By David Walsh
Actor-director Rob Reiner and actor Morgan Freeman have teamed up with a sordid crowd of extreme right-wingers to push the McCarthyite anti-Russia campaign.
Reiner, a longtime Democratic Party fundraiser and fervent Hillary Clinton supporter, is a member of the Advisory Board of a new organization, the “Committee to Investigate Russia,” which describes itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit” organization “helping Americans understand the gravity of Russia’s continuing attacks on democracy.”
As part of this foul outfit’s launching, Freeman narrates a two-minute video, which begins: “We have been attacked. We are… at war.” Freeman asks his viewers to imagine a movie script in which a former KGB spy, “angry at the collapse of his motherland, plots a course for revenge.” After becoming president, “he sets his sights on his sworn enemy: the United States.”
Freeman goes on: “And like the true KGB spy he is, he secretly uses cyber warfare to attack democracies around the world. Using social media to spread propaganda and false information, he convinces people in democratic societies to distrust their media, their political processes, even their neighbors… Vladimir Putin is that spy, and this is no movie script.”
The actor then calls on President Donald Trump to “tell us the truth”—that during the 2016 election “we came under attack by the Russian government.”
Invoking the language of Cold War hawks, Freeman informs his viewers that the “free world is counting on us for leadership.” He concludes: “For 241 years, our democracy has been a shining example to the world of what we can all aspire to. And we owe it to the brave people who have fought and died to protect this great nation and save democracy.”
A number of out-and-out reactionaries sit alongside Reiner on the Advisory Board of the Committee to Investigate Russia. Prominent among these is James Clapper, who, as Director of National Intelligence (2010-17), presided over agencies carrying out espionage and intrigue against governments and corporations internationally. Clapper lied to Congress about the massive and illegal NSA spying on US citizens.
Another illustrious member of the Board is Max Boot, the Russian-born anti-communist fanatic and proponent of US imperialist intervention everywhere. A strident supporter of George W. Bush and the “war on terror,” Boot supported the neo-colonial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Board is rounded out by Norman Ornstein of the ultra-right American Enterprise Institute and right-wing author and former talk show host Charles Sykes, notorious for his vicious attacks on the working class and poor in the guise of opposition to the “culture of entitlement.” Another individual publicly associated with the committee is David Frum, right-wing columnist and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, allegedly responsible for the “Axis of Evil” claim in the latter’s 2002 State of the Union address.
Who is this sinister crowd to demand an “investigation” into Russia, or anyone else? Clapper, Boot and Frum, to begin with, should be investigated and prosecuted for carrying out or propagandizing in support of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The claims in the committee’s video about the leadership of the “free world” provided by America, whose “democracy has been a shining example to the world of what we can all aspire to,” belong under the heading of the Hitlerian big lie. Leaving aside the fact that some of Freeman’s ancestors were slaves and taking into account only the past half-century or so, US imperialism has invaded country after country on the basis of lies (as Ken Burns’ documentary “The Vietnam War” is currently detailing), resulting in the deaths of millions of human beings.
No other elite on the face of the planet has the bloody record of the American ruling class. The Pentagon, the CIA and the entire gigantic military-intelligence apparatus do nothing on a 24-hour basis except conspire against the democratic rights of people around the world.
Nevertheless, the Committee to Investigate Russia’s mission statement reads, “On January 6, 2017, America’s intelligence agencies shared a declassified report concluding Russia had attacked our nation with the express goal of disrupting the presidential election and ultimately weakening our democracy. To this day, that destabilizing effort continues.”
That’s it! On the basis of this bald assertion, the committee declares that “We have been attacked. We are at war.”
As the WSWS noted in January, the cited report consists of unsupported conclusions by the CIA, FBI and NSA, “using the phrase ‘we assess’ 19 times without a single fact to demonstrate Russian involvement… One is left with the bare assertion: we, the intelligence community, have made a judgment, and you, the American people, must take it on faith.”
As for the “shining example” of American democracy at home, Freeman and Reiner are doing the bidding of Clapper, who is directly responsible for shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and establishing a surveillance police state structure that would be the envy of Orwell’s Big Brother.
Moreover, the hacked Democratic Party emails leaked by WikiLeaks during the 2016 election—attributed without any evidence to the machinations of Putin—contained true, not fake, information, which has not been contested by the Democrats or Clinton, about the anti-democratic efforts of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign to sabotage the challenge by Bernie Sanders, as well as the transcripts of Clinton’s fawning speeches to Wall Street, for which she received millions in speaking fees (i.e., bribes).
