21 April 2014

Foreign Policy Stops at the Water's Edge: The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance

Attached beneath my introduction is a brilliant essay, The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance, written by Robert Parry of Consortium News.  Parry describes how propaganda produced by this domestic alliance among a non-representative minority of unelected influence peddlers is fueling America's rush to a new Cold War with Russia.
There is nothing new, per se, in domestic politics fueling a rush to war.  During the height of the Cold War war, however, it was routine for American politicians and analysts calling for higher defense budgets to claim that foreign policy was broadly bipartisan -- i.e., that domestic politics stopped at the waters edge and the United States had a bi-partisan foreign policy
Of course, the claim that domestic politics stopped at the water edge was always patent nonsense.  Nevertheless, maintaining the popular fiction became a central prop in the domestic politics of fear used by the pol-mil apparat to suppress opponents of increased defense spending.  This was especially true during periods of economic 'austerity,' when maintaining high defense budgets required cutbacks in spending for social programs, like infrastructure modernization (bridges, sewers, schools, etc) or those aimed at social welfare, especially poverty relief, medical coverage, or social social security. 
In thinking through the implications of Parry's analysis, it is important to remember that a nation's foreign policy is always a reflection of its domestic politics.  This is especially the case for democracies.  President Eisenhower's warning about the dangers posed by the Military - Industrial (and I would add Congressional) Complex (or MICC) illustrates this point:  Was not his warning precisely about the danger posed by the rise of misplaced domestic political power accruing to those parts of the federal government and private economic sector that benefited from high levels of defense spending? Today, a whole cottage industry of think tanks and media outlets is organized around the requirement to produce the propaganda needed to prop up that misplaced power.
An economically weakened, war weary United States is now careening toward a New Cold War with Russia.  But this time, the march of folly is not accompanied by pretentious calls to bipartisanism or even patriotism.  On the contrary, it is clear to the entire world, if not the American people, that the stampede is being driven by the vitriolic excesses of America's deeply dysfunctional domestic politics.  
It is equally clear to anyone familiar with the politics of defense spending that the Ukrainian crisis comes at a propitious moment for the MICC.  The MICC  needs desperately to protect its huge unauditable defense budget from the cutbacks implicit in the dreaded budget sequester.  A return to the good wholesome fear of the Russkies, headed by a demonic Putin, is just the ticket to create the hysteria needed to stampede the American people into supporting higher defense budgets at the expense of their own social welfare.  Think about it -- when was the last last time, you even heard or read about a prominent politician invoking the fig leaf of a bipartisan foreign policy to pay for the sacrifices implicit in this stampede?  
Any reader who doubts that domestic politics can fuel a march to war need only read a history of the origins of the Spanish American War, with a special eye to the roles played by yellow journalism and the factional interests of imperialism.  
Or, in the context of creating a new cold war, that reader might recall the stump speech of Senator John "Country First" McCain where he claimed on 12 August 2008 that he told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "we are all Georgians.   His warmongering rhetoric occurred at the height  Russo-Georgia crisis; but more to the point, it was also during height of his increasingly smarmy campaign for the presidency.  By insinuation, the goal of McCain's political gambit was to suggest Obama was unqualified to be President because of weakness and inexperience in foreign policy.  Even the editors of the warmongering neo-conservative Washington Post saw McCain's statement for what it was and carried it in the Campaign Diary section of the paper.
Moreover, one does have to be in the middle of a presidential election to see such a bizarre invocation of one'a nationality. In fact, McCain just changed his nationality again on 28 February 2014 to invoke the formulaic words of 2008:  McCain, an ardent supporter of the putsch (by a cabal that included the neo-nazi Right Sector party among its members) in Kiyiv that deposed the popularly elected (but corrupt) President Yanukovich, blasted President Obama's timidity again, this time claiming that "we are all Ukrainians." Significantly the senator did not even suggest a covering sham of a need for bipartisanship in what was a clearly an effort to exploit the unfolding events in Crimea to his and his party's domestic political advantage.
 With this in mind, let us now turn to Parry's analysis of how the domestic politics implicit in the Neocon-R2P Alliance are fueling America's march to a New Cold War.  Parry, an independent journalist, is one of the last really good investigative reporters in Washington. He analyzes how the domestic politics of warmongering factions are shaping and interfering with President Obama's capacity or desire to cope with the chaotic interplay of chance and necessity in Ukraine.  Of particular importance, I think, is Parry's illuminating analysis of the toxic feedback created by Mr. Obama's pusillanimous desire to emulate President Lincoln's overly mythologized team of rivals.  
Parry's portrayal of Obama's haphazard response to this unfolding crisis is faintly reminiscent of the interplay between chance and necessity that amplified the great European crisis of 100 years ago.  Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany intensified the crisis of 1914 by issuing the Austro-Hungarians the famous blank check without thinking thru its consequences.  Wilhelm then departed Germany for long-planned a vacation cruise in the North Sea, only to find out too late that he had ensnared himself in the vise of the interlocking mobilizations that led to a European war he did not want.  In a sense, he became a prisoner of the ambitions of others.  (Replace the blank check with Obama's penchant for red lines and you get the idea of this comparison.)  Despite Wilhelm's last minute efforts to slow and reverse the march to war, he ended up launching that war with an unprovoked invasion of neutral Belgium, thereby enraging the world and triggering a grand-strategic catastrophe for Germany.  Its repercussions plague the world to this day -- including the echoes which are now being heard in Ukraine.   Obama narrowly escaped being maneuvered into a grand-strategic disaster in Syria; it remains an open question whether he will do so in Ukraine.
I urge you to read Parry's important analysis and ask yourself if the domestic politics implicit in the Neocon-R2P Alliance are leading America in the direction of a sensible grand strategy. Obama narrowly escaped disaster in Syria, 
The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance
Exclusive: After U.S. neocons helped stir up a crisis in Ukraine—with a big assist from the biased American press corps – the Obama administration looked for a diplomatic off-ramp, but this pattern of hyped outrage and belated reconciliation is a risky way to make foreign policy, says Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry, Consortium News, 18 April 2014
[reprinted with permission of the author/editor]
The American mainstream news media has rarely bought in so thoroughly to a U.S. government propaganda campaign as it has in taking sides in support of the post-coup government in Ukraine and against Russia and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Part of this is explained by the longstanding animus toward Russian President Vladimir Putin for his autocratic style, his shirtless photographs and his government’s opposition to gay rights. Another part is a hangover from the Cold War when the Russkies were the enemy. In Official Washington, there is palpable nostalgia for the days of Ronald Reagan’s anticommunist swagger and “Red Dawn” fantasies.
But another reason for the biased coverage from the U.S. press corps is the recent fusion of the still-influential neoconservatives with more liberal “responsibility to protect” (R2P) activists who believe in “humanitarian” military interventions. The modern mainstream U.S. news media is dominated by these two groups: neocons on the right and R2Pers on the center-left.
As one longtime Washington observer told me recently the neocons are motivated by two things, love of Israel and hatred of Russia. Meanwhile, the R2Pers are easily enamored of idealistic young people in street protests.
The two elements of this alliance – the neocons and the R2Pers – also now represent the dominant foreign policy establishment in Official Washington, with the few remaining “realists” largely shoved to the side, including to some degree President Barack Obama who has “realist” tendencies in seeking to limit use of U.S. military power but continues to cede control over his administration’s actions abroad to aggressive neocon-R2P operatives.
During Obama’s first term, he made the fateful decision to create a “team of rivals” of powerful political and bureaucratic figures – the likes of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus. They skillfully funneled the President into hawkish decisions that they wanted, such as a “surge” of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and a major confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. (Both positions were pushed by the neocons.)
In 2011, the neocons and the R2Pers teamed up for the war against Libya, which was sold to the United Nations Security Council as simply a limited intervention to protect civilians in the east whom Muammar Gaddafi had labeled “terrorists.” However, once the U.S.-orchestrated military operation got going, it quickly turned into a “regime change” war, eliminating longtime neocon nemesis, Gaddafi, to Hillary Clinton’s hawkish delight.
In Obama’s second term, the original “team of rivals” is gone, but foreign policy is being defined by the likes of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a neocon, and Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, a leading R2Per, with a substantial supporting role by neocon Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Obama defeated McCain in 2008, but McCain now is pulling the strings of Secretary of State John Kerry, who also appears enamored of the hawkish stances demanded by Nuland and Power.
Power was a passionate advocate for bombing Syria to degrade the military capabilities of President Bashar al-Assad who is in the midst of a bloody civil war. For her part, Nuland threw the weight of the U.S. government behind Ukrainian protesters who – with crucial help from neo-Nazi militias – ousted elected (but corrupt) President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
To the surprise of many people who knew Kerry in his early days – as a Vietnam veteran against the war and as an aggressive Senate investigator in the 1980s – Kerry has consistently taken the side of the neocons and the R2Pers. As Secretary of State since February 2013, he also has built a dubious reputation for himself as someone who rushes to judgments and disregards evidence when the facts are inconvenient. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry?”]
