[Rushtalk] The State Department’s Collective Madness

Carl Spitzer lynux at keepandbeararms.com
Sun Jun 26 10:55:58 MDT 2016


  

The State Department’s Collective Madness

        By Robert Parry | Consortium News| June 17, 2016


Over the past several decades, the U.S. State Department has
deteriorated from a reasonably professional home for diplomacy and
realism into a den of armchair warriors possessed of imperial delusions,
a dangerous phenomenon underscored by the recent mass “dissent” in favor
of blowing up more people in Syria.

Some 51 State Department “diplomats” signed a memo distributed through
the official “dissent channel,” seeking military strikes against the
Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad whose forces have been leading the
pushback against Islamist extremists who are seeking control of this
important Mideast nation.

The fact that such a large contingent of State Department officials
would openly advocate for an expanded aggressive war in line with the
neoconservative agenda, which put Syria on a hit list some two decades
ago, reveals how crazy the State Department has become.

The State Department now seems to be a combination of true-believing
neocons along with their liberal-interventionist followers and some
careerists who realize that the smart play is to behave toward the world
as global proconsuls dictating solutions or seeking “regime change”
rather than as diplomats engaging foreigners respectfully and seeking
genuine compromise.

Even some State Department officials, whom I personally know and who are
not neocons/liberal-hawks per se, act as if they have fully swallowed
the Kool-Aid. They talk tough and behave arrogantly toward inhabitants
of countries under their supervision. Foreigners are treated as mindless
objects to be coerced or bribed.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that several dozen U.S. “diplomats”
would attack President Barack Obama’s more temperate position on Syria
while positioning themselves favorably in anticipation of a Hillary
Clinton administration, which is expected to authorize an illegal
invasion of Syria — under the guise of establishing “no-fly zones” and
“safe zones” — which will mean the slaughter of young Syrian soldiers.
The “diplomats” urge the use of “stand-off and air weapons.”

These hawks are so eager for more war that they don’t mind risking a
direct conflict with Russia, breezily dismissing the possibility of a
clash with the nuclear power by saying they are not “advocating for a
slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia.”
That’s reassuring to hear.

Risking a Jihadist Victory

There’s also the danger that a direct U.S. military intervention could
collapse the Syrian army and clear the way for victory by Al Qaeda’s
Nusra Front or the Islamic State. The memo did not make clear how the
delicate calibration of doing just enough damage to Syria’s military
while avoiding an outright jihadist victory and averting a clash with
Russia would be accomplished.

Presumably, whatever messes are created, the U.S. military would be left
to clean up, assuming that shooting down some Russian warplanes and
killing Russian military personnel wouldn’t escalate into a full-scale
thermonuclear conflagration.

In short, it appears that the State Department has become a collective
insane asylum where the inmates are in control. But this madness isn’t
some short-term aberration that can be easily reversed. It has been a
long time coming and would require a root-to-branch ripping out of
today’s “diplomatic” corps to restore the State Department to its
traditional role of avoiding wars rather than demanding them.

Though there have always been crazies in the State Department – usually
found in the senior political ranks – the phenomenon of an institutional
insanity has only evolved over the past several decades. And I have seen
the change.

I have covered U.S. foreign policy since the late 1970s when there was
appreciably more sanity in the diplomatic corps. There were people like
Robert White and Patricia Derian (both now deceased) who stood up for
justice and human rights, representing the best of America.

But the descent of the U.S. State Department into little more than
well-dressed, well-spoken but thuggish enforcers of U.S. hegemony began
with the Reagan administration. President Ronald Reagan and his team
possessed a pathological hatred of Central American social movements
seeking freedom from oppressive oligarchies and their brutal security
forces.

During the 1980s, American diplomats with integrity were systematically
marginalized, hounded or removed. (Human rights coordinator Derian left
at the end of the Carter administration and was replaced by neocon
Elliott Abrams; White was fired as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador,
explaining: “I refused a demand by the secretary of state, Alexander M.
Haig Jr., that I use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran
military’s responsibility for the murders of four American
churchwomen.”)

The Neocons Rise

As the old-guard professionals left, a new breed of aggressive
neoconservatives was brought in, the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Robert
McFarlane, Robert Kagan and Abrams. After eight years of Reagan and four
years of George H.W. Bush, the State Department was reshaped into a home
for neocons, but some pockets of professionalism survived the
onslaughts.

While one might have expected the Democrats of the Clinton
administration to reverse those trends, they didn’t. Instead, Bill
Clinton’s “triangulation” applied to U.S. foreign policy as much as to
domestic programs. He was always searching for that politically safe
“middle.”

