in Poland. Trident Joust is a NATO-sponsored series of exercises that essentially wargames potential Russian invasion.
- Joint Warrior 16-1 (April 12 – April 24) in the North and Baltic Seas. Joint Warrior is a NATO-sponsored series of naval exercises carried out by Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) which simulates realistic war scenarios in the Baltic Sea (translation: Russian invasion).
- Anakonda 16 (June 7 – June 17) in Poland. The land, sea, and air exercises involved 31,000 troops from Poland, the US, and 17 other NATO members and five partners. The largest contingent of troops was from the US.
- Flaming Sword (May 1 – May 20) in Lithuania and Latvia. This exercise was to evaluate the US special forces ability to interact with their counterparts in Lithuania and Latvia in preparation for a potential attack from Russia.
- BALTOPS 16 (June 3 – June 26) in the Baltic Sea. This exercise was led by the US and focused on interoperability with partner nations in the maritime, air and land domains. Aside from NATO member participation, BALTOPS 16 also included the partner nations of Finland and Sweden.
It should be noted that these exercises represent only a fraction of the overall military activity US-NATO has been engaged in near Russia’s borders, as these are merely the exercises carried out in the last three months.
Of course, the US military buildup in Eastern Europe has been ongoing for quite a while. Earlier this year the US announced major increases in forces deployed in Eastern Europe. And, rather predictably, Russia responded weeks later by saying that it too would be increasing its troop deployments to the Western border as a counter-measure against the US-led buildup. To say this was expected would be an understatement. And considering how much energy and money was invested in exercises and the movement of military hardware into the region just in 2016, one must shudder to think of a further increase in 2017. One cannot help but fear that this is a prelude to war.
Cui Bono? Who Benefits from Wars at Home and Abroad?
It is not enough to simply point out the vicious brutality meted out by the police on communities of color, or to highlight the warmongering of the political elites around the world. Rather, one must understand the interconnectedness of these two phenomena, and the fact that the same system promotes and profits from both; in short, it is the military-industrial complex that wins.
With an increase in military hardware and troop deployments in Eastern Europe, companies like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing stand to gain more lucrative contracts, adding to their bottom lines as the world teeters perilously close to the edge of the abyss. But it is also all the companies that make body armor, firearms, Humvees, satellite phones and so much more. It is an industry within an industry. And business is booming.
Why? Because the same companies that profit from outfitting US military and NATO are profiting from doing the same for local police departments. This militarization of the police is part and parcel of the creation of a full-fledged police state, with a repressive apparatus aimed especially at poor communities of color that rise up in protest against wanton police murders. And, as with Eastern Europe, President Obama has presided over a massive increase in police militarization.
As the New York Times reported in 2014:
“During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.”
Clearly, Obama’s rhetorical commitment to social justice, like his commitment to peace as exemplified by his Nobel Peace Prize, is the product of cynical manipulation and public relations, not genuine action. And, in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, in 2015 Obama announced that some military-style equipment would no longer be available to police; well, Mr. Hope and Change has already reneged on that in the wake of the Dallas sniper attack.
According to police leaders present at a private meeting with Obama, the President assured them “that his administration would review a prior decision that halted the sale of some surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.” So much for even the smallest concession to the communities impacted the most by police violence.
But the larger point that must be addressed is that the same military-industrial complex is driving both US imperialism and state-sponsored police murders. While US military trains Poles and Latvians and Lithuanians and Georgians to kill Russians, so too do security firms in Israel and the US train police officers to act as occupiers and kill citizens in America. In effect, the belligerent foreign policy of Washington has been brought home. Perhaps it could be more accurately said that war and occupation have always been the status quo in communities of color, that the killings and violence are only being highlighted today because they have been brought to the attention of White America.
The lack of respect for peace and human life is evident both on the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Baton Rouge, just as it is on display with US saber-rattling in Eastern Europe. It seems the very notions of peace and justice are as alien to the US as a bowl of borscht.
And while a movement to challenge police murders continues to grow in the US, a movement for peace that seeks to avoid World War III seems conspicuously absent. It seems long past time to mobilize one. And considering how interconnected the problems are, perhaps the movements that rise to challenge them should be as well.
