Main The plot to scapegoat Russia: how the CIA and the deep State have conspired to vilify Putin

The plot to scapegoat Russia: how the CIA and the deep State have conspired to vilify Putin

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An in-depth look at the decades-long effort to escalate hostilities with Russia and what it portends for the future.

Since 1945, the US has justified numerous wars, interventions, and military build-ups based on the pretext of the Russian Red Menace, even after the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991 and Russia stopped being Red. In fact, the two biggest post-war American conflicts, the Korean and Vietnam wars, were not, as has been frequently claimed, about stopping Soviet aggression or even influence, but about maintaining old colonial relationships. Similarly, many lesser interventions and conflicts, such as those in Latin America, were also based upon an alleged Soviet threat, which was greatly overblown or nonexistent. And now the specter of a Russian Menace has been raised again in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

The Plot to Scapegoat Russia examines the recent proliferation of stories, usually sourced from American state actors, blaming and manipulating the threat of Russia, and the long history of which this episode is but the latest chapter. It will show readers two key things: (1) the ways in which the United States has needlessly provoked Russia, especially after the collapse of the USSR, thereby squandering hopes for peace and cooperation; and (2) how Americans have lost out from this missed opportunity, and from decades of conflicts based upon false premises. These revelations, amongst other, make The Plot to Scapegoat Russia one of the timeliest reads of 2017.
Year:
2017
Publisher:
Skyhorse Pub
Language:
english
Pages:
199
ISBN 10:
1510730338
ISBN 13:
9781510730335
File:
EPUB, 853 KB
Download (epub, 853 KB)

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[image: Half Title of Plot to Scapegoat Russia]


[image: Title Page of Plot to Scapegoat Russia]


Copyright © 2017 by Dan Kovalik

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Skyhorse Publishing books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or info@skyhorsepublishing.com.

Skyhorse® and Skyhorse Publishing® are registered trademarks of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.®, a Delaware corporation.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

Cover design by Brian Peterson

Print ISBN: 978-1-5107-3032-8

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5107-3033-5

Printed in the United States of America


CONTENTS

Foreword

Introduction

  1   Cold War Kid

  2   The New Cold War (Not) the Same as the Old One

  3   Back in the USSR

  4   Our Killers and Theirs

  5   The US Draws First Blood

  6   Our Prayers Are Answered, but Still Peace Has Not Come

  7   Clinton Meddles in Russia with Disastrous Consequences

  8   “Our Backyard”

  9   Bill Clinton and “Humanitarian Intervention”

10   Hillary and the Honduran Coup

11   The US Expands as Russia Contracts: Broken Promises and Humiliation

12   Unleashing Terror to Win the Cold War

13   The Real Attack on US Democracy

14   Give Peace a Chance

Endnotes

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM SKYHORSE PUBLISHING


“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

— George W. Bush, July 2016


FOREWORD

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING … ; again. It seems that al-Qaeda, ISIS, North Koreans, Mexican “bad hombres,” and various other bogeymen were insufficient to the task of terrifying Americans. So now the US war machine—that vast complex of weapons manufacturers, Wall Street speculators, saber-rattling Washington politicians, armchair generals, and the media industry that thrives on boom and bang (or the “beautiful pictures of our fearsome armaments” in the unforgettable words of MSNBC’s Brian Williams)—has revived the tried and true Red Scare. Day after day, night after night, the US citizenry is bombarded with scare stories about the evil machinations of Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin henchmen. How they stole our democracy and are scheming to conquer the entire NATO alliance. How they are building a military machine and nuclear arsenal that threaten to eclipse our own. How they are subverting the global free press with its low-ratings Russia Today network and army of hackers and trolls. How they are blocking peace in the Middle East with their machinations in Syria.

This massive anti-Russian propaganda campaign is one of the biggest fake news operations in US history. And we’ve had some colossal ones, dating back to the days of the Spanish American War, when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst instructed artist Frederic Remington to help him fabricate a clash of forces that did not exist: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Ever since World War I, war has been America’s lucrative “racket,” in the mordant observation of Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, the most decorated marine of his day. The country’s economic engine runs on blood and oil. Without the constant specter of a foreign enemy, there is no American prosperity. President Donald Trump couldn’t find the money to rebuild our collapsing infrastructure, but he could burn through $93 million to hurl fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield to send a message that he was no Putin puppet.

Trump promised to ease growing East-West tensions by finding common ground with Moscow. But the US national security state—and its numerous media assets—soon convinced him of the folly of peace. Putin is doomed to become the baddest hombre in the Trump shooting gallery.

I have no desire to live or work in Putin’s Russia. Independent journalists and dissident leaders are constantly at risk there. But while the Kremlin casts a shadow over Russia’s own freedom and democracy, its ability to project power and influence abroad is wildly overstated by the US war lobby. Russia’s economy has shrunk so much that its GDP is roughly that of Spain. The US military budget is bigger than that of the next seven countries combined, while Russia spends less than Saudi Arabia on defense.

Russia’s intervention in the sovereign affairs of other nations pales in comparison to the massive intrusions of the US security juggernaut. Over the past century, the US military and the CIA have overthrown democratically elected governments in Guatemala, Iran, Congo, Chile, and Indonesia; assassinated, jailed, or exiled leaders in these and other countries; subverted governments and elections in even allied countries like France and Italy; and hacked the phones of friendly leaders in Germany and Brazil. When US covert operations prove unable to impose our will on foreign affairs, Washington puts boots on the ground, invading and occupying nations from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Accusations of Russian interference from a country that routinely big-foots the rest of the world surely rank as some of the biggest displays of chutzpah in history.

Despite its diminished stature in recent years, Russia (along with China) is the only country capable of even marginally standing in the way of Washington’s vast imperial ventures. Therefore, it must be turned into a pariah state by the dependable media servants of the US security complex. It’s the so-called liberal media—including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC—that is taking the lead in demonizing Russia, just as it did during the first Cold War when CIA spymasters like Allen Dulles wined and dined the Washington press corps and fed them their headlines and talking points.

The deep state crowed when Trump abandoned his flirtation with Putin. “This was inevitable,” opined Philip H. Gordon, a former NSC apparatchik now embedded at the Council on Foreign Relations, a national security bastion since the days of Dulles. “Trump’s early let’s-be-friends initiative was incompatible with our interests, and you knew it would end in tears.” Whose interests was Gordon referring to? Certainly not the interests of the American people, who are sick and tired of endless war and foreign intrigue and yearn for a leader who will truly put their well-beings first.

Unlike our war-obsessed media, human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik does understand that peace and diplomacy are in the best interests of the American and Russian peoples. His book is an urgently needed counterassault against the propaganda forces that are trying to push us over a precipice that is too terrifying to even contemplate. It’s time for all of us to speak truth to power before it’s too late.

—David Talbot

April 2017


INTRODUCTION

THIS BOOK GREW OUT OF AN article I wrote for Huffington Post entitled “Listen Liberals: Russia Is Not Our Enemy,” which was written in response to what I view as the bizarre hysteria over Russia—a hysteria that has been reignited in the past several years and which is most recently being manifested in the current frenzy over what some are now calling, “Russia-gate.” The hubbub relates to allegations that Vladimir Putin somehow attempted—though no one really thinks to great effect—to influence the outcome of the 2016 elections in support of his “friend” or “dupe” or “puppet,” Donald J. Trump.

This harkens back to the 1962 film (re-made in 2004), The Manchurian Candidate, in which a man unwittingly becomes an assassin for the communists who have brain-washed him. Some currently pushing the anti-Russia conspiracy theory are even referring to Trump as “the Manchurian candidate.” As the synopsis for the film on Wikipedia explains, “[t]he film was released in the United States on October 24, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” which is universally viewed as the tensest and most dangerous moment of the (old) Cold War.

Of course, the current invocation of The Manchurian Candidate makes perfect sense given that we are now in the throes of a new, and I would argue equally dangerous, Cold War. As for how dangerous it is, Senator John McCain has ominously stated that, in considering the Russian hacking issue, we need to consider “what constitutes an act of war or aggression in cyberspace that would merit a military response.”1 There are also Democrats, like Congressperson Bonnie Watson Coleman, who are likewise opining that what the Russians did, or were alleged to do, “is a form of war, a form of war on our fundamental democratic principles.”

A curious, but I believe relevant note about The Manchurian Candidate, was that it starred none other than Frank Sinatra. Sinatra had once been a solid leftist, famously doing a ten-minute anti-racist short in 1945 called “The House I Live In,” in which he sang a song by the same name written by Earl Robinson (music) and Abel Meeropol (lyrics).2 Earl Robinson was a Communist who was later blacklisted during the McCarthy period. For his part, Abel, who most famously wrote “Strange Fruit” for Billie Holiday, was also persecuted during the McCarthy period and went on to adopt the two sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after they were executed for alleged Soviet espionage in 1953. It is generally-accepted today that Ethel, maybe the most emblematic victim of the McCarthy period, was certainly innocent of the charges against her, was prosecuted to put pressure on Julius to talk, and was put to death anyway. Indeed, her two sons are still trying to pursue justice for Ethel to this day.3

Sinatra had befriended a number of blacklisted writers during the McCarthy period, and even openly dined with them to publically show his support for them. He went on to aggressively campaign for John F. Kennedy for president, and indeed his song, “High Hopes” became Kennedy’s campaign anthem. By the time he starred in The Manchurian Candidate, however, Sinatra had turned his back on the left, resentful of how the Kennedys had turned their back on him over his ostensible ties to the Mafia. Sinatra would become an arch-conservative, as many from that era did, ultimately supporting Ronald Reagan for President. I guess this goes to show that you just didn’t cross ’Ole Blue Eyes.

But more importantly, the early career of Frank Sinatra, one of the greatest American entertainers ever, shows how influential the left in general, and the Communist Party in particular, were in this society at one point, and, I would argue, for the good. The McCarthy trials effectively diminished the influence that the left, both Communist and otherwise, had on our society, and that was of course their intent.

