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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Tuesday, June 25, 2013



A few months ago I heard a “progressive” talk radio host claim we were in “a historically peaceful time.” I wondered if he is one of those Democrats who think America is only at war if US boots are on the ground. He credited President Obama for taking most of the troops out of Iraq and promising to do the same in Afghanistan. We haven’t actually left either nation, of course. As long as US allies like Iraq’s Maliki and Afghanistan’s Karzai are in office, they are nominally in charge of running the countries we have devastated in wars we are told are to “fight terror.”  If things start to fall apart, as they appear to be doing in Iraq, we can always reinforce the troops still there. That is the nice thing about having a military so powerful that no nation will attack you and few can defend against you. We can afford to be magnanimous.  However, it would be nice if after nearly 12 years someone would define what “winning the war on terror” would mean.  As the President said, we cannot stay on a war footing forever. Or can we?

In fairness, the commentator spoke before Obama authorized arms for largely foreign “rebels” in Syria, but it was after it was revealed that arms were being funneled by the CIA from Benghazi, resulting in the death of Ambassador White.  His death was a small part of the price we pay for backing jihadists to deal with nations that do not submit to US foreign policy demands. Anyone who didn’t look beyond the foolish partisan argument over the comments made after the Embassy attack missed the real lesson: It was made by “rebels” who we were helping to take down a popular sovereign government and who were among those dealing with the US in its clandestine arms trade in Libya.  The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a designated Al Qaeda affiliate, was central in this proxy war for NATO.  It could not have succeeded against loyalist resistance without brutal air attacks in which the US military, under Obama’s command, helped kill thousands of innocent civilians and left Libya a failed state.

Now that Americans have forgotten what little they thought they understood about what happened in Libya, the President is pushing for another “humanitarian” intervention in Syria. Once again, we are told we have a moral responsibility to ignore international law by attacking a sovereign nation. Just because American troops are not doing the killing does not mean we are not responsible for the carnage in Syria.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been waging a proxy war using jihadists who fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, at times against Americans and at others against its designated enemies du jour, with full American knowledge.  Now Obama wants to supply arms to mercenaries who evidence and common sense suggest are responsible for most of the deaths of over 90,000 Syrians, media and government claims to the contrary. To add insult to our intelligence to the injury to our national reputation, he justifies this with the spurious claim that Assad killed 150 of these citizens with sarin, when the deaths occurred in areas of civilian resistance to rebels and a UN investigator concluded it was most likely used by FSA terrorists led by Al Qaeda- affiliated Al Nusra, an official member of the US terrorist watch list.

There is a pattern here.  It’s not just making phony claims of WMDs to justify preemptively attacking sovereign nations.  After all, “preemptive” war is not a new idea. While Bush got all the credit, it was Hitler who first tried to use this justification for violating centuries-old law in modern times. In using our erstwhile enemies to do what US citizens no longer have the stomach to send their military in to do, Obama has taken the so-called Bush Doctrine a step further.  Let’s call it The Obama Doctrine, keeping in mind that the idea is no more his than was using 9/11 to launch a global war of corporate conquest under the guise of “fighting terror” the idea of an intellectual vacuum like Bush.

The continuity in policies under the two administrations is ample evidence that US foreign policy was long ago hijacked by those who identify “US interests” as identical to those of the international corporations that profit so very handsomely from war. Those who dictate US foreign policy are of course among the global elite who have the kind of money to determine who Americans can choose from to represent them on the world stage.  In other words, the partisan framework within which both establishment “liberals” and “conservatives” couch foreign policy debate masks the fact that neither side represents the traditional values of either conservatism or liberalism.

With this in mind, it should be clear that I am criticizing President Obama’s policies, not his character. He seems much less enthusiastic about getting wars than his predecessor, despite the tremendous pressure exerted by wealthy Party donors who profit richly from wars of choice. Despite jumping into the war on Libya without good justification, he has done an admirable job at delaying a kinetic war with Iran (though the sanctions amount to an act of war). Until recently, he seemed to have sense enough to stay out of Syria despite the hype for intervention in the corporate media. However, if he continues to fund terrorist coups, it doesn’t matter whether he is just going along with a foreign policy that neither he nor Bush authored. He if the Decider now and will be judged responsible, along with all his supporters who stay silent in the face of naked aggression, unwilling to say “The Empire has no clothes.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


From the vantage point of Americans who can see that their government is the greatest threat to peace and freedom in world history, it is agonizing to see how ignorant most of their fellow citizens are to what is blindingly obvious to the rest of the world. It is a great relief to see that recent events are opening the eyes of citizens in the US and around the world to an internationalist perspective. We must use the massive democratic protests in Turkey to help enlighten westerners who tend to accept far too much of what they are told by the corporate media.

