On ‘Openness’ and Deceit

Retrospective: On this day three years ago Robert Parry, late founder and editor of this site, examined transparency in government and found that the Obama administration was among the most secretive and manipulative in modern times, tailoring what the public heard about foreign crises to what served his agenda. 

By Robert Parry

In disclosing the deaths of two Western hostages in a U.S. drone strike on an Al-Qaeda compound, President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he had ordered the declassification of the secret operation because “the United States is a democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad.”

But the reality of the past six years has been that his administration has enforced wildly excessive secrecy, selectively declassified material to mislead the American people, and failed to correct erroneous information on sensitive international issues.

This failure to trust the people with accurate information has arguably done great harm to U.S. democracy by promoting false narratives on a range of foreign conflicts. With all its talk about “public diplomacy” and “information warfare,” the Obama administration seems intent on using half-truths and falsehoods to herd the people into a misguided consensus rather than treating them like the true sovereigns of the Republic, as the Framers of the Constitution intended with the explicit phrase “We the People of the United States.”

For instance, the Obama administration rushed to judgments on pivotal international events such as the Syrian-sarin case in 2013 and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over Ukraine in 2014 and then refused to update those assessments as new evidence emerged changing how U.S. intelligence analysts understood what happened.

Instead of correcting or refining the record and pursuing meaningful accountability against the perpetrators of these crimes the Obama administration has left outdated, misleading accusations in the public domain, all the better to fit with some geopolitical goals, such as delegitimizing the Syrian and Russian governments. In other words, providing the American people with substantive updates on these atrocities and advancing the cause of justice take a back seat to keeping some geopolitical foe on the defensive.

In both the Syrian-sarin case and the MH-17 shoot-down, I’ve been told that U.S. intelligence analysts have not only refined their understanding of the events but to a significant degree reversed them. But the original assessments, which were released nine and five days after the events, respectively, were still being handed out to the press many months later. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Fact-Resistant Group Think on Syria” and “US Intel Stands Pat on MH-17 Shoot-down.”]

What is perhaps most troubling in both cases, however, is that the killings involved serious crimes against humanity and the perpetrators have not been identified and brought to justice. Whatever new evidence U.S. intelligence has collected could help track down who was responsible but that doesn’t appear to be a priority for President Obama.

In the MH-17 case, the timetable for the next scheduled release of information is on the first anniversary of the shoot-down, which occurred on July 17, 2014. Given that the shoot-down, which killed 298 people, should be an active criminal investigation, it makes little sense to delay disclosures for something as artificial as an anniversary, giving whoever was responsible more time to slip away and cover their tracks.

In the meantime, the U.S. government continues to re-release its initial claims putting blame on foreign adversaries the governments of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin so the assumption may be drawn that the updated analyses go in different directions, possibly implicating U.S. allies, such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia regarding the sarin attack and elements of the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime in the MH-17 case. Whatever the truth, however, it is hard to justify why the U.S. government has withheld evidence in these criminal cases, whoever is implicated.

Double Standards

Of course, double standards sometimes appear to be the only standards when the U.S. government is involved these days. When ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine resist a coup that overthrew their elected president in 2014 and get some help from Russians next door the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media decry “Russian aggression.”

On Wednesday, the Obama administration declassified its own claims that Russia had deployed air defense systems in eastern Ukraine and had built up its forces along the border with Ukraine, assertions that Russian officials denied, though those denials were not included in the article on Thursday by New York Times’ national security reporter Michael R. Gordon, who treated the allegations essentially as flat fact.

After citing some analysts musing about different explanations for Russian President Putin’s supposed actions, Gordon wrote, “Either way, the new military activity is a major concern because it has significantly reduced the amount of warning that Ukraine and its Western supporters would have if Russian forces and separatists mounted a joint offensive.”

Gordon then quoted State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf saying: “This is the highest amount of Russian air defense equipment in eastern Ukraine since August. Combined Russian-separatist forces continue to violate the terms of the ‘Minsk-2’ agreement signed in mid-February.”

Though Gordon included no Russian response to these charges, he did mention that Russia had complained about what Gordon called “a modest program” of 300 American troops in Ukraine training national guard units, a program that Russian officials said could “destabilize the situation.” Gordon wrote that the Obama administration, in response to this Russian complaint. “declassified intelligence describing a range of Russian military activities in and near Ukraine.”

But the intelligence appeared to be just U.S. accusations. In Kiev, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted about “the highest concentration of Russia air defense systems in eastern Ukraine since August” and illustrated his claim by showing a photo of a BUK anti-aircraft missile system. But the photo appeared to be an Associated Press photograph taken of a BUK system on display at an air show near Moscow two years ago, as the Russian network RT noted.

Gordon, who co-authored with Judith Miller the famously bogus Times’ exposé in 2002 about Iraq procuring aluminum tubes for building nuclear bombs, has been an eager conduit for U.S. government propaganda over the years, including his role last year in a page-one Times scoop that cited State Department and Ukrainian government claims about photographs that proved Russian troops were in Ukraine but turned out to be false. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Retracts Russian Photo Scoop.”]

Yet, while Russia is not supposed to mind the forced ouster of a friendly government on its borders or the presence of U.S. and NATO forces supporting the successor regime, a more sympathetic view is taken when Saudi Arabia intervenes in Yemen’s civil war by bombing the country indiscriminately, reportedly killing hundreds of civilians and devastating ancient cities with priceless historical sites that date back thousands of years.

They’re worried about their own security and of course we’ve supported them,” stated White House communications director Jen Psaki. “But, again, we’re trying to redirect this to a political discussion here.” (The New York Times article about this “Saudi resolve” with a similarly understanding tone toward the Saudis was co-authored by Gordon.)

This pattern of perverting U.S. intelligence information to bolster some U.S. foreign policy agenda has become a trademark of the Obama administration along with an unprecedented number of prosecutions of U.S. government whistleblowers who release real information that exposes government wrongdoing or waste. This double standard belies President Obama’s assertion that he values openness in a democracy.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Gollum’s ‘Precious’ Secrets.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Scarier than Bolton? Think Nikki for President

Nikki Haley is America’s face to the international community. She is the Ugly American personified, thinking that American Exceptionalism gives her license to say and do whatever she wants at the United Nations, argues Phil Giraldi in this commentary.

