All posts by rosssnider

Rewatching the “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” Video: An Analogy for Contemporary Trump Era Politics

Having recently re-watched the once-viral political incident from John Kerry’s University of Florida conference, I heard for the first time what the student (“Andrew Meyer”) had been asking John Kerry before his microphone access was cut, he was arrested and tasered.

Meyer had, according to reports, insisted on having his questions answered as he was next in line but the QA session had closed. He was quite clearly in an aggravated state when he started asking Kerry his set of questions, which ultimately amounted to at least three. The microphone was turned back on for him but after the security detail felt that he was badgering the official they turned off the microphone and arrested him, which aggravated him further. When he resisted arrest and (briefly) physically escaped from custody he was tackled and subsequently tased.

Meyer had been asking Kerry a series of semi-confused, but also legitimate and important questions. The student had been studying mass communications – a field of study that is often recruited into the US government for domestic and global propaganda operations – and its interesting to ponder whether the student perhaps had ever wondered whether he was at one time or another a target of mass communications. To that point, his questions to John Kerry were:

  1. There appears to be an incredible amount of evidence that Bush was put in office illegally, with voter suppression, and an otherwise manipulated vote. How could you have ceded the race to him, not challenged his electoral victory, and why have you not publicly challenged the basis of his presidency or called for his impeachment?
  2. There are a number of policies, such as Iran/Iraq, for which you and Bush presumably have strong differences. But from what has manifested so far, you appear to not be challenging the Bush administration’s choices with regard in the region. If it’s going to be a disaster, why support the administration?
  3. Is it true that you were a member of the same secret society, Skull and Bones, as President Bush – and is this one of the reasons that ultimately you appear to be facilitating rather than challenging the administration?

Essentially the student is confused about what policies Kerry and Bush actually supported versus what their rhetorical stances where, as well as a severe misunderstanding of the incredible institutional momentum that runs national security and power projection and acts as a moderating force on any president who would change US imperial posture – in either a more bellicose or peaceful direction.

Baffled by inconsistencies between political race rhetoric and bipartisan consensus issues, Meyer confronts Kerry in a confused jumble – even an accusation – that the show that went on for the public to get people racing temporarily and angrily to the ballot box did not cohere with Kerry’s own behavior after the election.

Of course, this is true. What Meyer missed is that American politics does not engage voters at the level where substantive policy issues are decided, and the appeals and impressions that politicians give in public have little to no binding implications for the actual policy they will run when in office and when confronted by the power brokers of the country (its business oligarchs and moguls, its military brass and lifetime political bureaucrats, and its international stakeholders).

Security’s reaction to this was to find his wild and confused questioning alarming, to physically mishandle him, and to subject him to a disabling device originally invented for torture.

The public’s reaction was far more interesting. There was no analysis of what Meyer was trying to ask or where he was coming from. “Don’t tase me bro!” became viral while every word he wanted to bring to the public’s attention became buried. Broadly the news stories weren’t about whether Meyer was mistreated, or even if his questions or Kerry’s answers shed light on the shallowness of the American political system.

The notable thing about the resulting public dialogue was that Meyer was not actually alone in his confusion or even a political outsider. In 2007 – the date of the incident – there was still a public discussion about the numbers in the Bush-Kerry election in 2004 and the possibility of there having been electoral fraud. There was similarly public discussion (and confusion) about Bush’s policies in the Middle East and why there seemed to be consensus among Democrats and Republicans alike on warmongering positions. At the time, there was a large amount of public discussion about “Skull and Bones” society.

This may offer us a lens into today’s political ecosystem. We could imagine an excited badgering participant getting tased at a Hillary Clinton event for asking:

  1. There appears to be credible evidence of a hostile Russian takeover of the entire US executive branch. Why haven’t you said this yourself specifically? Why haven’t you publicly called for Trump’s impeachment? Why haven’t you fought hard to preserve the sanctity of the US government? How could you cede and congratulate him on his electoral victory?
  2. There are a number of policies, such as those in Syria, where instead of calling him a war criminal for dropping bombs on a foreign country’s government despite there being no legal basis to do so – you’ve supported him! Presumably you have strong differences in policies pertaining to the Middle East. If his foreign policy there is going to be such a disaster, why are you not vocally opposing him?
  3. Is it true that you came to Trump’s wedding as a guest in honor? That you accepted donations from him and that he contributed to your campaigns and that you both have otherwise historically gotten along famously in the circles of American elite wealth? Is this one of the reasons that ultimately you appear to be facilitating rather than challenging the administration?

Wise men learn from history. The answers to our hypothetical Clinton heckler’s questions are the same as Meyer’s ten years ago.

Once in office, the Trump administration has been boxed in by establishment political forces as is the design of our system. Today’s foreign stakeholders, career professionals, and American oligarchs pull at the strings of power and negotiate with a North American government outcomes, priorities, and choices.

The Trump administration’s choices are from the same menus, options, and constraints presented to the Obama administration. The administration’s actual leeway to make different choices has been highly constrained by virtue of the narrow range of institutionally acceptable procedures.

For instance, in areas where Trump and Obama’s political administrations have held opposite rhetorical points on immigration, there is far more consistency in policy than there is any difference; public relations sales tactics account for the largest area of real dissimilarity.

There does not seem yet to be penetration in the American psyche that the Obama administration mass deported illegal immigrants and separated their families to the tune of two million, more than any other president in history. The immigrant community began calling President Obama the “deporter-in-chief.” The Trump administration’s has stated their intention to deport around the same number–with a communications strategy that it is legal to do so (it happens to be). Yet, the Trump administration has been met with an incredible backlash on the Obama policy that never could have existed under the Obama Era propaganda that had made it appear that there really wasn’t any deportation going on at all.

Likewise, there is no mass understanding that illegal immigrants in the United States are widely abused, given no worker protections, and are worked in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that would be considered illegal in any other situation. There is no mass understanding that the huge margins that American businesses make from exploiting illegal immigrants exactly because they have no legal protection is critical to the American economy. Comprising around 2% of the population, America’s illegal immigrants contribute over 6% of GDP, more than three times the productivity of the typical American worker. Of course, in states where illegal immigrants are closer to 6-7% of the population (California, Texas), their contribution to state income is closer to 20%. It’s not a wonder that California and Texas politicians support business exploitation of unprotected labor.

There is no push to cracking down hard on exploitative labor practices, since this would cripple the US economy. Instead, there’s a subtle tug between whether immigrants can stay and be abused or whether they need to be deported. With the public unaware that DoD and DHS has any say in the matter, it’s been deemed a critical risk to the United States that destabilization from political collapse in Columbia, Honduras and Mexico could spread to the United States and that since the Obama administration, national security strategy has facilitated a bipartisan compromise: the United States must be protected from both the instability that comes with mass migration and also protected against the economic damage wrought by the loss of cheap labor. The difference between administrations has been, thus far, primarily talking points, and the Trump administration has gotten flack for effectively being too honest about bipartisan priorities.

There are other good examples of consistent policy including those of Syria, North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran. Now, I’m not arguing that they are identical or that outcomes will be the same (quite the opposite). What I am arguing is that the Trump administration isn’t getting different advice, pressure or options in Syria and he isn’t able to choose extremely different outcomes. The differences come down to priorities and resources. The Trump administration is explicitly prioritizing counterterrorism. The Obama administration specifically prioritized keeping the US from a mass mobilized troop deployment. These priorities will definitely lead to different outcomes: but the Trump administration does not have a different set of operating constraints, objectives, or allies.

A friend quietly didn’t answer me the other day when I forcefully asserted that the Clinton Campaign had hardline support for hydrolic fractured hydrocarbons. I felt it was important to temper anger at the Trump administration for their support of non-green energy with the business end of the American political stick: hydraulically-fractured gas is going to make the influential political actors in the United States rich and powerful; running against these interests is not feasible in our political system.

The same is true of Clinton and the Affordable Care Act. Careful scrutiny of her position indicates that she promised to keep certain parts of the legislation alive but otherwise intended to drastically alter the basis of the legislation. Whether to call for “repeal and replace” or whether to herald the clauses on pre-existing conditions became a centerpiece of the political debates. But whether the Affordable Care Act was in deep trouble from a financial and management perspective: both Clinton and Trump clearly agree.

After watching the videos of Meyer I couldn’t help but wonder ten years later if he’d come to understand why real answers to his questions were dangerous; or what he thought about the race between Clinton and Trump.

If you’re out there, Meyer, we want to have you guest write on blog–or come join us for a podcast.

The Fake News Panic is a US Media Credibility Crisis

On November 13th of 2016, every major media outlet in the United States of America ran front page articles centered around a newly invented term. “Fake news“, papers papered and online distributors distributed, was a serious and modern and unique problem being faced by the nation.

Specifically, mainstream media outlets equivocated all alternative sources of information to themselves with ‘fake news’, but had trouble bringing up specific instances. Notably a few examples of fake news articles have been traded by supporters of this panic, for example by NPR, and mostly they amount to three or four specific articles that had little readership and little impact. Among the touted examples found in a subsequent online witch hunt arose a combination of satirical articles from the Onion and other humor websites, some very obviously politicized articles heavily spinning current events, and articles from bloggers and citizens who produced confused accounts trying to consolidate perspectives provided to them by multiple outlets into a coherent single.

Fake news for liberals: misinformation starts to lean left under Trump” the Guardian writes, citing a number of fabricated, spun, misreported, and misleading stories trending on left-wing social media. Others point to right-wing websites that abused their headlines to make fast passersbys misinterpret the content of the news story: to deliver a misrepresentative synopsis of article content.

The abuse of headlines is (unfortunately) a common practice in news journalism editing, encouraged by the bottom line of the business as well as political and national security sensibilities. It is a well established fact that headlines are read in lieu of actual articles, and outlets abuse this to strategically misinform readership who browse headlines and to color the perspective of those that do go on to read full articles.

Famously, the New York Times published an article during the Israeli invasion of Palestinian Gaza about the killing of schoolchildren playing soccer by missile strike and the general tactic of using untargetted mass killing of civilians and hospitals as punitive measures during the offensive. This article was given the headline “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup.”

The article could have been headlined “Israel Continues to Implement Collective Punishment; Kills Children Playing Soccer” which is far more descriptive of the contents of the article. But that wouldn’t do. It calls into question Israel’s tactical ethics, the defense relationship Americans have with an important US ally, and would leave those who skim the NYT with the impression that Israel’s military invasion of Palestine was offensive and aggressive in nature – in direct contradiction to the professional obligation of US media to present the war fighting and civilian casualties as justified and defensive.

After a controversy, the NYT retitled the headline (after it was no longer news) and has since edited the headline to read “In Rubble of Gaza Seaside Cafe, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer.”

The headline is descriptive of the article, and much less whitewashed than “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup” but still does the reader injustice by framing away the context of the article. The new headline still did not mention the missile was launched by Israel, the controversy of its recent military incursion, and it invokes the World Cup as a distractionary measure as though this were more important context than the Middle Eastern peace accords, military law, or the international effort to call Israel into question for war crimes.

During the surge to get the United States involved in the Syrian proxy war against the Iranian and Russian ally Syria, reports about the barbarity of the Islamic State group made headlines. Selective reporting about the realities of war are destabilizing to the sensitivities of American vote makers and motivate their sense of exasperation that ‘something must be done’.  A US propaganda outlet established during the war on Iraq (““) reported, on the condition of anonymity for their source, that Islamic State prisoners of war were being executed and then their bodies dissolved in acid: but ran this with the headline “ISIS uses nitric acid to kill and torture citizens in Mosul” with a picture of people in jumpsuits, in a cage, submerged in liquid.

American domestic media outlets picked up this story, and as though by a game of telephone, the headline read “ISIS execute 25 people by DISSOLVING them in nitric acid” with the rumor growing – now sounding as though twenty-five souls were tied dangling over a bubbling pot of acid, as though it were a scene from a evil villain cartoon. It is difficult to discern exactly how and when the spies were killed by the Islamic State group before their bodies disposed, with escalatory and malinformative rumors originally publicized by military propaganda units republished domestically with no fact checking and with no investigatory journalism capable of cross checking facts or even getting clarity from the original, anonymous source.

Similar stories ran amuck in the US media industry regarding presumed ISIS and Islamist burning of Christians and Christian children to death, with Snopes thankfully posting articles providing context about the pictures used to promulgate the misinformation.

As American and allied propaganda slowly turned from building support against ISIS to the building support against the government of Syria, the US media industry followed suite. Foreign reporting from the BBC and the Independent, as well as from al Jazeera (a state-run propaganda outlet by the authoritarian government of Qatar), and domestic US news such as CNN and VICE, ran fake news stories about a little girl by the name of Marianna Mazeh (“Starving Syria Girl“) in a run of stories about a town being liberated by the Syrian government from rebel forces allied with al Qaeda. The girl is okay, not starving, and lives in Jordan.

At this point in time the Islamic State group hardly makes headlines at all, and most news concerning Syria is spun instead against the Syrian government. Recently, the United States ran an effort to associate Russian activity in Syria with war crimes to punish it for successfully backing the government of Syria against foreign efforts for regime change. Coordination between State Department messaging, Press Office contacts and UN diplomatic efforts gave domestic media a series of rumors about Russian bombing of hospitals in Syria, despite the US government’s official on-the-record position being that they did not know, had no evidence and nor could provide sources that implicated Russia in any of the activity they were being associated with in the press.

In contrast leaked audio recordings of a meeting between John Kerry and Syrian opposition war fighters had the United States Secretary of State clearly express that US activity in Syria – including the potential missile defense systems and air support being speculated about at the time – would be extremely limited in scope by international law, whereas Russia, as invited by the internationally recognized government of Syria, had a legal basis for its military operations and logistical support. The Obama Administration has, to date, been remiss to break international law as the United States has been suffering international condemnation for recent illegitimate incursions into Serbia and Iraq.

The New York Times coverage of this phone call was deeply misleading. For instance, someone reading that coverage would assume that the United States had a legal basis to take action against the Assad government in Syria and that Russia was in violation of international law. They cherrypicked exactly the words that seemed to imply this and left out Secretary of State Kirby’s admission:  “And we don’t have a basis, our lawyers, unless we have a UN security council resolution, which the Russians can veto and the Chinese, or unless we are under attack from the folks there, or unless we are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime – well, it’s illegitimate in my mind – but by the regime.” The remainder of the coverage was similar: sound bites were selectively chosen that presented the US efforts as deeply committed to Syrian proxy forces, whereas in the recording the opposition was complaining about the lack of support they had been receiving and were desiring that the US involved themselves directly in the conflict.