What is shaping up to be a new McCarthy period, in which people are accused of being dupes for Russia for simply questioning the prevailing anti-Russian discourse, is obviously different from the old one, but with essentially the same intention and effect—to curb dissent, particularly in regard to US foreign policy, which, by any rational measure, is incredibly destructive for our country and the world at large. It is also intended to distract Americans from the real crimes that its own country is committing. I will give but one example of this for now.

According to the United Nations, the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today is happening in Yemen. I doubt that you would know this from the mainstream media because they do not talk about it very much, and certainly not with the frequency with which it deserves. Simply put, Yemen, one of the poorest nations on earth, is being brought to the brink of famine by a one-sided war which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are waging against the largely Shia population there. Now into its third year, the war has left “over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.”4 What’s more, the US has been supporting this war with billions of dollars of armaments, including cluster bombs; logistical support, including mid-flight refueling of Saudi coalition bomber planes; and with intelligence and location-tracking support. The support for the Saudi war effort began under Obama and seems to be intensifying under Trump. The result is that the civilian population is being killed in great numbers, and there is a great risk, according to the UN again, that in this already food-insecure country, over 7 million people could perish from starvation, and over 18 million will die without immediate humanitarian assistance.5

And yet there is near-silence about this conflict and the US role in it from our mainstream press. Instead, the press would have you spend all of your emotional energy worrying about what Vladimir Putin may be up to in Ukraine, or in Syria or, allegedly, in Trump’s White House. At the same time, there appears to be little concern over the bizarre hold that the retrograde, repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia has over US foreign policy, or even that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, approved a $29 billion shipment of fighters to Saudi Arabia—some of these jets are certainly being used against Yemen right now—after both Saudi Arabia and the maker of the jets (Boeing) made donations to the Clinton Foundation.6

Meanwhile, reminiscent of the old Cold War and the McCarthyite witch hunt that was one of the more shameful aspects of it, my Huffington Post article provoked much vitriol. Thus, for arguing that maybe we should re-consider whether Russia and Vladimir Putin are truly threats to our democracy and freedom as some are arguing, I was accused by some of being a Russian “agent” or at least a “useful idiot” of the Kremlin—the latter slur deriving from a quote usually attributed to Joseph Stalin.

I expect such attacks, and worse, after this book is published, as it is now quite fashionable to go around accusing people of working in the interests of Vladimir Putin and Moscow. Indeed, just the other day, Senator John McCain, on the floor of the Senate, accused a fellow Republican legislator, Rand Paul, of “working for Vladimir Putin” because Paul had the temerity to suggest that the US start reconsidering its current levels of funding for NATO. It is indeed the silly season. However, not all the reactions to my piece were bad. Indeed, some were quite validating. For example, I received an email from Ray McGovern, a man I had never spoken with before, but who I discovered had served as an analyst for the CIA from 1963 to 1990, chaired National Intelligence Estimates in the 1980s and received the Intelligence Commendation Medal upon retirement. McGovern is now an outspoken critic of many of the CIA’s practices, including torture, and is very skeptical of the current claims about Russia hacking. In any case, Mr. McGovern emailed me a simple message. Under the subject line, “MANY THANKS,” he wrote the following message: “from Jerusalem w Veterans For Peace group doing solidarity w Palestinians your piece is good; i’ve asked son/webmeister joseph to post on raymcgovern. Keep em coming! r.”

For me, this message was very rich in meaning. First of all, the fact that a long-time CIA analyst turned critic thought I was on track with my message, and bothered telling me while he was on a trip half way around the world, gave me great encouragement. Truth be told, it has been others just like Ray—others who left the CIA in disgust and became activists against the war machine—who have played probably the biggest role in helping me to view the world as I do today.

Thus, at the University of Dayton in the late 1980s, my activist friends and I spent a lot of time studying the crimes of the CIA, most of which were revealed by former agents. There was a veritable cottage industry of these guys writing and speaking at that time, and we couldn’t get enough. Our interest was sparked at that time by what was a pretty big national movement to protest CIA recruitment on college campuses, and the CIA did indeed recruit at our school every year. We thought this was particularly inappropriate at a Catholic school like ours.

Probably the most famous of the CIA exiles was Phil Agee, who is universally regarded as the first CIA officer to blow the whistle on “the Company,” as he and others called the CIA. I myself was particularly interested in Agee because his background was a lot like mine—he was a devout Catholic who went to Catholic schools his whole life, eventually graduating from Notre Dame in 1956. He actually overlapped with my dad, who also went to Notre Dame and graduated shortly after Agee. Just to give a little context here, my dad used to gleefully recount how a priest at Notre Dame would organize football players to go out and beat up Communists on campus. Or, at least, the victims were accused of being Communists. This was, after all, in the 1950’s, during the McCarthy Period, when a Communist was seen lurking in every closet. Maybe, in fact, these “Communists” were merely unionists or civil rights activists or Democrats, or others who represented the main evil Senator McCarthy was trying to wipe out—President Roosevelt’s New Deal. In any case, whomever these poor folks were, they got a good ass-whooping.

After several years of training, Agee worked as undercover agent for eight years in Latin America—in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, in particular.7 While he joined the Company, as I assume most people do, out of a sincere belief that it was an institution necessary to protect the US from various evils around the globe, most notably from those inspired and/or supported by the USSR, he soon became disillusioned by the evils that he and his fellow agents perpetrated.

In particular, Agee became quite upset by his being a party to the torture of people in Uruguay, some of whom, as the agents were quite aware, knew nothing and had done nothing. Rather, they were simply guinea pigs taken off the street at random to try various torture techniques out on. As Agee would say later, these people couldn’t even say anything to stop the torture because they had no information to give to stop it. Agee left the CIA in disgust, saying, “‘[a]fter 12 years with the agency I finally understood how much suffering it was causing, that millions of people all over the world had been killed or had their lives destroyed by the CIA and the institutions it supports.’”8

Meanwhile, John Stockwell was another former CIA agent who made a huge impression on me. I don’t remember how we came into possession of it, but my friend Jon and I listened over and over to a cassette tape which contained a speech by Stockwell. It was incredibly revelatory. Stockwell too tells how he joined the CIA for all the right reasons and then became disillusioned by what he witnessed in Angola, where he was stationed. At that time, the US and South Africa were supporting the UNITA counter-revolutionary forces against the revolutionary Angolan government, which in turn was being bolstered by Cuban ground forces.

Stockwell explained how the CIA manipulated the news about the Angolan conflict. He related that it was in fact easy to do so because the press, both gullible and lazy, was willing to publish any story they put out, no matter how outlandish. For example, Stockwell explained how he and his CIA team submitted fake stories about one particular Cuban military unit, all of which were dutifully published in the papers. In this instance, they stated that a Cuban unit raped Angolan women. This unit was attacked and wiped out by UNITA forces, only to then miraculously return from the dead to continue more mayhem. He assured the listener that such CIA tales continue to be passed along as news by the media. He also explained how he ended up deciding that it was the Cubans who were the good guys in the Angolan conflict.

Armed with such knowledge, my activist friends and I ended up taking over the University President’s office for three days in protest of CIA recruitment on campus. While we were not able to prevail upon the University to end this recruitment, we were allowed to help plan a speaker series on the CIA which included, at our urging, a talk by Phil Agee. Agee at that time was travelling under Cuban and Nicaraguan passports, his US passport having been stripped from him long before. Soon after we met Agee, he would go into self-exile in Cuba, where he would peacefully die at the age of 72.

I guess this is a long way to explain why Ray McGovern’s email message about my Russia piece meant so much to me, and also triggered long-held feelings about the evils of US foreign policy, the lies told to make us go along with this policy, and the particular role the CIA has in both the policy and the lies. All of this is quite relevant to the current discussion about alleged Russian hacking and the greater story being weaved about Vladimir Putin.

Of course, the character of Vladimir Putin, and I call it “the character,” or really “the caricature” of Putin that the press is feeding us, is important because he is being thrust before us as a symbol or proxy for a revived Russia, which we are being encouraged to hate and fear again, just as we did during the first Cold War. This process of fear-mongering has been going on for some time, but is now being even further exaggerated by the Democrats, who are desperately looking for anyone but themselves to blame for their seemingly impossible loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 elections.

And the press is more than happy to go along with this Putin/Russia bashing based upon facts which are exaggerated, invented and sometimes just plain false. I’ll give an example: I was listening to NPR, and I heard David Greene, a fellow Pittsburgher, do a story about the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.9

First of all, what immediately struck me about the story was that NPR was transparently seizing on an event which happened almost a decade ago to fan the flames of anti-Russian sentiment. Indeed, here is how Greene sets up the piece:


You know, one thing you can say about Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin—when he spots an opportunity, he grabs it. I mean, here’s just a list—alleged cybermeddling in last year’s US presidential election; sending his military into Syria, into Crimea, into Ukraine. And now here’s another story that is not so well-known. And it takes us to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and a renegade province called South Ossetia, which sits right on Russia’s southern border. This Putin opportunity came in 2008 when Georgia tried to put down South Ossetia’s drive for independence. Russia’s military moved right in.



At least to me, the way this story was framed was so obviously meant to keep the NPR listenership wariness about Putin at a fever pitch. Greene is obviously just trying to stack up as many of Putin’s misdeeds as he can, for example stretching Crimea and Ukraine into two conflicts when they are arguably one given that Crimea is a disputed territory between Ukraine and Russia. The problem for people like Greene, of course, is that as bad as Putin might be, he just isn’t involved in that many conflicts beyond Russia’s borders, certainly not when compared with the US, which certainly outdoes him in this respect by leaps and bounds.

