Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 20, 2017

Saudi Arabia - Bin Salman's Coup Is A Model For His Own Ouster

Someone wanted the public to know that the new Saudi clown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MbS) took up his new position by unceremoniously disposing his predecessor Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN) by force. The juicy details, true or not, were briefed to Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on the same day:

As next in line to be king of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef was unaccustomed to being told what to do. Then, one night in June, he was summoned to a palace in Mecca, held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne.

By dawn, he had given in, and Saudi Arabia woke to the news that it had a new crown prince: the king’s 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman.

Bin Nayef was a darling of the CIA and his disposal was not welcome. It may well be that the author of the tale of his ouster has his office in Langley, Virginia.

We had correctly called the MbN removal a coup and predicted that "the old al-Saud family king [..] will be offed soon." From the current Reuters piece:

Quoting a witness at the palace, one Saudi source said King Salman this month pre-recorded a statement in which he announces the transfer of the throne to his son. The announcement could be broadcast at any time, perhaps as soon as September.

We also wrote that "[m]any Arab peninsula citizens will want to see [the new clown prince's] head on a pike."

The details of how MbS deposed the previous crown prince MbN will enrage additional parts of Saudi Arabia's population. Additional leaks about extensive MbS contacts with Israel will increase the bad feelings against him. This especially as Israeli is further encroaching on the al-Haram a-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa mosque on the (likely falsely) claimed Jewish temple mount.

MbS' attempt to push Qatar around has, as predicted, failed. The four countries that had joined against Qatar could not agree to increase the pressure. The demands made to Qatar have now been retracted. This is a huge loss of face for MbS and his Emirati mentor Mohammad bin Zayed. The Saudi war against Yemen kills many civilians and costs billions of dollars but is militarily lost. The announced big economic reforms have made no progress. The Gulf Cooperation Council is defunct and may fall further apart.

Everything MbS has touched failed. His actions violate traditions and religious commandments. His coup has set an example that can now be used against himself. It would not be astonishing to see a revolt against Mohammed Bin Salman even before he is able to make himself king. The way he shifted MbN to the side broke all traditional rules. The example he set with the ouster of the former crown prince can now be used against himself.

UPDATE: Bin Salman is now consolidating all internal security organizations and functions under himself. The Interior Ministry, traditionally headed by the Nayef family branch, will be stripped of all significant powers. MbS is afraid. He knows that many forces, including the CIA, are now working against him. This attempt to coup-proof his rule is probably coming too late.

Posted by b at 02:53 PM | Comments (20)

July 19, 2017

On Crapified News And Foreign Policy

Significant parts of the Trump administration, Congress and the general Zionist borg would love to start a war between the U.S. and Iran.

A war is unlikely. Iran's geography and strategic position is unassailable. Its global political standing has increased during the last decades. Any war with Iran would be extremely costly yet unwinnable.

But with U.S. pressure again increasing on Iran it is important to learn and understand what happens inside of country. Unfortunately most reporting about politics within Iran is bit of a mess. Considers the piece below from the Washington Post. Written from Turkey by a journalist who (to my best knowledge) does not speaks Farsi nor has any special knowledge of the country: With U.S. scholar’s conviction, power struggle escalates between Iran’s president and hard-liners

ISTANBUL — A high-stakes power struggle between Iran’s moderate president and his hard-line opponents in the judiciary appeared to escalate with the arrest of the president’s brother and the conviction of an American student for espionage this weekend — rulings that seemed timed to embarrass the Iranian leader at home and abroad.

The piece should be classic foreign reporting. But who is speaking here?

  • ... Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, said ...
  • ... Khamenei said in a speech this month, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent nonprofit based in New York
  • ... said Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington
  • ... said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington
  • ... [a]ccording to Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow and expert on Iran at the Brookings Institution ...

There is certainly no reason to lambast the journalist, Erin Cunningham, for being lazy. Getting five telephone or email interviews and authorized quotes for the piece was surely a day's work. But how come there is no voice from Iran? The only quote from an Iranian person, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is in translation of a lobby shop in New York which does not reveal its sponsors. Is the quote correct? The other "expert" are all from outlets that are more or less adverse to Iran's system of governance.

The piece makes the recent dispute and judicial action look extraordinary and sensational. It connects it to actions in Washington DC:

The tensions come as Iran and the United States spar over the terms of a nuclear deal struck with world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
...
The Trump administration has taken a much harsher stance on Iran, threatening to abandon the deal, and the Treasury Department on Tuesday announced new sanctions primarily targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program.
...
The arrest and conviction of Wang, a 37-year-old scholar at Princeton, appeared to target Rouhani’s wider foreign policy and engagement with the West. Although Wang was detained in August 2016, the timing of the verdict is suspect, analysts say.

“Why did they keep it a secret as long as they did? Timing is important,” said Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Conflicts between the executive and the judiciary in Iran are legend and reoccur at least every other year. They are independent of the president being "moderate" or "hard-line" himself. Consider the obvious similarities between the above lede and this one from 2012:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The head of Iran's judiciary lashed out at the country's president Wednesday, the latest salvo in an escalating political conflict that has undermined much of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political clout.

