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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sex, Lies and the Deep State


Sex, Lies and the Deep State

At the heart of the effort to bring down President Trump were two affairs. Unlike the bizarre lies about Moscow hotel rooms and prostitutes in the Steele dossier that was used by the Clinton campaign and its allies to smear President Trump and generate an investigation against him, these affairs truly took place.

And they didn’t just expose the malfeasance of four people, but of a corrupt political culture.

The affairs between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in the FBI, and between Senate Intelligence Committee security director James Wolfe and New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, did more than betray the spouses of Strzok, Page and Wolfe. They also betrayed the duties of the two men and two women.

The affairs were not private matters. The two illicit sexual relationships were also illicit political arrangements. As the Inspector General’s report noted, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Clinton ally who has since been fired, used Page as his liaison with Strzok to circumvent the chain of command on the investigation. McCabe used Page as his conduit and Watkins’ media employers used the young reporter as a conduit to her older married lover and the leaked information he allegedly provided her.

BuzzFeed, Politico, the Huffington Post and the New York Times were aware of the Watkins affair. As the Times piece on Watkins coolly put it, “Their relationship played out in the insular world of Washington, where young, ambitious journalists compete for scoops while navigating relationships with powerful, often older, sources.” Usually it’s enemy governments that employ young women having an affair with older married government officials to extract information on Intelligence Committee proceedings.

But here some of the biggest names in the media were caught using the same tactics as the Russians.

How significant was the Ali Watkins and James Wolfe affair? Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, in her furious defense of Watkins, noted, "most crucially, the value of her journalism (her Carter Page scoop in BuzzFeed actually helped lead to appt of Mueller)." Strzok was forced to leave the Mueller investigation due to the exposure of his texts with Lisa Page. Watkins’ affair with Wolfe has been credited by a key media figure with helping create the monster that is the Mueller investigation.

At the rotten heart of the campaign against Trump lay the betrayal of private and public fidelities.

But the Strzok-Page and Watkins-Wolfe affairs were also crucial in bypassing formal lines of communication. Illicit affairs are popular espionage tradecraft not just because they provide blackmail material against influential officials, but because their very informality makes it easy to create covert networks within organizations as personal intimacy is used to maintain political intimacy.

McCabe allegedly used Page to create such a connection between him and Strzok. The media appeared to have used Watkins to create a link into the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s unknown if anyone on Wolfe’s end was aware of the affair and using it to feed information to the media. But it would not be too surprising if the open secret of the affair was just as open on his end as it was on the media’s end.

It’s easier to piggyback one illicit secret on another. There were two layers of secret affairs here, one layer of intimacy between two couples, and another layer of illicit intimacy between organizations. The organizational affairs cover three key players in the campaign against President Trump: elements in the FBI, the media and the Senate Intelligence Committee who had adulterated their responsibilities.

When we talk about the deep state, what we really mean are these illicit networks within the government that have their own rogue agenda. These networks exist in every part of the government. Some are just corrupt, trading favors, cash and access. Others are political. Like enemy spy cells, their members coordinate privately to suborn organizations the way that these men and women did.

The arrest of the occasional spy ring gives us an insight into how they operate. The exposure of Strzok, Page and McCabe, of Watkins, Wolfe and the media, gives us an insight into how the deep state runs.

Corruption requires complicity. As every good spy knows, the best sources are those who have proven that they are willing to compromise their ethics in other areas, whether it’s gambling, adultery or theft.

The network that went after Trump was, at least in part, built out of such people. In their varied cases, mistresses and spouses served as crucial conduits to a public official such as the DOJ's Bruce Ohr whose wife Nellie worked to dig up dirt on Trump for Fusion GPS or McCabe whose wife Jill had received $675,000 for her political campaign through a close Clinton ally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Spouses could be used to route financial benefits while mistresses carried information, as Watkins did from Wolfe and Page did from Strzok. Formal political affiliations, such as James Comey’s supposed Republican status, matter less than the private ones of his wife and daughters who are rabid Clinton supporters and Trump opponents. In Washington D.C., formal party affiliation is downstream from social politics. The career networks that matter are built in restaurants and cocktail parties, not polling places.

Up close the swamp is making friends who can help you move from the public sector to the private sector. It’s peddling influence, getting to know people and building transactional relationships. It’s players who know everybody hiring out to other players who need to know everybody. It’s also knowing how to bypass ethics rules, oversight and chains of command to be able to get the things you need to do done. That might be a contract, a subsidy, a sale or the overthrow of the United States government.

It’s just another day in the swamp.

The Mueller investigation rose out of that swamp and the Clinton-Steele dossier dived deep into it. The investigation of the investigations has only begun mapping the swamp. Underneath the turgid waters of the Potomac, the swamp dwellers have their own mores. The stately government buildings, cozy restaurants and dignified manors conceal twisted relationships between people and organizations.

In every society, the governors live by a different set of rules than the governed. In Washington D.C., infidelity to spouses, oaths, governments, voters and ethics is not an aberration. It’s the rule. Adultery to whatever you claim to hold true is the price of admission. It’s how you can be trusted to join the club.

The political side of the imperial city is a small town. And everyone knows all the dirty secrets. Call it the deep state, the swamp or just what happens when government becomes its own culture.

Government runs on rules, on knowing them, enforcing them and breaking them. At the lowest level of power, you know the rules. At the next level you enforce them. At the final level, you break them.

That final level of power is the deep state. It lives where the rules are meant to be broken.

The campaign against Trump ran on the parallel laws of Washington D.C. Its networks were covert alliances that ran on the social relationships of the swamp. That these networks included infidelity and political prostitution as a feature would only be natural. In a transactional town that traffics in relationships, running a coup piggybacked on an affair and prostituting a reporter are virtues not sins.

The legitimate body of government tests for ethics. The parallel deep state tests for corruption. The men and women who went after President Trump didn’t just cheat on each other, they cheated on America.

These parallel networks, in government, in public life and in private life, are the conduits of corruption. To defeat the deep state, these parallel networks in government must be exposed to the light of day.

As long as the deep state remains deep underwater, the corruption will continue.


Sex, Lies and the Deep State

At the heart of the effort to bring down President Trump were two affairs. Unlike the bizarre lies about Moscow hotel rooms and prostitutes in the Steele dossier that was used by the Clinton campaign and its allies to smear President Trump and generate an investigation against him, these affairs truly took place.

And they didn’t just expose the malfeasance of four people, but of a corrupt political culture.

The affairs between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in the FBI, and between Senate Intelligence Committee security director James Wolfe and New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, did more than betray the spouses of Strzok, Page and Wolfe. They also betrayed the duties of the two men and two women.

The affairs were not private matters. The two illicit sexual relationships were also illicit political arrangements. As the Inspector General’s report noted, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Clinton ally who has since been fired, used Page as his liaison with Strzok to circumvent the chain of command on the investigation. McCabe used Page as his conduit and Watkins’ media employers used the young reporter as a conduit to her older married lover and the leaked information he allegedly provided her.

BuzzFeed, Politico, the Huffington Post and the New York Times were aware of the Watkins affair. As the Times piece on Watkins coolly put it, “Their relationship played out in the insular world of Washington, where young, ambitious journalists compete for scoops while navigating relationships with powerful, often older, sources.” Usually it’s enemy governments that employ young women having an affair with older married government officials to extract information on Intelligence Committee proceedings.

But here some of the biggest names in the media were caught using the same tactics as the Russians.

How significant was the Ali Watkins and James Wolfe affair? Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, in her furious defense of Watkins, noted, "most crucially, the value of her journalism (her Carter Page scoop in BuzzFeed actually helped lead to appt of Mueller)." Strzok was forced to leave the Mueller investigation due to the exposure of his texts with Lisa Page. Watkins’ affair with Wolfe has been credited by a key media figure with helping create the monster that is the Mueller investigation.

At the rotten heart of the campaign against Trump lay the betrayal of private and public fidelities.

But the Strzok-Page and Watkins-Wolfe affairs were also crucial in bypassing formal lines of communication. Illicit affairs are popular espionage tradecraft not just because they provide blackmail material against influential officials, but because their very informality makes it easy to create covert networks within organizations as personal intimacy is used to maintain political intimacy.

McCabe allegedly used Page to create such a connection between him and Strzok. The media appeared to have used Watkins to create a link into the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s unknown if anyone on Wolfe’s end was aware of the affair and using it to feed information to the media. But it would not be too surprising if the open secret of the affair was just as open on his end as it was on the media’s end.

It’s easier to piggyback one illicit secret on another. There were two layers of secret affairs here, one layer of intimacy between two couples, and another layer of illicit intimacy between organizations. The organizational affairs cover three key players in the campaign against President Trump: elements in the FBI, the media and the Senate Intelligence Committee who had adulterated their responsibilities.

When we talk about the deep state, what we really mean are these illicit networks within the government that have their own rogue agenda. These networks exist in every part of the government. Some are just corrupt, trading favors, cash and access. Others are political. Like enemy spy cells, their members coordinate privately to suborn organizations the way that these men and women did.

The arrest of the occasional spy ring gives us an insight into how they operate. The exposure of Strzok, Page and McCabe, of Watkins, Wolfe and the media, gives us an insight into how the deep state runs.

Corruption requires complicity. As every good spy knows, the best sources are those who have proven that they are willing to compromise their ethics in other areas, whether it’s gambling, adultery or theft.

The network that went after Trump was, at least in part, built out of such people. In their varied cases, mistresses and spouses served as crucial conduits to a public official such as the DOJ's Bruce Ohr whose wife Nellie worked to dig up dirt on Trump for Fusion GPS or McCabe whose wife Jill had received $675,000 for her political campaign through a close Clinton ally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Spouses could be used to route financial benefits while mistresses carried information, as Watkins did from Wolfe and Page did from Strzok. Formal political affiliations, such as James Comey’s supposed Republican status, matter less than the private ones of his wife and daughters who are rabid Clinton supporters and Trump opponents. In Washington D.C., formal party affiliation is downstream from social politics. The career networks that matter are built in restaurants and cocktail parties, not polling places.

