This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014


As any literate citizen knows, the global economic crisis was brought about by the unregulated banksters who run Wall Street. Few realize that in the aftermath of the near-collapse of the system of international credit, they have expanded a shadow economy that has been financed by taxpayer dollars. The total value of the derivative and commodities markets is now many times the world GDP. This system amounts to a pyramid scheme. If unchallenged, it is destined to leave the rich more powerful than ever and the 99% destitute. The growth-based debt economy is not capable of recovering, yet mainstream economists cannot seem to fathom why.

Classically trained economists are beginning to see that prospects for economic recovery in the post-bailout era are dismal to nonexistent. Although increasingly recognizing the consequences of crony capitalism, they must learn to question their most basic assumptions to understand the problem and its solution. The answer to the continuing global economic crisis requires a complete restructuring of the economy based on principles of environmentally sustainable local production and trade, worker-owned enterprises and nationalization of monetary policy.

It isn’t hard to understand why the economic system cannot recover as currently structured. As jobs are shipped offshore, those being created in the US are mostly low-paying. This limits the flow of wealth upon which growth is based.  With declining demand, corporations are unwilling to invest in the real (productive) economy in the US. Economists who blamed the consumer for incurring excessive debt failed to recognize that the banksters had created an economy that depended on ever-expanding credit. Driven to consume ever more by systematic brainwashing, Americans amassed huge debt under the assumption that the economy and especially housing prices would continue to grow forever. Sadly, they have not learned the lessons that the collapse of the Ponzi scheme that fueled the economy in boom times have to offer. There will be no return to prosperity as long as we continue to equate economic health to growth in GDP.

The architects of this system walked away with billions while homeowners, taxpayers and those dependent on the social safety net paid the price. Austerity for the 99% is hailed as the answer because it is the only way to maintain the privileges of the 1%.  In the face of austerity, the growth-based economy is destined to fail. Continuing to amass government debt to promote war over natural resources, sustain a system of corporate welfare and provide even fewer protections to a population devastated by economic collapse consigns future generations to debt slavery. We can only escape this fate by transitioning to an economy that places human needs over corporate greed.

Capitalism itself depends on the assumption of endless growth. When the wealth and power of the economic elite depends on its ability to extract wealth from workers, production has to increase exponentially. This requires markets for the goods produced. If jobs are not available and workers cannot provide this demand, there is nothing to sustain them. Even is the global elite were to suddenly realize that wealth distribution were in their best interest, it could not save a growth-based economy that is ultimately limited by the planet’s finite resources. When the trillions of dollars in debt that the derivatives and commodities market begin to be called in as investments in the globalized economy fail, the collapse of 2008 will seem like a mild recession in comparison.

There is a solution. The United States is the driver of the global economy. If Americans want to create a world economy that is just to all, they will have to create a true representative democracy. That is the only way that the People can prevent human civilization from collapsing when the resources upon which it is based become inaccessible to the masses. It is up to us to unite to challenge the corruption that has made us the pawns of the global banking elite. We can start by making a campaign issue of support for a constitutional amendment that would establish that money is not speech and that corporations are not people with constitutional rights.

If we have any concern for our children we will put aside partisan differences and together, take back America for the People.

Readers interested in learning more about the consequences of endless growth and the principles of a steady-state economy are encouraged to read Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Oregon voters will likely have a clear choice in the US Senate race in November. Unless Senator Merkley’s Republican challenger is willing to endorse a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and the more recent McCutcheon decision overturning aggregate limits on donations to candidates and parties, it will be obvious which candidate is running to serve the interests of We the People rather than corporations and the obscenely rich. Merkley is a cosponsor of an amendment proposed by Bernie Sanders that would ban all corporate and union contributions and allow limits on individual campaign expenditures.

 In District 4, Congressman DeFazio has done him one better. He has cosponsored an equivalent resolution in the House along with another that would abolish corporate personhood, the doctrine that holds that corporations have constitutional rights. That is a key element in a whole series of Supreme Court decisions based on the fallacy that money is speech. This means that those who can afford it are able to speak loud enough to drown out the voices of the People and those who represent them. Ending corporate constitutional rights is the second condition that an amendment should satisfy to most effectively deal with the problem of corporate control of the US government.