Such is the manipulated and anti-democratic character of a political system that enforces the monopoly of two right-wing capitalist parties that are controlled top to bottom by a financial oligarchy.
Have Reiner and Freeman thought about what an actual war with nuclear-armed Russia would mean? Tens of millions of dead, entire cities, regions or perhaps continents made uninhabitable, civilization thrown back decades or centuries. What incredible and contemptible irresponsibility!
It took right-winger Tucker Carlson of Fox News, of all people, to point out to Reiner some of the implications of his pro-war propaganda. On Carlson’s program Thursday, the host asked the actor-director, “How would you respond if President Trump took you seriously and sent the B-52s to St. Petersburg or blockaded the Gulf of Finland? Would you support that?”
Reiner responded disingenuously that “We’re not advocating going to war… or a traditional war with Russia… When we say we are at war, we are talking about a cyber war.” Carlson noted that the video “doesn’t make that clear… Morgan Freeman who everyone trusts… [says] we’re at war.”
Foreign policy divisions are a major factor driving the current anti-Russia campaign. Clapper and company view Russia as an obstacle to Washington’s drive for world hegemony and consider the Trump administration too soft or too distracted in this regard.
But for figures like Reiner and Freeman, looming larger is the social situation in the US and their dread of a popular radicalization. Their repugnant efforts coincide with the publication of Hillary Clinton’s book, Google’s efforts at censorship of left-wing websites and the ever more frequent cries heard in the American media and political establishment that “fake news,” which increasingly means anti-establishment opinion, is the source of discontent and social instability in the US.
Thus, the preposterous assertion in Freeman’s video that Putin, “using social media to spread propaganda and false information,” has convinced “people in democratic societies to distrust their media, their political processes, even their neighbors.”
Reiner and Freeman, wealthy celebrities each reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are intervening to encourage trust in a media and political establishment that is utterly discredited in the eyes of vast layers of the American and world population.
For decades, Reiner has been a big money-raiser for the Democrats in Hollywood. He strenuously campaigned for Clinton in the last election cycle. In November 2015, for instance, Reiner and his wife held a fundraiser at their home in the affluent Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. “Clinton attended a small reception in the Reiners’ entry parlor and later spoke in the garden, with about 350 in attendance,” according to Variety.
The event, “with tickets starting at $500, was billed as a conversation with Clinton.” The account continued: “Those who donated $2,700 got a photo with Clinton, and those who raised $27,000 got access to the host reception.”
During the campaign, Reiner attributed the persistence of support for Trump to the racism of white working class males. Speaking of such support, he told the Hollywood Reporter in September 2016, “Look at the demographics: It’s mostly white males who don’t have college degrees. And, you know, that’s Archie [Bunker]. Then there’s also a very serious strain of racism that runs through his followers…”
This is the voice of someone a thousand miles from the economic and social suffering of broad layers of the American population.
That Reiner is participating in the McCarthyite anti-Russian campaign has an ironic element. His father, Carl Reiner, veteran comedian, actor and director, had a brush with the anti-communist witch-hunts in the 1950s and even early 1960s.
The elder Reiner, now 95, had sufficient contact with left-wing figures in Hollywood during the time he was writing for and performing on Sid Caesar’s popular television program Your Show of Shows to warrant a visit from two FBI agents in 1954. They inquired about his voting habits and asked, according to Reiner, “Do you know any communists?”
Later, Reiner served as a “front”—someone who took public credit for the writing efforts of figures who were officially unemployable because of their association with the Communist Party—for blacklisted writer Frank Tarloff when Reiner was working on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s.
Now his son is taking part in this vile sequel to the McCarthyite anti-Russian hysteria of the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s.
Great Powers in return for postponing the
referendum of Kurdistan
The Secretary-General of the Socialist Party of Kurdistan, Mohammad Haji Mahmoud, Saturday, the proposal of the great powers of the Kurds in exchange for postponement of the referendum, noting that these countries will solve the problems between the center and the region.
“The United States, Britain, France and the United Nations offered to discuss the situation of the region, including the referendum on independence in the United Nations, in return for the Kurdish leadership to postpone the referendum two years,” said Mahmoud, close to the outgoing Kurdistan region president Massoud Barzani.
He added that “the American envoy to the international coalition against the urging of Bret McGuck, and the ambassadors of the United States, Britain and France and the head of the United Nations Mission in Iraq, presented this offer to Barzani the day before yesterday,” pointing out that “they stressed that if rejected, the region must bear the consequences.”
“The representatives of these countries pointed out that the meeting of the United Nations will discuss the file of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region and the referendum of independence, the three countries and the United Nations should try to resolve the existing problems between the region and the federal government.”
