Virtual Reality And The Future of Mental Health Treatment

Virtual Reality And The Future of Mental Health Treatment

Have you ever peered over the edge of a building and began to feel dizzy or shaky?Maybe you know someone who gets fidgety and anxious every time they fly on a plane.

For many of us, certain situations can set off an irrational fear response or cause debilitating anxiety.

Survivors of trauma, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can have these fleeting moments of anxiety magnified exponentially. A crowded city street might trigger a soldier’s memory of a past battle or roadside bomb, making normal interactions difficult or impossible. Victims of assault might by seized by fear after seeing a stranger on a quiet street.

Recovering from PTSD and overcoming anxiety disorders is challenging, time-consuming work; it’s also essential for the many people who suffer from these conditions.

One unlikely tool that could make it easier for thousands of patients to get the help they need is virtual reality (VR) technology, which can mentally transport users to another time, another place, another state of mind.

You slip on a headset and headphones and all of a sudden see and can move around in a three dimensional world, wherever the program is set. You could explore an underwater world or ride a roller coaster; you could experience the very thing that triggers your debilitating anxiety — all while guided by a professional to help you get past that fear.

 

An Emory University study was published in last month’s Harvard Review of Psychiatry

According to The New Yorker, in 2007, the Department of Defense funded a series of clinical trials based around a program called “Virtual Iraq,” which was adapted from a real game called Full Spectrum Warrior and which allowed soldiers to undergo “exposure therapy” in their own homes. Another experiment in 1997 focused around a similar program called “Virtual Vietnam.”

 

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Presidential candidate Will Conway in the hit Netflix series “House of Cards” uses a virtual reality headset

 

All The King’s Men

All The King’s Men
  • Our story begins in the Seychelles. A tiny island off the African continent where an incredibly important meeting was happening.

Of course Russia wanted Donald Trump to win the election.

 

  • Betsy DeVos’ brother Erik Prince met with Russian intelligence operatives

Trump, Russia, and the End of the Petrodollar

Trump, Russia, and the End of the Petrodollar

In 1971, the global economy went through a transformation that had never been seen before.

Richard Nixon ended the gold standard and for the first time the US dollar was backed by nothing. In the 47 years, the US dollar has continued to exist with no concrete value – what’s known as fiat currency.
 
But we came up with a clever way to keep a global demand for the dollar. Rather than gold, the dollar would now be backed by oil.
 
Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to Saudi Arabia to negotiate most important deals in American history – if the U.S. would indefinitely protect the Saudi monarchy then OPEC would price its oil exclusively in U.S. dollars. Thus the petrodollar was born.
 
Last week that deal ended. And with it, America’s control of the global economy.

There are two incredibly important numbers in the U.S. economy.

First – the interest rate.

Interest rates can be floated

For about 25 years the system worked fine, until the Vietnam War and Great Society programs triggered serious inflation in the United States. As America’s trade deficits with Europe and Japan grew, and dollars started piling up abroad, the Western allies rushed to redeem their dollars for gold before they were eroded by American inflation. President Nixon imposed wage and price controls to dampen inflation, but he also decided that he would devalue the dollar to make American exports cheaper and stimulate export-led growth. Since Bretton Woods barred such a devaluation, Mr. Nixon devalued Bretton Woods. He unilaterally abrogated the treaty, closed the gold window, and soon thereafter let the dollar float. In Japan, they called it the “Nixon Shocku.” – Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 1994

“Group of Seven” (G7) to coordinate interest rates, monetary and fiscal policies — and even diplomacy — to maintain a modicum of currency stability.

We are seeing a paradigm shift

Turkey “Axis of Gold” with Russia, China, Iran

Seeks trade in local currencies

Federal Reserve’s take on Hayek

Trump advisor likes gold standard

Trump wants to return to gold standard

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminded us of this when he called on his citizens to buy gold:

“Those who keep dollar or Euro currency under their mattresses should come and turn them into Liras or gold.”

////War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East////

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” – Harry Truman

I debated with myself about getting into the history, but in order to really understand what the United States is doing in Syria we need to understand the history of America’s relationship with the Middle East. While it may take a second to the present day, I think you’ll notice….patterns of behavior along the way. There are three countries in particular we need to look at before we get to Syria: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya.

US democracy promotion groups started Arab Spring

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Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar

By William R. Clark

So how did the United States first get involved in the Middle East?

The year was 1971…

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Richard Nixon and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia

(1) America’s Connection to Saudi Arabia – The Formation of the “Petrodollar”

In the heat of Vietnam War protests, the opening of Disney World and the release of Led Zeppelin IV another significant event was happening in 1971 – Richard Nixon re-wrote the global financial system by ending the convertibility of dollars to gold.

Up till 1971, any central bank with dollar bills could go to the US Treasury and exchange $35 in cash for an ounce of gold. This was the system agreed upon by world powers at the Bretton-Woods conference at the end of World War II.

In 1944 seeing that the victory of the Allied forces was inevitable, forty-four countries met in Bretton-Woods, New Hampshire to devise a scheme to regulate the international financial order after the war would end. By the end of the war the American economy was virtually the only one left standing – most of Europe and Asia lay in ruin.

As a result the Americans were largely able to dictate the terms of what the post-war world would look like. To promote the ease of international trade and to help fund postwar reconstruction, they decided that the American dollar would serve as the world’s reserve currency. 

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What is a reserve currency? This is the currency that international commodities are priced in and the currency used by countries to settle debts with each other.

For example, if Mexico wanted to buy a car from Japan then it would pay for it in dollars rather than exchanging their money from pesos to yen to buy Japanese goods. You may be thinking – well don’t they still have to exchange pesos to dollars to make the purchase? Yes they would, but this is why foreign countries try and hold large amounts of dollars in reserve so they always have cash on hand to make international purchases. Precisely why it’s called the “reserve currency”.

After placing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the nations at Bretton-Woods agreed to tie the dollar’s value to a set amount of gold at a fixed exchanged rate – $35 for an ounce of gold. This created a stable platform for the global economy because now the exchange rates for all currencies had a fixed value in terms of gold. The US Treasury had close to 2/3rds of the world’s gold supply at the time so this was an easy promise for the US to keep if someone wanted to cash in dollars for gold.

The Bretton-Woods conference also created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) both of which are now under the umbrella of the World Bank Group.

If you’re wondering where Russia was during all of this given that they were also one of the Allied powers (and a major reason we even won World War II), they were actually in attendance at Bretton-Woods. But they declined to ratify the final agreements, charging that the institutions created were “branches of Wall Street”. 

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–Quick  (but important) aside —

The dollar being the international reserve currency is an incredibly important part of our global financial system and deserves an entirely separate article written about it. But one fundamental aspect of it is that its created a conflict-of-interest for the United States which has been termed the Triffin dilemma. (Good video on it here)

The US has an incentive to run massive trade deficits with other countries because they are always demanding more US dollars to hold in reserve – it’s the only way they can buy major goods internationally. Thus America is forced to spend more dollars than it takes in, in order to keep more dollars in circulation (if you’ve heard the word ‘liquidity‘ before). So to keep the global financial system moving, America has to run a huge deficit, which in turn creates other problems for the dollar…thus the dilemma.