By Phil Giraldi

The musical chairs playing out among the senior officials that make up the President Donald Trump White House team would be amusing to watch but for the genuine damage that it is doing to the United States. The lack of any coherence in policy means that the State Department now has diplomats that do not believe in diplomacy and environment agency heads that do not believe in protecting the environment. It also means that well-funded and disciplined lobbies and pressure groups are having a field day, befuddling ignorant administrators with their “fact sheets” and successfully promoting policies that benefit no one but themselves.

In the Trumpean world of all-the-time-stupid, there is, however, one individual who stands out for her complete inability to perceive anything beyond threats of unrelenting violence combined with adherence to policies that have already proven to be catastrophic. That person is our own Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who surfaced in the news lately after she unilaterally and evidently prematurely announced sanctions on Russia. When the White House suggested that she might have been “confused” she responded that “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” This ignited a firestorm among the Trump haters, lauding Haley as a strong and self-confident woman for standing up to the White House male bullies while also suggesting that the hapless Administration had not bothered to inform one of its senior diplomats of a policy change. It also produced a flurry of Haley for higher office tweets based on what was described as her “brilliant riposte” to the president.

One over-the-top bit of effusion from a former Haley aide even suggested that her “deft rebuttal” emphasizes her qualities, enthusing that “What distinguishes her from the star-struck sycophants in the White House is that she understands the intersection of strong leadership and public service, where great things happen” and placing her on what is being promoted as the short list of future presidential candidates.

For sure, neocon barking dog Bill Kristol has for years been promoting Haley for president, a sign that something is up as he was previously the one who “discovered” Sarah Palin. Indeed, the similarities between the two women are readily observable. Neither is very cerebral or much given to make any attempt to understand an adversary’s point of view; both are reflexively aggressive and dismissive when dealing with foreigners and domestic critics; both are passionately anti-Russian and pro-Israeli. And Kristol is not alone in his advocacy. Haley regularly receives praise from Senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and from the Murdoch media as well as in the opinion pages of National Review and The Weekly Standard.

 She’s Locked and Loaded

The greater problem right now is that Nikki Haley is America’s face to the international community, even more than the Secretary of State. She has used her bully pulpit to do just that, i.e. bully, and she is ugly America personified, having apparently decided that something called American Exceptionalism gives her license to say and do whatever she wants at the United Nations. In her mind, the United States can do what it wants globally because it has a God-given right to do so, a viewpoint that doesn’t go down well with many countries that believe that they have a legal and moral right to be left alone and remain exempt from America’s all too frequent military interventions.

Nikki Haley sees things differently, however. During her 15 months at the United Nations she has been instrumental in cutting funding for programs that she disapproves of and has repeatedly threatened military action against countries that disagree with U.S. policies. Most recently, in the wake of the U.S. cruise missile attack against Syria, she announced that the action was potentially only the first step. She declared that Washington was “locked and loaded,” prepared to exercise more lethal military options if Syria and its Russian and Iranian supporters did not cease and desist from the use of chemical weapons. Ironically, the cruise missile attack was carried out even though the White House had no clue as to what had actually happened and it now turns out that the entire story, spread by the terrorist groups in Syria and their mouthpieces, has begun to unravel. Will Nikki Haley apologize? I would suspect that if she doesn’t do confusion she doesn’t do apologies either.

Haley, who had no foreign policy experience of any kind prior to assuming office, relies on a gaggle of neoconservative foreign-policy “experts” to help shape her public utterances, which are often not cleared with the State Department, where she is at least nominally employed. Her speechwriter is Jessica Gavora, who is the wife of the leading neoconservative journalist Jonah Goldberg. Unfortunately, being a neocon mouthpiece makes her particularly dangerous as she is holding a position where she can do bad things. She has been shooting from the lip since she assumed office with only minimal vetting by the Trump Administration, and, as in the recent imbroglio over her “confusion,” it is never quite clear whether she is speaking for herself or for the White House.

She Has Her Own Foreign Policy

Haley has her own foreign policy. She has declared that Russia “is not, will not be our friend” and has lately described the Russians as having their hands covered with the blood of Syrian children. From the start of her time at the U.N., Haley has made it clear that she is neoconservatism personified and she has done nothing since to change that impression. In December 2017 she warned the U.N. that she was “taking names” and threatened retaliation against any country that was so “disrespectful” as to dare to vote against Washington’s disastrous recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which she also helped to bring about.

As governor of South Carolina, Haley first became identified as an unquestioning supporter of Israel through her signing of a bill punishing supporters of the nonviolent pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the first legislation of its kind on a state level. Immediately upon taking office at the United Nations she complained that “nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel” and vowed that the “days of Israel bashing are over.” On a recent visit to Israel, she was feted and honored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She was also greeted by rounds of applause and cheering when she spoke at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, saying “When I come to AIPAC I am with friends.”

Nikki Haley’s embrace of Israeli points of view is unrelenting and serves no American interest. If she were a recruited agent of influence for the Israeli Mossad she could not be more cooperative than she apparently is voluntarily. In February 2017, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a diplomatic position at the United Nations because he is a Palestinian. In a congressional hearing she was asked about the decision: “Is it this administration’s position that support for Israel and support for the appointment of a well-qualified individual of Palestinian nationality to an appointment at the U.N. are mutually exclusive?” Haley responded yes, that the administration is “supporting Israel” by blocking every Palestinian.

She’s Decided She Wants Regime Change

Haley is particularly highly critical of both Syria and Iran, reflecting the Israeli bias. She has repeatedly said that regime change in Damascus is a Trump administration priority, even when the White House was saying something different. She has elaborated on an Administration warning that it had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime” by tweeting “…further attacks will be blamed on Assad but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.” At one point, Haley warned “We need to see Russia choose to side with the civilized world over an Assad government that brutally terrorizes its own people.”

At various U.N. meetings, though Haley has repeatedly and uncritically complained of institutional bias towards Israel, she has never addressed the issue that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians might in part be responsible for the criticism leveled against it. Her description of Israel as a “close ally” is hyperbolic and she tends to be oblivious to actual American interests in the region when Israel is involved. She has never challenged the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as well as the recent large expansion of settlements, which are at least nominally opposed by the State Department and White House. Nor has she spoken up about the more recent shooting of three thousand unarmed Gazan demonstrators by Israeli Army sharpshooters, which is a war crime.

