Selective Outrage Over Aleppo Bombing

When the U.S. kills civilians while bombing ISIS’s cities in Syria and Iraq, the jihadists are blamed for using “human shields” and the big media is silent, but different rules apply to Russia’s attacks on Al Qaeda in Aleppo, says Steven Chovanec.

By Steven Chovanec

The United States is manipulating humanitarian concern in an effort to protect its proxy militias and its imperial regime-change project in Syria. The mainstream media and intellectual classes are dutifully falling in line, promoting a narrative favoring U.S. military aggression under the cover of “protecting civilians.”

Similar arguments contributed to the invasions of Iraq and Libya, exponentially increasing the massacres, chaos and proliferation of violent extremism within those countries. These “responsibility to protect” or R2P claims are hypocritical, designed to further the interests of conquest and domination and will lead to even more death and destruction in Syria.

The United States has no stake in the wellbeing of Syrian civilians, despite the condemnations of Russia’s offensive in Aleppo. This is clearly shown in the fact that the people that the U.S. is supporting are guilty of the same crimes that the U.S. accuses Russia and Syria of: indiscriminate attacks, targeting of civilians, destruction of schoolshospitals, etc.

Furthermore, the offensive in Aleppo is really no different from what the U.S. did in Manbij, a Syrian city northeast of Aleppo where the U.S. is said to have incorporated a “scorched earth policy” while liberating the city from ISIS this year by treating the civilian population “as if they were terrorists or ISIS supporters.”

Arguably the U.S. conduct was even worse, as the U.S. earned the distinction of launching the deadliest single airstrike on civilians out of the entire five-year conflict, massacring at least 73 where no ISIS fighters were present. But the Manbij operation elicited no moral outcry from the media and punditry, since these were deemed “unworthy victims” given that they were our victims and not those of our enemies. The same can be said about the U.S. operations in Kobani and Fallujah, whereby the entire towns were essentially reduced to rubble without any R2P uproar.

Saudi Arabia as well has no concern for Syrian civilians, as it has ruthlessly besieged and bombed Yemen, with the support and help of the United States, for two years without any concern for civilian lives. The Saudi assault has led to a humanitarian crisis arguably even more dire than in Syria, leaving at least 19 million in need of humanitarian assistance; in Syria it is estimated that a total of 18 million are in need of such aid.

Turkey as well is not concerned about civilian casualties, as is evidenced by its conduct towards the Kurdish population, yet the recent quiet by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the fate of Aleppo is indicative of an understanding reached between him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whereby Turkey establishes a presence in northern Syria and blocks the advance of the Kurds, and in return limits its support to the rebels  in Aleppo.

The real reason the U.S. is decrying the Russian operation is the fact that the U.S.  is staring aghast at the near-term possibility that its proxy insurgency in Aleppo will be defeated.  Not only will this mark the decisive turning point in the war, the rebels all-but being fully overcome and the Syrian government in control of all the populated city centers except Idlib, but others have argued that it could as well mark the end of U.S. hegemony over the entire Middle East in general.  In other words, the U.S. is trying to turn global public opinion against the Russian effort in an attempt to halt the advance and protect U.S. rebel proxies trapped in Aleppo.

The Rebels of Aleppo

So, who are these rebels? In short, they are an array of U.S.-supported groups in alliance with and dominated by Al Qaeda.  During the past ceasefire agreement these rebels refused to break ties with Al Qaeda and instead reasserted a commitment to their alliances with the group.  The United Nation’s special envoy for Syria recently explained that over half of the fighters in eastern Aleppo are al-Nusra (Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate which has recently gone through a cosmetic name change), while according to the U.S. Department of Defense, it is “primarily Nusra who holds Aleppo.”

Expert analysis concurs, as Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute details how these rebel alliances indicate “that the al-Nusra Front dominates more different rebel factions, including those considered ‘moderate.’” He explains that Al Qaeda’s “grip on East Aleppo has only increased since the spring of 2016.”

It is these fighters, Al Qaeda and its allies, that the U.S. is trying to protect from the Russians, as well other U.S. intelligence assets that are likely embedded with the jihadists.  The narrative that Russia is committing a humanitarian catastrophe is intended to hide this fact, as well as to shift the blame for the suffering in Aleppo off of the U.S.’ shoulders.  Yet it was the U.S. support to the rebels that is primarily responsible for the suffering.

To illustrate this, the people of eastern Aleppo never supported the rebels nor welcomed them.  The rebels nonetheless “brought the revolution to them” and conquered the people against their will all the same. Of the few reporters who actually went to the city, they describe how Aleppo has been overrun by violent militants through a wave of repression, and that the people only “saw glimmers of hope” as the Syrian army was driving the rebels from the area.

The people decried this “malicious revolution” and characterized the rebels’ rule as a “scourge of terrorism.”  This, of course, was of no concern to the U.S. at the time, which now proclaims itself to be the “protectors” of the civilians in Aleppo.

Around 200,000-600,000 of Aleppo’s original population fled and relocated in the government-held western part of the city.  Of the civilians who remain, they are primarily the families of the fighters, who themselves are paid to stay and fight.  The official numbers for those remaining are 200,000, yet the actual number is likely much lower, around 40,000-50,000.

Nonetheless, the remaining civilians who are trapped within this warzone were prevented from leaving. During the first ceasefire, humanitarian corridors were opened and the civilians were encouraged by the Syrian army to leave, yet the rebels stopped them, with reports saying the rebels went so far as to shoot at those who tried. The attempt to evacuate the civilians was condemned by the U.S., which argued that the innocent people “should be able to stay in their homes.”

Human Shields 

The radical groups were using the civilian population as human shields in order to protect themselves, and the U.S. was supporting this tactic. Further corroborating this is special U.N. envoy Steffan de Mistura, who cited reports indicating that the rebels have been utilizing “intentional placement of firing positions close to social infrastructure, aside and inside civilian quarters.”

This is because it has always been the policy of the Syrian government to separate civilians from insurgents, as it is simply much more militarily effective to fight against an enemy that is not ensconced within a civilian population.  Likewise, it has always been U.S. and rebel policy to prevent this separation.

According to a knowledgeable individual with contacts with high-level Syrian officials, the U.S. and European Union always rejected the Syrian governments proposals to separate civilians from the fighters, as they explained, “because doing so will be helping you win.”

This makes sense, given that if all of the civilians from eastern Aleppo were evacuated there would then be nothing stopping the Syrian army from crushing the remaining fighters, and there as well would be no international outcry over them doing so. The source explains that “Syria’s war is an urban war theater. [The] only way for insurgents to compete is to use residential areas to hide and operate out of.  This is in direct contrast to [the] Syrian army who would like to fight a theater totally void of civilians.”

Those claiming to be the protecting Aleppo’s civilians from the Russian and Syrian onslaught are in actuality using them as a means to protect the rebels’ success on the battlefield. Given this, the strategy of the Syrian government has been to bomb sporadically in order to scare the civilians and force them to flee from areas controlled by the militants. This is also why the Syrian army just recently halted its advance in order to allow civilians to evacuate; the army wanted the civilians out of the picture so they could militarily defeat the rebels more quickly and easily.

If one actually were concerned about saving the civilians in eastern Aleppo, it is pretty straightforward that one would try to evacuate the civilians from the area and that the backers of the rebel groups would put pressure on them to allow this to happen. From there it would follow that all sides abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions of which they agreed to, which call for the suppression of financing, arming and supporting Al Qaeda, for the suppression of Al Qaeda “and all other entities associated” with the terror group, and “to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria,” of which Aleppo is one of the largest.

Unfortunately, it is only Syria and Russia that are following through on these commitments, while the U.S. and its allies are consciously blocking the effort. Western media and intellectual opinion are falling in line, took obscuring from the narrative all of these inconvenient truths that do not support the interests of the policy planners in Washington.

In this way, the major media is shown to be completely subservient to state power, drumming up support for another aggressive war based on falsities and half-truths in the exact same way that led to the continuing catastrophes in Libya and Iraq. When the U.S. was driving ISIS from Manbij, just as Syria is now driving Al Qaeda from Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians at a time, there was not so much as a debate about it, much less an international outcry.

Yet now there are countless voices calling out to “save” Syrians by having the U.S. and its military allies bomb the Syrian military and provide more – and more sophisticated – weapons to the rebels, ironically using “humanitarian” concerns to implement a policy that would likely lead to even more death and misery.

The rebels are dominated by jihadi extremists, and any further support to them will further strengthen the radicals engaged in a project of ethnic cleansing, conquest and reactionary theocratic governance. Bombing the Syrian army and air force would only help to further descend Syria into more chaos and more bloodshed, just as the same policies did in Iraq and Libya.

The Syrian conflict is an international proxy war and humanitarian concerns are being manipulated unscrupulously in support of interests having nothing to do with concern for innocent lives.

Steven Chovanec is an independent geopolitical analyst and writer based in Chicago, IL.  He has a bachelors in International Relations and Sociology at Roosevelt University and conducts independent, open-source research into geopolitics and social issues.  His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.com, find him on Twitter @stevechovanec. [This article was originally posted at http://undergroundreports.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-us-manipulates-humanitarianism-for.html]




Key Neocon Calls on US to Oust Putin

Exclusive: A prominent neocon paymaster, whose outfit dispenses $100 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money each year, has called on America to “summon the will” to remove Russian President Putin from office, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The neoconservative president of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy [NED] has called for the U.S. government to “summon the will” to engineer the overthrow of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the 10-year-old murder case of a Russian journalist should be the inspiration.

Carl Gershman, who has headed NED since its founding in 1983, doesn’t cite any evidence that Putin was responsible for the death of Anna Politkovskaya but uses a full column in The Washington Post on Friday to create that impression, calling her death “a window to Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin autocrat whom Americans are looking at for the first time.”

Gershman wraps up his article by writing: “Politkovskaya saw the danger [of Putin], but she and other liberals in Russia were not strong enough to stop it. The United States has the power to contain and defeat this danger. The issue is whether we can summon the will to do so. Remembering Politkovskaya can help us rise to this challenge.”

That Gershman would so directly call for the ouster of Russia’s clearly popular president represents further proof that NED is a neocon-driven vehicle that seeks to create the political circumstances for “regime change” even when that means removing leaders who are elected by a country’s citizenry.

And there is a reason for NED to see its job in that way. In 1983, NED essentially took over the CIA’s role of influencing electoral outcomes and destabilizing governments that got in the way of U.S. interests, except that NED carried out those functions in a quasi-overt fashion while the CIA did them covertly.

NED also serves as a sort of slush fund for neocons and other favored U.S. foreign policy operatives because a substantial portion of NED’s money circulates through U.S.-based non-governmental organizations or NGOs.

That makes Gershman an influential neocon paymaster whose organization dispenses some $100 million a year in U.S. taxpayers’ money to activists, journalists and NGOs both in Washington and around the world. The money helps them undermine governments in Washington’s disfavor – or as Gershman would prefer to say, “build democratic institutions,” even when that requires overthrowing democratically elected leaders.

NED was a lead actor in the Feb. 22, 2014 coup ousting Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych in a U.S.-backed putsch that touched off the civil war inside Ukraine between Ukrainian nationalists from the west and ethnic Russians from the east. The Ukraine crisis has become a flashpoint for the dangerous New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia.

Before the anti-Yanukovych coup, NED was funding scores of projects inside Ukraine, which Gershman had identified as “the biggest prize” in a Sept. 26, 2013 column also published in The Washington Post.