The encouragement of misinformative rumors is commonly traded in the mainstream American media. According to every official European and American report, Ukrainian separatists in possession of an air missile defense system in an active war zone misidentified a target during the Crimean Russia-NATO proxy war, firing on a commercial airliner (“MH17”), killing hundreds of innocent passengers including AIDS researchers travelling between an HIV conference.

This tragedy was exploited in the US press by an incredible feat of spin. Titles such as “MH17 report: Plane downed by Buk missile from Russia” equivocated Russia itself as having fired the surface-to-air missile. Discussions with friends and family as well as a search over social media quickly identified that the public understanding  was that Russia had attacked an airliner and then, tried to cover it up or walk it back.

There was no discussion in the media of the relevant US firing on the Iranian Air Flight 655, in which the US navy killed hundreds of citizens transiting over the Gulf where the US Naval is present (in opposition to UNCLOS – the UN Charter on the Law Of the Sea – an international law the United States refuses to sign because it insists it must be able to perform military operations in other countries’ territorial waters).

The was no similar discussion in the media about the use of US weaponry by allies and proxies that have killed orders of magnitudes more innocent people. Collective contentment was found with a mass illusion about who fired the missile.

Selective attention to leaked material is no stranger to US mainstream spinning of news. During the start of the Ukraine proxy war, an audio recording surfaced  implicating Victoria Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt discussing plans to support a political transition in Ukraine. The coverage of this phone call in the US domestic press, however, belied the fact that Ukraine has been a long-standing location of spheres of influence, with Western media outlets exclusively covering Victoria Nuland’s use of a curse word during the conversation. This is another tactic effectively applied to spin information to American audiences: when there is a legitimate controversy, create a fake controversy to compete with it.

When the US supported proxies in Libya were used to take down the Qaddafi government, creating the vacuum visible by today’s failed state, it quickly exited and turned toward other ongoing foreign operations, including Yemen and Syria. The United States left behind some intelligence and special operations facilities near the capitol in Tripoli – in Benghazi where the original American support for Libyan terrorist forces was based. Among ongoing missions in Benghazi was the transport of weapons caches from Libya into Syria (through Turkey) to support terrorists fighting the Assad regime, this being a sensitive and highly illegal intelligence operation.

Warfighting elements in Libya’s failed state are al Qaeda affliates, not happy with either dictatorial rule or proxy governance from foreign magistrates. They targeted, on September 11, the remaining State Department buildings where Ambassador Stevens was embedded to facilitate weapons transfers into Syria. And when the Ambassador his CIA detail fled the State Department to the formerly-secret CIA annex on the same compound, the regional war fighting units followed and continued their attack, ultimately leading to the deaths of American special agents and diplomatic personnel.

Initial intelligence estimates correctly identified the nature of the attack as related to al Qaeda affiliated war fighters and the attack symbolically executed on September 11th. However, the United States did not have a legal mechanism to intervene, as it is the host country (Libya) who is in charge of diplomatic building security and the US did not have clearance from a United Nations body to move troops across territorial boundaries – what would technically be an invasion.

The news to the American homeland was different than the story on the ground. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in coordination with the national security team and press office, issued a statement purposefully confusing the 9/11 attack on the Benghazi compound with protests in Egypt centered around an offensive youtube video (a maliciously dubbed movie taunting Muslims and Islam) hundreds of miles away in Cairo. The media industry played ball, propelling the story that what had happened in the war-torn Libyan compound was related to a protest about a controversial youtube video, and there were public appeals to have the youtube video removed.

A public frenzy over youtube, censorship, sensitivities and Muslim identity transpired – and no collective understanding among Americans that their overseas embassy had been attacked by al Qaeda on the anniversary of 9/11, leading to the first death of an American ambassador in decades. Later, Hollywood would produce an action packed triller – “Zero Dark Thirty”, which had received input from the CIA in its direction – that further obscured what had happened, ignoring that the US continued presence in Libya had implicated their country in international criminal behavior, indeed the transfer of weapons that Turkey and Saudi Arabia used to arm the Islamic State group in Syria in their attempt to break and replace the country with friendly political leadership.

Like most events this probably would have been the end of it. Additional controversy ensued when an Eastern European hacker named Guccifer compromised the email account of Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and released copies of prior emails to Clinton to the press. These emails included information contradicting the story the Secretary had given to the public. Washington officials and Congressmen, expressing anger over the leaks, the ham-fisted approach by the State Department to respond to the attack and then to cover it up – and as political slight to the prior Secretary who was in the middle of running for presidential nomination – a public investigation into Benghazi was issued, centered around an accusation that the Obama Administration and former Secretary had mishandled the situation.

However, it was not in the interest of the investigation to litigate American war crimes, and main criticism applied was that Mrs. Clinton had not done enough to protect the embassy or its ambassador, and that the administration had not taken the Libyan security situation seriously enough. The off the record portion of the hearing may have included national security and international criminal elements, but these class of hearings are routinely kept secret from the American public and no transcript, to date, is available.

What Americans know of the “Benghazi scandal” today has nothing to do with illegal international arms smuggling, an attack on 9/11, the death of an ambassador or domestic propaganda. Americans think it has something to do with Clinton’s emails. Or something. Ask someone and you’ll get either a blank stare or a rant inspired by Zero Dark Thirty about how the CIA agents there were real American heroes and it was a shame the Obama Administration didn’t save them.

Similar parallel controversy was used to confuse the American public during a series of intelligence leaks that implicated the United States and allied countries in engaging in whole-sale warrantless global surveillance. A Halliburton contractor who had previously worked for CIA named Edward Snowden used his access as a system administrator to mass download documents from the National Security Agency (a powerful and once secret US intelligence agency). After exhausting channels inside the US government to call attention to illegal mass surveillance programmes, Edward Snowden had contacted multiple media organizations and escaped from Hawaii to Hong Kong, China, where he met with US journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. Snowden expressed exasperation that most news outlets in the United States had refused to cover the mass surveillance story – and that many had instead reported him through established government contacts for trying to blow the whistle on the operation. Indeed, James Risen had tried to bring the story of mass surveillance to the American people in 2004, but Washington pressured the media to suppress the story, arguing it may interfere with the then-ongoing Bush/Kerry presidential election. In the intervening decade, Americans who tried to talk about domestic surveillance, including myself, were laughed down and chided with remarks about tinfoil hats and aliens.

What transpired is likely to be a case study in propaganda war colleges in future decades. Journalists and media outlets, notably The Guardian of England and Der Speigel of Germany, went to bat statement-for-statement with Washington. Before the US government would announce who they suspected the whistleblower was, Snowden through Greenwald broadcast a message to the world with his full name and a statement of why he felt compelled to bring the covert ubiquitous surveillance to the front of the public attention. When the US government denied that Snowden had left with any secret information, The Guardian immediately published documents showing that the archive was real. Washington refused to acknowledge the documents as legitimate, but put out a statement denying the US performed espionage on partner countries. The Guardian immediately published documents that provably disputed this claim.

This continued, with a whose-who of media outlets contracting with federal government such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others repeating the official position of the state, even adding their own flourishes and versions of the statements, as though they had been the original source of an independent investigation. These outlets voluntarily adopted the ‘official’ version of events, covering the gross affront to civil rights as ‘bulk collection’ over the more accurate and damning ‘mass surveillance.’ When the US argued that, yes, there were some ‘bulk collection’ (sic) activities, but never on the domestic population of the United States. The Guardian once again produced documents contradicting the assertion.

Eventually, the White House Press Office went quiet and refused to acknowledge at all or respond to the continuing leaks while the media establishment also stopped covering the disclosures in favor of interest stories. “Germany’s Angela Merkel: Relations with U.S. ‘severely shaken’ over spying claims” one headline read, in defiance of revelations that the US had partnered with major US providers like Google and Microsoft to collect information on citizens around the world. “Snowden: Hero or Traitor?” pundits discussed until they found stories to distract from the existence of leaks at all. “Snowden a Russian Spy?” mainstream news networks spread conspiracy theories that persist in the American consciousness today.

When a shootout at the NSA headquarters occurred during the leaks, establishment media spread rumors – never to be followed up on – that there was a transexual in the car outside the NSA, and dovetailed into tangents about transexualism. In a similar stroke, the mainstream media almost exclusively covered the transexual Caitlyn Jenner while Congress renewed and extended the authorities used by the NSA for surveillance and stories broke that the FBI had been flying aircraft over the United States to track the minute, daily movements of American people across hundreds of American cities.

There was a palpable desperation to cover anything but the content of the leaks, which implicated the United States in spying on foreign companies to give advantages to American companies, hacking into other countries to understand their positions before global warming meetings (which the US then controversially stalled at and prevented anything from being done), and that the NSA had been collecting information on hundreds of millions of Americans, stored years of domestic phone conversations in huge data warehouses, had covertly infiltrated any US company who would not willingly backdoor their products for intelligence services, and backdoored the cryptographic standards it forces companies to use around the world. The leaks implicated the UK in collecting the web browsing behavior of nearly every person in the world, and had mass manipulation capabilities including those to change polls, rerank the order of social media posts, and upvote and downvote content on social media to hide/reveal content, as well as using their capabilities for mass propaganda on the Falkland islands – a territory disputed by England and Argentina.

Similar obscurantism flashed into display when the German BND (foreign intelligence agency) stated that the NSA had backdoored the Trusted Platform Module – a security chip built into many computer systems today. Mainstream media immediately dismissed the idea, and provided other – unconvincing – explanations about how to interpret the intelligence agency’s declaration and after meeting with the United States delegation the BND revised their statement and deleted their earlier statement of fact.

Perhaps the most damaging fake news promulgated by the American media industry was war news reporting leading up to the Iraq War. What would eventually give Kenneth Thomlinson, the former chairman of the US propaganda office BBG, a hushed and wealthy retirement by golden parachute the Bush Administration was implicated in a mass domestic propaganda campaign to justify a war effort and an invasion of the country Iraq, a recent allied power in a divide and conquer campaign against its neighbor Iran. Note the headline of this New York Times article: “Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News”. Kenneth Thomlinson and the BBG ran efforts through the WCIA and Office of Broadcasting Service to fill American television with unattributed war propaganda.

But this was hardly the extent. Journalist Judith Miller then at the New York Times and now at Fox worked with the CIA and Iraqi National Council (a US operation in Iraq) to publish a fake news article presuming to have proof that the Saddam Hussein government had access to and had been building a nuclear program specifically, and generally “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” This narrative of the Iraqi government was entirely a fabrication of the administration, and a lie that American media happily sold traded access and grant money with the US government to bring to the American people. The Administration, then-President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice then pointed to this story from Judith Miller as independent verification of Administration claims and called for war.

Between direct executive branch activity and news media complicity, Americans even today believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, something to do with anthrax, and something to do with WMDs – all misinformation created deliberately to build public support for an aggressive and disastrous invasion that ultimately cost over a million civilians their lives in a war offensive known for “shock and awe” attacks, its use of depleted uranium and white phosphorous (destructive chemicals) and for the destruction of civilian infrastructure and non-military targets so brutal the international community (including Europe) demanded at the UN that the Americans retreat: another fact not covered in the domestic press.

Fake news featured daily in the American press, from manufactured soldier memoirs, manufactured hero stories and parallel Hollywood coverage of Jessica Lynch, invented and distributed rumors about incubator babies, and emotion-wrenching re-displays of the Twin Tower attacks in the middle of September, 2001, an attack carried out by war fighters with the financial and material support of the government of Saudi Arabia – a connection whose disclosure through a hard fought legislative battle came and went without any major domestic news media coverage.When it came to the recent 2016 election, the American people expected something different. Yet it became apparent after Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and disclosed their email records through the online distributor Wikileaks that the industry would not be reporting from an investigative mindset. Indeed, CNN spread a false rumor that looking at the DNC leaks could be illegal.

The DNC leaks implicated the chairwoman of the Democratic Party Debbie Wasserman Shultz (“DWS”) using Democratic Party resources to run a damage campaign against her political opponent Tim Canova to preserve her own party leadership. They implicated top and mid level officials (including the press spokesperson) in organizing the party to infiltrate and sabotage Senator Sander’s campaign. They exposed discussions within the DNC on political appointments (e.g. ambassadorships) offered to donors in exchange for their donations. The leaks showed coordination and planning of news media coverage of the elections including opponents (Sanders and the RNC). They leaks detailed the hiring of covert online commentators and fake protesters.

These stories from the DNC leaks did not make the press. Sure, there were journalists working on them, but the media industry in America refused to make revelations from the emails top headline topics. Online social media was bombarded by recently created accounts that purported to have read the emails that “found nothing interesting in them.” Instead, the media broadly spent time mulling over rumors, such as the completely unfounded conspiracy theory to date that Trump was/is a Russian patsy, or that President Elect Donald Trump and President of Russia Vladimir Putin are actual real life best friends. NBC publicized a fact-finding report about Hillary Clinton’s server, which had been used to circumvent Federal record keeping laws, and wiped clean of data before being handed over to investigators. Liar Liar, it scolded: while Donald Trump accused Clinton of “acid washing” her server, she had in fact wiped it instead with antiforensics software called BleachBit.

Then when it came time for election night on November 8th mainstream media reassured, based on the ‘research they had done’, that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election: effortlessly. Indeed, the predictions were unanimous across the entire industy. Even FiveThirtyEight, which had perfectly predicted the surprise win by President Obama in 2008 down to electoral college numbers, had Clinton winning the election.

What resulted when Donald Trump took the election with a wide margin was a collective existential crisis, with the massive American audience of mainstream media shocked dumb, unable to process the result of the election and in need of an explanation consistent with the coverage that they had received to date. Today, pundits, analysts and academics are churning out endless reports on various ways and perspectives to understand the events. It was Comey. It was racists. It was white people. It was voter intimidation. Bernie bros and the progressive wing of the Democratic party. The Democratic Party itself. Clinton’s weakness. Trump’s domination of the media. Third parties as a spoiler. Fake news. Alt-righter neo nazis. The working middle class. The Russians. Hacked voting machines. Uneducated Americans. FBI Director Comey.

The explanation that hundreds of millions of Americans voted entirely out of deep wells of racism, the explanation consistent with prior reporting, rings hallow. Conspiracy theories and fearmongering about Russian hacking of election booths too, quickly died down as the experts spoke out about media contortions of their testimony.

