Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 29, 2012

How Did This Shelling Kill "60 Soldiers"?

On Friday, Syrian troops shelled a suburb of Damascus, killing an estimated 125 civilians and 60 soldiers.

Dear Associated Press.

Did shelling by Syrian troops really kill "60 soldiers"?

Really?

There was noone else involved? Just "civilians" and "soldiers"?

Really?

Posted by b on June 29, 2012 at 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (90)

Predictable Punishment: Clandestine U.S. Attacks On Pakistan

Nine month ago the U.S. accused the Haqqani clan for some highly visible attack in Afghanistan and accused Pakistan of directly supporting the Haqqanis. I then suggested that such accusations and accompanying threats put war with Pakistan on auto mode:

Having accused Pakistan for direct influence on the Haqqani network the administration will have to again escalate after the next attack with a military strike now being the only option left. This is now an automatism the Obama administration needlessly created in its attempts to overtake the Republicans on the right.

Not surprisingly there were recently again some highly visible attacks in Afghanistan and the Obama administration has again claimed that the Haqqani group is responsible for them. It also again threatened Pakistan. But as I predicted it escalated further. From the two news items below we can reasonably conclude that U.S. attacks on Pakistan are now indeed happening.

The announcement of imminent attacks came on June 22: US Mulls New Covert Raids In Pakistan

U.S. military and intelligence officials are so frustrated with Pakistan's failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighboring Afghanistan that they have considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down, officials told The Associated Press.
...
The officials who were briefed told the AP that recent discussions of clandestine ground attacks have included Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as top CIA and special operations officials.
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The officials say options that have been prepared for President Barack Obama's review included raids that could be carried out by U.S. special operations forces together with Afghan commandos, ranging from air assaults that drop raiders deep inside tribal areas to hit top leaders to shorter dashes only a few miles into Pakistan territory.

Don't get confused with that "have considered launching" stuff. Such official leaks to the press about "we have considered" stuff are done when the decision has already been taken. Only three days later, on June 25, the results were in: Taliban Kill 13 Soldiers in Pakistan Raid

A relatively rare cross-border raid into Pakistan by Afghan-based Taliban militants killed at least 13 Pakistani soldiers, the military said Monday.
...
A senior Pakistani military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that more than 100 Taliban militants armed with heavy weapons had crossed the border in the attack. After initially reporting six soldiers killed and 11 missing, the official later said that seven of the missing had been “reportedly killed and then beheaded.”
...
Residents of Dir said the militants were operating from a base just over three miles from the border, where there is no visible Afghan or NATO presence.

Gen. John R. Allen, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Wednesday, the Pakistani Army said on its Web site. He will meet with the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to focus on new border-coordination procedures, the statement said.

This weeks Allen-Kayani talks went well say some spokespersons, but a closer reading reveals that not even one issue on each sides agendas was solved. That why I expect to see those "rare" cross-border raid into Pakistan will become less so in future days and months.

The U.S. has lost the war in Afghanistan. The COINdinistas, who pushed the escalation of that war, are trying to rewrite history and to disclaim their responsibility for the mess. Someone else will have to blamed for the loss of the war and it seems that Pakistan will be made the culprit and therefore rightfully punished by the retreating U.S. forces.

Posted by b on June 29, 2012 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Unseriousness Of The Guardian's Tisdall

While there can be differences in reporting the facts on current events as various people immediately try to spin those, it rather uncommon for serious journalists to falsely report well documented and settled facts of decade old public events.

But some journalists are simply not serious. Take for one the Guardian's Simon Tisdall. This is the opening of a comment on Turkey published in today's Guardian:

Funny how times change. When the Bush administration sought permission to transit its Iraq invasion troops through Turkish territory in early 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara's soon-to-be installed prime minister and his Justice and Development party (AKP) bluntly refused. Their bold defiance of America's will won plaudits around the Arab world, not least from Syria.

That is about as historically false as one can possibly make it. The AKP hierarchy and the then prime minister Gül were in favor of letting the U.S. forces through Turkish territory. It was the opposition and some rebel backbenchers of the AKP party who voted against it:

The AK party won a sweeping victory in the 2002 elections, which saw every party previously represented in the Grand National Assembly ejected from the chamber. In the process, it won a two-thirds majority of seats, becoming the first Turkish party in 11 years to win an outright majority. Erdoğan normally would have become prime minister, but was banned from holding any political office after a 1994 incident in which he read a poem deemed pro-Islamist by judges. As a result, Gül became prime minister. It survived the crisis over the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite a massive back bench rebellion where over a hundred AK Party MPs joined those of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in parliament to prevent the government from allowing the United States to launch a Northern offensive in Iraq from Turkish territory.

The rest of Tisdall's column is just as wrong as it started. There is chaos in Syria and the urgent need is to prevent that chaos. And therefore Turkey should invade Syria and take over its strategic (chemical) weapons. Or some nonsense like that.

As they Guardian is obviously lacking serious journalists couldn't it at least afford some serious editors who to catch the most obvious factual mistakes?

Posted by b on June 29, 2012 at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

June 28, 2012

Syria: Plans of 1957 As Implemented In 2011/12

In 1948 the CIA predecessor overthrew the government of Syria. Today we learn that another such attempt was planed in 1957:

Newly discovered documents show how in 1957 Harold Macmillan and President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria's pro-western neighbours, and then to "eliminate" the most influential triumvirate in Damascus.
...
The "preferred plan"adds: "Once a political decision is reached to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria, CIA is prepared, and SIS [MI6] will attempt, to mount minor sabotage and coup de main incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals.
...
The report said that once the necessary degree of fear had been created, frontier incidents and border clashes would be staged to provide a pretext for Iraqi and Jordanian military intervention.
...
The plan called for funding of a "Free Syria Committee", and the arming of "political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities" within Syria. The CIA and MI6 would instigate internal uprisings, for instance by the Druze in the south, help to free political prisoners held in the Mezze prison, and stir up the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus.

The planners envisaged replacing the Ba'ath/Communist regime with one that was firmly anti-Soviet, but they conceded that this would not be popular and "would probably need to rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power".

That all sounds very familiar when compared what is happening these days.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton's diplomats tried another stunt, claiming for the 11th or so time that Russia changed its opinion on Assad:

Russia and other big powers have agreed to back a proposal by UN envoy Kofi Annan for a national unity government to lead political change in Syria.

Western diplomats say the proposed cabinet could include members of the opposition and government, but no-one who would undermine its credibility.

It was obvious that this was wrong and a few hours later Lavrov's people said so:

Russia hasn’t signed up to United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for a transition of power in Syria and has made a different proposal as officials head to Geneva for crisis talks, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said.

