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Sunday, December 18, 2016

General Wesley Clark & the Bruce Tanner Standard of Evidence

My Monday blog post, Save the civilians of East Aleppo, started a long email debate with one reader, Bruce Tanner about the Syrian conflict. Readers of this blog are already familiar with my POV on this question. Bruce's is decidedly different. For example, on Tuesday he wrote me:
If the Syrian government has been so savage against the people of the country, how can you explain the massive turnout for the presidential election in 2014, documented by international observers, under attacks by salafi terrorists who were doing truly indiscriminate bombardment with mortars, hell-cannon bombs, grad missiles, etc., to vote overwhelmingly for the continued administration of Assad?
Needless to say, the debate proceeded along familiar lines leading nowhere. After having denied any claim that I made in favor of the revolution, including refusing all citations from Al Jazeera simply because its from Qatar, Bruce began his last letter to me by saying what standard of proof he might be inclined to accept:
I abhor any violence against innocent civilians done by anyone, anytime. For instance, that against the civilians in Yemen currently being attacked indiscriminately with U.S. bombs while the American Air Force refuels the Saudi planes in the air.

If you have any actual evidence of deliberate attacks against Syrian civilians by their government (not including mistakes made in the course of the necessary combating of the invasion of the country by foreign-sponsored militias), I will be interested to see it. But only real, vetted evidence from sources that can be proven to exist. And of course, if there have been any such attacks, I certainly denounce them.
A half million Syrians dead and Bruce Tanner still doubts if the Assad regime has carried out any deliberate attacks against civilians! Then he goes on to repeat, at some length, his view that a legitimate Syrian government is the victim of a US regime change plot - and that's all there is to it:
Can you entertain the possibility that a decision was made, long in advance of the phony "Arab Spring" in Syria, to destabilize the country so that a puppet regime amenable to U.S./NATO/Israeli interests could be put into place? (as evidenced by this:
And the evidence that meets Bruce Tanner's high standard is that tired old 2007 Democracy Now interview in which General Wesley Clark, the fired four-star general who was the supreme allied commander of NATO during the Kosovo War, says that in 2001 an unnamed friend at the Pentagon told him he had a memo, which Wesley Clark says he never saw himself, which outlined a plan for regime change in seven countries, "starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran" in five years:

Here's a transcript:
About 10 days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon, and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the joint staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, "Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second." I said, "Well, you’re too busy." He said, "No, no." He says, "We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq." This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, "We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?" He said, "I don’t know." He said, "I guess they don’t know what else to do." So I said, "Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?" He said, "No, no." He says, "There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq." He said, "I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments." And he said, "I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail."

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, "Are we still going to war with Iraq?" And he said, "Oh, it’s worse than that." He said—he reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper, and he said, "I just got this down from upstairs," meaning the secretary of defense’s office, "today." And he said, "This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran." I said, "Is it classified?" He said, "Yes, sir." I said, "Well, don’t show it to me." And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, "You remember that?" He said, "Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!"
Accordings to Bruce Tanner, the Arab revolts of 2011 and the resulting revolutions in Libya and Syria didn't come from the people's struggles against their oppression but instead had their origins in a five-sided building outside of Washington, DC, and Wesley Clark has given us the evidence. For many in the fakeLeft this interview is like a talisman they can wave at anyone calling upon them to support the revolutionary struggles of the people of the Middle East and Africa. It's their ultimate proof that those people aren't even masters of their own fate, white people in the Pentagon are. If I had a dollar for every time it has been waved at me over the past five years, I could have a much richer holiday season. There must be thousands of US Leftists that think they can disprove everything we have written about MENA in hundreds of posts since 2011 simply by offering these words of Wesley Clark as their "evidence."

I really can't believe that people are still sending me this video when it's almost 2017 and about a half-million Syrians have been killed, 95% by Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters. With all the leaks from Wikileaks, Snowden, and others since 2001, this memo which Wesley Clark was only told about, has never surfaced, and the five year plan it was alleged to have laid out was almost over in 2007 when he revealed it, nevertheless it still is being promoted as some sort of ultimate truth that justifies how the US Left has letting down the people of Libya and Syria. In listening to this video and especially in reading the transcript, one would expect that it should have discredited itself in the eyes of any thinking person long ago, but some will always find it easy to believe what makes them feel good, so I guess the job of cleaning the stables is never done.

But before we get into that, just for the purposes of review, here is the people's agency those on the fakeLeft and altRight are intent on denying, as thousands turned out to demonstrate their support for the Syrian Revolution this week, even after all they've been through to this point:

Thousands rally in Turkey over east Aleppo | 17 Dec 2016

Hero of Homs Abdel Basset Sarout Leads Protests in Idlib | 16 Dec 2016

Taking Wesley Clark's statement at face value, the claim is that in early October 2001, an unnamed general at the Pentagon showed Wesley Clark "a piece of paper," and said it was a plan to carry out regime change in seven specific Middle East and African countries in five years. Because it was classified, Clark said he refused to look at it, although he apparently didn't admonished his friend for revealing it, so Wesley Clark has never even been in a position to testify that this memo actually existed. That rests entirely on the word of one unnamed general who Wesley Clark is vouching for. He really should have looked at it for himself, classified status be damned, if he was going to talk about it in open court.

