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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Know Edward Snowden by taking a look at who his friends are. As it becomes more and more obvious that Mr. Snowden is not a civil-libertarian whistle-blower, but someone committed to engaging in espionage, his list of supporters is beginning to dwindle.

Even his father recently acknowledged that his son broke U.S. law; he wants him to come home and trust his fate to the American system of justice. “And if folks want to classify him as a traitor, in fact he has betrayed his government,” he told NBC News. “But I don’t believe that he’s betrayed the people of the United States.”

Lonnie Snowden then added the following statement about those surrounding and encouraging Snowden, including the followers of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: “I don’t want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him. I think WikiLeaks, if you’ve looked at past history, you know, their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It’s simply to release as much information as possible.”

So who exactly is left defending Edward Snowden, and trying to gather support for him by circulating a petition demanding that the government of Ecuador grant him political asylum? There is the group that calls itself “Just Foreign Policy,” which, in translation, means a desire for a weak and ineffective United States that will fold before its Islamist enemies, seek to appease them if not openly welcome them, and continually apologize for what its adherents believe is America’s bellicose imperialism.

In an online petition posted three days ago, the group accused our government of “severe abuses of the basic constitutional rights of U.S. citizens and the rights of people in other nations.” It declared that Snowden is a “brave whistle-blower who, at great personal risk, decided to step forward and inform the U.S. public about what is being done in their name and what is being done to them.”

The group says nothing about the countries Snowden has decided to seek aid from, all of them leftist dictatorships. Ecuador has a clearly mad president, Rafael Correa, who has already stuck his nose in the face of our country. He has announced that Ecuador has “unilaterally and irrevocably” given up its tariff-free trading pact with the United States. He would rather bankrupt his nation to show the Latin American left that he stands with the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the Castro brothers.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has now explained the status of Edward Snowden. He is not technically in Russia; rather, per the Associated Press:

[He] is in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and has not passed through Russian immigration, Putin said, meaning he is not technically in Russia.

Once again, the Russian president has humiliated the United States. Putin also claims that the Russian security services have not met with Snowden and are not working with him. Moreover, he cannot grant the United States request for extradition since the U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.

Writing in The Guardian (Glenn Greenwald’s paper), Tom McCarthy explains that Putin’s excuse for not grabbing Snowden is not exactly accurate. He cites the report of their Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder, who says:

Passengers transiting through Sheremetyevo are usually given 24 hours to pass through the international transit zone. Snowden arrived Sunday.

If Elder is correct, then obviously Russian security services are allowing the rules to be stretched in Snowden’s case. Like that African man who lived in JFK Airport for a few years since he was legally stateless and no country would grant him exile, Snowden could be living in Moscow’s airport for quite some time, dining on the horrendous food available at that notoriously subpar international airport.

President Putin could not pause from sticking the knife in President Obama and the United States, suddenly becoming a defender of human rights. Elder quotes Putin:

Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they’re fighting for the spread of information. … Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they’ll be put in prison?

With that argument, Putin reveals himself to be a master of hypocrisy. Cathy Young, who grew up in the old Soviet Russia and follows the country regularly, points out:

[Russia] is in the grip of an intense crackdown on dissent since Vladimir Putin’s return for a third presidential term a year ago. …  This crackdown includes draconian penalties for unauthorized protests; legislation requiring non-governmental organizations that receive any money from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and submit to punitive regulations; a vague new treason law that could target dissent; legislation criminalizing insults to religion; and widespread harassment and persecution of opposition activists and leaders.

As for Mr. Snowden, any pretense of his being motivated by a desire to protect the fundamental freedoms that Americans enjoy has evaporated completely. Yesterday, he gave an interview in which he now claims he got a job with Booz Allen in the first place precisely so he could gain access to NSA secrets that he could then share with the world. That new explanation contradicts his earlier claim — that only after working there and learning what American security services could do did he decide on principle to leak classified data. Perhaps wandering in an international transit zone in a bad airport has gone to his head, and we should take anything he says at this point with a grain of salt.

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The collapse of Barack Obama’s policy in the Middle East, the result of  “leading from behind,” is apparent to all but the most obtuse of Obama’s former defenders. Charles Krauthammer aptly spelled it out last week: as he and many others have observed, we are witnessing a replay of the Spanish Civil War, in which Italy and Germany came to Franco’s rebelling generals with aid while the West stayed neutral. The Soviet Union, seeking to gain influence in the region, supplied the Spanish Republic with arms, but not enough to win, and only enough to defend themselves for a short amount of time. Krauthammer writes: “Obama has chosen to do just enough to give the appearance of having done something,” but only a small amount that will not be sufficient to win.

