Mar. 5 2014
My suggestion that the United States make Russia pay a stiff financial price for its invasion of Crimea drew more than a few howls in the comments section and over social media. By far the most common retort has been “but the United States invaded Iraq! What about that?” At first glance this might seem like a clever counter-argument. “Whataboutism” is reviled by people in the West precisely because it such an effective strategy. Most people understand that hypocrisy is bad, and the most religiously inclined will remember Jesus’ admonition against looking at the speck of dust in someone else’s eye while there is a plank in your own. But when you take a moment to think about what actually happened to the US after the Iraq war the argument completely falls apart. In fact the Iraq war is one of the best arguments against Russian intervention in Ukraine.
So, what about Iraq? Well the Iraq war was an economic, military, and geopolitical catastrophe for the United States. It cost the United States trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs (the opportunity costs are so vast as to be beyond reckoning) and lives of thousands of its best troops. At the end of the Iraq war the United States had not “advanced democracy” nor had it gained a new ally. Instead, the American military’s occupation of Iraq midwifed a corrupt and unstable Iraqi government, one whose human rights record was only slightly better than that of Saddam Hussein’s. In addition to being corrupt and brutal, the new Iraqi government was closely linked to, and sympathetic towards, Iran, our chief regional antagonist. Due in large part to the instability brought about by the forcible overthrow of the Iraqi state, tens of thousands of civilians perished in terrorist attacks, attacks that continue to this day at a bewildering and terrifying clip. Outside of a small group of Eastern European countries whose pro-American credentials were never in any doubt, the Iraq war poisoned Washington’s relations with its traditional allies in Western Europe and with a number of important emerging markets (such as Turkey) as well. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the United States’ invasion of Iraq also led to the emergence of dozens of new Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, groups that our security services will be fighting for a generation.
The United States’ invasion of Iraq, then, accomplished precisely none of its original goals and it did so at enormous expense to America’s relations with its allies and its overall position in the world. The Russian government itself recognized this, standing stridently against the invasion from the very beginning and taking great delight as the United States’ bold plans for regional transformation turned to dust. Some of Putin’s most famous quotes are sarcasm-heavy denunciations of America’s role in Iraq, and, as a quick glance at any of the relevant polls would tell you, Russian society generally understood that the entire operation was a fiasco from top to bottom.
Why Russia would want to imitateany part of the United States’ experience in Iraq is absolutely beyond me. Does Russia want to alienate itself diplomatically? Does it want to waste enormous sums of money? Does it want to inflict damage on its own economy? Does it want to massively destabilize the international system? Does it want to create a Ukrainian government hostile to its interests? Because all of those things are exactly what is happening and what anyone with half a brain would have predicted would happen if Russia invaded any part of sovereign Ukrainian territory. Replace “Ukraine” with the name of any other country in the world and the Russian government would be right at the forefront of those condemning even the mere thought of military intervention, making arguments identical to those which I’ve outlined above.
In short, the Russians were right when they said that invasions are extraordinarily poor ways to defend or advance national interests, and they were right when they said that the use of force across established international borders is horrifically unpopular in today’s world. They have no one but themselves to blame for forgetting all of the lessons that they were so eager to impart on others and for the harvest they are going to reap. The lesson of Iraq is that invading other countries for no reason is poor statecraft, and it’s a lesson that applies equally to Washington and Moscow.
Keith Alexander says revelations have caused ‘grave damage’ and claims officials are making ‘headway’ on ‘media leaks’
Mar. 4 2014
The outgoing director of the National Security Agency lashed out at media organizations reporting on Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations, suggesting that British authorities were right to detain David Miranda on terrorism charges and that reporters lack the ability to properly analyze the NSA’s broad surveillance powers.
General Keith Alexander, who has furiously denounced the Snowden revelations, said at a Tuesday cybersecurity panel that unspecified “headway” on what he termed “media leaks” was forthcoming in the next several weeks, possibly to include “media leaks legislation.”
In perhaps his most expansive remarks to date since Miranda – the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald – was detained for nine hours at Heathrow airport last summer, Alexander noted that a panel of UK judges found Miranda’s detention to be legal.
“Recently, what came out with the justices in the United Kingdom … they looked at what happened on Miranda and other things, and they said it’s interesting: journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues. They don’t know how to weigh the fact of what they’re giving out and saying, is it in the nation’s interest to divulge this,” Alexander said.