On the 13th of November, the industry found its narrative. The election was shocking to the mass of American people because of fake news. Not the spin, rumors, conspiracy theories, misinformation or distracting alarmism it itself had been producing, but fake news from anyone who wasn’t the mainstream media. The mainstream media had it right, all along, and the giant mirage and all the confusion was the work of someone else and was someone else’s dereliction of duty.

In DC, the election was compared with the Brexit vote in Britain – a groundswell of populist opinion voting “no” on the current establishment, current institutions and practices, trends in civil rights, and inequality of wealth as well as political representation.

Analysis of key demographics show that districts that had mobilized to elect Obama, when he was once and briefly considered a Washington outsider himself, had mobilized against Clinton. Public diplomacy has been on full steam the past months in an effort to create an American consensus that we want our information more tightly controlled: a list of fact checkers with political biases including a group in Serbia that publicly supports the independence of Kosovo.

At some level the American psyche understands that it is not the customer of news media. It does not pay news media for information. Others – government, industries, corporations – pay news media to deliver stories that narrate American perception. Journalists who pursue stories to reveal corruption or report corporate wrongdoing, as a rule, do not have customers, can’t find work and don’t have partners who provide them access. Reports who play ball, as those who contract with US intelligence, Departments and Agencies of the Executive Branch, banks and industries, and lobbyists and corporations are successful. They have customers, funds, and a steady stream of stories.

News media organizations have landing pages soliciting sponsored content. Got a story? Pay us and we’ll run it for you. We even have experts that can help you run a campaign of stories to get your perspective heard.

National Security personnel are fond of the phrase “nature abhors a vacuum” in which they intend to describe the pattern that, if the US does not exercise power the lack of power will attract someone or something to control the space.

What we’ve witnessed is such a vacuum created from an ever-widening credibility gap. Given the consistently inaccurate, poorly predictive and heavily biased propaganda from the US domestic news media industry, we’ve seen an enormous loss in credibility. This a continuation of a trend that has been in effect for decades, and today American trust of media is rated at the all time low of less than 20%.

A combination of private interest, national security propaganda, and a culture that revels in suspending disbelief have crippled America’s ability to take its own highly editorialized existence seriously.

Cultural Mythology, Jurisprudence, and Terrorism

American children are taught about the Magna Carta Liberatum (“the Great Charter of the Liberties”) and how this document was a fore bearer that brought into existence our current – “most perfect” – system of legal justice. It’s likely they are taught that the Magna Carta granted civil liberties, like habeaus corpus, and that it holds the governing to account on the same laws as the governed. It’s probable that the story is taught as if autocracy voluntarily relieved itself of power and enshrined, under the charter, an equality-based classless system of free society.

Probably, since it isn’t Federally mandated reading material, it isn’t taught that those civil liberties have nothing to do with the Magna Carta, were never even in the document, the few rights written into it were not for common people and that the document was repealed before even a year had passed – and that it was filed back into law only after it was stripped of the few rights it ever held. A writ to sue for involuntary detainment first arrived, in a very limited form, in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 more than 450 years later.

The Magna Carta dealt primarily with how and at what amounts barons rented land from the land-owning royal crown and what the rates and processes there were for taking loans from bankers under royal protection – it did not give any rights or even mention rights of the working serfs. Disagreements over these banking terms ultimately led to what’s called the First Baron’s War, of which there were several as the name implies, and had local lords rebel against the crown.

Americans are taught incorrectly that the Magna Carta established rights such as habeus corpus and sovereign legal accountability. This misunderstanding may have come from a particular judge in Medieval Britain who used the Magna Carta as a political tool. In 1627 Cook supported arguments that involuntary detention in the case of unpaid rent to the crown was not explicitly authorized by the Magna Carta and therefore not legal. The court system disagreed, as the Magna Carta was never intended to enumerate in full the rights of the state.

As a historical equivalent to modern polemicists who politicize The Constitution and claim its Articles say far more than they do, Cook’s arguments were not only lost in the British court system – he was eventually arrested for treason and the book he had published on his interpretation of the Magna Carta were removed from circulation. Today, Sir Edward Cook is criticized by modern historians for ‘”misconstruing” the original charter “anachronistically and uncritically”, and taking a “very selective” approach to his analysis.’

This of course was inevitably magnified by a Henry Care who, functioning as a payed propagandist, deliberately spread misinformation about the Magna Carta and its presumed continuity of law in Britian and her new American colony in an anti-Catholic political revolution. Eventually convicted, and his pamphlets censored by the British crown, Care’s work did inspire American Whig revolutionaries such as William Penn, who took to reprinting the Magna Carta and circulating it through the 13 Colonies.

Similar to the Magna Carta, American cultural impression of their law also gives it independent claims to lineage from mythological versions of the Code of Hammurabi, the Roman 12 Tables, Hellenic Democracy, the laws of both the Left and Right from Post-Revolutionary France,  and “Enlightenment Thinkers” – each of which are told in the same story format of autocracy voluntarily relieving itself of power to giving way to equality-based, classless society.

It has remained a part of United States cultural narrative not entirely on accident. Tracing continuity of rule – be it through blue blood, legal inheritance, divine right, or doctrinal privilege – is a mainstay of Western, and possibly much of Eastern, culture. Just as Germany had in the 1940’s attempted to establish a line of legitimate rule back to both the Aramaic and Indo-European people and a relationship to the Holy Roman Empire – and just as any political revolution in America would necessarily argue its close relationship to The Constitution – drawing fictitious connections between American law to ancient laws helps establish what seems to be just rule in a line of continuous, legitimate, succession.

While the historical accuracy of these cultural myths is easy to factually disprove, a more interesting challenge presents itself. The principles of ‘just’ power, although only presumed through folklore to have come from ancient rule in a traceable form to our current government, are themselves enumerable and are in some real measures manifest in society. While the stories of origin may be fabricated, to what degree does the ‘social contract’ imagined by those stories, in which civil liberties are first principles, exist in a real form today?

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

This bill amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity by authorizing U.S. courts to hear cases involving claims against a foreign state for injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

It amends the federal criminal code to permit civil claims against a foreign state or official for injuries, death, or damages from an act of international terrorism. Additionally, the bill authorizes federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over and impose liability on a person who commits, or aids, abets, or conspires to commit, an act of international terrorism against a U.S. national.

S.2040 – Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act – The Senate

S.2040 – or JASTA “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” by name, just passed the United States Senate and will make its way first through the 114th Congress and then be signed into law by the current seated president Barack Obama – unless it is vetoed, which the White House has promised to do unless Congress weakens the language of the bill.

The Obama administration has been particularly careful about using its veto power, only choosing to do so when it is considered a very high priority for the administration. As such, Mr. President Obama has only cast 9 vetos during his entire stay at the top of the Executive Branch. As such, the veto promise underscores the importance to our Executive Branch that JASTA not be made law.

Covered in the domestic media as “Senate passes bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia“, the actual stipulations of the law do not mention Saudi Arabia and are on the whole very narrow. It forces the US Justice Department to hear trials against foreign government officials on charges that the support, arming, funding or training of terrorists has caused damages – mortal or monetary – against US persons and property specifically inside of the country’s physical boundaries.

The surprising thing for many people in America is that this isn’t already possible. They had thought not only that justice against sponsors of terrorism was something the US Justice system was able and willing to take on – they thought it had actually been done: mass domestic propaganda campaigns convinced the public of the righteousness of the Bush Administration’s version of ‘justice for sponsors of terrorism’, which involved invading a country not in any way connected to the September 11 attacks.

Furthermore in the War on Iraq the United States followed an operating manual called the Wolfowitz Doctrine (online copy), whose recommendations included destroying Iraq completely, so as to strike fear in in the minds of countries around the world. Americans don’t remember that the carnage was so bad, and so one sided, that the full force of the international community called for the Americans to remove themselves from Iraq.

Compare the legality of lawsuits over terrorism when the charges are against Iran. In 2012 the Justice Department upheld its choice to pursue economic reimbursement for American losses to Iranian proxy forces.

Whereas minor financial compensation seems a small price to pay for “the day that changed the world,” it would by normal measures be criminal since the funds from any successful suit are virtually guaranteed to come from Saudi civilians’ taxes and national budgets rather than the officials themselves. This is only if you’re first willing to agree that financial compensation – rather than a prison sentence – should be the punishment for funders and provocateurs behind heinous actions like the 9/11 terror attacks. For the royal family in Saudi Arabia and their enormous wealth, it would seem to suggest that they can afford to sponsor a great deal more terrorism – provided they budget in the legal expenses necessary to cover any following lawsuits.

Compare the “justice” in Iraq to the reaction of the United States government to potential of lawsuits that could reach the actual support networks of the attacks. Not only is financial litigation so controversial for the Executive Branch that they’ve promised to veto it – but the kind of physical retaliation knowingly visited on the wrong suspect (Iraq) isn’t even on the table for discussion for the real purpetrator (Saudi Arabia).

This leads us to ask: why is this such an important priority for the Obama Administration? Josh Earnest, Secretary for the Press out of the White House, explained the official position after the Senate passed the bill:

“I know that the advocates of this legislation have suggested that they have taken into account our concerns by more narrowly tailoring the legislation.  But, unfortunately, their efforts were not sufficient to prevent the longer-term, unintended consequences that we are concerned about. This legislation would change longstanding international law regarding sovereign immunity.  And the President of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.

There’s also a concern that hasn’t gotten as much attention about the potential vulnerability that is created for some of our allies and partners in U.S. courts.  And the concern is related to the fact that sovereign immunity is a principle that is critical to our national security.  The United States is more engaged in activities in other countries than any other country in the world.  Typically, those are actually activities that other countries benefit from significantly.  These are peacekeeping activities, or humanitarian relief activities, or other activities in which the United States is supporting the national security activities of other countries, and the national security of other countries is enhanced by the involvement of the United States.

But out involvement in those activities is made more complicated by the chance that the principle of sovereign immunity could be eroded.  So the administration strongly continues to oppose this legislation.   And we’re obviously going to begin conversations with the House about it.”

Josh Earnest, 5/17/2016 White House Press Briefing

By the official account, the White House is concerned about the legislation for several reasons. First, the United States government holds sovereign immunity as a principle of law, and considers it critical to National Security. The United States, as per its own law, is immune from legal repercussions unless it specifically consents to be accountable, as it has done (for example) for very narrow cases in the Tucker Act.

The White House Spokesperson continues to explain that the United States is engaged in “activities” around the world for which a weakened international standards concerning sovereign immunity would cause problems for the United States. He helpfully volunteers “peacebuilding” and “relief” activities before listing “National Security activities” and supporting the National Security activities of other countries – which active listeners understand to mean activities intended to incite civil wars, topple governments, change regimes, incite public discord, or isolate governments by supporting regional terrorist forces.

Second, Josh Earnest explains that the United States is worried about what the law would entail for the security of many of its important allies, Saudi Arabia remaining unnamed, as the law could similarly problematize their ability to sponsor terrorism.

Let’s put aside this episode of America internally debating between its branches of government how to craft legislation that balances appearing tough on support networks of terrorists and reluctance to pursue justice for fear of reprisal for its own international activities.

Here we have our government quite clearly expressing their support for the principle of sovereign immunity – the principle that governments, officials and royal family should be above the law, held to lower standards than that of citizens around the world. This principle, so enshrined, the spokesperson for the White House says from the platform, is considered critical to National Security.

While journalists and pundits haven’t batted an eye at these remarks and while the media surges with the reports about Saudi dialogue with the US over the bill – citizens who had once thought that habeus corpus, sovereign accountability and jurisprudence existed as principles over National Security and State Power may take a sharp breath and bother to do their homework.

Plans for Peace: North Korean Regime Change

The two Koreas were separately admitted as member states to the UN in 1991.


Having two separate seats despite a single language, culture and history is clearly not normal.


This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the Korean Peninsula remains stifled by a wall of division.


I call on the international community to stand with us in tearing down the world’s last remaining wall of division.

A unified Korea will be the starting point for a world without nuclear weapons,
offer a fundamental solution to the North Korean human rights issue, and help
unlock a stable and cooperative Northeast Asia.


The founders of the UN were not deterred by the heat of war from looking to the
future and planning for a peaceful post-war world.


– President Park Geun-hye in an address to the UN on Korean Unification


At the 69th Session of the General Assembly, President of South Korea Park Geun-hye appealed to the United Nations for support to dissolve the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and annex its territory onto the ROK. To motivate this, she cited the benefits this might extol an international community – a “cooperative and stable Asia”, and a start of more serious nuclear de-proliferation. Geun-hye reminds the UN that it has not been deterred by the heat of war when looking to the future before. It is implied that to plan for peace, the heat of such a war is a necessity.


These promises are compelling. The rise of an uncooperative Asia gives the developed world a global sort of heartburn. A search engine query for “rise of asia” results in titles such as the Asian Century (“projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and culture, assuming certain demographic and economic trends persist.”), Why Asia is the New Europe, and The Rise of Developing Asia and The New Economic Order. The region, by every account including the World Bank, is projected to dominate the world not only in terms of growth but also in real economic output. As the center of the global economy shifts from Europe, the United States and the Atlantic into Asia and the Pacific the United States has issued itself a pivot to Asia, where it hopes to embed a continuing economic and security role under which the power elite of the United States have hoped to establish an American Pacific Century – in this last article writes Hillary Clinton: “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.”


An “uncooperative” Asia would be one that superceded the so-called developed world, leaving it behind politically and economically to pursue not only its own interests but its own place in the historical record.


The call for nuclear de-proliferation is another resonation with important developed world prerogatives. The current global power structure can only be maintained if when countries refuse UN resolutions, international norms, and hegemon demands they can be be subsequently punished – possibly with the violence of occupation. Nuclear force posture, even the most rudimentary capabilities, remain so potent that even military superpowers can be deterred by their possible defensive use.


Despite the impression that many in the West have of North Korea’s nuclear programme, the military and intelligence assessment of the DPRK’s development of nuclear deterrent is that it is entirely defensive in nature.


At home, the Park administration has found selling the reunification difficult. In a rare press conference she addressed the South Korean people extolling the virtues that an annexation of North Korea would have for the country. Choosing to use the Korean word daebak (roughly ‘awesome success’), the Park administration later clarified that the word was intended to mean a jackpot or bonanza. Citing the mineral resources in North Korea and the large cheap labor force, the administration cast the warmongering as a boon to the country.