As a result of the inept and backwards policy, Obama has found that he has no place left to hide. He faces incredibly different choices to make, none of them good. They are spelled out today by Thomas Friedman, who sees three options, which he calls “the realist, the idealist, and the God-I-hope-we-are-lucky approaches.” As he aptly notes, none of them are without great risk, and all could leave the U.S. in an even deeper pit and in worse shape in the region.

Friedman thinks to succeed in Syria would take a full-scale Iraq-type invasion, led by the dreaded “boots on the ground,” which no commander in chief would in their right mind now advocate. So we citizens are left trying to guess which approach Obama believes is the right course, and what he really has in mind.

As a result, a new chorus of ardent interventionists has emerged. They have good arguments, and are repulsed about the failure of the Obama administration to use American power for good when it had an opportunity, and the resulting 80,000 or more deaths in Syria that are the result of U.S. inaction.

The two sides do not follow any usual left-right divide. They include a coalition of anti-interventionists on the radical Left and the libertarian and paleo-conservative Right; a coalition of ardent interventionists on the neoconservative Right and the moderate Left; and conservatives and leftists who unite around arguing that the United States should not at present intervene in Syria with aid to the rebels.

The influential Economist presented the most coherent analysis, concentrating on the need for the West to curb Iran’s power in the region, and to prevent its growing power, which would result from an Assad victory. The magazine’s editors favor both a no-fly zone and arming the Syrian rebels.

Joining them in urging intervention are two TNR editors, Leon Wieseltier and John B. Judis. Both are irate at their fellow liberals and leftists who eschew intervention. Wieseltier is upset, as he should be: “The foreign policy discourse of American liberalism no longer includes an emphasis on freedom or democracy.” He is a liberal hawk, a man who takes the same position regarding Syria that he took in the period before the Bush administration moved into Iraq and which he and his colleagues later regretted.  His colleague Judis, a man of the Left, breaks with his comrades at The Nation and Mother Jones who vigorously see U.S. imperialism involved in any intervention, and favors what he calls “benign intervention for humanitarian or for worthy geopolitical ends.” At least he is honest in acknowledging that he has no idea what can be done, and only says that as a “card-carrying member of the American left,” he thinks “we should try to do something to rid the world of the Assad regime.”

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Our old friend Oliver Stone is at it again. This time, as The Hollywood Reporter informs us, he is being feted and wined and dined in the People’s Republic of China, where he is the star attraction at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival. The festival will be screening his big flop Alexander, his film Savages, as well as an episode of his Communist propaganda series The Untold History of the United States.

I’m certain the ideological guardians of the Communist regime, who still reverently pay homage to the Stalinist dictator and founder of the People’s Republic Mao Ze Dong, will be thrilled to see how the official propagandist picture of American imperialism depicted by Stone and co-writer Peter Kuznick fulfills the ideological requirements of how the regime regularly treats history. They should especially enjoy his portrait of a benign Stalin who only wanted secure borders and fought for peace.

As the report informs readers, Stone “brought thunderous applause to a crowd of more than 500 festivalgoers…when he praised whistleblower Edward Snowden as a ‘hero.’” So while Dick Cheney rightfully condemns Snowden as a traitor, a word that Snowden himself says is a badge of honor when bestowed on him by the former vice president, Oliver Stone gets the backing and support of an audience in statist China. The People’s Republic’s government controls propaganda and censors free news reports, has its own repressive gulag system of prison camps, and is anything but a free society. It has not dawned on the filmmaker that attacking the United States as not free in a land in which dissenters are arrested and persecuted on a regular basis shows anything but an understanding of what freedom and liberty are.

Stone did just as his hosts required. The article by reporter Richard Trombley tells us the following:

In response to a passionately worded indictment from an audience member accusing the U.S. National Security Agency of “eavesdropping on the world,” the celebrated — and provocative — director said, simply: “Snowden is a hero,” before launching into a brief discussion of the revelations about the U.S. spy programs and their aftermath….Stone went on to praise the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and whistleblower Bradley Manning. He condemned President Barack Obama’s administration for prosecuting six whistleblower cases despite campaign promises of a more progressive administration.

Stone joined prolific Hong Kong director Johnnie To in a master class entitled “How Does Film Have Its Influence on Real Life?” held at the newly opened Shanghai Film Museum with moderator and state-owned newspaper China Daily film critic Raymond Zhou.

“Mr. Stone, you sound like one of China’s angry young men,” chided Zhou.