Russia doesn’t agree with Annan’s approach and won’t support any imposed power handover, said the official, ...

What the western media have mostly failed to notice is the fact that recent changes in the Syrian government already created a national unity government. Significant members of the (non-violent) opposition are now part of the new Syrian cabinet:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Saturday forming a new government, state television said, less than two months after controversial parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.
...
[A] national reconciliation portfolio was created for the first time by the regime, which has been suppressing a popular uprising for the past 15 months and labels protesters and armed rebels alike as “terrorists”.

Ali Haidar, a member of the Syria-based opposition tolerated by the regime, was given the post.

Qadri Jamil, another Syria-based opposition figure, was appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs and minister of domestic trade and consumer protection, a portfolio that replaces the former ministry of provision and domestic trade.

What Syria needs is not a western designed unity government of expats but a real ceasefire. But assured of the western powers continued support the insurgency will not agree to any ceasefire unless it feels near an imminent defeat.

That is not yet the case but I suspect that the Syrian army will soon move for another big push that will revert the slight territorial gains the insurgence has made in some areas. But some significant defeats of the insurgency will likely also lead to a new push for an armed attack by western states. I find it difficult to foresee what would develop from an imminent threat of such an attack. Will the Russians be willing to, in that case, throw in some showstopper?

Posted by b on June 28, 2012 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (62)

June 27, 2012

German Court: Ritual Circumcision Is A Criminal Act

Over the next days I'll amuse myself reading editorials and op-eds and lunatic comments about the "outrageous" and "antisemitic" German court decision that gives a child's right to physical inviolability a higher legally standing than its parents' right to freedom of religion.

The District Court of Cologne decided that ritual circumcision for boys is a criminal act. This of course incenses those who set their personal religious believes above universal individual rights.

The court judged against a doctor who had performed the procedure, which led to complications, an a four year old boy. Cue the outrage:

The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination".

The judgement was an "outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries," added Graumann.

"This religious right is respected in every country in the world."

Well Mr. Grauman, the right to burn witches was also once"a religious right respected in every country in the world". Some even saw it as a religious duty. But opinions on human rights versus religious rights have, thankfully, changed over the centuries.

Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities.

And this judgement now criminalizes these child mutilation. That will of course not immediately end them but it is an important step towards that aim.

BTW: I find it funny how the Telegraph writes of "large Jewish and Muslim communities" in Germany when less than 200,000 Germans (0.25%) are of Jewish heritage while over 4 Million (5%) are of Muslim heritage.

The boy in the case the court judged was a Muslim child. Why then is there no Muslim voice in the Telegraph piece but only a quote from the speaker of the likudnik Central Committee of Jews?

Various religious groups in Germany, of all major faith, have condemned the judgement and have thereby proven their inherent backwardness. But reading through German online comments some 80% of the people agree with the court.

Like them I am delighted by this judgement. It shows that there still is some progress in the German society towards the implementation of basic universal rights.

Posted by b on June 27, 2012 at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

June 26, 2012

Is This Erdogan's Backdoor For Implementing Safe Zones?

Having lost its reconnaissance plane to the Syrian air defense on Saturday the Turkish government was first holding back. But after having been pushed by the British foreign minister, the French and likely also by the interventionists in Washington the tone of the Turkish government changed.

It demanded a NATO Article 4 consultation which was granted but ended today in a relatively calm statement. It even leaves open where the Turkish plane was hit, within Syrian national waters, as the Syrian government says, or over international waters as the Turks claim. There clearly is suspicion by some NATO countries that Turkey provoked this incident.

But the NATO statement wasn't enough for the Turkish prime minister. This morning he spoke to the Turkish parliament and I have serious concern that some of his statements were in preparation of creating Turkish protected safe zones for the Syrian insurgents on Syrian ground:

"The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech. "Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria and poses a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target."

What is the distance that is described with "approaches the Turkish boarder from Syria"? Is this a fifty meter no-go zone or a 100 miles deep buffer zone within which Turkey will go after any Syrian troop movement?

The insurgents currently dominate in some of the border areas to Turkey. The border-towns in Turkey is where their supplies are coming from. If the Syrian army moves against these insurgents on Syrian ground will that be "regarded as a threat and treated as a military target" by the Turkish government?

It seems that Erdogan plans to act against the Turkish public opinion and to order his military to use a generous interpretation of what "approaches the border" means and starts to attack Syrian troops on Syrian ground. This would be another provocation and likely an escalation on to a full fledged war on Syria.

As a sign of what might come this video and a picture, uploaded only a few hours ago, allegedly showing Turkish tank units deploying towards the Syrian border.

Posted by b on June 26, 2012 at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

June 25, 2012

Open Thread 2012-18

Only on thing to read today:

 

Plus your news & views thread ...

Posted by b on June 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (50)

June 24, 2012

Morsi Wins Presidency - But Potential Comes Down To Trust

Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi wins Egyptian presidential vote

Egypt’s election commission has declared Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood the winner of Egypt’s first free elections by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

The commission said Mr. Morsi won with 51.7 per cent of the vote versus 48.3 for Gen. Shafiq.
...
Voter turnout was at 51 per cent, the electoral commission said.

With only 26% of the full electorate backing Morsi his mandate to rule is likely too thin to enable him to attack the old guard's and the military's interests.

But a year from now when the Egyptian economy will still be in shambles and the blame is laid on him and the Brotherhood's continuation of neo-liberal policies a conflict with the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces may become a political necessity and could escalate fast. 

When that escalation crystallizes in renewed street riots the question for the Egyptian people will come down to which side they can trust. There Morsi and the Brotherhood already lost out.

Feb 10, 2011: Muslim Brotherhood: 'We are not seeking power'

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Keeping with the low-profile it has adopted in Egypt's uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday it wants to promote democracy but does not intend to field a candidate for president.

"The Muslim Brotherhood are not seeking power," Mohammed Morsi, a member of the group's media office, said at a Cairo news conference. "We want to participate, not to dominate. We will not have a presidential candidate, we want to participate and help, we are not seeking power."

Jun 22, 2011 Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood expels presidential hopeful

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has expelled a senior member for saying he would run for president in defiance of the group's decision not to seek the post vacant since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
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"The Shura Council (the group's decision-making body) has decided to scrap the membership of Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh... because he announced he would run for the presidency," the Brotherhood said in a statement posted on its website.

Dec 25, 2011 Muslim Brotherhood will not nominate a presidential candidate: spokesman

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Ghozlan announces that his party's “final, irrevocable” decision on whether to field a candidate for president in Egypt's elections is negative.

Ghozlan, in a statement he gave to Saudi newspaper Al-Yawm, said the Brotherhood has not yet named the presidential candidate that it will be supporting in the elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood had previously stated that they would not field a candidate, but then seemed to rescind that decision recently when reports came out that they were toying with names.