Sarin Attack
After a sarin gas attack last Aug. 21 outside Damascus, Kerry jumped to the conclusion that Assad’s government was at fault despite serious doubts within the U.S. intelligence community and among independent analysts. Then, without presenting a shred of verifiable evidence, he gave a bellicose speech on Aug. 30 claiming repeatedly that “we know” that the regime did it.
Though it still has not been ascertained whether regime forces or the rebels were responsible, it is now clear that Kerry was wrong in asserting U.S. government certainty, especially after a team of rocket scientists determined that the one rocket found to carry sarin had a maximum range of about two kilometers, much less than was needed to fit with Kerry’s claims.
One of those scientists, MIT’s Theodore Postol, told MintPress News that “According to our analysis, I would not … claim that I know who executed the attack, but it’s very clear that John Kerry had very bad intelligence at best or, at worst, lied about the intelligence he had.”
Postol compared Kerry’s presentation to the Bush-43 administration’s assertions about Iraq possessing WMD in 2002-03 and the Johnson administration citing the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964. Postol also noted the failure of the U.S. press to question the U.S. government’s accusations against Syria.
“To me, the fact that people are not focused on how the administration lied is very disturbing and shows how far the community of journalists and the community of so-called security experts has strayed from their responsibility,” Postol said. “The government so specifically distorted the evidence that it presented a very real danger to the country and the world. I am concerned about the collapse of traditional journalism and the future of the country.”
Just this week, Kerry further augmented his new reputation as a person who doesn’t check his facts and simply spouts propaganda. On Thursday, after a Geneva conference called to tamp down tensions in Ukraine, Kerry rhetorically poured fuel on the fire by citing a claim about pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine threatening local Jews.
“Just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews. And obviously, the accompanying threat implied is – or threatened – or suffer the consequences, one way or the other,” Kerry said.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that.”
However, in the days before Kerry spoke, the distribution of the leaflet in Donetsk had been denounced as a black-propaganda hoax designed to discredit the pro-Russian protesters.
A Reported Hoax
As JTA, “the Global Jewish News Source,” reported on Wednesday, “Pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine denied any involvement in the circulation of fliers calling on Jews to register with separatists and pay special taxes.” Among those denying the legitimacy of the fliers was Denis Pushilin, the person whose name was signed at the bottom. He termed the fliers a “provocation” designed to discredit the resistance in eastern Ukraine against the post-coup regime in Kiev.
The issue of anti-Semitism has been a sensitive one for the Kiev regime because neo-Nazi militias played a key role in overthrowing President Yanukovych on Feb. 22, and now – renamed as Ukraine’s “National Guard” – these militias have joined in the repression of the protests in eastern Ukraine, including the killing of three protesters this week.
The right-wing Svoboda party and the Right Sektor, which spearheaded the decisive attacks that forced Yanukovych to flee for his life, trace their political lineage back to Stepan Bandera, a World War II Nazi collaborator whose paramilitary force took part in the extermination and expulsion of Jews and Poles to ethnically purify Ukraine.
So, the distribution of anti-Semitic fliers would have served an important political purpose for the Kiev regime by allowing it and its American backers to deflect questions about neo-Nazis in the west by fingering pro-Russians in the east for anti-Semitism. The men who passed out the leaflets were dressed up as pro-Russian paramilitaries but their identities are unknown.
On Friday, the New York Times sought to dispute the possibility that the men might have been pro-Kiev provocateurs by arguing that “there is no evidence” that pro-Kiev operatives are functioning in Donetsk.
But the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy has on its payroll a number of activists and “journalists” operating in Donetsk and elsewhere in the east, according to NED’s list of 65 projects in Ukraine. Founded in 1983, NED took over – in a quasi-public fashion – many of the covert operations formerly run by the CIA.
Last September, NED’s neocon president Carl Gershman wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that called Ukraine “the biggest prize,” the capture of which could ultimately lead to the ouster of Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
By citing the suspect flier without noting that its supposed author had already denied its authenticity, Kerry reinforced the growing impression that he is an erratic and biased if not dishonest diplomat.
Obama’s Equivocation
Obama’s role in his administration’s foreign policy fiascos has mostly been to be caught off guard by mischief that his independent-minded underlings have stirred up. Then, once a crisis is touched off – and the propaganda machinery starts churning out hyperbolic alarms – Obama joins in the rhetorical exaggerations before he tries, quietly, to work out some compromise.
In other words, rather than driving the agenda, Obama goes with the neocon-R2P flow before searching for a last-second off-ramp to avert catastrophe. That creates what looks like a disorganized foreign policy consisting of much tough talk but little actual hard power. The cumulative effect has been to make Obama appear weak and indecisive.
One example was Syria, where Obama drew a “red line” suggesting a U.S. military strike if Assad’s regime used chemical weapons. When sarin was used on Aug. 21 resulting in hundreds of deaths, Official Washington’s neocons and R2Pers quickly fingered Assad, firmed up that “group think,” and ridiculed anyone who doubted this conventional wisdom.
With Kerry running near the front of the stampede, Obama tagged along repeating what all the important people thought they knew – that Assad was guilty– but Obama steered away from the war cliff at the last minute. He referred the issue to Congress and then accepted a compromise devised by Putin to have Assad surrender all his chemical weapons, even as Assad continued denying a role in the Aug. 21 attack.
After that Syrian deal was struck, the neocons and R2Pers pummeled Obama for weakness in deciding not to launch major military strikes against Syrian targets. Obama managed to avert another Mideast war but he faced accusations of vacillation.
The Ukraine crisis is following a similar pattern. The neocons and R2Pers immediately took the side of the western Ukrainian protesters in the Maidan as they challenged elected President Yanukovych who hails from eastern Ukraine.
Assistant Secretary Nuland openly supported the rebellion, reminding Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations,” literally passing out cookies to the protesters and secretly plotting who should replace Yanukovych. Her choice, “Yats” or Arseniy Yatsenyuk, not surprisingly ended up as prime minister after the Feb. 22 coup, and he quickly pushed through the parliament a harsh austerity plan demanded by the International Monetary Fund.
R2Pers also rallied to the cause of the Maidan protesters, citing a principled responsibility to protect civilians resisting government repression. However, the R2Pers have taken a remarkably different stance toward the Ukrainians in the east who have risen up against the unelected post-coup regime in Kiev. Those protesters are simply dismissed as pawns of the Russians, deserving whatever they get.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a prominent R2Per, even wants the U.S. government to arm the Kiev regime so it can put down the pro-Russian protesters violently. On Thursday, Kristof wrote from Kiev: “For decades, Ukrainians have been starved, oppressed and bullied by Russians, and with Russia now inciting instability that could lead to an invasion and dismemberment of eastern Ukraine, plenty of brave Ukrainians here say they’ve had it and are ready to go bear-hunting.”
So, while virtually no one in the mainstream U.S. media will acknowledge the well-documented role played by American neocons and other operatives in inciting instability in Kiev, leading to the violent overthrow of the elected president, almost everyone in the MSM accepts as indisputable fact that the eastern Ukrainian protests against the post-coup regime in Kiev are simply Russian provocations deserving of a violent response.
Economic Pressures
But an oddly discordant note was sounded in the Washington Post of all places. On Thursday, correspondent Anthony Faiola reported from Donetsk that many of the eastern Ukrainians whom he interviewed said the unrest was driven by fear over “economic hardship” and the IMF austerity plan that will make their lives even harder.
“At a most dangerous and delicate time, just as it battles Moscow for hearts and minds across the east, the pro-Western government is set to initiate a shock therapy of economic measures to meet the demands of an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund,” Faiola reported.
In other words, even as Kerry, the neocons and the R2Pers blame only the Russians for the unrest in the east, a rare case of actual reporting from the scene finds a more realistic explanation, that many people in eastern Ukraine feel disenfranchised by the violent overthrow of their candidate Yanukovych and are frightened at the prospects of soaring heating bills and other cuts in their already austere lifestyles.
As for President Obama — as a timid “realist” — he has played his typical double game. He responded to the pro-Kiev bias of Official Washington by piling on with angry denunciations of Putin, but – recognizing the painful consequences that would come from a full-blown confrontation with Russia – Obama authorized negotiations to reduce tensions, an agreement that was announced on Thursday in Geneva.
Yet, even if the Ukrainian crisis is gradually walked back from the edge, I’m told that lasting damage has been done to the working relationship that had developed, behind the scenes, between Obama and Putin, collaboration that helped avert a U.S. war on Syria and hammered out a compromise to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.
Putin had hoped that Russian cooperation on those two dangerous issues would open the door to other collaboration with Obama. But the Ukraine crisis brought those prospects to a halt. The Russians are particularly sensitive to the harsh rhetoric emanating from Kerry but also from Obama.
One adviser to the Russian government told me that the people around Putin feel that they are being treated shabbily even as Obama has benefited from their help.
The adviser summed up the Russian attitude: “How can you expect me to work with you during the day when you sleep with my wife at night? How can you whisper in my ear that we are friends and then go out in public and say terrible things about me? It doesn’t work that way.”
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

