On May 26th, Washington’s most famous Russophobe, Zbigniew Brzezinski, exited the stage at the age of 89, having wreaked much havoc on the world. For further details on Zbig and why no one should be shedding any tears at the demise of this architect of hatred and mayhem, see my previous posts on his background and Grand Chessboard philosophy here and his most recent nonsense here reflecting a man who once was touted as a geopolitical genius in the nation’s capital but had been recently reduced to pathetic attempts to try to stay relevant, still claiming that Russia and China could be seduced away from their strategic partnership by the whispering of a few sweet nothings from the fetid breath of Washington’s political class.
Veteran investigative journalist, John Helmer, who had an advisory role in the Carter administration and had a front row seat to Zbig’s machinations, did a write-up of him here.
Perhaps Zbig can dust off a few seats next to him in the underworld for Kissinger, Cheney, Albright and other warmongers.
Well, it’s been over 3 weeks since I made my trek to Russia for a working vacation and to report on what I saw, and now that I’ve returned to look at the American news cycle, it’s still all about how Russia hacked our democracy and is guilty of all sorts of shenanigans to take down America.
The first thing of note. According to CNN’s May 23rd report on former CIA director John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate on this very topic, he could not say definitively that any contacts with any potential Russians amounted to collusion. Furthermore James Clapper recently admitted that there was no full assessment on this topic by all 17 intelligence agencies as Americans had been initially led to believe, but that analysts were hand-picked from only 4 intel agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA and office of DNI). This, of course, is the antithesis of an objective analysis. As Robert Parry, notes:
Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.
In any event, Brennan’s admission of no actual evidence follows Dianne Feinstein’s admission to Wolf Blitzer on CNN a few weeks back that, after a classified intelligence briefing on the matter, she was provided no evidence of collusion. And that follows former DNI James Clapper admitting in an earlier interview in March that, as of January 20th of this year, there was no evidence of any actual wrongdoing in terms of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia to interfere in the election.
After 10 months of investigating, we still have no evidence for any of these claims being made and kept alive in the interests of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. According to a recently released book on why Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed, called Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, members of her campaign began cooking up the blame-Russia excuse for her loss in the immediate aftermath of the concession.
And as Jimmy Dore has pointed out, no one ever defines what is meant by “collusion” and what criminal laws may have been broken by these shadowy activities that the Trump administration and Russia are accused of. A recent article by Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi sums up what a head-scratcher this whole inquiry has turned into:
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on This Week Sunday, and said some head-scratching things.
Clapper back in March told Meet the Press that when he issued a January 6th multiagency intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election, the report didn’t include evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, essentially saying he hadn’t been aware of any such evidence up through January 20th, his last day in office.
On Sunday, he said that didn’t necessarily mean there was no such evidence, because sometimes he left it up to agency chiefs like former FBI Director James Comey to inform him about certain things.
“I left it to the judgment [of] Director Comey,” Clapper said, “to decide whether, when and what to tell me about counterintelligence investigations.”
Clapper said something similar when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Monday. In prepared remarks, he essentially said that there was nothing odd about his not being informed about the existence of an FBI counterintelligence investigation involving Donald Trump’s campaign.
Speaking generally, Clapper seemed to imply that the Trump-Russia-collusion scandal, the thing colloquially known as #Russiagate all over the world now, may have originated in information gleaned by the intelligence community, who in turn may have tipped off the FBI.
“When the intelligence community obtains information suggesting that a U.S. person is acting on behalf of a foreign power,” he said, “the standard procedure is to share that information with the lead investigatory body, which of course is the FBI.”
He went on, explaining that in such a situation, it wouldn’t be unusual for the DNI to not be informed about an FBI counterintelligence investigation.
“Given its sensitivity,” he said, “even the existence of a counterintelligence investigation’s closely held, including at the highest levels.”
In his Senate testimony, Clapper went out of his way to say this didn’t contradict his earlier statements. But if he’s not contradicting himself, he’s certainly added a layer of confusion to what is already the most confusing political scandal ever.
Back on March 5th, when Clapper gave that interview to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, he sounded definitive on a number of counts.
Todd for instance asked Clapper if he would know if the FBI had a FISA court order for surveillance. Clapper answered unequivocally: “Yes.”
Clapper made it clear that he would have known if there were any kind of surveillance authority against “the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”
Taibbi goes on to describe how Clapper’s interviewer on Meet the Press asked the question again, more than once, in order to ensure that Clapper understood the gravity of the question and would give a consistent answer. He did the same with questions about knowledge of any evidence in support of the charge of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Again, Clapper said he was aware of no such evidence at the time he left office.
Taibbi also points out logical inconsistencies in what Clapper has subsequently told both the Senate and the media and what recently fired FBI director James Comey has said.
Comey was saying that he hadn’t briefed the DNI because between January 20th, when Clapper left office, and March 16th, when former Indiana senator and now Trump appointee Dan Coats took office, the DNI position was unfilled.
