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.




On the Reaction to the U.S. Strike in Syria

There are stirrings of an imperative anti-war movement in the wake of the U.S. strike on Syria, but mostly the Pentagon controlled the message, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow Special to Consortium News

The arguments between Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford before the Syrian air strikes, and between them and President Donald Trump and his ultra-hawk national security adviser, John Bolton, ended with “precision strikes” early Saturday morning in Damascus and near the city of Homs.

Some 103 tomahawks and other cruise missiles were launched from US navy vessels and British and American warplanes. Seventy-one of these were claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defense to have been shot down by Syrian air defense batteries. The more modern and effective Russian-manned S400 systems at their Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air base were not brought into play.

There was material damage to some Syrian military storage facilities and particularly to a research center, which the US-led coalition claimed was used for fabrication of chemical weapons. Employees at the site said they were producing antidotes to snake venom, not chemical weapons. No deaths were reported and only six people were injured. The targets were all well clear of known positions of Russian and Iranian personnel in Syria. And while the Pentagon denied Russia had been told the targets, there’s speculation that the missiles’ flight paths had been made known to Moscow.

Mission Accomplished?’

Mattis said the mission was over but the U.S. stood ready to strike again if Assad once more used chemical weapons, though whether he did last weekend in Duma, a Damascus suburb, has yet to be proven. The U.S.-led air strikes took place hours before a team of specialists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to begin its investigation at the site to determine if chemicals were used, and which chemicals they may been.

In his address to the nation when launching the

attack, Trump used the same unproven allegations and maudlin, propagandistic evocation of the horrors of chemical weapons that his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had used earlier in the day Friday when responding to specific charges of violating international law and a possibly non-existent chemical attack,which the Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, had leveled against the U.S. in the UN Security Council chamber.

The narrowly focused and seemingly ineffectual nature of the strikes is unlikely to satisfy anyone in the U.S. political classes. Even those who have been encouraging Trump to stand tall in Syria and punish Damascus for the alleged, but unproven, use of chemical weapons, like New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D), gave him only tepid support for the action taken, complaining of no overall administration strategy for Syria or an end game.

Others posit that the timing of the attack was driven solely by Trump’s urgent need to deflect public attention from personal and political scandals, especially after the F.B.I. seizure earlier in the week of the papers and possibly his taped conversations in the offices of his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

For the Russians there could only be outrage. They were on the receiving end of what was a publicly administered slap in the face to President Vladimir Putin, who was named and supposedly shamed in Trump’s speech for providing support to the “animal” Assad. Putin had been calling upon the U.S. and its allies to show restraint and wait for the conclusion of the OPCW investigation in Duma.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, repeated after the attacks Moscow’s prior warning that there would be “grave consequences” for the U.S. and its allies. These were not spelled out. But given Putin’s record of caution, it would be surprising if Moscow did anything to exacerbate the situation.

What comes next?

That caution left the U.S. exposed as an aggressor and violator of international law. Since we are in a New Cold War, habits from the first Cold War are resurfacing. But the roles are reversed today. Whereas in the past, it was Washington that complained to high heaven about the Soviet military intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, today it is Russia that will go on the offensive to sound off about US aggression.

But is that all we may expect? I think not. Putin has a well-earned reputation as a master strategist who takes his time with every move. He also knows the old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. He has frequently advocated “asymmetric” responses to Western moves against Russian interests. The question of counter moves had already been on his mind since the U.S. Treasury introduced new and potentially harsh economic sanctions on Russia with effect from April 6.

In fact, Russian legislators were busy preparing to

introduce in the Duma on Monday a bill empowering the Russian president to issue counter-sanctions. These include an embargo on the sale of critical components to the U.S. aircraft industry which is 40 percent dependent on Russian-sourced titanium for production of both military and civilian planes. There is also the proposed cancellation of bilateral cooperation in space where the Russians supply rocket engines used for U.S. commercial and other satellite launches, as well as a total embargo on sales of U.S. wines, spirits and tobacco in the Russian Federation.

Aside from the withdrawal of titanium sales, these and other enumerated measures pale in significance to the damage done by the U.S. sanctions on the Rusal corporation, the world’s second largest producer and marketer of aluminum, which lost $12 billion in share value on the first day of sanctions. But that is to be expected, given that the United States is the world’s largest economy, measuring more than 10 times Russia’s. Accordingly its ability to cause economic damage to Russia far exceeds the ability of Russia to inflict damage in return.

The only logical outcome of further escalations of U.S. economic measures would be for Russia to respond in the one area where it has something approaching full equality with the United States: its force of arms. That is to say, at a certain point in time purely economic warfare could well become kinetic. This is a danger the U.S. political leadership should not underestimate.