The protests in Turkey are too large to ignore. With varying degrees of accuracy, mainstream media are carrying the story. Its inane commentators cannot hide the fact that the demonstrators are demanding democracy in a nation that the US government has held up as a model of a secular Islamic society. This should raise questions for any American who gives the news a moment’s thought. If Turkey is a democracy, what is the fuss all about? If it is not, then why is it being praised by the United States government as the West’s great ally in the struggle against Bashir Assad of Syria?  A basic understanding of Turkish political history is helpful in understanding the situation in Turkey today and its implications for the coming world order.

Turkish independence in 1923 was a triumph of secularism after a hard-fought victory for national self-determination. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, the Allies occupied what is now Turkey with the intent of dividing it among them as the rest of the fallen empire was torn apart. Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk, or Father of the Turks) organized resistance and headed the new government formed after the British occupiers dissolved the last Parliament under the Ottomans. The new Grand National Assembly raised a military force sufficient to compel the withdrawal of the British and defeat Greek, Armenian and Italian forces that attempted to seize parts of the Anatolia region by force.

The nation that Ataturk shaped was very different than the Empire that preceded it. Under his leadership, a modern state was forged on the principle of equality between members of all ethnic and religious groups. Imperialist expansion based on ethnic links of the Turkic people was explicitly discouraged, reflecting lessons learned from the long history of the rise, corruption and fall of the Ottoman Empire. A government was formed that espoused the ideals of a government of, by and for the People and made many reforms that moved the country toward that ideal, from free compulsory education to women’s suffrage.

One of the more controversial reforms was separation of religion and state. It was not until 1937 that the constitution was changed to strike the article stating that Islam was the “established religion” of Turkey, although public education had been secular since its inception. More controversial still was the banning of head scarves for women in public, which gave credence to accusations that Turkish secularism was in fact anti-Muslim, though the stated intent was to oppose Islamism, or the re-establishment of an Islamic government where religious authorities controlled political affairs. The tension between Islamists and the government were never completely resolved and is central to understanding the current turmoil in Turkey.

Prime Minister Erdogan is the head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish), which was founded by Islamists. Despite protestations to the contrary, it has a clear agenda of reversing the long history of secularism in Turkey. As in the US, this unspoken agenda appears to be one of the bases for the popularity of the conservative agenda and is a major factor in the deep divisions between the left and right. Erdogan was banned from holding office for years for his promotion of Islamism, but growing support for the idea has led to increasing support for him and the AKP since 2002, when the party first won a majority in Parliament.  Even as his popularity grew, millions marched in protest in 2007 when he was announced as a possible presidential candidate. Although the party again swept to victory in the elections that year, in 2008, the party and 71 of its leaders were nearly banned for promoting Islamism. Party leaders now refer to the episode as a “failed coup.”

Religion is not the only issue dividing Turkish citizens. The AKP was deeply divided in 2003 when the government proposed giving permission to the US to Turkey as a staging ground for the illegal occupation of Iraq.  The party survived this and Abdullah Gul, the Prime Minister at the time, is now serving as President.  The AKP continues to be very pro-western and is a key supporter of the attempted NATO coup in Syria, further inflaming emotions among secular nationalists in Turkey and especially the youth, who recognize that Erdogan’s goal is the establishment of an Islamist government in Turkey and that the fall of Syria’s secular government with his support would be a major step in that direction.