The Kurdistan Regional Parliament voted unanimously Friday to hold the referendum on September 25.
Barzani renewed his rejection of “postponement” of the referendum as a means to achieve independence and not a target. While calling on the people to “resist” and go to the referendum, he stressed that he “has not received” the alternative to this day.
The Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov reaffirmed that the attack launched by Jabhat al-Nusra in the area of de-escalation zone north of Hama came at the instigation of the US intelligence to stop the advance of the Syrian Army east of Deir Ezzor.
Peskov’s remarks came during a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Russian General Staff said that the attack of Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists on sites of the Syrian army north of Hama violated the de-escalation zone agreement and was “initiated by US secret services to stop the successful advance of government troops to the east of Deir Ezzor.”
Syrian government forces have managed to seize back oil fields in the militant-held northern province of Raqqah and in the eastern province of Day al-Zawr from Daesh Takfiri terrorists as they continue to score more territorial gains against the extremists across the war-ravaged Arab country.
An unnamed military source told Syria’s official news agency, SANA, on Saturday that army troopers had established complete control over Wahhab, al-Fahed, Dubeisan and al-Kabeer oil fields in addition to al-Qaseer, Abu al-Qetat and Abu Kattash oil wells during the military operations.
The source added that a large number of Daesh terrorists, including high-ranking Saudi and Tunisian militant commanders, were also killed and 29 car bombs, five battle tanks, five command centers, a training camp and two arms caches were destroyed.
Elsewhere in the Jam’ayiat al-Zahra district of the northwestern province of Aleppo, Syrian army units thwarted an attack by foreign-sponsored Takfiri extremists on military outposts.
Dozens of terrorists were killed and wounded as government soldiers engaged in fierce clashes with the Takfiris.
The developments came only a day after Syrian Air Force fighter jets bombarded Daesh positions in Raqqah and Hama, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists’ ranks and military equipment.
A military official, requesting anonymity, said several vehicles, a number of them equipped with heavy machineguns, were destroyed as the jets pounded al-Shujeiri, Khirbat al-Haloul, al-Zamla districts besides the southern and southwestern parts of Raqqah Province.
The official added that Syrian aircraft also targeted Daesh fortifications in Abu Hanaia and Salba districts in the western-central province of Hama.
The military official went on to say that Syrian Air Force aircraft also carried out a series of aerial assaults against Daesh gatherings near al-Kanamat Bridge, Huweija Bridge as well as Dayr al-Zawr Airport.
Syria has been fighting different foreign-sponsored militant and terrorist groups since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated last August that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the crisis until then.
[Pakistani officials will never stop lying about its safe-havens for the Afghan Taliban, and they will never admit the truth about the so-called “Quetta shura”, home-base for the Mullah Mansour branch of the Afghan Taliban.]
Kharotabad: A Taliban safe haven–Oct 17, 2011
Pakistan’s new leader, stung by President Trump’s threat to crack down on his country for harboring terrorists, insisted on Wednesday that Pakistani military forces had uprooted all the sanctuaries used by Islamic extremists along its rugged frontier with Afghanistan.
“We have regained control of the area,” the prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, said in an interview with The New York Times. “There are no sanctuaries anymore. There are none at all. I can categorically state that.”
“The order permits the Secretary of Treasury to seize the assets or property of any person who [helps N. Korea acquire] “any goods, services or technology.”
“In short, the United States is asserting the intention and right to ban from the US financial system and the dollar any entity from any country that trades with or finances trade with North Korea.”
What’s in the New Executive Order
When reading President Trump’s comments on the new Executive Order (EO) imposing new sanctions on North Korea, the author’s initial reaction was that they are, in part, a logical, intelligent next step after the passage of the recent UN Security Council Resolution (2375), which named additional North Korean economic sectors to the international sanctions campaign. Many of the industries targeted such as seafood and textiles have been flagged in recent UN resolutions. To this extent, the new Executive Order appeared to be adding the threat of US asset seizures and denial of access to the US financial system for any entity that violates the caps and bans on trade in those industries. This is an excellent and sensible way to deter sanctions evasion at least by firms with a significant stake in international commerce.
These new measures might increase marginally the effectiveness of the recent UN sanctions, but by how much would be a guess. The President’s lauding of recent actions by the Bank of China to discipline banks under its jurisdiction seemed to indicate that there was useful US-China sanctions cooperation in place, and would seem to indicate a shift from the threat to initiate a global trade war. In some areas where the EO went beyond the UN sanctions, such as new restrictions on ships or aircraft that make stops in North Korea from accessing US ports or airports for 180 days, it is not likely to have much impact. Nor is it a new idea, having been initiated in the ROK and Japan some time ago. Overall, the President’s announcement made it seem as if this was a minor, incremental sanctions effort.