Haley’s hardline on Syria reflects the Israeli bias, and her consistent hostility to Russia is a neoconservative position. A White House warning that it had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime led to a Haley elaboration in a tweet that “…further attacks will be blamed on Assad but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.” Earlier, on April 12, 2017 after Russia blocked a draft U.N. resolution intended to condemn the alleged Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, which subsequently turned out to be a false flag, Haley said, “We need to see Russia choose to side with the civilized world over an Assad government that brutally terrorizes its own people.”

Haley is particularly critical of Iran, which she sees as the instigator of much of the unrest in the Middle East, again reflecting the Israeli and neocon viewpoints. She claimed on April 20, 2017 during her first session as president of the U.N. Security Council, that Iran and Hezbollah had “conducted terrorist acts” for decades within the Middle East, ignoring the more serious terrorism support engaged in by U.S. regional allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. She stated in June 2017 that the Security Council’s praise of the Iran Nuclear Agreement honored a state that has engaged in “illicit missile launches,” “support for terrorist groups,” and “arms smuggling,” while “stok[ing] regional conflicts and mak[ing] them harder to solve.” All are perspectives that might easily be challenged.

So, Nikki Haley very much comes across as the neoconservatives’ dream ambassador to the United Nations–full of aggression, a staunch supporter of Israel, and assertive of Washington’s preemptive right to set standards for the rest of the world. And there is every reason to believe that she would nurture the same views if she were to become the neocon dream president. Bearing the flag for American Exceptionalism does not necessarily make her very good for the rest of us, who will have to bear the burdens and risks implicit in her imperial hubris, but, as the neoconservatives never feel compelled to admit that they were wrong, one suspects that Haley’s assertion that she does not do confusion is only the beginning if she succeeds in her apparent quest for the highest office in the land. Worse than John Bolton? Absolutely.

 

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest. [This article originally appeared at The Unz Review, reprinted with permission.]




Beware of White Helmets Bearing News

The celebrated White Helmets of Oscar fame appeared to have made their own feature film in Duma on the night of the alleged chemical attack, as Ann Wright explains.

By Ann Wright
Special to Consortium News

At the center of the controversy over an alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Duma on April 7 are the White Helmets, a self-described rescue operation about whom an Oscar-winning documentary was made.

Reporter and author Max Blumenthal has tracked the role of the White Helmets in the Syrian conflict. He reported that the White Helmets were created in Turkey by James Le Mesurier, a former British MI5 agent. The group has received at least $55 million from the British Foreign Office and $23 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as millions from the Kingdom of Qatar, which has backed a variety of extremist groups in Syria including Al Qaeda. 

Blumenthal writes, “When Defense Secretary James Mattis cited ‘social media’ in place of scientific evidence of a chemical attack in Duma, he was referring to video shot by members of the White Helmets. Similarly, when State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert sought to explain why the US bombed Syria before inspectors from the OPCW could produce a report from the ground, she claimed, ‘We have our own intelligence.’ With little else to offer, she was likely referring to social media material published by members of the White Helmets.”

The reference to social media as evidence in the most serious decision a leader can make—to engage in an act of war—is part of a disturbing trend. Then Secretary of State John Kerry pointed to “social media” as evidence of the Syrian government’s guilt in a 2013 chemical attack in the same Damascus suburb. But as Robert Parry, the late founder and editor of this site, pointed out in numerous reports, Syrian government guilt was far from a sure thing.

Rather than wait for the arrival of a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to assess whether chemicals had even used in this latest incident, Trump gave the order to bomb.

Gas!    

The possible role of the White Helmets in the latest alleged chemical attack was first revealed by veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk, writing for The Independent. In “The Search for Truth in the Rubble of Douma-And One Doctor’s Doubts Over the Chemical Attacks,”  Fisk reported that he tracked down 58-year-old Syrian doctor Assim Rahaibani.

The doctor told Fisk that he learned from fellow physicians who were on duty at the clinic the night of the attack. Rahaibani said patients were brought in by “jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam]” in Duma and that the patients appeared to be “overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.”

Rahaibani told Fisk, “I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Duma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.”

Rahaibani continued: “Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet,’ shouted ‘Gas!’, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

Fisk writes that, “There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had ‘never believed in’ gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups. These particular jihadis survived under a blizzard of shellfire by living in other’s people’s homes and in vast, wide tunnels with underground roads carved through the living rock by prisoners with pick-axes on three levels beneath the town. I walked through three of them yesterday, vast corridors of living rock which still contained Russian – yes, Russian – rockets and burned-out cars.”

Significantly, Fisk reported that locals told him that White Helmets left with jihadists bused out of Duma in a deal made with the Syrian government and Russia, which provided security for the transfer.  

Other Reports

Other reporters have corroborated what Fisk found. Reporter Pearson Sharp of One America News, a conservative Christian TV network and supporter of President Trump, interviewed doctors and witnesses at the clinic. They also said there was no chemical attack and that strangers came into the clinic and shouted “Gas!” and filmed the reaction.

RT’s Arabic service also tracked down an 11-year old boy filmed in the “attack,” and found him in completely good health and able to answer questions of the RT reporter. He told her he was with his mother when they were urged to enter the clinic. “We were outside,” the boy said,
and they told all of us to go into the hospital. I was immediately taken upstairs, and they started pouring water on me.”

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  She was also a US diplomat and was in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the US government in March 2003 in opposition to the lies the Bush administration was stating as the rationale for the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

 




Wanted: The ‘Butcher of Damascus’ to Return Normalcy to Syria

Bashar al-Assad is just the latest in a long line of Middle East leaders demonized by colonial Britain and the U.S. for their independence, says Eric Margolis in this commentary.

By Eric S. Margolis  

Butcher of Damascus.  Gasser of children.  Baby Killer of Syria.   Tool of Moscow.  Cruel despot.  Monster.

These are all names the western media and politicians routinely heap on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.  He has now become the top Mideast villain, the man we love to hate.

As a veteran Mideast watcher, I find all this hard to swallow. Compared to other brutal Mideast leaders, Assad is pretty weak tea. The U.S./British propaganda effort to paint Assad in blackest colors is having a difficult time.

Mideast leaders who toe the U.S. line and make nice to Israel are invariably called ‘statesmen’ or ‘president’ by the American government and its increasingly tame media.  Their repression is conveniently downplayed.