The Iranian constitution and political system is build on the principal of Vilayat-e Faqih, the guardianship of the (Islamic) jurists. The undecided question is how absolute the primacy of the jurists is supposed to be. The interpretations vary widely and often depend on the issue at hand. The executive will naturally assert primacy wherever it can, while absolute principalists in the judiciary will always assert that their jurisprudence is prime. The conflict is daily bread in Tehran and it makes no sense to sensationalize it.

The arrest of the president’s brother for corruption may well be justified. It should astonish no one. It could be timed to assert pressure but we have no way to know that. It would be mere speculation to say so. Experience has show that effective coordination within the Iranian state machinery is way less than western authors tend to assume.

The U.S. student/spy had already been imprisoned for eleven months. That he was convicted now is likely not related to any Trump tantrum or epiphany. Washington's capers are less important in Tehran as the U.S. would like them to be.

All together the piece shows the typical pitfalls of U.S. reporting on Iran (and many other countries).

  • Original and relevant voices from the ground are absent. None of the people involved in the issues is questioned. "Expert" quotes from often partisan western think thanks are the sorry substitute.
  • Cultural and historic characteristics are neglected. The current dispute between Rouhani and the judiciary has its background in a century old discussion in Iran about the limits of vilayat-e faqih. (The importance of this is comparable to conflicts about "executive privilege" or "state rights vs. federal rights" in U.S. politics.) With that background the spat between Rouhani and the judiciary is simply the marking of territories for his now beginning second term.
  • Most of the issues happening in a foreign country's politics are NOT related to whatever happens in Washington DC. U.S. writers love to draw such causal connections. But not every hiccup in Moscow is in response to some fart in DC. More often then not there is no connection at all.

One original voice from within Tehran's ruling circuit would have been more valuable to the above piece than the five think tank quotes.  A few more words about the historic role of the judiciary would have helped to set some perspective. Connecting the political theater in Tehran to Trump's zigzags makes it easier to write the lede. But there is no justification for it without evidentiary backing. 

Despite the nitpicking I don't regard the Cunningham piece as bad at all. Each day there are way worse reports in the papers and on cable TV. It is probably the best one can do when the editors demand a fast one on some less familiar issue. Over the last years many experienced foreign correspondents were fired or paid to leave. Main-stream media replaced serious foreign reporting with childish "listicals", high school level "explainers" and cat pictures. 

When a few dailies and news shows drive foreign policy making the lack of in-depth reporting becomes a serious issue. Members of Congress and the administration get much of their foreign policy knowledge from U.S. media reports. It is no wonder that they are clueless when those reports lack insight and details. The crapification of high decision making is probably directly related to the crapification of the news media. Trump taking his clues from Fox News (and others) is bad. Fox News (and others) having no well reported clues at all is even worse.

Posted by b at 11:36 AM | Comments (68)

July 18, 2017

"Zero Day" for Violent Regime Change in Venezuela

The U.S. supports the right-wing opposition in Venezuela against the socialist government of President Maduro.

Since April the opposition tries to dislodge the government by instigating a regime change by force. Its protests and street fights with the police are led by violent, militarized gangs:

Venezuela’s ongoing street protests are increasingly looking like outright warfare. As security forces shoot rubber bullets, tear-gas canisters and sometimes live rounds at the churning crowds, increasingly restive mobs are responding with lethal slingshots, homemade mortars and Molotov cocktails.

This week, seven National Guard members were injured in Caracas when a roadside bomb exploded as they drove by on motorcycles.

Leading the opposition shock-troops are loose-knit groups of young men and women that have names like The Templars, The Warriors and The Arcadias. Collectively, they’re known as the Chamos de la Resistencia or, roughly, the Youth Resistance.

This is not just by chance a similar development as was seen during the U.S. instigated color revolutions by force in Libya, Ukraine and Syria. Para-military forces hiding behind "peaceful protesters" attack police, military and civil government institutions to provoke an escalation towards a civil war. Last week the opposition in Venezuela announced that today is the "zero day" for another violent coup attempt against President Maduro:

The fugitive police pilot who allegedly stole a helicopter and used it to attack Venezuela's Supreme Court has appeared at an opposition rally in the capital, Caracas, attendees tell CNN.

Oscar Perez, an officer in the country's investigative police force, addressed the gathering, urging the opposition to continue protesting.
...
"A general walkout for July 18, walkout with no return. The zero-hour will start on Tuesday. The referendum we'll do it, with dignity, we'll be in the street defending the people."

The date was confirmed yesterday:

Venezuelan opposition leaders have called for their supporters to escalate street protests and support a 24-hour national strike later this week after more than 7.1 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution.
...
A coalition of some 20 opposition parties assembled in its headquarters Monday to call for a “zero hour” campaign of civil disobedience in the two weeks leading to the government vote.