15 April 2014

Turkey’s Rogue Game in Syria

Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Rebel Groups?

by PATRICK COCKBURN, Counterpunch, 14 April 2014

[Reprinted with permission of editor of Counterpunch]

The US’s Secretary of State John Kerry and its UN ambassador, Samantha Power have been pushing for more assistance to be given to the Syrian rebels. This is despite strong evidence that the Syrian armed opposition are, more than ever, dominated by jihadi fighters similar in their beliefs and methods to al-Qa’ida. The recent attack by rebel forces around Latakia, northern Syria, which initially had a measure of success, was led by Chechen and Moroccan jihadis.

America has done its best to keep secret its role in supplying the Syrian armed opposition, operating through proxies and front companies. It is this which makes Seymour Hersh’s article “The Red Line and The Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels” published last week in the London Review of Books, so interesting.

Attention has focussed on whether the Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, aided by Turkish intelligence, could have been behind the sarin gas attacks in Damascus last 21 August, in an attempt to provoke the US into full-scale military intervention to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” a former senior US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.
Critics vehemently respond that all the evidence points to the Syrian government launching the chemical attack and that even with Turkish assistance, Jabhat al-Nusra did not have the capacity to use sarin.

A second and little-regarded theme of Hersh’s article is what the CIA called the rat line, the supply chain for the Syrian rebels overseen by the US in covert cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The information about this comes from a highly classified and hitherto secret annex to the report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the attack by Libyan militiamen on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. The annex deals with an operation in which the CIA, in cooperation with MI6, arranged the dispatch of arms from Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s arsenals to Turkey and then across the 500-mile long Turkish southern frontier with Syria. The annex refers to an agreement reached in early 2012 between Obama and Erdogan with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying funding. Front companies, purporting to be Australian, were set up, employing former US soldiers who were in charge of obtaining and transporting the weapons. According to Hersh, the MI6 presence enabled the CIA to avoid reporting the operation to Congress, as required by law, since it could be presented as a liaison mission.

The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen. The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers. The disaster in Benghazi, which soon ballooned into a political battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.

This happened at the moment when Assad’s forces were starting to gain the upper hand and al-Qa’ida-type groups were becoming the cutting edge of the rebel military.

The failure of the rebels to win in 2012 left their foreign backers with a problem. At the time of the fall of Gaddafi they had all become over-confident, demanding the removal of Assad when he still held all Syria’s 14 provincial capitals. “They were too far up the tree to get down,” according to one observer. To accept anything other than the departure of Assad would have looked like a humiliating defeat.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar went on supplying money while Sunni states turned a blind eye to the recruitment of jihadis and to preachers stirring up sectarian hatred against the Shia. But for Turkey the situation was worse. Efforts to project its power were faltering and all its chosen proxies – from Egypt to Iraq – were in trouble. It was evident that al-Qa’ida-type fighters, including Jahat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and Ahrar al-Sham were highly dependent on Turkish border crossings for supplies, recruits and the ability to reach safety. The heaviest intra-rebel battles were for control of these crossings. Turkey’s military intelligence, MIT, and the paramilitary Gendarmerie played a growing role in directing and training jihadis and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular.

The Hersh article alleges that the MIT went further and instructed Jabhat al-Nusra on how to stage a sarin gas attack in Damascus that would cross Obama’s red line and lead to the US launching an all-out air attack. Vehement arguments rage over whether this happened. That a senior US intelligence officer is quoted by America’s leading investigative journalist as believing that it did, is already damaging Turkey.

Part of the US intelligence community is deeply suspicious of Erdogan’s actions in Syria. It may also be starting to strike home in the US and Europe that aid to the armed rebellion in Syria means destabilising Iraq. When Isis brings suicide bombers from across the Turkish border into Syria it can as easily direct them to Baghdad as Aleppo.

The Pentagon is much more cautious than the State Department about the risks of putting greater military pressure on Assad, seeing it as the first step in a military entanglement along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are the main opponents of a greater US military role. Both sides in the US have agreed to a programme under which 600 Syrian rebels would be trained every month and jihadis would be weeded out. A problem here is that the secular moderate faction of committed Syrian opposition fighters does not really exist. As always, there is a dispute over what weapons should be supplied, with the rebels, Saudis and Qataris insisting that portable anti-aircraft missiles would make all the difference. This is largely fantasy, the main problem being that the rebel military forces are fragmented into hundreds of war bands.

It is curious that the US military has been so much quicker to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya than civilians like Kerry and Power. The killing of Ambassador Stevens shows what happens when the US gets even peripherally involved in a violent, messy crisis like Syria where it does not control many of the players or much of the field.

Meanwhile, a telling argument against Turkey having orchestrated the sarin gas attacks in Damascus is that to do so would have required a level of competence out of keeping with its shambolic interventions in Syria over the past three years.

14 April 2014

How Obama's Rhetoric Reinforces America's Grand Strategic Pathway to Catastrophe

Future historians may well view the 25 year pattern of aggressive behaviour exhibited by the United States since the end of the Cold War to be acts of arrogant triumphalism aimed at humiliating the Russian remnants of its Cold War adversary.  Examples are overwhelming, including America's promotion of (a) NATO expansion after making promises to the contrary, (b) the wars of the Yugoslav succession culminating in the Kosovo War, (c) the neo-liberal looting of Russian state property during the Yeltsin regime, (d) the abrogation of the ABM treaty, (e) the unprovoked aggression in Iraq, (f) the unfocused whack-a-mole' war on 'terror' in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc., (g) the "colour revolutions" in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan (h) the war of 'responsibility-to-protect' humanitarian aggression in Libya, (i) the quasi alliance with and support of Jihadis in the murderous civil war in Syria in the name of regime change, and now (j) the tolerance of neo-fascist conspirators and provocateurs in the active pursuit of regime change in Ukraine. 
It now seems probable, perhaps inevitable, that a comparison of America's behaviour with the disastrous triumphalism, vindictiveness, cynicism, and outright lying exhibited by the Allies during the 1919 Versailles 'peace' conference lies in the historical offing. 
The basic goal of any sensible grand strategy should be to end conflict on terms that do not sow the seeds of future conflict. Yet the United States seems to be careening out of control in the opposite direction.  
Barack Obama, a man who likes to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln (a man who understood the nature of a sensible grand strategy), promised to change America's behaviour.  He came out of nowhere to win the presidential campaign of 2008 with soaring rhetoric centered on the now forgotten slogan: "change you can believe in."  But as president, the mismatch between Mr. Obama's words and deeds emerged to cement the status quo, including especially America's grand-strategic march to disaster.
Of course, Obama is merely a bit player in an ongoing drama: the roots of America's grand strategic pathway to catastrophe reach deeper into the dim mists surrounding the origins of the Cold War and especially the domestic politics defense spending accompanying the rise of the Permanent War Economy that began 65 years ago. The habits and mores of the war economy are now deeply woven into the fabric of our domestic politics. (See for example, my essay The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War)  

The essay linked below by David Bromwich, a professor of literature at Yale, brilliantly analyzes the central role of Obama's rhetoric plays perpetuating destructive grand-strategic policies of his three immediate predecessors. I urge you to read the entire essay carefully. 
Ukraine and Iraq: A Reminder
David Bromwich, Huffington Post, 27 March 2014 

Yesterday President Obama gave a speech at the Palais des Beaux Arts center in Brussels. His ostensible audience was the European Union chiefs. His intended audience was all the second-echelon Great Powers (minus Russia and China). Some phrases at Brussels showed the usual signs of his workmanship: 

"Those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonists across an ocean." 