For those who are fuzzy on the details of the 2010 Citizens United decision, it reversed a century of law in removing all limits on “independent” expenditures by unions and for-profit corporations to influence political campaigns. McCutcheon takes the idea that money is speech to its logical extreme in allowing the wealthiest Americans to spend unlimited amounts in direct contributions to parties and to give the personal maximum to as many candidates running for federal office as they choose. That means that not only is the presidency for sale to the highest bidder (as we saw recently when Sheldon Adelson invited prospective Republican candidates to apply for his support), but Congress is up for grabs as well.

The only way to counter an activist Supreme Court that is denying Americans the right to control corruption in campaign finance is to pass a constitutional amendment such as the one that Merkley supports. It is up to voters to see that this issue receives the attention it deserves during the campaign season. The only way that Merkley will succeed in his efforts to rein in the power of the banksters, fight free trade agreements that violate national sovereignty of accomplish any of the other objectives that Americans demand is for us to support him in his efforts to pass an amendment. The Oregon Democracy Coalition (ODC) is working to help make support for an amendment a campaign issue.

 If you are a resident of the United States, you can help.

ODC takes the position that the first step in dealing with corruption in government is to put into the constitution the principles that money is not speech and that corporations (including unions) do not have constitutional rights, including the “right” to put money from their general treasuries into elections. They are organizing around the state to get people to show up for campaign appearances and other events featuring candidates to ask them if they will support a constitutional amendment of this type. They encourage people to start groups in their home towns to fill these forums with people willing to put this question to them in public settings.

ODC also encourages individuals to write letters to the editor and to talk to local political, social justice, church and other groups about the issue. It is helpful to get organizations to endorse such coalitions and their efforts. This is the social justice issue of our times. It is ironic that the idea of corporations has its origin in the 14th Amendment, which was intended to ensure the rights of former slaves. As interpreted by the Supreme Court, it would mean that average Americans have essentially become slaves of corporate interests who control Congress. It is impossible to have a representative democracy unless voters have the opportunity to hear from candidates whose campaigns are not being financed be deep-pocketed special interest groups. Failing to deal with this issue would mean the failure of the democratic experiment in government.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Many in the alternative media who have done a great job educating us about the dangers of allowing the US-NATO-Israel axis powers to create a fascist New World Order by miltary and economic means. However, it may be more dangerous for the resistance to buy into the echo chamber of the Left than to be deluded into accepting the message produced by the echo chamber of the corporate media. Why? because if we do not realistically see the real dangers, we will not be able to organize effective resistance. Instead, we will all be chasing after phantom threats that will never come to pass. That is one way the propaganda machine keeps us misdirected.

A recent article was written by rightfully well-respected journalist Finian Cunningham, based on the analysis of Christoff Lehmann, another such journalist who I regard as a personal friend. It supports the arguments raised by Paul Craig Roberts, a giant in alternative journalism who regularly appears in the well-regarded Global Research News and OpEd News. Cunningham's article argues that a plan proposed by the dictators of US foreign policy in the 1980s is about to be implemented. It would make Europe a battlefield in a war that would only serve Wall Street if it were successful. It is pure fantasy to think that it could possibly succeed. In reality, it would seal the demise of US dominance in the world.

Here is my reasoning for considering this argument a paranoid fantasy:

1) It is based on war plans of Americans who briefed their NATO representative only off the record. Obviously, they don't want their NATO pawns to know they are willing to plunge Europe into war to stop it from establishing close ties to Europe.

2) These plans were hatched in the 80's, when anticommunism was in its heyday and before the fall of the wall. The sel-appointed Masters of the Universe are well aware of the need to change plans with changing circumstances. They have the advantage after all, since they are the ones who create those changing circumstances. While they have a limited bag of tricks, starting another Europe-wide war would have catastrophic for all concerned. This is one of the few cases where war would truly be a last resort. Even then, it is too late at this point for them to hope it would work.

3) The only power the global banking elite have is what they can get governments to do. The US government cannot wage world war all by itself when the President acknowledges that the nation is "war-weary" and its people will not stand for another war for corporate Empire. The banksters would eventually lose control over the US government  if this hare-brained scheme were ever implemented.