But this set up is also why America can import goods so cheaply! Everything is priced in dollars and we don’t need to exchange our currency/hold reserves like other countries do. To anyone who’s travelled abroad you may have noticed it’s actually more expensive to buy things in Europe and even in parts of Asia than it would be in America. We’re basically one of the cheapest places to buy electronics in the world.

After the 2008 financial crisis the People’s Bank of China in fact explicitly named the Triffin dilemma as the root cause of the economic collapse because it led to a hoarding of cash causing the Global Savings glut. 

China argues for a gradual move away from the U.S. dollar and towards the use of IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) as a global reserve currency. British economist John Maynard Keynes actually lobbied for this system the whole time at Bretton-Woods in 1944 but was overruled by the Americans during negotiations.

The large global trade deals we see passed in Congress like NAFTA and the TPP (ratified 3 months ago) are at their core, vehicles to maintain the dollar as the principal means of trade around the world. Thus continuing to fulfill the artificial demand for dollars only because it’s the reserve currency…we’re not really an export economy anymore so people don’t need to buy things from us.

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Bretton-Woods Conference in New Hampshire – 1944

Okay great, so what does any of this have to do with Saudi Arabia?

Remember I delved into all of this because Nixon eliminated the Bretton Woods dollars-for-gold system in 1971. Instead, he reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to tie the value of the dollar to a different commodity – the price of oil. 

Before we get there, why did Nixon find this necessary to do this in the first place?

With the United States spending a massive amount of money on the war in Vietnam along with a ballooning trade deficit, it became clear to other countries that the US was printing more currency than it had redeemable in gold. In economic terms it means they thought the dollar was “overvalued” and started withdrawing gold for dollars. This set off a run on the dollar with everyone dumping the dollar for gold. This climaxed in 1971 when France attempted to withdraw its gold and Nixon refused.

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Gold bullion at Fort Knox, Tennessee

In August 1971, Nixon made a televised speech which came to be known as the “Nixon Shock

“I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connolly to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the dollar into gold or other reserve assets, except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interest of United States.”

This was not a temporary suspension as Nixon claimed, but rather a permanent default. For the nations of the world who entrusted the United States with their gold, this was outright theft.  Thus marked the end of the nearly 30 year Bretton-Woods financial system – the international reserve currency was no longer tied to a fixed asset. Overnight, the US dollar transformed into what is called “fiat currency” – intrinsically valueless money used as currency because of government decree. Since other major currencies were convertible only into dollars, they too became fiat money.

Now that the dollar was no longer backed by any tangible good, the US Federal Reserve and American banking system was free to print money out of thin air. Which they gladly did instead of taking steps to ease the US trade deficit which would require the US to stop printing money.  However, the ability to print money freely comes with a danger –  each new printed dollar devalues the existing money supply already in circulation, resulting in inflation. And that’s precisely what happened two years after Nixon’s decree. In 1973, the US entered a devastating period of “stagflation” where both inflation AND unemployment was high causing the deepest recession since the Great Depression. To keep the American economy afloat there needed to be a new demand for dollars to counterbalance the newly issued currency.

Enter the world’s first global oil crisis. 

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OPEC oil embargo – 1973

The oil embargo of 1973 is one of the defining events of world history and has guided American foreign policy in the Middle East since. The infamous event when OPEC spiked oil prices from around $3/gallon to over $12/gallon created economic shockwaves in America and around the world. Oil is perhaps the most important shared commodity in the world other than water. Without oil not only is there no transportation anywhere but hundreds of other daily-use products. We are literally surrounded by products made from oil.

“A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water”

The oil embargo prompted a global recession so severe that the UK even instituted a three-day work week and speed limits on US highways were reduced from 75 mph to 55 mph in order to get drivers to conserve gas. For the developing world, the effect of the embargo was staggering – in order to purchase more expensive oil, Asian and African countries went into a colossal debt that affected their development for years to come.

While it has been traditionally thought that the oil squeeze was a punishment from Saudi Arabia and OPEC for America supporting Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur Warthe embargo was actually a very deliberate calculation made by the American banking system and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to create demand for the faltering US dollar. 

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Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977

Due it’s importance to the global economy, oil had principally been bought and sold in the global reserve currency. But Nixon’s abrupt end to the dollars-for-gold exchange system set off a massive depreciation in the dollar’s value and oil-producing countries began suggesting a move away from the unstable dollar as the reserve currency. This meant countries would now try to buy and sell oil outside of US dollars. 

The price of oil rarely wavered. From 1947 to 1967, the dollar price of oil had risen by less than two percent per year.  But in 1973, the United States led by Henry Kissinger orchestrated the OPEC price increase through Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran. The 400% increase in oil prices left the world scrambling to quickly accumulate more US dollars to afford the more expensive oil – all discussion of moving away from the dollar was tabled. 

“Why are you against the increase in the price of oil? That is what they want. Ask Henry Kissinger—he is the one who wants a higher price.” – Iranian President Reza Shah Pahlavi to Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yaki Yamani, 1973

Once Kissinger ensured a sharp global demand for dollars, he went to Saudi Arabia with a proposal to lock in this demand for decades to come – the “petrodollar”. In 1974, Kissinger met with the Saudi Kingdom’s ruling House of Saud to offer a largely unpublicized four-part deal called the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.

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Henry Kissinger meeting with Saudi King Faisal – 1974

—The U.S. government would do the follow things— 

(1) Provide military protection for Saudi Arabia from Israel and any other Middle Eastern state, such as Shiite Iran, that might attempt to destabilize the Sunni kingdom.

(2) Sell the Saudis any weapons they needed. 

(3) Provide technical assistance in building infrastructure and a modern state

(4) Secure the Saud family’s place as rulers of the country indefinitely.

—In return, Saudi Arabia would do the following:—

(1) They would make all oil sales in US dollars only.

(2) They would invest their surplus oil proceeds in U.S. Treasuries.This was a perfect arrangement for both parties.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a sparsely populated country with an incredible amount of wealth. It sits in a dangerous neighborhood in the Middle East surrounded by powerful nations where religious squabbles frequently turn violent. Thus it welcomed unconditional protection from one of the world’s preeminent militaries and America’s help in modernizing their country.

This is why many who come to America from Saudi Arabia may feel this way –

“If you were a U.S. businessperson doing business in Saudi Arabia, the apparatus there would be entirely familiar to you because it looks and operates very much like its counterpart agencies in the U.S.”….”Arriving in Saudi Arabia, going through customs and immigration, is just like arriving in the U.S.” The Saudi banking system, financial markets and many other governmental practices and institutions, all were shaped or influenced by advisers hired under the Joint Commission.

The United States on the other hand was able to accomplish two critical goals at once that allowed it to ascend as the world’s pre-eminent power over the last 40 years: it was able to sustain a new demand for the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency AND was able to secure a vital energy resource more cheaply than the rest of the world. 