On Sunday the opposition held a private poll in which less people attended than the opposition had hoped for. No results but the number of attendees was announced:

The opposition released only turnout numbers Sunday night, not tallies of responses to those questions, although virtually all who voted were believed to have answered “yes” to the central rejection of the constitutional rewrite.

There are some 19 million registered voters in Venezuela. A seven million turnout for a private poll, if real, is significant but neither decisive nor relevant. The hiding of the results lets one assume that the answers to the poll questions were not in favor of the opposition's plan.

It is difficult to ascertain what the real opinion of people in Venezuela is. Polls in the country are traditionally skewed. Maduro's economic polices, restricted by falling oil prices, sabotage by rich im- and exporters and U.S. sanction, was not successful. But the 2015 National Assembly vote won by the opposition was more a protest vote against the economic problems than a vote for the opposition's vague program.

It is obvious that the opposition in Venezuela is heavily supported by the various regime change institutions of the United States. Some of its operatives have deep ties with DEA and the CIA. U.S. media is -as usual- completely on the side of the U.S. regime change program. It has long agitated against the socialist government of Venezuela.

An official Trump statement on Venezuela released yesterday is noticeable for its lack of facts:

Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law. Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.

The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.

Would Trump write a similar statement about the will of the "American people" if Democrats held a private poll against him with an assured multi-million strong turnout?

The Maduro government has called for a July 30 vote to elect members of an upcoming constitutional assembly. There is nothing "imposed" with that. The opposition will try to sew chaos in the streets up to that date and likely has planned for some culmination point of action.

The government has so far reacted passively to the violent protests. The police protects some government buildings and removes some road blocking barricades. But no arrest wave or more assertiveness for government control has been ordered. One wonders at what point such measures will become inevitable.

Posted by b at 08:10 AM | Comments (118)

July 17, 2017

Can Washington Prevent The Death Of The Gulf States?

U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson is angry that Saudi Arabia and the UAE rejected his efforts to calm down their spat with Qatar. His revenge, and a threat of more serious measures, comes in the form of a WaPo "leak" - UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials:

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done.

That the UAE and/or the Saudis were involved in the hack was pretty clear from the get go. They were the only ones who had a clear motive. Qatar already had specific evidence for the source of the hacking. Congressional anti-Russian sources ignored that and accused, as usual, Russia and Putin.

Tillerson's real message is not the hacking accusation. The hacks themselves are not relevant to the spat and to Tillerson's efforts to defuse it. The "leak" sets the UAE and Saudi leadership on notice that the U.S. has sources and methods to learn of their government's innermost discussions. The real threat to them is that other dirt could be released from the same source.

It is doubtful that this threat will change the minds of these rulers. They believe in their own invincibility. Ian Welsh describes the mindset in his prediction of The Death of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states:

This is fairly standard: all dynasties go bad eventually because the kings-to-be grow up in wealth and power and think it’s the natural state of things: that they are brilliant and deserve it all, when it was handed them on a platter. Perhaps they are good at palace intrigue and think that extends beyond the palace.

It doesn’t.

Welsh comes to the same conclusion as I did when the recent GCC infighting broke out:

No matter how the spat with Qatar ends, the GCC unity has (again) been exposed as a sham. It can not be repaired. Saudi "leadership" is shown to be just brutal bullying and will be resisted. U.S. plans for a united GCC under Saudi leadership and U.S. control are in shambles.
...
The Saudi under their new leadership overestimate their capabilities. So did Trump when he raised their role. The Saudi "apes with Macbooks" do not have the capabilities needed for a serious political actor in this world. Their money can paper over that for only so long.

The step Tillerson and some "intelligence officials" now took may be a sign panic. The "leak" revealed "sources and methods". Like every other government the UAE senior officials suspect that the U.S. is trying to listen to their internal deliberations. But they now know for sure. The specific date given in the "leak" will help them to take some countermeasures. Leaking "sources and methods" is not done lightly. That it has to resort to such measures shows that the U.S. administration is not in control of the situation.

During the fall of the Ottoman empire Britain created today's Saudi Arabia. Two world wars exhausted Britain's power. The U.S. took over the management of the  empire including the Gulf states. It needs Saudi Arabia for its fossil energy and the related reserve currency status of the U.S. dollar. Unrest in Saudi Arabia is not in the U.S. interest but such is now in sight. The "leak" is just a tactical measure of an inexperienced administration. It is not enough to defuse or mitigate the conflict and its consequences.

What strategies will Washington develop to counter the foreseeable instability in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states?

Posted by b at 02:33 PM | Comments (64)

July 16, 2017

As Anti-Trump / Anti-Russia Campaign Fails - Yascha Mounk Feeds New Lies

[Updated at the end (Jul 18, 4:00 am Est)]

The U.S. borg is vehemently trying to set up Russia as an enemy of the "west". Their anti-Russian propaganda has become part of the campaign against U.S. President Trump who seeks détente with Russia. It requires intense efforts to denigrate the country, its citizens and its leaders. Here is an example of how such propaganda is fabricated.

Yascha Mounk is:

a Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University's Government Department, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund, and a Nonresident Fellow at New America's Political Reform Program.

