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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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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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