But Comey had said the counterintelligence investigation dated back to July, when he was FBI director under a Democratic president. So what happened between July and January?
If Comey felt the existence of his investigation was so important that he he had to disclose it to DNI Coats on Coats’ first day in office, why didn’t he feel the same need to disclose the existence of an investigation to Clapper at any time between July and January?
Furthermore, how could the FBI participate in a joint assessment about Russian efforts to meddle in American elections and not tell Clapper and the other intelligence chiefs about what would seemingly be a highly germane counterintelligence investigation in that direction?
Again, prior to last week, Clapper had said he would know if there was a FISA warrant issued on this matter. But then on April 11th, law enforcement and government officials leaked – anonymously, as has been the case throughout most of this story – that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant for surveillance of Trump associate Carter Page.
So what’s going on here?
Taibbi provides some theories from Washington insiders about what may explain these inconsistencies, but ultimately, no satisfactory answers are given in light of the gravity of the vague accusations and the constant barrage of innuendo.
But it’s our job in the media to be bothered by little details, and the strange timeline of the Trump-Russia investigation qualifies as a conspicuous loose end.
What exactly is the FBI investigating? Why was it kept secret from other intelligence chiefs, if that’s what happened? That matters, if we’re trying to gauge what happened last week.
….But when it comes to the collusion investigation, there are serious questions. A lot of our civil liberties protections and rules of press ethics are designed to prevent exactly this situation, in which a person lingers for extended periods of time under public suspicion without being aware of the exact nature, or origin, of the accusations.
It’s why liberal thinkers have traditionally abhorred secret courts, secret surveillance and secret evidence, and in the past would have reflexively discouraged the news media from printing the unverified or unverifiable charges emanating from such secret sources. But because it’s Donald Trump, no one seems to care.
We should care. The uncertainty has led to widespread public terror, mass media hysteria and excess, and possibly even panic in the White House itself, where, who knows, Trump may even have risked military confrontation with Russia in an effort to shake the collusion accusations. All of this is exacerbated by the constant stream of leaks and hints at mother lodes of evidence that are just around the corner. It’s quite literally driving the country crazy.
Not only is it driving the country crazy, it is conveniently taking coverage away from pressing domestic issues that need to be addressed, such as increasing poverty, health care, and failing infrastructure (among others) and it is also preventing any chance of decreasing tensions with the world’s other nuclear superpower.
Now, the talk is about Jared Kushner and others allegedly wanting to set up a back channel of communication with Russia. According to Alexander Mercouris’ analysis, the back channel was an idea apparently intended to facilitate the discussion of actions in Syria and was never followed up on.
This leak alleges that in early December at a meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak in Trump Tower which General Michael Flynn also attended Kushner discussed with Kislyak the setting up of a back channel between General Flynn and the Russians.
The idea apparently was that Flynn would use this back channel to discuss with the Russians the conflict in Syria and other security issues.
….There is no suggestion here that the back channel was intended to discuss possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russians relating to the US political process. Of course by this point the election was over, so this proposal for a back channel can have no bearing on the allegations of secret collusion during the election between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which are the subject of the Russiagate investigation.
And the implication is, of course, that the establishment of such a back channel, had it occurred, is necessarily a bad and nefarious thing. A little history lesson is in order here. John Kennedy set up a back channel of communication with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and that back channel came in very handy when dealing with the Cuban Missile crisis. Some even plausibly claim that that back channel enabled the de-escalation of the crisis and prevented a nuclear war.
Establishing as much direct communication as possible between the world’s two nuclear superpowers, especially during times of high tension, is a GOOD thing. Any rational person whose brain is not irredeemably compromised by pathological partisanship should be able to recognize this.
Meanwhile, Russia is putting its head down and continuing on with its plans to participate in the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for peaceful trade and infrastructure investment spearheaded by China. Two of the most knowledgeable writers on the OBOR initiative, F. William Engdahl and Pepe Escobar, have each recently published articles providing additional insights and updates on the plan’s progress, which could make the 21st century the Eurasian Century – supplanting the world hegemony that Washington has enjoyed since 1945.
Engdahl’s piece describes the failure of Washington’s plan to divide Russia and China (a plan advocated by both Henry Kissinger and the late Brzezinski, as noted above) and focuses in on the decision of the Nixon administration to take the U.S. off the gold standard, in violation of the Bretton Woods framework, as the beginning of Washington’s gradual decline:
It’s very essential in my view to appreciate where the post-1944 development of America’s role in the world went seriously wrong. The grandiose project dubbed by Henry Luce in 1941 as the American Century, if I were to pick a date, began its twilight on August 15, 1971.