Most citizens, especially younger Koreans, remain unconvinced. With lower bounded cost estimates of an annexation starting at 7% of the entire GDP of the country for three decades, and only rising with less optimistic projections, the younger generations of Koreans – not themselves having a stake in rejoining separated family members – maintain their skepticism. The South Korean government has taken an effort to reeducate youth apathetic to reunification with new standards for text books that prioritize history necessary to garner public support.


There’s uncertainty about the economic windfall to be gained by annexing North Korea. The ROK state owned mining company Korea Resources estimates that the DPRK may have $6 trillion dollars of minerals including rare earth minerals but no independent party has provided an estimate and the figures produced by the South Korean government seem both exaggerated compared with figures from Chinese mining companies operating in the DPRK and unrealistic given the geology.


There’s also uncertainty regarding the cost of annexation: that of managing the migration and human crises that arise, transitioning the North Korean system under ROK rule, securing borders, incorporating northern elites, warfighting, rebuilding the damage from military fallout, and of course financing the operation to begin with.


It’s interesting to note that South Korea has provided two different justifications to two separate audiences regarding DPRK occupation. The country told its people the plan would benefit the economy – a “bonanza”. In the same breath the ROK told the international community and UN Security Council it would denuclearize the peninsula and spearhead a cooperative Asia as it overtakes the Western economy. Which of these is true? Both? Neither? Why is the ROK interested in reunification, after having pursued for decades a peaceful two state existence? Why is the ROK now interested in denuclearization, as it nuclearized the peninsula in the 60’s and kept it nuclearized until today.


Without speculating on which motivation is most primary, there exists a third motivation widely discussed within the state and military, but not enumerated for citizens or the UN: national power.


Korea, historically one peninsula but hardly ever unified long under any particular state and only very marginally a successful empire of its own for any notable period of time, has been settled and occupied by neighboring powers (notably China and Japan) for millenia. Millions of men and women have routinely been made to work for other nations, if not in fields and mines then in beds – many women being raped to death during the brutal occupation of Japan. The horrors and atrocities of the Korean War that followed and the coups and insurrection into the 1980s have left South Korea and North Korea alike nations which have been under foreign domination for the majority of their institutional memory.


Today, with the opportunity of the rise of Asia and its unique relationship with the United States intelligence and military backing (so long as the current US-led world order does not collapse) South Korea can be a ‘great nation’: a regional power whose economic and national security interests have priority and whose actions and words determine more, more often than its compeditors. The administration has been building regional economic ties with Russia, China, South East Asian nations, the Pacific islands, and Japan. Plans with Russia involve trade through territories today considered their northern neighbor. The state has eagerly funded and pushed for cultural exportation – known in pop culture for K-Pop and Korean Dramas – but known among heads of state as the “Korean Wave”. The German Institute of Global and Area Studies asks “Rising South Korea: A Minor Player or a Regional Power?“. This analysis center aims to figure out whether Korea is likely and capable of playing a magnified regional role in the prospering Pacific.


The United States has, of course, seen its own interests in Asia grow with trends of global power shifting there. The North American based global hegemon has sought to develop comprehensive strategies to solidify its own interests. Former CIA analyst Sue Mi Terry led a study at the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “Unified Korea and the Future of the U.S.-South Korea Alliance” about the potential downside of a weakened alliance with South Korea if the United States helps it to achieve reunification. The study notes that trending increases in warm relations with China, the anti-American burden the state would need to carry with the annexed North, along with less need for American security and more national autonomy may drive the ROK to withdraw from American relations to find new Asian-center alliances. The study concludes that this is not likely, primarily because China and Japan are larger regional competitors and are both far more worrisome to the United States in regional conflicts – whose alliance in these circumstances is projected to be seen as useful.


The US Korean Institute study “How Korea Could Become a Regional Power in Northeast Asia” determines that an Asia with a ‘triangle’ of China, Japan and unified Korea at its regional power center may not only be maintainable, but could check-and-balance the Asian world with internal competition in a way that is likely to preserve Western influence.


But how should the annexation be performed? The American strategy of applying brutal sanctions to collapse the country through attrition has repeatedly failed. A number of policy engineering bodies have studied pathways to cause a collapse and have been weighing them. Feasibility studies performed within US and ROK policy planning bodies for reunifying separated territories are limited primarily to the Berlin divide and the struggles occupying the previously divided country of Iraq.


Most of this analysis results in the determination that if we want to force the collapse of North Korea, we need to get China to play along. Unfortunately China is deeply skeptical of regime change, and for good reason.


Thomas Christensen, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs within the State Department, speaking about “Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power” (China):


And on regional concerns we have a big issue with the American bipartisan fetish with regime change. And that really alienates the Chinese early on the in crises. It keeps them from pressuring the regimes that are targeted. I don’t want to go into great detail on my prescriptions, I’m going to end soon, but one of the things I draw out of the history when I study the history of US foreign policy on China from George H. W. Bush – the end of the Cold War – to the present is that it has been counterproductive to open all of these crises with foreign countries with calling for the ouster of a regime in question.


Basically my position is sometimes we really want those regimes to go but if you really want them to go: shut up about it. Focus on proscribed behavior. Get the maximum pressure on the regime you that can by keeping the Chinese and the Russians at least nominally on board and maybe get the Chinese… some pressure. That economy is huge. Then maybe you will actually get that result; but if you open your negotiations with this regime or that regime has to go you’re unlikely to get anywhere with the Chinese. And if you don’t get anywhere with the Chinese the Chinese economy is plenty large to provide sustenance. The Russians are plenty armed to provide arms. And you end up with the worst possible outcome: which is there’s no international coordination on the issue, the regime stays in power and the problem persists.


Later, in the same panel, Michael Swaine, RAND Corporation expert on US-Sino relations, expresses the same motif of Chinese aversion to regime change in reviewing Christensen’s policy proscriptions:


“Recognize that domestic politics and social pressures can drive Chinese reactions in very negative directions. Avoid policies that accentuate Chinese fears – i.e. regime change.”


A statement that he (Christensen) made that in the context of Libya, Syria and North Korea is very important to understand.


Whether led by this advice or something else entirely, recent diplomacy with China has succeeded in garnering their support in the collapse of the North Korean state. In April and March of 2016, China has issued a series of sanctions against the state – including fuels and minerals crucial to what industry they have been able to muster under crushing US led sanctions programmes.


North Korea itself has circulated memos internally about the changing relationship with their Chinese neighbor, and recognize its participation in its collapse as an aggressive action.


Ultimately, the United States goal in occupying the peninsula is to problematize the rise of a strong Chinese competitor with forward military deployment and a continued strong alliance with Korea, as Grand Strategy Documents regarding the US force posture toward the Asian superpower recommend regime change in North Korea in its collaboration with the ROK and to strengthen it for future ‘great power’ opportunity.


If possible, the United States would benefit from a security architecture in Asia based on a Sino-Korean-Japanese triangle, for which balance of power politics and divide-and-conquer military stratagems can isolate the political, economic and power ambitions of the rising Asian countries to mere regional interests.


Not much has changed in United States foreign policy toward North Korea. Economic warfare and regime change operations have been run nearly continuously for 70 years, with a brief moment of ‘sunshine policy’ earning its activists the Nobel Peace Prize. But now the table stakes are too high. With the rearchitecture of Asia in advance of the ensuing global economic and political shift – few powers have their interests allied with the defense- and stability- obsessed North.


North Korean collapse are now table stakes to whichever alliance can maneuver its happening in their own interest. For the United States, the collapse is one step to ensure our continued peace through war, and our ability to project American power into the Asia Pacific.

United States Aggression on the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang (credit Wikipedia)


The history of American aggression on the Korean Peninsula and in the South Asian theater, filled with unspeakable War crimes, begins in the late ’40s and early ’50s when the new superpower, eager with its ascendance after WWII and its successful deployment of nuclear weapons, clashed with the other victor – and the party primarily responsible for the defeat of Germany – the Soviet Union. Growing tensions quickly developed between the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain about how to divide Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia between victors.


The United States, having originally agreed to split Japan in half with the Soviet Union, instead occupied it, forgiving Japanese officials for all of their war crimes. The Korean Peninsula – a prior colony of conquered Japan – had already been split between the Soviet Union and the United States when they worked together to oust the Japanese Empire, with the presumed endgame that the powers would slowly meld the peninsula and its people back together as the two superpowers normalized relations. However, tensions in Asia quickly mounted: the US resistance to meeting its treaty obligations in Japan, two false and upset governments in the continued division of Korea, and instability in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – then all grouped together in a colony of France called French Indochina – turned the Soviet Union and United States and their interests against one another.


In modern day Vietnam local people found that French weakness and poverty after its defeat in WWII gave them an opportunity to free themselves of forced military occupation and to establish their own national government. The Soviet Union, more famously anti-colonial than the United States (though similarly guilty itself of occupations), supported the dissolution of the brutal French military occupation and the formation of a self-autonomous democratic government under Ho Chi Minh. For the United States, this would have meant a weaker ally in France, a stronger Soviet Union trade bloc, and limited influence and economic activity itself in Asia.


As a result, the United States supported the French military occupation of Vietnam (this eventually turned into the Vietnam war, in which the United States committed innumerable crimes against humanity), in Laos, and genocide in Cambodia. The Korean theater was little different – seeing the United States unilaterally bombard civilian infrastructure to terrorize and starve the Koreans in the Soviet sphere after a ceasefire had been arranged. Ruthlessly, it ran propaganda campaigns to convince the world that the region was now starving not because its agriculture industry had been directly and deliberately crippled by the United States Air Force – but because it remained under the ‘ineffective and corrupt’ Soviet Sphere.


United States aggression during the Korean War deserves its own article. This author has chosen to account for the modern history – aggression on the peninsula and its continued warmongering, cyber rattling and state terrorism after the end of the Korean War in 1957 and into the modern relationship the United States has with North Korea.


The history of nuclear weapons in the Korea peninsula begins immediately after the Korean War. Illegally breaching article 13(d) of the Korean Armistice Agreement established to conclude the Korean War, the United States sought to introduce nuclear weapons into the Korean conflict – a move widely criticized by the international community. North Korea sought assurances from Russia and China, both nuclear weapon states and positioned on the other side of the Cold War, and attempted to develop a cache of nuclear weapons itself to match Southern capabilities. Parallel to these efforts, the state changed its strategy, creating a deep tunnel system for bombardment proof military mobility and forward deployed conventional munitions against Seoul as a deterrent.

In the 1960s and 70s there were serious setbacks in American foreign policy and blowback from its activities in Cambodia and military failure in Vietnam. The Nixon Administration and the Carter Administration after it came to the conclusion that they could no longer station troops South Korea to protect what was he understood to be internationally recognized as a repressive regime for what amounted to be questionable National Security objectives.


Disclosed by a series of reports in the domestic press (at the time termed “Koreagate“), US Congress members had been accepting bribes from South Korean officials to stall and reverse the presidential decisions to withdrawl US troop presence from the ROK. A document declassified in 2012 describes how eventually enormous pressure mounted from Congress and the senior military officials overturned Carters campaign promises and administrative objectives in the region.


Meanwhile on the peninsula a series of economic reforms, international loans, and trade with the Western world led to a surge in North Korean prosperity, including conventional military capability that by all accounts would have walked through the ROK – which had itself been experiencing student-led protests, civil unrest, military coups (including the military dictator General Park – father of current president Geun-hye) and international criticism for human rights violations. Kim Il Sung issued a statement about the South’s martial law, corruption and civil unrest in a thinly veiled promise to reunify the peninsula under North Korea leadership were the opportunity to arise:


If a revolution takes place in South Korea we, as one and the same nation, will not just look at it with folded arms but will strongly support the South Korean people. If the enemy ignites war recklessly, we shall resolutely answer it with war and completely destroy the aggressors.


The 1970’s were very nearly such a time. However the stalled military withdrawl and eventual reversal of US Foreign Policy in 1978 kept not only the full deployed US military presence in South Korea but also the nuclear weapons that had been scheduled for removal at the same time. Into the early 1980’s North Korea found that had misspent its economic acceleration on military modernization since it continued to be overpowered by the as-yet-reluctant-to-leave superpower.


Nuclear forces had now been on the peninsula for the better part of three decades, and each decade saw the DPRK deal with the asymmetry in destructive potential a different way. It modernized its conventional forces into a  deterrent, build caverns that would withstand nuclear assault and sought alliances with great powers. However with the seventies seeing superpowers including the USSR shift their focus from Asia to the Middle East, North Korea increasingly lost one of its better strategic assurances and would need to navigate alone. Worse yet was that the United States had stayed to back the Southern neighbours.


In this decade North Korea chose to ratify the Non Nuclear-Proliferation Agreement in a bid to force South Korea to do the same, which would result in American warheads exiting the peninsula. The North’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center had been constructed in 1963 and operating peaceful nuclear energy since 1965. Originally providing 2 MW of energy, it was upgraded through 4 MW and 6 MW to an 8 MW reactor in 1979 by its national engineers and North Korea had allowed for international inspection of these facilities and had been a voluntary member state of the IAEA since 1974.


North Korea linked establishing safeguard measures and inspections with the IAEA (an international nuclear investigative body), a requirement for fulfilling the NPT, to the condition that warheads pointed at them from the South – which had until recently number a thousand nuclear warheads – be removed.


The United States did not comply with the North Korean demands to remove their arsenal from South Korea until 1991, and then likely motivated by larger diplomatic priorities than the DPRK. According to the United States Pacific Command history under National Security Directive-64 (a classified document) the Bush Administration order “cleared the way for the actual return of all land-based Naval air delivered and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons to U.S. territory, the withdrawl of all nuclear weapons from Korea, and other withdrawls in Europe.”


However news broke that America planned to maintain some nuclear warheads in South Korea. North Korean intelligence had similarly gathered that some warheads were to remain and its administration were not able to obtain strongly worded guarantees from the United States that this was in fact not the case. North Korea insisted that it would allow international inspections only if South Korea did the same, but eventually entered an inspections program even though the South never underwent verification that every nuke had been removed. The removal of warheads stationed for Seoul were quickly followed by a US announcement that it would extend its long-range nuclear umbrella over South Korea, and a rebuke from North Korea that it considered the continued decades long nuclear hostage status state terrorism.

In 1991 North Korea began to develop safeguard measures with the IAEA and had them ratified and implemented in 1992, insisting that South Korea follow suite. However, the IAEA inspection found that the amount of declared plutonium production did not match the amount of nuclear waste in the inspected facilities. North Korea was operating graphine-moderated nuclear facilities which are very difficult to inspect and prone to the sort of uncertainty expressed by the IAEA. The IAEA asked for a special inspections capability to inspect additional facilities, which North Korea denied. The ambiguity of whether this was a deliberate attempt to obfuscate a weapons program (the CIA estimated the amount of material would amount to at most a single warhead) led to further criticism and calls for inspections.