Now consider this: Of all the hackers and leakers that have rocked our world since 9/11, none have had as great an impact, or paid as great a price, as Chelsea Manning. It is said that while she had access to Pentagon and State Department files, she gave us 482,832 documents on the Iraq War, 91,000 documents on the Afghan War, and 251,287 classified State Department cables, but not the one page memo that has been reported to be the master plan of all this that followed. If one believes Wesley Clark, that piece of paper has got to be the Holy Grail of all government documents, and yet in 15 years, not a trace of it has been leaked or hacked. WikiLeaks hasn't found it, Anonymous hasn't found it, Richard Snowden doesn't have it, and yet Bruce Tanner can promote it as the evidence that the deaths happening in Aleppo today were planned by the Pentagon 15 years ago! Such utter nonsense would be laughable if conditions in the world weren't so tragic.

There is also the question of how well this alleged plan actually correlates with reality. Wesley Clark supporters say that is the point, it explains what has been happening with the Arab Spring and in Libya and Syria. But that is such a stretch. It was a five year plan "starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon, then Libya, then Somalia and Sudan, and back to Iran." So if it kicked off in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by over 300,000 coalition troops, we should have seen a serious effort to overthrow Assad, second on Clark's list in the next year or so, if this bold plan to carry out seven regime change operations, consecutively by 2008, was to stay on track. Obviously that is not what happened. The post 2011 events this revelation is generally proffered to explain, took place after this plan was suppose to have ended and it was the government of Libya that fell second when it was fourth on Clark's friend's list. If he was a betting tout, a lot of clients would be asking for their money back and looking elsewhere for advise.

No doubt, supporters of the conspiracy theory would explain these discrepancies, together with the fact that this five year plan in now apparently going into fourteenth year, by necessary real world revisions forced on the Pentagon. If that were the case, we could expect to have found documentation of those revisions and at least references to the original memo Wesley Clark has made famous. Where are they?

The bottom line is that there isn't anything like a shred of evidence that this memo ever existed, let alone the grand plan it is reported to have outlined. This whole story, which has gained a life of its own, rests on the words of one man. So who is Wesley Clark? This is what Murtaza Hussain said about him in The Intercept, 20 July 2015 after Wesley Clark shocked his liberal supporters by calling for a revival of internment camps to help combat Muslim extremism:
The comments were shockingly out of character for Clark, who after serving as supreme allied commander of NATO made a name for himself in progressive political circles. In 2004, his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was highly critical of the Bush administration’s excessive response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Since then, he has been a critic of policies that violate the Geneva Convention, saying in 2006 that policies such as torture violate “the very values that [we] espouse.”

In a memoir written the following year, he also famously alleged that the White House under Bush had developed a massively imperialistic plan for the Middle East, which would see the administration attempt to “take out seven countries in five years,” beginning with the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This image of Wesley Clark as the progressive anti-war general is of a more recent vintage. Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn give us a pre-9/11 perspective on him in Gen. Wesley Clark Fights On and On, CounterPunch, 12 Nov 1999:
At the beginning of the Kosovo conflict, CounterPunch delved into the military career of General Wesley Clark and discovered that his meteoric rise through the ranks derived from the successful manipulation of appearances: faking the results of combat exercises, greasing to superiors and other practices common to the general officer corps.
In their further discussion of him, phrases like "gross distortion of the truth" and "sleight of hand" are employed enough to let us know that these authors didn't see him as a man that should be taken at his word.

We also know he had a history of bragging about his inside knowledge. On 11 September 2001, Clark, spoke as if he saw this coming, he told CNN:
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme NATO commander, said the aircraft appeared to hit the southwestern side, or the Army side of the building, the area responsible for planning and logistics. "We've known for some time that some group has been planning this," he said, adding that "obviously, we didn't do enough" to prepare for such an attack.
After General Wesley Clark was "forced into retirement," he reinvented himself as the anti-war general and the liberal peace candidate, but his bombing campaign in the Kosovo War is said to have been brutal, Human Rights Watch put the number of civilians killed at between 488 and 627. It was also poorly executed, as in when he accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy. The CounterPunch authors continued:
Despite such embarrassments, Clark can take heart from the fact that his influence on warfare already transcends the Balkans. Since Operation Allied Force laid waste to the Serbian civilian infrastructure, the targeting of such infrastructure has become routine and acceptable. The Israelis, who have for years shown relative care in avoiding the Lebanese infrastructure in their raids, were quick to change tactics, citing the Balkan operation as a legitimizing precedent. More recently the gangsters in the Kremlin have used the same justification for their terror-bombing of Chechnya.
But they wrote that in 1999, so we are obliged to add the attacks on civilian infrastructure that characterized the US Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Qaddafi's war against Libya, Saudi Arabia's war against Yemen, and especially the current war in Syria to that list of modern diseases for which Wesley Clark's War was Patient Zero.

I deeply regret having to write any of this. It seems so ridiculous that so many should claim these very questionable comments from a war criminal with a history of fraud and deception, explain anything about our modern world.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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