In that column, Gershman wrote that after the West claimed Ukraine, “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” In other words, Gershman already saw Ukraine as an important step toward an even bigger prize, a “regime change” in Moscow.

Less than five months after Gershman’s column, pro-Western political activists and neo-Nazi street fighters – with strong support from U.S. neocons and the State Department – staged a coup in Kiev driving Yanukovych from office and installing a rabidly anti-Russian regime, which the West promptly dubbed “legitimate.”

In reaction to the coup and the ensuing violence against ethnic Russians, the voters of Crimea approved a referendum with 96 percent of the vote to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a move that the West’s governments and media decried as a Russian “invasion” and “annexation.”

The new regime in Kiev then mounted what it called an “Anti-Terrorism Operation” or ATO against ethnic Russians in the east who had supported Yanukovych and refused to accept the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev as legitimate.

The ATO, spearheaded by neo-Nazis from the Azov battalion and other extremists, killed thousands of ethnic Russians, prompting Moscow to covertly provide some assistance to the rebels, a move denounced by the West as “aggression.”

Blaming Putin

In his latest column, Gershman not only urges the United States to muster the courage to oust Putin but he shows off the kind of clever sophistry that America’s neocons are known for. Though lacking any evidence, he intimates that Putin ordered the murder of Politkovskaya and pretty much every other “liberal” who has died in Russia.

It is a technique that I’ve seen used in other circumstances, such as the lists of “mysterious deaths” that American right-wingers publish citing people who crossed the paths of Bill and Hillary Clinton and ended up dead. This type of smear spreads suspicion of guilt not based on proof but on the number of acquaintances and adversaries who have met untimely deaths.

In the 1990s, one conservative friend of mine pointed to the Clintons’ “mysterious deaths” list and marveled that even if only a few were the victims of a Clinton death squad that would be quite a story, to which I replied that if even one were murdered by the Clintons that would be quite a story – but that there was no proof of any such thing.

“Mysterious deaths” lists represent a type of creepy conspiracy theory that shifts the evidentiary burden onto the targets of the smears who must somehow prove their innocence, when there is no evidence of their guilt (only vague suspicions). It is contemptible when applied to American leaders and it is contemptible when applied to Russian leaders, but it is not beneath Carl Gershman.

Beyond that, Gershman’s public musing about the U.S. somehow summoning “the will” to remove Putin might — in a normal world — disqualify NED and its founding president from the privilege of dispensing U.S. taxpayers’ money to operatives in Washington and globally. It is extraordinarily provocative and dangerous, an example of classic neocon hubris.

While the neocons do love their tough talk, they are not known for thinking through their “regime change” schemes. The idea of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia with the goal of ousting Putin, with his 82 percent approval ratings, must rank as the nuttiest and most reckless neocon scheme of all.

Gershman and his neocon pals may fantasize about making Russia’s economy scream while financing pro-Western “liberals” who would stage disruptive protests in Red Square, but he and his friends haven’t weighed the consequences even if they could succeed.

Given the devastating experience that most Russians had when NED’s beloved Russian “liberals” helped impose American “shock therapy” in the 1990s — an experiment that reduced average life expectancy by a full decade — it’s hard to believe that the Russian people would simply take another dose of that bitter medicine sitting down.

Even if the calculating Putin were somehow removed amid economic desperation, he is far more likely to be followed by a much harder-line Russian nationalist who might well see Moscow’s arsenal of nuclear weapons as the only way to protect Mother Russia’s honor. In other words, the neocons’ latest brash “regime change” scheme might be their last – and the last for all humanity.

A Neocon Slush Fund

Gershman’s arrogance also raises questions about why the American taxpayer should tolerate what amounts to a $100 million neocon slush fund which is used to create dangerous mischief around the world. Despite having “democracy” in its name, NED appears only to favor democratic outcomes when they fit with Official Washington’s desires.

If a disliked candidate wins an election, NED acts as if that is prima facie evidence that the system is undemocratic and must be replaced with a process that ensures the selection of candidates who will do what the U.S. government tells them to do. Put differently, NED’s name is itself a fraud.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise since NED was created in 1983 at the urging of Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William J. Casey, who wanted to off-load some of the CIA’s traditional work ensuring that foreign elections turned out in ways acceptable to Washington, and when they didn’t – as in Iran under Mossadegh, in Guatemala under Arbenz or in Chile under Allende – the CIA’s job was to undermine and remove the offending electoral winner.

In 1983, Casey and the CIA’s top propagandist, Walter Raymond Jr., who had been moved to Reagan’s National Security Council staff, wanted to create a funding mechanism to support outside groups, such as Freedom House and other NGOs, so they could engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organized and paid for covertly. The idea emerged for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.

In one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III, Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment,” but he recognized the need to hide the strings being pulled by the CIA. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey wrote.

The National Endowment for Democracy took shape in late 1983 as Congress decided to also set aside pots of money — within NED — for the Republican and Democratic parties and for organized labor, creating enough bipartisan largesse that passage was assured.

But some in Congress thought it was important to wall the NED off from any association with the CIA, so a provision was included to bar the participation of any current or former CIA official, according to one congressional aide who helped write the legislation.

This aide told me that one night late in the 1983 session, as the bill was about to go to the House floor, the CIA’s congressional liaison came pounding at the door to the office of Rep. Dante Fascell, a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill.

The frantic CIA official conveyed a single message from CIA Director Casey: the language barring the participation of CIA personnel must be struck from the bill, the aide recalled, noting that Fascell consented to the demand, not fully recognizing its significance – that it would permit the continued behind-the-scenes involvement of Raymond and Casey.

The aide said Fascell also consented to the Reagan administration’s choice of Carl Gershman to head NED, again not recognizing how this decision would affect the future of the new entity and American foreign policy.

Gershman, who had followed the classic neoconservative path from youthful socialism to fierce anticommunism, became NED’s first (and, to this day, only) president. Though NED is technically independent of U.S. foreign policy, Gershman in the early years coordinated decisions on grants with Raymond at the NSC.

For instance, on Jan. 2, 1985, Raymond wrote to two NSC Asian experts that “Carl Gershman has called concerning a possible grant to the Chinese Alliance for Democracy (CAD). I am concerned about the political dimension to this request. We should not find ourselves in a position where we have to respond to pressure, but this request poses a real problem to Carl.

“Senator [Orrin] Hatch, as you know, is a member of the board. Secondly, NED has already given a major grant for a related Chinese program.”

Neocon Tag Teams

From the start, NED became a major benefactor for Freedom House, beginning with a $200,000 grant in 1984 to build “a network of democratic opinion-makers.” In NED’s first four years, from 1984 and 1988, it lavished $2.6 million on Freedom House, accounting for more than one-third of its total income, according to a study by the liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs that was entitled “Freedom House: Portrait of a Pass-Through.”

Over the ensuing three decades, Freedom House has become almost an NED subsidiary, often joining NED in holding policy conferences and issuing position papers, both organizations pushing primarily a neoconservative agenda, challenging countries deemed insufficiently “free,” including Syria, Ukraine (in 2014) and Russia.

Indeed, NED and Freedom House often work as a kind of tag-team with NED financing “non-governmental organizations” inside targeted countries and Freedom House berating those governments if they crack down on U.S.-funded NGOs.

For instance, on Nov. 16, 2012, NED and Freedom House joined together to denounce legislation passed by the Russian parliament that required recipients of foreign political money to register with the government.

Or, as NED and Freedom House framed the issue: the Russian Duma sought to “restrict human rights and the activities of civil society organizations and their ability to receive support from abroad. Changes to Russia’s NGO legislation will soon require civil society organizations receiving foreign funds to choose between registering as ‘foreign agents’ or facing significant financial penalties and potential criminal charges.”

Of course, the United States has a nearly identical Foreign Agent Registration Act that likewise requires entities that receive foreign funding and seek to influence U.S. government policy to register with the Justice Department or face possible fines or imprisonment.

But the Russian law would impede NED’s efforts to destabilize the Russian government through funding of political activists, journalists and civic organizations, so it was denounced as an infringement of human rights and helped justify Freedom House’s rating of Russia as “not free.”

Another bash-Putin tag team has been The Washington Post’s editors and NED’s Gershman. On July 28, 2015, a Post editorial and a companion column by Gershman led readers to believe that Putin was paranoid and “power mad” in worrying that outside money funneled into NGOs threatened Russian sovereignty.

The Post and Gershman were especially outraged that the Russians had enacted the law requiring NGOs financed from abroad and seeking to influence Russian policies to register as “foreign agents” and that one of the first funding operations to fall prey to these tightened rules was Gershman’s NED.

The Post’s editors wrote that Putin’s “latest move … is to declare the NED an ‘undesirable’ organization under the terms of a law that Mr. Putin signed in May [2015]. The law bans groups from abroad who are deemed a ‘threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, its defense capabilities and its national security.’

“The charge against the NED is patently ridiculous. The NED’s grantees in Russia last year ran the gamut of civil society. They advocated transparency in public affairs, fought corruption and promoted human rights, freedom of information and freedom of association, among other things. All these activities make for a healthy democracy but are seen as threatening from the Kremlin’s ramparts.

“The new law on ‘undesirables’ comes in addition to one signed in 2012 that gave authorities the power to declare organizations ‘foreign agents’ if they engaged in any kind of politics and receive money from abroad. The designation, from the Stalin era, implies espionage.”

However, among the relevant points that the Post’s editors wouldn’t tell their readers was the fact that Russia’s Foreign Agent Registration Act was modeled after the American Foreign Agent Registration Act and that NED President Gershman had already publicly made clear — in his Sept. 26, 2013 column — that his goal was to oust Russia’s elected president.

In his July 28, 2015 column, Gershman further deemed Putin’s government illegitimate. “Russia’s newest anti-NGO law, under which the National Endowment for Democracy … was declared an “undesirable organization” prohibited from operating in Russia, is the latest evidence that the regime of President Vladimir Putin faces a worsening crisis of political legitimacy,” Gershman wrote, adding:

“This is the context in which Russia has passed the law prohibiting Russian democrats from getting any international assistance to promote freedom of expression, the rule of law and a democratic political system. Significantly, democrats have not backed down. They have not been deterred by the criminal penalties contained in the ‘foreign agents’ law and other repressive laws. They know that these laws contradict international law, which allows for such aid, and that the laws are meant to block a better future for Russia.”

The reference to how a “foreign agents” registration law conflicts with international law might have been a good place for Gershman to explain why what is good for the goose in the United States isn’t good for the gander in Russia. But hypocrisy is a hard thing to rationalize and would have undermined the propagandistic impact of the column.

Also undercutting the column’s impact would be an acknowledgement of where NED’s money comes from. So Gershman left that out, too. After all, how many governments would allow a hostile foreign power to sponsor politicians and civic organizations whose mission is to undermine and overthrow the existing government and put in someone who would be compliant to that foreign power?

And, if you had any doubts about what Gershman’s intent was regarding Russia, he dispelled them in his Friday column in which he calls on the United States to “summon the will” to “contain and defeat this danger,” which he makes clear is the continued rule of Vladimir Putin.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of Perception Management.“]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Dangers from ‘Humanitarian’ Wars

The West is rushing toward another major war in the Middle East, in Syria, behind the “responsibility to protect” banner, which may justify endless U.S. military interventions, says Conn Hallinan at Foreign Policy in Focus.

By Conn Hallinan

While the mainstream media focuses on losers and winners in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a largely unreported debate is going on over the future course of U.S. diplomacy. Its outcome will have a profound effect on how Washington projects power — both diplomatic and military — in the coming decade.