Saudi rulers are reverently treated by despite leading the world in executions.  Last year, 44 people were publicly beheaded.  In some years, around 150 people have lost their heads in Saudi Arabia, often a quarter of them Pakistani guest workers.  Having been arrested by the Saudi religious police, I can tell you that the kingdom is a police state with sand dunes and camels.  Saudi vassal states Bahrain and the Emirates are better, but not much.

Morocco, a key U.S. ally, is notorious for its ghastly prisons and brutal torture.  Iraq and Afghanistan, now under U.S. control, are even worse. Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid, holds close to 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners, among them 400 children, and is gunning down Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza border.

Syria has always been a repressive police state. I recall watching ‘spies’ being hanged in front of my hotel.  Its various police forces are notorious for brutality and torture. In fact, until recently, the U.S. actually sent captive suspects to Syria to be tortured and jailed.

That was before Washington made the decision to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government (‘regime’ in DC talk) as the first step in attacking Iran.     

But Damascus was no worse a human rights abuser than Cairo, Amman, Rabat and Riyadh, all U.S. vassals.

While looking at the current western hate campaigns against Syria and Iran, keep in mind the history of the modern Mideast.  We are again seeing the 1914 era lies from London about Belgian babies speared on German bayonets.

‘Hitler on the Nile’

Any Arab or Iranian leader who sought an independent policy or refused the tutelage of London and then Washington was delegitimized, excoriated, and demonized. Remember the Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh overthrown in a CIA coup?  The renowned Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom the British branded ‘Hitler on the Nile’ and tried to assisante? Or the late, murdered Libyan Muammar Khadaffi, called ‘Mad Dog of the Mideast’ by President Ronald Reagan? 

Imam Khomeini of Iran and President Ahmadinejad, both favored targets of western media invective, and both compared to the much overused Hitler. Saddam Hussein, the ‘Butcher of Baghdad,’ and that modern Dr Fu Manchu, Osama bin Laden, the all-time favorite Muslim arch villain. 

Of course, there’s nothing new in this nasty name-calling.  During the Victorian Era, Britain’s press demonized arch villains like ‘the Mad Mullah,’ the Mahdi, the Fakir of Ipi, and Nana Sahib of the 1857 Indian uprising against British imperial rule.

Bashar al-Assad was a mild-mannered ophthalmologist living in London with his British-born wife.  When his rash elder brother Basil was killed in a car crash, Bashar was compelled to return to Syria and become the nominal political leader after the death of his very tough, ruthless father, Hafez al-Assad.  Bashar’s main role was mediating between powerful factions in Damascus and trying to modernize his nation (while managing the police state inherited from his father).

In 2011, the U.S., Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia ignited an uprising in Syria using often fanatical jihadists.  The shy, retiring Bashar was forced to become war leader in a ruthless civil conflict as his nation disintegrated. 

President Trump, whose B-52 bombers are ravaging Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen calls Assad a ‘monster.’  Some of his relatives are indeed ruthless.  But very many Syrians think of Assad as their nation’s only hope of returning to normalcy.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist and book author. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Times of London, the Wall Street Journal, the Khaleej Times, Lew Rockwell and other news sites in the Middle East and Asia.  He has appeared as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, ABC, France 2, France 24, Al Jazeera, CTV, CBC, CCTV China His internet column is found at  www.ericmargolis.com. He is author of two best-selling books ”War at the Top of the World – The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia” and “American Raj, How the U.S. Rules the Mideast”.




Of Animals and Monsters and Missiles over Damascus

It seems to be very difficult to be the leader of a state, particularly a strong and/or ideologically driven leader, and not end up a “monster,” muses Lawrence Davidson. 

By Lawrence Davidson

President Donald Trump ordered the bombing of selective targets in the Syrian capital, Damascus last Friday night. He did so because he was emotionally upset by Syrian President Bashar al- Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the town of Douma – the last rebel (ISIS-style) stronghold adjacent to the capital. 

Just prior to Trump’s actualizing his emotions by throwing missiles into Damascus, he had expressed his opinion (and keep in mind that there is no difference between fact and opinion for Trump) that President Assad is a “monster” as well as an “animal.” This was at least in part because the Syrian President stooped to “killing his own people.” The problem with all this is (1) Trump has no hard evidence that Assad was behind the alleged gas attack and (2) killing your own people is, unfortunately, what civil wars are all about.

Alas, the world has always been, and still is, full of “monsters” and “animals.” And, since we are throwing around such epithets, we might as well give a couple of close-to-home examples of those qualifying behaviors.

How about the invasion of a nation along with the subsequent killing of at least half a million people, all based on “false and overstated intelligence”? That is what the “monster” and “animal” President George W. Bush did back in 2003 in Iraq.  

How about lining up a 100 “sharpshooters” at a border for  what seems to be the almost gleeful act of repeatedly shooting down unarmed protesters? That is what the “monster” and “animal” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing at Israel’s border with Gaza during the month of April 2018.

We can go on citing examples such as these – all about the “monsters” and “animals” in power in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and, at one time or other, just about every other nation. Donald Trump himself, with his racist tendencies and impulsive behavior, is also a very good candidate for wearing the epithets he assigns to others. 

A lesson learned from this endless list is that it seems to be very difficult to be the leader of a state, particularly a strong and/or ideologically driven leader, and not end up a “monster.” It is not only the power that rests in the leader’s hands, but also the corrupting organizational pressures and expectations to use that power that create the slippery slope to abuse. Even those who come to office with relatively decent reputations, such as in the case of the U.S., Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, end up with bloody hands. 

Minions

However, the problem does not end there. After all, the “monster” must have his or her minions. Albert Einstein once said that “the pioneers of a warless world are the youth that refuse military service.” More recently, the Israeli human rights organization B’ tselem has called on Israeli soldiers “to refuse orders to open fire on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.” These public positions have made no a noticeable difference. The massive violence continues. 

Human violence might have something to do with our evolutionary history, but why should this inclination be so readily indulged? After all, just because we are evolutionarily inclined in a certain way doesn’t mean that we can’t exercise a modicum of self-control. And indeed, a good number of folks do go through life in a relatively non-violent fashion. Yet, put just about any of us in a rotten barrel and we turn bad. 

