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America First? Enter the über-hawks: Pompeo and Bolton

Change of foreign policy team points to increased US belligerence

Alexander Mercouris

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Even as Britain and parts of Europe – though not it should be stressed the rest of the world – have been distracted by the hysteria about the Skripal case flooding out of London, far more important events have been happening across the Atlantic.

President Trump’s position becoming stronger

Firstly, President Trump’s political position is beginning to look significantly stronger with the decision of the House Intelligence Committee to close down its Russiagate investigation and to report that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

It is expected that the Senate Intelligence Committee will shortly report the same finding.

The Mueller inquiry has yet to report, but none of its indictments suggest that any evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has been found.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Russiagate scandal – at least so far as it concerns the position of Donald Trump as President of the United States – is finally drawing to a close.

A politically much strengthened President is now therefore using the increasing political space available to him to reshuffle his foreign policy team.

The reshuffle

Rex Tillerson, his former Secretary of State, is gone, replaced by former CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

General H.R. McMaster, his former National Security Adviser, is also gone, replaced by the notorious veteran hardliner John Bolton.

Tillerson and McMaster: a weak team

Neither Tillerson nor McMaster should be missed.

Tillerson is a person of great ability and experience who had the makings to be an outstanding Secretary of State.  However the task the President intended for him – to be along with his first National Security Adviser General Flynn the point-man in the restoration of good relations with Russia – proved impossible to execute because of the Russiagate scandal.

In consequence Tillerson has drifted, and over the last year his lack of empathy with the President has become increasingly obvious, with increasingly public disagreements between the two men about the conduct of relations with North Korea and Iran.

The fact that Tillerson is reported to have called the President (his boss) a “f…g moron” cannot have helped, even though the story has been denied.

As for General H.R. McMaster, opinions about him differ, but the President cannot have been happy at the way he was effectively forced on him following the forced resignation of General Flynn.

General McMaster, as a former protégé of General Petraeus, war historian and military planner, is often spoken of as some sort of neocon intellectual.

In my opinion his views are the conventional views of a US military officer, and he is overrated.

His approach to his task as head of the National Security Council’s bureaucracy has been essentially managerial, neglecting the job’s key function, which is to act as the President’s principal adviser on foreign and security policy.  To the extent that he has sought to perform this role at all, he has acted like a kind of gatekeeper, trying to box the President into following his own conventional thinking.

The President, who was elected with his own distinctive views on foreign policy has, understandably enough, become increasingly resentful of this tutelage.

It seems the breaking point may have been the President’s decision to ignore McMaster’s advice by telephoning Russian President Putin to congratulate him on his election.  McMaster apparently advised against it.  The President did it anyway, moreover refusing even to bring up Russiagate or the Skripal case with Putin.

Though tensions between the President and McMaster have been building up for some time and the two were apparently already in discussion about McMaster going, the President’s decision to ignore McMaster’s advice by calling Putin, and the subsequent leak to the media that he had acted contrary to McMaster’s advice, appears to have been the final straw, and within days McMaster was gone.

Pompeo and Bolton: disciples of America First?

What then of the two men – Pompeo and Bolton – the President has picked to replace Tillerson and McMaster with?

The first thing to say is that Donald Trump now has had a year of being President during which time he has become far more experienced in Washington politics, and has a much better idea of the sort of people he likes to work with and who share his views.

Whilst Tillerson and McMaster were people who were picked for him – Tillerson was apparently chosen at the suggestion of George W. Bush’s former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, not at the Russian government’s suggestion as the Trump Dossier’s compiler Christopher Steele has preposterously claimed – Pompeo and Bolton look to be Trump’s own choices.

In the case of Pompeo, Trump has now worked closely with Pompeo for a whole year, and it is clear that the two men get on with each other and share many of the same views.

In the case of John Bolton, the position is more complicated.

The Moon of Alabama describes John Bolton well

John Bolton is not a neo-conservative. He does not dream of ‘spreading democracy’ or ‘nation building’. He is a ‘smash, burn and leave’ libertarian hawk. He is also an exceptionally avid bureaucrat who knows how to get the things he wants done. That quality is what makes him truly dangerous. Bolton is known for sweet-talking to his superiors, being ruthless against competitors and for kicking down on everyone below him.

Another way of putting it is that John Bolton is an American nationalist and an apostle of US power.