Posted by b on June 24, 2012 at 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (51)

Turkish FM Davutoglu On The Downed Plane Affair - Escalation?

The Turkish foreign minister Davutglu just gave a TV interview about the Turkish reconnaissance plane shot down by the Syrian air defense.

Mahir Zeynalov, a Turkish journalist with Today's Zaman, tweeted it live:

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Syria is not helping us locate our pilots, we are in coordination with them b/c it is within Syrian territorial waters

Turkish FM Davutoglu: I talked to 15 interlocutors, including 3 prime ministers last night regarding the downed warplane.

Turkish FM Davutoglu is now saying how patient, restraint Turkey is and he is saying "we want to see the entire picture."

Turkish FM Davutoglu: I am putting it bluntly: The aim of our plane was to test our national radar system, not related to Syria crisis.

Davutoglu: Our plane was making a solo flight. If it was intended for aggression, it wouldn't be sent as a single plane for a risky task.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Our plane was unarmed, didn't hide its identity.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: It is either amateurish behavior or ill-intention to describe Turkish plane as a threat. (referring to Syria)

Turkish FM Davutoglu: The plane was making a radar test that's why it was flying in a low altitude.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Our plane was hit in international air space.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: The plane was hit 13 miles off the Syrian coast, in international air space.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: The plane lost its "consciousness" and that's why it fell in Syria's waters.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: There is no any single warning to our plane before the shooting.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Our plane shortly violated Syrian airspace, but not during the shooting time.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: It is possible to violate another state's air space due to weather conditions, or technical things.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Turkish plane violated Syria's air space 15 minutes before the downing of our plane.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Syria is trying connect the "not ill-intentioned violation" to the shooting of the plane. Irrelevant.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Our air space is also being violated all the time but we are warning them in a friendly manner.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: The plane was not in a Syrian air space for long that made it possible to hit the plane.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Syria could have asked our intelligence why Turkish plane violated the Syrian air space. It didn't happen.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Syria is saying that "we didn't know it was a Turkish plane." Our data suggests otherwise.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We detected conversations in Syrian side, suggesting that they knew it was a Turkish plane.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Everyone must know that Turkey acted in line with international law, we will act with restraint.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Our next step after getting the entire picture was to inform the international community. Talked to 10 FMs last night.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We will hold our consultations with NATO member states, permanent security council members.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: All countries we talked to expressed their solidarity with Turkey. They found us right.

RT @todayszamancom: Turkey says downed jet was unarmed, hit outside Syrian waters http://bit.ly/MNxSpy

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We are ready to listen if there is different intelligence but we know that our plane was hit in int'l air space.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: There was some data leaks from Syria we describe as "disinformation"

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Prime minister Erdogan will brief opposition leaders today, we will hold cabinet meeting tomorrow.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Turkey will mostly make its position clear by Tuesday regarding downed Turkish warplane by Syria.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: There were many violation of Syrian air space by other countries before. But Syria shot down our unarmed plane.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Considering this, we would of course question the decision-making of Syria no matter what.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: No country can show courage to test Turkey's patience.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We will, without any hesitation, decisively take required steps regarding downed Turkish plane by Syria.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: If Syria has become an element of instability not only towards its people but in the region, we will respond to that.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: No one can claim that Turkey didn't make any efforts in urging Assad to avert Syrian crisis.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: When our unilateral efforts failed regarding Syria, we had started engaging in regional diplomacy to end Syrian crisis

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We should not link Syrian crisis and downed Turkish fighter jet.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: No matter how downed Turkish jet saga unfolds, we will always stand by Syrian people.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We will always stand by Syrian people until the advent of a democratic regime there.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We will also hold briefing-like talks in NATO council as part of 4th charter of the Alliance.

Turkish FM Davutoglu on defected pilot to Jordan: This shows the level of despotism in Syria.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: We will always stand by our Syrian brothers regardless of their race, religion, sect. Could they be Sunni or Alawite.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: Iran FM Salihi called me first and said they will do their best regarding downed Syrian jet.

Turkish FM Davutoglu: I told Iranian foreign minister that Turkey expects clear position from Tehran regarding downed Turkish jet by Syria.

MT @MustafaEdib: Strong similarities b/w what #Ankara said after #flotilla incident and Syria jet downing. Not much achieved with #Israel

The critical legal point that could be used to activate a NATO response is "hit 13 miles off the Syrian coast, in international air space". That does not fit with this amateur video taken on a Syrian beach and uploaded shortly after the incident. It seems to shows anti air gun artillery shooting at the alleged plane. The point where the video was taken is here next to a hill with a white top and cleared anti-air positions. There is no way that any AA artillery Syria has could hit a plane 13 miles out.

It is also irrelevant if the plane was armed or not. Reconnaissance is a military task and to any air defense an unknown low flying fastmover intruding a countries air space is definitely a threat.

It seems to me that those who would buy what Davutoglu is trying to sell here would also be prospective customers of this or that Brooklyn bridge sale.

Posted by b on June 24, 2012 at 04:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (40)

June 22, 2012

Downed Turkish Jet May Not Change Turkish People's Nonintervention Opinion

This will create some very interesting reactions:

Turkey's military says it has lost contact with one of its military aircraft over the sea close to the border with Syria.

Turkish media said the plane had crashed into Syrian territorial waters.

However, eyewitnesses in the northern Syrian town of Latakia told BBC Arabic that Syrian air defences shot down an unidentified aircraft near the town of Ras al-Baseet.

Ras al-Baseet is in Syria about 10 miles from the Turkish border.

Most interesting will be how the Turkish people will react to that. So far a wide majority of Turks is against any intervention in Syria:

An opinion poll by the Ankara Social Research Center published this month has found that more than two-thirds of those polled opposed any intervention by Turkey in Syria. The poll also revealed that a majority, even those who support the Turkish prime minister's party, believed Ankara should not take sides in the conflict.

Erdogan is facing critic even inside his party for having miscalculated on Syria and having been overly eager to support the Syrian opposition.

I find it unlikely that the downed jet will change that.

Posted by b on June 22, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (106)

Is AFP Supporting #ANSFCanDo Propaganda?

There is a currently an ongoing Taliban attack against a hotel near Kabul. Pedro Ugarte (ugartep@twitter), Photo Director AFP Asia Pacific, informed us:

First ‪#AFP‬ ‪#photos‬ of the Taliban attack near ‪#Kabul‬ now in the wire - @Massoud151 at the site http://bit.ly/L9ZODC ‪#Afghanistan
9:22 PM - 21 Jun 12

This is one of the photos found here:


bigger

Judging from its distinguished long silhouette the helicopter in the upper left seems to be a UH-60 Blackhawk used in Afghanistan by U.S. forces.

