Tag Archives: Jeremy Scahill

Sanders, not Biden, has the best chance of beating Trump

Sanders, not Biden, has the best chance of beating Trump
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
9 March 2020

If you have followed the race to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States you’ll have heard the argument a lot: Bernie Sanders, the social democratic senator from Vermont, would never beat sitting US President Donald Trump.

Indeed since Super Tuesday, when Democratic supporters in a slew of states voted on who should face Trump in November 2020, this assertion has become more prevalent – with an additional clause: it is former vice-president Joe Biden, not Sanders, who is best positioned to defeat Trump.

Even commentators who profess to support Sanders’ policies make this argument. After telling Channel 4 News he agrees with Sanders on “an awful lot of political issues”, Eric Alterman, a columnist at the left-leaning Nation magazine, said he fears the example of UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. If Sanders ran against Trump “it would be the end of the American republic”, he said.

Addressing the popular argument that Sanders is “sure to be an electoral disaster” a couple of days later, MSNBC host Chris Hayes was unequivocal: “I am just here to tell you that the evidence we have, to the extent we have evidence about an unknowable future, just doesn’t support that at all.”

Summarising the Real Clear Politics polling averages from February on head to head match ups between Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates, Hayes noted Sanders “is consistently, in poll after poll after poll, at or near the top in all of them” – in beating Trump.

Author Steve Phillips, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, concurs. Writing in the New York Times on 28 February, he explained “most of the available empirical evidence shows Mr. Sanders defeating President Trump in the national popular vote and in the critical Midwestern states that tipped the Electoral College in 2016”.

He continues: “This has been the case for nearly a year now, with Mr. Sanders outpolling the president in 67 of 72 head-to-head polls since March [2019].”

Furthermore, Phillips argues Sanders’ “specific electoral strengths align with changes in the composition of the country’s population in ways that could actually make him a formidable foe for the president.”

In a February Reuters/Ipsos poll Sanders led Trump by 18 percentage points among independent voters in a hypothetical general election match-up – the highest score among all the Democratic candidates.

Famously, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed “nobody likes” Sanders. In contrast, Peter Beinart, Professor of journalism at the City University of New York notes “polls of Democratic voters show nothing of the sort”. While the Democratic Party elite are deeply sceptical of Sanders, “among ordinary Democrats, Sanders is strikingly popular, even with voters who favor his rivals… on paper, he appears well positioned to unify the party should he win its presidential nomination”, Beinart explains in The Atlantic magazine.

Sanders’ popularity seems to stretch to being relatively personally popular too. Asked for their thoughts on the personal characteristics of several Democratic presidential contenders and of Trump, in a February USA Today/Ipsos poll Americans consistently gave Sanders the highest marks for his values and empathy. 40 percent of respondents said they admired Sanders’ character, well above the 31 percent for Biden and the 26 percent for Trump, while 39 percent of respondents said Sanders “shares my values” compared to 30 percent saying Biden and 31 percent for Trump.

And Alterman’s comparison to Corbyn is a red herring, of course. First, because in 2017 Corbyn led the Labour Party to its best electoral performance since 2001 – before the Brexit issue polarised the party and electorate. And second, because Sanders is a much better political communicator than the often reticent Corbyn. In debate performances the 78-year old Brooklynite is laser-focussed, impressively able to summarise his policies in everyday language and soundbites, and is unafraid to attack his rivals.

Johnny Burtka, executive director for The American Conservative magazine, agrees. “Bernie clearly has the pugnacity”, he told The Hill website in December. “He’s the only one that I think could ultimately take on Donald Trump on the debate stage.”

And it is Sanders, not Biden, who has a young, energetic mass movement backing him – an army of small donations giving Sanders a clear lead in campaign funding over Biden, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics until January.

Frustratingly though, politics, and political change, is never this simple and straightforward – since Biden’s strong performance on Super Tuesday the polling results have shifted. Biden is now favoured as the Democratic nominee by 54 percent of Democratic primary voters, compared to 38 percent supporting Sanders, according to a new Morning Consult poll.

However, the polling data is just one reason Biden would be a disastrous candidate.

Many are concerned about Biden’s long record of being on the wrong side of many political issues – from his 2003 vote for the illegal invasion of Iraq, to his support for the Wall Street bailout, the Rust Belt-decimating NAFTA trade agreement, mass incarceration and cutting social security.