He is a self declared liberal internationalist who has been published and quoted by lots of international media.

Yesterday Mounk tweeted this:


bigger

The Mounk tweet is a series of lies:

Cont. reading: As Anti-Trump / Anti-Russia Campaign Fails - Yascha Mounk Feeds New Lies

Posted by b at 11:06 AM | Comments (85)

July 14, 2017

Is Killing "Leaders" Useful Or Not - CentCom Can't Make Up Its Mind

A contrasting juxtaposition in my twitter feed:


bigger

First the U.S. Central Command tweet with this statement by the commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson:

GENERAL NICHOLSON STATEMENT ON THE KILLING OF THE THIRD ISIS-K EMIR BY U.S. AND AFGHAN FORCES IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS
...
"This operation is another success in our campaign to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017," said Nicholson. "Abu Sayed is the third ISIS-K emir we have killed in the last year and we will continue until they are annihilated. There is no safe haven for ISIS-K in Afghanistan." [bold added]

Then the Micah Zenko tweet with this interview with the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Votel. Votel is the direct superior of the above Nicholson:

Q: ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — dead or alive? And does it matter anymore?

Votel: [..] I hope that he is (dead), frankly. [..] That said, we've been doing this long enough to know that leaders are killed and we've killed plenty of them. And that there's always somebody who is going to step up into those positions so we shouldn't think that just killing Baghdadi is the key here. He can be replaced. So in that regard, it may not matter as much. [bold added]

Nicholson says he can win the war against XYZ by killing a bunch of successive XYZ "leaders". Votel rightly says that this is clearly not so. During sixteen years of War of Terror and constant killing of various "emirs" special boilerplate statements were prepared for the typical "victory" announcements. Votel seems to have understood that such killings do not matter. His direct subordinate Nicholson did not. Shouldn't they talk to each other about such issues?

But it may well be that Votel would have sounded very different if his troops had killed Baghdadi and not a Russian(!) air strike.

Posted by b at 05:11 PM | Comments (78)

July 13, 2017

Syria Summary - Will The Trump-Putin Agreement Hold?

The conflict between the U.S. and Russia over Syria seems to have calmed down after the recent G-20 meeting between Putin and Trump. Some kind of agreement was made but neither its scope nor its bindingness is known. One common current aim is the defeat of ISIS.


Source: Fabrice Balanche/WINEP - bigger

At the meeting between the Presidents Trump and Putin in Hamburg a temporary truce was agreed for the south-west area of Syria. The Syrian government (violet) holds the city of Deraa while various foreign sponsored insurgent groups (green), including al-Qaeda and ISIS, occupy the borders towards Israel and Jordan. There had been some serious fighting after recent al-Qaeda attacks on Baath city neat the Golan. During these the Israeli airforce had multiple times supported the al-Qaeda groups with attacks on the Syrian army.

Under the truce agreement the Russian side guarantees that the Syrian government and its allies stop fighting while the U.S. guarantees that Israel, the various FSA groups, al-Qaeda and ISIS stay quiet. The truce has now held for several days. There were no spoilers. The U.S. seems to have strong influence with ALL those entities.

East of the Deraa area in the governate of Sweida the Syrian army has continued operations against U.S. supported Free Syrian Army groups. Within a few days it has taken a lot of ground against little resistance including a deserted U.S. base that was not publicly known. It is possible that a secret part of the Deraa truce agreement allows for the Syrian army to liberate the whole area next to the Jordan border towards the east up to the U.S. held border crossing at al-Tanf.

The U.S. base in Tanf had become nonviable after the Syrian army had taken all ground north of it and Iraqi militia had blocked it from the Iraqi side. The U.S. had trained some Syrian mercenaries at Tanf and had planned to march those north towards Deir Ezzor. As that route is now blocked some of the trained mercenaries were recently transferred by air to Shadadi base in north-east Syria where they will have to fight under Kurdish command. Others have refused to move north. Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra, previously called the New Syrian Army, is mostly made up of local men who probably do not want to leave their nearby families and do not want to come under Kurdish leadership. The U.S. should send them home and leave the area.

Today a new two-pronged move against the ISIS siege on Deir Ezzor was started. Syrian army forces and its allies moved east from their Palmyra positions and south-east from their positions south of Raqqa. An additional move against Deir Ezzor may come from the Syrian forces further south-east near the Iraqi border. The Iraq air force has recently flown attacks against ISIS position in the Deir Ezzor areas. This was done in agreement with the Syrian government. That may be a sign that Iraqi forces will join the fight to relief the city with an additional move south-west from their positions near Tal Afar. The U.S. military has for now given up its dream of assaulting and occupying Deir Ezzor with its proxy forces.

The west and north west of Syria have been relatively quiet. A rumored imminent Turkish attack on Kurdish held areas has not happened. The mostly al-Qaeda held areas in Idleb governate are still unruly. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Turkmen, Uighurs, Kurds, local Free Syrian Army gangs all have their little fiefdoms in the area. Assassinations and attacks on each other are daily occurrences. There is no reason for the Syrian government to intervene in that melee.