If you’re a country that doesn’t produce oil, then you have to buy it. And if you’re buying it on the world market then you’re probably getting it from one of the OPEC nations. After Kissinger’s visit, Saudi Arabia and shortly thereafter all OPEC nations, would only sell you oil in dollars indefinitelyOther countries now had no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of unstable dollars because they would not be able to purchase oil without dollars. As a result of this agreement, the dollar then became the only medium in which energy exchange could be transacted. This underpinned its reserve currency status through the need for foreign governments to hold dollars; recirculated the dollar costs of oil back into the U.S. financial system and — crucially — made the dollar effectively convertible into barrels of oil. The dollar was moved from a gold standard onto a crude oil standard. Thus the creation of the “petrodollar” – a vehicle to guarantee a constant demand for dollars whose value was linked to oil through the OPEC pricing standards.

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But even more so, if you’re an oil producing nation then any surpluses generated from selling oil had to be invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds. This was the second term of the agreement and was a means to create value for the dollar that was demanded by the large financial institutions working with Kissinger. The forced investment of surplus oil profits into the US banking system came to be known as “petrodollar recycling” – a practice that the New York Federal Reserve even admitted was enriching US coffers.

However, these investments have also acted as “hostage capital“. In the event of a political conflict between the United States and an oil-exporting nation, the US can confiscate or freeze these invested assets. Despite its obvious betrayal of free-market principles, the US used this tactic twice in the 1980s against Iranian and Libyan assets, in the 90’s against Iraq and Kuwait and again in 2003 against Iraq.

The most important lesson in all of this, however, is the importance of the institution that controls the US dollar in shaping American foreign policy – the US Federal Reserve.

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US Federal Reserve Bank, Washington DC

But above all, Kissinger’s petrodollar scheme established perhaps the most vital pillar in American global power more than its military strength – dollar hegemony. The ability to shape the world order as the backbone of the global economy.

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Now with this new alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia held together by the petrodollar system, the oil embargo ended. America’s hold on the global financial system and its need for cheap, abundant energy would not be threatened again.  More importantly, the shock of the oil embargo on the American public would help the US government justify future interventions as a means to prevent such an energy crisis from ever happening again.

As such, since the oil embargo and Saudi Arabian-US agreement there has been an interesting trend amongst oil-producing nations who have tried to move away from the petrodollar system.


(2) The Invasion of Iraq and (Neo) Conservative Interventionism – Intervening to Explicitly Expand American Interests

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union, America arose as the sole global power. It had no rival.

From this shift in the balance of power in the world, the neo-conservative (“neocon”) ideology began to gain traction in foreign policy circles. Neoconservatives advocate for the promotion of democracy and American national interest in global affairs – including by means of military force.

This ideology believes that authoritarian states are inherently destabilizing and dangerous, and that it is both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy. They see America’s role to be the world’s unquestioned moral and military leader.

Despite the name, the neoconservative ideology actually has its roots with American socialists in the 1960’s who opposed Soviet communism (socialism vs communism). They criticized the liberal anti-war activism against Vietnam as non-interventionist and anti-American when communism was threatening to spread.  Thus, they came to be known as “neo” or “new” conservatives.

**This is important because neoconservatism is a fundamentally liberal idea formed by Democrats who viewed non-interventionism as a failure of the US to promote liberal ideals globally. As a result, when it comes to foreign policy this ideology continues to permeate BOTH political parties** 

Invincible Spirit Exercise In East Sea

One of the defining works of the neoconservative ideology was a report published by a conservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They published a report in 2000 called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses:  Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century

The report contained key tenets of the neoconservative ideology like:

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

The report also contained some oddly prophetic sections….like this blurb under the chapter titled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”

Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor. 

And this section under the chapter titled “Repositioning Today’s Force”

After eight years of no-fly-zone operations, there is little reason to anticipate that the U.S. air presence in the region should diminish significantly as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.

A completely reasonable question after reading these passages would be – Why we are talking about the possibility of a catastrophic new Pearl Harbor-like attack and Saddam Hussein being removed from power in the year 2000? 

These may have been legitimate academic questions at the time, especially given Bush Sr’s Gulf War in the 90s. But to many, these statements eerily foreshadowed the events that would follow one year after George W. Bush assumed office. The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 and the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Why does this matter at all? Several key authors of this report turned up in high places in the Bush administration.

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Paul Wolfowitz – #2 man at The Pentagon

Paul Wolfowitz – Deputy Defense Secretary under Donald Rumsfeld (later President of the World Bank, and interestingly enough a Steering Committee member of the Bilderberg Group)

John Bolton – Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations

Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby – Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney

Eliot Cohen – Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Michael Vickers – Assistant Secretary of Defense

Stephen Cambone – Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence

The report even self-admittedly describes itself as “building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration.” (Dick Cheney was the Defense Secretary in Bush Sr’s administration)

But imagine these connections being made in real-time in 2002-2003, leading up to the decision to invade Iraq.

You have an academic report published from one of the highest profile research think-tanks in America which: outlines a strategy for US military dominance globally, openly postulates a new Pearl Harbor event, and considers the possibility of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Then half of the authors who wrote that report went to go work in the White House and Pentagon the next year where all of those things happened.  

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Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, VP Cheney and President Bush

When you string all those events together, it seems less surprising why the Bush administration made the decisions it did.

These neo-conservative minds, and Wolfowitz in particular, were inspired by a book from Laurie Mylroie titled “The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks: A Study of Revenge”.  

The book made a litany of alleged linkages between Saddam’s Iraqi intelligence and the 9/11 hijackers as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (yeah there was two…). Her claims were refuted by counter-terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Daniel Benjamin who also said the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies looked extensively into her claims and did not corroborate them. I’ve written about the role of the Saudi Arabian government in supporting the 9/11 hijackers here. Many have said the neo-conservative “obsession” with Mylroie’s work was not born out of a true belief in her claims but rather that it fueled the narrative they pushed to create national support for the invasion of Iraq.

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The same individuals who earnestly supported Mylroie’s work also supported a series of articles from now disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the presence of WMD materials in Iraq.

Suffice it to say the two reasons American’s were told why we were invading Iraq – that Saddam Hussein was in any way connected to the 9/11 plot and/or harbored weapons of mass destruction – have been widely discredited as faulty information, even by our own government

Let’s also take a brief moment to see which of our 2016 presidential candidates voted for this war and which did not when given all the same information. 

Many of these leading neo-conservatives (including Mylroie) currently hold positions at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in DC. Almost all worked at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)….an organization Ted Cruz called “a pit of vipers” (despite his wife having worked there?). Many were also a part of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team (shocking).

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Sec of State Colin Powell’s now discredited WMD speech at the UN

Digression for an anecdote –

I actually have one distinct memory from when I was like 10 or 11 when I saw my first anti-war protest. I was visiting New York or Pennsylvania (I think..) and my family happened upon a protest. When we stopped to watch this small group of people protesting, one of the protesters handed me a case with two CDs (with badly sharpie’d titles) and said we should look into 9/11 and Iraq. And then he said all the answers were on there if we wanted to know what happened.

I don’t know how I remember this event because I never ended up seeing what was on the CDs, but I think it stuck in my mind because I remember being stunned that there were actually people who thought we needed to question something like 9/11 or invading Iraq. I mean duh, I was in the 6th grade.

But the most disturbing revelation in all my research was seeing that the neocon imagination for US global dominance was never intended to end with Iraq.