“And I just put that on the table because that’s a key issue that we as a nation [are] going to face. My personal opinion: these leaks have caused grave, significant and irreversible damage to our nation and to our allies. It will take us years to recover,” he said.
Miranda was held for the maximum amount of time allowable under schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s trip from his Rio de Janeiro home to Berlin, during which he met with filmmaker Laura Poitras, one of the recipients of Snowden’s leaks. Miranda carried with him encrypted files that included thousands of classified UK surveillance documents that came from Snowden, in order to facilitate journalism about the source material.
Although the statute cited to detain Miranda concerns terrorism – with which UK officials have never suspected Miranda of involvement – a panel of three UK judges last month quashed a legal challenge to his detention.
Lord Justice Laws, a member of the panel, found that the objective of Miranda’s detention “was not only legitimate but very pressing,” a decision criticized by press-freedom advocates in the UK and beyond.
Alexander said he would be at the White House on Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to the NSA’s mass collection of US phone records, less than a week after he seemed to soften his opposition to the NSA acquiring only metadata related to terrorism.
The general, who is due to retire in the next several weeks, said that the furore over Snowden’s surveillance revelations – which he referred to only as “media leaks” – was complicating his ability to get congressional support for a bill that would permit the NSA and the military Cyber Command he also helms to secretly communicate with private entities like banks about online data intrusions and attacks.
“We’ve got to handle media leaks first,” Alexander said.
“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks. I am an optimist. I think if we make the right steps on the media leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier,” Alexander said.
The NSA’s public affairs office told the Guardian on Wednesday that Alexander was using “media leaks legislation” to mean the range of legislative options to restructure the bulk collection of domestic phone call data.
Alexander has previously mused about “stopping” journalism related to the Snowden revelations.
“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” he told an official Defense Department blog in October.
White House declines to comment after Mark Udall says agency spied on staffers preparing scathing report into CIA torture after 9/11
Mar. 5 2014
A leading US senator has said that President Obama knew of an “unprecedented action” taken by the CIA against the Senate intelligence committee, which has apparently prompted an inspector general’s inquiry at Langley.
The subtle reference in a Tuesday letter from Senator Mark Udall to Obama, seeking to enlist the president’s help in declassifying a 6,300-page inquiry by the committee into torture carried out by CIA interrogators after 9/11, threatens to plunge the White House into a battle between the agency and its Senate overseers.
McClatchy and the New York Times reported Wednesday that the CIA had secretly monitored computers used by committee staffers preparing the inquiry report, which is said to be scathing not only about the brutality and ineffectiveness of the agency’s interrogation techniques but deception by the CIA to Congress and policymakers about it. The CIA sharply disputes the committee’s findings.
Udall, a Colorado Democrat and one of the CIA’s leading pursuers on the committee, appeared to reference that surreptitious spying on Congress, which Udall said undermined democratic principles.
“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight powers and for our democracy,” Udall wrote to Obama on Tuesday.
Independent observers were unaware of a precedent for the CIA spying on the congressional committees established in the 1970s to check abuses by the intelligence agencies.
“In the worst case, it would be a subversion of independent oversight, and a violation of separation of powers,” said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s potentially very serious.”
The White House declined to comment, but National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Obama supported making the major findings of the torture report public.
“For some time, the White House has made clear to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that a summary of the findings and conclusions of the final report should be declassified, with any appropriate redactions necessary to protect national security,” Hayden said.
McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, a threshold procedure for opening a criminal investigation.
Neither the CIA nor the Justice Department would comment for this story.
Mar. 6 2014
Bernie Sanders says he is “prepared to run for president of the United States.” That’s not a formal announcement. A lot can change between now and 2016, and the populist senator from Vermont bristles at the whole notion of a permanent campaign. But Sanders has begun talking with savvy progressive political strategists, traveling to unexpected locations such as Alabama and entertaining the process questions that this most issue-focused member of the Senate has traditionally avoided.
In some senses, Sanders is the unlikeliest of prospects: an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate but has never joined the party, a democratic socialist in a country where many politicians fear the label “liberal,” an outspoken critic of the economic, environmental and social status quo who rips “the ruling class” and calls out the Koch brothers by name. Yet, he has served as the mayor of his state’s largest city, beaten a Republican incumbent for the US House, won and held a historically Republican Senate seat and served longer as an independent member of Congress than anyone else. And he says his political instincts tell him America is ready for a “political revolution.”