The agreement between Trump and Putin over Syria might be more wide ranging than is publicly known. For now it seems that the parties have agreed on areas of influences with the U.S. for now; occupying the north-east currently under control of its YPG proxies. It is building more bases there with the total number now being eight or nine. At least three of these have their own airstrips. It is asking Congress to legalize further base building. It is obvious that the U.S. military plans to stay in the area even after ISIS is defeated.

But the Kurds in Syria are only a minority in almost all areas they currently control. They are not united and the YPG, the only U.S. partner, is a radical anarcho-marxist group that has no legitimacy but force. The area is landlocked and all its neighbors are against Kurdish autonomy.

The U.S. effort to impose itself on the area is doomed. The use of the Kurds as a Trojan horse is unlikely to succeed. The Defense Department, it seems, has not yet accepted that fact. It still may try to sabotage whatever Trump and Putin have agreed upon.

Posted by b at 02:09 PM | Comments (108)

July 12, 2017

Open Thread 2017-29

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:56 PM | Comments (77)

July 11, 2017

Which Campaign Truly Colluded With Russia?

Case 1:

A Hillary Clinton campaign cut-out hires the (former?) British intelligence agent Steele to pay money to (former?) Russian intelligence agents and high-level Kremlin employees for dirt about Donald Trump. They deliver some dirty fairy tales. The resulting dossier is peddled far and wide throughout Washington DC with the intent of damaging Trump.

Case 2:

Some lobbyist for Russian business interests contacts the Trump campaign with a promise to deliver some dirt on Hillary Clinton. She meets campaign officials but no dirt on Clinton is offered. Instead the lobbyist uses the time to lobby for the business' cause. There is no follow up.

Question:

Which of the two cases stinks of "collusion with the Russians"?

Posted by b at 01:31 PM | Comments (98)

July 10, 2017

Syria - The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats - Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek

Max Blumenthal is a well connected and known author who has done work on the Palestinian cause from a somewhat leftish perspective. He is also an arrogant and ignorant showman.

Blumenthal currently edits the Alternet Grayzone project. In their recent writings he and his co-writers profess to dislike the al-Qaeda led opposition in Syria. Yet it is exactly the same opposition they earlier vehemently supported.

Yesterday the Real News Network interviewed Blumethal on his recent piece about CNN's al-Qaeda promotion. The headline: Max Blumenthal on How the Media Covers Syria. During the interview Blumenthal laments the failure of progressive media on Syria:

In my opinion, they have abrogated their mission, which should be to challenge mainstream narratives and particularly imperial narratives on issues like Syria. I understand there are massive human rights abuses by the Syrian government, but that's not reason enough to not explore what the West's agenda, the Gulf agenda is for that country, what the consequences are, to actually get into the geopolitical issues. Instead, we've seen Democracy Now propagate generally a regime change narrative.

I don't believe they actually have a line on Syria. It's more a fear of actually taking on the official line. I haven't found a single article in the Intercept challenging the regime change line on Syria.

Blumenthal is outraged, OUTRAGED, that "progressive" media peddle the Syria conflict along "the official line".

Yet in 2012 Max Blumenthal resigned as columnist from the Lebanese paper Al Akhbar English because the paper did not write along "the official line". He publicly (also here) smeared and accused his Al Akhbar collegues for taking a cautious or even anti-opposition position on Syria.

The Al Akhbar writers challenged the mainstream narratives while Blumenthal, with his resignation and his writing about it, solidly aligned with the imperial project. Back then he himself went along "the official line". Then as now the Real News Network helped him along:

I noticed that it was publishing op-eds by people like Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, who were just openly apologetic of the Assad regime, if not cheerleading Assad as this kind of subaltern freedom fighter leading what she called a front-line resisting state, or Sharmine Narwani, the blogger who was nickel-and-diming civilian casualty counts, [..]
...
This just was really too much for me.
...
My problem was that the opinions at Al-Akhbar's website in support of the Assad regime, which I've identified specifically by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and Sharmine Narwani and by the editor-in-chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, were not based on any journalistic fieldwork. They're based on poring over YouTube clips, looking at textbooks, or really disturbing citations by Amin of anonymous regime sources, including documents that he cited which he referred to as investigations of people detained for trafficking weapons.

At that time Max Blumenthal was sitting in the U.S. stenographing Syrian opposition propaganda. Yet he accused Sharmine Narwani and other writers living in Lebanon and Syria of lack of journalistic fieldwork and of "poring over YouTube clips". Narwani wasn't amused by his ignorance:

I have made two trips to Syria in the past six months – the first to interview a wide range of domestic opposition figures, most of whom have spent years languishing in Syrian prisons; the second just a week ago, to spend time with the UN Observer team and learn about the changed military landscape throughout the country.

No journalistic fieldwork? How would Max know? He has done none on Syria, yet he presumes to condemn the dogged pursuit of truth by others.