The next year saw North Korea struggle with the IAEA over the terms of its inspections agreement, insisting that the original agreement be binding. Continued disagreements and South Korea’s refusal to enter into an inspections program to prove American nukes had been removed led North Korea to exercise its right to exit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. The new Clinton Administration scrambled diplomats to find a mutually agreeable scenario under which North Korea would choose to stay under treaty obligations.

Negotiation took 16 months. North Korea suspended its exit from the NPT for the duration of the negotiations. However, during the discussions Kim Il-Sung passed away and Kim Jong-Il succeeded him. The output of the negotiations was the “Agreed Framework“. Under the framework North Korea would transition from the proliferation unfriendly graphite-moderated reactors, which are difficult to monitor and produce ready-to-enrich fuel rods as a waste product, with the light-water nuclear reactors which are both easier to prove innocence and more difficult to use clandestinely.

North Korea would immediately turn off its reactors and in the intervening years (the United States promised to deliver light-water reactors by 2003) it would receive oil to replace its lost nuclear energy output (500,000 tons of heavy oil per year). In turn, North Korea would pay for the new reactors over the course of the following 20 years. The Agreed Framework was intended to do more than resolve the nuclear dispute. The US was required by the agreement to provide formal assurances that it would not threaten or use nuclear forces against the DPRK, and the two nations would seek to normalize relations.

For some time the new relationship seemed to take off. Despite hiccups over funding, ordering, and deadlines the relationship between the countries began to normalize. North Korea immediately froze its nuclear reactors. The United States lowered its crippling economic sanctions. The two Koreans met with continually thawing relationships.  In 1997 Kim Dae Jung instituted what became known as the Sunshine Policy: a agreement that North Korea would not engage in any armed provocation, the South would not attempt to annex the North, and the two would engage in increasing mutually beneficial contact. The Sunshine Policy, and its successful implementation, earned the President Kim Dae Jung the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

Unfortunately, the United States had been under the impression that between the death of Kim Il-Sung and the economic calamity the country had experienced due to sanctions, the country was fated to collapse without outside intervention, and that this impression had proved incorrect. Senior Clinton Administration officials privately stated that the deal had only been struck because they did not anticipate the need to actually fulfil the obligations.

Indeed, increasingly as target dates for the deal grew closer North Korea demanded America match its promises: the light-water reactors had made no headway. The George W. Bush candidacy had made clear on the campaign trail of its opposition to the Agreed Framework and had made promises to reverse it. The Bush Presidency took to dismantling the agreement over eight years into the ten year agreement, spending months within his own administration to develop an alternative that ultimately based on dubious intelligence. His administration emphasized ensuring that the collapse of the state and subsequent regime change the Clinton Administration expected would be made to happen. When the Swiss offered to make a sale of light-water reactors, pressure from the United States killed the deal. Sanctions were kicked back into high gear and the Bush Administration refused to meet one-on-one with the North to settle the Agreed Framework or advance alternatives.


Relations immediately soured between the two nations. The United States Bush Administration’s active policy of regime change, joining of North Korea to a list of state sponsors of terror, escalated sanctions, withdrawal of diplomats and broken Agreed Framework commitments led the DPRK to seek nuclear weapons again. The nation sought to enrich uranium, which was detected in 2002 by the United States. North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, after delaying 10 years waiting for the US to meet Agreed Framework obligations, in protest of both the US failure to meet commitments and emerging Bush era regime change operations targeting the country. In leaving the NPT, North Korea joined non-signatory states such as Israel (who had also eventually developed nuclear weapons).


A Bush Administration mired in the Iraq war – a war for which it had falsified nuclear weapon charges to invade – had neither desire nor the relationship to work online with the Kim Jong Il Administration on another treaty. The primary diplomatic effort to keep the North from becoming a nuclear state involved six nations: the so-called Six-Party Talks. Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, North Korea and the United States – three nuclear states, two of the largest US security allies, and the regime – would meet 11 times over the next six years.  The nations present bargained that North Korea abandon its pursuit of nuclear capabilities and rejoin the NPT, while North Korea bargained for a security garuntees against United States invasion, right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the light water reactors it had expected from the Agreed Framework, and normalized economic and diplomatic relations.


North Korea made it a condition that any deal include a non-aggression pact with the United States. This was rejected outright by the superpower. The first round of talks made no progress. When talks resumed six months later, the People’s Republic again reiterated that a non-aggression pact was pivotal to its drawing down a nuclear deterrent. The Bush Administration suggested it would be open to providing informal assurances that did not amount to a legally binding non-aggression pact, but made it a condition that North Korea dismantle its weapons program first. The government in the North insisted on legally binding arrangements and that both parties implement, in steps, their commitments at the same time. The second session ended with all parties reaffirming commitment to a denuclearized peninsula and a date for another meeting, but no concrete arrangements.


The next two talks, spanning nearly two years, were complicated by re-election in the United States. Kim Jong Il and Kim Kye-gwan wanted to wait for the elections, and then for the second Bush Administration term to publish its foreign policy toward the region. Seeking to reaffirm talks, the United States announced that it recognized the sovereignty of North Korea and publicly committed that it would not seek to invade. In 2005, in the fourth meeting, the two nations preliminarily agreed to pursue a lockstep implementation. It output a joint publication with all parties enshrining a deproliferation of the peninsula on both the North and South side, Northern right to nuclear energy, future light-water reactor procurement, and instilled “the DPRK and the United States undertook to respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies.”



Normalized economic relations had been a North Korean priority. Challenge of this new regime of financial warfare, which had halted a large portion of the Foreign Exchange the country needed to run international trade, led North Korea to boycott not only the next scheduled Six Party talks, but stalled its progress on dismantling its nuclear program – indeed renewing efforts on it – on the condition that the United States meet its treaty commitments to disengage from economic warfare. A highly strained relationship continued into the next year. In October 2006 the  People’s Republic performed its first successful nuclear test.


The response from Security Council members was swift; passing Security Council Resolution 1718 took only a few days. The resolution condemned North Korea for the test, required it return to the Six Party talks, and in the interim instituted a world-wide ban on all trade with the DPRK excluding only necessity goods.


If a global ban on trade was a stick, the United States promise to return seized money and remove the nation from sanctions programs were a carrot. The Bush Administration advanced promises it would remove the North from its State Sponsors of Terror list, widely known for its use as an international political tool as opposed to faithfully tracking state terror activity – and legal justification for a range of attrition warfare programs. North Korea was recognized to have been unfairly placed on the list having only ever played a very minor role in state terrorism, and having been engaged in no such activity for 20 years.


Talks and implementation of agreed protocols were delayed when the United States did not deliver on its promise to return the seized funds, citing a lack of time to complete the transfer and continued to extralegally sanction banks that invested with North Korea (indeed to this day). The United States made it a de facto condition that nuclear programs be frozen before funds were returned – while North Korea insisted that the illegal seizure be reversed and the United States side of the agreement be completed before resumption. The disagreement delayed further talks and agreed implementation for some time. When the funds were finally returned (Russia volunteered to transfer the funds) North Korea dutifully resumed their implementation and in June 2007 international inspections confirmed the plants had been frozen.


Although missing its deadline to remove North Korea from the state sponsors list in August, the State Department eventually – in October – made good by its commitment. Eventually the United States fulfilled its obligation to drop North Korea from its list of State Terror Sponsors. Domestic media characterized the Bush Administration’s fulfilled promise as a lame-duck, legacy-building stopgap not aimed at peaceful resolution but instead at ‘passing the buck’ to the next Presidential office. That may very well be true. When in early 2009 North Korea launched an entirely peaceful communications satellite into orbit, the United States led the charge to indict it for breaking Security Council Resolution 1718 and in a presidential address re-invoked the sanctions program. North Korea cited the International Outer Space Treaty, which gives signatory sovereignty nations rights to peaceful activities in space and in orbit.

Later, President Obama would try to justify adding North Korea back to the Terrorism Sponsor list for its involvement in the SONY hackwhich the DPRK undertook as a deterrent program against the CIA and State Department’s involvement in having Kim Jong Un assassinated in The Interview. Indeed, the DPRK hacker group that executed the SONY attack was organized to digitally punish companies for state sponsored propaganda against the regime.


This had been a general pattern of the United States. It’s sanctions of North Korea cover dual-use technologies. North Korea’s school system is robbed of pencils containing graphite over paranoid fears that the graphite from those pencils could be extracted and processed into nuclear enrichment material. A ban on materials to produce syringes (because syringes can obsensively be used to research biological weapons – though even the US hasn’t accused North Korea of intending to do so) led to a lack of supply of syringes, which in turn have led to humanitarian crises. It’s has not been allowed to trade any technologies, materials – even scraps and spare parts – to keep its industry alive. It’s economic and financial blockades, and refusal to onboard the nation into the global economy after the fall of the Soviet Bloc, have made an otherwise healthy economy falter. Constant military threats and regime change operations have required North Korea to spend substancial portions of its economy on deterrent programs.


The United States makes agreements with North Korea, but doesn’t come through with its obligations, or delays them when the peninsula starts to see progress. At the same time, the United States exercises new creative forms of financial strangulation within the letter of the agreements, but against their spirit. North Korea, who has made US economic sanctions an issue since the late 1950’s but increasingly since the fall of the Soviet Union and its trading bloc, has sought continually to open its economy to the world. For the past decade, for example, North Korea has been trying to develop special economic zones for foreign direct investment that would bypass the current list of economic blockages that prevent it from interacting with the global economy. Furthermore, they have a good track record in enhancing the prosperity of countries. The United States of course has sought new policies that would deter possible investors. Counter strategy has been to cut off the investment to these economic zones, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex.


The effect of these sorts of sanctions are well known. Health professionals regularly call for the sanctions to take into account the subsequent human toll. Amnesty International and independent human rights organizations estimate that the 1997 sanctions against Iraq caused the starvation to death of 500,000 children and in total between sanctions and bombing civilian area 4% of its entire population. The United States has been in economic attrition warfare with North Korea for over 60 years, with sanctions and embargoes first applied as part of the war effort in 1950 and never lifted since. The President George W. Bush Administration called North Korea “the most sanctioned nation in the world.” Yet the United States rejects the premise outright that the sanctions have anything to do with the quality of life in the peninsula – preferring instead the hypothesis that it is due to “economic mismanagement.”


A new round of sanctions applied to the North over its communications satellite led it to the unravelling of the Six Party Talks. The reinvigoration of sanctions over non-nuclear activity, indeed in the midst of full compliance by the state, led North Korea to withdraw from the treaty and commit to reversing its prior denuclearization. The ROK and US alliance responded by committed to a Proliferation Security Initiative, which the State Department describes as “interdiction of transfers” and “financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade”. The United Nations escalated the sanctions against North Korea, who responded by deepening its commitment to defensive nuclear weaponry.


Rapidly through the rest of the year, the first year the Obama Administration had bilateral diplomatic interface with Pyongyang, tensions rose. In South Korea the former president Roh Moo-hyun, who had embraced and continued the nobel peace prizing winning Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae-jung, left office and was replaced by Lee Myung-bak. The new South Korean president was quickly mired in “the South Korean Watergate” in which he endorsed surveillance, covert police pressure and censorship of individuals critical of his administration and policies.


Lee Myung-bak immediately reversed Kim and Roh’s Sunshine Policy. Whereas the Sunshine Policy was tit-for-tat diplomacy: cooperate to build more cooperation, demilitarize to induce demilitarization, Lee’s new Foreign Policy was to build a stronger military alliance and refuse to deescalate it until North Korea did on its own first. He withdrew from a bilateral non-aggression pact signed by Roh, withdrew from a treaty whereby families from the North and South had been reuniting in neutral territory, officially dissolved the Sunshine Policy and expanded security cooperation with the United States.


Unable to work with a recalcitrant South Korea, pretextual sanctions, and continual streams of levers intended to block all chances for economic reform in the country – all counter to the obligations of the US-ROK alliance, North Korea stated in April 14 of 2009 that it would be withdrawing permanently from the Six Party Talks and would instead continue to pursue nuclear power. Charles L. Pritchard, the US State Department’s diplomat for North Korea until the Bush Administration, detailed how ‘hard-liners’ who sought to use military and economic pressure to coerce the regime into compliance or to see its collapse had operated simultaneously with peace-building diplomacy – sending mixed signals to the regime and ultimately curdling its trust. Pritchard assesses that normalization of relations would have worked, as North Korea had been deeply committed to denuclearization of its neighborhood. This is not a unique criticism – the schizophrenic and violent approach to North Korean diplomacy and its ultimate (legal) decision to become a nuclear state is widely regarded as a Bush Administration policy failure.


On April 25th, 2009 North Korea announced it would be reopening its nuclear facilities. In late May of the same year it performed its second-ever nuclear test at its underground facility near P’unggye, which were met with yet more UNSC sanctions and South Korea joining an illegal Security Initiative, which North Korea considered a violation of treaty commitments. In 2010 the North floated a permanent peace treaty between the North and South, modernized to apply to current affairs and stronger than the prior disarmament treaty, but the United States has stated disinterest in discussing a peace treaty unless North Korea first sheds its military deterrents.


The second half of the Obama Administration, in fact most of it, has been in trying to build enough trust with the country to resume Six-Party talks.


In the transition between 2011 and 2012 the former leader Kim Jong-Il passed and North Korea welcomed its new president Kim Jong Un. The new head of state has made it his goal to legitimize North Korea as an equal peaceful nuclear power and to modernize the North Korean economy. The patterns, though, have been the same. North Korea launched a commercial weather and crop surveillance satellite, the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 and subsequent Unit 2, successfully registering it with the United Nations as a crop surveying instrument, as making it the 10th nation in the world to successfully deploy a satellite into orbit (ahead of South Korea, which has not yet developed the technology). The United Nations Security Council responded with additional sanctions, citing that satellite launch technology – though entirely peaceful – could possibly be repurposed for military capabilities. Similar ballistic missile programs have not been condemned in the South. In April of 2014, South Korea demonstrated its capability to strike most population centers in the North with missiles that could deliver 2,200 lb of explosive payload. When it tried and failed to launch a satellite in three subsequent orbital delivery attempts, it garnered neither the fear-mongering propaganda, buffoonery propaganda, or international sanctions of its Northern neighbor.