The issues at stake are hardly abstract. The United States is currently engaged in active wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. It has deployed troops on the Russian border, played push-and-shove with China in Asia, and greatly extended its military footprint on the African continent. It would not be an exaggeration to say — as former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry has recently done — that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was during darkest times of the Cold War.

Tracking the outlines of this argument is not easy, in part because the participants are not always forthcoming about what they are proposing, in part because the media oversimplifies the issues.

In its broadest framework, “realists” represented by former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Harvard’s Steven Walt, and University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer have squared off against “humanitarian interventionists” like current UN Ambassador Samantha Power. Given that Power is a key adviser to the Obama administration on foreign policy and is likely to play a similar role if Clinton is elected, her views carry weight.

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Power asks, “How is a statesman to advance his nation’s interests?” She begins by hijacking the realist position that U.S. diplomacy must reflect “national interests,” arguing that they are indistinguishable from “moral values.” What happens to people in other countries, she argues, is in our “national security.”

Ambassador Power — along with Clinton and former President Bill Clinton — has long been an advocate for “humanitarian intervention,” behind which the United States intervened in the Yugoslav civil war. Humanitarian intervention has since been formalized into “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, and was the rationale for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Hillary Clinton has argued forcibly for applying R2P to Syria by setting up “no-fly zones” to block Syrian and Russian planes from bombing insurgents and the civilians under their control.

But Power is proposing something different than humanitarian intervention. She is suggesting that the United States elevate R2P to the level of national security, which sounds uncomfortably like an argument for U.S. intervention in any place that doesn’t emulate the American system.

Facing Off Against the Kremlin

Most telling is her choice of examples: Russia, China, and Venezuela, all currently in Washington’s crosshairs. Of these, she spends the most time on Moscow and the current crisis in Ukraine, where she accuses the Russians of weakening a “core independent norm” by supporting insurgents in Ukraine’s east, “lopping off part of a neighboring country” by seizing Crimea, and suppressing the news of Russian intervention from its own people. Were the Russian media to report on the situation in Ukraine, she writes, “many Russians might well oppose” the conflict.

Power presents no evidence for this statement because none exists. Regardless of what one thinks of Moscow’s role in Ukraine, the vast majority of Russians are not only aware of it, but overwhelmingly support President Vladimir Putin on the issue. From the average Russian’s point of view, NATO has been steadily marching eastwards since the end of the Yugoslav war. It is Americans who are deployed in the Baltic and Poland, not Russians gathering on the borders of Canada and Mexico. Russians are a tad sensitive about their borders, given the tens of millions they lost in World War II, something of which Power seems oblivious.

What Power seems incapable of doing is seeing how countries like China and Russia view the United States. That point of view is an essential skill in international diplomacy, because it is how one determines whether or not an opponent poses a serious threat to one’s national security.

Is Russia — as President Obama recently told the U.N. — really “attempting to recover lost glory through force,” or is Moscow reacting to what it perceives as a threat to its own national security? Russia did not intervene in Ukraine until the United States and its NATO allies supported the coup against the President Viktor Yanukovych’s government and ditched an agreement that had been hammered out among the European Union, Moscow, and the United States to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Power argues that there was no coup, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt were caught on tape talking about how to “mid-wife” the takeover and choose the person they wanted to put in place.

As for “lopping off” Crimea, Power had no problem with the United States and NATO “lopping off” Kosovo from Serbia in the Yugoslav War. In both cases local populations — in Crimea by 96 percent — supported the “takeovers.”

Understanding how other countries see the world does not mean one need agree with them, but there is nothing in Moscow’s actions that suggests that it is trying to re-establish an “empire,” as Obama characterized its behavior in his recent speech to the U.N.

When Hillary Clinton compared Putin to Hitler, she equated Russia with Nazi Germany, which certainly posed an existential threat to our national security. But does anyone think that comparison is valid? In 1939, Germany was the most powerful country in Europe with a massive military. Russia has the 11th largest economy in the world, trailing even France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Brazil. Turkey has a larger army.

Power’s view of what is good for the Russian people is a case in point. Although one can hardly admire the oligarchy that dominates Russia — and the last election would seem to indicate considerable voter apathy in the country’s urban centers — the “liberals” whom Power is so enamored with were the people who instituted the economic “shock therapy” in the 1990s that impoverished tens of millions of people and brought about a calamitous drop in life expectancy.

That track record is unlikely to get one elected. In any case, Americans are hardly in a position these days to lecture people about the role oligarchic wealth plays in manipulating elections.

View from China

The Chinese are intolerant of internal dissent, but Washington’s argument with Beijing is over sea lanes, not voter rolls.

China is acting the bully in the South China Sea, but it was President Bill Clinton who sparked the current tensions in the region when he deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Straits in 1995-96 during a tense standoff between Taipei and the mainland. China did not then — and does not now — have the capacity to invade Taiwan, so Beijing’s threats were not real.

But the aircraft carriers were very real, and they humiliated — and scared — China in its home waters. That incident directly led to China’s current accelerated military spending and its heavy-handed actions in the South China Sea.

Again, there is a long history here. Starting with the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1860, followed by the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 and Tokyo’s invasion of China in World War II, the Chinese have been invaded and humiliated time and again. Beijing believes that the Obama administration designed its “Asia pivot” as to surround China with U.S. allies.

While that might be an over simplification — the Pacific has long been America’s largest market — it is a perfectly rational conclusion to draw from the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia, the positioning of nuclear-capable forces in Guam and Wake, the siting of anti-ballistic missile systems in South Korea and Japan, and the attempt to tighten military ties with India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Meanwhile in Latin America…

As for Venezuela, the U.S. supported the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez and has led a campaign of hostility against the government ever since. For all its problems, the Chavez government cut poverty rates from 54.5 percent of the population to 32 percent, and extreme poverty from around 20 percent to 8.6 percent. Infant mortality fell from 25 per 1,000 to 13 per 1,000, the same as for Black Americans.

And the concern for the democratic rights of Venezuelans apparently doesn’t extend to the people of Honduras. When a military coup overthrew a progressive government in 2009, the United States pressed other Latin American countries to recognize the illegal government that took over in its wake. Although opposition forces in Venezuela get tear-gassed and a handful jailed, in Honduras they are murdered by death squads.

Power’s view that the United States stands for virtue instead of simply pursuing its own interests is a uniquely American delusion. “This is an image that Americans have of themselves,” says Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “but is not shared, even by their allies.”

The “division” between “realists” and R2P is an illusion. Both end up in the same place: confronting our supposed competitors and supporting our allies, regardless of how they treat their people. Although she is quick to call the Russians in Syria “barbarous,” she is conspicuously silent on U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen, which has targeted hospitals, markets and civilians.

The argument that another country’s internal politics is a national security issue for the United States elevates R2P to a new level, sets the bar for military intervention a good deal lower than it is today, and lays the groundwork for an interventionist foreign policy that will make the Obama administration look positively pacifist.

Looking Toward November

It is impossible to separate this debate on foreign policy from the current race for the White House. Clinton has been hawkish on most international issues, and she is not shy about military intervention.

She has also surrounded herself with some of the same people who designed the Iraq war, including founders of the Project for a New American Century. It is rumored that if she wins she will appoint former Defense Department official Michele Flournoy as secretary of defense. Flournoy has called for bombing Assad’s forces in Syria.

On the other hand, Trump has been less than coherent. He has made some reasonable statements about cooperating with the Russians and some distinctly scary ones about China. He says he is opposed to military interventions, although he supported the war in Iraq (and now lies about it). He is alarmingly casual about the use of nuclear weapons.

In Foreign Affairs, Stephen Walt, a leading “realist,” says that Trump’s willingness to consider breaking the nuclear taboo makes him someone who “has no business being commander in chief.” Other countries, writes Walt, “are already worried about American power and the ways it gets used. The last thing we need is an American equivalent of the impetuous and bombastic Kaiser Wilhelm II.” The Kaiser was a major force behind World War I, a conflict that inflicted 38 million casualties.

Whoever wins in November will face a world in which Washington can’t call all the shots. As Middle East expert Patrick Cockburn points out, “The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was.” Although it can overthrow regimes it doesn’t like, “it can’t replace what has been destroyed.”

Power’s framework for diplomacy is a formula for a never-ending cycle of war and instability.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middlemepireseries.wordpress.com. [This article previously appeared at Foreign Policy in Focus, http://fpif.org/u-s-diplomacy-dangerous-proposal/]




The Forgotten Libyan Lessons and the Syrian War

Exclusive: Western leaders are plotting to bomb another Mideast nation, this time Syria, citing “humanitarianism.” But similar claims in Iraq and Libya were deceptive and ended up killing far more people than were “saved,” says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Most intelligent Americans – Republicans as well as Democrats – now accept that they were duped into the Iraq War with disastrous consequences, but there is more uncertainty about the war on Libya in 2011 as well as the ongoing proxy war on Syria and the New Cold War showdown with Russia over Ukraine.

Today, many Democrats don’t want to admit that they have been manipulated into supporting new imperial adventures against Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Russia by the Obama administration as it pulls some of the same propaganda strings that George W. Bush’s administration did in 2002-2003.

Yet, as happened with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we have seen a similar hysteria about the evil doings of the newly demonized foreign leaders with the predictable Hitler allusions and vague explanations about how some terrible misdeeds halfway around the world threaten U.S. interests.

Though people mostly remember the false WMD claims about Iraq, much of the case for the invasion was based on protecting “human rights,” spreading “democracy,” and eliminating a supporter of Palestinians who were violently resisting Israeli rule.

The justification for aggression against Iraq was not only to save Americans from the supposed risk of Iraq somehow unleashing poison gas on U.S. cities but to free the Iraqis from a brutal dictator, the argument which explained why Bush’s neocon advisers predicted that Iraqis would shower American troops with rose petals and candies.

Those same “humanitarian” arguments were out in force to justify the U.S.-European “regime change” in Libya eight years later. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted – even this year – Muammar Gaddafi was a “genocidal” dictator bent on slaughtering the people of eastern Libya (though Gaddafi insisted that he was only interested in killing the “terrorists”).

After a frenzied media reaction to Gaddafi’s supposedly genocidal plans, Western nations argued that the world had a “responsibility to protect” Libyan civilians, a concept known as “R2P.” In haste, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to protect civilians by imposing a “no-fly zone” over eastern Libya.

But the subsequent invasion involved U.S.-coordinated air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces and European Special Forces on the ground working with anti-Gaddafi rebels. Before long, the “no-fly zone” had expanded into a full-scale “regime change” operation, ending in the slaughter of many young Libyan soldiers and the sodomy-with-a-knife-then-murder of Gaddafi.

As Western leaders celebrated — Secretary Clinton exulted  “We came, we saw, he died” — Libyans began the hard work of trying to restructure their political system amid roaming bands of heavily armed jihadist rebels. Soon, it became clear that restoring order would not be easy and that Gaddafi was right about the presence of terrorists in Benghazi (when some overran the U.S. consulate killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.)

Libya, which once had an enviable standard of living based on its oil riches, slid into the status of failed state, now with three governments competing for control and with jihadist militias, including some associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, disrupting the nation. The result has been a far worse humanitarian crisis than existed before the West invaded.

Lessons from Libya

So, there should be lessons learned from Libya, just as there should have been lessons learned from Iraq. But the U.S. political/media establishment has refused to perform a serious autopsy of these monumental failures (U.S. inquiries only looked narrowly at the WMD falsehoods about Iraq and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for Libya). So, it has fallen to the British to take a broader view.