Considering the just inflicted U.S. insult to Russia by its attack in Syria, Moscow may well choose to respond by hitting U.S. interests in a very different location, where it enjoys logistical superiority and also where the counter-strike may be less likely to escalate to direct crossing of swords and the unthinkable—possible nuclear war.

A number of places come to mind, starting in Ukraine where, in an extreme reaction, Russia has the option of removing the regime in Kiev within a 3-day campaign, putting in place a caretaker government until new elections were held. That would likely lead to armed resistance, however, and a Russian occupation, which Moscow neither wants nor can afford.

The Media Reacts

The media reaction to the air strikes has been distinct in the U.S. from Europe, and even more so, naturally, in Russia.

U.S. mainstream reaction, in particular in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the cable TV networks, has been an uncritical platform for the Pentagon view of what it achieved. Both papers barely made mention that the missiles rained down as the OPCW team was about to begin its work. Parading out their retired generals, often with unmentioned contracts as lobbyists for the military industry, the cable networks resumed their cheerleading for American war and materiel.

In France, Le Monde largely followed the Pentagon line in declaring the mission a success, while in Germany leading newspapers attempted a more independent line. Die Welt discussed how the U.S. and Europe used the mission to test the battleground effectiveness of some of their latest weaponry. The Frankfurter Allgemeine called the Pentagon “the last bastion of sense” in the Trump administration and reported that the Russians want to open a strategic dialogue with the U.S. over arms control.

A commentary in the British Guardian claimed that Mattis, and not Trump, “is calling the shots.” Another piece reported on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a “check on military intervention” by insisting that Parliament vote on a War Powers act.

The Times of London ran fewer articles on the Syria strike and instead led with a piece predicting that to punish the United Kingdom for its role in the Skripal case and in Syria, Moscow will unleash a barrage of hacked, damaging confidential materials relating to government ministers, members of Parliament and other elite British personalities. In response, May’s cabinet is said to be considering a cyber-attack against Russia.

The TV station Euronews, whose motto is “Euronews. All Views,” unusually for Western media, gave Russians equal time to set out their totally diametrically opposed positions: on whether any chemical attacks at all occurred in Duma, and on the U.S. violation of international law.

On Saturday Euronews exceptionally gave nearly complete live coverage to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he spoke in Moscow to the 26th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. During this talk, Lavrov divulged the findings of the Swiss laboratory which had examined samples of the chemicals gathered in Salisbury in relation to the Skripal poisonings, findings which he said pointed not to Novichok, as was claimed by Boris Johnson, but to a nerve agent developed by the United States and produced also in Britain. Lavrov likened the faked attack in Salisbury to the faked chemical attack in Duma.

Letting the Russians deliver extensively their views on what happened in Syria without commentary by their own journalists might be considered extraordinary by Euronews or any other European broadcaster’s standards.

In Russia, the news channel Rossiya-1 on Saturday broadcast a special edition of the country’s leading political talk show hosted by Vladimir Solovyov. His panelists said that in Damascus, where the most modern air defenses are installed, including the latest BUK series, the Syrians shot down 100 percent of incoming missiles. This contradicts, however, the fact that a research facility in the center of Damascus was bombed. Elsewhere in the country, where there are older systems in place, fewer missiles were hit.

In the wake of the U.S.-led air strikes, Moscow has apparently now decided to supply the Syrian army their next to latest generation of air defense, the S300. It was reported earlier that because of the war, there was a great shortage of trained technicians on the Syrian side so that shipment of such equipment previously would have made no sense. However, now that the military situation of the Assad government has stabilized, the personnel problems are no longer so acute and the Russians can proceed with delivering materiel and training the Syrians to defend themselves. This will substantially change the equation with respect to Syrian defense capability should the U.S. and its allies think of returning.

Protests in the West

One must ask why there has been no anti-war protests in the West in reaction to the strike on Syria. That it lasted less than an hour may something to do with it. But the U.S. is at war in about seven nations and there is no sustained, anti-war movement. Part of the reason is the virtual collapse the anti-war Left in the West that fueled protests in America and Europe in the 1960s anti-Vietnam war movement and the 1980s protests against the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe to counter Soviet intermediate range SS20 missiles.

From the 1990s leftist political parties both in the U.S. and Europe have suffered terrible losses of voter support. What charismatic leaders emerge to challenge the centrist, global hegemony politicians have been almost uniformly categorized as extreme Right or populists. The peace movements have been nearly extinguished. So-called progressives are today notoriously anti-Russian and in step with the Neocons on what the legitimate world order should look like.

For these reasons, it is quite remarkable that early

reactions to the US-led bombing in Syria have come from social media and internet portals that may be loosely categorized as establishment left or progressive. Dislike for Trump, for Bolton and for the crew of madmen who constitute the administration has finally outweighed hatred for Putin, “the authoritarian,” the Alpha male, the promoter of family and Orthodox Christian values and the so-called thief who stole the U.S. election. On-line petitions now being circulated, even by the Democratic Party-friendly MoveOn.org, reveal some comprehension that the world has moved closer to utter destruction due to the U.S.-Russia confrontation.