Moreover, the simplistic way in which “journalists” like Greene paint such conflicts as the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict—with clear good guys and bad guys—simply does not fairly take into account the reality that the countries and peoples of the former Soviet Union are still suffering the growing pains (or really, shrinking pains) of the tumultuous collapse of the USSR in 1991. To lay this all of this on the feet of Vladimir Putin is overly simplistic, one-sided and simply bad journalism, again, if you could even call what people like David Greene do journalism.

This brings us to the most glaring problem with this piece: in order to tag Putin with as many ostensible crimes as possible, Greene simply invents one. Thus, Putin was not President at the time that Russian troops were sent into South Ossetia, and he consequently did not order this invasion. Rather, the Russian President who ordered that invasion was a leader whom the US (though apparently not the Russian people so much) actually likes—Dmitry Medvedev.10 The reason I know this is that I paid very close attention to this conflict at the time, given that the leader on the other side of the conflict—then-Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili—graduated from Columbia Law School just one year after me in 1994.

So, just to connect the dots here, Greene pulls out an event from nearly a decade ago to try to tarnish Putin with, and it turns out that Putin wasn’t even behind this event. What we have here, then, is propaganda, pure and simple. And not from Fox & Friends, but really from the Fox & Friends for liberals—National Public Radio, which must be trustworthy, because they talk in a soft voice and play jazz and classical music between news segments.

Still, their apparently liberal bona fides do not prevent the good folks at NPR from cheerleading every US intervention, threatened or ongoing; minimizing the cruelties of these interventions and over-emphasizing the misdeeds of our adversaries. As just one example of this, I recall vividly listening to NPR’s Scott Simon when he gave a whole monologue on how the US “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003—a campaign which, of course, was wholly premised on lies—constituted a “humane bombing.”11 Our bombs just don’t hurt as much, apparently, because of the loving intentions behind them. George Orwell is rolling in his grave.

To analyze the current anti-Putin/Russia hysteria, we must do what the mainstream press will not. First and foremost, we must honestly analyze our own role in the world. This is more difficult than it may seem at first blush, given our seemingly unshakeable belief in the myth of “American Exceptionalism”—that is, the belief that the US is a uniquely benign actor in the world, spreading peace and democracy wherever we go. I think when we objectively look at the US’s actions—even when compared to Russia’s over the past fifty or so years—and the reasonably foreseeable results of those actions, we shall see that this belief is wholly unwarranted.

Of course, that this is true, as I believe, would certainly not excuse any meddling by Putin in our democratic process. But I think when one analyzes the “meddling” allegations being made at this point, they largely boil down to the claim that Russia attempted to undermine Americans’ faith in their own democratic system through the spreading of “fake news.” My answer to this would be that the spreading of “fake news” has been much more effectively done by those in our own country (most notably the CIA itself, which is pushing the “Russia-gate” issue so hard) who are so invested in the waging of eternal war, and by the subservient press which is complicit in this. I would also say that the “fake news” component of the Russia-bating is much more damning of us than the Russians. Thus, if the US democratic system is so fragile and brittle that it could be impacted by the machinations of “internet trolls” (which the Senate Intelligence Committee spent a whole day talking about) or by RT News broadcasters, this says volumes about the poor state of our own democratic institutions. And indeed, these institutions are in a poor state, and this has many reasons, none of which can be blamed on Russia, though it may make us feel better to do so.

A final, related issue before we dive in is whether, by writing this book, I am somehow apologizing for the misdeeds of Vladimir Putin. In the end, others will have to, and I’m sure will, be the judge of that, but I would submit that what I am trying to do is not to apologize for Putin or to deny his own wrongdoings, but to explain them; to put them in some context, particularly in the context of US conduct, which has been seen, many times quite reasonably, as hostile to Russia and its interests, and which have helped bring us to the point where our two countries now stand in relation to each other.

I think what often happens when we talk about the types of issues raised in this book—for example, human rights, or the rightness of military action—there is a very strong tendency to focus on the failures of others rather than of ourselves. While this may be comforting, it is largely useless, because we have much more control over the conduct of our own country (at least to the extent it is truly democratic) than we do over others. In addition, it is the essence of morality to meditate on one’s own wrongdoing, to try to find ways to make up for it and to be resolved not to repeat it. That is, as the Bible tells us, we are called to refrain from picking a speck from our brother’s or sister’s eye when we have a plank in our own. In that spirit, this book focuses on the sizeable plank in our own eye with the hope that we can pull it out ourselves.


1

COLD WAR KID

SINCE CHILDHOOD, I HAVE BEEN FASCINATED by Russia. In my early years, I was, like many in this country during those Cold War days, quite fearful of Russia—then the USSR—and viewed it as the greatest threat in the world to democracy, freedom, and “our way of life.” I vividly remember thinking, as I enjoyed a day riding the roller coasters at the amusement park or watching my favorite television shows, “I bet they don’t have these kinds of things in Russia.” Such thoughts gave me a very warm feeling of comfort and moral superiority.

My fear of Russia at this time was indeed religious. As with many fellow conservative Roman Catholics at that time, it was my wont to say the Rosary for the purpose of asking Our Lady of Fatima for the “conversion of Russia.” Of course, what this meant was praying for Russia to be “converted” from its then-current state as the Communist Soviet Union to some type of “free,” “democratic” and free-market nation, like the United States. If this conversion took place, I certainly believed, the world would find itself at peace, and free from the threat of a nuclear holocaust which I was otherwise certain was forthcoming.

As I grew older, I came to find that life and geo-politics were much more complicated than originally thought. The war in Central America in the 1980’s was a huge eye-opener for me. It began to gnaw at me that the US was arming and training quite repressive military forces, in the case of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, against the peoples of much weaker and poorer countries than ourselves.

My interest in Central America began in the fall of 1979, when two new students entered my small, and hitherto all-white middle school of St. Andrew’s in Milford, Ohio, about a 30-minute drive to downtown Cincinnati. The two students were named Juan and Carlos Garcia. And, they had just moved to town from Managua, Nicaragua.

Juan and Carlos were huge kids, much taller and heavier than any other student at the school. Indeed, Juan ended up playing center for our middle school’s basketball team. As anyone who has visited Nicaragua would tell you, the large size of these two boys was quite unusual for a country which, especially back then, was so poor and undernourished. However, Juan and Carlos claimed to be special: they were the grandsons of the President of Nicaragua who had just been toppled over the summer (on July 19 to be exact) by a rag-tag group of insurgents known as the Sandinistas.

Now, even I knew that the leader toppled in Nicaragua was named Somoza—Anastasio Somoza. However, it is certainly possible that Juan and Carlos had taken on different, and quite common, names to hide their notorious identity. Was it possible that these two affable boys were related to the famous dictator? This seems to me even today to be far-fetched, and my research has not borne fruit on this topic. In any case, the presence of these ostensible Somocistas at my school triggered a life-long curiosity about Central America.

Then, one evening at the age of 12, I was sitting alone in my parents’ room with their tiny TV, watching one of my favorite shows—60 Minutes. On this particular night, 60 Minutes focused on the rape and murder of four Catholic Church women in El Salvador and on the subsequent murder of the Salvadoran Catholic Archbishop, Oscar Romero. Shockingly, the gist of this segment was that those responsible for these crimes were not in fact the left-wing guerillas in El Salvador the US was fighting, but rather, right-wing forces, known as “death squads,” aligned with the government and military which the US was funding and arming. There must have been some sort of mistake or accident, I thought, as I squirmed at this revelation.

This 60 Minutes episode caused me great cognitive dissonance. Why would the US—the most noble, righteous nation in the world, as I believed at the time—be supporting the killing of nuns and bishops? This was quite troubling to me, though I tried to slough it off, excusing our possible excesses as an unfortunate and accidental consequence of our otherwise righteous fight against Communism. But the damage was done. A seed of doubt was starting to germinate within me. And, when I studied the case of El Salvador further, as I did at that time for a school paper, my doubts only grew.

From my reading of history, the US appeared to be on the wrong side of every conflict in El Salvador dating back to 1932—supporting the few rich landowners over the vast poor who were struggling for what seemed to be a fair share of the land and resources.

And, the US’s support of the rich and powerful in that country had disastrous consequences, with mass killings by the US-backed Salvadoran Army, such as in the case of the El Mozote massacre in 1981 which claimed 800 victims, mostly landless peasants and indigenous people.

As Noam Chomksy explains in his introduction to the book Colombia: The Genocidal Democracy, by Father Javier Giraldo (now out of print), the violence inflicted against the Salvadoran population by the army trained and funded by the US was “religious” in nature—many of us would say, though he does not, satanic—but was hardly ever covered in the US press. As Chomsky explains:


The record of horrors is all too full. In the Jesuit America, Rev. Daniel Santiago, a priest working in El Salvador, reported in 1990 the story of a peasant woman who returned home one day to find her mother, sister and three children sitting around the table, the decapitated head of each person placed on the table in front of the body, the hands arranged on top ‘as if each body was stroking its own head’ The assassins, from the Salvadoran National Guard, had found it hard to keep the head of an 18-month-old baby in place, so they nailed the hands to it. A large plastic bowl filled with blood stood in the center of the table.

Two years earlier, the Salvadoran human rights group that continued to function despite the assassination of its founders and directors reported that 13 bodies had been found in the preceding two weeks, most showing signs of torture, including two women who had been hanged from a tree by their hair, their breasts cut off and their faces painted red. The discoveries were familiar, but the timing is significant, just as Washington was successfully completing the cynical exercise of exempting its murderous clients from the terms of the Central America peace accords that called for ‘justice, freedom and democracy,’ ‘respect for human rights,’ and guarantees for ‘the endless inviolability of all forms of life and liberty.’ The record is endless, and endlessly shocking.

Such macabre scenes, which rarely reached the mainstream in the United States, are designed for intimidation. Father Santiago writes that “People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador—they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed in their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the national guard; their wombs are cut from the bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill the children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch.”