Up close the swamp is making friends who can help you move from the public sector to the private sector. It’s peddling influence, getting to know people and building transactional relationships. It’s players who know everybody hiring out to other players who need to know everybody. It’s also knowing how to bypass ethics rules, oversight and chains of command to be able to get the things you need to do done. That might be a contract, a subsidy, a sale or the overthrow of the United States government.

It’s just another day in the swamp.

The Mueller investigation rose out of that swamp and the Clinton-Steele dossier dived deep into it. The investigation of the investigations has only begun mapping the swamp. Underneath the turgid waters of the Potomac, the swamp dwellers have their own mores. The stately government buildings, cozy restaurants and dignified manors conceal twisted relationships between people and organizations.

In every society, the governors live by a different set of rules than the governed. In Washington D.C., infidelity to spouses, oaths, governments, voters and ethics is not an aberration. It’s the rule. Adultery to whatever you claim to hold true is the price of admission. It’s how you can be trusted to join the club.

The political side of the imperial city is a small town. And everyone knows all the dirty secrets. Call it the deep state, the swamp or just what happens when government becomes its own culture.

Government runs on rules, on knowing them, enforcing them and breaking them. At the lowest level of power, you know the rules. At the next level you enforce them. At the final level, you break them.

That final level of power is the deep state. It lives where the rules are meant to be broken.

The campaign against Trump ran on the parallel laws of Washington D.C. Its networks were covert alliances that ran on the social relationships of the swamp. That these networks included infidelity and political prostitution as a feature would only be natural. In a transactional town that traffics in relationships, running a coup piggybacked on an affair and prostituting a reporter are virtues not sins.

The legitimate body of government tests for ethics. The parallel deep state tests for corruption. The men and women who went after President Trump didn’t just cheat on each other, they cheated on America.

These parallel networks, in government, in public life and in private life, are the conduits of corruption. To defeat the deep state, these parallel networks in government must be exposed to the light of day.

As long as the deep state remains deep underwater, the corruption will continue.


More Democrats Believe in UFOs Than America


More Democrats Believe in UFOs Than America

58% of Democrats believe in UFOs, but only 32% are proud to be American. Only 37% of Republicans believe in flying saucers, but a full 80% are proud of their country.

Almost twice as many Democrats are willing to believe in being abducted by space aliens than in their country. Hillary Clinton had promised that if elected, she would find out the truth about the little green men and suggested that the planet had already been visited by aliens.

"Maybe we could have, like, a task force to go to Area 51," she suggested.

The chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, an obsessive UFO buff, appeared on an episode of Ancient Aliens which claimed that Hillary Clinton was defeated to suppress the truth about space aliens.

Like Podesta, the Democrat (space rather than illegal) alien obsession dates back to Bill’s era. When Bill Clinton appointed Webster Hubbell as his Associate Attorney General, he gave him two priorities.

"If I put you over at Justice I want you to find the answers to two questions for me," Hubbell recalled. "One, who killed JFK. And two, are there UFOs.”

Hubbell didn’t find any UFOs, but he had to resign after only serving a year and was sent to jail for fraud.

The Clintons may have picked up their flying saucer obsession from Laurance S. Rockefeller, a environmentalist UFO obsessive and major Clinton donor who got them involved in his UFO Initiative. Hillary may have just been grifting an old man who contributed to their legal defense fund, but there’s no reason to think a woman who responded to the Republican midterm victories of ’94 with a séance that consulted Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt doesn’t believe what most of her fellow Democrats do.

Laurance S. Rockefeller was a founding trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund which recently underwrote the push for a nuclear Iran while insisting that its nuclear weapons program didn’t exist.

According to the party that “believes” in science, Iranian nukes don’t exist, but flying saucers do.

All this helps explain why the Democrats were so quick to retreat into conspiracy theories after losing the 2016 election. Just as they did after the JFK assassination and the 2000 election. It’s natural for them to believe the worst of a country they already distrust. The left’s core beliefs are a series of conspiracy theories about class, race and gender. These conspiracy theories explain everything from crime rates to poverty to social problems. Most leftist programs are geared toward fighting a conspiracy by white people, by men, by the wealthy and the middle class that doesn’t exist except in the minds of the left.

America has been shattered by generations of social policies that completely bypass the problems they’re trying to solve from the inner city to the campus because they’re too busy getting revenge against the evil white male conspirators by making it harder for them to get into college or get a job.

That’s what happens when you turn over the country to Marxists watching the sky for lights and watching social statistics for any discrepancy that they can blame on the white male conspiracy. The inability to understand the difference between correlation and causation that trips up so many conspiracy theorists is also the disparate impact claim underlying the left’s allegations of discrimination.

And disparate impact simply means that all correlation must imply racist causation.

If a job requires a high school diploma, if there are laws against littering or if a standardized test is demanding, and more black people are disadvantaged by that, that is disparate impact. And disparate impact proves a racist conspiracy that requires state intervention. No matter how dubiously legal.

Adding new conspiracy theories to the central leftist conspiracy theory is easy. UFOs, Russians rigging elections and CIA Cubans killing JFK are small potatoes compared to the conviction, expressed in so many leftist texts from Marx’s Das Kapital to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, that all the beliefs you grew up with are a lie and everything around you is the end result of a vast conspiracy.

Democrats are the party least likely to know that the earth revolves around the sun once a year. Only between 48% to 27% of the enlightened supporters of the Party of Science actually knew this.

45% of liberals believe in astrology. Only 23% are proud of America.

Three-quarters of Democrats believe that thoughts can influence the physical world. Over half believe in ghosts.

Almost a third of Democrats, twice as many as Republicans, believe in “spiritual energy”. 35% of liberals compared to 18% of conservatives are believers.

A fifth of Democrats fear the “evil eye”.

If you can name a superstition, knocking on wood, walking under ladders or stepping on a crack, polls show that Democrats are more likely to believe in it.

Democrats are 60% more likely to fear black cats than Republicans (so much for the anti-racist party) and 33% more likely to fear the number 13.

The rational and enlightened elite who want to make all our decisions are also 54% more likely to think that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck.

A fifth of Democrats believe it’s unlucky to walk under a ladder. Nearly a fifth believe in fortune telling.

The left liked to think that dispensing with the old truths of G-d and country would make them smarter and more rational. Instead it reverted them to the paranoid superstitions of paganism.

Instead of moving forward to the fabled “right side of history”, they’re retreating into pre-history.

They haven’t replaced G-d with reason, but with flying saucers, storefront psychics, black cats, bad luck ladders and umbrellas, the wrath of Mother Earth, safe spaces, and the magical powers of dolphins.

They haven’t replaced nationalism with the enlightened embrace of the entire human race, but with a paranoid racial and political tribalism which is eager to believe the very worst of outsiders. Instead of transcending the nation for the world, they’ve become hostile toward most of the country. They haven’t become broadminded. Instead they’ve lost even the broadmindedness that Americans used to have.

Their policies not only haven’t made the world better, but they haven’t made them better people.

50 years after HUAC vanished into the mists of time, they’re finding Russians under every tree. 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they’re frantically defending racial preferences in education. Their vaunted journalism has been reduced to an outrage machine feeding them insane conspiracy theories. One week, Trump is a Russian spy. The other, his family is in league with China. One week, he’s about to destroy us by going to war with North Korea. The next week, he’s selling us out to North Korea.

The Democrats have learned to love xenophobic nationalism in the service of tribal ideologism. The Party of Peace fears the rest of the world as much as the Party of Science believes in spooks and UFOs.

Democrats inhabit a demon-haunted world of superstitions and conspiracies. Instead of being enlightened, they were robbed of the confidence in the Creator and America that resounds from every patriotic Fourth of July anthem and song. They sold their birthright for the pottage of fear and hate.

They cower in safe spaces, fear the other and live their lives in the shadow of irrational terrors.

Unable to function as citizens of a society, they retreat into conspiracy theories and plot to bring down their country while replacing it with a utopia based on magical thinking and its sordid orgy of blood.

Having lost faith in G-d and country, it is easier for them to believe in flying saucers than in America.




Daniel Greenfield 


More Democrats Believe in UFOs Than America

58% of Democrats believe in UFOs, but only 32% are proud to be American. Only 37% of Republicans believe in flying saucers, but a full 80% are proud of their country.

Almost twice as many Democrats are willing to believe in being abducted by space aliens than in their country. Hillary Clinton had promised that if elected, she would find out the truth about the little green men and suggested that the planet had already been visited by aliens.

"Maybe we could have, like, a task force to go to Area 51," she suggested.

The chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, an obsessive UFO buff, appeared on an episode of Ancient Aliens which claimed that Hillary Clinton was defeated to suppress the truth about space aliens.

Like Podesta, the Democrat (space rather than illegal) alien obsession dates back to Bill’s era. When Bill Clinton appointed Webster Hubbell as his Associate Attorney General, he gave him two priorities.

"If I put you over at Justice I want you to find the answers to two questions for me," Hubbell recalled. "One, who killed JFK. And two, are there UFOs.”

Hubbell didn’t find any UFOs, but he had to resign after only serving a year and was sent to jail for fraud.

The Clintons may have picked up their flying saucer obsession from Laurance S. Rockefeller, a environmentalist UFO obsessive and major Clinton donor who got them involved in his UFO Initiative. Hillary may have just been grifting an old man who contributed to their legal defense fund, but there’s no reason to think a woman who responded to the Republican midterm victories of ’94 with a séance that consulted Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt doesn’t believe what most of her fellow Democrats do.

Laurance S. Rockefeller was a founding trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund which recently underwrote the push for a nuclear Iran while insisting that its nuclear weapons program didn’t exist.

According to the party that “believes” in science, Iranian nukes don’t exist, but flying saucers do.

All this helps explain why the Democrats were so quick to retreat into conspiracy theories after losing the 2016 election. Just as they did after the JFK assassination and the 2000 election. It’s natural for them to believe the worst of a country they already distrust. The left’s core beliefs are a series of conspiracy theories about class, race and gender. These conspiracy theories explain everything from crime rates to poverty to social problems. Most leftist programs are geared toward fighting a conspiracy by white people, by men, by the wealthy and the middle class that doesn’t exist except in the minds of the left.