As the 1990s wore on, the decimation of foreign policy experts in the
mold of White and Derian left few on the Democratic side who had the
courage or skills to challenge the deeply entrenched neocons. Many
Clinton-era Democrats accommodated to the neocon dominance by
reinventing themselves as “liberal interventionists,” sharing the
neocons’ love for military force but justifying the killing on
“humanitarian” grounds.

This approach was a way for “liberals” to protect themselves against
right-wing charges that they were “weak,” a charge that had scarred
Democrats deeply during the Reagan/Bush-41 years, but this Democratic
“tough-guy/gal-ism” further sidelined serious diplomats favoring
traditional give-and-take with foreign leaders and their people.

So, you had Democrats like then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
(and later Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright justifying Bill
Clinton’s brutal sanctions policies toward Iraq, which the U.N. blamed
for killing 500,000 Iraqi children, as “a very hard choice, but the
price – we think the price is worth it.”

Bill Clinton’s eight years of “triangulation,” which included the brutal
air war against Serbia, was followed by eight years of George W. Bush,
which further ensconced the neocons as the U.S. foreign policy
establishment.

By then, what was left of the old Republican “realists,” the likes of
Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, was aging out or had been so
thoroughly compromised that the neocons faced no significant opposition
within Republican circles. And, Official Washington’s foreign-policy
Democrats had become almost indistinguishable from the neocons, except
for their use of “humanitarian” arguments to justify aggressive wars.

Media Capitulation

Before George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, much of the “liberal” media
establishment – from The New York Times to The New Yorker – fell in line
behind the war, asking few tough questions and presenting almost no
obstacles. Favoring war had become the “safe” career play.

But a nascent anti-war movement among rank-and-file Democrats did
emerge, propelling Barack Obama, an anti-Iraq War Democrat, to the 2008
presidential nomination over Iraq War supporter Hillary Clinton. But
those peaceful sentiments among the Democratic “base” did not reach very
deeply into the ranks of Democratic foreign policy mavens.

So, when Obama entered the White House, he faced a difficult challenge.
The State Department needed a thorough purging of the neocons and the
liberal hawks, but there were few Democratic foreign policy experts who
hadn’t sold out to the neocons. An entire generation of Democratic
policy-makers had been raised in the world of neocon-dominated
conferences, meetings, op-eds and think tanks, where tough talk made you
sound good while talk of traditional diplomacy made you sound soft.

By contrast, more of the U.S. military and even the CIA favored less
belligerent approaches to the world, in part, because they had actually
fought Bush’s hopeless “global war on terror.” But Bush’s hand-picked,
neocon-oriented high command – the likes of General David Petraeus –
remained in place and favored expanded wars in both Iraq and
Afghanistan.

Obama then made one of the most fateful decisions of his presidency.
Instead of cleaning house at State and at the Pentagon, he listened to
some advisers who came up with the clever P.R. theme “Team of Rivals” –
a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s first Civil War cabinet – and Obama
kept in place Bush’s military leadership, including Robert Gates as
Secretary of Defense, and reached out to hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to
be his Secretary of State.

In other words, Obama not only didn’t take control of the foreign-policy
apparatus, he strengthened the power of the neocons and liberal hawks.
He then let this powerful bloc of Clinton-Gates-Petraeus steer him into
a foolhardy counterinsurgency “surge” in Afghanistan that did little
more than get 1,000 more U.S. soldiers killed along with many more
Afghans.

Obama also let Clinton sabotage his attempted outreach to Iran in 2010
seeking constraints on its nuclear program and he succumbed to her
pressure in 2011 to invade Libya under the false pretense of
establishing a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians, what became a “regime
change” disaster that Obama has ranked as his biggest foreign policy
mistake.

The Syrian Conflict

Obama did resist Secretary Clinton’s calls for another military
intervention in Syria although he authorized some limited military
support to the allegedly “moderate” rebels and allowed Saudi Arabia,
Qatar and Turkey to do much more in supporting jihadists connected to Al
Qaeda and even the Islamic State.

Under Secretary Clinton, the neocon/liberal-hawk bloc consolidated its
control of the State Department diplomatic corps. Under neocon
domination, the State Department moved from one “group think” to the
next. Having learned nothing from the Iraq War, the conformity continued
to apply toward Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia, China,
Venezuela, etc.

Everywhere the goal was same: to impose U.S. hegemony, to force the
locals to bow to American dictates, to steer them into neo-liberal “free
market” solutions which were often equated with “democracy” even if most
of the people of the affected countries disagreed.