In 2013, North Korea announced and then tested additional nuclear warheads and announced and then restarted it’s heavy water program in Yongbyon. The international response has been to call for North Korea to come into compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for which the North legally left signatory status and has since not been bound for 10 years. 2014 and 2015 saw the development of ballistic missile capabilities from submarines, and the States have worried that this could eventually lead to a North Korean nuclear triad.


We get to see how 2016 unfolds. In December 2015, North Korea announced it would be testing a Hydrogen Bomb, and in January successfully executed a hydrogen bomb test, though the United States refused to officially acknowledge the test as successful or to officially recognize the North as a nuclear state.

Political Economy, Global Order, Fed Hikes and Recession

Introduced as having held every significant position in economics within the United States Government, former Secretary of the Treasury and former Chief Economist of the World Bank Dr. Lawrence H. Summers gave a talk in Washington D.C. last week titled “Economic Statecraft and Global Order”.

Lawrence Summer’s talk was considered “provocative” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The event consisted of a 45 minute talk followed by another 45 minutes of questions. Advancing in staccato rhythm, each paragraph by Summers unfolded a systematic approach to reasoning about the significance of foreign economic policy. Citing the history of the World Wars, the Great Depression and the fall of the Soviet Union, his unfurling thesis implied theories of how economic policy contributes to global outcomes: Summers advocates that more aggressive economic warfare between the 1880s and 1920s would have stopped the industrial advancement of Prussia, ultimately preventing World War I, and that the Third Reich and World War II was only made possible by The Depression and the oppressive terms purposefully advocated in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

This thesis culminates in our former Secretary of Treasury laying down his cards. Seventeen minutes into the talk he lays waste to the notion that political capital should be spent trying to advocate for US companies – he argues that at stake in trade negotiations and economic diplomacy is something higher than the mere success of American businesses. He criticises “competitive ‘win-the-game’ theory” and even posits that “Almost every policy sentence that uses the word competitiveness is misguided. It conjures the competition between companies, but that doesn’t apply to countries.”

And then says some curious things:

“There’s no a priori logic even in the narrow economic realm where we can assume we do well if another country’s economics prospects diminish.

“Any paradigm around the notion that we want to win and we want others to lose is misguided in narrow economic terms and catastrophic in broader political terms. It is hard to imagine having harmonious relations with those whose economy it is our desire to suppress.

“The objective of policy should be to foster a more integrated global economic system in which more nations and more people within nations have a stake in collective success.
In a phrase. It should be the promotion of shared prosperity.”

“Shared prosperity strategy that offers the best prospect for a successful integration of China into the global order.”

“The American posture, having designed a Pacific Trade Agreement, that was crafted in a way that whatever was legally possible made it not practically realistic for China to participate.

“Having done that when China sought to create an institution that invested in Asian infrastructure; for the US to allow an appearance to develop that it was working hard not just to not to participate but to discourage others from participating and then have our longest standing ally the Brits lead the charge of repudiation constituted one of the darker days of US economic diplomacy.”

“This I would submit is a matter of particular urgency at the current time when we are seeing for the first time this year capital flows from south to north – from downhill to uphill – on an unprecedented scale; complicating the matters of macroeconomic management through capital flight from emerging markets and current account deficits.”

In a real sense the remainder of this decade emerging markets will probably be submerging markets.”

– Lawrence Summers, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C.
(emphasis ours)

What is Summer’s talking about? The United States strategy to destroy China’s economy, flirting with global economic collapse in the process, his argument entails, is neither a good strategy that advances US values nor a strategy that has gained us many allies.

The Asia Pacific arena in particular, and developing economies in the Asia Pacific more broadly, are projected to overtake the United States and the Atlantic as the center of the global economy. Soon the very vast majority – two thirds of all world trade – will be passing through the South China Sea.

The United States strategy has been, not colonialism or theft or international espionage, but abject destruction. Wielding the powers of the world’s most powerful lending, monetary and financial institutions, every measure has been taken to styme the rising power’s economy that left unchecked is certain to overtake the US. To deal with China, the United States has architected the Trans Pacific Partnership, which as Summers states was “crafted in a way that whatever was legally possible made it not practically realistic for China to participate.”

Of course, it isn’t just Summers saying these things. Robert Blackwill, former ambassador and National Security Council deputy for Iraq reporting to Condolezza Rice, and Ashley Tellis, National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia, codrafted a Grand Strategy Document Toward China out of the Council for Foreign Relations – an influential policy thinktank in Washington DC created after the First World War.

The opening paragraphs of this Grand Strategy Toward China quickly summarize its content:

“It has become something of a cliché to say that no relationship will matter more when it comes to defining the twenty-first century than the one between the United States and China. Like many clichés, this statement is true but not terribly useful, as it tells us little or nothing about the nature of the relationship in question.”

“Some point to history and argue that strategic rivalry is highly likely if not inevitable between the existing major power of the day and the principal rising power.”

“A number of policy prescriptions follow, including the adoption of policies designed to produce more robust economic growth in the United States; new trade arrangements in Asia that exclude China; a stricter technology-control regime affecting exports to China…”

– “Revising US Grant Strategy Toward China”, Council on Foreign Relations
(emphasis ours)

Summers also discusses how the United States sought to crush international investment banks organized by China – but lost face with the rest of the world and saw the international community rally against it. The United States has been rallying a whole-of-government effort to prevent China’s rise.

Statesmen, partnered with private hedge fund managers, are currently spending fortunes trying to deflate China’s currency so that the country implodes into an era of recession. They calculate that by around the middle of 2016 they can deplete China’s foreign currency reserves to the minimum levels required to operate trade and that after this they can devalue the Chinese currency by up to 40-50%, preventing China from graduating from a developing country to a developed one – what would represent the largest move of lower income people into the Middle Class in all of history.

The United States Fed continues to promise repeated rate hikes despite the danger that poses to the domestic economy. When these rates are hiked, a stronger US dollar makes it more difficult for US-dominated debt around the world to be paid off, as it effectively multiplies the cost of the loan. The anticipation of hikes, the burden they will cause for government budgets, and the relative devaluation of holding capital outside US dollars, causes capital flight increases out of China, Brazil, India, Turkey, Russia and other countries. Wealthy individuals who fear their fortunes may be ruined from the combinations of devaluing currency, increasing debts, and geoeconomic warfare delist their investments from the home countries. This flight of capital causes further complications for the victimized countries.

As a result of America’s policies, globally, for the first time in world history, investment capital will net be leaving developing countries for the developed world. Larry Summers calls this ‘downhill-to-uphill’, and pains that it deeply complicates the stability of the global economic system.

Harry B. Harris, Admiral and Commander of the United States Pacific Command, in a report to the same Washington institution says:

“If [China] were to build out Scarborough Reef like they have Firey-Cross Reef, like they have built out Woody Island, they would control the South China Sea against all of the militaries out there except for the United States military in all scenarios short of war. This has operations implications for me as military commander and strategic implications for the United States: when you consider the $5 trillion dollars of trade pass through the South China Sea every year.”

“Economics: I’m a supporter of TPP, I think it’s critical to our economic power. And at the end of the day The Rebalance [to Asia] is about economy. It’s not about China. It’s about us and the values we hold dear and what matters to us. And the biggest piece of The Rebalance is the economic piece.”

– United States Admiral Harry B. Harris

Harris goes on to note that we also have deployed the most sophisticated weapon systems the United States has developed to the region. China’s primary defensive weakness to external threats in modern warfare – were one to arise between it and the United States – is its dependence on easy-to-blockade ports and trade straits, the most important the Strait of Malacca. The United States regularly enumerates the foreign strategic assets it seeks to control: the Strait of Malacca made the 2008 list.

In addition to crippling China’s economy, which has in turn set the tides for a global and domestic recession, Harris explains that the United States is simultaneously committed to complicating China’s plans to build military outposts that protect its trade waters from blockades.

Lest one think the United States is not the aggressor in this exchange the high level strategies enumerated within the Grand Strategy Toward China report China as: pursuing maintenance of internal order, sustained high economic growth, peace around its periphery, and cement international status.

On the other hand the United States is recommended to “permit successful U.S. power projection even against concerted opposition from Beijing”, “U.S.-Asian alliances should be rebooted for offensive and defensive geoeconomic action. This intensified alliance focus should be as concentrated on geoeconomics as on political-military instruments”, “Strengthen the U.S. Military”, “increase the frequency and duration of naval exercises with South China Sea littoral states”, “working with the ROK (and Japan) to develop a comprehensive strategy for regime change in North Korea”, “substantially loosen its restraints on military technology transfer to India”, “regard Indian nuclear weapons as an asset in maintaining the current balance of power in Asia”, “possible future arms sales to Taiwan could include signals intelligence aircraft, transport aircraft, upgraded engines for F-16s, upgrades to frigates and other ships, and/or land-based missile defense systems.”

Lawrence Summer’s talk was considered “provocative” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Not provocative because he wanted to export more pollution into developing countries. Not provocative because he wanted to sidestep sovereignty, impose rents, privitize resources, and collect profits from emerging nations.

Lawrence Summer’s talk was considered provocative by the Center of Strategic and International Studies because he reasoned that the US ought to allow the peaceful and uninterrupted development of China into a modern economy – even if that means losing global economic primacy. Provocative because he criticized the destructive measures the United States is taking to inhibit world growth for its own selfish and paranoid justifications.

P.S. The Washington Times published a report on these events, but with severely questionable journalistic ethics and standards: “Official: China stock crash is U.S. economic warfare“.

Reading Lugard and Adam Smith

Lugard’s The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa was published in 1922. It discusses indirect rule in colonial Africa. In this work, Lugard outlined the reasons and methods that he recommended for the colonisation of Africa by Britain. Some of his justifications included spreading Christianity and ending ‘barbarism’ (such as human sacrifice). He also saw state-sponsored colonisation as a way to protect missionaries, local chiefs, and local people from each other as well as from foreign powers.

Also, for Lugard, it was vital that Britain gain control of unclaimed areas before Germany, Portugal, or France claimed the land and its resources for themselves. He realised that there were vast profits to be made through the exporting of resources like rubber and through taxation of native populations, as well as importers and exporters (the British taxpayers actually always made a loss from the colonies in this period). In addition, these resources and inexpensive native labour (slavery having been outlawed by Britain in 1834) would provide vital fuel for the industrial revolution in resource-depleted Britain as well as monies for public works projects. Finally, Lugard reasoned that colonisation had become a fad and that in order to remain a super power, Britain would need to hold colonies in order to avoid appearing weak.

Wikipedia – The Dual Mandate

Lord Lugard of England was a “colonial administrator” for the British Empire tasked with establishing and maintaining control of African and Asian colonies. While direct military occupation of foreign territory was successfully employed by the Empire, it had found that indirect rule through corrupt local officials and clandestine intelligence activity and by establishing international businesses like the infamous East India Company let it obtain foreign resources and cheap labor without having to bear the costs of suppressing the revolutions that direct military occupation were known to incite.

Fredrick Lugard discussed in his handbook the Dual Mandate the methods of indirect occupation of territory, the strategic and business reasons and moral justifications for the activity. Of England’s occupation of Africa – which the region still has not recovered from today – Lugard argued that “England is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial class and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane.” Ultimately the conquer of Africa was justified by the argument that, since Africa was not as able to mobilize its raw resources as the more highly industrialized superpowers, these resources were wasted on the natives and justifiably owned by the British. The British, in turn for taking the resources, would presumably give some wealth back to Africa as a sort of reparation. Thus the “Dual Mandate”: to do good to Britain and good to the colony.

This analysis was not unique to Lugard or to the British. Every European colonial power justified their colonial ambitions to secure foreign resources and cheap labor with facades of ‘mutual benefit’. In Franch, the term was “Mission Civilisatrice.” In Spain it was called the Spanish Requirement. In reality colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas were plundered and subject to systemic abuse including genocide, their women subject to rape, and their cultures subject to eradication.

According to Wikipedia, global society has moved on from colonialization. Though colonies existed in their old forms until the late 1900’s, common wisdom is that they have been eradicated – replaced with the nobler and kinder gift of free market liberalization espoused by economic thinkers like Adam Smith, who gets credit in the United States for “being against colonialization, broadly”.

However, reading of The Wealth Of Nations is necessary to understand exactly what this means. In Book IV, Chapter VII Smith argues that colonialization is a wonderful idea but that the way it was practised in the 1700’s required too much regulation and taxation; and that the forms of control used by mother countries to get monopoly access to colony output all together dragged these new economies down. Adam Smith argues that the reason colonies generate so much wealth is because:

The colony of a civilised nation which takes possession either of a waste country, or of one so thinly inhabited that the natives easily give place to the new settlers, advances more rapidly to wealth and greatness than any other human society.

The colonists carry out with them a knowledge of agriculture and of other useful arts superior to what can grow up of its own accord in the course of many centuries among savage and barbarous nations.

Every colonist gets more land than he can possibly cultivate. He has no rent, and scarce any taxes to pay. No landlord shares with him in its produce, and the share of the sovereign is commonly but a trifle. He has every motive to render as great as possible a produce, which is thus to be almost entirely his own. But his land is commonly so extensive that, with all his own industry, and with all the industry of other people whom he can get to employ, he can seldom make it produce the tenth part of what it is capable of producing. He is eager, therefore, to collect labourers from all quarters, and to reward them with the most liberal wages. But those liberal wages, joined to the plenty and cheapness of land, soon make those labourers leave him, in order to become landlords themselves, and to reward, with equal liberality, other labourers, who soon leave them for the same reason that they left their first master. The liberal reward of labour encourages marriage. The children, during the tender years of infancy, are well fed and properly taken care of, and when they are grown up, the value of their labour greatly overpays their maintenance. When arrived at maturity, the high price of labour, and the low price of land, enable them to establish themselves in the same manner as their fathers did before them.

In other countries, rent and profit eat up wages, and the two superior orders of people oppress the inferior one. [But in new colonies]… waste lands of the greatest natural fertility are to be had for a trifle. The increase of revenue which the proprietor, who is always the undertaker, expects from their improvement, constitutes his profit which in these circumstances is commonly very great. But this great profit cannot be made without employing the labour of other people in clearing and cultivating the land; and the disproportion between the great extent of the land and the small number of the people, which commonly takes place in new colonies, makes it difficult for him to get this labour. He does not, therefore, dispute about wages, but is willing to employ labour at any price. The high wages of labour encourage population. The cheapness and plenty of good land encourage improvement, and enable the proprietor to pay those high wages. In those wages consists almost the whole price of the land; and though they are high considered as the wages of labour, they are low considered as the price of what is so very valuable. What encourages the progress of population and improvement encourages that of real wealth and greatness.