Despite repeated attempts from the moderator to redirect the discussion and Zhou’s requests not to discuss political matters, Stone castigated the Bush administration, the Iraq war, the Kuwait Invasion and American imperialism.

Stone defended movies that criticize authority, from war movies to crime movies. But he did caution that violence must be used responsibly. He also pointed to the media’s influence on the culture of violence, from Newtown and Columbine to the Bush-era wars.

Cherish the irony. The Chinese hosts wanted the event to appear non-political, in order to highlight their film colony’s entrance into the world arena. But evidently they did not know Oliver Stone well enough.  As he noted, “Movies that glorify war give permission to the leaders to make war,” although his criticism was reserved only for the United States, and not to any of the many times that the Communist nations he supports have used their own media to do precisely that which he claims to find objectionable.

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The administration finally acknowledged, in a press release issued by Deputy National Security Adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes, that the U.S. now believes that on two occasions Assad has used the chemical agent sarin on the civilian population. So the so-called “red line” that Barack Obama said Bashar Assad would not be permitted to cross has been crossed.

Some conservatives, like Max Boot, are not happy. “That’s it?,” he writes. “No announcement of air strikes on chemical-weapons stockpiles or other government targets. No imposition of a no-fly zone. Not even an announcement that emergency shipments of arms would be rushed to the rebels.”

The result will be—as we have seen—an increased level of rhetoric, plus skimpily promised statements that we will increase arms shipments to Syrian rebels. With over 90,000 dead (more by some estimates), the ranks of those clamoring for intervention to stop the Syrian regime from more slaughter are increasing.

Perhaps if Barack Obama had acted two years ago, when Syria’s rebels were spontaneously emerging from the oppressed populace and were not dominated by radical Islamists and the ranks of al-Qaeda, it might have done some good.  Now, when to give the rebels arms means backing one group of fanatical Islamists against another, a victory for the rebels would make things no better for the Syrian people than would the victory of Assad.

This is one of the rare times I agree with the political philosopher Michael Walzer, who said in an interview with The Times of Israel that “now you have jihadi fighters on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other, and it really doesn’t look like there’s much to choose between. It’s almost impossible to describe a desirable outcome in this civil war, and if you don’t have a desirable outcome — you can’t intervene.”

Walzer’s rules for intervening should be taken seriously by the likes of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman, who continue to advocate intervening on behalf of Assad’s opponents. Walzer argues that if the U.S. were to intervene, the following conditions should be prerequisites:

Firstly, the US must “pick a winner” and make sure he is capable of governing Syria; secondly, the US must secure Assad’s weapons arsenal and prevent it from leaking into neighboring countries; and finally the new (presumably) Sunni government must guarantee the physical safety of the country’s minorities: Alawites, Druze, Christians and Kurds.

And these conditions cannot be met simply by establishing no-fly zones. They require American and European troops, something that the American population will not support and that NATO will not back, unlike when Bill Clinton was president and the bombing campaign against the Serb government  took place to stop the slaughter of the Bosnian people by the Serbian military.

As for former President Clinton, he fired the first shot in his wife’s forthcoming presidential campaign when he told a conference organized by Senator McCain that Obama should act more forcefully to aid the anti-Assad rebels. He argued the American public elected presidents “to see down the road and to win.” Speaking at a closed event (Clinton said he did not realize his remarks were being recorded), he said Obama risked looking like a “total fool” if he listened too closely to public-opinion polls and acted too cautiously.

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The more one learns, the harder it is to reach a conclusion on the vital issue of what trade-offs we should support when it comes to protecting our national security while keeping our civil liberties intact.

It was so much easier in the early days of the Cold War. The forces of the American Left ludicrously charged that America had gone fascist because the Truman administration had created an employee security program that set up loyalty boards to inquire whether government employees belonged to the Communist Party or any of its myriad front groups. Scores of government employees resigned to avoid being questioned, and others were dismissed after hearings.

There were abuses of the program, but one point had been made. The U.S. government did not owe anyone a job, and those who were enemies of our country had a right to be fired. The disputes were over whether or not those who were innocent were subject to dismissal only because of their opinions.

John B. Judis writes about his own FBI files at TNR.com, discussing how his public writing put him under constant surveillance by the FBI and other agencies of the government — although everything he did was public, peaceful, and protected by our constitutional rights. The intrusions he suffered, “which to this day may or may not have had something to do with my politics, certainly make me sympathetic to the rightwing groups who were barraged by inquiries from the IRS — whether or not these inquiries were directed by higher-ups in the administration.” Hence Judis worries that the government has learned little, and is targeting all citizens without real reason. As he sees it, the Cold War era has lessons for today.