He prefers to see this exercised with all constraints thrown off.  Moreover he does so with none of the pretences about “democracy promotion”, “human rights” etc with which the US – and neocon officials especially – habitually mask the US’s actions.

Thus whilst representing the US in the United Nations as its ambassador Bolton made no attempt conceal his total contempt for the United Nations and for the whole system of international law which it represents.

As to his attitudes to US interventionist wars, they were summed up for me in a television interview I saw him give some time after the start of the Iraq war as it was becoming clear that Iraq following the US invasion (which he supported) far from becoming a thriving democracy as had been promised was instead descending into chaos and sectarian civil war.

Bolton’s response was both clear and chilling: he didn’t care.  The US’s objective was to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had been challenging the US position in the Middle East.  With that objective achieved what happened after – Iraq’s descent into chaos and civil war – was of no concern to the US.  If Iraq went to pieces and millions of Iraqis died or were killed, it didn’t bother him, and it did not concern the United States.

Not surprisingly most people find this attitude disturbing, which it is.  However I would point out its intellectual clarity and honesty.

Perhaps I am alone in thinking this but on balance I prefer Bolton’s tough minded way of speaking to the endless sermonising of people like Nikki Haley, Samantha Power and the neocons, who support all the same wars John Bolton has supported, but who also insist that they serve some higher moral purpose even as they spread death and disaster all around them.

Why Pompeo and Bolton appeal to Trump

It is easy to see how this sort of frank ‘no-nonsense’ thinking would appeal to someone like Donald Trump, who is every bit as much of an American nationalist as John Bolton, and who has never made any secret of the fact that he also despises the moralising language with which US policy is typically conducted, and has little time for international law.

Whilst Mike Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, has never expressed himself in quite such  blunt terms, he too seems to take the same strong line on vigorously defending US national interests and everyone else be damned that John Bolton does.

Since Pompeo and Bolton hold views about how the US should conduct itself in the world which look to be in accord with Trump’s, and since unlike Tillerson and McMaster they are clearly Trump’s own picks, I expect them to have a much better relationship with Trump than Tillerson and McMaster did, and to last much longer than Tillerson and McMaster did.

I do not share the widely expressed view that they will soon be gone, like Tillerson and McMaster.

Re-establishing civilian control of the US government

There is one important positive aspect of the coming of Pompeo and Bolton which has gone largely unremarked.

This is that the appointment of Pompeo and Bolton and the resignation of McMaster break the ring of generals who have been in effective control of the US government ever since Steve Bannon was ousted in August.

Though the other two generals that make up this ring – Defense Secretary Mattis and White House Chief of Staff Kelly – are still there, the coming of Pompeo and Bolton finally provides a civilian balance to them.

Soldiers tend to be more effective as executors of policy than as policy makers.  Ever since the military took charge of the US government in the summer the US has a result been drifting into ever deeper confrontation with Russia, China and Iran, without much thought of why it is doing so, and what the consequences of confrontation with any one of these powers might be.

I explained all this in an article I wrote for The Duran on 24th August 2017

General Mattis is not prepared to risk a head-on clash with the Russian military in Syria, but is willing to act in the most provocative way imaginable against Russia in Europe,…. General Mattis is not prepared to risk a head-on clash with China in the Korean Peninsula, but is willing to act in the most provocative way imaginable against China in the South China Sea.

As is the case in Europe, this is because General Mattis presumably doesn’t believe that the risk of an armed clash with China in the South China Sea is a real one.

This strange mix of policies – backing off from confronting the Russian and Chinese militaries in Syria and Korea where the risks are real, but aggressively seeking confrontation with Russia and China in Europe and the South China Sea where no risks are thought to exist, is exactly what one would expect of a US soldier.

They combine the extreme risk-aversion characteristic of today’s US military, with its longstanding habit of aggressive posturing where the risks of doing it appear to be minimal.

What is wholly absent is any sense of a larger strategy.

In no sense does General Mattis seem to have a policy either for Russia or China or for dealing with the separate crises in Afghanistan, Korea or the Middle East.

Instead he improvises reactively – as might be expected of a soldier – in each case doing so without any sense of the interconnections between the various crises which confront him, or of the paradox of the US seeking Russia and Chinese help in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula whilst simultaneously striking against Russian and Chinese interests in Europe and the South China Sea.