But the AFP distributes that photo with this caption:

AFGHANISTAN, Kabul : An Afghan National Army (ANA) helicopter flies near the site of an attack on a hotel near Qargha lake, outskirts of Kabul on June 22, 2012. Taliban militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons mounted a suicide attack on a hotel at a popular Kabul beauty spot on June 22, with reports saying the insurgents were holding numerous hostages. AFP PHOTO / Massoud HOSSAINI

The AFP capture identifies the helicopter as "Afghan National Army (ANA)". But the Afghan National Army does not fly Blackhawks. The few helicopters it has are all of Russian origin.

The AFP journalist who made those photos knows this. Massoud Hossaini (massoud151@twitter) correctly identified the helicopter:

Two nato helicopters are flying around ‪#Kabul‬ ‪#qargha‬ lake
6:11 PM - 21 Jun 12

Smoke comes up and helicopters were really close to the building in ‪#qargha‬ outskirts of ‪#Kabul‬ operation is going on
7:38 PM - 21 Jun 12

#Kabulattack‬: another huge explosion and now Nato helicopters are back to the field. Security personnel say 1 still is fighting
8:43 PM - 21 Jun 12

Other journalists also identify the helicopters as "ISAF chopper".

AFP has three photos of the helicopters above the hotel. The captions to all three of them misidentify the helicopters as "Afghan National Army (ANA)". Its reporter who made the photos correctly identified them as "NATO helicopters".

There is of course an ongoing ISAF propaganda campaign claiming that the Afghan National Security Forces are capable of everything and are leading most security task. There is even a Twitter hashtag for this - #ANSFCanDo - used by the ISAF spokesperson to spread "success" stories.

As a recent Afghan Analyst Network report about the death of an Afghan journalist states:

ISAF spokesmen have continued to try to spin the story – claiming even recently that the counter-attack had been ‘Afghan-led’, when in fact, no Afghans were involved in it at all.

What ISAF claims is of course military propaganda. But I find it very curious that a news agency like AFP, despite the correct identification its reporter gave, is distributing his photos with a caption that goes along the ISAF/NATO propaganda campaign instead of the truth.

Update (8:30am): AFP has now changed the captions to those pictures. Maybe noticing AFP of this post helped :-). The captions now read:

AFGHANISTAN, Kabul : A NATO US-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flies near the site of an attack on a hotel near Qargha lake, outskirts of Kabul on June 22, 2012. Taliban militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons mounted a suicide attack on a hotel at a popular Kabul beauty spot on June 22, with reports saying the insurgents were holding numerous hostages. AFP PHOTO / Massoud HOSSAINI

Posted by b on June 22, 2012 at 01:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 21, 2012

Syria: The Assassination Campaign And Its Historic Example

The foreign supported rebels in Syria, armed by the CIA in consultation with the Muslim Brotherhood, do not only wage a war against the Syrian army and government.

They also wage a silent assassination campaign by death squadrons who, day by day, kill more or less prominent Syrian intellectuals and functionaries who support the Syrian government. That campaign has been going on for many months now without any western media reporting on it. A typical recent incident:

Brigadier Ghassan Abu al-Dahab, a doctor and the head of the Harasta clinic, was assassinated in front of his house in Damascus by the blast of an explosion device that was planted under his car, Syria's Arab News Agency SANA said.

The assassination came as part of a series of attempts made recently against senior army officers.

Another Syrian, Abdul-Qoudous Jbarah, was killed in his house in the Damascus suburb of Sayeda Zainab, said SANA, adding that terrorists broke into his house Wednesday and shot him and wounded his brother.

The Syrian news agency SANA calls this a campaign against "national and scientific expertise and intellectuals":

In the framework of targeting the national and scientific expertise and intellectuals, an armed terrorist group on Monday assassinated Doctor Adnan Tawfik al-Samitt in Daraa.

SANA reporter quoted a source at Daraa Province as saying that the armed terrorist group shoot dead Dr. al-Samitt with their machineguns near his house at al-Qusour Neighborhood in Daraa city.

Another example:

In the framework of targeting the national expertise, an armed terrorist group on Thursday detonated an explosive device in the car of the master of Jaber bin Hayyan school in Aleppo, Mohammad al-Freij, causing his martyrdom.

SANA reporter quoted a source in the province as saying that al-Freij was martyred when the explosive device went off as he was getting on his car in front of his house in Hanano area.

This modus operandi is well known to Syrians. Such an assassination campaign was also implemented during the six years of terror and insurgency the Muslim Brotherhood waged against the Syrian government between 1976 and 1982:

Islamist militants targeted prominent figures in the Ba'th Party and armed forces, particularly high-ranking 'Alawis. But through the 1970s, violence broadened to include assaults on government facilities and public symbols of Ba'thi rule, including district party offices, police stations and military encampments.
...
Armed struggle against the Ba'thi leadership in Syria peaked at the close of the decade, with the execution of eighty-three 'Alawi cadets at the military academy in Aleppo in June 1979, a cluster of mass demonstrations and boycotts in Aleppo, Hama and Homs in March 1980, and a failed attempt to assassinate President Hafiz al-Asad later that year.

Elder Syrians have seen a situation like today's one. A like insurgency by the same ideological forces was waged 35 years ago. I do not know, but suspect, that that insurgency also had foreign support.

But that insurgency ended after a decisive battle the government fought against insurgents occupying parts of a city:

Six years of armed struggle culminated in the February 1982 confrontation between the Muslim Brothers and the Ba'thi regime in the long-time Islamist stronghold of Hama. Militants proclaimed a popular uprising and seized control of several neighborhoods in the heart of the city. It took elite military and security forces two weeks to crush the revolt, during which time between 5,000 and 20,000 civilians were killed and the central business district and historic grand mosque were razed to the ground.

That campaign in Hama is today often cited as a mark for the "brutality" of the Baath regime. Never mentioned though is that the Hama "massacre" was the culmination of a six year long fight against a bloody terror campaign.

Considering that history I still believe that the Syrian government and population will show the same resilience against the current Muslim Brotherhood's terror campaign that it demonstrated some 30 years ago.

Posted by b on June 21, 2012 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

June 20, 2012

Balance II

Some years ago I mentioned on this blog that I do like to build cranes. Lacking any serious equipment I prefer to make them from Lego.

Other engineers have better machine parks and can build bigger cranes, real ones. But they still have, like me, also fun playing with them.

They did so on the recent Liebherr customer day.

Here the biggest conventional crawler crane of the world, the LR 13000 with a maximum lift capacity of 3,000 metric tons, is lifting a LR 11350 (1,350 mt max cap.) which is lifting a LR 1350 (350 mt max cap.) which is lifting a LTR 1100 with (100 mt max cap.).