4) As often pointed out in the nsnbc news where the Cunningham article appeared, Germany has emerged as the dominant power in Europe. The Deustchebank essentially dictates to the European Central Bank. It is the country with the deepest economic ties to Russia and the most resistant to imposing harsh sanctions on Russia, despite Merkel's rhetoric.

5) If Merkel went along with this, her political career would be finished. Germans overwhelmingly oppose taking on Ukrainian debt, destroying the relationship with Russia and certainly, having a ruinous war with them to support the interest of American banksters. They are already vociferously protesting NSA spying on their leaders and businesses for American corporate advantage. This corporate espionage has led to the German business community standing with the German people against American hegemony for once.

6) While foreign policy trends in the US persist as presidents come and go, presidents retain some power to influence them. This power is greatest when there is a genuine split in consensus in the military, intelligence community and public about the wisdom of following a given course. The neocons have overplayed their hand, giving President Obama the opportunity he needs to challenge them in Syria, Iran and Ukraine. His harsh rhetoric is meant to deflect criticism by the hard right and the media that promotes its agenda. Do not be fooled into thinking that it relects his personal beliefs or his plans, as a number of observers have recently pointed out.

If the point is to save the US dollar, this is exactly what they cannot do. Imagine the costs of waging a war in Europe against both Russia and most of its NATO allies. The American people would finally wake up from their coma and rebel against the international banksters that hijacked their government decades ago.

Let's hope they banksters are stupid enough to try this. It would be the last gasp of their Empire.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Respect for national sovereignty has been the basis of international law designed to prevent preemptive warfare since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended the 30 Years War.  The idea was to prevent wars by agreeing that empires and international alliances would not interfere with the internal affairs of any nation. The idea rejected by later Empire builders, leading to two world wars largely brought on by the British Empire’s machinations. This policy of ignoring international law has been followed by the US ever since and now poses a risk to peace and national sovereignty everywhere.

Americans are taught that Hitler’s attempt at creating a fascist New World Order was the result only of his insane ambition. We are not told that since the Allies defeated Germany, the US has been working to create its own Empire, one that is fast coming to resemble Hitler’s.  Despite the obvious signs of a police state being created in the US with the passage of the Patriot Act, NDAA and the NSA program of unlimited domestic surveillance, most Americans refuse to see it. The bellicose nationalism that so many decried when Bush was in office continues largely unopposed and the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war has been replaced by use of terrorists to fight proxy wars in the name of “responsibility to protect,” a doctrine that exists nowhere in international law. There is a good reason for that. It is a direct violation of the UN charter and of the Kellogg-Briand treaty that made war illegal except in self-defense.

If we are ever going to see the end of war, it is imperative to understand the systematic way in which generations of Americans have been indoctrinated to accept the idea that it is inevitable.  The explanation is not that complicated. The problem is that so few people are working to educate Americans about their real history since WWII, leaving them to allow their leaders to repeat the same mistakes that lead to the downfall of all empires.

As detailed in The Irregulars, British Intelligence Services was very active in the United States prior to and after its entry into WWII. Given the prevalence of American isolationist sentiment prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, its main mission was to promote pro-war propaganda and to discredit anti-interventionists. It worked tacitly with the Roosevelt government and later with the OSS to carry out this mission. The head of BIS in America successfully lobbied to have Wild Bill Donovan to head the new US spy service. Given the long British experience with subversion and espionage, the OSS was quite dependent on the BIS, forging personal bonds between the principals that served industrialists in the US and the UK well after the war..