The British inquiries have had their own limitations, but the Chilcot report on Iraq catalogued many of the flawed decisions that led Prime Minister Tony Blair to sign up for President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” — and a recent parliamentary report revealed how Prime Minister David Cameron fell into a similar pattern regarding Libya and President Obama.

Of course, it’s always easier to detect the manipulations and deceptions in hindsight. In real time, the career pressures on politicians, bureaucrats and journalists can overwhelm any normal sense of skepticism. As the propaganda and disinformation swirl around them, all the “smart” people agree that “something must be done” and that usually means bombing someone.

We are seeing the same pattern play out today with the “group think” in support of a major U.S. military intervention in Syria (supposedly to impose the sweet-sounding goal of a “no-fly zone,” the same rhetorical gateway used to start the “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya).

We are experiencing the same demonization of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin that we witnessed before those other two wars on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Every possible allegation is made against them, often based on dubious and deceitful “evidence,” but it goes unchallenged because to question the propaganda opens a person to charges of being an “apologist” or a “stooge.”

Past Is Prologue

But looking back on how the disasters in Iraq and Libya unfolded is not just about the past; it’s about the present and future.

In that sense, the findings by the U.K. parliament’s foreign affairs committee regarding Libya deserved more attention than they received because they demonstrated that the Iraq case was not a one-off anomaly but rather part of a new way to rationalize imperial wars.

And the findings showed that these tactics are bipartisan, used by all four major parties in the U.S. and U.K.: Bush was a Republican; Blair was Labour; Obama a Democrat; and Cameron a Conservative. Though the nuances may differ slightly, the outcomes have been the same.

The U.K. report also stripped away many of the humanitarian arguments used to sell the Libyan war and revealed the crass self-interest beneath. For instance, the French, who helped spearhead the Libyan conflict, publicly lamented the suffering of civilians but privately were eager to grab a bigger oil stake in Libya and to block Gaddafi’s plans to supplant the French currency in ex-French colonies of Africa.

The report cited an April 2, 2011 email to Secretary of State Clinton from her unofficial adviser Sidney Blumenthal explaining what French intelligence officers were saying privately about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s real motives for pushing for the military intervention in Libya:

“a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production, b. Increase French influence in North Africa, c. Improve his internal political situation in France, d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world, e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.”

Regarding France’s “humanitarian” public rationale, the U.K. report quoted then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé as warning the U.N. about the imminence of Gaddafi engaging in a mass slaughter of civilians: “We have very little time left — perhaps only a matter of hours.”

But the report added, “Subsequent analysis suggested that the immediate threat to civilians was being publicly overstated and that [Gaddafi’s] reconquest of cities had not resulted in mass civilian casualties.”

The report also found that “Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate,” including the participation of Abdelhakim Belhadj and other members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. A senior defense official said the jihadist danger was played down during the conflict but “with the benefit of hindsight, that was wishful thinking at best.”

The report stated: “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda.”

(This year, Belhadj and his jihadist militia were enlisted by U.S. officials to protect the U.S.-U.N.-backed “Government of National Accord,” which has failed to win over the support of rival factions, in part, because more secular Libyan leaders distrust Belhadj and resent outsiders deciding who should run Libya.)

Hyperbolic Claims

The U.K. committee criticized the West’s hyperbolic claims about Gaddafi’s intent to slaughter civilians in eastern Libya when his actions were making clear that wasn’t happening.

The report said:  “Muammar Gaddafi’s actions in February and March 2011 demonstrated an appreciation of the delicate tribal and regional nature of Libya that was absent in UK policymaking. In particular, his forces did not take violent retribution against civilians in towns and cities on the road to Benghazi. [North Africa analyst] Alison Pargeter told us that any such reprisals would have ‘alienated a lot of the tribes in the east of Libya’ on which the Gaddafi regime relied. …

“Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011. …

“During fighting in Misrata, the hospital recorded 257 people killed and 949 people wounded in February and March 2011. Those casualties included 22 women and eight children. Libyan doctors told United Nations investigators that Tripoli’s morgues contained more than 200 corpses following fighting in late February 2011, of whom two were female. The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians.”

The report added: “On 17 March 2011, Muammar Gaddafi announced to the rebels in Benghazi, ‘Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.’ Subsequent investigation revealed that when Gaddafi regime forces retook Ajdabiya in February 2011, they did not attack civilians. Muammar Gaddafi also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops.”

In another reprise from the Iraq War run-up, the U.K. inquiry determined that Libyan exiles played key roles in exaggerating the dangers from Gaddafi, much like the Iraqi National Congress did in fabricating supposed “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s WMD. The report said:

“We were told that émigrés opposed to Muammar Gaddafi exploited unrest in Libya by overstating the threat to civilians and encouraging Western powers to intervene. In the course of his 40-year dictatorship Muammar Gaddafi had acquired many enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, who were similarly prepared to exaggerate the threat to civilians.”

Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which currently is hyping horror stories in Syria, was doing the same in Libya, the U.K. committee learned.

“Alison Pargeter told us that the issue of mercenaries was amplified [with her saying]: ‘I also think the Arab media played a very important role here. Al-Jazeera in particular, but also al-Arabiya, were reporting that Gaddafi was using air strikes against people in Benghazi and, I think, were really hamming everything up, and it turned out not to be true.’”

Allegations Debunked

The report continued: “An Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence.

“The investigation concluded that much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge. …

“In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision’. We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. …

“It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”

If any of this sounds familiar – echoing the pre-coup reporting from Ukraine in 2013-2014 or the current coverage in Syria – it should. In all those cases, Western diplomats and journalists put white hats on one side and black hats on the other, presenting a simplistic, imbalanced account of the complicated religious, ethnic and political aspects of these crises.

The U.K. report also exposed how the original goal of protecting civilians merged seamlessly into a “regime change” war. The report said:

“The combination of coalition airpower with the supply of arms, intelligence and personnel to the rebels guaranteed the military defeat of the Gaddafi regime. On 20 March 2011, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces retreated some 40 miles from Benghazi following attacks by French aircraft. If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi, then this objective was achieved in less than 24 hours.

“The basis for intervention: did it change? We questioned why NATO conducted air operations across Libya between April and October 2011 when it had secured the protection of civilians in Benghazi in March 2011. … We asked [former chief of defense staff] Lord Richards whether the object of British policy in Libya was civilian protection or regime change. He told us that ‘one thing morphed almost ineluctably into the other’ as the campaign developed its own momentum. … The UK’s intervention in Libya was reactive and did not comprise action in pursuit of a strategic objective. This meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.”

Less destructive options were also ignored, the report found: “Saif Gaddafi is the second son of Muammar Gaddafi. He was a member of his father’s inner circle and exercised influence in Libya. … Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who knew the Gaddafi regime better than most Western politicians, confirmed that Saif Gaddafi was ‘the best, if not the only prospect’ of effecting political change in Libya.” But that opportunity was rebuffed as was the possibility of arranging Gaddafi’s surrender of power and exile, the report said, adding:

“It was therefore important to keep the lines of communication open. However, we saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts. Mr Blair explained that both Mr Cameron and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware that he was communicating with Muammar Gaddafi. We asked Mr Blair to describe Mr Cameron’s reaction to his conversations with Muammar Gaddafi. He told us that Mr Cameron ‘was merely listening’.

“Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of [U.N.] Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan [to protect civilians] and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya.”

Spreading Disorder

There was also the consequence of the Libyan conflict, spreading disorder around the region because Libyan military stockpiles were plundered. The report said: “Libya purchased some £30 billion [or about $38 billion] of weapons and ammunition between 1969 and 2010. Many of those munitions were not issued to the Libyan Army and were instead stored in warehouses. After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, some weapons and ammunition remained in Libya, where they fell into the hands of the militias. Other Libyan weapons and ammunition were trafficked across North and West Africa and the Middle East.

“The United Nations Panel of Experts appointed to examine the impact of Resolution 1973 identified the presence of ex-Libyan weapons in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Gaza, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria. The panel concluded that ‘arms originating from Libya have significantly reinforced the military capacity of terrorist groups operating in Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia.’ …

“The international community’s inability to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime fuelled instability in Libya and enabled and increased terrorism across North and West Africa and the Middle East. The UK Government correctly identified the need to secure weapons immediately after the 2011 Libyan civil war, but it and its international partners took insufficient action to achieve that objective. However, it is probable that none of the states that intervened in Libya would have been prepared to commit the necessary military and political resources to secure stocks of weapons and ammunition. That consideration should have informed their calculation to intervene.”

Despite these findings, the Obama administration and its allies are considering an escalation of their military intervention in Syria, which already has involved arming and training jihadists who include Al Qaeda militants as well as supposedly “moderate” fighters, who have aligned themselves with Al Qaeda and handed over sophisticated American weaponry.

The U.S. military has spearheaded a bombing campaign against Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State, inside Syria. But the Obama administration sometimes has put its desire to oust Assad ahead of its supposed priority of fighting the Islamic State, such as when U.S. air power pulled back from bombing Islamic State militants in 2015 as they were overrunning Syrian army positions at the historic city of Palmyra.

Now, with Syria and its Russian ally resorting to intense bombing to root Al Qaeda and its allies, including some of those U.S.-armed “moderates,” from their strongholds in eastern Aleppo, there is a full-throated demand from the West, including virtually all major media outlets, to impose a “no-fly zone,” like the one that preceded the “regime change” in Libya.

While such interventions may “feel good” – and perhaps there’s a hunger to see Assad murdered like Gaddafi – there is little or no careful analysis about what is likely to follow.

The most likely outcome from a Syrian “regime change” is a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its erstwhile friends in the Islamic State. How that would make the lives of Syrians better is hard to fathom. More likely, the victorious jihadists would inflict a mass bloodletting on Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other “heretics,” with millions more fleeing as refugees.

Among the Western elites – in politics and media – no lessons apparently have been learned from the disaster in Iraq, nor from the new British report on the Libyan fiasco.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




To Fight Global Warming, Canada Ponders a Carbon Tax

Exclusive: While the gridlocked U.S. political process freezes progress in the fight against global warming, Canada is considering a national tax on carbon emissions to give a boost to renewables, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Canada can take credit for many great innovations, from insulin and peanut butter to Trivial Pursuit and basketball (Dr. James Naismith was Canadian). But one of its best may be a bold new nationwide policy of taxing carbon emissions to fight global warming.

The new plan, applauded by environmentalists, requires provinces and territories to begin imposing a tax of at least $10 (Canadian) a ton on carbon emissions by 2018, rising to C$50 by 2022. (In the United States, a tax of $20 per ton of emissions would raise the price of gasoline by about 20 cents per gallon.)

It’s a tried-and-true — if highly controversial — means of creating market incentives to shift consumer behavior and promote innovations that are needed to rescue humanity from the dire prospects of climate change.

More than a dozen leading Canadian CEOs — including a former president of Shell Canada — endorsed the proposal, calling it “the most economically effective way to reduce emissions and stimulate clean innovation – which will be critical to Canada’s success in a changing global economy.”

The United States has ducked the issue ever since anti-Obama Republicans and industry-funded lobbyists killed national legislation to develop a “cap-and-trade” system to limit unsustainable emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, industry and other sectors of the economy. House Republicans followed up in 2013 by voting to prohibit the government from putting any kind of price on carbon emissions.

Instead, President Obama has had to fall back on clumsy regulatory initiatives, still tangled up in the courts, to press states to reduce their carbon emissions by unspecified means.

Many experts across the political spectrum, including conservatives, business leaders and environmentalists, agree with four former Republican heads of the Environmental Protection Agency that “A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.” They lamented that such an efficient policy was “unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington.”

