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Empire Watch

by Berry Friesen (September 25, 2017)

Today, short takes on items in “the news.”

Drinking the Kool-Aid?

The PBS special on the US war in Vietnam documents how US leaders already knew in the early ‘60s that the war could not "succeed."  Yet for a dozen more years, they continued to fuel the carnage in Vietnam and send American men into the meat-grinder. Why?

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, creators of the documentary, spin it all as a tragic mistake within a context of intractable “civil war.”  We hear their sedating overview in the very first episode:

“It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War miscalculations.  And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions made by five American presidents belonging to both political parties.”

We are told this explains the violent deaths of three-and-one-half million Vietnamese, Americans, Cambodians and Laotians over twenty years.  And we are meant to sigh deeply and reflect mournfully on the wretched brokenness and complexity of life.

This is the empire’s Kool-Aid, dear friends; for the sake of your soul, don’t drink it.

The 1954 Geneva Accords ended the Vietnamese war of independence and legitimized the state of Vietnam.  Though the Accords divided Vietnam temporarily into “North” and “South,” all parties agreed that prompt elections would establish a single government, which Ho Chi Minh was likely to lead.

The US endorsed the Accords, but immediately subverted them with fear-inducing propaganda designed to send Catholic Vietnamese fleeing to the south.  The CIA selected Ngo Dinh Diem as their guy in the south, arranged for him to win a rigged election with over 98 percent of the vote and then began constructing a new state that would be compliant with the empire’s interests. The nationwide election never occurred.

This is why John F. Kennedy, speaking as a senator in the late ‘50s, spoke truthfully when he said, “South Vietnam is our off-spring.”  It would never have existed on the face of the earth but for the CIA’s deceitful manipulation.  

We must remember this history.  The “civil war” was manufactured by the CIA.  Three-and-one-half million people died to mask US imperialism and enable us to continue thinking of America as a “decent” nation.  The PBS documentary perpetuates this falsehood.

I highly recommend “America’s Amnesia” by Thomas A. Bass for a deeper look. Also Peter Van Buren's "No Profile in Courage" and Andrew Bacevich's "Past All Reason."

US Military Support for ISIS?

Yesterday, the Russian Ministry of Defense released aerial images it says show a large number of vehicles used by US Army Special Forces located in and around fortified ISIS fighting positions in eastern Syria.  The images—taken September 8-12—include no evidence of combat or any other effort by US forces to defend themselves against ISIS or drive ISIS out of the area. According to the Russian release, “This suggests that the US troops feel safe in terrorist controlled regions.”

The images also appear to confirm recent Russian allegations that US proxy forces (the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF)) are moving rapidly through ISIS-held eastern Syria without facing any resistance from ISIS. In other words, ISIS and forces supported by the US are cooperating in eastern Syria; they are not fighting each other.

Earlier in September, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman accused the SDF of collusion with ISIS terrorists.  Yesterday’s report is the first time the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly suggested US Army Special Forces also are colluding with ISIS.

According to Adam Garrie at The, in recent weeks various sources in Syria have reported that US military helicopters are being used to airlift known ISIS commanders to safety as the Syrian Arab Army advanced on the former ISIS stronghold of Deir ez-Zor. The Russian aerial photos will buttress those claims. The images also will fuel the claim that via its proxies, the US is about to grab Syria's oil fields in eastern Syria.

Also on Sunday, a lieutenant-general of the Russian armed forces was killed near Deir ez-Zor when the Syrian Arab Army unit he was advising was hit by shells fired by ISIS militants. The dead officer is the highest ranking Russian to have died in the war to date. Given the apparent collaboration between ISIS and US Army Special Forces, it is likely Russia will regard this as a targeted killing facilitated by US surveillance, perhaps in retaliation for Russia’s release of the incriminating aerial photographs earlier in the day.

President Trump has said the US has stopped supporting the Salafist fighters in Syria, but that is obviously not the case. Stay tuned.

The Crisis of the Rohingya 

It’s time to educate ourselves about the Rohingya, a Muslim minority of just over one million living in Rakhine—the northwest, seaside province of Myanmar (formerly Burma) adjoining Bangladesh.   The suffering of the Rohingya has become high-profile “news” in mainstream media, which is a sure sign that the US-led empire has major agenda in store for Myanmar.