Part of the problem might be that our cultures and institutions infantilize too many of us. By this I mean that from infancy through old age we are taught to follow orders and go along with the group. As children we are taught to obey our parents, then our teachers. When, as teens we (at least in the West) begin to break away from parental control, we more often than not replace parental guidance with that of our peer group. Then, on to a career, where a new set of rules and expectations is imposed. Of course, there is sociological logic to all of this. We could have no societal structure and stability without a certain level of rules and obedience to them. However, there is a price. The price at the state level may be seen in terms of all too often unquestioning loyalty, patriotism and solidarity that leads the average citizen to simply follow the leader, and thereby participate in the violence the state has declared as necessary. 

Monsters” like George W. Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Donald Trump do not actually pull the triggers. Someone else does on their orders – someone trained to obey. Actually “someone” is misleading. It is not one. It is millions. Military establishments are the most obvious environments where this follow the leader cum infantilization takes place. Put into a military organization, the citizen is back in that childhood environment where he or she is expected to just obey. There may be specified situations where one does not have to obey, but they are so rare and so strongly counterbalanced by peer pressure that they almost never come into play. Thus, in the military, all soldiers of whatever rank are infantilized relative to their superiors: told to shoot, they shoot; told to fire the missile, they fire it; told to drop the bomb, they drop it; and told to guide the weaponized drone onto a target half a world away (oops! It turns out to be a wedding party) they guide it. 

There is no ready solution to any of this. The number of people who will refuse military orders, as suggested by Einstein, or refuse to shoot protesters, as suggested by B’tselem, is much too few to stop the mayhem. Our proclivity to violence has been institutionalized and our fundamental societal need to maintain group cohesion has been perverted by the those who claim to be our leaders. It is something of a vicious circle – or maybe just an eternal Catch 22.

This article originally appeared on http://www.tothepointanalyses.com/

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.




War Fever

There is a fever that seizes this land from time to time and it is the fever of war, a condition that this time seems immune to all known cures, starting with reason, as Daniel Lazare explores. 

By Daniel Lazare  Special to Consortium News

What happens when an unthinkable war meets an unbeatable case of war fever?  Thanks to Russia-gate, unsubstantiated reports about the use of poison gas in Syria, and a slew of similar factoids and pseudo-scandals, the world may soon find out.

In saner times, including during the Cold War at even its most heated, political leaders knew not to push a conflict with a rival nuclear power too far.  After all, what was the point of getting into a fight in which everyone would lose?  

Cooler heads thus prevailed in Washington while more excitable sorts were shipped off to where they could do no harm.  This is what kept the peace during the U-2 affair, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban missile crisis and what promised to continue doing so even after the advent of American “unipolarity” in 1989-92.

But that was then.  Today, the question is no longer how to avoid a fight that can only lead to catastrophe, but how to avoid a showdown with a country that “in the past four years has annexed Crimea, intervened in eastern Ukraine, sought to influence the American election in 2016, allegedly poisoned a former Russian spy living in Britain and propped up the murderous government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria,” to quote the bill of indictment in a recent front-page article in The New York Times

Given that the list of alleged atrocities expands with virtually each passing week, the answer, increasingly, is: no way, no how.  Since Russia is bent on spreading “conflict and discord” throughout the west – if only in the eyes of the U.S., that is – confrontation grows more and more likely.

A Very American Coup

This is despite the fact that the offenses cited by the Times

are each more complex or dubious than the “newspaper of record” is willing to concede.  The annexation of the Crimea, for instance, was a response to a US-financed, neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup in Kiev in February 2014 that caused the rickety Ukrainian state to collapse and sent Russophones in the east fleeing for protection into the arms of Moscow.  After investing more than $5 billion to steer the Ukraine in such a disastrous direction according to then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the US blamed Russia for the consequences.  (See quote beginning at 7:42.)  As for charges of interference in the 2016 election, the Times itself noted back in January 2017 that the formal CIA-FBI-NSA “assessment” blaming the Kremlin was notably bereft of factual back-up. As the paper put it:

 [T]he declassified report contained no information about how the agencies had collected their data or had come to their conclusions.  So it is bound to be attacked by skeptics and by partisans of Mr. Trump, who see the review as a political effort to impugn the legitimacy of his election.”

Quite right.  But now evidence-free assertions are accepted as fact while anyone who says otherwise is ignored or shouted down. Questions linger with regard to the March 4 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, most notably why a supposedly ultra-powerful nerve agent would not take effect for more than seven hours.  (Someone supposedly smeared the nerve agent on the front door of Sergei’s home in Salisbury, England, which he and his daughter left around nine in the morning.  Yet it was not until 4:15 p.m. that they were found incapacitated on a park bench after visiting a pub and eating at a local restaurant.)  

As for “the murderous government of President Bashar al-Assad,” such talk would be silly if the consequences weren’t so dire.  After all, it wasn’t Assad who flooded Syria with tens of thousands of jihadis bent on massacring Christian, Druse, Alawites, and secularists.  To the contrary, it was the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab Gulf states.  As a now declassified Defense Intelligence Agency report noted back in August 2012:

—  “The Salafist[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [i.e. Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency”;

—  “The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the [rebel] opposition”;

—  “If the situation unravels further, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria”;

—  “…[T]his is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition [i.e. the US, Turkey, and the gulf states] want in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion….”

A Sectarian War 

In other words, the US and its Sunni Arab allies launched a sectarian war against the Alawite-backed Syrian regime with the full knowledge that an Al Qaeda state in eastern Syria might well be the result.  Yet now they blame Assad for defending himself against the Salafist onslaught and Russia for helping him.  It is a case of launching a neo-medieval sectarian war and then crying foul when the other side dares to fight back.

One would think that cooler heads might inject a note of sanity before things get completely out of hand.  But the opposite seems to be the case.  The more temperatures rise, the more congressmen, journalists, think-tank experts, and other hangers-on conclude that it is advantageous to jump on the bandwagon and drive passions up even more.  Pro-war frenzy leads to more of the same.  The more reason is needed, the scarcer it becomes.

Indeed, it sometimes seems that the only halfway sane person left in Washington is Donald Trump, who, according to a strange report in Sunday’s Washington Post, is fighting a desperate rear-guard action against neocons bent on ratcheting up tensions to ever higher levels.  