That was the point in time a 44-year-old Under-Secretary of the Treasury for International Monetary Affairs named Paul Volcker convinced a clueless President Richard Milhous Nixon that the treaty obligations of the 1944 Bretton Woods Treaty on a postwar Gold Exchange Standard should be simply ignored. Volcker rejected the express mandate of the Bretton Woods Treaty which would have seen a devaluation of the dollar in order to rebalance world major currencies. By 1971 the economies of war-ravaged countries such as Japan, Germany and France had rebuilt at a significantly higher level of efficiency than the US.
A devaluation of the dollar would have given a major boost to US industrial exports and eased the export of dollar inflation in the world arising from Lyndon Johnson’s huge Vietnam War budget deficits. The de-industrialization of the USA could have thereby been avoided. Wall Street would hear none of that. Their mantra in effect was, “Nothin’ personal, just bizness…” The banks began the destruction of the American industrial base in favor of cheap labor and ultra-high-profit manufacture abroad.
Instead of correcting that at a point it could have had an enormously positive economic effect, Volcker advised Nixon to in effect spit on America’s international treaty obligations and to brazenly dare the world to do something about it. On Volcker’s advice, Nixon simply ripped the treaty in shreds and ended Federal Reserve redemption of dollars held by foreign central banks for US gold reserves. The US dollar overnight was no longer “as good as gold.”
….The American Century is crumbling before our eyes, and has been doing so for the near-five decades since August, 1971. That willful ignoring of the health of the economy of the United States over decades has created a vast moral, political and economic vacuum in the world today.
Into that vacuum other nations outside Washington’s NATO control are building what I have termed a Eurasian Century, a very lawful and positive response to an increasingly totalitarian Washington role in the world.
The contrast between what China, together with Russia, and the other nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Eurasia are doing to build up their common economic space, and what the United States, Britain and other NATO nations are doing to destroy, could not be more stark.
Read the full article here
Escobar’s article covered the recently-convened “Belt and Road Forum” which took place in Beijing where the Chinese president followed his usual custom of the past several years when he invites Putin to an important forum – he placed him right at his side. It’s the kind of move that seasoned international observers know is not done willy-nilly.
History will record the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing marked the juncture where the 21st century New Silk Roads assumed their full character of Globalization 2.0, or “inclusive globalization,” as defined by President Xi Jinping in Davos earlier this year.I have dealt with the monumental stakes here and here. Terminology, of course, remains a minor problem. What was once defined as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) is now promoted as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Much is still somewhat lost in translation in English, what matters is that Xi has managed to imprint the myriad possibilities inbuilt in the concept especially across the Global South.
….President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were guests of honor at the forum – alongside leaders such as Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev and Turkey’s Erdogan. At a business breakfast discussion, Xi seated Putin to his right and Lavrov to his left.
At a Leaders Roundtable summit on the second day of the forum – a sort of Silk Road United Nations, with the microphones open equally to all – Putin touched on a key point; the symbiosis, formalized since 2015, between OBOR/BRI and the Russia-driven Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), currently formed by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia.
As Putin said, “some 50 European, Asian and Latin American states” are interested in cooperation with the EEU. While the EEU and China are discussing their own, wide-ranging trade/economic deal, the EEU is also consulting, among others, with Iran, India, Serbia, Singapore, and Egypt.
But it was during his speech at the inaugural session of the forum that Putin managed to distill what amounts to a concentrate of Russian foreign policy.
Here are the key topics.
– Through “integration formats like the EEU, OBOR, the SCO, and ASEAN, we can build the foundation for a larger Eurasian partnership.”
– There is now a “unique opportunity to create a common cooperation framework from the Atlantic to the Pacific – for the first time in history.” Essentially, this is what Putin himself had once proposed – then shunned by EU/NATO – even before Xi announced OBOR in 2013.
– “Russia is not only willing to be a reliable trading partner but also seeks to invest in the creation of joint ventures and new production capacities in partnering states, to invest in industrial facilities, sales, and services.”
– Russia is investing in building “a system of modern and well-connected transport corridors,” “expanding the capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian Railway, investing significant resources into improvements to the Northeast Passage.”
– And then, looking at the Big Picture, “the infrastructure projects within the EEU and the One Belt, One Road initiative in conjunction with the Northeast Passage can completely reconfigure transportation on the Eurasian continent.”
– Putin expects “newly established financial institutions like the New Development Bank (BRICS Development Bank) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to offer a supporting hand to private investors.”
And then, the clincher, fully aligned with Xi’s vision; “Greater Eurasia is not an abstract geopolitical arrangement but, without exaggeration, a truly civilization-wide project looking toward the future.”
Read the full article here
Washington doesn’t seem to have a constructive or even workable policy to deal with this. Instead, it is humiliating itself with its Nora Desmond act on the world stage.
Engdahl’s piece describes the failure of Washington’s plan to divide Russia and China (a plan advocated by both Henry Kissinger and the late Brzezinski, as noted above) and focuses in on the decision of the Nixon administration to take the U.S. off the gold standard, in violation of the Bretton Woods framework, as the beginning of Washington’s gradual decline…