That is not all yet. That LTR 1100 is lifting a plate with a 1:50 model of an LG 1750 which lifts a 1:87 model of an LTM 1045.

Did I mention that engineers love to play?

The total weight of the six cranes assembly as shown, including all counterweights, is 5,000 metric tons and it is in perfect balance. Quite a mountain of high tension steel for a little playful show like this. By the way - 147 trucks are currently on their way to deliver the first sold 3,000 ton lifter for a refinery project in Whiting, Indiana (Here it is shown lifting its structural test load of 3,371 metric tons.)

More pictures of the six cranes lift are here, here and here. There are also a few videos showing the lift: here, a longer one here and another one.

Posted by b on June 20, 2012 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

June 19, 2012

Cameron Obviously Lies - Then Reuters Distributes Lie As News

Reuters UN bureau chief Lou Charbonneau is treating a rumor peddled by UK's prime minister Cameron as news even after it was proven to be false.

@lou_reuters
UK Prime Minister Cameron says #Russia's #Putin was explicit in saying he doesn't want #Assad - remaining in power in #Syria - @reuters
3:21 PM - 19 Jun 12

As there have been some ten or so news alerts over the last months, all proven wrong, that the Russian Federation changed its position on Syria, shouldn't a serious journalist first confirm what a lying shit like Cameron says before distributing it?

@lou_reuters
If confirmed, this is big news #Russia's #Putin no longer backs #Syria's #Assad UK's PM Cameron http://reut.rs/L2oeyV via @reuters
4:02 PM - 19 Jun 12

Yeah, if confirmed, otherwise it is nonsense. So why is Lou Charbonneau distributing it?

@lou_reuters
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says Cameron remark about #Putin wanting #Syria's Assad out doesn't correspond to reality @reuters
4:29 PM - 19 Jun 12

Which was of course obvious for anyone who has followed the issue. For example for Blake Hounshell, the editor of Foreign Policy

@blakehounshell
I'm old enough to remember the previous 10 times people have reported that Putin is ready to dump Assad.
5:21 PM - 19 Jun 12

So is this settled now and will Lou Charbonneau backpaddle on his false rumor spreading?

@lou_reuters
British PM #Cameron says #Putin no longer backs #Syria's #Assad http://tinyurl.com/cdoasda
6:05 PM - 19 Jun 12

Lou Charbonneau continues to spread Cameron's lies despite of his obvious knowledge of a clear denial from the Russian Federation. However you might call that, reporting it isn't. 

@lou_reuters
#Russia's Putin reiterates Syrians should decide whether Assad remains in power in #Syria http://tinyurl.com/cbuegbg
6:24 PM - 19 Jun 12

So after even Putin confirms what Lavrov said - no change in Russia's position, does Lou Charbonneau finally get that Cameron obviously lied?

@lou_reuters
Contradictory signals from G20: UK says #Russia turns on #Syria's #Assad Obama, Putin cast doubt on that http://reut.rs/L2C58n via @reuters
6:53 PM - 19 Jun 12

He didn't get it. Or more likely, he doesn't want to get it. These ain't contradictory signals. Cameron obviously lied about what Putin said. Putin says so as does Lavrov as does Obama.

So the real story here is that Cameron openly lied. But Reuters has nothing about that. Despite clear denials by the Russian president and the U.S. president Reuters' UN reporter Lou Charbonneau continues to spread the obvious false fact Cameron told.

We can now mark him, and his company, as just another partisan outlet with exactly zero information value.

Posted by b on June 19, 2012 at 11:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (87)

June 18, 2012

Open Thread 2012-17

Some things to read:

A bit of history of imperial interference in Iran. No wonder that the Iranians reject any further attempt: Why weren’t they grateful? - Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup - Book review by Pankaj Mishra, LRB

Interesting for the historic background on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and their terror campaign in the 1970s: Syria's Islamist Movement and the 2011-12 Uprising - Fred H. Lawson, Origins

COIN always includes terror campaigns: How To Kill A rational peasant - America's Dangerous Love Affair With Counterinsurgency - Adam Curtis, BBC

Posted by b on June 18, 2012 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (87)

June 17, 2012

Google: Egypt's Husni Mubarak Presidency To Continue

Egypt elects a new president. If the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces allows the Muslim Bortherhood candidate Morsi to win, they will issue an annex to the constitution that makes him powerless. If the former air force general and last prime minister Shafiq wins, the annex to the constitution may grant him some power.

But according to Google translate neither will matter.

Translated from English to Arabic:

Hosni Mubarak  -  حسني مبارك
I will respect Egypt's future president  -  وأنا أحترم الرئيس المصري حسني مبارك في المستقبل

Translating the last phrase back from Arabic to English:

وأنا أحترم الرئيس المصري حسني مبارك في المستقبل  -  And I respect Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the future

We are pretty sure that - in this case - Google's translation is absolutly correct. It doesn't matter who wins because the military and SCAF will rule until the next phases of the revolution wash them away. Meanwhile some voters have sad fun spoiling their ballots.

Screenshots:


bigger


bigger

Posted by b on June 17, 2012 at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (51)

June 15, 2012

New FAZ Piece On Houla Massacre: "The Extermination"

A well regarded and qualified author of the prime German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported (in German) how the recent massacre in Houla, Syria, was perpetrated by Sunni rebel forces. I translated the piece to English. There was some push back against the piece and an anonymous rebuttal from Houla activists.

In a new piece (in German) the reporter, Rainer Hermann, extends on the first one and explains why his reporting is correct and why other reporting was terribly wrong.

What follows is my translation of the FAZ piece:

The Extermination

The Houla massacre was a turning point in the Syrian drama. There was great worldwide outrage when 108 people were killed there on May 25, among them 49 children. Calls for a military intervention to end the bloodshed became louder and the violence in Syria has since steadily escalated. Based on Arab news channel and the visit of UN observers on the following day, world opinion almost unanimously blamed the regular Syrian army and the Syrian regime's Shabiha militia for the massacre.

In the past week and based on reports from eyewitnesses the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put this version into question. It reported that the civilians killed were Alawites and Shiites. They were deliberately killed by armed Sunnis in Taldou, a town in the plains of Houla, while fierce fighting between the regular army and Free Syrian Army was taking place at checkpoints around the village. Our report was taken up by many media outlets worldwide and was rejected by many as implausible. We have therefore to ask four questions: Why did the world opinion so far followed a different version? Why does the context of the civil war makes the doubted version plausible? Why are the witnesses credible? What other facts support the report?