In a memoir written by 4-star General Wesley Clark, he tells a story of speaking with a “senior general” at the Pentagon ten days after the 9/11 attack. The general told him, “We’re going to attack Iraq. The decision has basically been made.

Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration. This was the general’s response:

“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.”

These are the seven countries that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly outlined back in 2001 to “take out”: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran

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Let’s pretend for a moment that this entire story is made up and there was no such memo ever written. How are these seven countries doing today?

Iraq – Invaded in 2003

Libya – Invaded in 2011

Syria – Global proxy war since 2011

Lebanon – War with Israel in 2006 and embroiled in Syrian conflict

Somalia – Failed state until 2015

Sudan – Fragmented into two countries creating South Sudan in 2011

Iran – Under global sanctions until the nuclear deal with the United States in 2015

Awesome… 

But other than being in the Middle East/North Africa and having been in a near constant state turmoil, observers have noted that these 7 countries have one particular thing in common – none are members of the Bank for International Settlements. 

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Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – Bazel, Switzerland

The Bank for International Settlements is an international financial institution

BIS in Middle East

Does the invasion of Iraq have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?

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Iraq was the only place that would survive Peak Oil

In 1988 he faced economic-reconstruction costs of $230 billion in the aftermath of his war with Iran; Iraq’s annual oil revenues of $13 billion did not even cover current expenditures

Breakout investigative book revealing how the US armed Iraq covertly through the CIA in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988.

America supported Saddam using chemical weapons

As Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz commented, “It was inconceivable that a regime, such as that in Kuwait, could risk engaging in a conspiracy of such magnitude against a large, strong country such as Iraq, if it were not being supported and protected by a great power; and that power was the United States.”

Why did America engage in the Gulf War?

Saddam Hussein (Iraq): Removed from power and killed

Invading Iraq – AJC

Iraq and petrodollar

Switched from dollars to euros

These people disagree agree this was the reason

Trump, Russia, and the End of the Petrodollar

Trump, Russia, and the End of the Petrodollar

In 1971, the global economy went through a transformation that had never been seen before.

Richard Nixon ended the gold standard and for the first time the US dollar was backed by nothing. In the 47 years, the US dollar has continued to exist with no concrete value – what’s known as fiat currency.
 
But we came up with a clever way to keep a global demand for the dollar. Rather than gold, the dollar would now be backed by oil.
 
Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to Saudi Arabia to negotiate most important deals in American history – if the U.S. would indefinitely protect the Saudi monarchy then OPEC would price its oil exclusively in U.S. dollars. Thus the petrodollar was born.
 
Last week that deal ended. And with it, America’s control of the global economy.

There are two incredibly important numbers in the U.S. economy.

First – the interest rate.

Interest rates can be floated

For about 25 years the system worked fine, until the Vietnam War and Great Society programs triggered serious inflation in the United States. As America’s trade deficits with Europe and Japan grew, and dollars started piling up abroad, the Western allies rushed to redeem their dollars for gold before they were eroded by American inflation. President Nixon imposed wage and price controls to dampen inflation, but he also decided that he would devalue the dollar to make American exports cheaper and stimulate export-led growth. Since Bretton Woods barred such a devaluation, Mr. Nixon devalued Bretton Woods. He unilaterally abrogated the treaty, closed the gold window, and soon thereafter let the dollar float. In Japan, they called it the “Nixon Shocku.” – Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 1994

“Group of Seven” (G7) to coordinate interest rates, monetary and fiscal policies — and even diplomacy — to maintain a modicum of currency stability.

We are seeing a paradigm shift

Turkey “Axis of Gold” with Russia, China, Iran

Seeks trade in local currencies

Federal Reserve’s take on Hayek

Trump advisor likes gold standard

Trump wants to return to gold standard

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminded us of this when he called on his citizens to buy gold:

“Those who keep dollar or Euro currency under their mattresses should come and turn them into Liras or gold.”

////War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East////

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” – Harry Truman

I debated with myself about getting into the history, but in order to really understand what the United States is doing in Syria we need to understand the history of America’s relationship with the Middle East. While it may take a second to the present day, I think you’ll notice….patterns of behavior along the way. There are three countries in particular we need to look at before we get to Syria: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya.

US democracy promotion groups started Arab Spring

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Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar

By William R. Clark

So how did the United States first get involved in the Middle East?

The year was 1971…

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Richard Nixon and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia

(1) America’s Connection to Saudi Arabia – The Formation of the “Petrodollar”

In the heat of Vietnam War protests, the opening of Disney World and the release of Led Zeppelin IV another significant event was happening in 1971 – Richard Nixon re-wrote the global financial system by ending the convertibility of dollars to gold.

Up till 1971, any central bank with dollar bills could go to the US Treasury and exchange $35 in cash for an ounce of gold. This was the system agreed upon by world powers at the Bretton-Woods conference at the end of World War II.

In 1944 seeing that the victory of the Allied forces was inevitable, forty-four countries met in Bretton-Woods, New Hampshire to devise a scheme to regulate the international financial order after the war would end. By the end of the war the American economy was virtually the only one left standing – most of Europe and Asia lay in ruin.

As a result the Americans were largely able to dictate the terms of what the post-war world would look like. To promote the ease of international trade and to help fund postwar reconstruction, they decided that the American dollar would serve as the world’s reserve currency. 

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What is a reserve currency? This is the currency that international commodities are priced in and the currency used by countries to settle debts with each other.

For example, if Mexico wanted to buy a car from Japan then it would pay for it in dollars rather than exchanging their money from pesos to yen to buy Japanese goods. You may be thinking – well don’t they still have to exchange pesos to dollars to make the purchase? Yes they would, but this is why foreign countries try and hold large amounts of dollars in reserve so they always have cash on hand to make international purchases. Precisely why it’s called the “reserve currency”.

After placing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the nations at Bretton-Woods agreed to tie the dollar’s value to a set amount of gold at a fixed exchanged rate – $35 for an ounce of gold. This created a stable platform for the global economy because now the exchange rates for all currencies had a fixed value in terms of gold. The US Treasury had close to 2/3rds of the world’s gold supply at the time so this was an easy promise for the US to keep if someone wanted to cash in dollars for gold.

The Bretton-Woods conference also created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) both of which are now under the umbrella of the World Bank Group.

If you’re wondering where Russia was during all of this given that they were also one of the Allied powers (and a major reason we even won World War II), they were actually in attendance at Bretton-Woods. But they declined to ratify the final agreements, charging that the institutions created were “branches of Wall Street”. 

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–Quick  (but important) aside —

The dollar being the international reserve currency is an incredibly important part of our global financial system and deserves an entirely separate article written about it. But one fundamental aspect of it is that its created a conflict-of-interest for the United States which has been termed the Triffin dilemma. (Good video on it here)

The US has an incentive to run massive trade deficits with other countries because they are always demanding more US dollars to hold in reserve – it’s the only way they can buy major goods internationally. Thus America is forced to spend more dollars than it takes in, in order to keep more dollars in circulation (if you’ve heard the word ‘liquidity‘ before). So to keep the global financial system moving, America has to run a huge deficit, which in turn creates other problems for the dollar…thus the dilemma.