"Dizzying change opens the door of opportunity to the marginalized."

"We've never met these people, but we know them. Their voices echo calls for human dignity that rang out in European streets and squares for generations."

"Freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny, because that is what forever stirs in the human heart." 

Read those sentences in order and you pretty much have the plot of it. The stately march of eloquent platitudes, with a dash of humility and an echo of Lincoln like stardust on his sleeve -- it is the pattern we have come to know in many settings. And it prompts a thought. The president might at this point consider the value of not being inspirational. 

Obama thinks of speech-making as one of his most important functions. But all of his major speeches have a peculiar quality, at once calming and stirring, emollient and assertive. He does not hesitate to provoke large actions in which he cannot participate. 

The gap between Obama's words and actions has now become one of the identifying marks of his presidency. ...

Continued here at the Huffington Post.

12 April 2014

Peace Talks in the Land of Make-Believe

The author is a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, a former member of the Knesset, and Israel's leading peace activist.  This essay is a particularly clear statement of the obvious: the so-called peace process is a sham that only serves as a cover to expand settlement expansion.


In One Word: Poof!
Peace Talks in the Land of Make-Believe
by URI AVNERY, Counterpunch

[re-printed with permission of the editor]

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.
In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.
“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.
John Kerry cannot be blamed. He took the whole thing seriously. He is an earnest politician, who tried very very hard to make peace between Israel and Palestine. We should be grateful for his efforts.
The trouble is that Kerry had not the slightest idea of what he was getting himself into.
The entire “peace process” revolves around a basic misconception. Some would say: a basic lie.
Namely: that we have here two equal sides of a conflict. A serious conflict. An old conflict. But a conflict that can be solved when reasonable people of the two sides sit down together and thrash it out, guided by a benevolent and impartial referee.
Not one detail of these assumptions was real. The referee was not impartial.  The leaders were not sensible. And most importantly: the sides were not equal.
The balance of power between the two sides is not 1:1, not even 1:2 or 1:10. In every material respect – military, diplomatic, economic – it is more like one to a thousand.
There is no equality between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed. A jailer and a prisoner cannot negotiate on equal terms. When one side has total command of the other, controls his every move, settles on his land, controls his money flow, arrests people at will, blocks his access to the UN and the International courts, equality is out of the question.
If the two sides to negotiations are so extremely unequal, the situation can only be remedied by the mediator supporting the weaker side. What is happening is the very opposite: the American support for Israel is massive and unstinting.
Throughout the “negotiations” the US did nothing to check the settlement activity that created more Israeli facts on the ground – the very ground whose future the negotiations were all about.
A prerequisite for successful negotiations is that all sides have at least a basic understanding not only of each other’s interests and demands, but even more of each other’s mental world, emotional setup and self-image. Without that, all moves are inexplicable and look irrational.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, one of the most intelligent people I have met in my life, once told me: “You have in Israel the most intelligent experts on the Arab world. They have read all the books, all the articles, every single word written about it. They know everything, and understand nothing. Because they have never lived one day in an Arab country.”
The same is true for the American experts, only much more so. In Washington DC one feels the rarefied air of a Himalayan peak. Seen from the grandiose palaces of the administration, where the fate of the world is decided, foreign people look small, primitive and largely irrelevant. Here and there some real experts are tucked away, but nobody really consults them.
The average American statesman has not the slightest idea of Arab history, world-view, religions, myths or the traumas that shape Arab attitudes, not to mention the Palestinian struggle. He has no patience for this primitive nonsense.
Seemingly, the American understanding of Israel is much better. But not really.
Average American politicians and diplomats know a lot about Jews. Many of them are Jews. Kerry himself seems to be partly Jewish. His peace team includes many Jews, even Zionists, including the actual manager of the negotiations, Martin Indyk, who worked in the past for AIPAC. His very name is Yiddish (and means a Turkey).
The assumption is that Israelis are not very different from American Jews. But that is entirely false. Israel may claim to be the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”, but that is only an instrument for exploiting the Jewish Diaspora and creating obstacles for the “peace process”. In reality there is very little similarity between Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora, not much more than between a German and a Japanese.
Martin Indyk may feel an affinity with Tzipi Livni, the daughter of an Irgun fighter (or “terrorist” in British parlance), but that is an illusion. The myths and traumas that shaped Tzipi are very different from those that shaped Martin, who was educated in Australia.
If Barack Obama and Kerry knew more, they would have realized from the beginning that the present Israeli political setup makes any Israeli evacuation of the settlements, withdrawal from the West Bank and compromise about Jerusalem quite impossible.
All this is true for the Palestinian side, too.
Palestinians are convinced that they understand Israel. After all, they have been under Israeli occupation for decades. Many of them have spent years in Israeli prisons and speak perfect Hebrew. But they have made many mistakes in their dealings with Israelis.
The latest one was the belief that Israel would release the fourth batch of prisoners. This was almost impossible. All Israeli media, including the moderate ones, speak about releasing “Palestinian murderers”, not Palestinian activists or fighters. Right-wing parties compete with each other, and with rightist “terror-victims”, in denouncing this outrage.
Israelis do not understand the deep emotions evoked by the non-release of prisoners – the national heroes of the Palestinian people, though Israel itself has in the past exchanged a thousand Arab prisoners for one single Israeli, citing the Jewish religious command of “redemption of prisoners”.
It has been said that Israel always sells a “concession” three times: once when promising it, once when signing an official agreement about it and thirdly when actually fulfilling the undertaking. This happened when the time came to implement the third withdrawal from the West Bank under the Oslo agreements, which never happened.
Palestinians know nothing about Jewish history as taught in Israeli schools, very little about the holocaust, even less about the roots of Zionism.
Recent negotiations started as “peace talks”, continued about a “framework” for further negotiations, and now the talks have degenerated to talks about the talks about the talks.
Nobody wants to break off the farce, because all three sides are afraid of the alternative.
The American side is afraid of a general onslaught of the Zionist-evangelical-Republican-Adelson bulldozer on the Obama administration in the next elections. Already the State Department is frantically trying to retreat from the Kerry “poof”. He did not mean that only Israel is to blame, they assert, the fault lies with both sides. The jailer and the prisoner are equally to blame.
As usual, the Israeli government has many fears. It fears the outbreak of a third intifada, coupled with a world-wide campaign of de-legitimization and boycott of Israel, especially in Europe.
It also fears that the UN, which at present recognizes Palestine only as a non-member state, will go on and promote it more and more.
The Palestinian leadership, too, is afraid of a third intifada, which may lead to a bloody uprising. Though all Palestinians speak about a “non-violent intifada”, few really believe in it. They remember that the last intifada also started non-violently, but the Israeli army responded by deploying snipers to kill the leaders of the demonstrations, and more suicide bombing became inevitable.
President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has responded to the non-release of the prisoners, which amounted to a personal humiliation, by signing the documents necessary for the Palestinian State to join 15 international conventions.  The Israeli government exploded in anger. How dare they?
In practice, the act means little. One signature means that Palestine joins the Geneva Convention. Another concerns the protection of children. Shouldn’t we welcome this? But the Israeli government fears that this is one step nearer to the acceptance of Palestine as a member of the International Criminal Court, and perhaps the indictment of Israelis for war crimes.
Abbas is also planning steps for a reconciliation with Hamas and the holding of Palestinian elections, in order to strengthen his home front.
If you were poor John Kerry, what would you say to all this?
“Poof!” seems the very minimum.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

09 April 2014

Ukraine: Popular Uprising or Fascist Coup?

Attached below is an important, thoughtful, and nuanced analysis of recent events in the Ukraine.  
It is long and complex, but that complexity has value in itself:  It illustrates the dangers of yet another round of the “arrogance of ignorance”* propelling America to become more involved in the Ukrainian crisis -- a crisis about which most Americans know almost nothing.  If you think this is a harsh characterization, consider this poll showing that most Americans can not even locate Ukraine on a map! 
 Also, when considering calls to boost military spending to start a new Cold War with Russia, like that made by former defense secretary Robert Gates in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Putin’s Challenge to the West, think about the following question raised by Mike Lofgren: Given that the “aggregate GDP of the EU (including non-eurozone members like the UK) is roughly $16.5 trillion. Russia’s GDP is roughly $2.0 trillion. Ask yourself how a trading bloc with 8X the economy of Russia cannot deal with it on its own.” 
* The "arrogance of ignorance" is a phrase used by Robert Asprey in his seminal history of guerrilla war, War in the Shadows, to characterize the decision making by America's political and military leaders in Vietnam.