“The Trump people are going to fillet Joe Biden, they are going to fillet him in their ads, and Trump is going to mercilessly fillet him in the debate,” journalist Jeremy Scahill recently argued on Democracy Now! Why? “Because a lot of stuff they will say about him will be true! And Biden is lying, or he doesn’t know what room he is in.”

That last bit is a reference to what journalist Glenn Greenwald called Biden’s “serious issues with his cognitive abilities”. Or, as Scahill puts it: “Joe Biden is not a well man… he can barely complete a sentence.” Recent well-publicised examples include Biden forgetting the “all men are created equal” passage from the Declaration of Independence, telling an audience he was running for the US Senate and his statement that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids”.

So why is Biden, and not Sanders, being presented as the safe pair of hands in the race to be the Democratic presidential candidate?

Beyond the party elite and corporate media falling in line behind the very establishment Biden, arguably a simplistic understanding of politics underpins the belief Sanders is an electoral liability.

This view sees a linear left-right political spectrum, with Sanders on the far left and Biden in the centre. Therefore, it seems obvious the so-called centrist Biden who would be able to appeal to a larger section of the American voting public, rather than the ‘extreme’ Sanders, who would likely alienate much of the political spectrum.

However, what this type of analysis misses is the fact around 13 percent of Trump voters in 2016 backed Obama in 2012, according to the American National Election Study. Interviewing more than a dozen Obama supporters who were planning to vote Trump in 2016, the New York Times reported “a common theme: The message of change that inspired them to vote for Mr. Obama is now embodied by Mr. Trump”.

Adam Ramsay, an Editor at Open Democracy, provides some insight into this seemingly contradictory voting behaviour. “While journalists and pundits and academics tend to see politics as a question of policy and ideology” for the broader public “the first thing they go to is the question of trust”, he noted in a video recently. Turning to the Democratic primaries he argues “the question isn’t really whether voters are looking at these candidates on a left-right spectrum… because most voters right across the Western world don’t really see politics like that. What they look at is whether they think they can trust each of these people to stand up for them or whether they think these people are going to be co-opted by the interests of the rich and powerful.”

Of course, Sanders might end up being a terrible presidential candidate, and Biden may defeat Trump. Nothing is certain. But the majority of evidence we have right now doesn’t support the argument Biden is more electable than Sanders. As The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan recently explained on MSNBC about the Democratic Party elite: “They tried to run a pro-Iraq War, pro-Wall Street establishment Democrat with a history of dubious claims, and dodgy dealings, and dodge comments about incarceration and super predators” in 2016. “Where did that end up? What’s the old saying? Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
29 March 2017

Earlier this month Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Speaking to the UN Security Council, O’Brien said more than 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria were facing starvation and famine.

Following up on this, on 17 March 2017 the Guardian published a report on Yemen, noting that aid agencies have warned the country is “at the point of no return”. UN figures show 17 million people facing severe food insecurity, the Guardian noted, including nearly seven million people deemed to be in a state of emergency. With the article relegated to page 29 of the newspaper, there was just one oblique mention of the US and UK, which the report explained “have influence over the Saudi-led coalition” currently attacking Yemen and blocking aid entering the country.

Here are the basic facts the Guardian chose not to highlight. Since March 2015 Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of countries in a bombing campaign to overthrow the Houthi government in Yemen (which itself overthrew the previous government). According to the United Nations there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties, with the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes responsible for the majority of casualties. In 2016 the Yemen Data Project – a group of academics, human rights organisers and activists – reported that one third of Saudi-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. Martha Mundy, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, believes “that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.”

The US and UK have been closely collaborating with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat… political support, of course, logistical and technical support”, the then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced a month into the bombardment. Speaking to me last year, activist Medea Benjamin, author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, explained Saudi Arabia is “getting munitions from the West… The US is even refuelling their planes in the air”. President Obama – described as “the reluctant interventionist” by senior Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland – sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia during his eight years in office. This makes the 44th president of the United States “the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history”, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel.

Speaking in January 2017, O’Brien was crystal clear about the main cause of the ongoing humanitarian crisis: “The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world.”

