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Why Are The New York Times And Politico Promoting A Fake Kerry Scandal?

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The New York Times and Politico are helping spread a manufactured scandal against former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, now the White House's special climate envoy, over the manifestly absurd claim that he disclosed secret Israeli operations in the Syrian civil war to Iran's foreign minister.

In articles posted on Monday, the Times and Politico played up attacks on Kerry by Republican politicians such as Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Rick Scott of Florida, as well as former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. By focusing on this aspect to their coverage, they are doing exactly what Fox News is demanding for other media outlets to follow its lead.

In addition, the Times and Politico pieces gave little consideration to the obvious objection that the information was not secret — even though both outlets had reported on the strikes before. (And so did Fox.)

Kerry has issued a strongly worded denial, saying that such an exchange never happened:

Iran International, a United Kingdom-based outlet, first reported on a leaked interview recording of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who claimed that military leaders kept him in the dark about Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria and that he learned of the strikes from Kerry. According to the outlet, this claim is "not very credible," since those attacks were already reported via international media.

An analysis in the right-wing Jerusalem Post saw through the problem in Zarif's claim as well: "The idea that Zarif was told information on Israeli airstrikes by John Kerry and that he didn't know about airstrikes on Iranian convoys in Syria appears ridiculous. Does he not read his own Iranian media? Does he not have any sources inside his own ministry? … Is he the most uninformed foreign minister in the world?"

But in its latest story on Kerry's denial and Republican political attacks, the Times played down the extent to which the strikes have been public knowledge — which if emphasized, would have cast doubt on both Zarif's version of events and any notion of Republican outrage.

"Israel has made little effort to deny years of strikes attributed to it by Syria's government, news outlets and nongovernmental organizations tracking the Syrian conflict," the paper said. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to the strikes on a hot microphone during a meeting with Eastern European leaders in 2017, with further public admissions in 2018 and early 2019. The Times also could have noted that the Israeli military publicly acknowledged in September 2018 that it had struck over 200 Iranian targets since just 2017 — let alone the time period before that — but the paper instead chose to be vague on just how public this knowledge is.

Instead the Times simply noted: "A New York Times article from 2019 included similar information on the number of Israeli strikes." Besides the hair-splitting over the particular number, the Times previously reported on Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria multiple times in 2013 and also reported in 2018 on the escalating conflict between the two countries. But instead, it referred to just one of its articles from 2019, which happened to include information the Israeli military had already divulged the year before.

Politico followed a similar pattern, covering the story as more of a political back-and-forth in a piece headlined "GOP tears into Kerry amid Iran controversy," without acknowledging the fact that these attacks were already public knowledge.

And while it noted in the seventh paragraph that "Zarif's version of events has not been independently corroborated," one of the asterisks it attached to his remarks was that it is "also unclear whether Kerry allegedly revealed the Israeli operations to Zarif before they were publicly reported by Israel itself in 2018."

This framing depicts the Israeli actions in Syria as having been some kind of secret. In fact, Politico itself had casually mentioned the fact of the Israeli strikes over the years.

But noting such facts now would get in the way of media narratives that rely on covering political squabbles while treating partisan and opportunistic accusations as if they were legitimate.

Will Biden End Wars That Trump Prolonged?

If you listened long enough to Donald Trump during his first presidential campaign, you could find grounds to hope that he would make some badly needed changes in American foreign policy. After the catastrophe of the Iraq War and the dismal slog of Afghanistan, Trump promised a different approach.

"We're getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world," he said. "We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about," he vowed, promising "a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy."

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How Lindsey Graham Turned Into Trump’s Snarling Poodle

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been under fire this week for a major flip-flop after he reneged on a 2016 pledge to oppose any Supreme Court nomination in an election year, backing Donald Trump's push to rush through a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But this is hardly the first time he has abandoned his stated principles to appease Trump.

"I want you to use my words against me," Graham said during a Senate hearing in March 2016. "If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." He reiterated that view in 2018.

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Danziger: Retreat Of The Light Brigade

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

ISIS Threat Persists Despite Trump Boasting

Eliminating the Islamic State group’s elusive leader gives Donald Trump a new argument for leaving Syria, but the U.S. military campaign against the extremists is far from finished.

The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. forces leaves the Islamic State without an obvious leader, a major setback for an organization that in March was forced by American troops and Kurdish forces out of the last portion of its self-declared “caliphate,” which once spanned a swath of Iraq and Syria.

But the militant group, which arose from the remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq after that group’s defeat by U.S.-led forces in 2008, has ambitions to regenerate again. And it remains a dangerous threat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The bottom line is: This puts the enemy on its heels, but the ideology — and this sounds so cliched — it is not dead,” said Chris Costa, a former senior director for counterterrorism for the National Security Council in the Trump administration.

Key to the Islamic States is its “kill where you are” ethos, encouraging a far-flung network of followers, including those in the United States, to commit violence however and wherever they can. That jihadist message is likely to live on, even with the death of al-Baghdadi.

That means U.S. forces, perhaps in reduced numbers, will continue hunting and attacking key Islamic State targets, even as Trump says he’s committed to a 2016 campaign pledge to bring them home and end “endless wars” started under his predecessors.