Firstly, why world opinion follow a different version? It is undoubted that during the first months of the conflict, when the opposition did not yet possess weapons and was defenseless, all atrocities were done by the regime. The assumption is therefore obvious that this would continue. [Note by the translator: Here Mr. Hermann errs. There were reliable reports about deadly attacks against government forces by well armed perpetrators, allegedly foreign financed, as early as April 10 2011.] Furthermore, the Syrian state media enjoy no credibility. They use the standard labeling "armed terrorist gangs" since the beginning of the conflict. Thus no one believes them, when that is indeed the case. Two media outlets, the Arab news channel Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have become key sources even as their owners, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are two states which are actively involved in the conflict. Not without reason do we know the saying "In war, truth dies first."

Secondly, why is, in the context of the civil war, the doubted version plausible? During recent month many weapons have been smuggled into Syria and the rebels have long had mid-sized weaponry. Every day more than 100 people are killed in Syria with about equal numbers of dead on both sides. The militias that operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army control wide parts of the provinces of Homs and Idlib and extend their dominion over other parts of the country. The increasing lawlessness has led to a wave of criminal kidnappings and also facilitates the settling of old disputes. If one looks through Facebook pages or talks to Syrians: Everyone knows everyday stories of "religious cleansing" - of people being killed just because they are Alawite or Sunni.

The plain of Houla, which lies between the Sunni city of Homs and the mountains of the Alawites, is predominantly inhabited by Sunnis and is burdened by a long history of sectarian tensions. The massacre took place in Taldou, one of the largest sites of Houla. Of the names of civilians killed, 84 are known. These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the family Al Sayyid and two branches of the family Abdarrazzaq. Residents of the city state that these were Alawites and Muslims who had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. A few kilometers away from the border with Lebanon, this made them suspect of being sympathizers of Hezbollah, detested among Sunnis. Additionally killed in Taldou were relatives of the government loyal member of parliament Abdalmuti Mashlab.

The homes of the three families are located in different parts Taldous. The members of the families were targeted and killed up to one exception. No neighbor was injured. Local knowledge was a prerequisite for these well-planned "executions". The AP news agency quoted the only survivor of the family Al Sayyid, the eleven year old Ali, as saying:. "The perpetrators were shaved bald and had long beards." This is the look of fanatical jihadists, not of the Shabiha militia. The boy said he survived because he had pretended to be dead and smeared himself with the blood of his mother.

On April 1 the nun Agnès-Maryam, from the monastery of Jacob ("Deir Mar Yakub") which lies south of Homs in the village of Qara, described in a long open letter the climate of violence and fear in the region. She comes to the conclusion that the Sunni insurgents operate a stepwise liquidation of all minorities. She describes the expulsion of Christians and Alawites from their homes, which are then occupied by the rebels, and the rape of young girls, who the rebels pass off as "war booty"; she was an eye witness when the rebels killed a businessman in the street of Wadi Sajjeh with a car bomb after he refused to close his shop and then said in front of a camera from Al Jazeera that the regime had committed the crime. Finally she describes how Sunni insurgents in the Khalidijah district of Homs locked Alawite and Christian hostages into a house and blew it up only to then explain that this was an atrocity of the regime.

Why are, in this context, the Syrian witnesses (in my report) regarded as credible? Because they do not belong to any party of the conflict, but are caught in the middle and have no other interest than to stop a further escalation of violence. Several such people have already been killed. Therefore, no one wants to reveal their identity. In a period in which an independent review of all facts on the spot is not possible there can be no certitude that all details have happened exactly as described. Even as the massacre in Houla took place in the version described here, no conclusions can be drawn from it for other atrocities. As before in Kosovo every massacre must be examined individually after this war.

What other facts support this version? The FAZ was not the first to reported on a new version of the massacre of Houla. Other reports could just not compete with the big key media. The Russian journalist Marat Musin, who works for the small news agency Anna, was in Houla on May 25 and 26, in part became an eyewitness and also published the statements of other eyewitnesses. Additionally the Dutch Arabist and freelance journalist Martin Janssen, who lives in Damascus, contacted the Jacob Monastery in Qara, which has taken in many victims of the conflict with the nuns doing devote humanitarian work, after the massacre.

Sunni rebels perpetrate "liquidation" of all minorities

The nuns told him how on that May 25th more than 700 armed rebels, coming from Rastan, overran a roadside checkpoint of the army near Taldou, how these, after the massacre, piled up the corpses of the killed soldiers and civilians in front of the mosque and how they, on next day, told their version of the alleged massacre by the Syrian army in front of the cameras of rebel-friendly channels and to the UN observers. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on May 26 at the UN Security Council that the exact circumstances are unclear. The UN could confirm, however, "that there has been artillery and mortar attack. There were also other forms of violence, including shots from up close and serious abuses."

The following sequence of events can be reconstructed: After the Friday prayers on May 25th more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the (mostly also Sunni) soldiers fought bloody battles in which two dozen soldiers, mostly conscripts, were killed. During and after the fighting the rebels, supported by residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families of Sayyid and Abdarrazzaq. They had refused to join the opposition.

Posted by b on June 15, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (152)

June 14, 2012

Egypt: The Counterrevolution Won - For Now

The parliamentary elections in Egypt gave a large majority to the Muslim Brotherhood the Salafi parties. That scared many of the liberals who had protested at Tahrir square as well as the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Behaving quite unprofessionally the various fractions in the parliament could not agree on a way to set up a constitutional assembly and on procedures on how to write a new constitution. But they agreed on a law banning former Musharaf government members from the presidency.

Then came the presidential elections. The most popular candidates were dismissed by a SCAF election court for this or that fudged reason. Then the first ballot round eliminated some others and left for the second round only the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood Morsi and the candidate for the SCAF, Mubarak's last prime minister Shafiq.

Yesterday the military reinstated parts of the emergency law that allows arbitrary arrests by the military and state security forces.

Today the constitutional court ruled that the law to ban former government members from the presidential election is illegal. Mubarak clone Shafiq can thereby continue in the run-off and whoever will count the votes will make sure that he wins.

The court also ruled on the legitimacy of the parliament. With a fluffy interpretation of the law it found that a third of the parliament members, those directly elected instead of through party lists, were not legally elected. It dissolved the whole parliament.

Egypt now has no parliament, no constitution, no way to create a new constitution and a joke of a legal system.

Shafik, the SCAF puppet, will win Sunday's run-off vote. Today he already held a well prepared victory speech. Mubarak, currently in jail with a bad case of jail flue will then likely be freed and allowed to live in some luxury comfort where he can continue to pull the strings. Everything will be back to where it was before the Tahrir protest.