America has been shattered by generations of social policies that completely bypass the problems they’re trying to solve from the inner city to the campus because they’re too busy getting revenge against the evil white male conspirators by making it harder for them to get into college or get a job.

That’s what happens when you turn over the country to Marxists watching the sky for lights and watching social statistics for any discrepancy that they can blame on the white male conspiracy. The inability to understand the difference between correlation and causation that trips up so many conspiracy theorists is also the disparate impact claim underlying the left’s allegations of discrimination.

And disparate impact simply means that all correlation must imply racist causation.

If a job requires a high school diploma, if there are laws against littering or if a standardized test is demanding, and more black people are disadvantaged by that, that is disparate impact. And disparate impact proves a racist conspiracy that requires state intervention. No matter how dubiously legal.

Adding new conspiracy theories to the central leftist conspiracy theory is easy. UFOs, Russians rigging elections and CIA Cubans killing JFK are small potatoes compared to the conviction, expressed in so many leftist texts from Marx’s Das Kapital to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, that all the beliefs you grew up with are a lie and everything around you is the end result of a vast conspiracy.

Democrats are the party least likely to know that the earth revolves around the sun once a year. Only between 48% to 27% of the enlightened supporters of the Party of Science actually knew this.

45% of liberals believe in astrology. Only 23% are proud of America.

Three-quarters of Democrats believe that thoughts can influence the physical world. Over half believe in ghosts.

Almost a third of Democrats, twice as many as Republicans, believe in “spiritual energy”. 35% of liberals compared to 18% of conservatives are believers.

A fifth of Democrats fear the “evil eye”.

If you can name a superstition, knocking on wood, walking under ladders or stepping on a crack, polls show that Democrats are more likely to believe in it.

Democrats are 60% more likely to fear black cats than Republicans (so much for the anti-racist party) and 33% more likely to fear the number 13.

The rational and enlightened elite who want to make all our decisions are also 54% more likely to think that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck.

A fifth of Democrats believe it’s unlucky to walk under a ladder. Nearly a fifth believe in fortune telling.

The left liked to think that dispensing with the old truths of G-d and country would make them smarter and more rational. Instead it reverted them to the paranoid superstitions of paganism.

Instead of moving forward to the fabled “right side of history”, they’re retreating into pre-history.

They haven’t replaced G-d with reason, but with flying saucers, storefront psychics, black cats, bad luck ladders and umbrellas, the wrath of Mother Earth, safe spaces, and the magical powers of dolphins.

They haven’t replaced nationalism with the enlightened embrace of the entire human race, but with a paranoid racial and political tribalism which is eager to believe the very worst of outsiders. Instead of transcending the nation for the world, they’ve become hostile toward most of the country. They haven’t become broadminded. Instead they’ve lost even the broadmindedness that Americans used to have.

Their policies not only haven’t made the world better, but they haven’t made them better people.

50 years after HUAC vanished into the mists of time, they’re finding Russians under every tree. 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they’re frantically defending racial preferences in education. Their vaunted journalism has been reduced to an outrage machine feeding them insane conspiracy theories. One week, Trump is a Russian spy. The other, his family is in league with China. One week, he’s about to destroy us by going to war with North Korea. The next week, he’s selling us out to North Korea.

The Democrats have learned to love xenophobic nationalism in the service of tribal ideologism. The Party of Peace fears the rest of the world as much as the Party of Science believes in spooks and UFOs.

Democrats inhabit a demon-haunted world of superstitions and conspiracies. Instead of being enlightened, they were robbed of the confidence in the Creator and America that resounds from every patriotic Fourth of July anthem and song. They sold their birthright for the pottage of fear and hate.

They cower in safe spaces, fear the other and live their lives in the shadow of irrational terrors.

Unable to function as citizens of a society, they retreat into conspiracy theories and plot to bring down their country while replacing it with a utopia based on magical thinking and its sordid orgy of blood.

Having lost faith in G-d and country, it is easier for them to believe in flying saucers than in America.




Daniel Greenfield 


Democracies: Short in Their Lives, Violent in Their Deaths

Democracies: Short in Their Lives, Violent in Their Deaths



A compelling reason for the long hesitation of these men—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, Madison, Monroe—was their fear of democracy.

They were educated men. Excepting Franklin (self-educated), each one had the education of an English gentleman. That is, the philosophy and the history of the whole European past had been pounded into his head before he was twelve years old. Therefore, when he was old enough to think for himself, he had thousands of years of human experience with every form of Government, to think about.

This knowledge was then regarded as necessary to every man whose birth entitled him to take any part in the government of his country.

They also knew the meaning of every word they used; they knew its Greek, Latin, or Anglo-Saxon root. Until forty years ago, this knowledge was still considered of first importance in American schools. Every pupil, at thirteen and fourteen, learned etymology as he had learned spelling since the age of six, by dogged repetition until the facts were fixed in his mind.

Today the confusion of the meaning of words in these United States is a danger to the whole world. Few American schools any longer require a pupil to dissect his words to their roots, and to know what he means when he speaks. And for twenty years the disciplined members of the Communist Party in these States have been deliberately following Lenin’s instruction, “First confuse the vocabulary.”

Thinking can be done only in words. Accurate thinking requires words of precise meaning. Communication between human beings is impossible without words whose precise meaning is generally understood.

Confuse the vocabulary, and people do not know what is happening; they can not communicate an alarm; they can not achieve any common purpose. Confuse the vocabulary, and millions are helpless against a small, disciplined number who know what they mean when they speak. Lenin had brains.

Today, when you hear the word “democracy,” what does it mean?

These United States, of course; and England, the British Commonwealth, the British Empire, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium, part of France, Finland when Russians attack the Finns but not when Finns attack Russia; Russia when Russians fight Germans but not when Stalin signs a pact with Hitler; the kingdoms and dictatorships of the Balkans; and economic security and compulsory insurance and the check-off system of collecting labor union dues; and friendliness and neighborliness and the unique American sense of human equality, and a vote for everybody, and socialism and communism and the Spanish cause for which republicans, democrats, socialists, syndicalists, anarchists and Russian and American communists fought, and freedom and human rights and human dignity and common decency.

That is, the word has no meaning. Its meaning has been destroyed.

It was once a sound word. It is a necessary word, because no other has its real meaning. Demo-cracy means, rule by The People; as precisely as mon-archy means, rule by one (person).

Demos, The People, was a fantasy imagined by the ancient Greeks, in their search for The Authority that (they imagined) controlled men. To this fantasy they attached the meaning of God, which always attaches to every form of Authority, and there are still persons who believe that “the voice of The People is the voice of God.”

The People does not exist. Individual persons compose any group of persons.

So in practice, any attempt to establish democracy is an attempt to make a majority of persons in a group act as the ruler of that group.

Consider this for one moment, not in fantasy, but as applied to your own experience in groups of living persons whom you know, and you will understand why every attempt to establish democracy has failed.

Of course there is no reason to suppose that majority-rule would be desirable, even if it were possible. There is no morality or efficiency in mere numbers. Ninety-nine persons are no more likely to be right than one person is.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison stated the reason why every attempt to establish a democracy quickly creates a tyrant:

“A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

The gentlemen who took responsibility for saving the American Revolution were fearful that democracy would end it. The unknown Americans, the Ebenezer Foxes, for years had been fighting Authority; each was determined “to do what was right in my own eyes.” But they had no Latin or Greek, they knew nothing about all the previous efforts to make democracy work, and they were shouting for democracy.

On the other hand, the large landholders, bankers, rich merchants, and a thick-springing crop of rapacious grafters and land-speculators, led by Alexander Hamilton, the illegitimate adventurer from the West Indies who was also a genius, were demanding an American monarchy.

The real revolutionists, when they signed the Declaration of Independence and of individual freedom, were undertaking not only to win a war against impossible odds, but to create an entirely new kind of Government.

They faced the armed power of the British Empire, with thirteen disorganized, quarreling colonies at their backs, and two dangers threatening them: monarchy, and democracy.

They said nothing about The People. They repeated no nonsense about Science and Natural Law and the Age of Reason. They did not gush about the noble nature of Natural Man. They knew men. They were realists. They had no illusions about men, but they did know that all men are free.

They stood against both monarchy and democracy, because they knew that when men set up an imaginary Authority armed with force, they destroy all opportunity to exercise their natural freedom.

Educated men, they had studied the many attempts to establish democracy. The results were known twenty-five hundred years ago in Greece. Democracy does not work. It can not work, because every man is free. He can not transfer his inalienable life and liberty to anyone or anything outside himself. When he tries to do this, he tries to obey an Authority that does not exist.

It makes no difference what he imagines this Authority to be—Ra or Baal or Zeus or Jupiter; Cleopatra or the Mikado; or Economic Necessity or the Will of the Masses or the Voice of The People; the stubborn fact is that there is no Authority, of any kind, that controls individuals. They control themselves.

Anyone in a free group can decide to give up his own idea and go along with the majority. If he does not want to do this, he can get out of the group. This is a use of freedom, an exercise of self-controlling responsibility.

But when a large number of individuals falsely believe that the majority is an Authority that has a right to control individuals, they must let a majority choose one man (or a few men) to act as Government. They will believe that the majority has transferred to those men the Majority-Right to control all individuals living under that Government. But Government is not a controlling Authority; Government is a use of force, it is the police, the army; it can not control anyone, it can only hinder, restrict, or stop anyone’s use of his energy.

As Madison says, some common passion or interest will sway a majority. And because a majority supports the ruler whom a majority chooses, nothing checks his use of force against the minority. So the ruler of a democracy quickly becomes a tyrant. And that is the swift and violent death of the democracy.

This always occurs, invariably. It is as certain as death and taxes. It occurred in Athens twenty-five centuries ago. It occurred in France in 1804, when an overwhelming majority elected the Emperor Napoleon. It occurred in Germany in 1932, when a majority of Germans—swayed by a common passion for food and social order—elected Hitler.