Like them, President George W. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, Harvard University’s Greg Mankiw, declared that taxing carbon emissions to curb global climate disruption is “largely a no-brainer.”

“One of the beauties of a carbon tax, for me, is that it makes a lot of other policies [and regulations] less necessary,” Mankiw told an interviewer last year. “You let the market work it out. . . A carbon tax automatically incentivizes low-carbon forms of energy, so . . . wind and solar and technologies we haven’t even heard of yet are going to have an advantage relative to coal. People will automatically start thinking that electric cars are better than gas-powered cars. . . [But] the private market won’t do the right thing unless we put the price on this scarce resource.”

Carbon emissions are now priced, one way or another, in Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden and the state of California. Carbon taxes also had a brief but effective life in Australia, until repealed in 2014.

Success in British Columbia

Canada is home to one of the greatest success stories for carbon taxes. In 2008, British Columbia, the country’s third-largest province, introduced a tax on carbon dioxide of C$10 per ton, which rose to C$30 by 2012. It covers all major fuels, including natural gas, coal and gasoline.

To make the tax political palatable, even popular, the provincial government cut business and personal income tax rates and provided tax credits for many low-income residents. By 2012, British Columbia had the lowest personal income tax rate and one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in Canada.

The environmental results were striking. Over the period 2008 to 2013 (the last year for which data are available), per capita carbon emissions plummeted 13 percent compared to the baseline period 2000 to 2007. That drop was three-and-a-half times greater than the reduction across the rest of Canada.

Following introduction of the tax, British Columbia enjoyed slightly faster economic growth than the rest of Canada as well. And a team of economists concluded in 2015 that the net impact of the tax on income distribution in the province was “highly progressive.”

For the 10 years that Canada was ruled by the Conservative Party, which drew much of its funding from Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the national government rebuffed every call to emulate British Columbia’s success.

Since the Conservatives were trounced in the last national elections, however, “ever-wide cracks” have developed “in the Conservative facade of opposition to a proactive climate change strategy,” according to Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert.

Ontario’s conservative leader, Patrick Brown, told a congress of party delegates in March, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made. We have to do something about it, and that something includes putting a price on carbon.”

Beholden to the oil, gas and coal industries, and billionaire petrochemical producers like the Koch brothers, U.S. Republican leaders continue to insist, with Donald Trump, that global warming is a “hoax” or a matter of natural weather changes. The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists, of course, refutes their toxic disinformation and discredits their political obstructionism.

Scientific facts may not sway Washington, but if Canada makes as great a nationwide success of carbon taxes as British Columbia achieved, its example may yet trickle down south to the United States. Then, if history is any guide, Americans will embrace the policy as a smart innovation that was invented in Canada first. Just like basketball.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.




The Joint US-Saudi Guilt for 9/11

Exclusive: As guilty as Saudi Arabia may be over 9/11, the broader guilt is shared by generations of U.S. officials who coddled Saudi extremism and cooperated in building a jihadist movement for geo-political gain, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

In a stunning repudiation of Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, Congress has overridden a presidential veto and confirmed that 9/11 survivors can sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

The vote was a rare victory in a global political system in which the major powers routinely roll over ordinary civilians the way a tank rolls over a daisy. Whether it’s a Yemeni wedding party pulverized by an errant bomb or a terrified office worker plummeting through space to escape the fire on 9/11, these are the sorts of people whom drone operators call “bug splats,” individuals whose bloody remnants must be wiped away as quickly as possible so that the war machine can continue on its way. But now it looks like some of their surviving families may finally get their day in court.

As wonderful as this is, there’s a problem. JASTA, as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is universally known, goes after the wrong people. Yes, Saudi hands are all over 9/11. As the inestimable Kristen Breitweiser has pointed out the long-suppressed 28-page chapter (actually 29) of the Joint Congressional Report dealing with the Saudi role in 9/11 was a bombshell no matter how Washington and Riyadh try to deny it.

It described one link after another between Saudi officials and the 19 hijackers, 15 of them Saudi subjects. It notes, for instance, that the FBI received “numerous reports from individuals in the Muslim community” that Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who helped two of the hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., was a Saudi intelligence officer.

It says that Osama Bassnan, whom it describes as a supporter of Osama bin Laden, may have “received funding and possibly a fake passport from Saudi Government officials”; that he and his wife may also have received financial support from Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, and that he received “a significant amount of cash” from another member of the royal family as well.

The report cites FBI documents saying that a phone book owned by Abu Zubaida, a senior Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan, contained the unlisted number of the company that manages Bin Sultan’s vacation home in Aspen, Colorado.

Such links are remarkable, and if JASTA enables 9/11 survivors to pursue them further, then it’s all to the good. Still, the legislation overlooks one all-important fact: 9/11 in the final analysis was less a Saudi job than an American one.

This doesn’t mean that the CIA wired the Twin Towers with explosives or that Mossad somehow engineered the hijacking. What it means, rather, is that Washington has shaped the U.S.-Saudi relationship from the start and that it therefore must take responsibility for the horrors that have followed.

Made in the USA

The degree to which Saudi Arabia was made in the USA is often overlooked. But before the United States happened on the scene in the early 1930s, the kingdom was a great empty zone consisting of goats, flies, sand dunes, and a few thousand fanatical jihadis whom the British had no trouble taking care of when they threatened their holdings in neighboring Iraq and Jordan.

King Ibn Saud, whose stronghold was a desolate plateau known as Najd, was himself virtually a U.K. prisoner. Indeed, this is why he brought in American geologists when it appeared that significant oil deposits might lie beneath his country’s shifting sands. An alliance with the U.S. was his only hope of getting out from under Britain’s thumb.

Ibn Saud was a wily operator who eventually figured out how to use his oil wealth to gain leverage over U.S. oil companies as well. But leverage doesn’t mean independence. To the contrary, it meant a deepening partnership with the U.S. that the Americans encouraged at every turn.

So durable was the relationship that events that should have torn it apart only made it stronger. The most obvious is the 1973 Yom Kippur War when America’s pro-Israel policies led the Saudis to impose an oil embargo that quickly brought capitalism to its knees. Although President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger briefly considered seizing Saudi oil fields in retaliation, they eventually opted for an opposite policy based on ever closer economic integration.

With oil prices jumping six-fold in real terms by 1980, Saudi Arabia blossomed into an economic powerhouse, a mass consumer of everything from oil equipment to refrigerators, air conditioners, and cars. American anger soon dissipated. The country was the new El Dorado.

The Iranian Revolution in February 1979 might also have undermined the budding new relationship by sending a clear message that the Persian Gulf was deeply unstable and that the U.S. would be foolish to grow overly reliant on energy from such a dangerous source. The same goes for the seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by ultra-Wahhabist militants the following November. It also highlighted the political fault lines coursing through the region, which might also have caused the U.S. to back off.

But instead, the U.S. responded by embracing the Saudis ever more tightly. Although Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already begun sponsoring an Islamic fundamentalist revolt in Afghanistan, the Soviet incursion that followed in late December 1979 sealed the deal on what was to become one of the most durable marriages in modern diplomatic history.

Soon, under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. and Saudis would be partners not only in fomenting Afghan jihad, but in other ventures as well such as channeling funds to the Nicaraguan Contras or to the South African-backed guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

This was an age of off-shoring when Wall Street moved its financial operations overseas in order to escape the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Reagan administration did the same with covert operations in order to escape an increasingly intrusive Congress.

But just as one shouldn’t blame the Cayman Islands for the consequences, one shouldn’t blame the Saudis either. To be sure, the latter reaped enormous benefits in the form of economic and military security, not to mention trillions in oil revenue. But the U.S. benefited even more.

Bleeding the Soviets

Not only did Saudi-fueled jihad bleed the Soviets dry in Afghanistan, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia acquired sufficient leverage to manipulate the energy markets to Soviet disadvantage. U.S. control should not be exaggerated; America was having as hard a time as everyone else maintaining its balance amid economic turbulence of the day.

But the combination of steep price hikes in the 1970s and an equally dizzying plunge in the 1980s had the effect of first encouraging Russia’s dependence on international oil revenues and then slamming it to the ground when those revenues suddenly vanished. It was a one-two punch from which the Soviet economy never recovered.

Combined with the punishing war in Afghanistan, the results soon proved fatal. When the Nouvel Observateur caught up with Brzezinski in 1998 and asked him if he regretted stirring up Islamic fundamentalism, he shot back:

“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet Empire….

“What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

And, for these American global chess players, the benefits kept on coming. The Saudis also helped the U.S. roll back leftwing influence across the Third World and then deal Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a punishing blow in the 1990-91 Gulf War, an awesome military display that doubled as a shot over the bow of neighboring Iran.

Riyadh sent mujahedeen to Bosnia where the U.S. was anxious to reduce Russian influence and to Chechnya where the threat to Russian interests was even more direct.

But then the relationship unraveled when Osama bin Laden began striking at Western targets, most notably U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya where more than 200 people died in simultaneous bombings in August 1998 and then the USS Cole in October 2000. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 months later was of course the final straw.

An Enduring Bond

So why didn’t the U.S. cut its losses by severing the Saudi partnership? Didn’t it realize that the costs were beginning to outweigh the benefits? The reason is that it knew that it was complicit in the Saudi terror campaign and that the Saudis knew it too. The two countries were in it together. Both had shown staggering recklessness and duplicity in their dealings with Al Qaeda, and both therefore had too much to lose in the event of a mutual falling out.

The George W. Bush administration, moreover, was especially vulnerable. After the stolen election of 2000, Republicans knew that they faced mass destruction at the polls in 2004 if the full news about Bush’s incompetence got out. So a cover-up was even more essential for Washington than it was for Riyadh.

This is why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began pushing for an invasion of Iraq the morning after the Twin Towers attack. Although all evidence pointed to the Saudis, he wanted to deflect attention from Riyadh and place it on Baghdad instead. The same goes for Vice President Dick Cheney who, as Breitweiser notes, opposed a special investigation into 9/11 on the grounds that it would somehow interfere with efforts to ward off incidents that were undoubtedly on the way.

As Cheney put it in May 2002: “An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists.  The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion.”

An investigation into 9/11 would divert attention from the more immediate task of taking out Iraq. Yet the reality was quite the other way around. Taking out Iraq would divert attention from an investigation into 9/11. The 2003 invasion can thus be seen as a vast diversionary effort.

Its goal was to deflect attention from the real culprits, which is to say the U.S. and its Saudi partners, and shift it onto a country, Iraq, that, as former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke would later complain, had no more to do with 9/11 than Mexico did with Pearl Harbor. It was an exercise in mass deception that ended up costing an estimated $3 trillion and perhaps half a million lives.

To the degree that JASTA will help shift attention back to the Saudis, it is welcome. But if it takes aim at only one party in this grotesque pas-de-deux, and the less guilty one at that, then it could actually end up compounding the cover-up.

With oil down to $50 a barrel or so, Congress figures that the U.S. no longer has much need of Saudi Arabia and can therefore kick it while it’s down. Voting to allow the survivors’ lawsuit to go forward meant allowing it to take the fall, which is why it passed so overwhelmingly. But Riyadh should not accept the outcome without protest. Rather, it should do everything it can to take Washington down with it.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).




New ‘Group Think’ for War with Syria/Russia

Exclusive: Official Washington has a new “group think” that is even more dangerous than the one that led to the Iraq War. This one calls for U.S. escalation of conflicts against Syria and nuclear-armed Russia, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Not since the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has Official Washington’s political/punditry class clamored more single-mindedly – and openly – for the U.S. government to commit a gross violation of international law, now urging a major military assault on the government of Syria while also escalating tensions with nuclear-armed Russia.