Double-talk and double-think replaced reality-driven policies.
“Strategic communications,” i.e., the aggressive use of propaganda to
advance U.S. interests, was one watchword. “Smart power,” i.e., the
application of financial sanctions, threats of arrests, limited military
strikes and other forms of intimidation, was another.

Every propaganda opportunity, such as the Syrian sarin attack in 2013 or
the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine, was
exploited to the hilt to throw adversaries on the defensive even if U.S.
intelligence analysts doubted that evidence supported the accusations.

Lying at the highest levels of the U.S. government – but especially
among the State Department’s senior officials – became epidemic. Perhaps
even worse, U.S. “diplomats” seemed to believe their own propaganda.

Meanwhile, the mainstream U.S. news media experienced a similar drift
into the gravity pull of neocon dominance and professional careerism,
eliminating major news outlets as any kind of check on official
falsehoods.

The Up-and-Comers

The new State Department star – expected to receive a high-level
appointment from President Clinton-45 – is neocon Assistant Secretary of
State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who orchestrated the 2014
putsch in Ukraine, toppling an elected, Russia-friendly president and
replacing him with a hard-line Ukrainian nationalist regime that then
launched violent military attacks against ethnic Russians in the east
who resisted the coup leadership.

When Russia came to the assistance of these embattled Ukrainian
citizens, including agreeing to Crimea’s request to rejoin Russia, the
State Department and U.S. mass media spoke as one in decrying a “Russian
invasion” and supporting NATO military maneuvers on Russia’s borders to
deter “Russian aggression.”

Anyone who dares question this latest “group think” – as it plunges the
world into a dangerous new Cold War – is dismissed as a “Kremlin
apologist” or “Moscow stooge” just as skeptics about the Iraq War were
derided as “Saddam apologists.” Virtually everyone important in Official
Washington marches in lock step toward war and more war. (Victoria
Nuland is married to Robert Kagan, making them one of Washington’s
supreme power couples.)

So, that is the context of the latest State Department rebellion against
Obama’s more tempered policies on Syria. Looking forward to a likely
Hillary Clinton administration, these 51 “diplomats” have signed their
name to a “dissent” that advocates bombing the Syrian military to
protect Syria’s “moderate” rebels who – to the degree they even exist –
fight mostly under the umbrella of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its close
ally, Ahrar al Sham.

The muddled thinking in this “dissent” is that by bombing the Syrian
military, the U.S. government can enhance the power of the rebels and
supposedly force Assad to negotiate his own removal. But there is no
reason to think that this plan would work.

In early 2014, when the rebels held a relatively strong position,
U.S.-arranged peace talks amounted to a rebel-dominated conference that
made Assad’s departure a pre-condition and excluded Syria’s Iranian
allies from attending. Not surprisingly, Assad’s representative went
home and the talks collapsed.

Now, with Assad holding a relatively strong hand, backed by Russian air
power and Iranian ground forces, the “dissenting” U.S. diplomats say
peace is impossible because the rebels are in no position to compel
Assad’s departure. Thus, the “dissenters” recommend that the U.S. expand
its role in the war to again lift the rebels, but that would only mean
more maximalist demands from the rebels.

Serious Risks

This proposed wider war, however, would carry some very serious risks,
including the possibility that the Syrian army could collapse, opening
the gates of Damascus to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front (and its allies) or the
Islamic State – a scenario that, as The New York Times noted, the “memo
doesn’t address.”

Currently, the Islamic State and – to a lesser degree – the Nusra Front
are in retreat, chased by the Syrian army with Russian air support and
by some Kurdish forces with U.S. backing. But those gains could easily
be reversed. There is also the risk of sparking a wider war with Iran
and/or Russia.

But such cavalier waving aside of grave dangers is nothing new for the
neocons and liberal hawks. They have consistently dreamt up schemes that
may sound good at a think-tank conference or read well in an op-ed
article, but fail in the face of ground truth where usually U.S.
soldiers are expected to fix the mess.

We have seen this wishful thinking go awry in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya,
Ukraine and even Syria, where Obama’s acquiescence to provide arms and
training for the so-called “unicorns” – the hard-to-detect “moderate”
rebels – saw those combatants and their weapons absorbed into Al Qaeda’s
or Islamic State’s ranks.

Yet, the neocons and liberal hawks who control the State Department –
and are eagerly looking forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency – will
never stop coming up with these crazy notions until a concerted effort
is made to assess accountability for all the failures that that they
have inflicted on U.S. foreign policy.

As long as there is no accountability – as long as the U.S. president
won’t rein in these warmongers – the madness will continue and only grow
more dangerous.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Democrats Are Now the
Aggressive War Party” and “Would a Clinton Win Mean More Wars?’]


________________________________________________________________________


Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy
his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as
an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




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