Madison stated the historic fact: in democracy there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. There is no protection for liberty. Hence it is, that democracies always destroy personal security (the Gestapo, the concentration camps) and the rights of property (what rights of property ownership are there in Europe, now?) and are as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.

Rose Wilder Lane

Democracies: Short in Their Lives, Violent in Their Deaths



A compelling reason for the long hesitation of these men—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, Madison, Monroe—was their fear of democracy.

They were educated men. Excepting Franklin (self-educated), each one had the education of an English gentleman. That is, the philosophy and the history of the whole European past had been pounded into his head before he was twelve years old. Therefore, when he was old enough to think for himself, he had thousands of years of human experience with every form of Government, to think about.

This knowledge was then regarded as necessary to every man whose birth entitled him to take any part in the government of his country.

They also knew the meaning of every word they used; they knew its Greek, Latin, or Anglo-Saxon root. Until forty years ago, this knowledge was still considered of first importance in American schools. Every pupil, at thirteen and fourteen, learned etymology as he had learned spelling since the age of six, by dogged repetition until the facts were fixed in his mind.

Today the confusion of the meaning of words in these United States is a danger to the whole world. Few American schools any longer require a pupil to dissect his words to their roots, and to know what he means when he speaks. And for twenty years the disciplined members of the Communist Party in these States have been deliberately following Lenin’s instruction, “First confuse the vocabulary.”

Thinking can be done only in words. Accurate thinking requires words of precise meaning. Communication between human beings is impossible without words whose precise meaning is generally understood.

Confuse the vocabulary, and people do not know what is happening; they can not communicate an alarm; they can not achieve any common purpose. Confuse the vocabulary, and millions are helpless against a small, disciplined number who know what they mean when they speak. Lenin had brains.

Today, when you hear the word “democracy,” what does it mean?

These United States, of course; and England, the British Commonwealth, the British Empire, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium, part of France, Finland when Russians attack the Finns but not when Finns attack Russia; Russia when Russians fight Germans but not when Stalin signs a pact with Hitler; the kingdoms and dictatorships of the Balkans; and economic security and compulsory insurance and the check-off system of collecting labor union dues; and friendliness and neighborliness and the unique American sense of human equality, and a vote for everybody, and socialism and communism and the Spanish cause for which republicans, democrats, socialists, syndicalists, anarchists and Russian and American communists fought, and freedom and human rights and human dignity and common decency.

That is, the word has no meaning. Its meaning has been destroyed.

It was once a sound word. It is a necessary word, because no other has its real meaning. Demo-cracy means, rule by The People; as precisely as mon-archy means, rule by one (person).

Demos, The People, was a fantasy imagined by the ancient Greeks, in their search for The Authority that (they imagined) controlled men. To this fantasy they attached the meaning of God, which always attaches to every form of Authority, and there are still persons who believe that “the voice of The People is the voice of God.”

The People does not exist. Individual persons compose any group of persons.

So in practice, any attempt to establish democracy is an attempt to make a majority of persons in a group act as the ruler of that group.

Consider this for one moment, not in fantasy, but as applied to your own experience in groups of living persons whom you know, and you will understand why every attempt to establish democracy has failed.

Of course there is no reason to suppose that majority-rule would be desirable, even if it were possible. There is no morality or efficiency in mere numbers. Ninety-nine persons are no more likely to be right than one person is.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison stated the reason why every attempt to establish a democracy quickly creates a tyrant:

“A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

The gentlemen who took responsibility for saving the American Revolution were fearful that democracy would end it. The unknown Americans, the Ebenezer Foxes, for years had been fighting Authority; each was determined “to do what was right in my own eyes.” But they had no Latin or Greek, they knew nothing about all the previous efforts to make democracy work, and they were shouting for democracy.

On the other hand, the large landholders, bankers, rich merchants, and a thick-springing crop of rapacious grafters and land-speculators, led by Alexander Hamilton, the illegitimate adventurer from the West Indies who was also a genius, were demanding an American monarchy.

The real revolutionists, when they signed the Declaration of Independence and of individual freedom, were undertaking not only to win a war against impossible odds, but to create an entirely new kind of Government.

They faced the armed power of the British Empire, with thirteen disorganized, quarreling colonies at their backs, and two dangers threatening them: monarchy, and democracy.

They said nothing about The People. They repeated no nonsense about Science and Natural Law and the Age of Reason. They did not gush about the noble nature of Natural Man. They knew men. They were realists. They had no illusions about men, but they did know that all men are free.

They stood against both monarchy and democracy, because they knew that when men set up an imaginary Authority armed with force, they destroy all opportunity to exercise their natural freedom.

Educated men, they had studied the many attempts to establish democracy. The results were known twenty-five hundred years ago in Greece. Democracy does not work. It can not work, because every man is free. He can not transfer his inalienable life and liberty to anyone or anything outside himself. When he tries to do this, he tries to obey an Authority that does not exist.

It makes no difference what he imagines this Authority to be—Ra or Baal or Zeus or Jupiter; Cleopatra or the Mikado; or Economic Necessity or the Will of the Masses or the Voice of The People; the stubborn fact is that there is no Authority, of any kind, that controls individuals. They control themselves.

Anyone in a free group can decide to give up his own idea and go along with the majority. If he does not want to do this, he can get out of the group. This is a use of freedom, an exercise of self-controlling responsibility.

But when a large number of individuals falsely believe that the majority is an Authority that has a right to control individuals, they must let a majority choose one man (or a few men) to act as Government. They will believe that the majority has transferred to those men the Majority-Right to control all individuals living under that Government. But Government is not a controlling Authority; Government is a use of force, it is the police, the army; it can not control anyone, it can only hinder, restrict, or stop anyone’s use of his energy.

As Madison says, some common passion or interest will sway a majority. And because a majority supports the ruler whom a majority chooses, nothing checks his use of force against the minority. So the ruler of a democracy quickly becomes a tyrant. And that is the swift and violent death of the democracy.

This always occurs, invariably. It is as certain as death and taxes. It occurred in Athens twenty-five centuries ago. It occurred in France in 1804, when an overwhelming majority elected the Emperor Napoleon. It occurred in Germany in 1932, when a majority of Germans—swayed by a common passion for food and social order—elected Hitler.

Madison stated the historic fact: in democracy there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. There is no protection for liberty. Hence it is, that democracies always destroy personal security (the Gestapo, the concentration camps) and the rights of property (what rights of property ownership are there in Europe, now?) and are as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.