But upon reading the text of the Executive Order, this view is 180 degrees at variance with the truth. The EO includes within it provisions that will allow the US to impose a full trade and financial embargo on North Korea unilaterally through the use of secondary sanctions. Section 1 (a) (iii) of the order permits the Secretary of Treasury to seize the assets or property of any person who “engages in one successful importation from or exportation to of any goods, services or technology.” Section 4 of the EO brings the full power of the US Treasury to bear against any bank that facilitates any trade with North Korea. Financial dealings with essentially any element of the government of North Korea are sanctionable (Section 4 (a) (i)). Facilitating any trade with North Korea is equally sanctionable (Section 4 (a) (ii)). The penalties prescribed are fatal to any bank using the dollar. They can have their assets seized and can be banned from the US financial system (Section 4 (b) (i) and (ii). In short, the United States is asserting the intention and right to ban from the US financial system and the dollar any entity from any country that trades with or finances trade with North Korea.
In combination with the President’s UN speech, we are witnessing the final phases of an effort to use sanctions against North Korea. Sanctions are no longer to be international instruments to coerce North Korea to the negotiating table. They are now unilateral instruments of a US economic war against North Korea in which states and firms will all have to comply or be US targets. This is consistent with the President’s UN speech in which he slammed the door on any hope of a negotiated settlement of this crisis (the subject of a separate article). They are, of course, not in the least consistent with his hymns to national sovereignty in that speech. Based on this EO, sanctions are no longer to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. Their only purpose can be to force the regime to capitulate under crushing economic pain or to create the conditions for regime collapse if it does not capitulate.
And Why It Is Unlikely To Work
It is not impossible for this approach to work. It is possible that the Trump administration has managed to work things out behind the scenes with China to prevent a US-China trade and financial war from emerging from America’s attempt to enforce this EO against key Chinese entities. It is also possible that North Korea might eventually be willing to pursue some diplomatic option, such as trying to negotiate some limit on long-range missile and nuclear testing in return for suspension of some sanctions in the EO. But this latter possibility seems highly unlikely given the recent statement by Kim Jong Un.
We are in new and dangerous territory. Sanctions are no longer the alternative to war. They may well be its prelude:
- First, the US will have to make its unilateral embargo stick globally. To do so, it will have to enforce its will and it is not certain it can do so only with secondary sanctions. (China is a master of finding small-scale banks and other entities with no stake in the US financial system to trade where it needs to trade in the face of US secondary sanctions.) There will be a temptation if things get frustrating either to expand the reach of secondary sanctions to whole countries or to enforce an embargo with military means such as a naval “quarantine” or blockade.
- Second, the effort may fail at a high humanitarian cost. While this effort may severely reduce the North’s access to foreign exchange and goods through legal means, the North Korean government has funded a great deal of its operations through illegal means such as smuggling, illicit drug dealing, counterfeiting and large scale cyber-crime. It has also shown an annoying capability to adapt to and defeat past sanctions. Black money alone may be enough to keep the regime elites and the nuclear weapons program funded while letting the general population suffer all the shortages, unemployment, hunger and disease that will come from a successful cutoff of global commerce. We could inflict a great deal of suffering on voiceless every day North Koreans before Kim Jong Un and his cronies feel a pinch.
- Third, there isn’t enough time to be sure this strategy will work. Crushing even a poor country like North Korea economically is not the work of a couple of weeks; it takes years. The US does not have years. It has months or maybe a year before North Korea reaches its goal of being able to target US cities in the lower 48 states with a thermonuclear weapon. This is very likely the point at which the inner councils of the Trump administration have already decided informally that war is inevitable. Their words increasingly reflect a view that preventive war is a preferable and feasible end state compared to the North Korean acquisition of a nuclear-armed ICBM capability of any size. And, of course, Kim Jong Un will respond somewhere and somehow—whether through cyber-attacks on the US or terrorism directed at Japan or the ROK or with some military action designed to create economic costs that cannot be predicted, but could spark conflict as well.
Moving Further Down the Slippery Slope Toward War
In sum, the new EO is probably the last word on sanctions as a mechanism to resolve the North Korean crisis. It is unlikely to be successful largely because the US does not have the time, the patience or the diplomatic possibilities to make it work. The author concluded after hearing the President’s UN speech that the probability that the North Korean crisis would end in a large war in East Asia is growing by the day. While intended to be an alternative to military conflict, this set of sanctions takes us another step down the road to that war.