The anniversary of Turkish independence on October 29, 2012 was a turning point in Turkish history. Erdogan imperiously banned a major rally in Istanbul, claiming that “subversives” were planning on using the event to undermine national security. Leaders of opposition parties on the left rallied with thousands of supporters in defiance of the dictate, many of them protesting the recent vote of Parliament authorizing troops in neighboring Syria. This act was analogous to the US Senate’s Authorization of Force that gave Bush and now Obama carte-blanche to conduct wars for corporate Empire in the guise of fighting terror.  At the same time, the Turkish military was already bombarding Syrian troops across the border they were trying to secure after it was destabilized by Turkish-protected and NATO-supported terrorists of the FSA. Needless to say, this aspect of the protests was ignored by the western media.

Fast forward to the present, with hundreds of thousands of mostly young Turks around the country protesting for weeks, for reasons that are unclear only to readers of the western corporate media. The protests were touched off by the news that the government variously planned to erect a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks, a shopping mall and mosque in Taksim Square, where Istanbul’s last green space is located in Gezi Park. Because mall construction would destroy the green space, the protesters were described as “environmentalists” long after that issue was eclipsed by more fundamental issues regarding the the relationship of its government to society. Y
oung Turks see the fundamental character of the nation threatened by the growing strength of the Islamist movement. These concerns are derided by the government and some western media as a desire to preserve the right to drink alcohol, but of course the real issues are much more significant.

Taksim Square is an iconic location for Turks, the scene of major protests in past decades and of national celebrations in better times. Originally the site of an actual operating military barracks during the Ottoman era, reconstructing them as a museum is taken by some as at best incongruous with its history as a symbol of democracy and at worst as a step toward refurbishing the reputation of the former Islamist government. Building a mosque in the immediate vicinity is seen by some as further evidence that the idea is driven by Islamist ideology rather than national pride. One has to wonder if proposing to turn the last green space in Istanbul into a shopping mall does not offend the sensibilities of conservative Turks disgusted by western materialism as much as it does environmentalists who want to preserve the trees in Gezi Park.

Turkey is at a crossroads. Like the US, it was created by patriots willing to die for freedom. Similarly, prosperity eventually followed but with progress came a backlash against paying the price of modernity that comes with individual freedom. At this point in history, both freedom and prosperity are threatened in both nations and in the world by powerful global elites who find it advantageous to promote Islamism over secularism and democracy around the Mideast. The consequences however are more immediate for Turkey.

Those who are backing Erdogan's bid to create an Islamist government in Turkey are the same corporate elites behind the coup in Libya and the attempted coup in Syria. They have armed and set loose fundamentalists promoting Islamism by fighting against secular governments that have dared to challenge those of the Empire being constructed by the US, NATO, Israel and the Gulf monarchies. The interests of these governments are defined as synonymous with the international corporate terrorists who control them. Erdogan and the DPK are key conspirators in the effort to destabilize the Mideast in preparation for a New World Order in which, if successfully implemented, no one will be free.

Turks must continue to stand up for the democratic principles on which the nation was founded, despite violence and oppression by the government. Should the people choose to give in and let Erdogan and the AKP have their way, Turkish self-determination may become collateral damage in the War of Terror that is a smokescreen for global domination. Once Erdogan and the Turkish military have served their purpose to the Empire, there is no reason to expect it to show loyalty to the nation, let alone its people. Should Turks prove resistant to being complicit in the murder of tens of thousands of their Syrian neighbors, the corporatocracy may back up the government or promote violent resistance to it, knowing full well the chaos this would create. As events in Libya and Syria show, the global elite who are behind the Obama doctrine of using terrorists to fight proxy wars have no fear of the possible consequences of destabilizing the region.

Turkish protestors have already spoken up in support of besieged Syrians. They clearly recognize that their cause is the same. Citizens of the US and other NATO governments likewise have a duty to support Turks, Syrians, Libyans and the peoples of all nations threatened by a corporate Empire that is poised to control the planet. Their governments too have been hijacked by the global elite, and their only hope for freedom is to work toward building a united international front against fascism and war.

At a rally in New York recently, Turks and Greeks stood side-by-side behind a banner that read “We are all Greeks now,” a symbol of unity with Greeks struggling against the economic depredations of the global elite who are in the end part of the same corporate Empire bent on military domination of the Mideast. As Turks stand against the Empire’s attempts to divide them and the nation against Syria, I would add that we are all Turks, too.