Rose Wilder Lane


At Home and Abroad, Trump Tramples Human Rights

At Home and Abroad, Trump Tramples Human Rights


In January 1941, with the prospect looming of US involvement in another European war, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of America’s purpose in the world: to protect and promote “four freedoms.” FDR drew a clear link between US security and the fulfillment of human rights at home. “Just as our national policy in internal affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all of our fellow men within our gates, so our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all nations, large and small.”
In another speech he underscored the point:
“unless there is [human] security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Among the extraordinary backward steps Donald Trump is taking to transform America, none is more shameful than his calculated trampling on human rights at home and abroad. To my mind, the two are interrelated: A government that does not respect the human rights of its own citizens will also show no respect for human rights in other countries—and will work with other governments that seek to repress their citizens’ rights. Moreover, a government that fails to promote human rights in its own backyard will lack credibility should it criticize others’ repression of human rights.
Undermining Rights at Home
On the home front, two recent surveys show how the US has declined as a repository of human rights, in particular adherence to political rights and civil liberties. These are the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, whose ranking is based on 44 indicators of lawfulness; and Freedom House, which makes annual assessments based on implementation (not claims) of rights enumerated in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The WJP ranks the US 19th of 113 countries in its 2018 survey. Among the weakest dimensions for the US are labor rights, an effective correctional system, discrimination, respect for due process, and accessibility and affordability of the legal system. For comparison sake, note that Germany (6th), Canada (9th), and Britain (11th) all rank higher than the US. Freedom House ranks the US 86th of 100 countries (100 being “most free”); Canada (99), Germany (94), and Britain (94) again rank higher. Trump’s corruption, evasion of legal and institutional norms, and low regard for certain human rights help account for a lower Freedom House ranking of the US than in previous years. The US ranked 90th in the 2016 report, for instance.
On the human-security side, a recent report by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, documented growing problems of poverty in America. Before Trump, the rich-poor gap was already wide and the number of people, especially children, living in poverty was pitifully large. In Alston’s view, Trump’s policies amount to “a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty” (see here). Nearly 23 million people, according to Alston, are living in extreme or absolute poverty. And the US has the highest rate of infant mortality, the highest rate of youth poverty, and the highest income inequality among all rich countries. Poor people are especially vulnerable in the Trump era because they are being deliberately targeted for political advantage, while a sliver of the US population benefits more than ever from tax cuts, subsidization of the fossil fuel industry, and voter restrictions.
Human security and basic human rights are under assault in other ways: by reducing government responsibility for the health and welfare system; putting energy interests and private profit ahead of action to address climate change and respect for scientific findings; subjecting immigration policy to outright racist priorities, such as by denial of due process, separation of families, and blatant disregard for the rights of children (the US is the only country in the world that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child); moving away from support of public education; and undermining the right of labor to organize. The Supreme Court, now with a far right-leaning majority that will soon be further strengthened by a new Trump appointee, is a handmaiden of his attack on labor unions, women’s, gay people’s, and immigrants’ rights.
Trump’s immigration policy is especially troubling. UN human rights special rapporteurs from various countries have condemned it, pointing out that his Muslim ban and rejection of legitimate asylum requests based on “a well-founded fear of persecution” violate international and US law and conventions. (A US district judge on July 3, 2018 slammed the administration for violating its own regulations on asylum seekers, and ordered that these detainees be either freed from detention or granted asylum.) Trump’s executive order of June 20, 2018, said these UN experts, “does not address the situation of those children who have already been pulled away from their parents. We call on the Government of the US to release these children from immigration detention and to reunite them with their families based on the best interests of the child, and the rights of the child to liberty and family unity. Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture. Children are being used as a deterrent to irregular migration, which is unacceptable” (see here).
“State-sanctioned child abuse” is the way Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) put it on MSNBC on July 5 in light of the separation of some 3,000 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
Of course such criticism will not move a president who touts “America first” and believes a harsh immigration policy is the key to his reelection.
He has already withdrawn the US from the UN Human Rights Council and rejected the critique of poverty in America by the special rapporteur, with US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley deriding it as “patently ridiculous.” These actions, along with reduced US contributions to the UN budget, put the US on China’s and Russia’s side. Beijing and Moscow likewise want to force major reductions in the human-security side of the UN budget, including peacekeeping missions and protection of women and children from sexual exploitation (see here).
Dancing with Dictators
Meantime, the Trump administration has continued the sordid US practice of supporting authoritarian regimes, making the US party to repression of human rights abroad and, on occasion, a collaborator in crimes against humanity and war crimes. The usual pretext for such support is to maintain “stability,” counter terrorism, or align against some other equally authoritarian regime. Vietnam reflects the latter case: Washington, backing Vietnam’s territorial case against China, hasn’t said a word about repression of dissent and trials of human-rights activists there (see here). “Support” often takes the form of selling arms, as in the cases of Turkey despite widespread repression and the dismantling of democratic institutions, Saudi Arabia in its bombing campaign in Yemen (see here), and the Philippines despite its unrestrained drug war.
Israel should be added to this list, since the far-right Netanyahu government receives about $1.5 billion annually in US arms that give it license to violently suppress Palestinian protests. Not surprisingly, the equally far-right US ambassador to Israel has said Israel should be exempt from US law that requires a State Department report on whether or not US-supplied weapons are being used to repress human rights (see here).
“Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights,” Ambassador David Friedman said.
Evidently, neither he nor the administration he serves regards attacks on Gaza demonstrators this past spring, which killed at least 135 Palestinians and wounded perhaps 15,000, as “gross violations” (see here).
Even when serious violations of human rights are occurring in adversarial countries that have something to benefit Trump, such as China, North Korea, and Russia, expect very little comment from him. Yes, he said he had brought up human rights when he met with Kim Jong-un, and insisted that US missile attacks in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons were motivated by concern about Syrian children. But does anyone take those assertions seriously in light of his undermining of human rights at home? After all, Trump has publicly excused Kim, Xi Jinping, Putin, and other authoritarian leaders he has called great friends for their bad behavior, noting that they have a tough job and that there are “bad guys” in all political systems. Trump’s beef with China is mainly about trade and the South China Sea; human rights has yet to get a hearing. And how about Russia? While several of Trump’s top officials have criticized Putin over arbitrary arrests and even assassinations of critics, Trump has been silent. (Remember how he ignored the advice of his national security council—“Do Not Congratulate”—when he telephoned Putin on his reelection?) Or Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, where Trump-like leaders are busy burying democracy while the European Union looks on, aghast but powerless?
Trump reserves his professed concern about human rights for antagonistic rivals, notably Cuba and Iran—the very countries, not coincidentally, that Obama successfully engaged. Those countries are important either because of their domestic political value (Cuba) or (for Iran) because of Trump’s ties to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But aligning against Cuba and Iran only worsens human rights conditions in those countries. In a word, the more antagonistic US policy becomes—imposing sanctions and promoting regime change—the more are human rights threatened, first because of their often devastating impact on ordinary people’s lives, and second because hard-line elements in Cuba and Iran have ammunition to increase repression in the name of national security. (For example, in Iran: see here).
Discussion of sensitive human-rights cases often gets relegated to the annual state department report on conditions around the world, a report required by Congress. Even here the Trump administration has downplayed human rights. When the 2016 report was prepared, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected the usual practice of presenting it to the press, evidently to discount its importance (see here). The 2017 report, which came out this April, “sugarcoated” several controversial issues, as one human rights NGO leader put it. These deceptions include Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Territories (no longer labeled as such), high civilian casualties from Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen (referred to as “disproportionate collateral damage”), and women’s reproductive rights (no longer mentioned). (See here.) Little wonder that so many senior diplomats have quit over Trump’s disdain for human rights, including John Feeley as US ambassador to Panama, Elizabeth Shackelford as chief political officer in the US embassy in Somalia, and Jim Melville as ambassador to Estonia.
A Declining Example
The United States has always claimed to be an exemplar of respect for human rights—for liberty, democracy, and the rule of law—and has deplored (and occasionally sanctioned) outrageous human conditions in some other countries. That stance was the foundation of Roosevelt’s argument for US entry into World War II—as well of Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in crafting the UN Universal Declaration. Every postwar US administration since has had a very inconsistent record in that regard, but Trump’s is the worst of the lot by far: He rarely even makes reference to human rights, much less takes action on its behalf. But then again, any action he might take would lack credibility, because as FDR observed, improving human rights at home is central to protecting it abroad.
Trump does not make that connection. He is riveted on two things, money and power, the core concerns of a big businessman who never has enough. The lure of money hardly needs explanation. First come the receipts: Trump and his family see gold in foreign officials’ visits to his US and overseas properties, in potential hotel and golf sites for his brand, and in (secret) transfers of funds to support his election and help pay his debts. Then there are the costs: Trump has declared that certain military exercises, alliances (read: NATO, Japan, and South Korea, among others), and overseas bases are too expensive. Human rights concerns do not figure in such a bottom-line calculus (see here).
Trump’s aim to expand his personal power may be seen in his affection for certain autocrats. Democracy, the rule of law, and transparency are among the least interests to this president. Trump looks for inspiration to dictators because they display the kind of raw, unchallenged political power he would like to have—the power, that is, to defy behavioral. policy and legal norms, behave brutally with those who are disloyal or disagree, and go it alone without consequences. Granted, talking with dictators is sometimes necessary and useful, especially if there is a deal in the works. The Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un is a prime example. But admiring dictators is another matter entirely: It betrays a disturbing personal characteristic of Trump’s.
We see the dictator’s playbook at work in Trump’s stance on immigration—a direct appeal to popular fears and long-denied racist impulses. Paul Krugman contends here that Trump must stir up unreasoning hatred of “the other.” Krugman writes: “the atrocities our nation is now committing at the border don’t represent an overreaction or poorly implemented response to some actual problem that needs solving. There is no immigration crisis; there is no crisis of immigrant crime. No, the real crisis is an upsurge in hatred — unreasoning hatred that bears no relationship to anything the victims have done. And anyone making excuses for that hatred — who tries, for example, to turn it into a ‘both sides’ story — is, in effect, an apologist for crimes against humanity.”
And now the US Supreme Court, far from helping stem this tide, has endorsed a president’s power to claim a national security threat that will keep Muslims out of America. The founders of this country, who looked for it to be a “shining example” to the world, must be turning over in their graves. So, surely, is FDR.
*
Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Senior Editor of Asian Perspective, and author most recently of Engaging Adversaries: Peacemaking and Diplomacy in the Human Interest(Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). He blogs here.
All images in this article are from the author.