Needless to say, in respect to Grand Strategy – thinking about the Chinese-Russian alliance and looking for ways to respond to it – General Mattis can come up with nothing at all.  So far as he is concerned, it is enough that China and Russia are adversaries of the US, so he sets out in each case to confront them where he feels he can, without giving any thought to how this may make them work more closely together against US interests.

Though Mattis and McMaster did not get on, and though Mattis and General Kelly both wanted McMaster gone, the same criticisms I made of General Mattis apply equally to General McMaster.

General McMaster’s entire period as head of the National Security Council has been marked by the same sort of conventional thinking and absence of strategic vision as is true of General Mattis.

By contrast John Bolton – if he is nothing else – is at least someone who takes strategy seriously, and since he is driven exclusively by his conception of US national interests, he is someone who might conceivably act in an unconventional way.

Given the multiple challenges the US is facing some new thinking is essential, and if Bolton can provide it that might not in itself be bad thing.

The problem however is in the nature of the ‘new thinking’ Bolton might offer.

Renewed drive for a rapprochement with Russia?

The possibility that Pompeo and Bolton might decide that some sort of rapprochement with Russia is in the US’s interests, and that they might therefore go along with Donald Trump’s repeatedly expressed wish for better relations with Russia, might seem unlikely but it is a possibility which should not be completely discounted.

Pompeo and Bolton are in no sense friends of Russia.  On the contrary they see Russia as an adversary and rival.

However if the two were to decide that US interests would be served by temporarily mending fences with Russia, for example in order to avoid the US becoming over-extended as it pursues conflicts elsewhere, then they are not the sort of people who would let ideology or sentiment stand in their way.

Already Pompeo as CIA chief has shown an element of flexibility when he surprised many people by inviting to Washington the leaders of the Russian intelligence community for a bilateral intelligence summit.

However if Pompeo and Bolton do decide to seek some sort of rapprochement with Russia, it will only be of a temporary nature, and they will want it to be on the US’s terms.

That already makes the prospects for such a rapprochement problematic.

I suspect the Russians understand this fully, so that whilst some temporary easing of tension may occur, a genuine rapprochement is extremely unlikely, and any such easing as does take place will be short term.

War against North Korea?

Some are saying that Pompeo’s and Bolton’s appointment sharply increases the danger of the US attacking North Korea.

John Bolton is known to see the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme as a threat to the US, and he has publicly advocated an attack on North Korea as a way of bringing that threat to an end.

Mike Pompeo has spoken out in favour of regime change in North Korea.

Neither Bolton nor Pompeo are the sort of people to be deterred from a war against North Korea because it threatens casualties in faraway countries like South Korea and Japan.  John Bolton treats such casualties as no more than collateral damage (see above).

Of course questions of international law do not concern them either.

On balance, I however still think that an attack on North Korea is unlikely.  The risks of such an attack on a nuclear armed North Korea backed by China look altogether too great.

General McMaster is known to have called for a “limited strike” against North Korea.  General Mattis and the US military were however strongly opposed.  It seems that it was McMaster’s call for a “limited strike” against North Korea which turned General Mattis against him.

I expect the US military to be as opposed to a military strike against North Korea now that Bolton has taken McMaster’s place as they were when McMaster was around.

Ultimately I cannot believe an attack on North Korea will happen which the US military opposes, and for that reason I do not expect such an attack to happen.

However whilst I continue to believe that an attack on North Korea is unlikely, there has to be doubt about whether the proposed summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will now take place.

John Bolton has history of sabotaging negotiations between the US and its enemies.  He worked for example to sabotage talks between the George W. Bush administration and the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi.

Already there has been intense opposition to the proposed Trump-Kim summit in Washington, and given their known opinions about North Korea and about North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme, it is difficult to imagine Pompeo and Bolton allowing a genuine understanding with North Korea to happen.

On the contrary it is far more likely that they will press for a more aggressive US military posture against North Korea.

That will translate into more troops and more ships deployed to the Korean Peninsula and to the north east Pacific, more demands for more sanctions against North Korea, more pressure on China and Russia to agree to those sanctions, and more pressure on South Korea to break off its current talks with North Korea.

Frankly the prospect of any understanding between the US and North Korea looks bleak.

China

Though US President Donald Trump seems to have established – at least in his own mind – a cordial relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it is clear that his administration considers China a strategic competitor and long term adversary of the US.

The recent US move to impose tariffs on Chinese goods is at least in part driven by this belief, as are the increasing US naval deployments to the South China Sea.