Ukraine: Popular Uprising or Fascist Coup?
Steven Shenfield, 05 April 2014
originally posted on Johnson’s Russia List
[reprinted with permission of the author]

Was the Yanukovych government in Ukraine overthrown in a popular uprising (as Western propaganda claims) or by means of a fascist coup (the official Russian version)?
The broad movement of social protest that led to the change of regime, called in Ukraine ‘the Maidan’ (meaning ‘public square’) or ‘Euromaidan’, was on the whole democratic and liberal in orientation. But it also included ultra-nationalist groups, the two main ones being the political party named ‘the All-Ukraine Union Svoboda’ – henceforth ‘Svoboda’ – and the paramilitary coalition that calls itself the ‘Right Sector’ (RS).
In order to answer the question in the title, we have to tackle three subsidiary questions:
First, how much justification is there for calling Svoboda and RS fascist?
Second, how crucial was their role in bringing about the collapse of the old government?
Third, how much influence do they have in the new government and over the general political situation in Ukraine following the change of regime?
I shall assume that the reader has a general idea of the regional division in Ukrainian politics between ‘Oranges’ (mainly Ukrainian speakers in Western and Central Ukraine) and ‘Blues’ (mainly Russian speakers in Eastern and Southern Ukraine) [1].  
Were the ‘Banderites’ of 1929—1953 fascists?
Both Svoboda and most of the groups that make up RS belong to what is known as the ‘Banderite’ tradition of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, which harks back to the activity of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) over the period 1929—1953 [2]. The OUN/UIA fought in Western Ukraine for an independent Ukrainian state at a time when the region was successively under Polish (up to 1939), Nazi German (1941-44) and Soviet (1939-41, 1944-53) rule. When German troops arrived in summer 1941 the Banderites proclaimed a Ukrainian state in Lvov in the hope that it would become part of the Nazis’ New Order, but it was promptly suppressed.
The Banderites were ‘organic’ or ‘integral’ nationalists, meaning that they imagined the nation as a single organism whose interests superseded the rights of individuals. Most students of fascism regard organic nationalism as essential to fascism but insufficient in itself to qualify a movement as fascist. Aleksandr Zaitsev argues that the OUN did not satisfy all the other criteria of fascism: in particular, it never acquired an effective leadership cult. Thus it came close to fascism and had the potential to develop into fascism but did not realize that potential [3]. Anton Shekhovtsov, by contrast, regards the OUN even in the interwar period as an example of fascism – specifically, ‘clerical fascism’ [4].  
Alexander J. Motyl views the fascism of the OUN as purely opportunistic. Like any other nationalist movement, its only fixed goal was to establish a national state. Ideology was just a means of gaining allies and therefore changed with the international situation, ‘adopting some fascist elements by the late 1930s and early 1940s and abandoning them by 1943-44.’ There is clearly some truth in this, but Motyl overstates his case. ‘Fascist elements’ were already present when the OUN was created in 1929, well before Hitler came to power. One of the three main groups that merged to form the OUN was the Union of Ukrainian Fascists, while Dmytro Dontsov – revered by the movement as its most important theorist – made no bones about his allegiance to fascism [5].
Nevertheless, the fascist reputation of the Banderites probably owes less to their ideology than to the atrocities they committed, whether in collaboration with the Nazis (a Ukrainian division of the SS, the Waffen-SS Galizien, was created in July 1944) or independently of them. Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe summarizes their achievements in this field as follows [6]. The OUN militia killed 13—35,000 Jews and the UIA killed 70—100,000 Poles in an effort to cleanse Western Ukraine of non-Ukrainians. The UIA also killed over 20,000 anti-Banderite Ukrainians, mostly people accused of collaborating with the Soviet regime after the re-entry of Soviet forces in late 1944.
Are today’s ‘Banderites’ fascists?
The Soviet security forces succeeded in suppressing all armed Ukrainian nationalist resistance by 1953. For the next third of a century the slightest manifestation of Banderite activity was crushed. Only the advent of Gorbachev’s perestroika and then Ukrainian independence made it possible to revive the Banderite tradition. Nevertheless, until quite recently neo-Banderite groups remained marginal, even in Western Ukraine.
Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to ask how much real continuity there is between the original Banderites and those who claim to be their heirs today. If such continuity is lacking, then the historical record is irrelevant to an assessment of the contemporary Ukrainian ultra-right.
However, significant elements of continuity do exist. The Banderite tradition was maintained among Ukrainians abroad. And even inside Soviet Ukraine the memory of the struggle for independence was secretly preserved within individual families. A few elderly survivors of that struggle were even able to join the new organizations.
Continuity is demonstrated by the return of old Banderite terminology and rituals. For example, the attempt to create a Ukrainian state in Western Ukraine in 1941 was dubbed a ‘national revolution’ – and this is also what the ultra-right call the recent uprising against the Yanukovych government. Or take the old OUN ritual in which one group makes a raised-arm salute and calls out ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ and another group responds ‘To the heroes glory!’ In January 2014 Andreas Umland, a German political scientist based in Kiev, commented on the current revival of this ritual:
’The Euromaidan’s podium presenter, Yevhen Nyshchuk, an otherwise little known actor and a DJ in the Orange Revolution, has helped to make this slogan the protest movement’s main motto – repeated hundreds of times like a mantra during the last few weeks.’
The main ultra-nationalist organization in recent years, Svoboda, has made a continuing effort to conceal its (semi-)fascist roots. This effort dates back to 2004, when the organization that is now called Svoboda (Freedom) but then went by the name of the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) decided to adopt a less ‘ideological’ name and cultivate a ‘moderate’ and ‘respectable’ public image. The SNPU’s emblem – the Wolf’s Hook (Wolfsangel), used by the Waffen SS and popular among West European neo-Nazis – was abandoned and its paramilitary youth wing ‘Patriot of Ukraine’ was disbanded.
Specialists in ultra-right politics regard the shift as deceptive – a tactical ‘rebranding’ rather than a real change of heart. Many examples could be cited in support of this assertion. Let me just mention Yuri Michalchyshyn, one of the most prominent Svoboda politicians, who in 2005 established a ‘Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center’ but later changed ‘Joseph Goebbels’ to ‘Ernst Jünger’ (a German writer widely regarded as a precursor to the Nazis). Nevertheless, the facelift has been effective in giving the renamed party social acceptability and enabling it to make the breakthrough into mainstream national politics with a substantial presence in parliament (rising from 0.36% of the vote in 2006 and 0.76% in 2007 to 10.4% in 2012, giving it 37 seats) [7].
The rebranding of Svoboda has continued since its entry into parliament. It foreswore anti-Semitism and announced its support for the goal of joining Europe – a civilization that it had previously denounced as decadent. These moves enabled Svoboda to enter the new governing coalition and its leader Oleh Tiahnybok to meet eminent visitors such as US envoy to Ukraine assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland.
The newfound respectability of Svoboda opened up a political space to its right. RS moved into this space, attracting young people who felt that Svoboda was being too moderate in the confrontation with the Yanukovych government [8]. At least initially, RS did not try to appear respectable. It did not conceal its hostility to ethnic minorities and to present-day Europe and continued to display the Wolf’s Hook. Nevertheless, the leaders of the two organizations declare that they ‘share common values’. It seems to me that objectively there has been a division of labor between Svoboda and RS as parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces working toward the same long-term goals, although that does not exclude the possibility of a real rift emerging between them.
It may help the reader decide whether Right Sector is a fascist force if he or she watches a few videos. There are plenty of videos about the Right Sector on the internet (search ‘Pravy Sektor’). Some are overt propaganda from RS itself, appealing for support and recruits. Others are exposes by Russian or pro-Russian media. Yet others are of unclear origin.
Some videos are scenes of spontaneous incidents, presumably shot by bystanders. Others may have been circulated by RS without attribution as covert propaganda. For example, a police car is stopped at a RS checkpoint; the driver is intimidated by the RS man and forced to show his ID – that is, acknowledge the RS man’s authority. Circulation of this video would have helped intimidate other police officers.
Another video shows a large group of RS men surrounding a regional governor whom they regard as an enemy. They force him to his knees, kick him, and make him shout slogans and self-accusations (‘I shamed the nation!’) until he agrees to resign. This scene may also have been filmed for ‘educational’ purposes. It reminded me of how the Red Guards treated ‘capitalist roaders’ during China’s Cultural Revolution.
One video in the ‘expose’ category presents testimony about an incident that took place in Cherkassy region on February 20. RS men stopped several buses carrying unarmed citizens from Simferopol (Crimea). Passengers were dragged out, beaten, tortured and humiliated. Some were killed with baseball bats. The buses were set on fire [9].