And, like the frenzied war fever of 2002-2003, today’s lawless consensus is operating on a mix of selective, dubious and false information – while excluding from the public debate voices that might dare challenge the prevailing “group think.” It’s as if nothing was learned from the previous disaster in Iraq.

Most notably, there are two key facts about Syria that Americans are not being told: one, U.S. regional “allies” have been funding and arming radical jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda terrorists, there almost since the conflict began in 2011 and, two, the claim about “moderate” Syrian rebels is a fraud; the “moderates” have served essentially as a P.R. cut-out for the U.S. and its “allies” to supply Al Qaeda and its allies with sophisticated weapons while pretending not to.

For Americans who may find those two points hard to believe, they should remember that the United States and Saudi Arabia went in 50/50 with billions of dollars to finance the jihadist mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, viewing these religious fanatics as a useful “tip of the spear” to kill Soviet troops who were defending the leftist secular regime then governing in Kabul.

That exercise in U.S.-Saudi realpolitik gave birth to the modern jihadist movement, bringing together a network of foreign jihadists, led by Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden (which morphed into Al Qaeda), with Afghan/Pakistani extremists who evolved into the Taliban.

Though U.S. officials eventually came to fear this Frankenstein monster that they had helped create, Saudi intelligence continued to work with Al Qaeda and its affiliates, using them as a kind of international paramilitary force to punish Saudi enemies, particularly Shiite-dominated governments, from Iran to Syria to now Iraq.

The Saudis also began collaborating with Israel, which shared Riyadh’s view that Iran and the “Shiite crescent” represented a strategic threat. Between Saudi money and Israeli political clout, the two countries could fend off occasional fits of U.S. anger, even to the point of getting the U.S. government to hide a 29-page chapter about Saudi financing for the 9/11 hijackers from the congressional 9/11 report for a dozen years.

For the past five years, the principal target of this powerful coalition has been Syria, with President Obama occasionally joining in – as he did in authorizing “covert” CIA and Pentagon programs to arm “moderate” rebels – and occasionally bowing out – as he did in resisting pressure to bomb the Syrian military after a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

In summer 2014, when Al Qaeda’s spin-off, the Islamic State, began beheading Western hostages, Obama authorized bombing inside Syria but only against the Islamic State, which also had overrun large sections of Iraq and threatened the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad. (Obama’s bombing inside Syria was not authorized by the Syrian government so it was illegal under international law but Syria didn’t press the point as long as the U.S. coalition was attacking forces regarded as terrorists.)

New U.S. Hysteria

This more complex reality is completely missing in the new round of political/press hysteria in the United States. The neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks only talk about stopping the “barbarism” of the Syrian government and its Russian allies as they try to finally wipe out Al Qaeda’s jihadists and their “moderate” allies holed up in eastern Aleppo.

Many of these calls for a U.S. military intervention against the Syrian government (and the Russians) are coming from the same advocates for war who created the misguided consensus for invading Iraq in 2002-2003, voices such as Sen. John McCain, Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. And, much like the Iraq example, these esteemed opinion-leaders pile up their propaganda arguments in a one-sided fashion designed to silence the few voices that dare raise doubts.

This new “group think” has prevented Americans from looking at the Syrian situation with more nuance and objectivity. Indeed, if you mix in some of the other facts, the on-the-ground reality could be seen as the U.S. and its “allies” stoking the fire in Syria for five years and, now, as the Syrian military and Russian air power take drastic measures to finally get the blaze under some control, the U.S. government may bomb the firefighters and destroy their equipment.

Beyond the illegality of that action, how the U.S. military intervention is supposed to fix things in Syria is never discussed. By strengthening Al Qaeda and its “moderate” front men, the prospects for a longer and bloodier conflict are increased, not decreased.

The long-held neocon dream of a Syrian “regime change” – even if it could be accomplished – would only open the gates of Damascus to a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its spinoff, the Islamic State. How that would make life better for the Syrian people is another never addressed question. There is simply the pretense that somehow, magically, the “moderate” rebels would prevail, though they are only an auxiliary to Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.

The “group think” also doesn’t permit in the inconvenient truth that the recent collapse of the U.S.-Russia limited cease-fire was driven by the fact that the “moderate” rebels are so intertwined with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front – which recently underwent a cosmetic name change to the Levant (or Syria) Conquest Front – that the rebels can’t or won’t separate themselves.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets have sought to bury this reality because it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative of the U.S. fulfilling its commitments under the partial cease-fire agreement and blaming its collapse entirely on the Russians and their dastardly behavior.

One outlier in this propaganda barrage, ironically, has been Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which published a serious article on this key topic on Sept. 29. It said, “Some of Syria’s largest rebel factions are doubling down on their alliance with an al Qaeda-linked group, despite a U.S. warning to split from the extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes.

“The rebel gambit is complicating American counterterrorism efforts in the country at a time the U.S. is contemplating cooperation with Russia to fight extremist groups. It comes after a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire collapsed last week and the Syrian regime and its Russian allies immediately unleashed a devastating offensive against rebel-held parts of Aleppo city that brought harsh international condemnation. …

“The two powers have been considering jointly targeting Islamic State and the Syria Conquest Front — formerly known as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front — a group that is deeply intermingled with armed opposition groups of all stripes across Syria’s battlefields. The U.S. has also threatened to attack any rebels providing front-line support to the group. …

“Some rebel groups already aligned with Syria Conquest Front responded by renewing their alliance. But others, such as Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a former Central Intelligence Agency-backed group and one of the largest factions in Aleppo, said in recent days that they were joining a broader alliance that is dominated by the Front. A second, smaller rebel group also joined that alliance, which is known as Jaish al-Fateh and includes another major Islamist rebel force, Ahrar al-Sham. …

“In a call with Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian rebels ‘refused to follow the U.S.-Russian agreement…but instead merged with [Nusra Front].’”

Misleading the American People

So, isn’t that point relevant to understanding what is occurring in eastern Aleppo, an area essentially under the control of Al Qaeda terrorists? As horrible as war is, there is more than a whiff of hypocrisy when politicians and pundits, who cheered the U.S. Marines’ destruction of Fallujah during the Iraq occupation and who support driving the Islamic State out of the Iraqi city of Mosul, wax indignantly in outrage when the Syrian military seeks to remove Al Qaeda terrorists from one of its own cities.

There is also the issue of why writers who helped mislead the American people and the world into the catastrophe of the Iraq War were never held accountable and are now in position to whip up more war fever over Syria, Ukraine and Russia. Far from being held accountable, the propagandists who justified the criminal invasion of Iraq have been rewarded with plum assignments and golden careers.

For instance, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly wrote as flat fact that Iraq was hiding WMDs, is still today the editorial page editor of The Washington Post, urging a new U.S. war on Syria. The Times’ Friedman, who was infamously wrong about the Iraq War and pretty much everything else, is still considered a premier American columnist who is courted to make high-profile public appearances.

Now, Friedman wants to escalate tensions with nuclear-armed Russia, apparently with the sloppily thought-through mission of imposing another “regime change,” this time in Moscow. As unnerving as a nuclear showdown with Russia should be, Friedman starts his Wednesday column by fabricating a news item about a leak that supposedly revealed that Putin “owns $30 billion in property, hotels and factories across Russia and Europe, all disguised by front organizations and accounting charades.”

After going on for several paragraphs with his fake “news,” Friedman admits that “I made it up.” Ha-ha, so clever! Then, however, he cites what he claims is real news about Russia, including the dubious prosecutorial “report” blaming the Russians for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down on July 17, 2014. That “report” – actually a series of videos – had serious evidentiary gaps, logical problems and obvious bias, since it was driven largely by Ukraine’s notorious SBU intelligence service which the United Nations has accused of covering up torture.

But to Friedman, the allegations blaming Russia for the shoot-down were unassailable. He writes, “a Dutch-led investigation adduced irrefutable video evidence that Putin’s government not only trucked in the missile system used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane flying over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 civilians onboard, but also returned it to Russia the same night and then engaged in an elaborate cover-up.”

It might be noted that some of that “irrefutable video evidence” came in the form of computer-generated images of an alleged Russian Buk missile battery traveling down darkened Ukrainian roads, very persuasive scenes, much like Secretary of State Colin Powell showing computer-generated images of Iraq’s “mobile chemical weapons labs” in 2003, labs that didn’t exist.

It also might be remembered that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was also accused of mounting “an elaborate cover-up” of his WMD stockpiles, that also didn’t exist. The point being that slick presentations, which rely mostly on assertions and allude to untested evidence, aren’t always accurate. Skepticism is not only a sign of journalistic professionalism but is necessary to avoid horrible misjudgments, especially on questions of war and peace.

Blaming Russia for Everything

But Friedman just plunges ahead, also asserting that on Sept. 19, Russia bombed a U.N. relief convoy heading for Aleppo. In this case, Friedman cites U.S. intelligence officials who say that “almost certainly” Russia did it, although I had been told that some CIA analysts feared the attack was launched by Al Qaeda’s chief Syrian ally, Ahrar al-Sham, using a U.S.-made TOW missile. The United Nations also withdrew its initial assertion that the attack was an airstrike (although Friedman leaves that fact out, too).

This is not to say that the Russians are innocent in these terrible incidents. Further evidence might convincingly prove that they are guilty – and, if they are, accountability should be assessed as appropriate. Horrible errors happen in war, such as the U.S. airstrike that killed some 62 Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria on Sept. 17 as they were fighting off an attack by Islamic State militants.

The problem with propagandists like Friedman is that they ignore the illegal actions of the United States, including mounting military attacks on countries without United Nations’ authority or without the justification of self-defense, in other words, outside the realm of international law. It’s also illegal to supply weapons to terrorists, as has been occurring in Syria both directly by Saudi Arabia and other U.S. “allies” and indirectly by U.S. covert operations giving arms to “moderates” who then turn them over to Al Qaeda.

While putting on blinders regarding U.S. violations of international law and their human consequences, such as the Syrian refugee flow, the sanctimonious Friedman bizarrely blames Putin for this human suffering, too.

Friedman cites a scholar named Robert Litwak in claiming that “Putin’s departure from standard great-power competition — encouraging a flood of refugees and attacking the legitimacy of our political system — ‘is leading to shifts in global politics that could have revolutionary consequences, even if Putin is not motivated by revolutionary ideology.’”

Friedman’s solution to this highly questionable if not imaginary problem is to increase the pain on Putin and Russia, saying “it’s now clear that we have underestimated the pressure needed to produce effective engagement, and we’re going to have to step it up. This is not just about the politics of Syria and Ukraine anymore. It’s now also about America, Europe, basic civilized norms and the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

While it’s always tempting to dismiss Friedman as a nitwit, the sad reality is that he is an influential nitwit who helps shape “elite” American public opinion. He is now contributing to a new “group think” that is even more dangerous than the one he helped construct in 2002-2003 regarding the Iraq War.

Today, this new “group think,” which — like the Iraq one — is based on a false or selective reading of the facts, could lead to a nuclear war that could end life on the planet.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia?” and “Obama Warned to Defuse Tensions with Russia.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Unmourned Plutonium Disposal Deal

Exclusive: An apparent casualty of the New Cold War was a U.S.-Russian agreement for eliminating weapons-grade plutonium but the deal’s death is not being mourned by either side, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

Despite America’s constant demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin, few world leaders have collaborated as effectively with Washington on matters of critical national security, including overflight rights to Afghanistan, disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, and the agreement to prevent Iran from undertaking a nuclear weapons program.