Reporters Greg Jaffe, John Hudson, and Philip Rucker described a bizarre scene at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort last month in which aides were only able to persuade the president to expel sixty Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Skripal poisoning by promising him that allies would toss out an equal number in Europe.  When France and Germany only expelled four Russians each, Trump felt double-crossed.  “I don’t care about the total,” he reportedly screamed when the aides tried to explain that the number expelled by all European nations would eventually approach the U.S. figure.  “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” 

Similarly, when Congress approved a new round of anti-Russian sanctions in July, the article says it took aides four days to persuade Trump to sign the bill even though it had cleared with a veto-proof majority that made it a virtual fait accompli.  The Post said the same thing occurred when aides tried to convince him to sell antitank missiles to the Ukraine for use against pro-Russian separatists.  “Why is this our problem?” he reportedly asked.  “Why not let the Europeans deal with Ukraine?”  When CIA Director Mike Pompeo, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis added their voices to the chorus, all the president could do was whine, “I just want peace.”

Everyone Agreed–Except Trump

Of course, when Donald Trump is the sole remaining voice of reason, then we’re really in trouble.  The infighting escalated even further on Monday after Haley vowed to slap still more sanctions on Russia for the crime of backing Assad.  “They have done nothing but brutalize their people and destroy their land, all in the name of power,” she said of the Baathists on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”  So Russia would have to pay the price.

Everyone agreed, Republicans, Democrats, and the corporate media – everyone, that is, except Trump.  Defying his neocon captors, he undercut Haley by declaring that sanctions would not be forthcoming after all.  White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was left to gamely assert that “the president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them.”

Times columnist Michelle Goldberg was so flabbergasted by Trump’s about-face that she wondered whether reports that Putin was using a secret “pee tape” to force him into line might not be true after all.

But of course – who else would want an end to hostilities with Russia other than a crazy man or someone under duress?  War with a nuclear power is something that no sane person really wants to avoid, right?

U.S. foreign policy is caught in a powerful contradiction.  A military showdown with a fellow nuclear power is unthinkable.  Yet pausing for a moment to consider where all this madness is leading is out of the question.  Two forces are colliding, war on one hand and a general inability to think things through in a clear-headed way on the other.

It’s a case of a herd of independent minds stampeding over a cliff – not because someone is forcing them to, but because they don’t know how to stop.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  




What is the U.S. Fighting for in Syria?

The U.S. and Russia share strategic goals in Syria and the wider region, but Washington ideologues persist in unwelcome intervention that has led to disaster, argues Graham E.Fuller

By Graham E. Fuller

The Trump administration delivered several dozen military strikes against Syria purportedly aimed at chemical production and storage facilities. It was an act the international community feared might lead to overt war in Syria between the US, Iran and Russia, but it came off a bit better: the strike seems to have been carefully calibrated, involved care to avoid casualties and seemed largely symbolic in nature. The strikes did not meaningfully change facts on the ground.

What sense can we make out of all these strategic events in Syria? We encounter a baffling array of players: Syrian troops, Syrian insurgents, jihadis of varying ideologies, Iranians, Russians, Americans, Israelis, Turks, Saudis, Qataris, Emiratis, Shi’ite militias, Iraqis, Kurds, Hizballah—all locked in a deadly dance. But as complex as it may be, this seven-year bloody conflict still continues to pose the very same long-term fundamental questions to US policy in Syria and the region. These questions demand an answer. 

Does the U.S. Want the War to End? 

In principle yes, but only under its own rigid terms which call for an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and the elimination of Russian and Iranian power in Syria. None of this is within the realm of reality.

The power struggle between the Assad regime and the array of diverse insurgents has oscillated over seven years. Initially, when the government faced the first outbreak of domestic insurgency in 2011, it appeared that he might not last long in the evolving Arab Spring. But he proved resilient.

He was willing to strike back ruthlessly at the early uprisings and nip them in the bud. He was aided by the fact that the Syrian population was itself highly ambivalent about any collapse of his government. As regional regimes went it was unquestionably autocratic but not more brutal than usual in the region —at least not until early insurgent forces challenged the regime’s existence and  Damascus began to show real teeth.

In fact many Syrians did not want civil war—understandably enough since the human and material costs would be devastating. Second, large numbers of Syrians who had no fondness for Assad had even greater reason to fear what might come after him: very likely some combination of radical jihadi forces. Indeed, victorious jihadis might likely then have gone on to wage an internecine power struggle among themselves, just like the civil war among the Afghan mujahideen after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1988; it all but destroyed the country .

Indeed from the comfort of our own American isolation such issues more closely resemble an electronic war game, or armchair strategizing. But for people who live in war zones, stakes are overwhelmingly real. At some point almost any peace is better than almost any war. Washington might be willing to fight to the last Syrian, but most Syrians are not willing to do so when most outcomes offer only death and destruction. 

But the time for speculation about the regime’s fate is now past: Assad is close to restoring his control over the whole country. Ambivalence on the part of so many Syrians, the fecklessness and divisions of so many of the anti-Assad forces, and above all serious Russian and Iranian assistance to Damascus constituted the final tipping point.

But is Washington willing to accept, however reluctantly, Assad’s restoration of control over his own country? (It’s worth noting that whatever the issues at stake in Syria, Russia and Iran were legally invited by the Syrian government to provide military assistance. The US on the other hand was not invited to intervene in Syria, and on legal grounds is fighting in Syria “illegally.”)  Indeed, Washington’s goal all along has been to notch up one more “regime change by force” in the region that has included Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and perhaps Somalia, among other conflicts.

So is it justifiable, even ethical, to fight till the last Syrian? Or should the US reluctantly accept the desperately needed end to the war, and to allow restoration of public security, food, medicine, and a chance for the devastated country to rebuild itself?  From a humanitarian perspective the choice would seem clear.

So What is the U.S. Fighting For?

Washington has sought to isolate or overthrow the Assads, father and son, for over forty years; it perceived them as representing staunch (secular) anti-colonial Arab nationalism, resistance to U.S. goals, and a refusal to bow to Israel’s ever expanding borders and oppression of the Palestinians.

The world has learned that any state that does not accept the U.S.-designed order in the Middle East by definition becomes a “rogue regime”—hence losing any sovereign rights on the international scene. And Washington’s policies have all along been heavily driven by Israel’s own regional agenda. It’s a bitter pill then: acceptance of Assad’s remaining in power until the international order can eventually craft some new political process that offers more representative government there.

But U.S. policy, for all its talk of human rights and welfare, has no interest in an end to the war on anything except its own terms. It ceases to be about Syria at all any more. Syria is fated to remain the arena for grander U.S. strategic interests: the checking of Russian and Iranian influence in the Middle East. The Syrians themselves will pay the price—but they do not matter. 