When confronted with the fact that my own government was behind such horrors, my response was muddled. I concluded that though possibly mistaken in its historical support for those who oppressed the poor in El Salvador, the US nonetheless had to stay the course against the greatest evil in the world—the Communist menace which, as I recognized, was awakened in El Salvador as a direct consequence of the US’s prior bad policies. In other words, I openly advocated the continuation of a wrong policy to confront a threat created by that policy to begin with—a natural position for a child desperately clinging to a dogma that didn’t make sense (though also a common position for adults trying to justify the worst types of crimes).

My complete and final break with my once-held belief in the inherent goodness of American foreign policy came with the realities I learned about the war in another Central American country—Nicaragua. During my freshman year of College, still under the sway of my anti-Communist ideology, I had very mixed views about Nicaragua. On the one hand, I understood that the Contras were filled with ex-members of the brutal Somoza regime, and that, true to their roots, they were gross human rights abusers. At the same time, I was skeptical of the Sandinistas for what I was told was their strong ties to the Soviet Union and its “client state,” Cuba, and for what I was led to believe was its own human rights abuses.

At the beginning of the summer of 1987, I was reading The Nation magazine when I saw a small ad which caught my eye: “Travel to Nicaragua. Learn about the realities of the revolution while helping Nicaragua grow on a reforestation brigade.” This was an ad placed by the Nicaragua Network which hosted regular delegations to Nicaragua.

I thought to myself that joining such a trip was what I needed to deal with my ambivalence over Nicaragua. I had to see for myself what was happening in that country. Reading opposing narratives of the Nicaraguan experience was simply not helping to resolve the conflict I was having within me over the war in Central America as well as the greater question of the real role of the United States in the world. So, I resolved to travel to Nicaragua in September—the first month of my sophomore year at the University of Dayton.

Professor Pat Donnelly, Chair of the Sociology Department, gently warned me before my trip that the enthusiasm which was motivating my adventure, though admirable in some ways, was also potentially dangerous. He strongly suggested that my enthusiasm bordered on gullibility (which was probably true to some extent) and cautioned me to be careful lest I fall under the sway of the Sandinistas too easily.

It is said of the ground-breaking rock and roll band The Velvet Underground that while they only sold 25,000 albums in their career, everyone who bought an album started their own band as a result. A similar thing can be said of the relatively few who travelled to Nicaragua during the 1980s—they would carry the impression of Nicaragua and the revolution for the rest of their lives and would be life-long activists against US intervention abroad. This was certainly true of me.

For a guy whose only foreign trip was to the Canadian-side of Niagara Falls, Nicaragua was a jarring experience. The first night my delegation of about 12 landed in Managua, there was a black-out in the part of town where we were staying. This was a part of the daily rolling blackouts which were a consequence of the Contra war. While the Contras never controlled one centimeter in Nicaragua, and never gained anything but the most marginal support amongst the population, they were able to succeed at their chief mission—they wreaked havoc in Nicaragua, completely undermining the economy and sewing seeds of fear among the population.

Pretty early on into the war on Vietnam, the US determined that it could not “win” the war by vanquishing the liberation forces, so it instead adopted a program through which the US would bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age, leaving the liberation forces with a pile of rubble to govern over. Similarly, the US determined that in Nicaragua, the only realistic option was that of terrorism. The goal was not to overthrow the Sandinistas—they were simply too popular and too organized to allow for that. Instead, the US would try to turn Nicaragua into an economic and social basket case—as an example of what other would-be revolutionaries in the region and around the world had to look forward to should they prevail.

Speaking to us in a small restaurant by candle-light, the Nicaragua Network representative based in Managua gave us an introduction to our journey. She explained to us that we would be travelling by bus to Ocotal, a small town on the border with Honduras. While this was technically a “war zone,” the Sandinistas had things well in hand. Therefore, we would be safe.

She gave us a bit of background on the revolution and what the Sandinistas were trying to accomplish—including battling the huge illiteracy problem they inherited from the Somoza years, as well as bringing health care and a better standard of living to the remotest parts of the country. She explained how, in trying to accomplish these goals, the Sandinistas had made mistakes. For example, they had tried to bring development to the Mosquito coast of Nicaragua, inhabited by English-speaking members of the Mosquito Indian tribe, where they met resistance by the residents who believed that they were unduly interfering with their region and culture. The Sandinistas reacted in a heavy-handed way, which ended up backfiring. A number of those in the region ended up supporting the Contras in reaction, though the Contras proved to be so violent and abusive that much of this support had, by then, dissipated.

She also told a wonderful anecdote about Sandinista leader Tomas Borge, who was simply called “Tomas” in Nicaragua, just as Fidel Castro was known as simply, “Fidel.” Tomas was infamous in the US at that time, labeled as enemy number one by President Reagan who portrayed him as a hard-line Marxist-Leninist who would usher Communist reign into Central America if not stopped. You could say that Tomas served the same role, though on a smaller scale, as Putin does today—as the bogeyman under the bed we needed to be afraid of. In truth, he was a communist, but a Christian as well, and he was also one of the founding members of the Sandinistas back in 1962, earning his credentials as a life-long fighter against the Somoza dictatorship which the US supported until the bitter end.

Tomas was also, as I learned, “the most tortured man alive” according to Amnesty International. During the Somoza years, Tomas had been caught and captured, along with his wife, by the notorious National Guard. As they were wont to do, either as National Guardsmen or as their later incarnation as the Contras, the soldiers raped and killed Tomas’s wife in front of his eyes. They then turned to physically torturing Tomas himself, castrating him in the end. However, they made the mistake of leaving Tomas, who vowed vengeance against these soldiers, alive.

Tomas not only survived, he went on to help topple the Somoza regime in 1979. And, now, as he vowed, it was time for revenge. Shortly after the “triumph” over Somoza, Tomas learned that some of his torturers had been captured and were in prison. Tomas himself told what happened next in his book, Christianity and Revolution: Tomas Borge’s Theology of Life: “[a]fter having been brutally tortured as a prisoner, after having a hood placed over my head for nine months, after having been handcuffed for seven months, I remember that when we captured these torturers I told them: ‘The hour of my revenge has come: we will not do you even the slightest harm. You did not believe us beforehand; now you will believe us.’ That is our philosophy, our way of being.”

Borge then approached the man and hugged him, telling him that, for his punishment for torturing not only he and his family, but many of his fellow Nicaraguans, he was to be let free—free to see the Nicaraguans he had kept down for so many years learn to read and write and prosper. With tears streaming down his face, as well as that of the prisoner, Borge swung the gate of the cell open and ushered the man to walk out free into the streets.

It was this act of forgiveness and humanity by the “hardliner” Tomas Borge which characterized the Sandinista revolution. The Sandinistas, having studied and learned from the lessons and mistakes of the Soviet, Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and being motivated by the radical Christianity of Liberation Theology, were resolved to be different. No firing squads would they set up for the Somocistas. Rather, one of the first acts of the Sandinistas was to abolish the death penalty altogether.

The US would take advantage of the decency and benevolence of the Sandinistas to undermine them. Right after the fall of the Somoza dictatorship, then-President Jimmy Carter airlifted hundreds of National Guardsmen to Honduras. These would later be organized by the CIA under Reagan as the Contras, a terrorist organization which would plague Nicaragua for years to come.

While I was in Octotal, a young man in the town was ambushed and murdered by the Contras, and my delegation was invited to the funeral. I stood by the father of the slain man near his grave, and as we put our arms around each other, I apologized for his son’s death, which was just as surely the fault of my country as anyone’s. I knew then that I would never think of the world quite in the same way again.

Meanwhile, even in a war zone, I saw very few soldiers of any kind. The few Sandinsta soldiers I did see were armed with guitars as they serenated the community from a balcony in the town square. I did see one Cuban soldier. He stood out as a towering, handsome figure. I also recall after seeing him, I asked a Nicaraguan in a community meeting we attended in Ocotal, “Aren’t you afraid of the Cubans taking over Nicaragua; of the ‘Cubanization’ of Nicaragua,” as Reagan termed it. This question was not only prompted by my encounter with the Cuban soldier but also what I had been taught by my dad and my government to fear in Nicaragua.

The answer to my question, though, was as direct as it was simple: “No, we are not worried about that. The Cubans are sending us teachers and doctors to help us. They don’t try to influence our country; they just give us aid that we otherwise would not have. They are our brothers.” This made a huge impression on me, and I began to wonder if in fact I had been hoodwinked about the true nature of my country’s role in the world. And, indeed, the much-maligned Cuba continues to offer its “brotherhood” throughout the world, providing medical assistance to over 70 countries.

Sandinista guerrilla Omar Cabezas, in his memoir Fire From The Mountain, a book many of us were reading in the 1980’s, recounts one of the galvanizing events of the revolutionary insurgency—an event, as he notes, which was foolishly broadcast on nation-wide TV. As the whole nation watched, the repressive National Guard—a force created by the US to keep the Somoza dictatorship in power—surrounded the hideout of a group of top-level Sandinista insurgents, including the legendary Comandante Julio Buitrago. Cabezas, in a wonderful passage which deserves quoting, especially since his book is no longer in print, recounts how Comandante Julio wowed the nation by holding off the Guard single-handedly from a small house he was trapped in:


We couldn’t take our eyes off the screen …. We saw the barrel of Julio’s submachine gun at the balcony window, and the smoke of the gun bursts when he fired back. Then he was at the basement window, or at another window on the first floor, or at the door of the second floor that opened onto the street. Then suddenly Julio wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and the Guard wasn’t moving, and nobody was firing. The officers of the Guard were conferring outside. The Guard started advancing on the house. Then, Julio suddenly appeared, shooting from one of those placed I mentioned, and the Guardsmen turned tail and shot off running in the other direction….