In our own day and age, the issues have become far more complex. Should we support an ever-larger national-security state that allows our government to adopt programs that could, now or at some future time, impinge on our rights? Is it necessary to have the NSA meta-mine our phone and Internet data in order to find the terrorist cell that might exist or the one individual planning to do us harm?

Where do conservatives and liberals line up on this issue?

First, let us look at the libertarians. A few months ago, Rand Paul released a video explaining his fear that our country has reached the conditions spelled out in George Orwell’s classic Cold War novel 1984. Having reached this conclusion before the current brouhaha, it is not surprising that Paul has introduced legislation that would curb the NSA’s current programs. Paul speaks coherently and sincerely about his fears, and his realization that Orwell’s predictions, meant to convey the reality of totalitarianism that existed in the Soviet bloc, now speaks to our predicament. Whether he is exaggerating his conclusion is up to viewers to decide.

A more restrained and responsible argument has been made at Reason by Mike Riggs, who argues that keeping our surveillance programs totally secret negates the very power of our democracy: “In the event that they have doubts that the American people will support a program they believe is necessary to national security, they are obligated to bring that program up for debate, not classify it and hope no one finds out.”

Second, let us turn to the arguments of the defenders of the Obama administration’s program. In today’s Washington Post, Marc Thiessen develops the view that the leaks by former Booz Allen consultant Edward Snowden “are incredibly damaging to national security.” To Thiessen, the arguments of Paul and company are downright ridiculous. The NSA programs, he writes, are “lawful, constitutional and absolutely vital to protecting the country.” It is simply a matter of gaining material so that dots can be connected and a potential terrorist attack can be stopped in its tracks. Thiessen believes that it is done with a warrant, approved by a federal judge in the FISA court.

Agreeing with Thiessen is the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Criticizing “self-styled civil libertarians,” the editors argue that if the meta-mining is stopped, it is likely to harm more individual rights than if it did not exist, since the NSA is searching for algorithms and patterns, and not targeting individuals per se. As for PRISM, the other program exposed by Mr. Snowden, the editors argue that it targets only foreigners and does not impinge at all on American citizens. “What our self-styled civil libertarians should really fear,” the editors write, “is another successful terror attack like 9/11, or one with WMD.”

Also writing on its editorial page is Michael Mukasey, the U.S. attorney general from 2007 to 2009. Arguing that the data collected is neither pervasive nor unlawful, Mukasey writes that those who see the “specter of George Orwell” in the NSA programs are essentially crazy. Always yelling “1984,” Mukasey writes, these critics on both the left and right ignore the fact that we know one terrorist attack in New York City was prevented by the program. Mukasey concludes that those who think the programs are perverse and dangerous are “downright irrational.” As for Snowden and his releases, Mukasey says they indeed did real damage to our nation, since “every time we tell terrorists how we can detect them, we encourage them to find ways to avoid detection.”

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What precisely do we know about Samantha Power, the president’s new nominee for the post of ambassador to the United Nations?

I ask the question for one reason: Power, it seems, has won the support of some conservatives, as well as some friends of Israel. Judging from the numerous articles appearing in the past day or so that have fully sketched out some of her most loathsome views, the support she is receiving is more than troubling. Indeed, it is perplexing.

I suspect the favorable response to the president’s appointment comes from her reputation as a liberal interventionist who is at the forefront of supporting U.S. action when a regime abroad is moving towards genocide or a gross abuse of human rights, and when the United States in her eyes is capable of doing something to stop it. As we know, Power, who wrote a major prize-winning book about genocide, was at the forefront of those urging U.S. action against Colonel Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.

I once quipped that liberals favor humanitarian intervention and the use of American military force when human rights are being threatened and when the regime in question cannot be said to be harming basic American national security interests. On the other hand, these same liberals oppose the use of force when our interests are threatened directly, and often call advocates of U.S. military actions “imperialists” who are acting to protect the American empire.

Hence they are for intervention when it isn’t necessary, and against it when it is!

If we look back at Libya, two things are most clear. Qaddafi led a vile and oppressive regime that under his command had directly harmed the United States. But under pressure — unlike Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-Un — he gave up his nuclear-power complex and stopped developing a nuclear arsenal. Yet, because he publicly threatened to obliterate his domestic opponents and physically destroy them, President Obama argued that the U.S. was obliged to act to depose him in order to prevent a major human rights catastrophe.