Yet the reality is that Washington can no longer single-handedly determine the strategic shape of the Middle East. All efforts to do so over the past fifteen years have ended in disaster for virtually everyone including the U.S.

Another reality is the presence of Russia as a diplomatic and strategic power in the Middle East. It has a history of several hundred years presence there, long before the U.S. or even Britain; even under the Russian Tsars Moscow was the official protector of Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Levant.

Russia and U.S. Share Mideast Goals

After a hiatus of some two decades after the fall of the USSR and the collapse of the Russian economic order, Russia is now back again as a player. That fact will not change. Nor should a Russian presence in the Middle East represent an intolerable affront to U.S. interests. Indeed, Russia and the U.S. share many common goals, not least of which is a need for regional stability, the peaceful  flow of energy, and suppression of violent jihadi movements such as ISIS or al-Qaeda.  

But if neo-con and “liberal interventionist” ideologues in Washington have their way—and their power is growing—America’s supreme interest in the Middle East centers on checking Russia—amounting to a self-fulfilling prophesy of confrontation. For these ideologues there can be no accommodation:  it becomes a zero-sum game, not a win-win but a win-lose game.

This U.S. posture is also designed to perpetuate Washington’s military presence in Syria for a long time to come—with strikingly little to show for it. Russia will not be going anywhere. And Iran, now gradually normalizing its relations with most of the world, will also be resuming its place as a major Middle Eastern player. Yet Iran remains a point of obsession with Washington—equally seen as a “rogue” state— and here again reflecting Israel’s own determination to strategically dominate the Middle East itself. 

Does Iran constitute a “sectarian threat” as the Saudis have it? Iran reacts as a “Shi’ite force” to the degree that it is attacked as an “illegitimate,” that is, Shi’ite force by rival ultra-conservative Wahhabi Saudi forces. Iran views itself primarily not as a Shiite state but as a Muslim state—one intent on further blocking western interventionism in the Middle East. And it does not believe that monarchies represent the wave of the Middle Eastern future.

So the question remains: does Washington truly seek an end to the war—a war that it cannot win? Or will it fight on in a losing, devastating situation in a country to which it was not invited? Will it continue to seek “regime change” in yet another state with all the subsequent chaos, instability, and openings for the region’s most radical jihadi forces? 

And are we ourselves to be manipulated as instruments for the achievement of local Israeli and Saudi strategic goals in the region? 

This piece originally appeared on http://grahamefuller.com/blog/

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; including “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan,” and most recently “BEAR.” (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com




Blowing up Lack of ‘Evidence’ in Syria Chemical Attack

It is wise to remember the U.S.S. Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin and Iraqi WMD in assessing the rationale for the U.S. attack last weekend on Syria, says Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

Just a few hours before the arrival in Syria of UN chemical weapons inspectors to investigate the use of chemicals in Duma, a Damascus suburb where last week 42 persons were reportedly killed, the attack against Syrian government chemical facilities by the U.S. and its British and French allies with neither U.N. nor Congressional authorization is a bit suspicious–to put it mildly.

For the three Western nations to bomb before the international inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could check the bodies of those killed for chemicals, take soil samples, talk to survivors and compare the results with what is in the Syrian government chemical facilities is bewildering– unless the U.S., UK and France knew the UN inspectors were going to find NOTHING to substantiate their assessment. Without any evidence, but with merely a “high possibility”, the three countries were going to attack Syria anyway.

With the alphabet soup of militias in Syria, hired and equipped by the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Russia, the UAE, Qatar and Israel, each group has the capability of executing a Duma attack.  Chemical attacks are easy to do, especially by groups that have access to the targeted area and to chemicals that can be used as weapons.

The question of why a group would execute such an attack should be leave fingerprints on the operation.  

What would be the purpose for the Syrian government to use chemicals when they know Western countries are itching to use missiles to hit locations their militias have been unable to reach?  

Would the Syrian government and their Russian allies purposefully use chemicals to invite an attack?  

Are militia groups trying to keep their international sponsors and need an immediate reason to get continued funding especially when President Trump said last week that he wants to pull 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria?

Proof of responsibility for the attack was still missing the day before the missile strikes when Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, “the US is looking for evidence” and the British government merely said “it is highly likely the Syrian government did the attack.” 

This US strike follows in the line of other Presidential administrations that have ordered US military attacks that have gotten our country into civil wars, invasions, and occupations by telling Congress and the American people lies:

Remember the Maine?  (Cuba)

Remember the “Tonkin Gulf Attack”? (Viet Nam)

Remember US medical students “at risk?” (Grenada)

Remember “I saw Saddm’s troops throw Kuwaiti babies out of incubators”? (Iraq War 1)

Remember Iraq’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction”? (Iraq War II)

Remember the earlier gas attacks in Syria in which the British Parliament refused to authorize an attack on the Syrian government because it was unclear who was responsible–and Obama threw the decision of a U.S. attack to Congress–which to their credit voted No?

Remember Gaddafi is going to massacre the people of Benghazi and is giving viagra to his troops to rape the women? (Libya)

Remember the “nerve gas” attack in Salisbury, England that still has not been linked to Russia?

Remember Russia’s March 17 warning that the US was planning to stage a chemical attack in Syria to provoke a military “response”?

President Trump has been played by the war hawks in his cabinet–CIA Director Mike Pompeo and his new National Security Advisor, the eternal war-monger John Bolton.

Meanwhile the people of Syria continue to be killed by the bombings from all sides.  

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the weapons of mass destruction lies of the Bush administration for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”




Syrian ‘Chemical Victims’ Suffered from Dust Inhalation, Reports Say

A report by the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk quotes doctors in Douma saying victims suffered from dust inhalation and that a member of the White Helmets caused panic by falsely shouting, “Gas!” in a triage center. The White Helmets were then bused out with other jihadists, as Caitlin Johnstone explains.

By Caitlin Johnstone

We are now being told (and I assure you I am not making this up) that if the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons doesn’t find evidence that the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack in Douma last week, it’s because Russia hid the evidence.

“It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site,” reports U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Ward. “It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation.”