The CIA was established by the National Security Act of 1947, that completely restructured the US military and intelligence agencies to reflect a new imperialist agenda. The war profiteers had assumed so much influence over the US government and the media by that time that they saw a huge potential to profit from building a sprawling military-industrial-government complex under the guise of fighting communism. In addition to creating the first peacetime intelligence service in the history of the US, it established the position of Secretary of “Defense,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the “National Security” Council. In the aftermath of the war, a consensus was forged that “American interests” were synonymous with those of the corporate powers behind who have essentially dictated foreign policy ever since. This assumption is best summarized in a statement by Cold war architect George Kennan of the State Department in 1948:

“…we have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task…is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security…We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction…We should cease to talk about vague and — for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
That year, a turning point in US and world history had occurred. On Kennan’s advice, Truman signed a National Security Directive authorizing the CIA to conduct covert operations in such manner that the US government could plausibly deny them if uncovered. The decision to extend the actions of the CIA beyond intelligence gathering for the president would prove to have fateful consequences. From NSC Directive 10/2:

"…covert operations" are… all activities…conducted or sponsored by this Government against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned and executed that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. “

“…such operations shall include any covert activities related to: propaganda, economic warfare ; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures ; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world. Such operations shall not include armed conflict by recognized military forces, espionage, counter-espionage, and cover and deception for military operations.

The importance of propaganda in waging the Cold War cannot be understated, because without it American military intervention would never have been tolerated by a public that since WWI had largely heeded Washington’s advice to “avoid foreign entanglements.” The CIA role in creating propaganda not only overseas but in the US was well established by the early 1950’s when CIA Director of Office of Special Operations (the covert branch of the CIA) established Operation Mockingbird. Building on relationships established by the BIS and OSS with friendly journalists and publishers, the CIA created an elaborate network of news sources that disseminated propaganda that served to indoctrinate Americans about communist threats everywhere. This provided the rationale for creating a military –industrial complex so vast that Eisenhower was compelled to warn Americans about it as one of his last acts as President.

The list of ways this control of the corporate media has influenced American history is too extensive to list here. It has led to coverups of criminal CIA activities overseas and at home, the creation of a fear-based foreign policy and a bias toward war that has completely transformed American attitudes toward war and other foreign interventions, most of which remain unknown to them. Only now have the war profiteers become so obvious in their plans for corporate world domination that Americans are beginning to appreciate the true costs of war.  In stridently opposing US strikes on Iran and Syria, the traditional American reluctance to go to war for corporate Empire is beginning to reassert itself.

It is possible to end war. That day will only come when enough people reject the self-fulfilling prophecy that it is inevitable.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


This is an editorial published on March 24 by the Eugene (Oregon) Register Guard. Regular readers of this blog will note that given the constraints of writing for the corporate media, I have been a bit less blunt and more terse in making my points. It is an example of how we can challenge the mainstream media by making ourselves heard in guest columns and letters to the editor.
As if to emphasize that point, it appeared directly over a column by noted psychopath Charles Kruthammer arguing that President Obama is weak because he refuses to illegally supply arms to the illegitimate American puppet government in Kiev. This is hardly surprising, because neocons do not believe that international law applies to the US, if they are aware of its existence.

US claims that the referendum on Crimean independence violates international law represent the height of hypocrisy. They cannot be taken seriously by anyone who understands US foreign policy since WWII. It is one unbroken string of violations of national sovereignty, from overthrowing elected governments in Guatemala and Iran in the early 50s to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and support for jihadists in Libya and Syria. Such violations of sovereignty trample basic principles of international law meantto prevent wars.

There is no basis to claim that peaceful secession is illegal. The International Court of Justice ruled in the case of Kosovo that “international law contains no prohibitions on declarations of independence.” Americans should recall that the US conducted a deadly bombing campaign to enforce that right. US recognition of Israel’s declaration of independence was another example of US acceptance of the right to create a new nation out of an existing geopolitical entity originally created by imperial design in the early 20th century, as is US recognition of all the former Soviet Republics that declared their independence from the former USSR in the 90s.

The mainstream media unanimously declares Putin “aggressive, imperialist, a bully” or as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, taking actions similar to Hitler. We have heard that line every time the international corporations who profit from war decide a nation’s leader is uncooperative with their plans for world domination. America’s national interests in the post-WWII era have been equated to those of the oil, gas, banking and “defense” industries.  The implicit assumption is that any challenge to NATO hegemony is a threat to national security. A moment’s reflection on Russia’s real security interests show how self-serving such claims are.