A video probably recorded by a bystander starts with a couple walking along a street. The man spots a group of RS fighters across the street and yells: ‘Bandera was a pedophile!’ (an accusation made by his detractors). The RS men cross over and set upon the man while his companion screams.
Another video just shows a line of young RS men chanting a particularly bloodthirsty slogan: ‘Russkies [moskaliv] to the knife, Commies to the gallows!’ (‘Commies’ includes all leftists, anarchists, and even workplace activists [10].
Maidan: from civic protest to ‘national revolution’
Let us proceed to our second question – the role played by Svoboda and RS in the ‘Maidan’ and the collapse of the Yanukovych government.
Like all mass movements, the Maidan was a complex phenomenon. Different tendencies were discernible within it and to a certain extent they conflicted with one another. I would distinguish between a civic and an ethno-national tendency, and also between the grassroots and the politicians.
The ‘civic Maidan’ was a movement of citizens of all ethnic affiliations against corrupt, unresponsive, incompetent and oppressive government. As such it had the potential to spread from Western and Central Ukraine to the south and east of the country – that is, to become a truly nationwide movement. When residents of Eastern Ukraine were interviewed, they often expressed sympathy for this particular aspect of the Maidan. However, there was also an ‘ethno-national’ Maidan that opposed the Yanukovych government not because it was corrupt or violated human rights but because it was ‘not Ukrainian enough’ – and this Maidan was perceived as a threat in the Russian-speaking regions.
At the level of political parties, the civic Maidan was best represented by the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) while the ethno-national Maidan was represented by Svoboda, with Fatherland situated between the two. However, political parties did not play an important role in the Maidan: a poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology found that only 5.4% of protestors were mobilized by them.  
The grassroots Maidan was more impatient to achieve the democratic goals of the movement and less willing than the politicians to compromise with corrupt interest groups such as the oligarchs. Thus, grassroots activists were far from satisfied with the composition of the new government, which includes oligarchs (some regional governors), individuals known to represent the interests of specific oligarchs (the ministers of energy and finance are placemen for ‘Benya’ Kolomoyski) and individuals widely viewed as corrupt. Part of the popular appeal of the ultra-rightists is their hostility to the ‘anti-Ukrainian’ oligarchs [11].
Initially the Maidan was a completely peaceful movement (despite police brutality) within which the civic tendency was predominant. It seemed reasonable to anticipate a replay of the ‘Orange Revolution’ of November 2004 – January 2005, when sustained non-violent mass protest removed Yanukovych (he was reelected in 2010) and brought Yushchenko to power.
This time round, however, events took a different turn. First the ethno-nationalist tendency became increasingly salient. Later peaceful protest gave way to violent conflict between armed insurgents and the Berkut riot police. In January 2014 Andreas Umland described the ascendancy of the ethno-nationalist tendency in a post that is worth quoting at some length:
‘Svoboda and similar groups have managed to insert into the entire protest movement a number of their own specifically ethno-nationalist themes, symbols and slogans. This concerns above all the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s red/black blood-and-soil flag, more visible today than during the 1990 and 2004 protests, and the OUN’s battle cry “Glory to Ukraine! – To the heroes glory!” ...
‘Moreover, even such explicitly ethno-nationalist slogans as “Ukraine Above Everything!”, “Death to the Enemies!” or “Glory to the Nation!” have started to circulate on Independence Square – a fact explicitly criticized by the popular folk-rock singer Oleh Skripka among others. The spread of these mottos is probably also a result of their promotion by Svoboda and other ethno-nationalist groups over-represented on the Euromaidan, including the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukrainian Platform “Sobor” and the Right Sector. In his speeches, Tiahnybok has used formulas like “national revolution” and “national state” to describe his vision of the nature and aims of the uprising. Before the current protests, Banderite slogans and symbols were heavily used only in Western Ukraine and played a minor role in earlier protests. Today, by contrast, they have become mainstream to the entire opposition protest movement, whether party-affiliated or not, and can be heard and seen all over Kiev as well as other Ukrainian cities’ [12].
The increasing ‘Banderization’ of the Maidan prompted a ‘protest within the protest’ in the form of a counter-demonstration by Kiev residents chanting (in Russian): ‘Order in the capital!’ Two of them told an interviewer from Russian television that they were ‘ordinary people wanting to live a normal life’ and did not like to see armed and masked men marching about [13]. 
We cannot be sure who fired the first shot (or threw the first firebomb), but we can identify factors that contributed to the outbreak of violence. In sharp contrast to past protests, there was no consensus in favor of a commitment to nonviolence under all circumstances. As confrontation with the Berkut intensified, ‘Maidan self-defense forces’ were set up. RS also began preparations for armed struggle, organizing combat groups and arming their men with Molotov cocktails and crude explosives produced in makeshift workshops and with firearms stolen from a police depot [14]. ‘Maidan self-defense’ and RS forces were organizationally distinct, though ultra-rightists were involved in both. Yanukovych, informed that such preparations were underway, authorized the Berkut to ‘use force if necessary’ (later he was to withdraw authorization, turning the Berkut officers into sitting ducks).
Given the high level of tension, it was now unlikely that escalation to violence could be avoided. However, it is quite clear – even from the public statements of its leader Dmytro Yarosh [15] – that RS did not seek to avoid violence. Quite a few observers reported RS fighters throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and thought that they were deliberately provoking a violent reaction against the mass of demonstrators [16]. Besides fighting the police, RS men vandalized the Kiev offices of Blue parties (Party of Regions, Communist Party of Ukraine, etc.) and took control of ‘autonomous zones’ in and around Kiev.
RS men also intimidated parliamentarians. In a leaked telephone conversation in which EU representative Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet exchange impressions from their visits to Kiev, Paet mentions that some deputies had received nighttime visits from ‘uninvited guests’ while one parliamentarian had been beaten up on the street right outside the parliament building [17]. In this context it is understandable why deputies from Eastern and Southern Ukraine fled the parliament building through underground tunnels, leaving the parliament in the hands of the pro-Maidan parties. Yanukovych himself fled to Russia in fear for his life.
Thus, violence and the threat of further violence from the ultra-nationalists were a crucial factor in determining the outcome. The contribution of the Svoboda deputies was also important, as it was they who assumed the leading role in the proceedings of the rump parliament (now representing only half the country) that formalized the change of regime.
Was this then a popular uprising or a fascist coup? Yes, there was a popular uprising. True, it was confined to one half of Ukraine, and an equally popular counter-uprising soon followed in the other half. But the popular uprising was cut short and usurped by an attempted power grab on the part of an armed ultra-nationalist minority. Whether this counts as a ‘fascist coup’ depends on whether we describe the insurgents as fascists and on the extent to which the power grab proves successful. A reasonably accurate though nitpicking term would be a ‘semi-fascist semi-coup’.
The mystery of the ‘third force’
In his telephone conversation with Ashton, Paet reports that Olga Bogomolets, a physician who treated casualties of sniper fire in the Maidan, showed him photos demonstrating that both protestors and police officers had wounds caused by the same type of bullet. So there were snipers – according to other sources, firing from the Philharmonic Hall and the Ukraina Hotel – who targeted both sides. The identity and motivation of this ‘third force’ has become a salient issue in the propaganda war.
According to Paet, the new government did not want to investigate the matter and many Ukrainians suspected a link between the snipers and forces on the insurgent side. Former head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) Alexander Yakimenko, speaking on Russian television, presented evidence pointing to the involvement of Andrei Parubiy, former Banderite and commander of the Maidan self-defense, and American special forces. Attempts have also been made to implicate the SSU, supposedly acting under Russian orders [18].
Things get even more complicated when one considers the possibility that the Russian Federal Security Service was involved. Ukrainian journalist Sergei Vysotsky has written about FSS penetration of the Maidan on Facebook:
‘It is surely time to lift a corner of the curtain that hides the “inner kitchen” of the Maidan. As early as the beginning of February, the self-defense forces and the leadership of RS discovered within their structures a network of Russian agents on the payroll of Medvedchuk [a Ukrainian oligarch and politician with close ties to Russia; Putin is the godfather of his daughter—SS]. I know this because I was involved to some extent with the self-defense... RS is a sort of confederation of various people and organizations. Some of them were clearly acting as provocateurs... There is a similar situation inside the force structures. They are teeming with Russian agents’ (translated from Russian).