At Home and Abroad, Trump Tramples Human Rights


In January 1941, with the prospect looming of US involvement in another European war, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of America’s purpose in the world: to protect and promote “four freedoms.” FDR drew a clear link between US security and the fulfillment of human rights at home. “Just as our national policy in internal affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all of our fellow men within our gates, so our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all nations, large and small.”
In another speech he underscored the point:
“unless there is [human] security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Among the extraordinary backward steps Donald Trump is taking to transform America, none is more shameful than his calculated trampling on human rights at home and abroad. To my mind, the two are interrelated: A government that does not respect the human rights of its own citizens will also show no respect for human rights in other countries—and will work with other governments that seek to repress their citizens’ rights. Moreover, a government that fails to promote human rights in its own backyard will lack credibility should it criticize others’ repression of human rights.
Undermining Rights at Home
On the home front, two recent surveys show how the US has declined as a repository of human rights, in particular adherence to political rights and civil liberties. These are the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, whose ranking is based on 44 indicators of lawfulness; and Freedom House, which makes annual assessments based on implementation (not claims) of rights enumerated in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The WJP ranks the US 19th of 113 countries in its 2018 survey. Among the weakest dimensions for the US are labor rights, an effective correctional system, discrimination, respect for due process, and accessibility and affordability of the legal system. For comparison sake, note that Germany (6th), Canada (9th), and Britain (11th) all rank higher than the US. Freedom House ranks the US 86th of 100 countries (100 being “most free”); Canada (99), Germany (94), and Britain (94) again rank higher. Trump’s corruption, evasion of legal and institutional norms, and low regard for certain human rights help account for a lower Freedom House ranking of the US than in previous years. The US ranked 90th in the 2016 report, for instance.
On the human-security side, a recent report by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, documented growing problems of poverty in America. Before Trump, the rich-poor gap was already wide and the number of people, especially children, living in poverty was pitifully large. In Alston’s view, Trump’s policies amount to “a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty” (see here). Nearly 23 million people, according to Alston, are living in extreme or absolute poverty. And the US has the highest rate of infant mortality, the highest rate of youth poverty, and the highest income inequality among all rich countries. Poor people are especially vulnerable in the Trump era because they are being deliberately targeted for political advantage, while a sliver of the US population benefits more than ever from tax cuts, subsidization of the fossil fuel industry, and voter restrictions.
Human security and basic human rights are under assault in other ways: by reducing government responsibility for the health and welfare system; putting energy interests and private profit ahead of action to address climate change and respect for scientific findings; subjecting immigration policy to outright racist priorities, such as by denial of due process, separation of families, and blatant disregard for the rights of children (the US is the only country in the world that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child); moving away from support of public education; and undermining the right of labor to organize. The Supreme Court, now with a far right-leaning majority that will soon be further strengthened by a new Trump appointee, is a handmaiden of his attack on labor unions, women’s, gay people’s, and immigrants’ rights.
Trump’s immigration policy is especially troubling. UN human rights special rapporteurs from various countries have condemned it, pointing out that his Muslim ban and rejection of legitimate asylum requests based on “a well-founded fear of persecution” violate international and US law and conventions. (A US district judge on July 3, 2018 slammed the administration for violating its own regulations on asylum seekers, and ordered that these detainees be either freed from detention or granted asylum.) Trump’s executive order of June 20, 2018, said these UN experts, “does not address the situation of those children who have already been pulled away from their parents. We call on the Government of the US to release these children from immigration detention and to reunite them with their families based on the best interests of the child, and the rights of the child to liberty and family unity. Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture. Children are being used as a deterrent to irregular migration, which is unacceptable” (see here).
“State-sanctioned child abuse” is the way Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) put it on MSNBC on July 5 in light of the separation of some 3,000 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
Of course such criticism will not move a president who touts “America first” and believes a harsh immigration policy is the key to his reelection.
He has already withdrawn the US from the UN Human Rights Council and rejected the critique of poverty in America by the special rapporteur, with US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley deriding it as “patently ridiculous.” These actions, along with reduced US contributions to the UN budget, put the US on China’s and Russia’s side. Beijing and Moscow likewise want to force major reductions in the human-security side of the UN budget, including peacekeeping missions and protection of women and children from sexual exploitation (see here).
Dancing with Dictators
Meantime, the Trump administration has continued the sordid US practice of supporting authoritarian regimes, making the US party to repression of human rights abroad and, on occasion, a collaborator in crimes against humanity and war crimes. The usual pretext for such support is to maintain “stability,” counter terrorism, or align against some other equally authoritarian regime. Vietnam reflects the latter case: Washington, backing Vietnam’s territorial case against China, hasn’t said a word about repression of dissent and trials of human-rights activists there (see here). “Support” often takes the form of selling arms, as in the cases of Turkey despite widespread repression and the dismantling of democratic institutions, Saudi Arabia in its bombing campaign in Yemen (see here), and the Philippines despite its unrestrained drug war.
Israel should be added to this list, since the far-right Netanyahu government receives about $1.5 billion annually in US arms that give it license to violently suppress Palestinian protests. Not surprisingly, the equally far-right US ambassador to Israel has said Israel should be exempt from US law that requires a State Department report on whether or not US-supplied weapons are being used to repress human rights (see here).
“Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights,” Ambassador David Friedman said.
Evidently, neither he nor the administration he serves regards attacks on Gaza demonstrators this past spring, which killed at least 135 Palestinians and wounded perhaps 15,000, as “gross violations” (see here).
Even when serious violations of human rights are occurring in adversarial countries that have something to benefit Trump, such as China, North Korea, and Russia, expect very little comment from him. Yes, he said he had brought up human rights when he met with Kim Jong-un, and insisted that US missile attacks in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons were motivated by concern about Syrian children. But does anyone take those assertions seriously in light of his undermining of human rights at home? After all, Trump has publicly excused Kim, Xi Jinping, Putin, and other authoritarian leaders he has called great friends for their bad behavior, noting that they have a tough job and that there are “bad guys” in all political systems. Trump’s beef with China is mainly about trade and the South China Sea; human rights has yet to get a hearing. And how about Russia? While several of Trump’s top officials have criticized Putin over arbitrary arrests and even assassinations of critics, Trump has been silent. (Remember how he ignored the advice of his national security council—“Do Not Congratulate”—when he telephoned Putin on his reelection?) Or Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, where Trump-like leaders are busy burying democracy while the European Union looks on, aghast but powerless?
Trump reserves his professed concern about human rights for antagonistic rivals, notably Cuba and Iran—the very countries, not coincidentally, that Obama successfully engaged. Those countries are important either because of their domestic political value (Cuba) or (for Iran) because of Trump’s ties to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But aligning against Cuba and Iran only worsens human rights conditions in those countries. In a word, the more antagonistic US policy becomes—imposing sanctions and promoting regime change—the more are human rights threatened, first because of their often devastating impact on ordinary people’s lives, and second because hard-line elements in Cuba and Iran have ammunition to increase repression in the name of national security. (For example, in Iran: see here).
Discussion of sensitive human-rights cases often gets relegated to the annual state department report on conditions around the world, a report required by Congress. Even here the Trump administration has downplayed human rights. When the 2016 report was prepared, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected the usual practice of presenting it to the press, evidently to discount its importance (see here). The 2017 report, which came out this April, “sugarcoated” several controversial issues, as one human rights NGO leader put it. These deceptions include Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Territories (no longer labeled as such), high civilian casualties from Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen (referred to as “disproportionate collateral damage”), and women’s reproductive rights (no longer mentioned). (See here.) Little wonder that so many senior diplomats have quit over Trump’s disdain for human rights, including John Feeley as US ambassador to Panama, Elizabeth Shackelford as chief political officer in the US embassy in Somalia, and Jim Melville as ambassador to Estonia.
A Declining Example
The United States has always claimed to be an exemplar of respect for human rights—for liberty, democracy, and the rule of law—and has deplored (and occasionally sanctioned) outrageous human conditions in some other countries. That stance was the foundation of Roosevelt’s argument for US entry into World War II—as well of Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in crafting the UN Universal Declaration. Every postwar US administration since has had a very inconsistent record in that regard, but Trump’s is the worst of the lot by far: He rarely even makes reference to human rights, much less takes action on its behalf. But then again, any action he might take would lack credibility, because as FDR observed, improving human rights at home is central to protecting it abroad.
Trump does not make that connection. He is riveted on two things, money and power, the core concerns of a big businessman who never has enough. The lure of money hardly needs explanation. First come the receipts: Trump and his family see gold in foreign officials’ visits to his US and overseas properties, in potential hotel and golf sites for his brand, and in (secret) transfers of funds to support his election and help pay his debts. Then there are the costs: Trump has declared that certain military exercises, alliances (read: NATO, Japan, and South Korea, among others), and overseas bases are too expensive. Human rights concerns do not figure in such a bottom-line calculus (see here).
Trump’s aim to expand his personal power may be seen in his affection for certain autocrats. Democracy, the rule of law, and transparency are among the least interests to this president. Trump looks for inspiration to dictators because they display the kind of raw, unchallenged political power he would like to have—the power, that is, to defy behavioral. policy and legal norms, behave brutally with those who are disloyal or disagree, and go it alone without consequences. Granted, talking with dictators is sometimes necessary and useful, especially if there is a deal in the works. The Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un is a prime example. But admiring dictators is another matter entirely: It betrays a disturbing personal characteristic of Trump’s.
We see the dictator’s playbook at work in Trump’s stance on immigration—a direct appeal to popular fears and long-denied racist impulses. Paul Krugman contends here that Trump must stir up unreasoning hatred of “the other.” Krugman writes: “the atrocities our nation is now committing at the border don’t represent an overreaction or poorly implemented response to some actual problem that needs solving. There is no immigration crisis; there is no crisis of immigrant crime. No, the real crisis is an upsurge in hatred — unreasoning hatred that bears no relationship to anything the victims have done. And anyone making excuses for that hatred — who tries, for example, to turn it into a ‘both sides’ story — is, in effect, an apologist for crimes against humanity.”
And now the US Supreme Court, far from helping stem this tide, has endorsed a president’s power to claim a national security threat that will keep Muslims out of America. The founders of this country, who looked for it to be a “shining example” to the world, must be turning over in their graves. So, surely, is FDR.
*
Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Senior Editor of Asian Perspective, and author most recently of Engaging Adversaries: Peacemaking and Diplomacy in the Human Interest(Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). He blogs here.
All images in this article are from the author.