Another sign that the antiwar movement may be stirring out of its slumber and going beyond virtual protests, is that the Massachusetts Peace Action chapter, heirs to the SANE franchise, the country’s largest anti-nuclear weapons organization from the middle of the first Cold War, called on its members to rally in Cambridge (home to Harvard University and MIT) to protest the U.S. strikes in Syria. It also calls on Congress to reclaim its War Powers.

These are admittedly small steps with little political weight. But they are encouraging sparks of light in the darkness.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. 




Attacking Syria: Thumbing Noses at Constitution and Law

It was a sad spectacle to see U.S. brass rubbishing the Constitution and trying to silence critics of the U.S. strike on Syria, says Ray McGovern in this commentary.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

The U.S. Constitution and international law suffered a stinging blow last night at the hands of an odd coalition that might be called Goldilocks and two moral dwarfs posing as Marine generals, together with a “Right Dishonorable” harridan and a young French poodle.

As was the case 15 years ago when the U.S. and UK launched a war of aggression against Iraq, the pretext was so-called “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) — this time the claimed use on April 7 of chlorine (and maybe the nerve agent sarin — who knows?) in Duma a suburb of Damascus.  And this time French President Emmanuel Macron was allowed to join, as junior partner, the gang that can’t lie straight.

The attacks by the Gang of Three came hours before specialists from the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to arrive in Syria to study soil and other samples in Duma. The question leaps out: Why could the Gang not wait until the OPCW had a chance to find out whether there was such an attack and, if so, what chemical(s) were used?

Sentence First, Verdict Later

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis could only say that he believes there was a chemical attack and that perhaps sarin, in addition to chlorine, was involved. Serving until now as the only available “evidence” are highly dubious reports from agenda-laden “social media.”  What is clear is that the U.S./UK/French Gang wanted to strike before the OPCW investigators had a chance to ascertain what happened.  Hmm.  All the earmarks of “Sentence first; verdict afterwards.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry made a habit of advertising how “extraordinarily useful” social media can be.  He got that right.  Of the main alleged “chemical attacks” by Syria — on August 21, 2013; April 4,2017; and April 7, 2018 — the primary, if not exclusive — source of information was the “extraordinarily useful,” but notoriously unreliable, “social media.”

Marine Martinets

Briefing the media last night, after Goldilocks had set the stage announcing “retaliation” for the (unproven) use of chemicals by the Syrian government, were two four-star Marine generals, one of them (Mattis) retired, who seem to have mistakenly thought that the Marine motto had been changed to “Semper Lie.”  It was a very sad spectacle.

In 1961, when I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, I took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Also drummed into the heads of us newly minted officers was the obligation to tell the truth — always.

I had assumed — apparently naively — that Marines took the same oath and obligation.  The attack on Iraq 15 years ago destroyed that assumption.  I will cite just two examples that scandalized me.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Truth, Get Rich Quick

Marine Gen. Zinni was receiving an award at the Veterans for Foreign War convention on August 26, 2002, and decided to play Brer’ Rabbit as he listened to the main speaker, Vice President Dick Cheney, set the meretricious terms of reference for war with Iraq.

Zinni had been commander of CENTCOM and had retired two years before, but his continued role as fully cleared consultant had enabled him to stay up to date on key intelligence findings for Iraq.  Zinni later said he was shocked to hear Cheney’s depiction of intelligence (Iraq has WMD and is amassing them to use against us) that did not square with what he knew the accurate intelligence to be. “There was no solid proof that Saddam had WMD. … I heard a case being made to go to war,” Zinni told Meet the Press three and a half years later. (Emphasis mine.)

Earlier, Zinni enjoyed a reputation as a relatively straight shooter with a good bit of courage. And so, the question lingers: why did he not go public when he first heard Cheney’s lie?  THAT might have stopped the war.  What seems operative here, I fear, is an all-too-familiar conundrum at senior levels where people have been conditioned not to rock the boat, not to risk their standing within the Washington Establishment or their prospects for lucrative spots on the corporate boards of arms manufacturers.

Semper Fraud

Without the full cooperation of former Marine, Senator Pat Roberts (R, Kansas), who was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee before, during, and after the attack on Iraq, Bush and Cheney would have had far more difficulty perpetrating that crime.  Because of Roberts’s participation in what easily qualifies as a criminal conspiracy, Bush and Cheney were able to run amok — until, finally, the Senate changed hands in 2006.