There was a long silence … then the tank opened fire. Our eyes practically popped out of our heads when the tank shattered the wall, exploding it to pieces. ‘Maybe they haven’t hit him,’ we said, ‘maybe they haven’t … ’ When the tank stopped firing you could see the officers screaming for their men to advance on the house. Nobody answered from inside, and when the Guardsmen got really close, Julio started shooting. And the Guardsmen turned tail again, and the tank opened fire again, and it was the same thing all over. An endless silence followed. A small plane appeared. Then all hell broke loose—the whole Guard started shooting, and the tank, and the plane, almost grazing the roof, and in a matter of seconds the house was a pile of rubble…. We couldn’t imagine how Julio could possibly be alive. But the Guardsmen were ducking; Julio’s bullets were zinging past them; they fell down wounded; and then suddenly something happened that moved us very much: we saw Julio come bursting through the front door, running and firing his submachine gun, and seconds later he started to double over; still firing he doubled over a little more, firing and doubling over until he fell to the ground. We felt like crying, but at the same time we felt that we had an indestructible force….

You can bet that every last person in Nicaragua with a TV set saw it. And people without a set saw it too, because Somoza was stupid enough to keep showing it for several days on television. People went over to their neighbors’ to see it. They saw the Guardsmen shaking in their boots; they heard them screaming through megaphones for Julio to surrender. They saw the tanks—I remember now, there were two tanks. One plane and two helicopters. And Julio, all by himself.



It was such a heroic act, a true example of David versus Goliath, that helped to galvanize the Nicaraguan people against the Somoza dictatorship—a dictatorship which the US had installed and supported even beyond the dictatorship’s end.

The David/Goliath myth is maybe one of the most over-used and misused myths, especially by the United States. I cannot emphasize too much how the US, despite its many times claiming to be a David fighting in the face of Goliath, has, with very few and quite remote exceptions, never in fact been, or even supported, the David in biblical battles.

Rather, as in the case of Nicaragua, it was clear to me that the US, which always portrays itself as the underdog in a world of bullies set upon its destruction, has been the Goliath trying to crush David by sheer, overpowering violence. Sometimes the US is the Goliath wielding the club, and other times, it is supporting mini-Goliaths, like Somoza, in attempting to vanquish the Davids. In Nicaragua, David, in the form of everyday people, sometimes wielding only bricks and stones against National Guardsmen armed by the US with machine guns and tanks and airplanes, was the victor. And the US simply could not tolerate such a result—thus, its support of the murderous Contras.

It was just such a realization, which Nicaragua gave me in spades, that led me to the realization, as Malcolm X famously stated, in words he could have said to me: “You’ve been hood-winked, you’ve been tricked, you’ve been bamboozled.” I would never be the same. It now dawned on me that, as Martin Luther King said much better than I could in denouncing the US war in Vietnam, “The US is on the wrong side of the world-wide revolution.” Daniel Ellsberg, the former RAND Corporation analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, went even further, saying, “The US is not on the wrong side; it is the wrong side.”

Of course, the strong implication being that the Soviet Union, which was supporting the liberation struggles we were trying to suppress, was on the right side. Indeed, King said in the same speech, without actually endorsing communism, that, nonetheless, “Communism is a judgment against the US way of life; against its materialism, against the poverty it tolerates in the face of great wealth, against its constant insistence on war, and against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated.” As he explained, “[I]t is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the anti-revolutionaries.” This is undeniably true. A speech that I heard Hugo Chavez give at a meeting in Caracas in July of 2010 comes to mind. He said something that seemed quite profound to me and which has stuck with me ever since: that the 20th Century was not “The American Century” at all as the US claims, but it was indeed the Century of Revolution—for example, the Mexican, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese and Nicaraguan Revolutions—and the US violently opposed every single one of these.

I would soon come to realize that the Cold War, at least from the vantage point of the US, had little to do with fighting “Communism,” and more to do with making the world safe for corporate plunder. As I describe further below, the US would, for example, destroy democracy in Guatemala in order to protect United Fruit’s interests there; overthrow a secular, democratic government in Iran to protect Western oil interests; and overthrow the oldest Constitutional democracy in Latin America—Chile—in the interest of numerous corporate interests there, such as the International Telephone & Telegraph Company (ITT). And, the US would do so all in the name of fighting communism and protecting democracy.

One bit of evidence that the casus belli of the Cold War was mere pretext was that the US was up to the very same type of Third World interventions even before Russia’s 1917 Revolution. As Major Smedley Butler, the commander of a Marine unit landing in Nicaragua in 1909 and 1912, opined after his years of US military service,


I spent years being a high class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for National City (Bank) boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.



This struggle to make the world safe for American business pre-dated communism and has continued well after it—the “enemies” justifying this struggle have shifted and changed, but the goal has always remained constant. John Perkins, in his book Confessions of An Economic Hit Man, would indeed reiterate almost an identical story to Smedley Butler’s in his modern recounting of his years working for the consulting firm of Chas T. Main, acting jointly with the National Security Agency. He explains how he and other Economic Hit Men helped pave the way for corporate penetration of the Third World through all sorts of chicanery, including financial manipulation, rigged elections, sexual extortion and even murder. As Perkins relates, if such tactics failed, it was then up to the “jackals” of the CIA to come in and actually forcibly overthrow the target government.

I began to seriously question which side I should be rooting for in the Cold War struggle. I was impressed with the Soviet support of Nicaragua, for example its sending huge ships of humanitarian aid and then leaving the ships as well for the Nicaraguans. Of course, the Soviet support of Nicaragua would come at a huge price, for it would be just the justification the US needed to support a counter-revolutionary war there. And, indeed, Fidel Castro had warned Daniel Ortega of just this problem shortly after the Sandinistas took power. He told Ortega, from his own very difficult experience, not to cozy up too close to the Soviets. While Ortega tried at first, it became impossible at some point, for, as was the case in Vietnam, the US began to destabilize Nicaragua—mining its harbors, engaging in targeted assassinations, and cutting it off internationally—even before Nicaragua turned to the Soviets for help.

And the US continued such destabilization efforts well after the Soviets cared anymore about such far-flung nations. As I learned later from reading Chomsky, this was a common tactic of the US: while claiming it wanted to keep countries out of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, it actually pushed newly liberated countries into the Soviet camp in order to justify violent retaliation against them. A classic case of this was Vietnam which, as I detail further below, would have gladly partnered with the US in lieu of the Soviet Union to throw off French Colonialism, but was unpleasantly surprised when the US, true to MLK’s words, intervened on the side of the French, and then took over for the French, to prevent Vietnamese independence.

In the end, the Contras managed to do much damage to the Nicaraguan people, with around 50,000 Nicaraguans killed during the Contra war (out of a population then of less than 3 million), along with much civilian infrastructure—which the Contras specifically targeted—destroyed. Just to give you a bit of flavor of what the Contras—whom Reagan termed “freedom fighters”—were up to in Nicaragua, here is a quote from former CIA agent John Stockwell, which I listened to many times on that old cassette tape I mentioned above:


I don’t mean to abuse you with verbal violence, but you have to understand what your government and its agents are doing. They [the Contras] go into villages, they haul out families. With the children forced to watch they castrate the father, they peel the skin off his face, they put a grenade in his mouth and pull the pin. With the children forced to watch they gang-rape the mother, and slash her breasts off. And sometimes for variety, they make the parents watch while they do these things to the children.12



President Reagan justified supporting these terrorists based upon his claim that we could not allow a Soviet beachhead a mere two-day drive (it’s actually about a five-day drive, as I know from having driven there in 1988) from the Texas border. Reagan was even willing—after Congress pulled the plug on funding to the Contras through passage of the Boland Amendment in 1982, and then again in 1984, based upon concerns over the Contras’ horrible human rights practices—to continue funding them illegally. His Administration hatched the brilliant plan of selling arms to Iran in return for cash which could then be used to fund the Contras. This was a particularly cynical move given that Reagan claimed Iran was a terrorist state and a threat to national security. Moreover, during the period in which this exchange took place, Iran was at war with our ally Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, whom we were also arming. In other words, the US ended up arming both sides of a brutal armed conflict for the purpose of supplying arms for another brutal armed conflict in Central America. And for what reason?

Certainly by the time I was in Nicaragua, the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev was pulling far back from foreign interventions and calling for nuclear disarmament and détente with the US. By 1988, the USSR began withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The USSR had even abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine by the early 1980s. Pursuant to this Doctrine, the USSR took the position that it had the prerogative to intervene militarily in any Communist bloc country in order to keep the government in power, and consequently, to preserve the security of the Warsaw Pact countries as well as the Soviet Union. This Doctrine was most famously put into action in 1968, when Brezhnev sent troops into Czechoslovakia to put down the reform government there and to nip the “Prague Spring” in the bud. The “Prague Spring” was a reform movement that aspired to continue socialism, but with a “human face.” Brezhnev feared that if this sentiment spread, the whole East Bloc might fall. In the end, the Soviet invasion of 1968 probably did more to quicken the end of the East Bloc than it did to prevent it. Given that I am Slovak and happened to be born in 1968, these events were always of great interest to me.

To this day, it should be emphasized, the US continues to reaffirm the Monroe Doctrine, pursuant to which it views Latin America as its “backyard,” in which it can intervene at any time to protect what it views as its interests.13 It also continues to abide by the (Jimmy) Carter Doctrine—indeed with reckless abandon—pursuant to which the US maintains the right to intervene in the Middle East at any time to protect its access to, or even control over, world oil supplies.

In the end, Poland, Hungary and East Germany peacefully left the Soviet orbit entirely by 1989, with Gorbachev making no move to keep them in. In light of the fact that the Soviet Union would not even intervene to protect its interests in Eastern Europe, it was obvious that they would not do so in Central America either. Therefore, the whole basis for the Contra War—fighting international Soviet aggression—seemed to be just a mere pretext for a cruel policy of keeping a poor country from pursuing its own path to liberation and development.