Al Akhbar early on recognized the foreign sponsored insurgency in Syria for what it is. Max Blumenthal took the easy route of joining the anti-Syrian propaganda train. Even worse - he publicly smeared the writers at Al Akhbar who were searching for the least harmful solution for Syria.

Now Max Blumenthal has found an outlet that pays him for writing along the very line he condemned when he resigned from Al Akhbar. Nowhere do I find an explanation by Blumenthal for his change of position. No public apology for smearing his former colleagues has been issued by him.

 

Max Blumenthal's sidekick and often co-author at the Grayzone project is Ben Norton. In his own latest piece Norton blames various pundits and main-stream media for pushing for regime change in Syria. Conveniently he does not mention that he himself wrote along that line.

[NOTE: Norton replied to this piece in an email to me. I have published his statement, and my response to it, in the comments below.]

In January 2015 Norton accused the Syrian government of besieging Palestinian refugees in a suburb of Damascus: ‘No to martyrdom by hunger in Yarmouk camp’: Palestinian refugees protest Assad’s siege. Norton had never set a step inside of Syria. His reporting was solely based on opposition talk and videos.

Others did fieldwork. Three month before Norton published his piece Sharmine Narwani had written about her recent visit to Yarmouk:

Cont. reading: Syria - The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats - Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek

Posted by b at 11:16 AM | Comments (166)

July 08, 2017

Mosul Is Liberated! My Congrats To Iraq

The people of Iraq have won the biggest battle in the very bloody fight against the nihilists of the Islamic State:

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 11:59 AM - 8 Jul 2017

#Mosul fully liberated and #ISIS is defeated in the city. Well done #Iraq.

My congratulations to the Iraqi men and women who achieved this.

The pest shall come down on those Gulf dictators who financed the growth of the sectarian "Sunni resistance" in Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration, which intentionally let ISIS grow for its own perfidious aims, the Turkish wannabe Sultan who pampered it and the "journalists" and "experts" who hailed ISIS and alike criminals along shall join them in hell.

Islamic State remnants will continue to exits but the organization is now degraded to a mere guerilla that will no longer threaten the existence of any state. It will eventually die out.

Posted by b at 08:54 AM | Comments (72)

July 07, 2017

Open Deescalation Thread

I am off to appreciate the deescalation measures Hamburg police prepared for tonight.


Picture via Der Postillon bigger

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b at 01:54 PM | Comments (135)

July 06, 2017

The Undeniable Pattern Of Russian Hacking (Updated)

Updated below

A wide review of news sources finds an undeniable patter of international "Russian hacking" claims:

  • Many, if not all such accusation, are based on say-so by some anonymous "official" or self-promoting "expert".
  • Many, if not all such accusation, are rebutted within a few days or weeks.
  • News about any alleged "Russian hacking" is widely distributed and easy to find.
  • News of the debunking of such claims is reported only sparsely (if at all) and more difficult to retrieve.


Source: Jeff Darcy, Cleveland.com - bigger

Examples:

Ukraine

United States

Germany

Cont. reading: The Undeniable Pattern Of Russian Hacking (Updated)

Posted by b at 09:35 AM | Comments (78)

July 05, 2017

The Saudi-Qatar Spat - Qatar And Iran Are Winning - MbZ, MbS Lose Face

The Saudi/UAE campaign against Qatar quickly turned into a mess. Qatar did not fold as had been expected. There was no plan B. The instigators of the plan have now to fear for their head.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar have all build up and pamper extremists groups fighting in other countries. They supply money, weapons and political and media support to various kinds of murderous Takfiris. Unlike the other three, Qatar not only supported arch-conservative Salafists but also groups aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. The MB do not accept the primacy of the Arab absolute monarchs. They provide an alternative way of governing by adopting some democratic participation of the people. That makes them an imminent danger to the Saudis and other family dictatorships. The military dictator of Egypt, which joined the Saudis on the issue, had led a coup against the elected MB government of his country.

In the view of the Saudis and the other three Qatar had to be reigned in. While its media arm Al-Jazeerah Arabic promotes the sectarian and anti-Iran positions the Saudis support, it also promotes the Muslim Brotherhood. That needed to be stopped.

On June 5 the four countries launched a boycott and blockade of Qatar. Three weeks later they issued a list of demands to Qatar which could be summed up as "surrender your sovereignty or else ...". The "offer" was designed to be refused. It practically demanded total capitulation while threatening more sanctions and even war.

As MoA predicted on June 7, two days after the spat started, Qatar did not fold. It has hundreds of billions in monetary reserves, international support from its liquefied gas customers and allies, and it secured supplies and support from Turkey and Iran. It simply did not response to the "offer" in time for the ultimatum's end.

The Saudis blinked first. On Sunday the ultimatum was prolonged for two days. Yesterday Qatar responded with its own demands which were, like the "offer", designed to be refused. It also announced that it would increase its liquefied gas exports by a third which threatens to take market share and income away from the Saudis. It reminded the UAE that 80% of its electricity supplies depend on natural gas delivered from Qatar.