The Guardian has form when it comes to (not) reporting the causes of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Surveying the newspaper’s coverage of Yemen between June 2016 and mid-January 2017, Peace News Editor Milan Rai concluded “The critical role of the Saudi blockade in creating these conditions in Yemen has been effectively suppressed by the British media, including Britain’s most liberal mainstream newspaper, the Guardian.” According to Rai there were 70 stories or editorials about Yemen on the Guardian website during this period: “Most of those 70 items (42 stories, 60 per cent of the total) do not mention the humanitarian crisis – or the role of the Saudi blockade – in any way at all.” And though the other 28 articles did refer to the humanitarian crisis “most did so only in a way that effectively suppressed the information”, Rai notes.

Unsurprisingly a recent YouGov/Independent poll found more than half of British people were unaware of the war in Yemen, with just 37 percent of 18-24 year olds aware of the conflict.

Turning to Somalia, on 13 March 2017 the Guardian published a full page article on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in east Africa. “As many as 6.2 million Somalis – more than half the population – need urgent food assistance”, noted the Guardian, including “some districts… under the control of Islamist rebels al-Shahaab, making [aid] access complicated.” There is one mention of the US – “The US government says it has spent more than $110m on humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2017.”

In reality, the US has been heavily involved in Somali affairs since the 1990s. These interventions, noted BBC journalist Mary Harper in her 2012 book Getting Somalia Wrong?, are viewed by “a growing number of experts” as having “contributed towards [Somalia’s] destruction as a viable nation-state.”

Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2013, journalist Jeremy Scahill explained that in the early years of the ‘war on terror’ the Bush Administration “made a disastrous decision to put [Somali] warlords on the CIA payroll” and “basically had them acting as an assassination squad.” A relative stability was created for a brief period when the Islamic Courts Union took control in 2006 – quickly shattered by the December 2006 US-supported Ethiopian invasion and occupation. The occupation, as occupations often tend to do, energised extremists, with Somali journalist Jamal Osman explaining “al-Shabaab was born when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 and some still see the group as a resistance movement.”

Since then the US has been trying to destroy the group its actions helped create. In 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported “The US has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab”.

“Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union”, the report explained. “But in truth, according to interviews by US and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon”. The US government “is trying to achieve US military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate”, the Los Angeles Times noted. Since then the US has intensified its clandestine war in Somalia “using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants”, according to the New York Times last year.

Like Yemen, the US military involvement in Somalia has negatively affected the country’s ability to deal with humanitarian crises. For example, though the Financial Times explains the looming famine in Somalia is primarily the result of regional drought, it goes on to note “The lack of effective government and an insurgency by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked jihadi group, have not helped.”

This quick survey of the Guardian’s recent coverage of Yemen and Somalia puts the lie to Guardian regular Polly Toynbee’s claim the newspaper is “always free to hold power to account: to take on politicians, global corporations, the secret security state or great vested interests.” The Guardian may well be free to hold power to account but it’s currently missing some huge open goals when it comes to Western foreign policy.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Guardian never mentions Western interference in Yemen and Somalia or links this to the growing humanitarian crises – I’m arguing the newspaper’s coverage does not match the importance of the issue. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent “That the media provide some information about an issue… proves absolutely nothing about the adequacy or accuracy of media coverage… More important is the way they present a particular fact – its placement, tone, and frequency of repetition – and the framework of analysis in which it is placed.”

Indeed, by downplaying of US intervention in Yemen and Somalia the Guardian have helped to keep the large swatches of the general public ignorant of Western foreign policy (see the YouGov/Independent poll) – a state of affairs that suits the US government’s interests, as the Los Angeles Times report above makes clear.

Jeremy Scahill interview

Jeremy Scahill interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 May 2013

Within days of 9/11 it was clear the Bush Administration would exploit the terrorist attacks to push for war on Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less well known is the huge transformation that occurred at the heart of the US Government in those dark days – the topic of US journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield.

With the nation in a state of collective hysteria, the neo-conservatives led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rewrote the rules of the game, instituting a huge expansion of covert US wars. In London earlier this month on a promotional tour, Scahill spoke to me about how covert action, secret prisons, drone strikes and assassination all began to be deployed on an unprecedented scale. Having reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, the 38-year old National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine is one of the most knowledgeable observers of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

According to Scahill, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was sidelined after 9/11, with Cheney and Rumsfeld viewing “the CIA as a worthless, liberal thinktank.” Instead they massively increased the funding and power of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – “the most closely guarded secret force in the US national security apparatus”, writes Scahill in his book. Formed in the 1980s and modelled on the British SAS, President Clinton had muzzled the force following their disastrous involvement in the Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia in 1993. What the Bush Administration did after 9/11, says Scahill, was let JSOC “off the leash”. Or as Cofer Black, the Head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, put it: “All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.”