Trump earlier this month went from declaring a near-complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria to deciding that some, perhaps several hundred, must stay to keep eastern Syria’s oil fields from falling back into the hands of the Islamic State. Trump also agreed to keep about 150 U.S. troops at a base in southern Syria.

Trump teased the announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death with a seemingly self-congratulatory announcement on Saturday night, tweeting, “Something very big has just happened!”

Trump claimed al-Baghdadi’s death was bigger than that of Osama bin Laden — the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who died in a raid signed off by former President Barack Obama: “This is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever. Osama bin Laden was very big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again.”

In announcing on Sunday that al-Baghdadi had blown himself up after being cornered in a dead-end underground tunnel in Syria, Trump acknowledged that IS, which he often calls “100 percent” defeated, still has ambitions to make a comeback. The group is “very, very strongly looking to build it again,” he said.

This, he said, explains why Baghdadi was in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria, an area largely controlled by a rival group — the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — although other jihadi groups sympathetic to Islamic State are also there.

“Well, that’s where he was trying to rebuild from because that was the place that made most sense, if you’re looking to rebuild,” Trump said.

Trump suggested that other countries, including Russia, carry on the fight against IS, but there is no indication that U.S. forces will abandon the mission any time soon.

“Our job is to stay on top of that and to make sure that we continue to take out their leadership,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said five years of U.S. and coalition effort inside Syria have not eliminated the Islamic State threat.

“While the death of its leader is a tremendous blow for the group, about 10,000 ISIS fighters remain in the region and will continue to carry out guerrilla attacks and seek new territory,” he said.

According to defense officials in Iraq and Afghanistan who study Islamic State and have watched its movements, the group is growing in power and numbers outside of Syria.

Its flagship affiliate is known as ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan, and it is expanding into other countries, including Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Many of those affiliates have liaisons in the terror group’s hub in eastern Afghanistan.

In addition to conducting high-profile attacks inside Afghanistan, the official said the Islamic State has also already proven its ability to inspire and enable terrorist attacks outside Afghanistan, including a deadly one in Sweden.

It is this global reach that makes the Islamic State a continuing worry, including for U.S. officials seeking to protect the homeland.

Al-Baghdadi served as a direct inspiration for extremists in the United States, where multiple jihadists in the last five years invoked his name as they carried out deadly acts of violence.

Omar Mateen, the gunman who in 2016 killed 49 people inside an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi during a 911 call in which he identified himself as an Islamic soldier. Months earlier, Tashfeen Malik, who along with her husband killed 14 people at a San Bernardino, California, holiday party, took to Facebook after her massacre was already underway to declare her support for al-Baghdadi.

“That voice, the face associated with it — the name in particular — it’s all directly linked to those in the United States who have pledged allegiance to him so as to conduct attacks in the group’s name,” said Joshua Geltzer, a former senior counterterrorism official in the Obama administration.

The death of al-Baghdadi leaves the group without an equally brand-name successor and deprives would-be jihadists of a figurehead leader to rally behind. Counterterrorism experts say that leadership void is a significant loss for a terror group that had lost the vast stretches of the physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq it had once controlled. But they also caution that they expect the group’s ideology to endure beyond al-Baghdadi.

“I’ve always said, yes, I will celebrate when Baghdadi is dead, but at the same time, that celebration is quiet and quick, because there are other Baghdadis out there who have been radicalized,” said Costa, the former NSC official.

Still, Costa said, the raid was hugely significant in part because it shows the U.S. can use solid intelligence to carry out a successful military operation, no matter the current Syria policy.

“This impacts morale and that’s an important idea — the fact that the enemy is on the run. We can track them, and we can hunt them, and we can kill them.”

Danziger: Big Success

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Danziger: Gaffed

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

McConnell Blames Trump’s Syria Disaster On…Obama

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

But there’s something distinctly missing from the piece: the words “Donald” and “Trump.”

Unbelievably, however, another name does appear in the piece: former President Barack Obama.

In fact, McConnell personally criticizes Obama three times in the op-ed.

McConnell’s refusal to say Trump’s name while criticizing Trump’s decision has been a theme this week. Other Republicans have made similar criticisms of Trump’s policy, also without using Trump’s name.

The first mention of Obama’s name comes in the opening paragraph of McConnell’s piece.

“Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake,” McConnell wrote. “It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances. Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”

Next, McConnell calls out Obama’s leadership style, saying Obama led from behind, but he doesn’t criticize Trump for sidling up to dictators and sending embarrassing letters to world leaders that sound like a third-grader wrote them.

Lastly, McConnell uses Obama’s name to blame Obama for the rise of ISIS. McConnell says ISIS is poised to rise again thanks to Trump’s decision, but again, he never used Trump’s name.

“We saw the Islamic State flourish in Iraq after President Barack Obama’s retreat,” McConnell wrote. “We will see these things anew in Syria and Afghanistan if we abandon our partners and retreat from these conflicts before they are won.”

Meanwhile, one terrorism expert said this week that Trump’s retreat “created a perfect situation for ISIS.” Current and former intelligence officials have warned that the withdrawal could increase the ISIS threat to Americans.

In reading the piece, you’d almost think Obama was still occupying the White House and not Trump.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore