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General News    H3'ed 5/22/20

Tomgram: Bob Dreyfuss, Iraq Redux?

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Let me quote a rare good guy and once-upon-a-time leader on this increasingly godforsaken planet of ours, former Soviet president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev. He recently wrote: "What we urgently need now is a rethinking of the entire concept of security... The overriding goal must be human security: providing food, water, and a clean environment and caring for people's health... I'll never tire of repeating: we need to demilitarize world affairs, international politics, and political thinking."

How true, and here's the sad truth: we are getting a rethinking of sorts in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As TomDispatch regular Bob Dreyfuss suggests today, that rethinking -- by the president of the United States, no less -- involves security, but only the future security of one man (and you know just who he is) in a world where he could be blamed for so much harm. At a moment when the United States and China, the two great powers on what looks to be an economically broken planet, should be working together to restore global health and well-being, Donald Trump has decided that he no longer even wants to talk to his former "friend," that "incredible guy," Chinese President Xi Jinping. ("Right now, I don't want to speak to him.") As Reuters reports, he's even threatening to cut all ties with China, which, if done, could make the protectionism of the Great Depression era look like the good old days. Meanwhile, he's begun bragging that his administration, which has been spending money "modernizing" the U.S. nuclear arsenal that goes with it at a pace equal to that of the other eight nuclear powers combined, is developing a new "super duper missile" that will leave China (and Russia) in the dust.

Honestly, for the president of a nation that's become the global epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis, the urge to dump full responsibility for whatever's happening, pandemic-related or otherwise, on the Chinese seems to have become overwhelming. (Mind you, the Chinese leadership hasn't exactly been a model of moderation when it comes to ludicrous charges and vitriolic claims aimed at the U.S. on the subject of the coronavirus.) As Dreyfuss explains today, the idea that everything happening to The Donald can be blamed on a lab in Wuhan, China, should bring to mind one of the lesser moments in our recent past, the Bush administration's march to war in Iraq based on the fakest of "intelligence." And count on this: when it comes to Donald Trump & Co., everything that's happened so far is only the beginning. Tom

The Wuhan Hoax
Covid-19 and Trump's War on the U.S. Intelligence Community
By Bob Dreyfuss

There's a meme that appears now and then on Facebook and other social media: "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it."

That's funny. What's not is that the Trump administration and its coterie of China-bashers, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and aided by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, have recently been dusting off the fake-intelligence playbook Vice President Dick Cheney used in 2002 and 2003 to justify war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. At that time, the administration of President George W. Bush put enormous pressure on the U.S. intelligence community to ratify spurious allegations that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and that his regime had assembled an arsenal of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Fantasy claims they may have been, but they did help to convince many skeptical conservatives and spooked liberals that a unilateral, illegal invasion of Iraq was urgently needed.

This time around, it's the Trump administration's reckless charge that Covid-19 -- maybe manmade, maybe not, advocates of this conspiracy theory argue -- was released perhaps deliberately, perhaps by accident from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, the city that was the epicenter of the outbreak late last year. It's a story that has ricocheted around the echo chambers of the far right, from conspiracy-oriented Internet kooks like Infowars' Alex Jones to semi-respectable media tribunes and radio talk-show hosts to the very highest reaches of the administration itself, including President Trump.

Unlike with Iraq in 2003, the U.S. isn't planning on going to war with China, at least not yet. But the Trump administration's zeal in shifting attention from its own bungling of the Covid-19 crisis to China's alleged culpability in creating a global pandemic only raises tensions precipitously between the planet's two great powers at a terrible moment. In the process, it essentially ensures that the two countries will be far less likely to cooperate in managing the long-term pandemic or collaboratively working on vaccines and cures. That makes it, as in 2002-2003, a matter of life and death.

Iraq Redux?

Back in 2002, the Bush administration launched an unending campaign of pressure on the CIA and other intelligence agencies to falsify, distort, and cherry-pick intelligence factoids that could be collated into a package linking al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein's Baghdad. At the Pentagon, neoconservatives like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith set up an ad hoc team that eventually took on the name of Office of Special Plans. It was dedicated to fabricating intelligence on Iraq.

Just in case the message didn't get across, Vice President Cheney made repeated visits to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to badger analysts to come up with something useful. In 2003, in "The Lie Factory," which I co-authored with Jason Vest for Mother Jones, we reported on how Wolfowitz, Feith, allied Defense Department officials like Harold Rhode, and neoconservative apparatchiks like David Wurmser, then a senior adviser to Iraq-war-touting State Department Undersecretary John Bolton (and now an unofficial advisor to Donald Trump on Iran), actively worked to purge Pentagon and CIA officials who resisted the push to shape or exaggerate intelligence. A year later, veteran spy-watcher James Bamford described the whole episode in excruciating detail in his 2004 book , A Pretext for War.

In 2020, however, President Trump is not just pressuring the intelligence community, or IC. He's at war with it and has been busy installing unprofessional know-nothings and sycophants in top positions there. His bitter antipathy began even before he was sworn into office, when he repeatedly refused to believe a sober analysis from the IC, including the CIA and FBI, that President Vladimir Putin of Russia had aided and abetted his election. Since then, he's continually railed and tweeted against what he calls "the deep state." And he's assigned his authoritarian attorney general, Bill Barr, to conduct a scorched-earth offensive against the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the FBI, and the Justice Department itself, most recently by dropping charges against admitted liar Michael Flynn, briefly Trump's first national security advisor.

To make sure that the IC doesn't challenge his wishes and does his bidding, Trump has moved to put his own political operatives in charge at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, created as part of an intelligence reorganization scheme after 9/11. The effort began in February when Trump named U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting DNI. A highly partisan, sharp-elbowed politico and spokesman for former National Security Advisor John Bolton, he harbors far-right views and is a Trump loyalist, as well as an acolyte of former Trump aide Steve Bannon. On arriving in Bonn as ambassador, Grenell soon endorsed the rise of Europe's anti-establishment ultra-right in an interview with Bannon's Breitbart News.

To bolster Grenell, the administration has called on another ultra-right crusader, Kash Patel. He has served as Republican Congressman Devin Nunes's aide in the campaign to discredit the Russia investigation and reportedly acted as a White House backchannel to Ukraine during the effort to stir up an inquiry in Kiev aimed at tarring former Vice President Joe Biden.

Following that, the president re-named Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas, one of the president's most enthusiastic defenders during the debate over impeachment, to serve as Grenell's permanent replacement at ODNI. In 2019, Trump first floated Ratcliffe's name for the post, but it was shot down days later, thanks to opposition from even Republican members of Congress, not to speak of intelligence professionals and various pundits. Now, he's back, awaiting likely confirmation.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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