What was your reaction when you heard FBI Director James Comey announce to the world that the Bureau would not be recommending that charges be filed against Hillary Clinton over her handling of emails while she was Secretary of State? Did you do a humorous spit take with your coffee like some modern day Danny Thomas? Were you frozen in place like Americans were on November 22, 1963? Did your jaw hit the floor with your tongue rolling out like a flabbergasted cartoon character?
Chances are you weren’t the least bit surprised that no charges were recommended. But what does that tell you about our political system?
That millions of Americans weren’t remotely caught off guard by the exculpation of Hillary Clinton is less a commentary about American attitudes than it is a clear indication of the all-pervasive criminality that is at the heart of America’s political ruling class. And the fact that such criminality is seen as par for the course demonstrates once again that the rule of law is more a rhetorical veneer than a juridical reality.
But consider further what the developments of recent days tell us both about the US and, perhaps even more importantly, the perception of the US internationally. For while Washington consistently wields as weapons political abstractions such as transparency, corruption, and freedom, it is unwilling to apply to itself those same cornerstones of America’s collective self-conception. Hypocrisy is perhaps not strong enough a word.
Not Even Hiding It Anymore…
Remember the good old days when corrupt politicians committed their crimes in smoke-filled rooms, making handshake deals in quiet corners of luxury hotel suites or over lobster at five star restaurants? Those things certainly still happen, but the transgressions, like all things, seem to have lost a bit of their classiness. It may not be the Plaza Hotel, but the Phoenix airport was no less a scene of wanton lawlessness and impropriety when former President, and soon to be First Gentleman, Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
The meeting, which only came to light thanks to the work of local ABC15 morning anchor Christopher Sign, has been widely criticized by pundits and legal experts from both sides of the political spectrum. Naturally, questions about impropriety, and potential illegal tampering in a federal investigation, were immediately raised once the meeting was made public. Of course, nothing was done to alleviate any of those concerns, calling into question the very impartiality of the investigation.
But the larger story has to do with symbolic message being sent by the meeting. Specifically, there is one set of laws for American citizens, and an entirely different set of laws for political elites like the Clintons.
Moreover, there’s more to it than just criminality. There is the air of superiority which oozes from every action taken by the Clintons who have made hundreds of millions of dollars unscrupulously pandering to, and serving the interests of, the financial elite of Wall Street and the corporate oligarchy. That feeling of invincibility is what drives someone like Bill Clinton to demand that the FBI surrounding him at the Phoenix airport dictate to bystanders that there are to be “no photos, no pictures, no cell phones.” To make such a demand is to see oneself as above the law, above the First Amendment, above the plebs, as it were.
And this sort of behavior is what we’ve come to expect from the Clintons. Who can forget the seemingly endless rap sheet that the dynamic Democrat duo has earned over the decades? The Whitewater Scandal, in many ways a template for the Clinton email scandal, involved shady business practices and political insider dealing by the Clintons and their real estate developer cronies. And, like the email scandal, Whitewater was an example of the Clintons deliberately destroying records that likely implicate them in very serious crimes.
As the New York Times reported in 1992, “The Clintons and Mr. McDougal disagree about what happened to Whitewater’s records. Mr. McDougal says that at Mr. Clinton’s request they were delivered to the Governor’s mansion. The Clintons say many of them have disappeared. Many questions about the enterprise cannot be fully answered without the records.”
So it seems the Clintons have this nasty habit of committing crimes and then destroying the records of those crimes and claiming complete ignorance about what happened. For you and me, such a flimsy excuse would go over like a lead balloon, likely leading to jail time. For the Clintons, the controversy quietly fades away and slips down the memory hole.
And then of course there’s the mysterious death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, the man who filed three years of delinquent Whitewater corporate tax returns, and then was subsequently found dead a month later. While his death was officially ruled a suicide, the serendipitous development for the Clintons led to speculation that Foster was killed on the order of the Clintons in order to silence a potentially damning source of information about Clinton misdeeds.
Indeed, some claim that evidence exists that Foster was in fact murdered, including the statements from one of the lead prosecutors investigating the death, Miguel Rodriguez, who claims that photos showed a gunshot wound on Foster’s neck, a wound that was not mentioned in the official report. Whether true or not, the speculation about the Clintons’ involvement in a political assassination has only grown.