It is even conceivable that both Russian and American secret services were involved in some way in such ‘provocations’ – for instance, through double agents. The CIA may have sought to escalate the conflict in order to topple Yanukovych and bring pro-Western politicians to power, while Putin and the FSS may have also sought to escalate the conflict as part of efforts to induce Yanukovych to declare a state of emergency and drown the uprising in blood (as in Tiananmen Square).       
Composition of the new government
Several ministers in the new government are members of Svoboda: Oleksandr Sych (deputy prime minister for the economy [19]), Admiral Ihor Tenyukh (minister of defense), Ihor Shvaika (minister of agrarian policy and food), and Andriy Mokhnyk (minister of ecology and natural resources). Serhiy Kvit (minister of education) is sometimes added to this list, although it seems he is at most a sympathizer (he was active as a Banderite in the past and is the author of an admiring biography of Dontsov). The General Prosecutor, Oleh Makhnitsky, also belongs to Svoboda.
‘Maidan Commandant’ Andrei Parubiy, who became secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, is currently affiliated with Fatherland, but has a long history on the ultra-right. He was a co-founder (with Tiahnybok) of the Social-National Party of Ukraine, Svoboda’s predecessor. RS leader Dmytro Yarosh was appointed his deputy.
The blogger who calls himself ‘the Saker’ (vineyardsaker.blogspot.co.uk) claims that ultra-rightists have been placed in control of all state bodies with armed force at their disposal (the so-called ‘power structures’). This is a gross exaggeration: the two most important posts from this point of view are occupied by men who have no known connections with the ultra-right:
(a) The first deputy prime minister, whose specific area of responsibility is the power structures, is Retired Police Lieutenant General Vitaly Yarema, a law enforcement professional and member of Fatherland who served as minister of internal affairs under Yushchenko (2005--2010). 
(b) The new minister of internal affairs is Arsen Avakov, also a member of Fatherland. ‘The Saker’ writes that he is ‘officially a member of Fatherland but in reality an agent for the Right Sector.’ I find this implausible in the extreme. First, Avakov is of Armenian origin and therefore unlikely to align himself with Ukrainian ethnic (as distinct from civic) nationalists (nor would they trust him). Second, Avakov has lived most of his life in Kharkov, where he served as head of the regional state administration under Yushchenko. In 2010 he stood as Fatherland’s candidate in the elections for mayor of Kharkov and lost to the candidate of the Party of Regions by a very narrow margin. In an East Ukrainian city like Kharkov he could not possibly have done so well had there been the slightest evidence that he had ever been associated with the detested ‘Banderites’ – and his opponent would certainly have dug up any such evidence and exploited it to the hilt.   
Although the ultra-right does control a few important posts, the most influential element in the government is the leaders of the liberal Fatherland party, whose nationalism is of a relatively liberal variety. The second most influential element, especially in the economic sphere, is the Orange oligarchs and their placemen (although these two groups overlap).
However, it is true to say that the dominant elements in the new government are not resolutely opposed to the ultra-right but value it as a legitimate participant in the movement against Yanukovych. At least they regard Svoboda in this light, and Svoboda in turn, in accordance with the division of labor between the two main components of the ultra-right, extends its protection to RS.
The Maidan did contain one major element that denies the legitimacy of the ultra-right – namely, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) led by ex-boxer Vitaly Klichko. On February 1 the press office of UDAR released a statement by Klichko, who at that time still expected to be in the new government:
‘It is already absolutely clear that the radical wing of the protests, headed by the Right Sector, is working solely to discredit the opposition. I want to promise these fighters that after our victory and the change of regime we shall form new law enforcement bodies, which will deal firmly with radical groups. All members of the militarized bandit formations that are now fighting in the center of Kiev will be held criminally liable. Provocateurs can expect no mercy... The Right Sector is a fifth column in our state’ [20].
Klichko pointed out that the actions of RS were alienating Western politicians who would otherwise be willing to support the opposition, specifically mentioning Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski in this connection. Indeed, the prominence of Banderite forces has especially alarmed Poles, who still remember the atrocities committed by Bandera’s men against the Polish minority in Western Ukraine under Nazi rule, when hundreds of Polish villages were burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Poles massacred.  
It had been announced that the new government would be a three-way coalition of Fatherland, UDAR and Svoboda, but after the release of Klichko’s statement Svoboda leader Tiahnybok began to express unwillingness to join a coalition that would also include UDAR. There would have to be a two-way coalition. As the largest of the three parties, Fatherland had to choose which of the other two parties would be its coalition partner. It chose Svoboda. At least for the time being, why must remain a matter of speculation.   
Are the neo-Banderites still a ‘marginal’ social force?
In electoral terms Svoboda has burst out of the fringes and entered the mainstream of Ukrainian politics. In the opinion of knowledgeable observers like Andreas Umland, however, the party’s reliable support base remains marginal and its current national prominence is likely to prove temporary. Svoboda achieved its breakthrough by winning, largely thanks to its rebranding, a new ‘non-ideological’ electorate that supported it for tactical reasons, as a disciplined force that could be trusted to put up a fight against Yanukovych. Recent polls indicate that Svoboda’s electoral support has fallen back to 5—6%. That is, it has already lost again most of its new ‘non-ideological’ voters [21].
One major reason for this is that in quite a few cities and regions, especially in Western Ukraine, Svoboda has already established a record as the governing party. And this record is not particularly impressive: Svoboda has proven itself no less corrupt than other parties and perhaps even less competent. In these areas the protest vote that previously worked in favor of Svoboda can be expected to work against it in future elections.
Considered as an electoral rather than military force, RS is even more marginal than Svoboda. Yarosh is supported as a presidential candidate by at most 2% of respondents in opinion polls. 
An illuminating source on the social atmosphere in Western Ukraine is a blog maintained by a British lecturer currently residing in Ivano-Frankivsk. On March 12 he commented as follows on relations between RS and ordinary Maidanites:
‘On my way back from work I encountered the Right Sector march in the city centre and decided to follow it to the police HQ. After Right Sector left, I spoke to the Self-Defence lads remaining by the entrance to the police HQ. I introduced myself as a Briton who has been in Ukraine for nearly two years and is keenly interested in events. They put forward a tall young man... He told me that he had come back from working in the USA at Christmas and has been involved with Maidan Self-Defence since then.
‘I asked him what he and his colleagues thought of Right Sector. He answered, and his comrades agreed, that 'they just came here for the publicity... A colleague of the man who had been to America said that in a month Right Sector would fall apart and they're a bunch of poseurs with no idea of discipline. The tall man who had been to America said that they were sick of Right Sector promoting themselves and forgetting that Self-Defence had been there from the start... There is clear tension between the groups and any cooperation seems to be uneasy. The Self-Defence lads on the door of the police HQ were very demonstrative in refusing to take Right Sector's newspaper that teenage girls with RS badges were handing out to the crowd.
‘With the lack of evident structures of law and order in the city, it is possible for far-right organisations to march armed and unopposed through the city, while promising a much more radical 'national revolution' and preparing, as Abramiv said today, not only for war against Russia but also for battle against any authority deemed unsuitable. Although there was an appeal to the mayor to stop masked, armed groups from marching through the city, there is little evidence of them being stopped. And, sadly, there is little readiness for any kind of civil resistance to such groups’ [22].
It is very hard to judge whether or not the neo-Banderites are still a marginal force in society. On the one hand, we have the reports of their prominence in the Maidan. One observer estimated that 30% of the demonstrators in Kiev marched under RS banners [23]. This is a minority, but hardly marginal. On the other hand, we have evidence strongly suggesting that they do remain marginal.
I think that two sources of bias are at work here. First, the focus of many commentators on electoral politics ignores people who are too young to vote – though not too young to fight! I get the impression that it is this age group that provides RS with most of their recruits. Second, the understandable focus on the events in Kiev may be generating a misleading picture of the situation in Ukraine as a whole. Here I agree with Umland’s point that the ultra-rightists were overrepresented in Kiev’s Maidan [24], because they had deliberately concentrated their forces in Kiev. This means that everywhere else in the country, including Western Ukraine, they must have played a much less prominent role than they did in the capital.
Thus, despite the crucial role they played in the change of regime the ultra-nationalists may well still be marginal to Ukrainian society. This is not to say that there is no cause for concern. By now we should know from historical experience that even quite small minorities can wield power out of all proportion to their numbers if – like the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917, for instance – they are determined, well organized, well armed and willing to resort to intimidation and violence. 