Ukraine is a major market for Russian products and an important source of agricultural products. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on revenues from natural gas, 70% of which flows to Europe in pipelines that pass through Ukraine. The Black Sea port in Crimea is a critical part of Russia’s military defense. Under a 2010 treaty, Russia retains the right to use its military bases through 2042. By installing a compliant government in Kiev, the US is trying to disrupt Russian gas supplies, destroy its mutually beneficial trade arrangements with Ukraine and ultimately place yet more “defensive” missiles near Russia’s borders as it has in other former Soviet nations surrounding Russia.

Who is the imperial power here?

The EU offer to Ukraine for a trade agreement was likely never meant seriously. It was less than half the $30 million Russia was originally offering. That would have nearly paid off its debts to the international bankers now salivating at the prospect of making Ukraine its latest debt slave, as it has with Greece, Italy, Spain and other European nations now suffering under imposed austerity. The EU offer seems to have been a ruse to justify fomenting dissent in Ukraine that the US could use to overthrow the elected government.  Groundwork for this had been laid since at least the time of the last color revolution in Ukraine that put an anti-Russian, pro-West puppet in office.

US-funded NGOs like USAID and NED (National Endowment for Democracy) operate by funding opposition groups in nations who do not play ball with NATO powers. The first President of NED stated in a Washington Post interview “A lot of what we do today was done covertly by the CIA 25 years ago.” It does not matter if the targeted nation is democratically elected like the Ukraine or Venezuela. The agenda of these largely unknown agencies has little to do with democracy and everything to do with expanding the power of transnational corporations with undue influence over US foreign policy.

JFK’s murder coincided with his efforts to end the Cold War before it got out of hand. He announced his intention in a major speech at American University five months before his death. In his speech, he pointed out that those who suffer most from war are not the leaders of nations but their people, with whom we share a common humanity. If Americans learn to regard the Peoples of other nations as worthy of the same rights as our own, Kennedy will not have died in vain.

Rick Staggenborg of Coos Bay is the founder of Soldiers For Peace International.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The following essay appeared in Common Dreams and is used with permission (see below).

What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis

President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.
The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.resident Barack Obama discusses the crisis in Ukraine for 90 minutes on March 1, 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (White House photo/Pete Souza)
Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.
Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.
If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.
The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.
U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]
So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”
Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.
The Rise of Obama
The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.
Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.
Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.
So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.
From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.
Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.
Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.
In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).
Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.
Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.
For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]
Unorthodox Foreign Policy
Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.
Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.
But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.
Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.
Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.
NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]
State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.
Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.
But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.
Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.
By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.
“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.
As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.
With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.
With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.
Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]
Separating Obama from Putin
The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.
It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.
But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”
The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.
Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”
The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.
But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.
By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.
“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”
The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.
Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.
The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.
Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.  … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.
As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.
That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.

Monday, February 3, 2014


 Those who reflexively oppose President Obama on foreign policy share one thing in common with those who defend his actions unquestioningly: Neither is using a realistic measure to appraise him. In addition, partisan supporters who are unwilling to criticize him fail to use a consistent yardstick to compare his actions with those of his predecessor. Despite his many accomplishments, the similarities in foreign policy between the Obama administration and that of Bush are more striking to most critics than are the differences. While there is truth in this observation, it is not the whole story.

There is a pervasive myth that we elect Presidents who will represent the interests of America in foreign policy, if we choose correctly. The reality is that as a consequence of an electoral system thoroughly corrupted by special interest money, we elect Presidents who are vetted by a relative handful of extremely powerful individuals. They have a huge financial stake in the maintenance of the status quo in international economic affairs.  “American” interests have become defined as what serves the aims of powerful international financial institutions that have a disproportionate influence on both US domestic and international policy. The interests of these institutions have nothing to do with the interests of America or any nation. In fact, if Americans do not develop a clearer understanding of the nature of their power, nation states themselves will become obsolete. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is designed to do just that.

Of the largest 25 international corporations, almost all are financial institutions. Members of their Boards are also members of the Boards of the top 147 corporate behemoths that control 40% of the assets of over 14,000 international corporations and collect 60% of their total profits. This is how global financiers control key industries such as aeronautics, insurance, armaments, energy, telecommunications and others whose profits depend on control of natural resources and human capital around the world, including the US. Their enormous influence over the fortunes of businesses puts them in the position to determine who is a viable candidate for President. If you were hoping that Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul can become President if we elect enough Democrats or Republicans, think again.