I should note that my feelings about the Nicaraguan conflict have now been validated, as the Sandinistas whom we were fighting are now in power, and we get along with them just fine. Indeed, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas is the most stable and peaceful country in Central America, and is therefore not a source of refugees fleeing to the US, as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are.14

Meanwhile, the US has never made reparations to Nicaragua for its terrorist war, and also for its mining of the Nicaraguan harbors (which, by the way, the US never even warned its allies about), as ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).15 One might recall that Nicaragua brought a case against the US before the ICJ—also known as the World Court, and created by the UN Charter for the peaceful resolution of international disputes—in the mid-1980s. The US, believing that international law is only for the weak and not for great countries like itself, did not even deign to show up to defend itself. The ICJ therefore proceeded with a hearing and rendered a judgment against the US in absentia, finding that the US had engaged in an unlawful act of aggression against Nicaragua, without any valid claim to self-defense or any other proper justification. The ICJ therefore found the US in violation of international law, including its bi-lateral treaty obligations with Nicaragua itself.

Soon after the judgment against it, the US withdrew from the jurisdiction of the ICJ altogether, making it clear to the world that while it would enforce its own version of justice throughout the world, and violently when it decided to do so, it would not be subject to any form of justice itself. Recall also that the US is not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC)16—which, at least from experience so far, appears to only prosecute African countries—for the very same reasons.

While it may not seem so at first blush, the Nicaraguan Contra War is very relevant to many aspects of the current discussion of the Russian hacking claims, which has now blossomed into a full-blown scandal.

First of all, the Contra War demonstrated how much US government officials—particularly in the CIA, which is one of the chief protagonists in the current “Russia-gate” saga—are willing to debase themselves, to lie and to undermine the security and well-being of American citizens, to pursue their own agenda. In the case of the Contra War, this agenda was greatly motivated by the old Cold War, while the current claims about Russian hacking are motivated by the new Cold War.

And so, in the case of the old Contra War, what we have known for a long time is that, to support terrorists in order to undermine a tiny, poor country in Central America, the US government was willing not only to illegally sell weapons to Iran, but was also willing to play a role in selling drugs to our fellow citizens, particularly poor and Black citizens. As Greg Grandin in The Nation recently wrote, “the Contras, backed by Ronald Reagan’s White House [and CIA], were turning Central America into a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine, using the drug revenues to fund their war on the Sandinistas” after the US Congress cut off funding due to human rights concerns.17 This cocaine was then sold in the US and “helped kick off South Central Los Angeles’ crack epidemic.”

Many will remember—and a recent Hollywood movie called Kill The Messenger, made by and starring everyone’s least favorite Avenger, Jeremy Renner, reminds us—that this Contra cocaine scandal was most famously brought to light by the very brave journalist Garry Webb in his 1996 series, Dark Alliance. However, as Greg Grandin points out, Webb was not the first person to reveal these allegations. Earlier, in the 1980s, Robert Parry and Brian Berger reported on the story for the AP, and the allegations were then picked up by then-freshman Senator John Kerry, who in 1988 released an “extensively documented committee report” which demonstrated the truthfulness of these allegations. However, despite such strong, independent support for Webb’s claims, the mainstream press, led by the New York Times, went after Garry Webb in an aggressive campaign to try to debunk his story and assassinate his character, ultimately driving Mr. Webb to suicide.18

In the end, Webb was right, even more right than he knew, but even to this day, the job done on him by the mainstream media lingers in the public’s mind, leading many to believe that the Contra cocaine story was not true.

This is a relevant part of the story as well, for the new Cold War—or Red Scare (without the reds, of course)—and the Russian hacking story that is a small part of it, is being pushed hard, and nearly unanimously, by the mainstream press, which, for reasons that I do not fully grasp, is heavily invested in it. There is no room for debate on this issue. There is only one side of the story: Vladimir Putin is a demon; Russia is a rising giant set out to dominate the globe; Hillary Clinton lost the election because of Putin; and the US—the eternal victim of Russia (and now China too)—is just doing its level best to spread freedom and democracy around the world despite the best efforts of countries like Russia to stop it.

None of this story is true, and indeed, it is demonstrably false. But again, like the Contra cocaine story, the truth has been so submerged in lies that it is hard for it to see the light of day.

And, as in the greater Nicaraguan Contra story, it is Russia that is again assigned its typecast role as the bad guy in this story, and the foil on whom we can feel free to blame all of our collective failings. By raising the specter of Russia and the new Cold War, the government and media are tapping into deep-seated feelings that were hammered into us during the first Cold War, and that is why it is so easy to get people on board the latest Russia-baiting campaign. And that is why the old Cold War must be scrutinized as well.

I came to the understanding at a pretty young age that the old Cold War fears and hatred allowed the US to get away with the worst of crimes. Thus, after WWII, the US decided that, in order to gain advantage in its struggle against the Soviet Union and the East Block, it would partner with the most unsavory forces in the world—right-wing dictatorships, terrorist groups, and even neo-Nazis.

And, of course, the US courted the possibility of nuclear conflagration in this struggle as well, continuing to press forward with planning and building the capacity to launch a nuclear first strike against the USSR while still being able to “win” the war. Reagan’s “Star Wars” program—the idea for which apparently came from the Death Star in the Star Wars films—was greatly feared as, in fact, a means to have such first strike capability. This program, which was developed by Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb and one of the inspirations for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove character,19 was hoped to be able to allow the US to be shielded from oncoming nuclear missiles from the USSR while allowing the US to have a free shot at Russia with its weapons. Of course, even if such a project worked, the US would still suffer great casualties. But, as a recent article on recently-declassified documents shows, US officials were willing to take this risk. Thus, these documents reveal that, again reminiscent of the movie Dr. Strangelove, top US officials believed that a nuclear war that resulted in the deaths of 200 million Americans would still be a “victory,” for we would still have as many Americans as we did at the time of the Civil War.20

The current demonization of Russia under Vladimir Putin, which has now broken out into a revived Cold War, is again putting the US and the world at equally great risk. Indeed, this is not just my belief. As was widely reported earlier this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the “Doomsday Clock,” the symbol created in 1947 to illustrate the danger of nuclear annihilation, ahead to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.21 This is the closest to midnight we have been since 1953. In addition to the climate change crisis, the Bulletin cited increased tensions between Russia and the US, which together possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, as the reason it was moving the clock ahead. In short, the Bulletin “says we are at the most dangerous moment since the height of the Cold War.”22

Such alarm is certainly warranted. As investigative journalist Robert Parry explains, “[o]fficial Washington’s Russia hysteria has reached such proportions that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has even compared the alleged Russian hacking of Democratic emails to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, two incidents that led the United States into violent warfare.”23

This is obviously quite alarming, and it is of course meant to be.

Given the high stakes implicated by the new Cold War, and the subsidiary Russian hacking story, some rational thought on these issues, which I at least hope to give here, is certainly in order.


2

THE NEW COLD WAR (NOT) THE SAME AS THE OLD ONE

IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING THAT the old Cold War and the new are not seamless events, and are not the same, for the nature of one of the players has indeed changed in profound ways. However, this fact seems to be lost on many.

Thus, as Tony Wood, writing for the London Review of Books, points out, “[t]he rhetoric emanating from US politicians and media commentators … seems to be drawn from another era…. In January, Fox News rolled back the years by announcing there was ‘no Soviet Source’ for the DNC leaks, and the title of a piece in the New York Times Review of Books asked: ‘Was Snowden a Soviet Agent?’”24

Of course, the Soviet Union is long gone, having dissolved in 1991, and leaving in its stead a Russia, standing alone, and in the throes of unfettered capitalism. Even more importantly, Russia is a much-weakened nation post-Soviet collapse, and, as I shall detail more below, the US, particularly under the Clinton Administration, did much to help weaken it.

As Wood explains, “[i]n terms of military might, economic weight and ideological reach, Russia is no match for any of the larger NATO member states,” with a GDP still smaller than Portugal’s and a military budget 8% of NATO’s.

For his part, Dmitri Trenin explains in his must-read Should We Fear Russia (a book that Wood reviews in his piece), Russia has neither the resources nor will to re-create its former empire or to militarily challenge NATO member states. Indeed, he mocks the US’s fear of Russia, stating, quite correctly,


[i]t is truly an irony of history that the United States should be overtly challenged by a party such as today’s Russia—a country whose GDP is a small fraction of America’s, whose share in global trade is a mere 1 percent, and even whose defense budget is a tenth of the Pentagon’s.



As for the smallness of Russia’s military budget compared to that of the US, I note that, as I write this book, the mere increase in the annual military budget that Trump is proposing ($54 billion) is equal to over 80% of Russia’s total annual military budget.25

Trenin scolds the US for being threatened by Russia, stating that “[t]o most educated Americans, Russia is the day before yesterday’s news, a country on the long and irreversible trajectory of decline. It is a third- or fourth-tier actor in a remote corner of the globe, with a contemptible leadership mired in corruption, which can be a nuisance at best.” In a recent interview in Counterpunch, Noam Chomsky echoes such sentiments, saying that “most of the world is collapsing in laughter” at the very notion that Russia could have effectively intervened in the US’s elections.

Trenin does hit the nub of the problem that Russia does pose for the US—it is unique in its open aversion and resistance to “domination of the international system by any one power.” Of course, given that it is the US which is the “one power” trying to dominate the world, this puts Russia at natural odds with the US.

However, I believe history shows that Russia is correct in opposing the US’s attempt at a unipolar world, in which the US is able, and quite willing, to run wild on all sorts of military adventures which are harmful both to the US and the world at large.