Commandos Sans Frontières

Commandos Sans Frontières

The Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces

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Early last month, at a tiny military post near the tumbledown town of Jamaame in Somalia, small arms fire began to ring out as mortar shells crashed down. When the attack was over, one Somali soldier had been wounded — and had that been the extent of the casualties, you undoubtedly would never have heard about it.
As it happened, however, American commandos were also operating from that outpost and four of them were wounded, three badly enough to be evacuated for further medical care. Another special operator, Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, assigned to the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (also known as the Green Berets), was killed.
If the story sounds vaguely familiar — combat by U.S. commandos in African wars that America is technically not fighting — it should. Last December, Green Berets operating alongside local forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight. Two months earlier, in October, an ambush by an Islamic State terror group in that same country, where few Americans (including members of Congress) even knew U.S. special operators were stationed, left four U.S. soldiers dead — Green Berets among them. (The military first described that mission as providing “advice and assistance” to local forces, then as a “reconnaissance patrol” as part of a broader “train, advise, and assist” mission, before it was finally exposed as a kill or capture operation.) Last May, a Navy SEAL was killed and two other U.S. personnel were wounded in a raid in Somalia that the Pentagon described as an “advise, assist, and accompany” mission. And a month earlier, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized parts of Central Africa for decades.
And there had been, as the New York Times noted in March, at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017. Little wonder since, for at least five years, as Politico recently reported, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other commandos, operating under a little-understood legal authority known as Section 127e, have been involved in reconnaissance and “direct action” combat raids with African special operators in Somalia, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia.
None of this should be surprising, since in Africa and across the rest of the planet America’s Special Operations forces (SOF) are regularly engaged in a wide-ranging set of missions including special reconnaissance and small-scale offensive actions, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and security force assistance (that is, organizing, training, equipping, and advising foreign troops). And every day, almost everywhere, U.S. commandos are involved in various kinds of training.
Unless they end in disaster, most missions remain in the shadows, unknown to all but a few Americans. And yet last year alone, U.S. commandos deployed to 149 countries — about 75% of the nations on the planet. At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries. That’s nearly as many deployments as occurred during the last year of the Obama administration and more than double those of the final days of George W. Bush’s White House.
Going Commando
“USSOCOM plays an integral role in opposing today’s threats to our nation, to protecting the American people, to securing our homeland, and in maintaining favorable regional balances of power,” General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year. “However, as we focus on today’s operations we must be equally focused on required future transformation. SOF must adapt, develop, procure, and field new capabilities in the interest of continuing to be a unique, lethal, and agile part of the Joint Force of tomorrow.”
Members of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, provide security of a landing zone during a combat search and rescue exercise in support of Eager Lion 2017. Eager Lion is an annual U.S. Central Command exercise in Jordan designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S., Jordan and other international partners. (Source: Public Domain)
Special Operations forces have actually been in a state of transformation ever since September 11, 2001. In the years since, they have grown in every possible way — from their budget to their size, to their pace of operations, to the geographic sweep of their missions. In 2001, for example, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed overseas in any given week. That number has now soared to 8,300, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. At the same time, the number of “authorized military positions” — the active-duty troops, reservists, and National Guardsmen that are part of SOCOM — has jumped from 42,800 in 2001 to 63,500 today. While each of the military service branches — the so-called parent services — provides funding, including pay, benefits, and some equipment to their elite forces, “Special Operations-specific funding,” at $3.1 billion in 2001, is now at $12.3 billion. (The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps also provide their special operations units with about $8 billion annually.)
All this means that, on any given day, more than 8,000 exceptionally well-equipped and well-funded special operators from a command numbering roughly 70,000 active-duty personnel, reservists, and National Guardsmen as well as civilians are deployed in approximately 90 countries. Most of those troops are Green Berets, Rangers, or other Army Special Operations personnel. According to Lieutenant General Kenneth Tovo, head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command until his retirement last month, that branch provides more than 51% of all Special Operations forces and accounts for more than 60% of their overseas deployments. On any given day, just the Army’s elite soldiers are operating in around 70 countries.
In February, for instance, Army Rangers carried out several weeks of winter warfare training in Germany, while Green Berets practiced missions involving snowmobiles in Sweden. In April, Green Berets took part in the annual Flintlock multinational Special Operations forces training exercise conducted in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Senegal that involved Nigerien, Burkinabe, Malian, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese troops, among others.
While most missions involve training, instruction, or war games, Special Forces soldiers are also regularly involved in combat operations across America’s expansive global war zones. A month after Flintlock, for example, Green Berets accompanied local commandos on a nighttime air assault raid in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, during which a senior ISIS operative was reportedly “eliminated.” In May, a post-deployment awards ceremony for members of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, who had just returned from six months advising and assisting Afghan commandos, offered some indication of the kinds of missions being undertaken in that country. Those Green Berets received more than 60 decorations for valor — including 20 Bronze Star Medals and four Silver Star Medals (the third-highest military combat decoration).
For its part, the Navy, according to Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski, chief of Naval Special Warfare Command, has about 1,000 SEALs or other personnel deployed to more than 35 countries each day. In February, Naval Special Warfare forces and soldiers from Army Special Operations Aviation Command conducted training aboard a French amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Gulf. That same month, Navy SEALs joined elite U.S. Air Force personnel in training alongside Royal Thai Naval Special Warfare operators during Cobra Gold, an annual exercise in Thailand.
The troops from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOCdeployprimarily to the Middle East, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific regions on six-month rotations. At any time, on average, about 400 “Raiders” are engaged in missions across 18 countries.
Air Force Special Operations Command, which fields a force of 19,500 active, reserve, and civilian personnel, conducted 78 joint-training exercises and events with partner nations in 2017, according to Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, chief of Air Force Special Operations Command. In February, for example, Air Force commandos conducted Arctic training — ski maneuvers and free-fall air operations — in Sweden, but such training missions are only part of the story. Air Force special operators were, for instance, recently deployed to aid the attempt to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a cave in Thailand. The Air Force also has three active duty special operations wings assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command, including the 24th Special Operations Wing, a “special tactics” unit that integrates air and ground forces for “precision-strike” and personnel-recovery missions. At a change of command ceremony in March, it was noted that its personnel had conducted almost 2,900 combat missions over the last two years.
Addition Through Subtraction
For years, U.S. Special Operations forces have been in a state of seemingly unrestrained expansion. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Africa. In 2006, just 1% of all American commandos deployed overseas were operating on that continent. By 2016, that number had jumped above 17%. By then, there were more special operations personnel devoted to Africa — 1,700 special operators spread out across 20 countries — than anywhere else except the Middle East.
Recently, however, the New York Times reported that a “sweeping Pentagon review” of special ops missions on that continent may soon result in drastic cuts in the number of commandos operating there. (“We do not comment on what tasks the secretary of defense or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may or may not have given USSOCOM,” spokesman Ken McGraw told me when I inquired about the review.) U.S. Africa Command has apparently been asked to consider what effect cutting commandos there by 25% over 18 months and 50% over three years would have on its counterterrorism missions. In the end, only about 700 elite troops — roughly the same number as were stationed in Africa in 2014 — would be left there.
Coming on the heels of the October 2017 debacle in Niger that left those four Americans dead and apparent orders from the commander of United States Special Operations forces in Africa that its commandos “plan missions to stay out of direct combat or do not go,” a number of experts suggested that such a review signaled a reappraisal of military engagement on the continent. The proposed cuts also seemed to fit with the Pentagon’s latest national defense strategy that highlighted a coming shift from a focus on counterterrorism to the threats of near-peer competitors like Russia and China.
“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists,” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis in January, “but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”
A wide range of analysts questioned or criticized the proposed troop reduction. Mu Xiaoming, from China’s National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, likened such a reduction in elite U.S. forces to the Obama administration’s drawdown of troops in Afghanistan in 2014 and noted the possibility of “terrorism making a comeback in Africa.” A former chief of U.S. commandos on the continent, Donald Bolduc, unsurprisingly echoed these same fears.
“Without the presence that we have there now,” he told Voice of America, “we’re just going to increase the effectiveness of the violent extremist organizations over time and we are going to lose trust and credibility in this area and destabilize it even further.”
David Meijer, a security analyst based in Amsterdam, lamented that, as Africa was growing in geostrategic importance and China is strengthening its ties there,
“it’s ironic that Washington is set to reduce its already minimal engagement on the continent.”
This is hardly a foregone conclusion, however. For years, members of SOCOM, as well as supportersin Congress, at think tanks, and elsewhere, have been loudly complaining about the soaring operations tempo for America’s elite troops and the resulting strains on them.
“Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas, the SOCOM chief, told members of Congress last spring. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.” Given how much clout SOCOM wields, such incessant gripes were certain to lead to changes in policy.
Last year, in fact, Secretary of Defense Mattis noted that the lines between U.S. Special Operations forces and conventional troops were blurring and that the latter would likely be taking on missions previously shouldered by the commandos, particularly in Africa.
“So the general purpose forces can do a lot of the kind of work that you see going on and, in fact, are now,” he said. “By and large, for example in Trans-Sahel [in northwest Africa], many of those forces down there supporting the French-led effort are not Special Forces. So we’ll continue to expand the general purpose forces where it’s appropriate. I would… anticipate more use of them.”
Earlier this year, Owen West, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflictreferred to Mattis’s comments while telling members of the House Armed Services Committee about the “need to look at the line that separates conventional operating forces from SOF and seek to take greater advantage of the ‘common capabilities’ of our exceptional conventional forces.” He particularly highlighted the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades, recently created to conduct advise-and-assist missions. This spring, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommended that one of those units be dedicated to Africa.
Substituting forces in this way is precisely what Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, has also been advocating. Late last year, in fact, her press secretary, Leigh Claffeytold TomDispatch that the senator believed “instead of such heavy reliance on Special Forces, we should also be engaging our conventional forces to take over missions when appropriate, as well as turning over operations to capable indigenous forces.” Chances are that U.S. commandos will continue carrying out their shadowy Section 127e raids alongside local forces across the African continent while leaving more conventional training and advising tasks to rank-and-file troops. In other words, the number of commandos in Africa may be cut, but the total number of American troops may not — with covert combat operations possibly continuing at the present pace.
If anything, U.S. Special Operations forces are likely to expand, not contract, next year. SOCOM’s 2019 budget request calls for adding about 1,000 personnel to what would then be a force of 71,000. In April, at a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities chaired by Ernst, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich noted that SOCOM was on track to “grow by approximately 2,000 personnel” in the coming years. The command is also poised to make 2018 another historic year in global reach. If Washington’s special operators deploy to just 17 more countries by the end of the fiscal year, they will exceed last year’s record-breaking total.
“USSOCOM continues to recruit, assess, and select the very best. We then train and empower our teammates to solve the most daunting national security problems,” SOCOM commander General Thomas told the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year.
Why Green Berets and Navy SEALs need to solve national security problems — strategic issues that ought to be addressed by policymakers — is a question that has long gone unanswered. It may be one of the reasons why, since Green Berets “liberated” Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has been involved in combat there and, as the years have passed, a plethora of other forever-war fronts including Cameroon, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
“The creativity, initiative and spirit of the people who comprise the Special Operations Force cannot be overstated. They are our greatest asset,” said Thomas.
And it’s likely that such assets will grow in 2019.
*
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.