But of course there are so many more scandals it’s hard to keep count. From appointments of Clinton Foundation donors to key State Department positions in a sort of “pay for play” scheme, to the salaries paid to people like Hillary’s Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin who, while working for the State Department, also worked for Teneo, a consulting firm run by another close Clinton crony. And who could forget the Clinton Foundation and the myriad conflict of interest issues, lack of transparency, and outright criminality associated with it?
This article would go on for tens of thousands more words were it to chronicle all of Clinton’s scandals. But the true focus here is not even simply on Clinton crimes, but rather on the culture of corruption and lawlessness that exists unfettered in Washington; it is the endemic corruption that the Clintons represent, perhaps better than anyone.
Corruption and Malfeasance: As American as Apple Pie
It is difficult to encapsulate in a few short paragraphs the multi-layered forms of corruption that are embedded in the very fabric of America’s political culture. Perhaps it could be best separated into three distinct, though interrelated, categories: the open door, the closed door, and the revolving door.
The open door of corruption and criminality represents the kind of wrongdoing that takes place out in the open, in full view of the public, but which is treated as anything but criminal. Whether it be lying the US into wars of aggression – the Iraq War was based on lies about weapons of mass destruction, the war on Libya was sold on the pretext of lies about civilians being murdered by the government – or simply the obviously corrupt form of campaign financing that allows Wall Street and the corporate elites to bankroll the alleged “democracy” that the US so proudly proselytizes the world over; these forms of corruption and criminality are in many ways the bedrock of American politics.
As the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg famously stated, “To initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” By this very definition, every political leader in the US going back decades is guilty of war crimes.
Going further, one can draw on the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt who, in a now legendary speech at Madison Square Garden in 1936, unequivocally proclaimed:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.
But today, rather than welcoming the hatred of Wall Street and the corporate oligarchy, America’s politicians pander to them, grovel before them, kiss their rings in hopes of securing for themselves a financially and professionally lucrative future. So deep is the rot that most Americans passively accept this as business as usual, failing to understand that it is anything but acceptable.
The closed door forms of criminality are often completely concealed from public view, and what does become known is only thanks to courageous actions by reporters and whistleblowers. Take for instance the activities of the CIA, only a fraction of which were exposed by the Church and Pike Committees, which included obviously criminal activities ranging from the overthrow of governments to assassination of political leaders to domestic spying and propaganda, all of which being blatantly illegal.
But the closed door also conceals the activities of prominent political figures such as Hillary Clinton, whose secret lobbying for things like right wing coup governments in Honduras, shows the degree to which politicians literally conspire in secret. Clinton, like so many of her colleagues, also grovels at the feet of Wall Street financiers, including taking massive payoffs for speeches with the tacit wink-wink-nudge-nudge that goes along with them.
Finally, the revolving door is one of the shining examples of America’s political corruption, or perhaps better put, complete subservience to the corporate oligarchy. When key government officials leave public life and head to that oft-lionized “private sector,” what they are actually providing is access – access to government for corporations and capital.
When the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) leaves her government post and takes a job as President of Merck & Co. Inc’s vaccine division, no one bats an eye.
When the architect of Obamacare, who before working on the health plan was an executive at one of the nation’s largest health insurance providers, leaves her government job and takes a position with Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group, it garners barely a passing comment.
When Wall Street executives take positions at head of the Treasury Department – Tim Geithner and Hank Paulsen both worked for Goldman Sachs, as just one example – it is simply “the way things are.” This revolving door form of political corruption may not be anything new, but it is so rarely defined as corruption. But that’s exactly what it is.
However, none of this prevents Washington from publicly admonishing other countries for their corruption problems. Russia? Zimbabwe? Venezuela? China? Nigeria? All corrupt. United States? Well, er, ummm…Democracy! Freedom! This is the sort of reflexive hypocrisy that typifies American exceptionalism or, as the rest of the world might call it, the arrogance of empire.
With the media in a frenzy in the wake of the Brexit vote, one aspect of the results that has been utterly overlooked is the impact, or lack thereof, of the campaigning by US President Barack Obama for Britain to remain in the EU. And while the results of the referendum will have far-reaching ramifications in Britain – the immigrant community has already seen a nearly 60% increase in racist attacks and abuse reported – perhaps one of the most significant in terms of international politics is the realization of just how ineffectual the US president is in swaying public opinion on the other side of the Atlantic.