Part of his reasoning came right from Samantha Power’s arguments — particularly the one in which she asserted the argument known as “Responsibility to Protect.” As Monica Crowley writes, her doctrine states that “the U.S. has a moral responsibility to intervene anywhere there is a slaughter or the potential of slaughter (whether our strategic interests are involved or not). She successfully argued ‘R2P’ (as it’s known) and Obama led the NATO operation that helped to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi (who had not initiated an assault against his people).”

One has only to compare Obama’s actions on Libya with those he took against Assad in Syria. Except for endlessly repeating that Assad has to step down, Obama did nothing at all. Even after Assad began to kill thousands of people, the president did not act.

He acted in Libya when there was no slaughter; he did not act in Syria when there was.

Now over 80,000 have been killed, and Assad has used sarin, a poison gas. So much for Power’s policy of “humanitarian intervention.”

As for Power’s views on other critical questions, others have already gone through them and offered a rundown of what she stands for. You can find her worst statements at the Washington Free Beacon. A more extensive summary can be found in Arnold Ahlert’s article at Frontpagemag.com.

Perhaps the most famous of her views come from her 2003 article in The New Republic, in which she outlined what became the Obama policy of apologizing to the world for America’s sins. Here, Power wrote:

Some anti-Americanism derives simply from our being a colossus that bestrides the earth. This resentment may be incurable. But much anti- Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others.

U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA to its pre- Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors

Then there are Power’s views on Israel. Calling for a major U.S. military force to be placed in Israel to enforce an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, she argued that it might be difficult, since it “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and social import.” She obviously meant American Jews and groups like AIPAC.

A few years later, when asked about her own statement at the time, she answered: “Even I don’t understand it … it doesn’t make sense to me.” Actually, Power did obviously remember why she said that. Relatively young and very smart, Power could hardly forget.

Martin Kramer, president-elect of Shalem College in Jerusalem and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, revealed the truth about why she made that statement. Writing in 2008, Kramer showed that Power’s disavowal of her own statement, which she attempted to say occurred because it was stated in the context of “discussing the deployment of international peacekeepers,” was meant to make it seem plausible.

Kramer reveals that at that time Power was influenced by the Canadian intellectual Michael Ignatieff. Ten days before Power called for U.S. troops to be stationed in Israel, Ignatieff had written his own op-ed titled “Why Bush must send in his troops.” That editorial, Kramer comments, “includes every trendy calumny against Israel.”

Ignatieff’s point was that the United States had to use force to get Israel to accept and to move towards a two-state solution. Powers, he concludes, shared this vision “with her closest colleague” at Harvard’s Carr Center.

His text, Kramer writes, “was exactly what Power meant.”

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Al Sharpton 1988

Do you remember Tawana Brawley? If not, you must go and watch the video co-produced by RetroReport and the New York Times. The Times starts by giving us a wrap-up of the case:

The news reports at the time, in the late 1980s, were horrific. Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African-American girl from New York State, was said to have been abducted and repeatedly raped by six white men. She was found with “KKK” written across her chest, a racial epithet on her stomach and her hair smeared with feces. She was so traumatized, according to reports, that at the hospital she answered yes-or-no questions by blinking her eyes. Making the crime even more vile, if that were possible, she and her lawyers later claimed that two of the rapists were law enforcement officials.

Enter a relatively unknown (at the time) African-American activist named Reverend Al Sharpton. Rushing to get in touch with young Tawana, Reverend Al became her mentor, spokesman, and leader of the mass protests demanding justice for Brawley, the victim of an apparent white racist attack. In the process, Sharpton accused the police officer — who Sharpton said had actually attacked her — along with the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, Steven Pagones. “The evidence,” Sharpton said, proved that “an assistant district attorney and a state trooper did this.” Sharpton led mass picket lines at New York state offices, which I recall at times included the always gullible folk singer Pete Seeger.

We all know the outcome, although with this new short documentary, a new generation may be hearing about it for the first time. The Times notes: “After seven months, 6,000 pages of testimony and 180 witnesses, a grand jury found Ms. Brawley’s story to be a lie. Neither the police officer nor the district attorney accused by Ms. Brawley and Mr. Sharpton had been involved in any way, the report concluded.” It was too late for Officer Harry Crist Jr., who committed suicide because of the false accusations made against him, or for Assistant DA Pagones, whose career was ruined and whose reputation was smeared.

Writing today at The Daily Beast, Stuart Stevens calls it a “shocking reminder of the toxic mix racial exploitation and personal ambition can produce.” It should be, he writes, “required viewing for the NBC News executives who are heavily invested in rehabilitating a key culprit of this loathsome episode: the Rev. Al Sharpton.” Stevens is correct, and let me put it more boldly: It is time for MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, to fire Rev. Al Sharpton.

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