Commandos Sans Frontières

The Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces

Image result for Commandos Sans Frontières

Note to readers: please click the share buttons above 
Early last month, at a tiny military post near the tumbledown town of Jamaame in Somalia, small arms fire began to ring out as mortar shells crashed down. When the attack was over, one Somali soldier had been wounded — and had that been the extent of the casualties, you undoubtedly would never have heard about it.
As it happened, however, American commandos were also operating from that outpost and four of them were wounded, three badly enough to be evacuated for further medical care. Another special operator, Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, assigned to the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (also known as the Green Berets), was killed.
If the story sounds vaguely familiar — combat by U.S. commandos in African wars that America is technically not fighting — it should. Last December, Green Berets operating alongside local forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight. Two months earlier, in October, an ambush by an Islamic State terror group in that same country, where few Americans (including members of Congress) even knew U.S. special operators were stationed, left four U.S. soldiers dead — Green Berets among them. (The military first described that mission as providing “advice and assistance” to local forces, then as a “reconnaissance patrol” as part of a broader “train, advise, and assist” mission, before it was finally exposed as a kill or capture operation.) Last May, a Navy SEAL was killed and two other U.S. personnel were wounded in a raid in Somalia that the Pentagon described as an “advise, assist, and accompany” mission. And a month earlier, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized parts of Central Africa for decades.
And there had been, as the New York Times noted in March, at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017. Little wonder since, for at least five years, as Politico recently reported, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other commandos, operating under a little-understood legal authority known as Section 127e, have been involved in reconnaissance and “direct action” combat raids with African special operators in Somalia, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia.
None of this should be surprising, since in Africa and across the rest of the planet America’s Special Operations forces (SOF) are regularly engaged in a wide-ranging set of missions including special reconnaissance and small-scale offensive actions, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and security force assistance (that is, organizing, training, equipping, and advising foreign troops). And every day, almost everywhere, U.S. commandos are involved in various kinds of training.
Unless they end in disaster, most missions remain in the shadows, unknown to all but a few Americans. And yet last year alone, U.S. commandos deployed to 149 countries — about 75% of the nations on the planet. At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries. That’s nearly as many deployments as occurred during the last year of the Obama administration and more than double those of the final days of George W. Bush’s White House.
Going Commando
“USSOCOM plays an integral role in opposing today’s threats to our nation, to protecting the American people, to securing our homeland, and in maintaining favorable regional balances of power,” General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year. “However, as we focus on today’s operations we must be equally focused on required future transformation. SOF must adapt, develop, procure, and field new capabilities in the interest of continuing to be a unique, lethal, and agile part of the Joint Force of tomorrow.”
Members of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, provide security of a landing zone during a combat search and rescue exercise in support of Eager Lion 2017. Eager Lion is an annual U.S. Central Command exercise in Jordan designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S., Jordan and other international partners. (Source: Public Domain)
Special Operations forces have actually been in a state of transformation ever since September 11, 2001. In the years since, they have grown in every possible way — from their budget to their size, to their pace of operations, to the geographic sweep of their missions. In 2001, for example, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed overseas in any given week. That number has now soared to 8,300, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. At the same time, the number of “authorized military positions” — the active-duty troops, reservists, and National Guardsmen that are part of SOCOM — has jumped from 42,800 in 2001 to 63,500 today. While each of the military service branches — the so-called parent services — provides funding, including pay, benefits, and some equipment to their elite forces, “Special Operations-specific funding,” at $3.1 billion in 2001, is now at $12.3 billion. (The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps also provide their special operations units with about $8 billion annually.)
All this means that, on any given day, more than 8,000 exceptionally well-equipped and well-funded special operators from a command numbering roughly 70,000 active-duty personnel, reservists, and National Guardsmen as well as civilians are deployed in approximately 90 countries. Most of those troops are Green Berets, Rangers, or other Army Special Operations personnel. According to Lieutenant General Kenneth Tovo, head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command until his retirement last month, that branch provides more than 51% of all Special Operations forces and accounts for more than 60% of their overseas deployments. On any given day, just the Army’s elite soldiers are operating in around 70 countries.
In February, for instance, Army Rangers carried out several weeks of winter warfare training in Germany, while Green Berets practiced missions involving snowmobiles in Sweden. In April, Green Berets took part in the annual Flintlock multinational Special Operations forces training exercise conducted in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Senegal that involved Nigerien, Burkinabe, Malian, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese troops, among others.
While most missions involve training, instruction, or war games, Special Forces soldiers are also regularly involved in combat operations across America’s expansive global war zones. A month after Flintlock, for example, Green Berets accompanied local commandos on a nighttime air assault raid in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, during which a senior ISIS operative was reportedly “eliminated.” In May, a post-deployment awards ceremony for members of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, who had just returned from six months advising and assisting Afghan commandos, offered some indication of the kinds of missions being undertaken in that country. Those Green Berets received more than 60 decorations for valor — including 20 Bronze Star Medals and four Silver Star Medals (the third-highest military combat decoration).
For its part, the Navy, according to Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski, chief of Naval Special Warfare Command, has about 1,000 SEALs or other personnel deployed to more than 35 countries each day. In February, Naval Special Warfare forces and soldiers from Army Special Operations Aviation Command conducted training aboard a French amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Gulf. That same month, Navy SEALs joined elite U.S. Air Force personnel in training alongside Royal Thai Naval Special Warfare operators during Cobra Gold, an annual exercise in Thailand.
The troops from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOCdeployprimarily to the Middle East, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific regions on six-month rotations. At any time, on average, about 400 “Raiders” are engaged in missions across 18 countries.
Air Force Special Operations Command, which fields a force of 19,500 active, reserve, and civilian personnel, conducted 78 joint-training exercises and events with partner nations in 2017, according to Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, chief of Air Force Special Operations Command. In February, for example, Air Force commandos conducted Arctic training — ski maneuvers and free-fall air operations — in Sweden, but such training missions are only part of the story. Air Force special operators were, for instance, recently deployed to aid the attempt to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped deep inside a cave in Thailand. The Air Force also has three active duty special operations wings assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command, including the 24th Special Operations Wing, a “special tactics” unit that integrates air and ground forces for “precision-strike” and personnel-recovery missions. At a change of command ceremony in March, it was noted that its personnel had conducted almost 2,900 combat missions over the last two years.
Addition Through Subtraction
For years, U.S. Special Operations forces have been in a state of seemingly unrestrained expansion. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Africa. In 2006, just 1% of all American commandos deployed overseas were operating on that continent. By 2016, that number had jumped above 17%. By then, there were more special operations personnel devoted to Africa — 1,700 special operators spread out across 20 countries — than anywhere else except the Middle East.
Recently, however, the New York Times reported that a “sweeping Pentagon review” of special ops missions on that continent may soon result in drastic cuts in the number of commandos operating there. (“We do not comment on what tasks the secretary of defense or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may or may not have given USSOCOM,” spokesman Ken McGraw told me when I inquired about the review.) U.S. Africa Command has apparently been asked to consider what effect cutting commandos there by 25% over 18 months and 50% over three years would have on its counterterrorism missions. In the end, only about 700 elite troops — roughly the same number as were stationed in Africa in 2014 — would be left there.
Coming on the heels of the October 2017 debacle in Niger that left those four Americans dead and apparent orders from the commander of United States Special Operations forces in Africa that its commandos “plan missions to stay out of direct combat or do not go,” a number of experts suggested that such a review signaled a reappraisal of military engagement on the continent. The proposed cuts also seemed to fit with the Pentagon’s latest national defense strategy that highlighted a coming shift from a focus on counterterrorism to the threats of near-peer competitors like Russia and China.
“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists,” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis in January, “but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”
A wide range of analysts questioned or criticized the proposed troop reduction. Mu Xiaoming, from China’s National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, likened such a reduction in elite U.S. forces to the Obama administration’s drawdown of troops in Afghanistan in 2014 and noted the possibility of “terrorism making a comeback in Africa.” A former chief of U.S. commandos on the continent, Donald Bolduc, unsurprisingly echoed these same fears.
“Without the presence that we have there now,” he told Voice of America, “we’re just going to increase the effectiveness of the violent extremist organizations over time and we are going to lose trust and credibility in this area and destabilize it even further.”
David Meijer, a security analyst based in Amsterdam, lamented that, as Africa was growing in geostrategic importance and China is strengthening its ties there,
“it’s ironic that Washington is set to reduce its already minimal engagement on the continent.”
This is hardly a foregone conclusion, however. For years, members of SOCOM, as well as supportersin Congress, at think tanks, and elsewhere, have been loudly complaining about the soaring operations tempo for America’s elite troops and the resulting strains on them.
“Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas, the SOCOM chief, told members of Congress last spring. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.” Given how much clout SOCOM wields, such incessant gripes were certain to lead to changes in policy.
Last year, in fact, Secretary of Defense Mattis noted that the lines between U.S. Special Operations forces and conventional troops were blurring and that the latter would likely be taking on missions previously shouldered by the commandos, particularly in Africa.
“So the general purpose forces can do a lot of the kind of work that you see going on and, in fact, are now,” he said. “By and large, for example in Trans-Sahel [in northwest Africa], many of those forces down there supporting the French-led effort are not Special Forces. So we’ll continue to expand the general purpose forces where it’s appropriate. I would… anticipate more use of them.”
Earlier this year, Owen West, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflictreferred to Mattis’s comments while telling members of the House Armed Services Committee about the “need to look at the line that separates conventional operating forces from SOF and seek to take greater advantage of the ‘common capabilities’ of our exceptional conventional forces.” He particularly highlighted the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades, recently created to conduct advise-and-assist missions. This spring, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommended that one of those units be dedicated to Africa.
Substituting forces in this way is precisely what Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, has also been advocating. Late last year, in fact, her press secretary, Leigh Claffeytold TomDispatch that the senator believed “instead of such heavy reliance on Special Forces, we should also be engaging our conventional forces to take over missions when appropriate, as well as turning over operations to capable indigenous forces.” Chances are that U.S. commandos will continue carrying out their shadowy Section 127e raids alongside local forces across the African continent while leaving more conventional training and advising tasks to rank-and-file troops. In other words, the number of commandos in Africa may be cut, but the total number of American troops may not — with covert combat operations possibly continuing at the present pace.
If anything, U.S. Special Operations forces are likely to expand, not contract, next year. SOCOM’s 2019 budget request calls for adding about 1,000 personnel to what would then be a force of 71,000. In April, at a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities chaired by Ernst, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich noted that SOCOM was on track to “grow by approximately 2,000 personnel” in the coming years. The command is also poised to make 2018 another historic year in global reach. If Washington’s special operators deploy to just 17 more countries by the end of the fiscal year, they will exceed last year’s record-breaking total.
“USSOCOM continues to recruit, assess, and select the very best. We then train and empower our teammates to solve the most daunting national security problems,” SOCOM commander General Thomas told the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year.
Why Green Berets and Navy SEALs need to solve national security problems — strategic issues that ought to be addressed by policymakers — is a question that has long gone unanswered. It may be one of the reasons why, since Green Berets “liberated” Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has been involved in combat there and, as the years have passed, a plethora of other forever-war fronts including Cameroon, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
“The creativity, initiative and spirit of the people who comprise the Special Operations Force cannot be overstated. They are our greatest asset,” said Thomas.
And it’s likely that such assets will grow in 2019.
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Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.