Now he’s done it again. In the guise of punishing the United States by suspending a nuclear disarmament agreement, Putin has generously relieved the Obama administration of a budgetary headache of Excedrin proportions.

On Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending a bilateral agreement for the disposal of each side’s weapons-grade plutonium, complaining that Washington’s economic sanctions and military buildup in Eastern Europe have “radically changed” relations between the world’s two major nuclear powers.

“The Obama administration has done everything in its power to destroy the atmosphere of trust which could have encouraged cooperation,” the Russian foreign ministry explained. “We want Washington to understand that you cannot, with one hand, introduce sanctions against us . . . and with the other hand continue selective cooperation in areas where it suits them.”

An instant analysis by Stratfor, a private risk consulting firm, warned that “other nuclear disarmament cooperation deals between the United States and Russia are at risk of being undermined. The decision is likely an attempt to convey to Washington the price of cutting off dialogue on Syria and other issues.”

There’s some truth to that gloomy forecast. But Putin was well aware of Washington’s own eagerness to find a way out of the agreement due to the spiraling cost of compliance. He thus succeeded in sending a message without risking serious additional damage to the already frayed U.S.-Russia relationship.

The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, signed in 2000, commits the United States and Russia to dispose of a total of 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons, rendered surplus by the easing of Cold War tensions.

Besides signaling other countries that the United States and Russia were serious about slashing their nuclear arsenals, the agreement aimed to get rid of the plutonium in a way that minimizes the risk of nuclear theft or diversion.

The two parties agreed to dispose of most of the plutonium by mixing it with uranium to create “mixed-oxide” (MOX) fuel for “burning” in commercial nuclear reactors. But that step required construction of special facilities to create the fuel.

In the United States, planning began for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina. After years of research, development, and initial construction under the Bush and Obama administrations, however, the Department of Energy announced in 2013 that “This current plutonium disposition approach may be unaffordable, though, due to cost growth and fiscal pressure.”

Indeed, the total cost of the MOX program, including the plant and its operation, had soared from an estimated $3.1 billion in 2002 to $18 billion. This year, the Department of Energy reported that the MOX facility won’t be ready until — no joke — 2048.

Worse yet, commercial nuclear utilities don’t even want the fuel, whose use would raise a host of technical issues.

For its part, Russia agreed to dispose of most of its excess plutonium in special “fast-neutron” reactors optimized for the use of plutonium. Russia’s latest such plant was finally connected to the electric grid late last year, 31 years after the start of construction. Despite Russia’s pride in this technological achievement, construction cost billions of dollars and the reliability of the units has yet to be proven. One wonders if the Putin administration is also having second thoughts about the cost of compliance with the 2000 agreement.

Cheaper Disposal Options

Both countries have potentially much cheaper disposal options, including encasing and then burying the plutonium in a pit, which the Department of Energy estimates could save taxpayers $30 billion over several decades.

“The Obama administration actually approached Russian officials several years ago, seeking a potential modification to the agreement that would open a path to that approach,” notes Patrick Malone, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.

“The Russians’ announcement, as a result, is hardly a further blow to relations between the two countries. It means that Washington’s hands are arguably no longer tied by the agreement, allowing the next president to proceed with the burial option once the Energy Department solves a few remaining technical concerns.”

Or as noted arms control advocate Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, put it in a tweet, “There is a bright spot in the breakdown of the Russia plutonium deal: no need for the nuclear facility that’s costing US taxpayers billions.”

The only loser, ironically, stands to be the hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who dropped his usual opposition to arms control to embrace the plutonium accord because the giant MOX facility would bring jobs to his state.

The downward spiral of U.S.-Russia relations is very real and very dangerous. But it’s nonetheless reassuring that President Putin found a way to express his displeasure with Washington that simultaneously signals to insiders his continued willingness to cooperate.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.




The NYT’s Neocon ‘Downward Spiral’

Exclusive: Every day, The New York Times – America’s “paper of record” – sinks deeper into the swamp of propaganda, now reliably touting predictable neocon notions about the Middle East and Russia, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times’ downward spiral into a neoconservative propaganda sheet continues with another biased lead article, this one on how the Syrian war has heightened U.S.-Russia tensions. The article, bristling with blame for the Russians, leaves out one of the key reasons why the partial ceasefire failed – the U.S. inability to separate its “moderate” rebels from Al Qaeda’s jihadists.

The article, written by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew E. Kramer (two of the paper’s top national security propagandists), lays the fault for the U.S. withdrawal from Syrian peace talks on Russian leaders because of their “mistrust and hostility toward the United States,” citing a comment by former White House official Andrew S. Weiss.

Gordon and Kramer then write that the cessation of hostilities agreement came undone because of the “accidental bombing of Syrian troops by the American-led coalition and then because of what the United States claimed was a deliberate bombing by Russian aircraft and Syrian helicopters of a humanitarian convoy headed to Aleppo.” (The Times doesn’t bother to note that the Russians have questioned how “accidental” the slaughter of 62 or so Syrian troops was and have denied that they or the Syrian government attacked the aid convoy.)

The article continues citing U.S. intelligence officials accusing Russia and Syria of using indiscriminate ordnance in more recent attacks on rebel-held sections of Aleppo. “Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments,” said a State Department statement, according to Gordon and Kramer.

However, left out of the article was the fact that the U.S. government failed to live up to its commitment to separate U.S.-backed supposedly “moderate” rebels from Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which has recently changed its name to the Levant (or Syria) Conquest Front. By contrast, this key point was cited by Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which noted:

“Russia has complained that Washington wasn’t upholding its end of the bargain by failing to separate U.S.-backed Syrian rebels from more extremist groups tied to al Qaeda.”

Doubling Down with Al Qaeda

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal has actually done some serious reporting on this crucial topic, publishing an article from Turkey on Sept. 29, saying: “Some of Syria’s largest rebel factions are doubling down on their alliance with an al Qaeda-linked group, despite a U.S. warning to split from the extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes.

“The rebel gambit is complicating American counterterrorism efforts in the country at a time the U.S. is contemplating cooperation with Russia to fight extremist groups. It comes after a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire collapsed last week and the Syrian regime and its Russian allies immediately unleashed a devastating offensive against rebel-held parts of Aleppo city that brought harsh international condemnation. …

“The two powers have been considering jointly targeting Islamic State and the Syria Conquest Front — formerly known as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front — a group that is deeply intermingled with armed opposition groups of all stripes across Syria’s battlefields. The U.S. has also threatened to attack any rebels providing front-line support to the group. …

“Some rebel groups already aligned with Syria Conquest Front responded by renewing their alliance. But others, such as Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a former Central Intelligence Agency-backed group and one of the largest factions in Aleppo, said in recent days that they were joining a broader alliance that is dominated by the Front. A second, smaller rebel group also joined that alliance, which is known as Jaish al-Fateh and includes another major Islamist rebel force, Ahrar al-Sham. …

“In a call with Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian rebels ‘refused to follow the U.S.-Russian agreement…but instead merged with [Nusra Front].’”

So, it should be clear that a major obstacle to the agreement was the failure of the U.S. government to persuade its clients to break off alliances with Al Qaeda’s operatives, a connection that many Americans would find deeply troubling. That public awareness, in turn, would undermine the current neocon P.R. campaign to get the Obama administration to supply these rebels with anti-aircraft missiles and other sophisticated weapons, or to have U.S. warplanes destroy the Syrian air force in order to impose a “no-fly zone.”

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the powerful role of Al Qaeda and its spinoff, the Islamic State, has been a hidden or downplayed element of the narrative that has been sold to the American people. That storyline holds that the war began when “peaceful” protesters were brutally repressed by Syria’s police and military, but that version deletes the fact that extremists, some linked to Al Qaeda, began killing police and soldiers almost from the outset.

Hiding Realities

However, since The New York Times is now a full-time neocon propaganda sheet, it does all it can to hide such troublesome realities from its readers, all the better to jazz up the hatred of Syria and Russia.

As the Times and the Journal both made clear in their articles on Tuesday, the neocon agenda now involves providing more American armaments to the rebels either directly through the CIA or indirectly through U.S. regional “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Though pitched to the American people as “humanitarian” assistance needed to shoot down Syrian and Russian planes, the arming-up of the rebels will likely extend the war and the bloodletting even longer while strengthening Al Qaeda and the Islamic State,.

If the new U.S. weapons prove especially effective, they could even lead to the collapse of the Syrian government and bring about the neocons’ long-desired “regime change” in Damascus. But the ultimate winners would likely be Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State, which could be expected to follow up with the mass slaughter of Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other “heretics.”

More likely, however, the U.S.-supplied weapons would just cause the war to drag on indefinitely with an ever-rising death toll. But don’t worry, the dead will be blamed on Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad.

Although never mentioned in the mainstream U.S. media, the delivery of weapons to these Syrian rebels/terrorists are a clear violation of international law, an act of aggression and arguably a crime of aiding and abetting terrorists.

International law is something that the Times considers sacrosanct when the newspaper is condemning a U.S. adversary for some violation, but that reverence disappears when the U.S. government or a U.S. “ally” is engaged in the same act or worse.

So, it is understandable why Gordon and Kramer would leave out facts from their story that might give Americans pause. After all, if the “moderate” rebels are in cahoots with Al Qaeda, essentially serving as a cut-out for the U.S. and its “allies” to funnel dangerous weapons to the terror organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks, Americans might object.

Similarly, if they were told that the U.S. actions violate international law, they might find that upsetting, too, since many Americans aren’t as coolly hypocritical as Official Washington’s neocons and liberal war hawks.

Beyond the devolution of The New York Times into a neocon propaganda organ, Gordon and Kramer have their own histories as propagandists. Gordon co-wrote the infamous “aluminum tube” story in September 2002, launching President George W. Bush’s ad campaign for selling the Iraq War to the American people. Gordon also has gotten his hands into disinformation campaigns regarding Syria and Ukraine.

For instance, Gordon and Kramer teamed up on a bogus lead story that the State Department fed to them in 2014 about photographs supposedly taken of soldiers in Russia who then turned up in other photos in Ukraine – except that it turned out all the photos were taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the story and forcing an embarrassing retraction. [For more on that screw-up, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Another NYT-Michael Gordon Special?”]

For his part, Kramer has been a central figure in the Times’ anti-Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Is Lost in Its Ukraine Propaganda.”]

So, between the Times’ neocon institutional bias – and the apparent personal agendas of key correspondents – one can expect very little in the way of balanced journalism when the topics relate to the Middle East or Russia.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Double Standards for Israel and Syria

When Israel bombards Gaza after some ineffectual rocket attacks, the U.S. sees a right of self-defense, but different standards apply to Syria when foreign-backed terrorists fire deadly rockets and mortars, notes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

There is a hypocritical disconnect in Western and especially U.S. foreign policy. When it comes to Israel, the U.S. is quick to claim “Israel has a right to defend itself.” For Syria, that same right does not seem to exist.

When Israel executed intense bombing campaigns against Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014 the U.S. justified the attacks. At the United Nations on July 18, 2014, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said , President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself…. Hamas’ attacks are unacceptable and would be unacceptable to any member state of the United Nations. Israel has the right to defend its citizens and prevent these attacks.”