Today the Saudis, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain met to discuss further consequences and new measures against Qatar. The Gulf media predicted more sanctions.

But the gang of four decided to do ... nothing:

The foreign ministers of four Arab countries, meeting in Cairo, said they regretted Qatar's "negative" response to their list of demands.
...
The Saudi foreign minister said further steps would be taken against Qatar at the appropriate time, and would be in line with international law.
...
The meeting came as the deadline for Qatar to accept the list of demands or face further sanctions expired.

This is a huge embarrassment for the clown princes of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. They, Mohammad bin Zayed and Mohammad bin Salman, are the instigators of the campaign against Qatar. The meeting today had to deliver some penalty against Qatar for not giving in to any demand: some additional significant sanctions , a more intense blockade, some threat of military strikes. But the meeting came up with ... nothing.

The clown princes had shot their wad on the very first day. They could not come up with any new measures that were agreeable. Kuwait and Oman reject to push Qatar out of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UAE would lose all its international businesses in Dubai should the Qatari gas supplies, and thereby its electricity, shut down. An additional blockade of Qatar is impossible without the agreement of the U.S. Russia and other big states.

Such a huge loss of face will have consequences. When the Saudi clown prince launched the war against Yemen he expected, and announced, that Sanaa would fall within days. Two years later Sanaa has not fallen and the Saudis are losing the war. Qatar was expected to fold within days. But it has enough capital and income to sustain the current situation for many years to come. The war against Yemen and the sanctions against Qatar were indirectly aimed against Iran- the Saudis' cpsen arch-enemy. But without investing even a dime Iran is now the winner from both conflicts. MbS, the Saudi clown prince, has twice proven to be a terrible strategist who endangers his country.

The Saudi King Salman and his son said that neither of them will take part in the upcoming G-20 meeting in Hamburg. Rumors have it that they fear an imminent coup should one of them leave the country.

No one should be surprised if the Salman era finds a bloody end within the next week or month.

Posted by b at 02:40 PM | Comments (67)

July 04, 2017

"... And the rocket's red glare ..." - North Korea Wishes A Happy 4th of July

In recognition of the U.S. Independence Day the Democratic People's Republic of Korea launched some remarkable fireworks.

DPRK State TV confirmed a successful launch and the basic data others had measured (video).

The announcement comes nearly exactly six month after President Donald Trump issued this prediction.

That forecast turned out to be false.

Jonathan McDowell @planet4589 - 7:02 AM - 4 Jul 2017
Recap: North Korea launches Hwasong-14 ICBM at 0040 UTC Jul 4 from Kusong's Panghyon Airport 933 km eastward to Sea of Japan, 2802 km apogee

More official pictures of the launch were published. The North Korean head of state Kim Jong-Un attended.

North Korea fired the missile at a steep trajectory reaching a very high apogee. This limited the range of the test launch. The flight time of 37 minutes was extremely long. Recalculating the data into a more normal trajectory the maximum flight range of the missile is estimated to be 6,700 kilometers with a normal payload. Launched from North Korea it could cover Alaska but not the lower 49 states. With a light warhead, possibly a small nuclear load, the range could be up to 10,000 kilometer and cover at least the north-western states.

Trump will be rightfully blamed for the braggadocious formulation of his tweet. But one can not blame him for not stopping North Korea's missile development. A war on North Korea would also destroy South Korea and have implications far beyond the peninsula. Only the end of U.S. military maneuvering around Korea and the perspective of a full peace agreement could have achieved a stop of North Korea's development. The U.S. Congress would support neither. Trump tried to press China to reign in North Korea, But China has no reasonable way to do that. One could just as easy blame former U.S. presidents - Clinton for breaking his agreements with North Korea, Bush for his general hostility and Obama for his do-nothing excuse of "strategic patience".

North Korea has very good reasons to perceive the U.S. as vicious enemy and to never trust any U.S. statement or agreement. It needs nuclear weapons for its self-defense. As it can not trust any of its neighbors it needs strategic independence. That has now been achieved.

The U.S., and Trump personally, has been just been "shown the finger" by a small underdeveloped state. One wonders how Trump and the official U.S. it will react to that.

Posted by b at 04:25 AM | Comments (97)

July 02, 2017

NYT, WaPo Send Top Reporters To Stenograph Five O'Clock Follies

When the U.S. military takes a bunch of journalists on a press junket to a foreign country it has a certain intention and prepares every detail in advance. There will be witnesses and local people who are briefed for their two minute talk with the journalists to convey exactly what the military wants them to convey. After enjoying local flair, for ten minutes max, some U.S. diplomatic official or a general will treat the journos to some good whiskey and a genuine local steak. The official will speak a few prepared lines on the record that will reinforce the story the locals were tasked to tell.

The outcome is predictable. The stories the journalists will write will be the same.

Michael Gordon in yesterday's New York Times and David Ignatius in yesterday's Washington Post both report of their latest junket, a visit of Tabqa in Syria.