Or not. Whenever Islamist parties got cheated out of a democratic victory the troubles only began. The 1991 election in Algeria and the non-acceptance of the result by the military was followed by some great and brutal troubles. Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006 but was not allowed to rule. After a fight with Fatah Hamas took over Gaza and strife within the Palestinian people continues today.

It is therefore quite likely that the now completed counterrevolution by the military, in the bigger historic view, will only be seens as a phase in a longer and likely more violent process of re-balancing the Egyptian political system.

Posted by b on June 14, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

June 13, 2012

Syrian Army Is Now Taking The Initiative

Hillary Clinton is making pointless propaganda:

A shipment of attack helicopters is "on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, heightening pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's staunchest international backer.

Russia denies this and even the Pentagon disagrees with Clinton:

Pentagon sources suggested that Mrs. Clinton, in her remarks at a Brookings Institution event, was referring to a Russian-made attack helicopter that Syria already owns but has not yet deployed to crack down on opposition forces. While these helicopters, known as Mi-24s, are flown by Syrian pilots, Russia supplies spare parts and provides maintenance for them.

The Syrian army already has some 70 attack helicopters but has so far hardly used them.

But that will now change. The rebels are getting serious anti-tank weapons:

The fierce government assaults from the air are partly a response to improved tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, which have recently received more powerful antitank missiles from Turkey, with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, and other activists.
...
Speaking in Istanbul, council members also described efforts to supply the opposition with arms, specifically antitank weaponry delivered by Turkish Army vehicles to the Syrian border, where it was then transferred to smugglers who took it into Syria.

The use of tanks in clearing cities and villages from rebels is difficult and costly as the rebels now have serious anti-armour stuff. The Syrian army will therefore have to use other weapons, artillery and helicopters, to clear rebel positions.

Two weeks ago I wrote It Is Getting Urgent For Assad To Act:

The right time for a full onslaught on the armed opposition may come the very next days.

Waiting too long with a decisive move will only let the problem of armed rebels fester and would, in the end, likely cost much more blood on all sides of the conflict.

It seems that the Syrian government is now following that advice and taking back the initiative:

As the Assad regime’s Syrian, Arab and Western enemies prepare to usher in a new stage in the bloody confrontation, the Syrian authorities have been mulling over their own plans for a comprehensive military showdown. The aim this time will not just be to prevent the creation of armed opposition concentrations or enclaves, but to “destroy all armed groups, irrespective of their nature or identity.”
...
In addition to pursuing the goal of clearing Homs and its hinterland of armed opposition enclaves and cells, action is being taken against concentrations of opposition fighters elsewhere, especially bases and training sites near the Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders. The Syrian army appears to have embarked on a campaign described as “extremely harsh.” aimed at “exterminating entire groups” of rebels.
...
Russia is not expected to stand in the way of the Syrian authorities as they embark on actions that could be of different order to what we have seen so far.

There are even rumors that Russia is preparing some of its own troops for an eventual deployment to Syria.

If the reports by the official Syrian news agency SANA are correct the new operations against the rebels already has some success but at relatively high costs.

Some UN people said that Syria is now in a civil war suggesting a somewhat even balance between the parties. I think that is hugely exaggerated. Western media claimed that the revolt in Syria was by all parts of the Syrian population and only now changes into a sectarian conflict. That is simply wrong. The fighting was from the very beginning sectarian with the rebels naming each Friday after this or that Sunni hero. These foreign supported, and partly foreign led, Sunni rebel groups will have huge difficulties to survive a real onslaught by the united Syrian army.

As long as Russia stands strongly behind the Syrian government, and there is no sign that the support will change, no foreign intervention will come to their help. There is simply no appetite for that. Today's bombing in Iraq with nearly a hundred people killed is a reminder of how "intervention" in such conflicts doesn't help at all.

Posted by b on June 13, 2012 at 04:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (94)

June 12, 2012

Iran Sends Another Message

Report: Iran designing nuclear submarine

Iran has begun to design its first nuclear submarine, the Islamic Republic's semiofficial news agency Fars reported on Tuesday.

The Fars report quotes deputy navy chief in charge of technical affairs, Rear Admiral Abbas Zamini, as saying that Iran has begun "initial stages" of designing the nuclear-powered craft.

Zamini added that Iran has developed "peaceful nuclear technology" and has both the capability and the right to build a submarine.

Translation:

Okay. So you are not willing to take up our offer to give up our 20% enriched fuel in exchange for taking back the unjust sanction you put upon us.

Let's review:

We asked for our NTP rights to peaceful nuclear energy but you said no and forbid the Germans to finish the paid-for reactor in Busheer.

We asked for IAEA support for our civil nuclear program but you said no and forbid the IAEA to help us.

We build a few centrifuges. We were willing to restrict the program to those. You said no and put up sanctions.

We build a lot of centrifuges.

We asked for 20% enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. You said no and put up more sanctions.

We made 20% fuel.

We asked to remove the sanctions for giving up that 20% fuel. You said no and you threaten even more sanctions.

We now up the ante.

Your nuclear submarines are running on 97% enriched Uranium. We will now also make such submarines. And those will require highly enriched Uranium. And we will make that ourselves. We will of course do all that under IAEA supervision. We will not divert any of it for non-peaceful use. We will thereby continue to be within our legitimate rights under the NPT and we will stick to the letter of that treaty.

So what are you gonna do now? Go to war and ruin your economy? Or will you finally sit down for honest negotiations? It's your choice.

---

For the U.S the negotiations strategy it's always coercive diplomacy.  For Iran the strategy is to accumulate and enhance its bargaining chips. This will add a big one. But is it big enough to make the U.S. change course?

Posted by b on June 12, 2012 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

June 11, 2012

Open Thread 2012-16

(While I am busy ...)

Your News & views ...

Posted by b on June 11, 2012 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

June 10, 2012

Lavrov On Syria Conference - The Non-Paper

Following Lavrov's press conference yesterday the Russian federation issued a  non-paper to formalize its proposal for an international conference on Syria:

1- Purpose of conference: to negotiate practical steps aimed at finding a durable political solution t0 the Syrian crisis. Encourage key external players who may exert real influence on various Syrian parties, to take coherent measures in support of Kofi Annan's Peace Plan and to ensure full implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043, in which the Security Council endorsed the Plan and authorized the deployment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria.
2- Suggested participants of the conference: China, France. Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, LAS, OIC, EU, UN.
3- Level of the conference: foreign ministers, heads of regional organizations, with possible preparatory meetings of experts.
4- Expected outcome: all conference participants undertake to exert all their influence on the Syrian parties in order to immediately stop the armed conflict and fully comply with their obligations under Kofi Annan’s Plan and UN Security Council Resolutions 2042. and 2043.br> ...

More at the link.