Adam Smith arrives at a theory where a colonizing mother country should not tax, impose rent or take profit from developing lands – preferring instead to allow the land to develop as quickly as possible and benefit only from the trade generated by the quickly advancing land.

This “free market system” of freeing colonies of the burden of externally imposed rents, debts, taxes, and profit-seeking is what gets associated with post-colonial international development.

However, it wasn’t long before Smith’s message – even though he hadn’t even opposed colonization itself – was subverted and so-called “free markets” in the so-called post-colonial age became bereft again with the same problems of the old system. The rent of land mother countries used to extract was replaced with rent-seeking privatization of mother country institutions, expats and patriots. Developed country corporations sought the profits that ate the wages necessary for the developing countries to grow in a manner Smith had hoped. Development loans were issued to countries at rates that prevented them from maturing beyond the cheap resource and labor economies beneficial to developed nation needs and Structural Adjustment Programs replace local government public works with ones whose tax goes to the developed world.

The combination of debts, rents, and profit have eaten up wages and opportunities to flourish in developing countries. The most valuable natural resources and infrastructure have become owned by foreign rent collectors. The promises from Adam Smith that quickly industrializing and developing foreign nations should be free from foreign rent were never taken very seriously, even by those who claimed to espouse it.

Redefinition Politics – An Incomplete Rhetorical Dictionary

“China’s chilling plan to use social credit ratings to keep score on its citizens”, a CNN headline from October 2015 reads. The article describes the Chinese state’s plans to use data from surveillance along with scoring algorithms to analyse – en masse – the credit worthiness of its population. China’s stated goals sound legitimate enough: a “lawful application of credit information and a credit services system” with a goal to “use encouragement to keep trust and constraints against breaking trust as incentive mechanisms, and its objective is raising the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society.”

Of course, setting up a credit rating system is not an unusual activity for an industrializing nation and the credit system in America is instantiated for exactly the reasons expressed by China’s State Council. Nor is China unusual in setting up a credit system under their Central Bank (e.g. Spain, Ireland).

The reporting in CNN’s article makes the plans to factor social media postings and relationship circles into credit scores sound literally Orwellian – they even use the word:

“The State Council plan, for instance, mentions rumor-mongering as an example of behavior to be sanctioned.

It is this part of the plan that has led many commentators to describe it as an Orwellian tool of individual control.

They may well be right — the Chinese state has continuously sought to expand its power to intervene in the lives of their citizens.

It is where the hard power logic of state survival and political stability intersect with a tendency towards social engineering with roots both in Socialist and Confucian thought.”

CNN completes their article by referring to the global trend towards social control through surveillance – they tacitly include the US – with “In that sense, perhaps the most shocking element of the story is not the Chinese government’s agenda, but how similar it is to the path technology is taking elsewhere.”

Yet the article only makes vague references to this global trend – and then only with feel-good techno utopian sidelines toward Silicon Valley. The article does not mention that online surveillance of social media content and relationships is already factored into United States credit scores.

CNN makes a wink at the tendency of the United States and the broader West to use social engineering to control their citizen’s behavior, but excludes direct references to state actions, preferring instead to talk in broad strokes about Silicon Valley.

CNN did not mention the Social and Behavioral Sciences Initiative within the Office of Science and Technology Policy to deploy “Nudge Units” which use behavioral engineering to affect large scale civil behaviour. They do not mention that the Cass Sunstein approach to policymaking – of using psychological nudges and incentive systems – is now the predominant legal view in the US judicial system. They don’t mention that to affect this, he was made the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees all of US policymaking and regulation for the White House.

Cass Sunstein is known for suggesting the government actively and anonymously infiltrate civilian discussions online to fight rumor-mongering. He is also known for eloquently expressing in his book The Problem of Free Speech that in “light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.” Indeed one of Sunstein’s core suggestions for the state is that it employ a tax or discredit – public or otherwise – to citizens who engage in online rumor-mongering.

Wikipedia summarizes his accolades: “A study of legal publications between 2009 and 2013 found Sunstein to be the most frequently cited American legal scholar by a wide margin.”

Compare the coverage of the emerging Chinese credit system with this story run recently by the Washington Post. “The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’” did not only fail to make front headlines but was published under “Public Safety.” The article is littered continuously with images of police officers posed in heroic, gentle gestures:

Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer inside the Fresno Police Department’s crime center. (Nick Otto/For The Washington Post)” – Credit to the Washington Post

In defiance of palpable use of surveillance and social media scoring directly for “real time” law enforcement, the article contains absolutely no mention of Orweil. Every example in the article of how the police use the technology is positive or speculatively positive – the article even opens with how surveillance is used to identify that a suspect in a domestic case has social media ties to gang members.

Missing is any reference to the Fresno Police Department’s track record of misconduct, including harassment and excessive use of force. The Post article is perhaps made more interesting by the recent extremely bizarre death of John Lang, who accurately predicted the time of his death and collected video and records of what he was certain was Fresno police harrassing him with street surveillance and monitoring his online messaging. Whether murdered by the police in Fresno or not – these systems of continuous monitoring have deep and predictable psychological consequences that unquestioningly led to Lang’s lack of personal security.

The consistent theme across the ‘threat score’ article is that these powers are necessary for public safety. That the surveillance systems are legitimate and only very speculatively subject to any abuse. In one of the few paragraphs that suggests that these systems are controversial the Post writes:

“But the powerful systems also have become flash points for civil libertarians and activists, who say they represent a troubling intrusion on privacy, have been deployed with little public oversight and have potential for abuse or error. Some say laws are needed to protect the public.”

– The Washington Post Article (emphasis ours)

Not only does the Post neglect featuring the actual arguments of activists and those concerned with human rights against warrantless law enforcement – they cast what they phrase as a marginal opinion as mere concerns with ‘privacy’.

Jacob Appelbaum, one of the developers of the online anonymizing software TOR, was featured briefly in the Edward Snowden documentary “Citizen Four.” In twelve words Appelbaum provides a crisp and damning response:

What we used to call liberty and freedom we now call privacy.

Bulk and warrantless surveillance, scoring systems, pre-crime and ‘real time’ crime enforcement are concerns over fundamental freedoms, constitutional and human rights: but are covered by establishment news as ‘privacy concerns’.

The differences in the phrasing between the article on Chinese credit scoring and US threat scoring belie their content.

Somehow credit scoring systems in China that behave the same way they function in America are written in ominous overtones. At the same time, the deployment of surveillance systems developed by our military for the control and occupation of foreign territories into hundreds of districts and cities across the United States (the article only mentions New York, Seattle and Houston) receives praise and quiet rationalization. The articles never mentions that political parties have been targeted by these surveillance systems along with both presidential candidates and peaceful civilian protest groups (including Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter).

But far more insidious than persistent double standards in fundamentally biased media is this issue of redefined political terminology. During the Snowden global surveillance disclosures it was difficult – and it still is – to find any broadcaster that would put “mass surveillance” or “surveillance” at all in headlines. Instead broadly across CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox and other major outlets referred to the act of collecting, processing, mining, scoring and reporting on everyone’s private conversations, daily routines and political activities as “Bulk Collection”. To this day if you search for the two disparate terms you will see a definitive divide that isolates the major US news networks from the independent and international media.

This redefinition is startlingly common inside the American political space. Within the past year or two, what used to be called non-interventionism has recently been relabeled as new or neo-isolationism; as though Americans who are against non-defensive warfighting somehow want to isolate America completely from the world, absent all global trade, foreign assistance, travel and information connectivity.

The term populism is now primarily used as a pejorative to refer to knee-jerk snap decisions by uninterested and unintelligent populations rather than its original intended meaning of bottom-up grassroots democratic participation and accountable leadership that is held on transparent record to plebian inspection.

Socialism and Communism have for generations in America meant nothing at all similar to either structures of government or aspirations toward effective distributive ownership. Elements on the right of the spectrum in the country gleefully refer to the liberal policies promised by a possible Clinton administration as ‘socialist’.

Even the term democracy has suffered. Under the cover of the National Endowment for Democracy the United States military has overthrown elected representatives from countries with fair and able democratic processes to install dictators and juntas – infamous examples from the mid-twentieth century include Guatemala and Chile – and modern examples of election fixing include the Malaki administration in post-invasion Iraq and the ironically named “Operation Uphold Democracy” in Haiti.

The United States renaming of the ‘War’ Department to the ‘Defense’ Department is indicative of its use of the terms security and defense. The definition of National Security, as officially descibed by the first National Security Presidential Directive NSPD-1 to mean “the defense of the United States of America, protection of our constitutional system of government, and the advancement of United States interests around the globe. National security also depends on America’s opportunity to prosper in the world economy.” By strict application of the term, National Security means invasion of another country or rigging of financial outcomes as easily as it means defense of national borders.

The recent Senate report on the CIA torture program, which is still over 80% redacted due primarily to fears of popular outcry, lists the least controversial of what the state had insisted on calling ‘enhanced interrogation’ rather than torture: forced rectal feeding (without medical need), rectal ‘exams’ with excessive force (leading at least one prisoner to rectal prolapse), mock executions, repeated drowning and resuscitation, weeks long sleep deprivation, and stress positions including forcing detainees to stand on broken feet.

Similar to ‘enhanced interrogation’ is the terminology used for propaganda: ‘strategic communications’ and ‘public diplomacy’.

The combination of terms makes following political debates exhausting and confusing. When Clinton described her relationship with Wall Street by invoking National Security, did she mean to say that her policies are intended to underwrite and guarantee the prosperity of the stalling American global economic system? Or did she mean that she will protect Wall Street from another physical attack? Or is there some financial interest the United States has overseas that Wall Street will help the state to obtain?

We can’t blame the Huffington Post for compiling a (not really that good) list of articles under the umbrella category “weird politics” or the National Council of Teachers of English for giving out yearly Doublespeak Awards. Politics have to be weird when talking about national security means financial interests, defense means unprovoked invasion,  when peace can mean war and isolationism means trade and diplomacy; and when public safety nets like unemployment, minimum wages, and health care are labeled communist when communist countries around the world broadly don’t have them (and capitalist countries broadly do).

This weird politics is redefinitional politics – a form of public discussion that can’t be effective because its terms are either vacuous or actively antithetical. Redefinition politics will feature as prominently this election year as “populism”, “isolationism” and “identity politics” but it will be so hard to parse that pundits and talking heads will generate twice as much doublespeak as it takes to unwind the first.

The Year of the Inside-Outsider

It’s easy to take the media repetition that America’s 2016 election year is “the year of the outsider” to heart. It even sounds like what we need in an election cycle: something truly different. Sources ranging from PBS (“Will 2016 be the year of the political outsider?”) through The New York Times (“‘Outsider’ Presidential Candidates Prove Competitive in Fund-Raising”) – even the Christian Science Monitor (“Revenge of the outsiders: Why 2016 presidential race is breaking the mold”) and all the way to Fox News (“…Outsiders rule 2016 GOP field…) have all deemed this year notable for ‘outsider’ candidates.

PBS, for example, highlights Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson – presuming these to be evident examples of political outsider status. Fox news discusses Trump in relation to Biden (when Biden was still suspected he may announce) and to Hillary. The Christian Science Monitor has a similar list: Fiorina, Carson and Trump – though they include Sanders (as many others do). The New York Times spends its time mulling over how much money everyone was able to raise – implicitly condoning this as a measure of political legitimacy – and even imply that Cruz should be considered within the ranks of the outsider.

We’re told of our intervening outsider candidates… that Donald Trump means business, that Ben Carson means business, that Carly Fiorina means business and that Bernie Sanders means business. With redundant headlines and repeated catchphrases, 2016 is the year of the outsider that means business and can raise money.

The list of outsiders (in non-scientificly determined order similar to media frequency): Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Sanders and Cruz. (O’Malley hardly gets mentioned as an outsider?) Yet somehow even this most qualified list of outsiderness contains:

  1. A billionaire who nearly ran as a running mate to President Bush in 2000, did run for president and planned presidential campaigns in at least three other years. A billionaire who came within a few points of President Obama in voter polls during the 2012 election. A billionaire who makes sweeping contributions to political campaigns he does not run in, including hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the Clintons – who attended his wedding reception. A billionaire who is a deputy cadet out of the New York Military Academy and is receiving campaign contributions from the US Department of Defense.
  2. A Republican Party darling, appointed a national advisor to President Bush in 2004, former Fox News analyst and Republican moral voice – former cadet coronel – with campaign contributions from high finance, the US Army, and the US Air Force. A national advisor formerly on the board of Kellogg.
  3. A wealthy executive and near former running mate to president McCain who worked for the CIA and was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to (among other things) recommend staffing changes inside the DoD and within the Pentagon. A former wealthy executive (‘homestating’) Republican Senate Candidate for California, an executive who ruled out running for Senate again to give President a shot instead. A former-CEO that has a net worth likely exceeding a hundred million dollars and sees regularly yearly salary of over $1 million and still receives campaign contributions by Lockheed-Martin, Goldman Sachs and other large players in investment banking.
  4. A Senator who has been running for office since 1968: who had the-to-be President Obama campaign for his Senateship in a race also supported by the chairman of both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. A senator who shares an economic intellectual neoliberal center alma mater with current President Obama and Milton Friedman. A senator who was cofounder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, representative for Vermont within the House of Representatives, and married to the a director of the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
  5. A Senator who prepared testimony for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, provided private counsel for John Boehner, was a domestic policy advisor to former President George W. Bush, assisted building this presidents legal team and campaign strategy, and was part of the leadership of the US Supreme Court cases that led to the Bush victory in the Florida election recount case. A Senator that recruited now Chief Justice John Roberts for the Bush Republican campaign, was associate deputy attorney general for the Department of Justice and directory of policy planning for the Federal Trade Commission. A senator who was Representative of Texas for the Supreme Court for four years, and who is married to the former director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council (under then National Security Advisor Condolence Rice) and an early retiree from financial investment management for Goldman Sachs.

The alma maters of this ‘outsider’ group are: Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Princeton University and Harvard. Every one of our outsiders are Ivy League.

In what way do Senators, Billionaires and former employees of the Department of Defense count as ‘outsiders’? Why, when the majority of these candidates either currently hold office or have run for president in the past, is this an outsider year? Why do former possible running mates and organizers of previous presidential campaigns count as outsiders? Appointees to leadership positions advising US Presidents?