But this set up is also why America can import goods so cheaply! Everything is priced in dollars and we don’t need to exchange our currency/hold reserves like other countries do. To anyone who’s travelled abroad you may have noticed it’s actually more expensive to buy things in Europe and even in parts of Asia than it would be in America. We’re basically one of the cheapest places to buy electronics in the world.

After the 2008 financial crisis the People’s Bank of China in fact explicitly named the Triffin dilemma as the root cause of the economic collapse because it led to a hoarding of cash causing the Global Savings glut. 

China argues for a gradual move away from the U.S. dollar and towards the use of IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) as a global reserve currency. British economist John Maynard Keynes actually lobbied for this system the whole time at Bretton-Woods in 1944 but was overruled by the Americans during negotiations.

The large global trade deals we see passed in Congress like NAFTA and the TPP (ratified 3 months ago) are at their core, vehicles to maintain the dollar as the principal means of trade around the world. Thus continuing to fulfill the artificial demand for dollars only because it’s the reserve currency…we’re not really an export economy anymore so people don’t need to buy things from us.

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Bretton-Woods Conference in New Hampshire – 1944

Okay great, so what does any of this have to do with Saudi Arabia?

Remember I delved into all of this because Nixon eliminated the Bretton Woods dollars-for-gold system in 1971. Instead, he reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to tie the value of the dollar to a different commodity – the price of oil. 

Before we get there, why did Nixon find this necessary to do this in the first place?

With the United States spending a massive amount of money on the war in Vietnam along with a ballooning trade deficit, it became clear to other countries that the US was printing more currency than it had redeemable in gold. In economic terms it means they thought the dollar was “overvalued” and started withdrawing gold for dollars. This set off a run on the dollar with everyone dumping the dollar for gold. This climaxed in 1971 when France attempted to withdraw its gold and Nixon refused.

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Gold bullion at Fort Knox, Tennessee

In August 1971, Nixon made a televised speech which came to be known as the “Nixon Shock

“I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connolly to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the dollar into gold or other reserve assets, except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interest of United States.”

This was not a temporary suspension as Nixon claimed, but rather a permanent default. For the nations of the world who entrusted the United States with their gold, this was outright theft.  Thus marked the end of the nearly 30 year Bretton-Woods financial system – the international reserve currency was no longer tied to a fixed asset. Overnight, the US dollar transformed into what is called “fiat currency” – intrinsically valueless money used as currency because of government decree. Since other major currencies were convertible only into dollars, they too became fiat money.

Now that the dollar was no longer backed by any tangible good, the US Federal Reserve and American banking system was free to print money out of thin air. Which they gladly did instead of taking steps to ease the US trade deficit which would require the US to stop printing money.  However, the ability to print money freely comes with a danger –  each new printed dollar devalues the existing money supply already in circulation, resulting in inflation. And that’s precisely what happened two years after Nixon’s decree. In 1973, the US entered a devastating period of “stagflation” where both inflation AND unemployment was high causing the deepest recession since the Great Depression. To keep the American economy afloat there needed to be a new demand for dollars to counterbalance the newly issued currency.

Enter the world’s first global oil crisis. 

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OPEC oil embargo – 1973

The oil embargo of 1973 is one of the defining events of world history and has guided American foreign policy in the Middle East since. The infamous event when OPEC spiked oil prices from around $3/gallon to over $12/gallon created economic shockwaves in America and around the world. Oil is perhaps the most important shared commodity in the world other than water. Without oil not only is there no transportation anywhere but hundreds of other daily-use products. We are literally surrounded by products made from oil.

“A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water”

The oil embargo prompted a global recession so severe that the UK even instituted a three-day work week and speed limits on US highways were reduced from 75 mph to 55 mph in order to get drivers to conserve gas. For the developing world, the effect of the embargo was staggering – in order to purchase more expensive oil, Asian and African countries went into a colossal debt that affected their development for years to come.

While it has been traditionally thought that the oil squeeze was a punishment from Saudi Arabia and OPEC for America supporting Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur Warthe embargo was actually a very deliberate calculation made by the American banking system and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to create demand for the faltering US dollar. 

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Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977

Due it’s importance to the global economy, oil had principally been bought and sold in the global reserve currency. But Nixon’s abrupt end to the dollars-for-gold exchange system set off a massive depreciation in the dollar’s value and oil-producing countries began suggesting a move away from the unstable dollar as the reserve currency. This meant countries would now try to buy and sell oil outside of US dollars. 

The price of oil rarely wavered. From 1947 to 1967, the dollar price of oil had risen by less than two percent per year.  But in 1973, the United States led by Henry Kissinger orchestrated the OPEC price increase through Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran. The 400% increase in oil prices left the world scrambling to quickly accumulate more US dollars to afford the more expensive oil – all discussion of moving away from the dollar was tabled. 

“Why are you against the increase in the price of oil? That is what they want. Ask Henry Kissinger—he is the one who wants a higher price.” – Iranian President Reza Shah Pahlavi to Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yaki Yamani, 1973

Once Kissinger ensured a sharp global demand for dollars, he went to Saudi Arabia with a proposal to lock in this demand for decades to come – the “petrodollar”. In 1974, Kissinger met with the Saudi Kingdom’s ruling House of Saud to offer a largely unpublicized four-part deal called the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.

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Henry Kissinger meeting with Saudi King Faisal – 1974

—The U.S. government would do the follow things— 

(1) Provide military protection for Saudi Arabia from Israel and any other Middle Eastern state, such as Shiite Iran, that might attempt to destabilize the Sunni kingdom.

(2) Sell the Saudis any weapons they needed. 

(3) Provide technical assistance in building infrastructure and a modern state

(4) Secure the Saud family’s place as rulers of the country indefinitely.

—In return, Saudi Arabia would do the following:—

(1) They would make all oil sales in US dollars only.

(2) They would invest their surplus oil proceeds in U.S. Treasuries.This was a perfect arrangement for both parties.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a sparsely populated country with an incredible amount of wealth. It sits in a dangerous neighborhood in the Middle East surrounded by powerful nations where religious squabbles frequently turn violent. Thus it welcomed unconditional protection from one of the world’s preeminent militaries and America’s help in modernizing their country.

This is why many who come to America from Saudi Arabia may feel this way –

“If you were a U.S. businessperson doing business in Saudi Arabia, the apparatus there would be entirely familiar to you because it looks and operates very much like its counterpart agencies in the U.S.”….”Arriving in Saudi Arabia, going through customs and immigration, is just like arriving in the U.S.” The Saudi banking system, financial markets and many other governmental practices and institutions, all were shaped or influenced by advisers hired under the Joint Commission.

The United States on the other hand was able to accomplish two critical goals at once that allowed it to ascend as the world’s pre-eminent power over the last 40 years: it was able to sustain a new demand for the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency AND was able to secure a vital energy resource more cheaply than the rest of the world. 