Reportedly 2,000 Rohingya have been killed in the last 12 months by Myanmar government forces engaged in village burnings and other provocations designed to induce flight. As a result, around half of the Rohingya population is displaced with most going across the border to Bangladesh.

The Rohingya have long been an oppressed minority in Myanmar.  But the violence against them by Myanmar government officials has surged since October, 2016 attacks on law enforcement and border agents by a Salafist extremist group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, formerly known as Harakah al-Yaqi) resulted in the deaths of thirteen security personnel. Another seventeen law enforcement personnel were killed last November. The most recent spate of coordinated attacks by ARSA —on August 25—targeted 26 security posts and resulted in the deaths of nine border agents and police.

ARSA is reportedly directed by a leadership cadre located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. ARSA fighters are led and trained by veterans of Salafist militias active in Syria or Afghanistan. Funding links to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also have been reported.

Indigenous Muslim groups within Myanmar reportedly have denounced the activities of ARSA.  

Thus, it appears outside-funded Salafist violence has been injected into a situation of injustice and strife in Myanmar, thereby tipping it into a crisis.  Outsiders are likely to exploit this “crisis” to justify humanitarian and military interventions.

Meanwhile, according to a report issued by the U.S. Institute for Peace, during recent years the US government has been actively involved in grassroots political efforts in Myanmar to shape the content and direction of its government.  Indeed, one report suggests the current government is largely a creation of Western funding and organization.

Where this is going remains unclear.  In general, however, the pattern resembles the way Salafist violence funded by US allies was used by the US to justify its intervention in Syria to oppose that same violence.  There the US and its allies have played both sides of the war and the Syrian people have been mere pawns in the deadly imperial game.

To follow the evolving story of the Rohingya and avoid getting sucked into the propaganda, we need accurate framing. For starters, I suggest “Oil, Gas, Geopolitics Guide US Hand in Playing the Rohingya Crisis” by Whitney Webb (published by MintPress Also useful is the 2016 International Crisis Group report and Dr. Parth Sharma’s “Rohingya Crisis:  The Larger Geopolitics Nobody is Talking About.”

October 29 update:  In "Shifting Blame as US Agenda Unfolds in Myanmar," Tony Cartalucci reports on how the US government is setting up its plan to establish a US military presence in Myanmar by minimizing the role of the US-installed government of Myanmar (led by Aung San Suu Kyi) and pinning the blame for oppression of the Rohingya on Myanmar's military.

“The problem with Trump . . .”

How does one finish that sentence?  So many possibilities come to mind.  My favorite is this:  the problem with Trump is that he persuades us Trump is the problem.

Last week the President at the United Nations sounded like a fascist dictator in a grainy ‘30s newsreel, threatening to “totally destroy” a nation of 25 million people (North Korea), trash the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran and intervene in Venezuela.  (Pepe Escobar reports Trump is actively plotting with the leaders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru to carry out Venezuelan regime change.)

Yet we dare not define bellicose President Trump as the problem.  He is simply another US president, relying on his military leaders for direction and determined to retain the imperial privileges and power of the global elite, many of whom are Americans.

Need convincing?  Consider this:  last week the US House approved a $696 billion Pentagon budget for FFY 2018, a 12 percent jump from the current budget and much more than President Trump requested.  It’s $91 billion more than allowed by the 2011 Budget Control Act; so much for budget discipline!  And the increase alone is larger than the entire Russian military budget.

The American foreign policy we see portrayed by the President’s remarks at the United Nations is not some maverick aberration concocted by Trump’s deranged mind; it’s the real deal and in basic continuity with the foreign policies of predecessors Obama and Bush.  So it won’t do for you and me to be anti-Trump; we must be firmly and clearly anti-imperialist, both now and in the years to come.

The Curse of the CIA

This month the CIA is 70 years old.  Begun by President Truman shortly after the end of World War 2, it has been the devil’s right-hand ever since.

You think that’s an exaggeration?  Douglas Valentine has authored a new book, THE CIA: 70 YEARS OF ORGANIZED CRIME. Lars Schall interviews Valentine for Counterpunch.  Please, read the interview.  We dare not go on living in the dark.

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