I guess the idea is that this international top-level investigative team on which tremendous credibility has been placed by the western world can be thwarted by Russians showing up with a Hoover and spraying some Febreze in the air like a teenage stoner when mom comes home? I’m not sure, but given the immense dearth of evidence we’ve been seeing in support of the establishment Douma narrative and the mounting pile of evidence contradicting it, it sure does sound fishy.

Now that the jihadist-occupied suburb of Douma has been retaken by the Syrian government, western journalists have been allowed in to poke around and start asking questions, and so far it isn’t looking great for the propaganda machine.

Dust Not Gas

The Independent‘s Robert Fisk has published a report which affirms the story so many westerners have been dismissing as Kremlin propaganda for days now after interviewing a doctor from the hospital of the area where the Douma attack was supposed to have occurred. Dr Assim Rahaibani told Fisk that what was in actuality an outbreak of respiratory distress among occupants of a dusty oxygen-deprived tunnel was made to look like the aftereffects of a chemical weapons attack when a member of the White Helmets started shouting about a gas attack in front of a bunch of video cameras. Everyone panicked and started hosing themselves down, but in the video, according to Rahaibani, “what you see are people suffering from hypoxia—not gas poisoning.”

This report was independently backed up by a reporter from One America News Network named Pearson Sharp, who gave a detailed account of his interviews with officials, doctors, as well as many civilians on the street Sharp says he deliberately selected at random in order to avoid accusations of bias. Many people hadn’t even heard that a chemical weapons attack had taken place, and the ones who had said it was staged by Jaysh al-Islam. The staff at the hospital, including a medic-in-training who was an eyewitness to the incident, gave the same story as the account in Fisk’s report. (Fisk also reported that the White Helmets in Duma had joined jihadists on Syrian government buses on the way to Idlib province.)

Weakening Narrative

The increasing confidence with which these unapproved narratives are being voiced and the increasing discomfort being exhibited by empire loyalists like Ambassador Ward indicate a weakening narrative in the greater propaganda campaign against the Assad government and its allies, but don’t hold your breath for the part where Fox News and the BBC turn around and start asking critical questions of the governments that they are meant to be holding to account.

The journalists who have been advancing the establishment narrative on Syria aren’t about to start reporting that they’ve gotten the entire Syria story backward and have been promoting a version of events manufactured for the benefit of CIA-MI6-Mossad agendas. You’re not about to see CNN, who last year staged a fake scripted interview with a seven year-old Syrian girl to manufacture support for escalations against Assad, suddenly turn around and start asking if we’re being told the full story about what’s happening Syria.

Watch them closely. Watch how they steadfastly ignore the growing mountain of evidence and keep promoting the Syrian regime change agenda that the western empire has been working toward for decades. Watch them dismiss all evidence they can’t ignore as Kremlin propaganda and shift the narrative whenever things start to look bad for them. Those riding the crest of the wave of establishment media are too far gone into the blob to ever admit error and change. The least among us aren’t about to stop constructing a public reality tunnel which depicts them as heroes of truth, tear it all down, and start advancing a narrative which makes them look like fools at best and villains at worst. It will not happen.Luckily for us, it doesn’t need to. Internet censorship is still far from closing the door on our ability to network and share information, and we’ve been very effective at sowing skepticism among the masses. The war propagandists are not nearly as good at their jobs as they want to believe, and we can beat them.

Consent Required

They work so hard to manufacture support for war because they require that consent. If the oligarchs try to launch a war against a disobedient nation amidst very clear opposition from the public, they will shatter the illusion of freedom and democracy that their entire empire is built upon, and then they’re exposed. Corporatist oligarchy has succeeded in weaving its web of dominance because its oppression has thus far remained hidden and its depravity disguised as humanitarianism. They cannot expose themselves by transgressing a loud NO from the public or else the masses will realize that everything they used to believe about their country, their government and their world is a lie.

They won’t risk that. We can force them into retreating from open war by circulating facts and information and keeping a healthy level of skepticism circulating among the public. Watch them squirm, move goalposts and shift narratives, and point and yell about it whenever it happens. We can win the media war against the propagandists. We have truth on our side.

This article first appeared on Medium.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




Anatomy of a Chemical Attack

In the space of a little more than 24 hours Defense Secretary Jim Mattis learned all over again how to say, “Yes, sir,” explains Barry Kissin

By Barry Kissin Special to Consortium News

Analyzing certain aspects of the brief timeline between the date of the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Duma on April 7 and the date of the U.S. air strikes on April 13 in supposed retaliation, reveals a very curious sequence of events.

On April 8, a day after chlorine gas was allegedly used, President Donald Trump (with no time for investigation) blamed Syrian government forces for what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” and warned there would be a “big price to pay.” He did not elaborate. In a series of tweets, Trump held Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief sponsors, responsible.

On April 11 (at 3:57 AM), President Trump tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

The next morning, on April 12, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee. “I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence,” Mattis told lawmakers. “As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.” Mattis said he wanted inspectors in Syria “probably within the week.”

In an article titled “Mattis: US Wants Proof Before Striking Syria for Chemical Attack,” Military.com reported: “Currently, the U.S. and its allies ‘don’t have evidence’ that the Syrian regime carried out the attack last Saturday in the Damascus suburb of Duma that reportedly killed at least 40, Mattis said.”

In response to Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas (D-Mass.) Mattis testified: “We don’t have troops on the ground there so I cannot tell you we have evidence even though we certainly had a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used.”

Right after his testimony on Capitol Hill, Mattis attended a “closed-door White House meeting.” According to The New York Times, at this meeting, “Mattis pushed for more evidence of President Bashar al-Assad’s role in the suspected chemical attack …” Evidently, Mattis was overruled. Trump was already committed.

The Pentagon conducted a briefing immediately after the US strikes the next day, on April 13. One reporter asked: “What’s your evidence it was delivered by the Syrian regime? Are you quite clear it was?” Mattis dutifully responded: “I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes. Absolutely confident of it.”

Another reporter queried: “So up until yesterday, and I’m going to quote you here, you said, ‘I cannot tell you that we have evidence.’ So when did you become confident that a chemical attack happened?

Mattis: “Yes, yesterday.”

Reporter: “Since yesterday, after you said that?”

Mattis: “Yes.”

And those inspectors Mattis had only the day before made clear to Congress would be coming “probably within the week?”  They were just hours away from starting their work in Duma when the first U.S. cruise missile hit its target.  

Barry Kissin is an attorney, musician and political commentator.