In his first extended conversation about presidential politics, Sanders discussed with The Nation the economic and environmental concerns that have led him to consider a 2016 run; the difficult question of whether to run as a Democrat or an independent; his frustration with the narrow messaging of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton; and his sense that political and media elites are missing the signs that America is headed toward a critical juncture where electoral expectations could be exploded.
Mar. 4 2014
A Florida judge has granted a temporary protective order to the wife of Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson after he allegedly shoved her during a weekend dispute, according to a complaint obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
Grayson, a second-term lawmaker reelected to the House in 2012 after losing his seat the previous cycle, has denied the allegations.
Grayson and his wife, Lolita, are in the process of divorcing after 24 years of marriage. The couple have two children.
According to a complaint filed by Lolita Grayson, she and the congressman had an argument when he came to her house on Saturday night.
She asserts that Grayson “deliberately and with force pushed [Lolita Grayson] very hard against the front door, causing [her] to fall to the ground as a result,” according to a copy of a complaint obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
Lolita Grayson also claims the congressman “has battered [her] and the parties’ minor children” in the past, although she has not previously reported such actions.
Grayson was not arrested in the Saturday incident, and he faces no criminal charges at this time.
According to Grayson’s office, Lolita Grayson was the one who initiated the physical dispute.
“Sadly, it was Ms. Grayson who physically attacked the Congressman as he attempted to visit with his children. He did not respond to Ms. Grayson’s violent assault,” the statement said.
Deputy PM says decree effective immediately, and calls on Ukraine troops in region to accept Russian rule or leave.
Mar. 6 2014
The Crimean parliament has voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, with the region’s deputy prime minister saying the decree was effective immediately and that Russian soldiers were the only legitimate forces in Crimea.
The parliament on Thursday unanimously adopted a motion for the strategic peninsula to join the Russian Federation.
Crimea’s deputy prime minister, Rustam Temurgaliyev told Reuters: ”The Ukrainian armed forces have to choose: lay down their weapons, … accept Russian citizenship and join the Russian military.”
"If they do not agree, we are prepared to offer them safe passage … to their Ukrainian homeland."
Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said the vote was ”illegitimate”, while the acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, said the vote dictated by fear by MPs working “under the barrel of a gun”.
The Crimea parliament also said a referendum on the region’s status was being brought forward from March 30 to March 16. Temirgaliev said there would be two questions on the ballot, the first asking whether Crimea should be part of Russia.
However, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Hamid, reporting from Sevastopol, said there were serious questions about the legitimacy of the parliament, the prime minister, and the decrees.
"The prime minister came to power arguably at gunpoint when the parliament was taken over," she said, referring to a takeover of the building by pro-Russian forces last week.
"The constitution also says parliament cannot take such a decision," she said, adding that Russia would also have to formally accept the decree.
About 11,000 pro-Russian troops are in control of the peninsula and have blocked all Ukrainian military bases that have not yet surrendered, according to the regional leader, Sergei Aksyonov.
All or most of those troops are believed to be Russian, even though Moscow has repeatedly denied sending them.
Mar. 6 2014
The failure of the Israeli lobby to force Congress to vote for intervention in Syria or for additional sanctions on Iran represents a significant decline in its influence, says Phyllis Bennis.
Mar. 6 2014
The top Army prosecutor for sexual assault cases has been suspended after a lawyer who worked for him recently reported he’d groped her and tried to kiss her at a sexual-assault legal conference more than two years ago.
Two separate sources with knowledge of the situation told Stars and Stripes that the Army is investigating the allegations levied against Lt. Col. Joseph “Jay” Morse, who supervised the Army’s nearly two dozen special victim prosecutors — who are in charge of prosecuting sexual assault, domestic abuse and crimes against children.
Attempts to reach Morse via phone and email for comment have thus far been unsuccessful.
Morse was removed from his job when the allegations came to light, one source said. To date, no charges have been filed in the case.
The suspension comes at a time the military is dealing with rising reports of sexual assault.
Morse, chief of the Trial Counsel Assistance Program at Fort Belvoir, Va., was responsible for Army prosecutorial training and assistance worldwide. He also was lead prosecutor in the case against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to the mass murder of 16 Afghan civilians in 2012.
Sources told Stars and Stripes that the Army lawyer alleged that Morse attempted to kiss and grope her against her will. The alleged assault reportedly took place in a hotel room at a 2011 sexual assault legal conference attended by special victims prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., before he was appointed as chief of the Trial Counsel Assistance Program.
The lawyer reported the incident in mid-February, and Morse was suspended shortly thereafter, according to one source.
An Army official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter confirmed an investigation was underway.