Maybe it’s not because this year features ‘objectively’ outsider candidates – but ‘relatively’ outsider candidates that are more on the outside than is usually seen in a United States Presidential election?

The presidential race in 2008 included Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Jim Gilmore, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Tom Tancredo. The presidential race in 2000 had Herman Cain, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Donald Trump, and Steve Forbes. These candidates either were and are considered political outsiders or would be if we applied the criteria applied to our outsiders this year.

Pat Robertson (media mogul) ran against (actor turned governor) President Reagan’s reelection in 1988 along with (reverend) Jesse Jackson. We need to remember that during the 2008 presidential candidacy President Obama was considered, celebrated for and outwardly branded a political outsider.

If candidates who have previously served as officials, appointees, electoral managers – as appointees by Presidents and Secretaries of Defense – if Billionaires and Executives and Senators and Moguls are outsiders – why is this year the year of the outsider?

But let’s say that this year really is special. That now, more than ever before, there are candidates outside the innermost sanctum of the Republican and Democratic Parties that have a chance at winning. Let’s say that’s true. What would it imply about the American political system that all of our ‘outsider’ candidates are Ivy League graduates with significant histories inside the state? How would we have to adjust what we consider – what it would even then mean – to be an ‘insider’? And why did we take only having a choice between two insiders lying down?

The US In Syria and the Rationalization that Ate the Sober Web

There’s been much debate over how to understand a 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document describing efforts by the US coalition and conditions on the ground in Syria. The document showed startling prescience about the emergence of ISIS in Syria out of AQI support and its intention to claim historic territory in Iraq. Indeed, the events in the Syrian War have unfolded almost exactly as the document analyzes.

(For a full transcription of the document courtesy of US Middle East intelligence analyst Juan Cole, scroll to the bottom of the page. A link to the document.)

The document, from 2012, stated “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the regime” and described the likely “development of the current events into a proxy war” in Syria.

Headlines today read Obama says he won’t be drawn into ‘proxy war’ with Russia over Syria, implicating Russia as the aggressor.

When the document was published, several news outlets ran stories about the US coalition’s support for opposition fighters in Syria, implying that the coalition in fact had been supporting the elements that became ISIS.

DailyBeast ran a story called “America’s Allies are Funding ISIS“. Details came to light concerning the covert funding and arming of Syrian extremists including al-Fatah and al-Nusra by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the training, funding and transport of arms to ISIS from Turkey in pursuit of strategic objectives, and the support of ISIS by Saudi Arabia, with anonymous Washington officials indicating support from independent Qatari and Saudi donors.

Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq, wrote The Guardian as Michael Flynn, former head of the DIA, indicated on al-Jazeera that policies for the support of Salafist factions to isolate the Assad regime came down from Mr. President Obama himself out of the White House. Moreover, the illegal international running of arms out of Benghazi was dropped as it’s own scandal and officials and journalists began to link the Benghazi arms running operation to US support of weapons ISIS and AQI in Syria. The Medium reported The US Government’s Not-So-Secret Support for al-Qaeda and ISIS. Jeffrey Kuhner at the Washington Times deserves credit for pre-empting this coverage by reporting in 2013 How Obama arms al Qaeda.

DailyBeast quickly ran a counterstory: The ISIS Conspiracy that Ate the Web. In the story, former intelligence analyst turned writer for domestic media Jacob Seigel provided a counter-narrative interpretation of the document. Seigel quotes the important parts of the document indicating coalition support for terrorism. Siegel even links to Joe Biden’s account, where Biden expressed regret that coalition allies supported extremist elements in Syria – also indicating that no anti-Assad moderate forces ever really existed.

Yet Seigel cast aspersion on the idea that the Obama administration itself supported ISIS, AQI, or Salafism in Syria. Seigel makes the following counterarguments to the US-support-of-extremism analysis:

  1. The report isn’t a policy decision – just an analysis of facts on the ground. Despite it’s indication that the coalition found the prospect of supporting terrorists in Syria strategically valuable – it did not indicate that this was a policy decision enshrined by the White House.
  2. The report has no indication of being special or otherwise a turnkey piece of analysis. He quotes an official who suggests the document is routine and unremarkable. He notes that the document itself is half redacted.
  3. Seigel notes that the document does not list the United States as a backer of the opposition – only that Turkey and the Gulf States and “The West” are. He motions with an appeal to absurdity that the US wouldn’t support terrorism – that this is reason to believe that “The West” doesn’t intend include the US. Seigel then suggests that, if you take that point, you can understand the document as describing unruly partners in the Middle East and a conspiratorial Europe bucking the the nobler intentions of the United States.
  4. The report references ‘the opposition’ and ‘salafists’ but does not go on to specify which opposition and which salafists.
  5. He notes that the document predicts ISIS fighters would claim territory in Iraq in addition to Syria. And that the US wouldn’t have wanted this to happen and so would never have endorsed such a policy.

Let’s go through those one by one. Seigel very rightly points out that the document is not a policy directive – that it merely describes the situation on the ground. Unfortunately he overstates his case. He closes his essay with a variation of this argument: “The Obama administration, whatever the faults of its policies towards Syria and ISIS, wasn’t weighing any decisions based on a single seven-page document. Or six pages, if you count the cover sheet.”

Seigel’s argument marginalizes the material and information inside the document about the strategic value of bolstering terrorism to take down Assad – in favor of downplaying the size of the document and noting that only one document was received by the lawsuit, compared to the thousand other intelligence community documents that would have assuredly been informative to policy.

Seigel’s first argument is inconsistent with his second. He magnifies the voice of John Schindler who he quotes as saying about the document “nothing special here, not one bit.” Indeed, it’s highly unlikely that this document was the only one with information about the actors on the ground, about the opportunity to support those actors, and the implications of doing so. This is precisely what the intelligence community is in charge of providing for policy makers. Of the dozen or so documents that would have been produced by the DIA on Syria at this time, it’s very likely that most of the reports rhymed with the contents of this one.

To understand what policy was in effect, and whether the analysis made available by this document and others played into policy decisions, we need not speculate as Seigel tries to do. The former director of the Department of Defense’s intelligence agency agreed to an interview with Mehdi Hasan of al-Jazeera where he stated that not only did he remember this specific document, but that policy decisions to pursue the support of terrorist cells in Syria were not his but belonged to those at the top of the executive branch. Of course, the article also fails to address the journalism enumerating the coalition’s support for terrorism in Syria – it merely argues that the DIA document alone doesn’t establish it. Drawing from from the DIA report, statements made by the head of DoD intelligence, the journalism enumerating coalition funding, arming and training inform us of the policy decisions without needing to theorize and speculate the way Seigel encourages us to do.

Those familiar with the United States’ history of support of terrorism, recently in related events in Libya, Yemen and Somalia, but also through its entire imperial history in the Middle East, Central Asia and South America will find no surprise that this document is unremarkable intelligence. The intelligence report is a (redacted) sample of the everyday workings of what the document itself describes as a developing proxy war.

The third argument is difficult to take seriously. Its premise is that the US isn’t enumerated when the document specifies that the proxy war is divided by “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia. China, and Iran support the regime.” Very clearly the United States supports the opposition to the Syrian regime and is allied against Iran and Russia and has been voting almost exclusively in the UN Security Council against China. The US allegiance to Turkey, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates is clear: these are precisely the major allies of the coalition. Could the document have meant that Europe, but not the US, wanted to isolate Assad by magnifying terrorist activity in its shores?

Let’s pretend that we can grant Seigel this one. That the support of terrorism, in fact ISIS, was a policy pursued by everyone in the coalition with the exception of America. Wouldn’t that mean that the coalition betrayed the US – given how its stated mission is to “degrade and defeat ISIS”? And shouldn’t that mean that the US needs to sanction the West, Turkey and the Gulf Countries – as it is required to do by international law (and indeed by Federal law)? The argument that the United States was blissfully unaware of or helpless to stop its allies export terrorism and then failed to uphold the law is a nice sentiment if you believe that the world’s most powerful country could somehow be victim to such a thing, but otherwise the word parsing required to exclude the US from “the West” is pure fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The argument is also concerned with how to understand the term ‘Salafist’ and ‘opposition’. It’s author rightly points out that there are many Salafist factions that could have been intended by the document. Put aside for now the fact that no real moderate opposition has ever existed in Syria in any significant number with various initiatives to build or sustain them fail as a rule of thumb; put aside for now that there is even an inside joke at the Pentagon that goes “Q: Where are the moderate forces? A: In another country“. We can infer quite easy from the content of the document, based on its details and its timeline, who the opposition and the Salafists being discussed are.

The document clearly states:




The one sentence that indicated a specific group (Syrian Free Army) made explicit motions to do so.

Those following the Syrian war know that the battle of Hasaka was between Syrian Regime forces, which had indeed decreased its concentration there, with ISIS trying to take and control the territory. The result of the battle was a defeat of Syrian Regime forces and a successive oust of ISIS by the Kurdish YPG.

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between pro-Assad army forces –backed by militias of the National Defense– and militants of the radical group of Islamic State (ISIS) in the eastern countryside of Hasakah, northeastern Syria, local sources reported on Saturday.

Speaking to ARA News in Hasakah, media activist Muwaffaq Aziz reported that ISIS militants have been striving for days to break into the regime-held military base of Mount Kawkab, in eastern Hasakah.

Kawkab is the largest military camp held by pro-Assad forces in Hasakah province.

– Ahmed Shiwesh of Aranews reports

But what of the opposition fighters in Der Zor? They too were, and are, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In April of 2014, ISIS invaded al-Bukamal, fighting with al-Nusra (AQI-affiliated) rebels to establish territory. In May, ISIS captured Western Der Zor and in June not only East Der Zor, but also absorbed the Western backed al-Qaeda affiliated rebels and Syria’s largest oil field.

In December 2014 ISIS attempted to take the military airfields in Der Zor, but were repelled by Syrian government forces – but not after causing a large number of casualties. ISIS’s reign of Der Zor has been weakening, and in March of this year US special forces assassinated a local military leader and detained his wife for torture and interrogation.

Why is it that ISIS’s movements to control the Eastern areas of Hasaka and Der Zor, along adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)? Why is it that ISIS has established control of these cities and neighboring Turkish borders?

Here’s a map of Free Syrian Army territory drawn by the same Juan Cole who provided a transcription of the document PDF.

Seigel suggests the document may refer to Ahrar al-Sham. Let’s pretend for a minute that they were present in the territories previously mentioned, Hasaka and Der Zor and Mosul and Anbar and the border regions in Iraq, as is actually the case for the Islamic State. Ahrar al-Sham is sister organization of al-Qaeda and has been involved in chemical weapons and who aims to install Sharia law. Yes Ahrar al-Sham has recieved military support from Turkey and the Gulf countries. Seigel’s offering that it could have been Suqoor al-Sham meet similar ends quickly.

Even if we were to invoke the necessary suspension of disbelief necessary to buy that some other factional force was being referred to by the report, the immediate implication seems to be that the document isn’t talking about the coalition supporting ISIS, but instead al-Qaeda.

But if we take Salafists to mean ISIS, the report describes more or less what happened with the Islamic State establishing itself in eastern Syria before expanding over the border from eastern Syria into Iraq. It provides, as right-wingers incensed by the government’s failure to heed it have noted, an accurate if limited prediction of what was in store for the region as ISIS began consolidating its power in 2012. But it’s the second part—“this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want— that’s been grist for conspiracy theorists who think they’ve finally found proof that ISIS is essentially a U.S. plot.

– Seigel

The author himself acknowledges that the report is not only consistent with ISIS, but eerily predictive. This is where he suggests that “the West” probably didn’t mean the US.

And so we come to the final argument: since US led coalition support for Sunni terrorism would have exacerbated the Sunni situation in Iraq, the US would never have signed off to destabilize Syria and Iran, even if eliminating an Russian Alawite Shia client state would strengthen Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, weaken Iran and Russia, eliminate Russian access to the Mediterranean, allow the blocked Saudi-Turkey oil pipeline to provide Europe with energy security, and open Europe and the West up to a globalizing Eurasia, while eliminating seeds of Arab Nationalism that has sought independence from superpower poles.

The American strategy, described as a success by the Obama administration, has involved operations against ISIS almost exclusively in Iraq until very recently, keeping the Islamic State from moving Eastward outside of tribal Sunni areas where they are able to recruit in Syria but not post an immediate direct thread to Baghdad. The recent, and relatively small, airstrikes in Syria have overall been ineffective at defeating – indeed degrading – ISIL. Iraq’s US-installed government has not been able to fend off ISIS on its own (it recently had its military and defense regime obliterated) and has needed to become a US protectorate, under which Iraq agrees to conditions imposed by the US including sphere of influence ultimatums reminiscent of the Cold War.

That hasn’t left Obama without critics. Foreign policy analysts, military officials, and members of both sides of the aisle in Washington have questioned both whether Obama’s Syria strategy would be effective or whether there exists a strategy at all. The administration had thought that it could recreate Libya – fund and arm terrorism or accidentally hand military gear to rebel hands along with revolution to get the regime to impose some form of martial law – use the resulting human rights violations to justify a military intervention – find local factions to ‘hand’ victories won with special forces – and engineer with this new ‘freedom fighter government’ a positive security and political relationship.

But Syria isn’t Libya. In Libya, most factional forces were united. There was a greater international consensus, and the US arranged a deal with Russia to vote for regime change. In Syria, infighting among the groups, while it may allow the US to oust Assad through a diplomatic track, has left it without a group to fill the vacuum. The groups remaining are the Kurds and Islamists – the former of which won’t fly with Turkey and the latter can’t meet the definition of moderate the way Washington uses extremist as a synonym for nationalist.

Seigel’s attempted refutations, while honorable in duty and faith in the US as the rightful leader of the world and champion of all things good and beautiful, just don’t hold water. Some of them, like the suggestion the West doesn’t include the US, could even be called silly. The United States support of rebel fighters to overthrow governments for strategic purposes is well known. To other countries and powers our rebels who seek their overthrow from power, who in the amoral fervor and abyss of war behead and dismember and cannibalize bodies of enemies, are terrorists. We don’t even have to boo it, if the officials are afraid of what the reputation would mean for soft power. Think of how quickly the American people have forgotten about the illegal war in Iraq, the CIA torture program, global mass surveillance and the global financial crisis.

The full document:

COUNTRY: (U) IRAQ (IRQ). DOI: (U) 20120730.