If you’re a country that doesn’t produce oil, then you have to buy it. And if you’re buying it on the world market then you’re probably getting it from one of the OPEC nations. After Kissinger’s visit, Saudi Arabia and shortly thereafter all OPEC nations, would only sell you oil in dollars indefinitelyOther countries now had no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of unstable dollars because they would not be able to purchase oil without dollars. As a result of this agreement, the dollar then became the only medium in which energy exchange could be transacted. This underpinned its reserve currency status through the need for foreign governments to hold dollars; recirculated the dollar costs of oil back into the U.S. financial system and — crucially — made the dollar effectively convertible into barrels of oil. The dollar was moved from a gold standard onto a crude oil standard. Thus the creation of the “petrodollar” – a vehicle to guarantee a constant demand for dollars whose value was linked to oil through the OPEC pricing standards.

petrodollar-death

But even more so, if you’re an oil producing nation then any surpluses generated from selling oil had to be invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds. This was the second term of the agreement and was a means to create value for the dollar that was demanded by the large financial institutions working with Kissinger. The forced investment of surplus oil profits into the US banking system came to be known as “petrodollar recycling” – a practice that the New York Federal Reserve even admitted was enriching US coffers.

However, these investments have also acted as “hostage capital“. In the event of a political conflict between the United States and an oil-exporting nation, the US can confiscate or freeze these invested assets. Despite its obvious betrayal of free-market principles, the US used this tactic twice in the 1980s against Iranian and Libyan assets, in the 90’s against Iraq and Kuwait and again in 2003 against Iraq.

The most important lesson in all of this, however, is the importance of the institution that controls the US dollar in shaping American foreign policy – the US Federal Reserve.

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US Federal Reserve Bank, Washington DC

But above all, Kissinger’s petrodollar scheme established perhaps the most vital pillar in American global power more than its military strength – dollar hegemony. The ability to shape the world order as the backbone of the global economy.

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Now with this new alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia held together by the petrodollar system, the oil embargo ended. America’s hold on the global financial system and its need for cheap, abundant energy would not be threatened again.  More importantly, the shock of the oil embargo on the American public would help the US government justify future interventions as a means to prevent such an energy crisis from ever happening again.

As such, since the oil embargo and Saudi Arabian-US agreement there has been an interesting trend amongst oil-producing nations who have tried to move away from the petrodollar system.


(2) The Invasion of Iraq and (Neo) Conservative Interventionism – Intervening to Explicitly Expand American Interests

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union, America arose as the sole global power. It had no rival.

From this shift in the balance of power in the world, the neo-conservative (“neocon”) ideology began to gain traction in foreign policy circles. Neoconservatives advocate for the promotion of democracy and American national interest in global affairs – including by means of military force.

This ideology believes that authoritarian states are inherently destabilizing and dangerous, and that it is both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy. They see America’s role to be the world’s unquestioned moral and military leader.

Despite the name, the neoconservative ideology actually has its roots with American socialists in the 1960’s who opposed Soviet communism (socialism vs communism). They criticized the liberal anti-war activism against Vietnam as non-interventionist and anti-American when communism was threatening to spread.  Thus, they came to be known as “neo” or “new” conservatives.

**This is important because neoconservatism is a fundamentally liberal idea formed by Democrats who viewed non-interventionism as a failure of the US to promote liberal ideals globally. As a result, when it comes to foreign policy this ideology continues to permeate BOTH political parties** 

Invincible Spirit Exercise In East Sea

One of the defining works of the neoconservative ideology was a report published by a conservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They published a report in 2000 called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses:  Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century

The report contained key tenets of the neoconservative ideology like:

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

The report also contained some oddly prophetic sections….like this blurb under the chapter titled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”

Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor. 

And this section under the chapter titled “Repositioning Today’s Force”

After eight years of no-fly-zone operations, there is little reason to anticipate that the U.S. air presence in the region should diminish significantly as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.

A completely reasonable question after reading these passages would be – Why we are talking about the possibility of a catastrophic new Pearl Harbor-like attack and Saddam Hussein being removed from power in the year 2000? 

These may have been legitimate academic questions at the time, especially given Bush Sr’s Gulf War in the 90s. But to many, these statements eerily foreshadowed the events that would follow one year after George W. Bush assumed office. The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 and the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Why does this matter at all? Several key authors of this report turned up in high places in the Bush administration.

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Paul Wolfowitz – #2 man at The Pentagon

Paul Wolfowitz – Deputy Defense Secretary under Donald Rumsfeld (later President of the World Bank, and interestingly enough a Steering Committee member of the Bilderberg Group)

John Bolton – Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations

Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby – Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney

Eliot Cohen – Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Michael Vickers – Assistant Secretary of Defense

Stephen Cambone – Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence

The report even self-admittedly describes itself as “building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration.” (Dick Cheney was the Defense Secretary in Bush Sr’s administration)

But imagine these connections being made in real-time in 2002-2003, leading up to the decision to invade Iraq.

You have an academic report published from one of the highest profile research think-tanks in America which: outlines a strategy for US military dominance globally, openly postulates a new Pearl Harbor event, and considers the possibility of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Then half of the authors who wrote that report went to go work in the White House and Pentagon the next year where all of those things happened.  

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Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, VP Cheney and President Bush

When you string all those events together, it seems less surprising why the Bush administration made the decisions it did.

These neo-conservative minds, and Wolfowitz in particular, were inspired by a book from Laurie Mylroie titled “The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks: A Study of Revenge”.  

The book made a litany of alleged linkages between Saddam’s Iraqi intelligence and the 9/11 hijackers as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (yeah there was two…). Her claims were refuted by counter-terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Daniel Benjamin who also said the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies looked extensively into her claims and did not corroborate them. I’ve written about the role of the Saudi Arabian government in supporting the 9/11 hijackers here. Many have said the neo-conservative “obsession” with Mylroie’s work was not born out of a true belief in her claims but rather that it fueled the narrative they pushed to create national support for the invasion of Iraq.

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The same individuals who earnestly supported Mylroie’s work also supported a series of articles from now disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the presence of WMD materials in Iraq.

Suffice it to say the two reasons American’s were told why we were invading Iraq – that Saddam Hussein was in any way connected to the 9/11 plot and/or harbored weapons of mass destruction – have been widely discredited as faulty information, even by our own government

Let’s also take a brief moment to see which of our 2016 presidential candidates voted for this war and which did not when given all the same information. 

Many of these leading neo-conservatives (including Mylroie) currently hold positions at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in DC. Almost all worked at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)….an organization Ted Cruz called “a pit of vipers” (despite his wife having worked there?). Many were also a part of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team (shocking).

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Sec of State Colin Powell’s now discredited WMD speech at the UN

Digression for an anecdote –

I actually have one distinct memory from when I was like 10 or 11 when I saw my first anti-war protest. I was visiting New York or Pennsylvania (I think..) and my family happened upon a protest. When we stopped to watch this small group of people protesting, one of the protesters handed me a case with two CDs (with badly sharpie’d titles) and said we should look into 9/11 and Iraq. And then he said all the answers were on there if we wanted to know what happened.

I don’t know how I remember this event because I never ended up seeing what was on the CDs, but I think it stuck in my mind because I remember being stunned that there were actually people who thought we needed to question something like 9/11 or invading Iraq. I mean duh, I was in the 6th grade.

But the most disturbing revelation in all my research was seeing that the neocon imagination for US global dominance was never intended to end with Iraq.