I will here state my view that Donald Trump’s desire for a rapprochement with Russia as well as being driven by a genuine personal liking for the country is principally intended to divide Russia from China, with Donald Trump and his former adviser Steve Bannon being two of the few people in the US who seem to have noticed that the two countries have become allies.

I have no doubt that Pompeo and Bolton share this anti-Chinese outlook.  Bolton especially has form in supporting an independent Taiwan, which crosses a red line for China.

I expect relations between the US and China to continue to deteriorate, with China responding to the US’s increasing belligerence by challenging US moves in the South China Sea and by stepping up its cooperation with Russia.

Iran 

Mike Pompeo and John Bolton like Donald Trump are outspoken opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) with Iran.

By ditching Rex Tillerson Donald Trump has removed from his administration the last major figure who supported the JCOPA, though General McMaster is also believed to have supported it.

The appointment of Pompeo and Bolton strengthens even further the already strong anti-Iran tilt of the Trump administration, which reflects Donald Trump’s own strong anti-Iran feelings.

Not only will this result in US hostility to Iran increasing even further, but outright cancellation of the JCPOA must now be on the cards.

A US military strike on Iran – something Bolton is known to have advocated during the Presidency of George W. Bush, has now become a distinct possibility.

Senior Iranian officials are already responding by talking of Iran’s need to strengthen even further its relations with the two Great Eurasian Powers: China and Russia.

The chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi is for example reported by Iran’s Press TV to have said this on 25th March 2018

We must strengthen our relations with important countries like China and Russia, which have also been subjected to US sanctions and face serious challenges from that country.  China and Russia are two important and influential members of the [UN] Security Council and the expansion of relations will help neutralize and reduce the impact of US pressure.

The extent of any future realignment of Iran with China and Russia remains to be seen.  However tensions in the Gulf region are certain to increase.

Arab-Israeli conflict and the Middle East

I expect Bolton especially to push hard for the restoration of US primacy in the Middle East, which has become severely eroded since the debacle of the Iraq war.

The Middle East happens to be the area of Bolton’s greatest interest, and I am sure he will devote much of his time and energy to it.

Though I suspect Bolton cares little about regime change in Syria, the fact that the US has suffered a strategic defeat there at Russia’s and Iran’s hands will undoubtedly rankle with him, and there must also be a fear that he will do all he can to reverse it.  A renewed push for regime change in Syria, risking a confrontation with Russia, is a distinct possibility.

At the same time I expect there to be a renewed effort to bring Erdogan and Turkey back on side.

Pompeo in particular has already shown a clear understanding of the importance of Turkey in securing the US’s position in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Middle East.  Only last month he visited Turkey to try to mend fences with Erdogan.

Whether Pompeo and Bolton are prepared to sacrifice the Kurds in Syria to win Turkey back however remains to be seen.

Of one thing however there cannot be any doubt: US support for Israel will remain unconditional and may if anything become even more strident.

Bolton for example has spoken against establishing a Palestinian state and against the two states solution, which is internationally widely regarded as the route to achieving broader Middle East peace.

Venezuela and Cuba

Much like Donald Trump himself, Pompeo and Bolton are implacable enemies of Venezuela and Cuba.

Whatever hopes the Cuban leadership may have had of a normalisation of relations with the US following Barack Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations have been dashed.

The result is that both Venezuela and Cuba are becoming increasingly dependent on Russia.

In Venezuela’s case this is leading to Russia establishing increasing control over Venezuela’s oil industry and over Venezuela’s erratic economic decision making.

In Cuba’s case steps to re-establish the economic and politic links which existed between Cuba and the USSR also seem to be underway.

Europe

The coming of John Bolton especially will not be welcomed in the major European capitals, where he is disliked for his belligerence and abrasiveness.  However that is unlikely to have any significant impact on the state of US-Europe relations.

Summary

With Pompeo and Bolton Donald Trump has what looks like the foreign policy team that he wants.

It is indeed an “America First’ team, committed to preserving and extending the paramount position of the US, and indifferent to the methods used to achieve it.

It is fair to say however that this is not the conception of ‘America First’ which many people expected when Donald Trump was elected.

Most people then assumed that ‘America First’ meant retrenchment: the US abandoning in its neo-imperial adventures so that it could refocus on its own needs.

Instead we look more likely to get a repeat of the administration of George W. Bush, but this time on steroids.

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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