Gordon's piece: In a Desperate Syrian City, a Test of Trump’s Policies

The young man unburdened himself about the dark years of living under the Islamic State as a crowd of curious onlookers gathered in front of a weathered storefront in the town marketplace. The militants, said the man, a 22-year-old named Abdul Qadir Khalil, killed many residents, doled out precious jobs and severely limited travel to and from the city. ...

He ticked off a list of the things Tabqa needs: electricity, water, fuel and a sizable bakery. Then, laughing about his new freedom to openly denounce the militants, he said, “If they ever come back, they will slaughter all of us.”

The Ignatius' piece: As the Islamic State falls in Syria, one city offers a preview of the country’s future

A boisterous group of young Syrian men is gathered outside a tire and vehicle-parts shop across from the warehouse. American military advisers aren’t sure at first that it’s safe to talk with them, but the men press eagerly toward two visiting reporters. Abdul-Qadr Khalil, 22, dressed in a bright blue-nylon jacket, speaks for the group. He complains that there’s not enough food, water, gas or bread, and there are no jobs. But he dismisses the idea that the Islamic State will ever take hold here again.

“No, never!” says Khalil, and the young men around him nod in unison. “It will be impossible to live if they come back. They will kill all of us.”

Gordon:

.. small children greet visitors with a “V” sign for victory.

Ignatius:

Young children flash V-for-victory signs.

Gordon:

“A fundamental problem in our society is that ISIS’ ideology has been implanted in little kids’ brains, which means it will carry on in the future,” said Ahmad al-Ahmad, the co-president of the council.

Ignatius:

Ahmad al-Ahmad, the co-president of the newly formed Tabqa Civil Council, ... Young boys who were indoctrinated at Islamic State training camps are trying to find their balance in a new world where beheadings and the chanting of Islamist slogans are over.

Gordon:

Nearly 50 tons of flour, paid for by the Pentagon, were trucked in from Iraq to an American-funded warehouse on Wednesday.

Ignatius:

At a warehouse near the town center, the first shipment of American food arrived on Wednesday; sacks of flour and rice are stacked on pallets, ready for distribution, ...

Gordon:

We are not going to get beauty; it’s about pragmatism,” said Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones of the British Army, the deputy commander of the coalition force.

Ignatius:

This is not a work of beauty. This is pragmatism,” says Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, the British deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria ..

I agree with the British general. The reporting in the Washington Post and New York Times from this military press junket is not a work of beauty but pragmatism. These highly paid journalists do not want to get their new desert dress dirty. They pragmatically repeat what the well briefed (and bribed) locals say, picture the children that make V-signs (and receive the promised candy) and they stenograph whatever the military or some diplomats say. No real reporting, no thinking and no dirty boots are required for their job.

The military wanted to convey that nearly everything is fine now in Tabqa. The people love the U.S. occupation and all that is needed now are a few billion $$$ for some minor nation building. The journalists ate up the prepared bites and transmit exactly what the military wanted them to say.

The mainstream media want their readers to believe that their narratives from war zones are genuine reporting. The above examples show that they are not. Their journalists are simple recording highly choreographed shows the Pentagon and State Department press advisors made up and the local press officers prepared in advance. A modern version of the Vietnam war's five o'clock follies.

Richard Pyle, Associated Press Saigon bureau chief during the war, described the [military press] briefings as, "the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia's theater of the absurd."

Back then most media did not fell for the nonsense. Now they willingly join in.

Posted by b at 03:09 PM | Comments (108)

July 01, 2017

Syria - These Maps Show A Year Of Progress

Three maps of Syria show the immense progress the Syrian government forces and their allies have made over the last few month.

During the last half year the Syrian Arab Army not only liberated al-Qaeda held parts of east-Aleppo city, but also the Islamic State held eastern part of Aleppo governate. The closing move happened yesterday when the last ISIS held area in the governate was cut off and the enemy retreated. The area north of the arrows is now free of ISIS fighters. Mines, IEDs and sleeper agents still need to be searched for.


via IslamicWorldUpdate - bigger

In a next step the Syrian Army will move simultaneously from north and south to connect the red areas between (roughly) south of Al-Thawrah and Palmyra. This will enclose and clean the ISIS bulge in the west and secure Homs governate as well as the supply line to Aleppo city.

The Russian rearming, retraining and reorganizing of the Syrian Army has really helped. Russian air support delivers the necessary protection and interdiction capabilities for large movements. De-conflicting zones in the western part of the country as well as the cleanup of several pockets of "rebels" near the big cities freed up ten-thousands of Syrian soldiers. The reinforcements provided through Iran created the additional temporary manpower needed to regain and clean the liberated areas. A total of 40,000 men are engaged in the eastern campaign. When the local Syrian government structures are re-established in the liberated areas the additional forces will no longer be needed.

On a larger scale the immense progress of the Syrian government during the last six month becomes even more obvious. The (red) government held areas were enlarged considerably:

Cont. reading: Syria - These Maps Show A Year Of Progress

Posted by b at 12:44 AM | Comments (98)

June 30, 2017

Open Thread 2017-26

News & views ...

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