In a memoir written by 4-star General Wesley Clark, he tells a story of speaking with a “senior general” at the Pentagon ten days after the 9/11 attack. The general told him, “We’re going to attack Iraq. The decision has basically been made.

Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration. This was the general’s response:

“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.”

These are the seven countries that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly outlined back in 2001 to “take out”: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran

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Let’s pretend for a moment that this entire story is made up and there was no such memo ever written. How are these seven countries doing today?

Iraq – Invaded in 2003

Libya – Invaded in 2011

Syria – Global proxy war since 2011

Lebanon – War with Israel in 2006 and embroiled in Syrian conflict

Somalia – Failed state until 2015

Sudan – Fragmented into two countries creating South Sudan in 2011

Iran – Under global sanctions until the nuclear deal with the United States in 2015

Awesome… 

But other than being in the Middle East/North Africa and having been in a near constant state turmoil, observers have noted that these 7 countries have one particular thing in common – none are members of the Bank for International Settlements. 

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Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – Bazel, Switzerland

The Bank for International Settlements is an international financial institution

BIS in Middle East

Does the invasion of Iraq have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?

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Iraq was the only place that would survive Peak Oil

In 1988 he faced economic-reconstruction costs of $230 billion in the aftermath of his war with Iran; Iraq’s annual oil revenues of $13 billion did not even cover current expenditures

Breakout investigative book revealing how the US armed Iraq covertly through the CIA in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988.

America supported Saddam using chemical weapons

As Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz commented, “It was inconceivable that a regime, such as that in Kuwait, could risk engaging in a conspiracy of such magnitude against a large, strong country such as Iraq, if it were not being supported and protected by a great power; and that power was the United States.”

Why did America engage in the Gulf War?

Saddam Hussein (Iraq): Removed from power and killed

Invading Iraq – AJC

Iraq and petrodollar

Switched from dollars to euros

These people disagree agree this was the reason

The Real Legacy of Benghazi – How Our Middle East Policy Helped Bring Trump to Power

The Real Legacy of Benghazi – How Our Middle East Policy Helped Bring Trump to Power

 

Nationalist fear-mongering of refugees and terrorism is a consequence of the U.S. turning Middle East nations into failed states – creating the conditions for the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. 

 

 

I had written like 70% of this article months ago. It had been part of a different article I’d written back in September about the war in Syria, but I took it out for a variety of reasons before the election.

I wasn’t always set on publishing it to be honest. But I thought it timely as we are not just reflecting on 2016 this New Years, but the end of eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

 

When Pew Research Center set out to answer what the “top voting issue” was in the 2016 election, the first was the economy. The second was terrorism.

Gallup found that “terrorism and national security” topped the chart when it came to issues that both Democrats and Republicans cared most about. In fact, over half of Americans (54%) felt that the U.S. should stop accepting refugees altogether because of national security concerns.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of these people voted for Trump…and a lot similar minded people in Britain voted to leave the European Union.

In the last month there have been a number of explanations for how Trump stunned the world (including himself) and won the election. Many have focused on the power of white working class voters, the anti-establishment fervor, or even the FBI and Russia’s interference.

But very little has gone to understand an underlying fear that both Trump and the leaders of Brexit managed to tap into – the fear of terrorism, refugees and the religion of Islam. A fear that continues to this day as more ISIS-inspired attacks occur around the world.

So what happened over Obama’s presidency to get in a situation where millions of refugees are fleeing out of the Middle East and religious terrorists groups seem more powerful and dangerous than ever?

People gather to protest against the United States' acceptance of Syrian refugees at the Washington State capitol in Olympia

When you clicked on this article you saw a man with a gun standing in front of explosions. That was some dude who decided to strike a pose during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The terror attack at Benghazi happened over 4 years ago, but its legacy has played a much larger role in this election than most have realized.

Not because the infamous e-mail server scandal emerged from the Benghazi investigation. Nor for the repeated testimonies and largely partisan media scrutiny which hurt Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers going into the race.

When we look back on the Obama era, Benghazi should be remembered for its far more important role in fueling the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS. A reality which has produced today’s global refugee crisis and ultimately fostered the environment of fear which helped bring Trump to power.

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4 nations which became failed states and now have the largest ISIS presence in the world

I’m not going to re-hash the whole Benghazi controversy here because most people don’t even remember what it was about. But I do want to call attention to one particular aspect of it.

Why were the 4 Americans who died in Benghazi even there to begin with? 

It’s a seemingly simple question after all these years, but I bet most of us don’t know the answer, or even really thought to ask.

Of the four Americans that died in Benghazi, two were security contractors with the CIA and two were employees of the US State Department. One of whom was the ambassador to Libya.

It would be easy enough to assume that they were all in Libya doing diplomatic work of some kind…because that seems like their job. But about a year ago the Department of Defense declassified an intelligence briefing from October 2012, one month after the terror attack, which would explain quite clearly what the U.S. was doing Benghazi.

“2. During the immediate aftermath, of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the ((Qaddafi)) regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012, weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The Syrian ports were chosen due to the small amount of cargo traffic transiting these two ports. The ships used to transport the weapons were medium-sized and able to hold 10 or less shipping containers of cargo.
 3. The weapons shipped from Libya to Syria during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125mm and 15mm howitzers missiles. The numbers for each weapon were estimated to be: 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG launchers with 300 total rounds, and approximately 400 howitzers missiles [200 ea – 125mm and 200ea -155mm]”

Why were weapons being shipped out of Libya and into Syria between 2011-2012?

 

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, smiles at his home in Tripoli
Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens – first sitting ambassador to be killed since 1979

It was during this time that the peaceful demonstrations against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were devolving into an armed resistance.

The Red Cross officially declared the turmoil in Syria a civil war in July 2012. The attack at Benghazi occurred in September 2012. This is the beginning of the destructive Syrian civil war which has played out in front of our eyes for the last 5 years.

It had been no secret that the U.S. wanted Assad to go. But the much better kept secret was what role we played in the unrest in Syria turning into a civil war to begin with.

That secret began unraveling after the Benghazi attack.

During the initial Benghazi hearings Congressman Devin Nunes asked CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper point blank whether or not weapons were being sent from Libya into Syria.

Nunes: Are we aware of any arms that are leaving that area and going into Syria?
Morell: Yes, sir.
Clapper: Yes.
Nunes: And who is coordinating that?
Morell: I believe largely the [REDACTED] are coordinating that.
Nunes: They are leaving Benghazi ports are going to Syria?
Morell: I don’t know how they are getting the weapons from Libya to Syria. But there are weapons going from Libya to Syria. And there are probably a number of actors involved in that. One of the biggest are the [REDACTED]
Nunes: And, were the the CIA folks that were there, were they helping coordinate that, or were they watching it, were they gathering information about it?
Morrell: Sir, the focus of my officers in Benghazi was [REDACTED]
While U.S. officials left it ambiguous as to how the weapons were going from Libya to Syria or what role the CIA played in that transfer, famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an explosive article in the London Review of Books in April 2014 uncovering the much larger story behind Benghazi.

“The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.

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The “rat line” to transfer weapons from Libya, to Turkey, into Syria

By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities.

Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer.”