But the larger implication is that the US as a political force is not the public relations superpower it once was. Moreover, the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has demonstrated time and again that phrases such as “cooperation” and “European partnership” are merely hollow expressions of propaganda, rather than genuine descriptions of mutually respectful relations. Indeed, what is clear is that the US establishment, regardless of which wing of the single corporate party is in power, is less interested in relationship-building than it is in dictatorship-building; accept US diktats…or else.
US Threatens Others – What Else Is New?
When Obama visited Britain in April he delivered a quite harshly worded warning to the British people: remain in the EU or suffer the consequences. Specifically, Obama threatened that if Britain were to leave the EU it would find itself on the wrong end of trade deals, thereby negatively impacting the British economy. Obama grandiosely proclaimed:
“I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done…The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.”
The overt threat of the US punishing the UK for voting the wrong way is par for the course when it comes to what could loosely be described as “diplomacy” by the US political establishment. Indeed, threats seem to be one of the few means by which Washington is able to get its allies in Europe to fall in line with US policy.
This fact is perhaps best illustrated by the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s support for the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. It is no secret that the sanctions were imposed, and subsequently extended, against Russia thanks in large part to arm-twisting by the Obama administration which sought to use the sanctions as an economic and psychological weapon against Russia in hopes of punishing Russian President Putin and his circle of advisers, and of course the Russian people more generally.
As White House spokesperson Josh Earnest explained to reporters in 2015:
My understanding is that the plan is for the President, when he goes to Europe, is to have a discussion with fellow European leaders about the need to extend the sanctions regime that’s currently in place… there are a number of steps involved in that process, and this will be part of the conversation — frankly, a wide-ranging discussion that the President will have with his G7 counterparts…the longer that the sanctions are in place, the more of an economic bite they take out of the Russian economy and the more pressure is applied to President Putin and the more President Putin and the country that he leads becomes isolated.
The obvious implication of Earnest’s wordy statement is that Obama was going to Europe to convince, coax, and cajole key European leaders of the need to sabotage their own economic cooperation with Russia as a means of punishing the country or, to put in more realist terms, to please Washington by displeasing Moscow.
And, despite talking points from the US and Europe to the contrary, the EU sanctions on Russia have indeed hurt the European economy and clearly go against its own interests. According to an independent 2015 study carried out by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), and commissioned by newspapers in the Leading European Newspaper Alliance – with involvement from Tribune de Genève (Switzerland), Le Figaro (France), El Pais (Spain), and Die Welt (Germany) – the sanctions against Russia would cost Europe up to €100 billion in economic development and jeopardize up to 2.5 million jobs.
In fact, the sanctions have been so divisive in Europe that earlier this year EU foreign ministers were in sharp disagreement over the need for extending the sanctions further. As has been the case since the sanctions were first imposed, the states closest in relations with the US were the most hawkish on the need for continued sanctions, while other influential countries were more inclined to drop the sanctions and move forward.
Of particular note has been the position of Germany which has at once supported sanctions and the reasoning behind them, and simultaneously inked contracts with Russia for the construction of a new Nord Stream pipeline to bring Russian energy to Germany’s all important industrial sector. Naturally, a number of European leaders have mused openly about why their economies should suffer while Europe’s economic engine in Germany manages to continue humming along, reaping the benefits of economic cooperation with Russia. The answer is not hard to figure: Washington demands it.
But as the realization of Obama’s inability to impact the Brexit vote sets in, many might be left wondering why they’re still listening to the US at all. It must be said that millions of Britons were of course in favor of remaining in the EU, though it is an open question whether the remonstrations from the US President had any impact on their decision.
Ultimately, the Brexit vote was more about British politics, nativism, the political co-location of the far right and far left, discontent among the working class, and a number of other factors. But for those of us who yearn to see a more equitable distribution of power globally, we cannot help but notice that despite all the threats from the White House, Wall Street, and the media organs of institutional power, Britain is leaving the EU. Maybe it’s time Washington took seriously the notion that its allies are equal partners, not junior ones.