On June 5, 2008 Roberts’s successor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced the completion of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation — a study that had been continually sidetracked by Roberts.  Rockefeller introduced the study’s bipartisan findings with these words: “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Fellow Marine and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter found Roberts’s behavior shameful.  Ritter was unable to resist writing: “Semper Fraud, Senator Roberts.”

Against that background, it was particularly painful last evening to watch two Marine four-star generals peddling at the Pentagon a bogus casus belli for another unprovoked armed attack — this time on Syria.

Media people favored with a Pentagon pass were too timid to ask pointed questions about the evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for some strange reason known only to him, picked a time of near victory to “use chemical weapons against his own people” on April 7.  No one asked why the rush to judgment; why the gang of three (the U.S., its aging British cousin, and its young French poodle) could not have waited just a day or two for UN inspectors to arrive and discover whether the so-called “chemical attack” amounted to a true casus belli, or a casus belly-laugh.

Following Orders

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford remind me of the generals of the Third Reich in “just following orders,” lying through their teeth about the pretext for attacking Poland — er, I mean Syria — as though the solemn oath they took was to the Fuehrer — er, I mean President — not the Constitution.  It seemed, at first, that President George W. Bush’s dictum still reigned at the Pentagon; i. e., “The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper.”But President Donald Trump and Secretary Mattis did not go as far as Bush. No doubt under White House orders, Mattis dutifully recited the key tenet of constitutional scholar Dick Cheney’s dubious “unitary executive” theory; that is, that the President is somehow not bound by Article I (Section 8) of the Constitution.  That Article I section may have been in mothballs since the attack on Pearl Harbor, but remains a very important part of the Constitution.  And the U.S. has gotten into a peck of trouble by those —administrations and members of congress, alike — who have chosen to circumvent this key provision, which reserves to Congress the power to declare war.  Our Founders wanted this to apply, if a King — er, I mean President — got it into his head to attack another country.  Syria, for example.

At the beginning of his speech, Mattis employed this dubious variant, without the slightest demurral from those wishing to retain their Pentagon passes: “As our commander in chief, our President has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests.”

Those interested should re-read Article II.  They will look in vain for anything like the Cheney/Mattis variant.  All that part of Article II says is: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

A Common Error With Budding Officers Too

An experience I had teaching a class at the Naval Academy in Annapolis 12 years ago suggests that students at U.S. military academies are led to think that Article II supersedes Article I. Lecturing to a third-year class of about 50 students about political/military events, I referred innocently to the solemn oath required of military personnel and asked what that oath was all about.  “Well, it is an oath to the President, of course,” said the first student who threw up his hand, with several others nodding assent.  I said that was quite wrong.  And it turned out to be like pulling teeth to find one student who knew that the oath was to defend the Constitution.

Last evening I found myself wondering what Attorney General Jeff Sessions thought of Mattis’s messing with Article I, Section 8.  For, not too long ago, there was one shining moment when Sen. Jeff Sessions did his best to challenge then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who pretended to be unfamiliar with the bedrock fact that the Constitution reserved to Congress the right to declare war.

Libya: Precedent for Syria

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7, 2012, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, pursued this key issue with Panetta. Chafing ex post facto at the unauthorized nature of the war in Libya, Sessions asked repeatedly what “legal basis” would the Obama administration rely on to do in Syria what it did in Libya.

Watching that part of the testimony, it seemed to me that Sessions, a conservative Southern lawyer, was not at all faking when he pronounced himself “almost breathless,” as Panetta stonewalled time after time. Panetta made it explicitly clear that the administration does not believe it needs to seek congressional approval for wars like Libya. At times he seemed to be quoting verses from the Book of Cheney.

Sessions: “I am really baffled … The only legal authority that’s required to deploy the U.S. military [in combat] is the Congress and the President and the law and the Constitution.”

Panetta: “Let me just for the record be clear again, Senator, so there is no misunderstanding. When it comes to national defense, the President has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country, and we will, Sir.”

If you readers care about the Constitution and the rule of law, I strongly recommend that you view the entire 7-minute video clip.

Constitutionally, the craven Congress is a huge part of the problem. Only a few members of the House and Senate seem to care very much when presidents act like kings and send off troops drawn largely by a poverty draft to wars not authorized (or simply rubber-stamped) by Congress.

A Chill on the First Amendment

Secretary Mattis devoted his last minute last evening to a careful reading of the following warning:

“Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.  And, in an effort to maintain transparency and accuracy, my assistant for public affairs, Ms. Dana White, and Lt. Gen. McKenzie, Director General of the Joint Staff here in Washington, will provide a brief of known details tomorrow morning — we are anticipating at about 9:00 in this same location.”A warning not so sotto voce: Criticize the craven behavior of Mattis, Dunford, or the Gang of Three, and you will be “aligning” yourself “with the Assad regime.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.