Foreign policy is not created de novo with each new administration. The general direction of foreign policy is determined by corporations and foundations that fund the think tanks that gave us the neocon agenda in foreign policy that is still the blueprint for military strategy. Think tanks also came up with the neoliberal agenda of free trade. These two ideologies are really two sides of the same coin. Both seek to extend corporate domination of the planet. Where economic coercion and bribery in the form of free trade agreements, IMF loans and economic and military aid are not persuasive and regime change is not possible by covert means, military force is used.  Neoconservatism and neoliberalism are so called because they are neither liberal nor conservative, but corporatist.

This is the reality that confronts the President. He still has all the powers granted him under the constitution as well as powers claimed by previous Occupants of the White House, but his use of them is sharply constrained by the political influence of special interests over Congress, the military, a CIA unaccountable to him under the doctrine of plausible deniability, the media and even the courts. If he wanted to end the “war on terror” that is a think disguise for an agenda of global corporate domination, he would have to take on the entire military-industrial-government complex that has mushroomed since WWII. It is a direct threat to democracy, as Kennedy found out when he tried toend the Cold War.

You may say Obama still has a choice and you would be right, but what chance of success would he have without America behind him? While we should and must criticize him when he chooses war over diplomacy as he did in Libya has largely done in Syria, we cannot expect him to take on alone the entrenched power of the entire political, economic and military structure of the oligarchy that the US has become. If we want to see democracy and justice in the US and the rest of the world, we must be the change that will make him do what must be done. We did it on Syria, when we told Congress in no uncertain terms that we will not use US taxpayer money to start WWIII. 

What few seem to appreciate is that the President set up a situation where our voice would determine a major foreign policy decision. The pressure on him to attack Syria from Israel, Saudi Arabia and neocons in the US was intense, yet he consulted with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and allowed him to publicly report that not only would an attack be incredibly risky, but that a decision was not necessary immediately. He then threw the decision to Congress, giving citizens a chance to weigh in. Our victory in stopping a disastrous attack on Syria showed that we are not powerless over the architects of what former CIA chief and President George HW Bush called the New World Order.

One of the most powerful forces aligned against Obama is the alliance between right-wingers in Israel and the US, who see their interests as identical. The base of fundamentalist Christians in the US constitutes the vast majority of Zionists in America. One of our tasks surely has to be to awaken Americans to the facts of Israeli occupation and apartheid. Obama has given us the chance by allowing diplomacy to succeed in Syria at least to the extent that he avoided a direct US attack that could have led to a regional and even world war. Many have concluded that by showing his willingness to let Putin score major points and rebuffing the attempts of Israel and Saudi Arabia to directly attack both Syria and Iran, Obama is showing that he will not bow to the demands of neocons in either Israel or the US. If there were any doubts about this, they should have been dispelled when he immediately reached out to Iran.

It takes a great bit of chutzpah to claim that the decisions that led to Americans stopping a rush to war for the first time in history was the result of a series of foolish stumbles by a President some claim is in the pocket of Israel.  If that were the case, how do they explain his immediately reaching out to Iran as soon as the crisis was over, infuriating both Israel and Saudi Arabia, already seething at his “mistakes” in carrying out the planned attack on Syria? Anyone who still thinks the President doesn’t know what he is doing has been gamed. For the rest of us, let’s take the hint and “be the change we need.”  Demand immediate cuts in the defense budget. Shut down unneeded military bases around the world, get rid of space age weapons that we will never need in an age of American dominance, end drone warfare, drastically curtail domestic surveillance and redirect the money to rebuilding America and becoming a responsible member of the world community.

In a democracy, the people are responsible for the actions of their government. If Americans aspire to living in a democracy and becoming a model for the rest of the world, it is time they took back their government from the hands of the architects of the New World Order. It is possible, and it begins when the movement to amend the constitution to reform campaign finance and abolish the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights becomes the basis of a social movement to end the corrupt rule of the plutocracy.

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