Toward the end of March a conflict broke out between the RS and the Fatherland component of the new government. It was triggered by the killing of RS leader Sashko Muzychko, who either died in a skirmish with police (the official version) or was shot by police in cold blood in a café (the RS version). In response, 1500 RS men gathered outside parliament on March 27 to demand the resignation of the ‘counter-revolutionary’ minister of internal affairs Avakov, culminating in an attempt to storm the building.
The next day parliamentary chairman and acting president Oleksandr Turchynov expressed his outrage at this ‘provocation’ and his belief that Russia was behind it – a belief based on the appearance of Russian television crews outside the parliament a few minutes before the confrontation began [25]. Avakov told the ‘revolutionaries’ that the revolution was now over and urged them to join the new National Guard and go defend Ukraine’s borders. One RS commander, Igor Mazur, replied that his men, currently engaged in military training exercises in the countryside around Kiev, were willing to join, provided that they were allowed to maintain their own separate unit outside the main command structure. This, of course, would defeat one of the likely motives underlying Avakov’s appeal.
I suspect that RS has overplayed its hand and that it will now be one of the top priorities of Avakov and his allies in the government to disarm and disband RS, by force if necessary. This move can be justified by reference to the war emergency and the view (pioneered by Klichko) of RS as a ‘fifth column’ in the service of the Kremlin. Given the dissolution of the Berkut and the fear that ordinary police officers have of RS [26], it will be necessary to organize and train special units.
Concluding remarks
This article has a specific and rather narrow focus. It is not about the situation in Ukraine as a whole or the international crisis surrounding Ukraine. In order to avoid misunderstandings, however, I would like to make a few points pertaining to the broader context.  
First, ultra-nationalism and fascism are not peculiar to Ukraine or to the Orange camp in Ukrainian politics. In particular, they also have a very significant presence on the other side of the current conflict. I have written a whole book on Russian fascism (see note 4). There I note that many Russian ultra-nationalist organizations are active not only in the Russian Federation but also in other post-Soviet states with large numbers of ethnic Russian residents, including Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Thus, Pavel Gubarev, a leader of the recent pro-Russian protests in Donetsk, is a former member of the fascist organization Russian National Unity. Also relevant here are the videos of Russian ‘Cossacks’ in Crimea lashing pro-Ukrainian protestors with their whips. I mention this not only for the sake of balance but also because Russian and Ukrainian ultra-nationalism feed off of one another: they should ideally be studied jointly as variants on a single phenomenon.
In general, although I argue that there is considerable truth in the claim that the change of regime in Ukraine was a ‘fascist coup,’ this does not mean that I accept other components of the Russian position. I do not believe that protecting people against fascism is the real motive underlying the military intervention of the Putin regime in parts of Ukraine. And military intervention is certainly not an effective remedy against the neo-Banderite forces. On the contrary, it fuels war psychosis and strengthens a spirit of ethno-national solidarity among Ukrainians, generating social pressure to play down internal divisions and present a united front to the world. Ukrainian society has the capacity to face and deal with the problem of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, but it is only likely to do so when Ukraine’s security as an independent state is no longer under threat and Ukraine has normal relations with all its neighbors, including Russia [27].
[1] See my article: ‘Ukraine: Between Oranges and Blues’, The Socialist Standard (http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2014/no-1315-march-2014/ukraine-between-oranges-and-blues). The regional division is not quite this simple: thus, Transcarpathia, although in the far west of the country, is Blue.  
[2] The term ‘Banderite’ as a label for the movement as a whole is a little misleading because Bandera was the leader of only one of the two factions into which the OUN split in winter 1940/41 (Melnyk led the other).
[3] ‘Ukrainian Integral Nationalism in Quest of a “Special Path” (1920s--1930s)’, Russian Politics & Law, 2013, no. 5. He suggests that the OUN’s fascist potential might have been realized had the Nazis accepted the Ukrainian state proclaimed in Lvov in 1941.
[4] ‘By Cross and Sword: “Clerical Fascism” in Interwar Western Ukraine,’ Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, June 2007, v. 8, no. 2, pp. 271-85. https://www.academia.edu/194084/By_Cross_and_Sword_Clerical_Fascism_in_Interwar_Western_Ukraine. I think this is because his criteria for fascism are somewhat looser than those of Zaitsev. I discuss criteria for fascism in the first chapter of my book Russian Fascism: Traditions, Movements, Tendencies (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2001).
[5] It is hard to explain Professor Motyl’s numerous distortions and omissions except as a deliberate effort to whitewash the Banderites and thereby legitimize their heirs. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/20/ghosts_ukraine_stepan_bandera_putin_crimea
[6] Celebrating Fascism and War Criminality in Edmonton: The Political Myth and Cult of Stepan Bandera in Multicultural Canada. (http://defendinghistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Grzegorz-Rossliinski-Liebe-on-Celebrating-Fascism-and-War-Criminality-in-Edmonton-Canada.pdf
Defenders of the Banderites often emphasize their conflicts with the Nazis and the fact that at certain times some of them fought the Nazis. This may all be true, but it does not establish their credentials as opponents of fascism. If the Banderites were fascists, they were Ukrainian fascists who extolled the superiority of the Ukrainian nation and not German fascists, who regarded Ukrainians as Untermenschen. There is no reason to expect fascists belonging to different nations to see eye to eye.  
[7] For further analysis of Svoboda’s breakthrough, see the articles by Vyacheslav Likhachev in Russian Politics & Law, 2013, no. 5.
[8] Anton Shekhovtsov compares the political appeal of Svoboda and RS in ‘From Electoral Success to Revolutionary Failure: The Ukrainian Svoboda Party,’ Eurozine, March 5, 2014.
[10] For the sake of balance, the reader may also like to watch a few videos exposing violence on the part of pro-Russian forces. For example, here is a video of activists from Klichko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform trying to address a crowd in Kerch (Crimea) but getting shouted down as ‘fascists’, pelted, kicked and beaten up to the accompaniment of cries of ‘Beat the fascists!’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry3PPOCsdY4. In fact, it is most unfair to call Klichko and his party ‘fascist’; on the contrary, Klichko is one of the rare Orange politicians to have taken a firm stand against the fascists on ‘his own side’ (see below). 
[11] The difference between the anti-oligarch attitudes of leftists and ultra-rightists is that the latter stress the Jewish, Russian and other non-Ukrainian ethnic origin of most of the oligarchs. They suspect that even Yulia Tymoshenko, who is a very wealthy woman as well as a leader of the Fatherland party and appears to be an ethnic Ukrainian, is of partly Jewish descent.
[13] Video dated February 8, 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXNN5Hw9_ZM
[14] They were joined by groups of volunteers from Serbia and Israel. The Israelis seem to be politically naïve young IDF veterans with family roots in Ukraine.
[15] In early February, Yarosh issued an ‘Assessment of the Present Situation and Future Prospects’ that ended: ‘Let’s speak the language the regime can understand, which is the language of force! Glory to the National Revolution!’ (http://euromaidanpr.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/dmytro-yarosh-pravyi-sector-leader-the-assessment-of-the-present-situation-and-the-future-perspectives).  
[16] James Kirchick writes: ‘Several participants in the Maidan protests told me that Right Sector members would instigate fights with riot police by throwing Molotov cocktails and then immediately flee the scene, leaving other protestors to bear the brunt of the armed response. Maidan casualty figures seem to bear this analysis out; no acknowledged member of the group could be named among over 100 dead’ (The Daily Beast, March 28, 2014). See also Nicolai Petro at http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/24/a_coup_or_a_revolution_ukraine.
[18] http://rt.com/news/ukraine-snipers-security-chief-438; The Christian Science Monitor, March 8; The Daily Beast, March 30.
[19] Ukraine, like other post-Soviet states, retains the Soviet practice of having several deputy prime ministers, each of whom is responsible for a ‘block’ of ministries.
[23] Quoted by Max Blumenthal, ‘Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine?’ Voice of Detroit, March 2, 2014. Another observer gives an estimate of one third.
[24] For source see note 12.
[25] This certainly indicates that Russian television companies have access to excellent and timely intelligence, but hardly more than that. See Kirchick (note 16) and euromaidanpr.wordpress.com.
[26] An example from Lvov, given by Bryan Macdonald: RS had stolen concrete slabs from a building firm in order to block a road; the owner called the police but they refused to help, admitting that they were afraid of RS (bryanmacdonald.wordpress.com). 
[27] Shekhovtsov makes basically the same point in ‘What the West should know about the Euromaidan’s far right element’ (anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.com).

An earlier version of this article was circulated on Johnson's Russia List on April 4, 2014. This version is almost identical to the text on JRL: I have just corrected one or two minor errors.