JSOC’s primary role was established during the occupation of Iraq. “The myth was that ‘The Surge’ created this relatively stable couple of years in Iraq”, that US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus instituted a brilliant counter-insurgency campaign, Scahill says. However, he points out “everyone in the US military knows this is just a fraudulent portrayal.” Rather “it had everything to do with JSOC creating a kind of Murder, Inc. operation where they went down and just killed a tremendous number of people”. Bluntly, he says “there was no one left to kill at one point. JSOC had killed its way through every Mom and Pop resistance operation all the through to Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” This, along with the US paying the Sunni tribes – the Awakening Councils – not to kill US soldiers was what was responsible for the lull in fighting, according to Scahill.

In the run up to the Iraq War, the UK general public was often told that one of the reasons Tony Blair was supporting President Bush so closely was that he would be able to influence, and hopefully constrain, US policy. Scahill laughs when I raise this argument: “The notion that Tony Blair was going to reign in Bush or Cheney is laughable. If anything Britain was used as a cover by the United States to give legitimacy to the Iraq War.” In actual fact UK forces were “deeply involved” in the assassination campaigns waged by JSOC in Iraq, with British units heading up JSOC operations, he explains.

Scahill is also very critical of President Obama’s record in office, noting how the first Black president came under intense pressure from the US military establishment to massively expand the covert wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. “And elsewhere – they were asking for authority in the Philippines and Indonesia and certain cases in Latin America, they wanted covert action inside Iran”, he notes. Enamoured by the generals and admirals the Obama Administration caved in and “start hitting in Pakistan at a rate 3-4 times what Bush was authorising.” Similar upswings in drone strikes – and the inevitable civilian casualties – occurred in Yemen and Somalia.

“Obama was trying to find a way to continue some of these policies by simply tweaking them, or adjusting them in a small way”, Scahill says. “He ended extraordinary rendition by the CIA and closed CIA black sites. Instead what he is doing is working with human rights abusing forces around the world to do it for the United States. So it’s by proxy now.” More broadly Scahill believes “Obama has tried to find a way to legitimise the core of the Bush-Cheney programme while defending the system itself from attack both internally and externally. And it’s been pitched that this is a cleaner, more legal way of waging war.”

“I think he has largely been effective in selling that idea to liberals”, he adds.

Turning to his objections to the US policies, Scahill says he isn’t a pacifist and that a state has the right to defend itself. “I just think it is self-defeating”, he says. “My fear, and I believe this to the case, is that we are actually creating more new enemies than we are killing actual terrorists.” He is keen to stress his concerns are of a long-term, strategic nature. “What’s our security going to look like ten years from now as a result of killing innocent people in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan?” he asks. “If you and I sit down a decade from now I’m sure we will be talking about attacks that took place as a result of policy implemented right now.”

A key reason so many US citizens either actively support or are ignorant about these damaging actions is arguably the media’s inability to hold the US Government to account since 9/11. “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy with fat white guys smoking cigars in a back room and deciding how they are going to screw the little people”, Scahill says. “It’s unnecessary.”

“Powerful people in Government are close friends with powerful people in the media”, he explains. “They are part of the same class of people. They hang out together at weekends. They have their little parties like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where the President jokes about drones and the powerful media barons chuckle at his jokes, and their kids go to the same elite private schools.” He also argues that in the US “the default position is that power is right, that power is telling the truth, that the powerful are to be trusted.”

“I think the opposite should be true – that you should always assume that what they are saying is manipulative”, he counters. “You have to be sceptical as a journalist.”

As Amy Goodman, his former colleague at news programme Democracy Now!, once said “The role of journalism is to go where the silences are”. By shining a light on the darkest parts of US foreign policy, Dirty Wars is a brilliant example of this noble aim. With a senior US defence official recently testifying that the ‘war on terror’ will continue for another 10-20 years muckraking, investigative journalists like Scahill are needed now more than ever.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield is published by Serpant’s Tail, priced £15.99. A documentary based on the book will be released later this year. For more information see www.dirtywars.org.