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Retired Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were the two CIA contractors killed in Benghazi

Of course, one doesn’t need to take Seymour Hersh’s word for exposing the international gun-running operation taking place at Benghazi.

On September 6th, 2012, five days before the Benghazi attack, a Libyan-flagged vessel called Al Entisar  was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 35 miles from the Syrian border. The ship carried heavy weaponry including surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs which found their way into the hands of Syrian rebels. These sophisticated weapons were used to shoot down Assad and Russian helicopters and aircraft.

On the night of the attack on September 11th, in what became his last public meeting, Ambassador Chris Stevens reportedly met with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin to negotiate the weapons transfers out of Libya and into Syria.

Three days later, another Libyan ship docked in Turkey “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria”. The shipment weighed over 400 tons and included SA-7  anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Libyan official Abdul Basit Haroun would later publicly admit that he was letting weapons leave the port of Benghazi to reach the Syrian rebels. “They know we are sending guns to Syria,” Haroun said. “Everyone knows.”

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Libyan ship “Al Ensitar” docking in Turkey with weapons bound for Syria
Lighter shipments of weapons were snuck directly into smaller Syrian ports, as the original DoD intelligence report said, but the much heavier, deadly weaponry was going through a secret command center near the Syrian border jointly run by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.

If it were not already bad enough that the U.S. was illegally smuggling weapons out of Libya, a country whose government we had just toppled with NATO’s help, who exactly were the Syrian rebels receiving this “vital military and communications support”?
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) offered a sobering analysis in August 2012 of what the opposition we were arming looked like.

The General Situation

A. Internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction.

B. The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.

C. The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the regime

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Syrian rebel holding surface-to-air missile, known as a MANPAD

It wasn’t just the DIA reporting that extremist militant groups were leading the opposition to Assad. The defense consultancy IHS Jane reported at the time that more than half the rebel fighters in Syria had some hardline Islamist affiliation.

“The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out.” – Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute

It’s hard to imagine that at the same time U.S. intelligence was reporting that literal jihadists were leading the opposition to Assad…that we decided to covertly ship weapons to them.

But that is exactly what happened.

We were not alone of course. With the help of Turkey, the Saudis and Qataris, the U.S. helped funnel weapons to a range of extremist groups with a “salafist” or jihadist ideology to overthrow the Syrian government.

Within a year of the Syrian civil war, one of the leading jihadi opposition groups, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), banded together with a range of other salafist militia groups to form ISIS.

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The origin of ISIS as an “anti-Assad” fighting force is never really reckoned with when we talk about the conflict in Syria today. Nor the extent to which the United States contributed to its rise to power.

In an e-mail to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton rather plainly pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia and Qatar for providing “financial and logistic support to ISIL”. But the U.S. has played perhaps equally as important a role.

Not only did ISIS acquire millions of dollars worth of weapons that the U.S. helped funnel into Syria, but ISIS’s senior most military commander himself was in fact a CIA-trained soldier from the eastern European country Georgia.

Abu Omar al Shishani, previously known as Tarkhan Batirashvili, joined the Georgian military in 2006 at the age of 20. There he was was extensively trained by the CIA in the Georgian special forces which fought Russia in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.

“He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” an unnamed former comrade who is still active in the Georgian military told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”

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Former ISIS military commander Tarkhan Batirashvili was killed by drone strike in July 2016

Batirashvili reappeared in Syria in 2013 commanding the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jaysh al Muhajireen, before he swore allegiance to ISIS and became their commander of military operations.

His military skills were so successful that Michael Cecire, an analyst of extremism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute commented that “Batirashvili’s ability to demonstrate ISIS’ tactical prowess attracted fighters in droves from other factions and tipped the scales in foreign fighter flow and recruitment.”

Though Batirashvili was killed in a drone strike just 5 months ago in July, he is but a part of one of the most destructive chapters in American foreign policy history.

The decision to arm extremist groups to overthrow the Syrian government has led to this reality:

Today, half a million Syrians lay dead as the Assad government continues to battle armed opposition groups dominated by foreign extremists. Over 10 million Syrians are displaced or seeking refuge in another country. Over 32 countries have been victims of ISIS-related terror attacks and that number is expected to grow. 

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Syrian refugees at the Turkish border
Oddly enough, this reality has its roots in one of the most loathed political scandals of the outgoing Obama administration. One that will no doubt be remembered as a “partisan witch hunt” which found no evidence of wrongdoing by anyone.
I doubt many of us were paying close attention to international politics back in September 2012, when many of us were in high school or starting college, but the attack at Benghazi was incredibly significant for what was happening at the time.
Not only did it occur 2 months before Obama’s re-election bid against Mitt Romney, but the attack risked publicly exposing an ongoing covert operation to illegally arm extremist rebel groups in Syria.
Perhaps this is why the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to prevent agents from speaking to the media or Congress about their operations in Benghazi, going as far as polygraphing agents multiple times a month.

Perhaps this is why there was a huge clash between the CIA and the State Department in creating the talking points for how to tell the story of what was happening at Benghazi without exposing the operation.

Perhaps this is why the known falsehood of a YouTube video being responsible for the Benghazi attack was trotted out by the most senior levels of the Obama administration.

 

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President Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton of course did her part to try and keep the gun-running operation her State Department was helping coordinate a secret.
When questioned by Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mike Pompeo at the Benghazi hearings, she blatantly denied under oath twice that any weapons were leaving Benghazi and going to arm Syrian rebels.
But Hillary didn’t need the Benghazi charade to be exposed in order to lose the election.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
the damage to her honest and trustworthiness poll numbers that the Benghazi investigation  to lose the election

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To help digest what you just read, it would be useful to have some background.
During those short two years, when most of us were in high school or starting college, one of the most important events in world history was happening – the Arab Spring.
This was a wave of popular uprisings broke out across the Middle East and north Africa that was borne out of discontent with a lack of political freedoms, high unemployment, corruption and poverty.  Within a year the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen had been overthrown while several more faced continued unrest and crackdowns. It was the most significant political re-organization of the region since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
In Libya, the United States played a central role in the removal of president Muammar Gaddafi. That’s a separate story at the very bottom of this article if you care, but after the fall of Libya
across the pond in Syria the peaceful protests were beginning to turn into violent clashes as the government began suppressing dissent.
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Having just broken its own arms embargo by arming Libyan rebel groups,

 

Hillary Clinton herself admitted that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar who have respectfully given  are “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region” would give tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, far more than to any other charitable group in the world.

 

 

One could easily remember Benghazi as the partisan witch hunt which ended up proving no evidence of wrong-doing and helped create a base of fanatical of partisans with “Killary”, “Hillary for Prison” and “Lock Her Up” chants

One could also remember Benghazi as the centerpiece as one of the most destructive decisions made by the United States

Benghazi was a driving force for so many of the reasons Trump won the election. Partially because of the effect that it had in damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But perhaps more so because it exposed the

In the Democratic party’s post-mortem over how they could have lost the election to Donald Trump there have been a number of explanations given. Many of them center around how we ignored the problems of “the white working class”. Others have interpreted it as a rejection of “the establishment” – the so-called elites in D.C. and New York,  the news media, etc.

So I went around asking a few friends and co-workers what they thought the most important issue of the election was.