Israel claimed it was simply responding defensively. The human rights group BtSelem reports that over the decade between June 2004 and July 2015, Palestinians launched over 8,700 rockets and 5,000 mortars from Gaza into Israel. But the total number of civilians killed over 10 years was 28 for an average of fewer than three persons per year. Using this as a justification, Israel has attacked by air and invaded every few years inflicting far heavier casualty rates on the Palestinians in Gaza. For example, Israeli attacks on Gaza in Summer 2014 killed more than 2,000 Gazans, the vast majority of them civilians and many of them children.

With so few deaths and little damage caused by the rockets from Gaza, it seems Palestinians have launched these as almost symbolic protest against Israeli repression. The Gazan economy is hugely restricted, the borders are closed and even the sky and ocean are off limits. Many people would say that Israel is keeping the entire population of Gaza in prison-like circumstances. In addition, many residents of Gaza are descendants of refugees from nearby Israeli towns and cities. Under the Geneva Conventions and U.N. Resolution 194, they have the right to return but have been deprived of this in addition to most other rights.

In summary, Palestinians have launched rockets and mortars to protest Israeli occupation and apartheid policies. The Palestinians are not seeking the overthrow of the Israeli state so much as recognition of their rights and an end to the Occupation. Casualties from the rockets have been few. In response, the West has given Israel a virtual free pass to attack Palestinians in Gaza and unleash horrific bombing in densely populated urban areas where there are huge civilian casualties.

The disproportionate nature of these Israeli attacks suggests that the Israeli government is not defending itself; it is imposing punishment on a captive and defenseless population.

Syrian State Under Real Attack

The situation in Syria is dramatically different. The armed opposition in Syria has inflicted a huge number of deaths and damage in its five-year campaign to overthrow the government.  Data from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is sympathetic to the opposition, show the following number of casualties since March 2011: Pro Government forces (army and militias) – 105,000; Anti Government forces – 101,000; Civilians – 86,000.

These numbers reveal the intensity of the violence and how wrong it is for critics to blame President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government for all the deaths. As shown, soldiers and militias defending the state make up the largest number of casualties.

The conflict in Aleppo is currently in the news. Aleppo was the largest city in Syria and the industrial and financial engine. The largest and most effective opposition force in Aleppo is Al Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front, which is recognized to be “terrorist” even by the U.S. and was never part of the “cessation of hostilities.” There are other factions and fighting groups in Aleppo also seeking to destroy the Syrian state. Most of the groups are explicitly Wahhabi sectarian and hostile to secularism, Christianity and moderate Islamic faiths.

The opposition in Syria is heavily armed with weapons, ammunition and explosives. Daily they launch hell cannon missiles into western Aleppo, killing randomly in this government-controlled part of the city. Car bombs have killed thousands of civilians and soldiers. Tunnel bombs have killed thousands more.

Aleppo was relatively quiet until summer of 2012 when thousands of armed fighters invaded and occupied neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. The “rebels” were disliked by the majority of the population from the start. This was documented even by Western journalists such as James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, who went there inclined to be sympathetic to the opposition. (Foley and Sotloff were later captured and beheaded by Islamic State jihadists.)

Martin Chulov of the Guardian described East Aleppo in 2015 and estimated its population at just 40,000. In sharp contrast, there is a large population of about 1.5 million Syrians living in the rest of the city. This is reflective of the reality: the vast majority of Syrians support the government and hate the terrorists. This includes many who are critical of the Baath Party and who want reforms but not violence and destruction. This important fact is generally ignored by Western media. (The current situation in western Aleppo is described here by journalist Eva Bartlett.)

In contrast with Israeli’s periodic wars on Gaza, the Syrian government is truly fighting to defend itself – and its civilian population – against an armed opposition that is violent, sectarian and unpopular with the large majority of Syrians.

Adding to the legitimacy of the Syrian government’s right to defend itself, the armed opposition in Syria has been heavily supported by foreign governments. Western states and their Gulf allies have supplied weapons, training, logistical support and salaries for many thousands of fighters.  Qatar’s Al Jazeera has broadcast misinformation, fabricated stories and heavily biased reporting from the start.

The same governments have been complicit in the recruitment and travel to Syria by thousands of foreigners from all parts of the globe. European, North American and Australian governments “looked the other way” as their citizens were recruited and then traveled to Syria via Turkey to join ISIS or Nusra. According to one study, over 12,000 foreigners including 3,000 from Europe and North America traveled to Syria in the first three years of the conflict. That was before ISIS peaked. Only in the last year, following terrorist actions in the West, have Western governments started arresting or detaining recruits and recruiters.

Violating International Law

The situation in Syria is more extreme but has similarities to the situation in Nicaragua in the 1980s when the Reagan administration was covertly arming and financing the Contras, a rebel army that inflicted death and destruction across parts of Nicaragua. On June 27, 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled:

“the United States of America, by training, arming, equiping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State”.

The court also decided that the U.S. should make reparations to Nicaragua for injury caused by the violations. The U.S. ignored the ruling and later withdrew from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The former Nicaragua Foreign Minister and former President of the United Nations General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has written “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.” (Personal correspondence quoted with permission)

Some foreign governments seeking “regime change” in Damascus have poured huge amounts of money into what is called “smart” or “soft power” via the funding of an array of organizations with nice sounding names to control the narrative and influence public opinion.

There is the Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre, initiated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to prepare for victor’s justice. There is the Syrian Network for Human Rights which largely ignores the deaths of Syrian soldiers and seeks U.S./NATO intervention. There is the Syrian Civil Defense also known as the White Helmets, a support group for Al Qaeda/Nusra but most importantly a political lobbying tool actively campaigning for U.S./NATO intervention.

All of these organizations, and many more, are said to be “Syrian” and “independent.” But they were all created after the conflict began and they are all funded by the foreign governments that seek to overthrow the Syrian government.

These and other organizations support the opposition in various ways, demonize the Syrian government and romanticize the opposition. They are part of the reason why many people around the world believe that the anti-government protests in 2011 only became violent after peaceful protests were brutally crushed, which is untrue. There were seven police killed in the first protests in Deraa. That was soon followed by dozens of soldiers being massacred in Deraa and Banyas at the end of March and in April 2011.

By justifying the continued “rebel” violence, this “soft power” acts in concert with “hard” or military power. For example the White Helmets was originally called the Syrian Civil Defense and began with a military contractor training some Syrians in Turkey. This group was then rebranded as the “White Helmets” by a New York marketing company called “The Syria Campaign.” Since then, the “feel good” White Helmets brand has been heavily promoted.

As a measure of the marketing success, the White Helmets recently won the Right Livelihood Award for 2016 and are even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically, there is a REAL Syrian Civil Defense working since 1953 and a REAL White Helmets/CascosBlancos from Argentina which have received little recognition alongside the slick new “White Helmets” created and promoted by the shadowy PR firm.

 

Soft power distorts the reality in the conflict. Thus we are not told that the Syrian government is defending against terrorists but that the “Assad regime” is ‘”targeting hospitals and civilian markets.” Are the claims true? My investigation of the claims regarding the Doctors Without Borders/MSF supported “Al Quds Hospital” in April 2016 revealed that the accusations were full of contradictions, inconsistencies and unverified accusations.

The “hospital” was an unmarked building; the damage was unclear; the number of deaths varied wildly and could not be verified. The photographic evidence, supplied by the ubiquitous White Helmets, was dubious. The investigation resulted in a open letter to MSF. So far they have failed to corroborate or document their accusations and claims.

Doctors Without Borders/MSF continues to issue politically biased messages. Their Oct 2 tweet about a “bloodbath in East Aleppo” led to false accusations that two teenagers were killed by Syrian government bombing when they were actually killed by terrorist bombing.

Currently the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), funded by France and other countries, has been at the forefront accusing Syria and Russia of intentionally bombing an underground hospital. Is the story real or fabricated propaganda? The Russians and Syrians are trying to fight the terrorists; why would they waste resources and generate negative publicity by attacking a hospital? The reports seem to be based on phone or skype conversations with sources of unknown reliability.

The narrative promoted by “soft power” is that the Syrian government is an unpopular dictatorship dominated by the Alawi religious group. Is that true? On the contrary, key ministries including Defense and Foreign Affairs are held by Sunni leaders. The majority of the Syrian Arab Army are Sunni. Visitors to Syria readily meet mothers who are proud of their sons who died defending their country against foreign-backed terrorism.

The narrative promoted by “soft power” is that the Syrian uprising was largely progressive, secular, and seeking democracy. This myth makes for a good rationalization for effectively supporting the “regime change” war against Syria, but it is contradicted by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. In a classified report from August 2012, the DIA analyzed the conflict as follows: THE SALAFIST [sic], THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, AND AQI [“Al Qaeda in Iraq,” now known as ISIS or the Islamic State] ARE THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA.”

“Soft power” in Syria has involved the creation and funding of Syrian groups who convey a message supportive of the “regime change” goals. For example there is a group in the town of Kafranbel which produces an English language banner each week. The group is provided with the message by a foreign source and the group holds the banner to be photographed and displayed on social media in the West. Most of the locals probably have no clue what it says.

Then there is the Aleppo Media Center which creates videos for influencing Western audiences, and the White Helmets previously discussed. These Western-created groups are the examples of the “Syrian Revolution” by those who promote this narrative. What kind of “revolution” is on contract with the U.S. State Department?

Current Situation and Coming Crisis

The Syrian government, with the support of the majority of Syrian people, is doing its best to defend itself against an onslaught financed by some of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth. The Syrian Army and popular militias have suffered huge losses but are advancing. In the last year, Russia has provided crucial air support. Unlike the invasion of Syrian land and air space by the U.S., the Russian intervention is in compliance with international law because it followed a request for assistance from Syria’s internationally recognized government, whereas the U.S. government and its allies have no such permission.

 

Currently the Syrian government and allies are seeking to drive Nusra and other terrorist groups from eastern Aleppo. If that is successful, they could then focus on ISIS in Raqqa and the remaining terrorists in other parts of the country. Unlike densely populated Gaza, the opposition-held areas of Aleppo have very few civilians left. Although civilian casualties happen in all wars, it makes no sense that the Syrian military would target civilians. On the contrary, the government has opened corridors to facilitate civilians and fighters to leave Aleppo.

Largely unreported in the West, the Syrian government has an active reconciliation program which allows former gunmen to move to a different area or return to society. This has been successfully used to clear the last remnant of terrorists from Al Waer near Homs and Darraya near Damascus. Many thousands of Syrian fighters who were coerced or bribed into joining the opposition have laid down their arms, signed an agreement and rejoined society.

In contrast with the frenzy and alarm in Western media and political circles, there is a growing optimism and hope among the vast majority of people in Aleppo. Syrian journalist Edward Dark recently tweeted Aleppo soon will be freed from the jihadis that invaded & destroyed it. After 4 years of hell its people will finally know peace.” They are looking forward to the final defeat or expulsion of the terrorists who invaded the city in 2012.

What will the foreign enemies of Syria do to prevent this? Will they continue or escalate their campaign to destroy Syria as they destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? Are they prepared to risk potential World War III with Russia? In the last month Turkey sent troops into northern Syria and the U.S. attacked the Syrian Army in Deir Ezzor, killing at least 62 soldiers. The U.S. claims this was an accident, but many believe it was intentional.

Since the collapse of the cessation of hostilities, “soft power” propaganda has escalated. Accusations that the Syrians and Russians are targeting hospitals are linked to new social media campaigns to “Save Aleppo.” Two things are clear:

–The public should be wary of media stories based on the claims of biased actors and not supported by solid evidence

–The Syrian government has the right to defend itself against foreign-funded violent extremists seeking to destroy it.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and member of Syrian Solidarity Movement.