And indeed, my view is very much in line with the rest of the world, which, according to a recent poll of 66,000 people in 65 countries, believes the US is by far the greatest threat to world peace, with “just under a quarter nam[ing] Uncle Sam as the greatest threat to world peace. Other menaces didn’t even come close: 8 percent named Pakistan, putting that country in second place, while 6 percent named China. A mere 4 percent found Iran threatening—which tied it with Israel.”26 Russia didn’t even make the top 5. Again, historian Eric Hobsbawm explains, in words even more true today, “[p]robably for the first time in history, an internationally almost isolated America is unpopular among most governments and peoples…. [as] the most obvious danger of war today arises from the global ambitions and apparently irrational government in Washington.”27

In addition to its relative economic and military weakness, Trenin makes another point which should be obvious to any honest observer—that Russia does not now, and never had the ability to penetrate Western culture the way that Western culture (e.g., through movies, popular music, blue jeans, McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc.) has been and continues to be able to penetrate Russia.

Indeed, I heard Keith Richards once take credit for helping bring down the Berlin Wall, and he was probably not too far off on that point. Francis Fukuyama, in his famous piece, “The End of History?”, explained this phenomenon well back in 1989 as the Soviet Union was quickly declining, and it at least appeared, to observers like him, that Western liberal values would be forever triumphant: “This phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants’ markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.”

Russia simply has no analogous cultural influence in the West, though, of course, this doesn’t stop some US pundits from trying to claim that it does. For example, I was listening to Steve Inskeep in an NPR segment in which he interviewed the CEO of Voice of America (VOA), John Lansing, about the continuing need of VOA as a news source to counter what was termed in the interview as “Russian propaganda.”28 Lansing claimed in the interview, with Inskeep hanging on his every word:


Well Russia has a very, very well-financed media conglomerate. You can see RT, Russia Today, here in the United States. And sometimes it’s much more subtle and nuanced than you might think. It’s a way of twisting a narrative or questioning a narrative that puts the United States at a disadvantage on an important issue.



This is just nonsense. As Lansing points out, RT stands for Russia Today. Everyone knows this, and everyone knows that the news coming from it is from the Russian point of view (which, by the way, I think is healthy for Americans to hear). There is in fact nothing “subtle” or “nuanced” about this, and I truly doubt that RT has much real influence in the US as a consequence.

While Lansing tried to claim that the US is somehow being outgunned because it is not funding the VOA anywhere near the level at which the Russians are financing RT, it is this type of claim which is in fact pure propaganda. The truth is that we don’t need a VOA at all because mainstream news outlets like NPR, the New York Times, and nearly all others, do a much better job propagandizing, and “manufacturing consent,” if I might borrow a phrase from the book of the same name by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, in which they describe the subtle ways in which we are manipulated by our own press—for example, by its selective focus on the “crimes” of others (such as Russia) to the near exclusion of our own.

I recall an apt quote I heard one time from someone from who had been an activist in the Polish Solidarity movement of the 1980s. He was asked, after Solidarity was successful in ousting the Communist government there, how they were able to hold together for so many years and finally prevail given the fact that the press had been so tightly controlled by the state. His response was that this was precisely how they were able to succeed. They did not believe what the press was saying BECAUSE it was state-run, so they relied on communications between themselves to know what was really happening.

He then had a pointed comment for his American questioner: the problem with you Americans is that you are being lied to by your press too, but you believe them. Indeed!

As I try to detail herein, it is the NPRs and the New York Times of the world that have sold the public on wars in Iraq and Libya, for example, which have been based on lies. They also continue to stir up fear and distrust of countries like Russia and China. We don’t need an official government voice or organ to do that when we have outlets like these that will do it for free, and do it much better precisely because they pose as news outlets independent of the government.

Finally, while Russia, as the Soviet Union, did wield sizable political and ideological influence in the world for some time, due to the appeal of its socialist message as well as its critical role in winning WWII, Russia is no longer socialist and the memory of its role in WWII has greatly subsided.

However, it was the USSR’s socialist system and message that the US claimed to despise and to be fighting against during the first Cold War. Where is the ideological justification for the new Cold War? There really isn’t one. And that is the reason the US has had to focus so much on the personality of Vladimir Putin, imbuing him with a level of power, reach and craziness that he just doesn’t have.

And so the hand-wringing continues over a perceived foe whose bite is certainly much less than its bark. I am not one wringing his hands about Russia. Rather, I wring my hands over my own country, which seems more out of control and dangerous than any other in the world, and which is tapping into old Cold War fears to justify its permanent war footing.

Possibly, if we saw ourselves as the rest of the world does, we would stop being taken in by another manufactured scare story designed to manipulate us, and we’d actually have a chance of making much needed change in our own country.


3

BACK IN THE USSR

VLADIMIR PUTIN ONCE FAMOUSLY SAID, “ANYONE who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.”

This is a statement rich in meaning, and deserves some analysis. As an initial matter, if taken at face value, this is strongly suggestive of Putin’s lack of desire to reconstruct the USSR. He indeed mocks the very idea, which certainly would be a poor tactic if he wanted to convince others to go along with a project of reconstruction. And, as indicated above, he could not do so even if he wanted. The current chaos reigning in the Ukraine, which I shall detail later, would certainly preclude that, in any case. And Putin is smart enough to see reality for what it is.

This brings us to the first part of this quote, which I find more interesting—as I write this book during the Centennial year of the Russian Revolution—and frankly more persuasive. I certainly endorse the view that the passing of the Soviet Union was a sad event. I was sad when it was clear, in August of 1991, that the Soviet Union was going away, and I grieve its passing still. I go so far as to agree with Putin who, in 2005, told the Russian Parliament that the USSR’s collapse was “the major geopolitical disaster of the [last] century.”29 And I am not alone in this view.

First of all, while we are currently being urged to fear a return of the Iron Curtain, many of those who lived in the USSR, and even in many of the Soviet-dominated East Bloc nations stretching from East Germany to the Russian frontier, really don’t share our fear. Indeed, a recent poll showed that a majority of Russians (56%) view the fall of the USSR negatively, and that an even stronger majority (58%) dream of its restoration.30 Truth be told, the vast majority of Soviet citizens (76.4%) just several months before the collapse of the USSR expressed their desire in a non-binding referendum for the preservation of the Soviet Union.31 This sentiment was particularly strong in Russia (with 71.4% approval), Ukraine (70.3%), Belarus (82.7%), and in Azerbaijan and each of the Central Asian Republics (with over 90%).

Similarly, in Hungary, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia and even in the former East Germany, the majority of the people pine for the good old days of communism.32

As Reuters has reported, “Capitalism’s failure to lift living standards, impose the rule of law and tame flourishing corruption and nepotism have given way to fond memories of the times when the jobless rate was zero, food was cheap and social safety was high.”33

Writer Stephen Gowans notes:


While at the time the demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was proclaimed as a great victory for humanity, not least by leftist intellectuals in the United States, two decades later there’s little to celebrate. The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm, not only in the former socialist countries, but throughout the Western world, as well. Countless millions have been plunged deep into poverty, imperialism has been given a free hand, and wages and benefits in the West have bowed under the pressure of intensified competition for jobs and industry unleashed by a flood of jobless from the former socialist countries, where joblessness once, rightly, was considered an obscenity. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them—and from humanity as a whole: “We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.”34



As for the losses that the working class of the West suffered due to the loss of the USSR and the East Bloc, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, has this to say, and he has said it often:


The collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst thing that ever happened to the United States. The two main consequences of the Soviet collapse have been devastating. One consequence was the rise of the neoconservative hubris of US world hegemony, which has resulted in 14 years of wars that have cost $6 trillion. The other consequence was a change of mind in socialist India and communist China, large countries that responded to “the end of history” by opening their vast under-utilized labor forces to Western capital, which resulted in the American economic decline that this article describes, leaving a struggling economy to bear the enormous war debt.35



Poverty skyrocketed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the number of people living in poverty rising by 150 million persons.36 Of course, on this score, a major impact of the USSR’s disappearance was the pretty swift disappearance of social democracies throughout the world, including the US’s own social democracy lite. The truth is that many Western countries reacted to the Russian Revolution, and the gains that workers had in the Soviet Union in terms of social benefits, by feeling compelled to grant their own workers some of these concessions.

Once the Soviet Union was gone, these governments no longer felt such pressure. In our own country, it was Democrat Bill Clinton, elected just after the Soviet collapse, who quickly destroyed “welfare as we know it,” even though it was the Democrats who had created the modern welfare system which had helped lift millions out of poverty. Clinton ended the entitlement to cash benefits which the poor had been given by prior legislation (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and replaced it with legislation (called, quite appropriately, Temporary Aid to Needy Families) that put a 5-year lifetime federal limit on cash aid to the poor and allowed states to set even shorter limits.37 The new legislation also required a certain number of people in a recipient home to either be working or volunteering, and paid out benefits to states in block grants which allowed the states to use the money for something entirely other than benefits to the poor. Clinton’s “reforms” have ended up knocking around 10 million people off the welfare rolls, many of them children, and have been particularly disastrous for the poor during economic crises such as the 2008 Great Recession.

As Roberts alludes to, Clinton would also take advantage of the disappearance of the Socialist Bloc to enter into horrible trade deals–for example, the infamous NAFTA of 1994 and the PNTR agreement with China in 2000—which allowed major capital flight away from the US and therefore a massive loss of jobs in this country, while also creating a general downward pressure on wages world-wide. As historian Eric Hobsbawm explains, “the currently fashionable free-market globalization has brought about a dramatic growth in economic and social inequalities both within states and internationally…. This surge of inequality, especially in the conditions of extreme economic instability such as those created by the global free market of the 1990s, is at the roots of the major social and political tensions of the new century.”38

With NAFTA, for example, the US lost around one million good manufacturing jobs to Mexico for its much lower labor costs.39 Meanwhile, this process had the effect of depressing wages in the US—by 20% for 2/3 of the displaced manufacturing workers. And, for its part, Mexico suffered greatly from the agricultural provisions of NAFTA, which allowed the US to dump cheap food into Mexico, thereby destroying the livelihoods of 2 million small farmers, who were forced to move to the cities and compete for low-paying, dangerous jobs, or to migrate to the US altogether. While the US’s shining examples of NAFTA are hollowed-out cities like Detroit, the city which was to be Mexico’s model NAFTA city—Ciudad Juarez—became famous for crime rates at war zone levels and rampant “femicide” in which hundreds of women and young girls were raped and murdered.40

Of course, NAFTA and the loss of manufacturing jobs became a huge issue in the 2016 elections. Hillary Clinton, who was not only associated with Bill Clinton’s policies by name and marriage, but also aggressively lobbied for NAFTA herself, simply had no credible position on this issue. To the contrary, showing her utter disdain for the very people whose lives were ruined by Clinton’s cruel, neo-liberal policies, she referred to them in a moment of candor as a “basket of deplorables.” This did not go down so well, especially in places like the former mining communities of Appalachia, which have suffered so much under neo-liberalism, and which feel alienated by a culture that seems to be laughing at them and their plight. It is a telling fact that the welfare system which was created in the Kennedy/Johnson years—the very one dismantled by Bill Clinton—was created in response to a book by socialist Michael Harrington entitled, “The Other America,” that detailed the suffering of the Appalachian poor. The left, which at one time thought about issues of class and poverty, actually cared about these people once, but seemingly no more.

Trump, on the other hand, capturing the desperate spirit of large swaths of de-industrialized America, was able to take great advantage of this issue, and most likely won the key swing states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as a consequence of this. While I have no doubt that these voters will be greatly disappointed by the actual policies of Trump, any autopsy of the Clinton loss has to take this reality into account, rather than wasting time pointing fingers at Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, as Paul Craig Roberts touches upon, the counterweight to US foreign policy initiatives disappeared with the collapse of the USSR, and this was not good in many ways. As just one example, history shows that the US, though trying to claim otherwise now, supported and protected apartheid in South Africa for decades—including, of course, during some of the period of the US’s own apartheid (Jim Crow) system—while the USSR consistently opposed this system, both diplomatically and eventually militarily.

As for the military effort, the Soviet Union supported the efforts of the Cubans in Angola against counter-revolutionaries in that country, who were being backed both by the US and Apartheid South Africa, with the Cubans eventually confronting and routing the South African military in the legendary battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

Nelson Mandela, whom the CIA helped capture and imprison in 196242 and who remained on the US terrorist list until 2008, credits the victory at Cuito Cuanavale for bringing the South African government to the bargaining table, and leading eventually to the end of apartheid.43 This is a little inconvenient episode that you will rarely study in school.

Finally, there were intangible benefits that “real existing socialism” brought with it. One big benefit, as Stephen F. Cohen has documented, was friendship. The citizens of the USSR and former East Bloc felt a much closer kinship with one another, and, if you’ll forgive me, comradeship, than they do now.

In the end, while the Russian Revolution and the USSR certainly fell short on many of the goals they had promised, and while they were marked by periods of great repression which undermined the project they claimed to be building, they delivered on many of their promises, and against great odds. And, they helped force a rise in the standard of living of all working people, even in the West, in the process.

In any case, the goals of the Russian Revolution—equality, worker control of the economy, universal health care and social security—were laudable ones, even if not fully realized. And it was sad when the people of the USSR seemed to have given up on these goals, only to trade them in for the handful of magic beans that the capitalists offered them.

It has been equally sad for me to see the West, and particularly the US, so gleefully dance on the grave of the lofty hopes of the Russian people in particular. One of the reasons that the West continues to dance on the grave of the Soviet Union, and to emphasize the worst parts of that society and downplay its achievements, is to make sure that, as the world-wide economy worsens, and as the suffering of working people around the world deepens, they don’t get any notions in their head to organize some new socialist revolution with such ideals.

Even when the US seemed to realize its chief goal of the USSR’s demise, this was not enough. Instead, it decided to force the worst economic policies down the throats of Russia, making the transition to capitalism certainly much worse than it had to be; to encircle it with troops and military bases even after promising not to; and to insist that it take this awful medicine with a smile.

And now, to add insult to injury, we angrily begrudge the Russian people every attempt their country makes to stand on its feet again and to reclaim some of its former self-esteem, and maybe even a little of its past glory.

Now that we appear to own the whole world, we resent the Russians (and Chinese too) for striving for security and say-so in the little slice of the world they live in.

I suspect that a lot of the anti-Russian sentiment in this country is motivated by such sentiments, and I simply cannot jump on that bandwagon.


4

OUR KILLERS AND THEIRS

PROBABLY THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO AMERICANS’ ability to perceive our own actions in the world, and our own place relative to other countries like Russia, is our deep-seated belief in “American Exceptionalism”—that is, the belief that our country is uniquely good, democratic and freedom-loving, and that anything we do in the world, no matter how incidentally harmful, is motivated by the purest and best motives. Every other country, especially adversaries like Russia, are motivated by the worst and most selfish motives, the philosophy goes, and therefore are inherently more dangerous than the US

The truth is, however, that “American Exceptionalism” is a false religion and is not borne out by even a cursory examination of US history, particularly post-WWII, and even compared with Russia for the past half a century.

Indeed, President Trump, much to the chagrin of many, especially members of the liberal establishment, dared to touch upon this fact when he queried, in response to the suggestion by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Sunday (Feb. 5, 2017) that Putin is a killer, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

The mainstream press could not believe that Trump would have the temerity—especially on our most hallowed of days (Super Bowl Sunday)—to stray so far from the required script for American presidents. However, what Trump said in response to O’Reilly’s statement was undeniably true.

Let’s start with the easier premise—that the US has its own killers. A good place to begin is with the only President we have ever had (with the possible exception of Lincoln) who is also apparently viewed as a saint by many, and that is Barack Obama. Those who now believe in the holiness of Obama—who himself deported 2.5 million people (as of 2015, that is)44 with barely a whisper of protest from anyone—simply were not paying attention. In addition to being the Deporter-In-Chief, Obama was also a killer, and an avowed one at that.

I think it is fair to say that Obama was also the Bomber-In-Chief, greatly expanding the US’s heroic campaign of bombing poor villagers safely from above. Indeed, during Obama’s first weekend in office, he got busy killing people, ordering two drone strikes on two villages in Pakistan which killed nearly 20 innocents, including women and children.45 Meeting with one of my liberal lawyer friends after this massacre, I remarked how Obama killed more people than Charles Manson before his first full week in office. Her quite testy response was, “Well, that’s harsh.” Of course, what she meant was that my statement was “harsh”—not that Obama’s wanton murder was harsh. This just illustrates how inured we have become in this country to the horrible crimes of state, especially if we happen to like the person occupying the highest office at the time.

All told, Obama’s bombing spree greatly exceeded that of George W. Bush. As Medea Benjamin, writing for The Gaurdian, explains46:


[H]e dramatically expanded the air wars and the use of special operations forces around the globe. In 2016, US special operators could be found in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries—a staggering jump of 130% since the days of the Bush administration.

Looking back at President Obama’s legacy, the Council on Foreign Relation’s Micah Zenko added up the defense department’s data on airstrikes and made a startling revelation: in 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. This means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

While most of these air attacks were in Syria and Iraq, US bombs also rained down on people in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. That’s seven majority-Muslim countries.



As people rightly protest Trump’s attempts to ban immigrants from six to seven Muslim nations—and, by the way, I have participated in such protests—it is worth recalling the near-silence which greeted Obama’s manic bombing of seven Muslim nations.

Recall that Obama even turned these bombings into a fun weekly ritual on Tuesdays—dubbed something like “Terror Tuesdays” apparently because that’s when Obama got to inflict terror on others—in which Obama would personally order drone attacks upon unsuspecting people. I say simply “people,” because Obama did not only target militants, but indeed all males of a certain age in certain regions of the world. As The New York Times explained,47


Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.



(emphasis added). Literally, this was a case of killing first and asking questions later, and this was a method that even George W. Bush refused to embrace. In addition, Obama became well-known for his “signature strike” in which he would target areas for drone attack based upon “suspicious activity” there without even knowing the identity of the individuals there.48 Under his watch, the tactic of “double tapping,” in which an area is bombed twice in quick succession to hit first responders to the area, was oft used as well.49 Such attacks clearly violated the Geneva Conventions which requires warring states to take all necessary measures to protect civilian non-combatants, and certainly made Obama a war criminal many times over.

Moreover, Obama’s policy of treating every male over a certain age in some areas as legitimate military targets may even have amounted to genocide, at least as judged by another event which is considered genocide and which was used as a justification for NATO’s seventy-eight-day bombing of Serbia. This event was of course the notorious Srebrenica massacre in which the Bosnian Serbs killed “Bosnian Muslim Men of Military Age” in the small town of Srebrenica after first busing “all the women, children, and the elderly men to safety ….”50

Obama didn’t even have women, children and elderly bused away before targeting all men of a certain age for death in an area, thus ensuring that some women, children and elderly, and of course the occasional wedding party,51 were indeed killed. Indeed, one study showed that 90% of the victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan were not militants at all or even the intended target of the attack, and that this awful rate was probably even greater in Yemen and Somalia.52 One Administration official explained, “[a]nyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association.”53

As just one example, Obama ordered the successful drone killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, an American citizen, as well as another innocent American citizen named Samir Kahn. This particular drone strike followed by two weeks the Obama-ordered drone strike which killed the 16-year-old boy’s father, American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, for his alleged activities in terrorism (though he had never been tried, much less convicted for such). No valid reason has ever been given for the second drone strike which killed a child. And, when asked about the strike that killed the 16-year old boy, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs could only say that “he should’ve ‘had a more responsible father.’”54

As I said, Obama was proud of being a killer, telling staff that he’s “really good at killing people.”55 And, in all fairn