While that sounds good anybody who wants the foreign fed Syrian conflict to end with as little bloodshed as possible, those who are committed to regime change and the destruction of the Syrian state will likely try to sabotage this attempt or, if that does fails, to undermine any result such a conference might bring.

Let's see if Russia can actually shame everybody to take part in this.

Posted by b on June 10, 2012 at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (61)

June 09, 2012

Prime German Paper: Syrian Rebels Committed Houla Massacre

The prime German daily, the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has a new report (in German) about the Houla massacre. The author is Rainer Hermann who studied and speaks Arabic, Turkish and Farsi. Hermann also has a PhD in economics and wrote his thesis about the modern Syrian social history. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi and has been reporting from the Middle East for over 22 years.

What follows is my translation of the relevant parts of his report, which is datelined from Damascus, about the Houla massacre:

Syrian opposition members who are from that region were during the last days able to reconstruct the most likely sequence of events based on accounts from authentic witnesses. Their result contradicts the pretenses from the rebels who had accused regime allied Shabiha they alleged were acting under the protection of the Syrian army. As opposition members who reject the use of lethal force were recently killed or at least threatened, the opposition members [talking to me] asked that their names be withheld.

The massacre of Houla happened after Friday prayers. The fighting started when Sunni rebels attacked three Syrian army checkpoints around Houla. These checkpoints were set up to protect the Alawi villages around the predominantly Sunni Houla from assaults.

One attacked checkpoint called up units from the Syrian army, which has barracks some 1500 meters away, for help and was immediately reinforced. Dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed during the fighting around Houla which is said to have lasted about 90 minutes. During these fights the three villages were closed off from the outside world.

According to the witness accounts the massacre happened during this timeframe. Killed were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla which has a more than 90% Sunni population. Several dozen members of one extended family, which had in recent years converted from Sunni to Shia believe, were slaughtered. Also killed were members of the Alawi family Shomaliya and the family of a Sunni member of parliament who was [by the rebels] considered a government collaborator. Members of the Syrian government confirmed this version but pointed out that the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis. President al-Assad is Alawi while the opposition is overwhelmingly from the Sunni population majority.

While I do not agree with the FAZ's general editorial positions, I have followed Rainer Hermann reports for years. In my view he is an very reliable and knowledgeable reporter who would not have written the above if he had doubts or no additional confirmation about what he was told by the opposition members he talked to.

Posted by b on June 9, 2012 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

Lavrov on Syria

The Russian Federation's Foreign Minister Lavrov just held a press conference on Syrian. The major points as I noted them from the live TV stream:

  • Russia will NOT support any military intervention and will veto should any such UN Security Council resolution come up.
  • Any intervention in Syria would have unpredictable consequences and would likely lead to a wider conflict sprawling over the Middle East.
  • Outside forces clearly continue to incite violence and to deliver weapons to Syrian rebels. These forces are breaking the Annan plan that was agreed upon and is supported by the whole UNSC.  People who do this clearly want the Annan plan to fail and have said so. [Lavrov emphasized this several times.]
  • Russia will not allow an end-date for the Annan plan or any end-date that could then be used to argue for new action, i.e. intervention. Some seem to want such an end-date but Russia will not allow for such.
  • When Syrian troops withdrew from the cities rebel forces moved in. Rebel forces are continuing the violence. Thirty dead government forces per day clearly show that these are not "peaceful demonstrators".
  • There is some progress since the Annan plan was implemented. Journalists are allowed in Syria, the humanitary access has been cleared up, the violence went down. This must continue.
  • Russia suggests a conference that would include the UNSC veto members, Syria's neighbors, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Iran. This conference shall have an open agenda with the purpose to find a negotiated way between the Syrian parties to end the conflict. Everyone who has influence with the Syrian government or with the rebels should take part. That is why Iran needs to be included. The U.S. can be pragmatic. It negotiated with Iran when its troops in Iraq were in danger. So why then should Iran not be table in such a conference.
  • Russia has not and is not arguing for Assad to stay president of Syria. Russia is arguing for a peaceful solution in Syria and for the Syrians to decide over their government. This was our position from the very begining and this is, unlike some seem to suggest, has not changed at all.

Posted by b on June 9, 2012 at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

June 08, 2012

Syrian Rebels Try To Get Journalists Killed

Alex Thomsen reports for the British Channel 4. He is just back from reporting in Syria for which he had an official visa. He accompanied the UN observers and was frequently also in rebel held areas. On his blog he just posted this vignette:

We decide to ask for an escort out the safe way we came in. Both sides, both checkpoints will remember our vehicle.

Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind.

We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s-land.

At that point there was the crack of a bullet and one of the slower three-point turns I’ve experienced. We screamed off into the nearest side-street for cover.

Another dead-end.

There was no option but to drive back out onto the sniping ground and floor it back to the road we’d been led in on.

Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared.

I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.

That conviction only strengthened half an hour later when our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side-street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead.

The UN duly drove back past us, witnessed us surrounded by shouting militia, and left town.

Eventually we got out too and on the right route, back to Damascus.

In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what’s the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone?

It was nothing personal.

Is anyone still believing that Syrian government forces are committing those massacres? Has there been any evidence yet of the one that Ban Ki Moon claimed yesterday to have happened?

Posted by b on June 8, 2012 at 08:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (76)

NYT: The IAEA Is A U.S. Agency

It seems that the homepage editor of the New York Times made a Freudian slip here:


Cut from a screenshot of the current NYT Global homepage

The link for the "U.S. Agency ..." headline goes to a piece headlined Nuclear Agency Resumes Talks With Iran Over Access to Sites:

LONDON — Senior inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog renewed talks with Iran on Friday aimed at securing access to restricted sites where the agency believes scientists may have tested explosives that could be used as triggers for nuclear warheads, officials at the agency said.

The discussions at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna ...

To name the IAEA an U.S. agency, when it is supposed to be an independent technical agency associated with the United Nations, is not completely wrong. As we know from Wikileaks cables the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, is a total U.S.puppet:

Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.

The homepage editor's slip was probably induced by that and as such simply documented the truth about the IAEA in its current form.

The whole nuclear weapon issue with Iran is of course not about anything nuclear as Iran has no nuclear weapons program. It is about continued U.S. hegemony over the Middle East which requires regime change in Iran. The recent negotiation offer to Iran was not serious and now the P3+3 talks are again getting stalled by the U.S./EU side. The Obama administration does not want to find a solution with Iran. For now it wants to push the issue off until the U.S. election is over. If the economy allows the U.S. then may again push for war in the following year.

Posted by b on June 8, 2012 at 07:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

June 07, 2012

The Syria Discussion At The UN General Assembly

There is currently an informal UN General Assembly meeting on Syria.

As now has become a regular feature, right in time for the UN GA today a new "massacre" was claimed to have happened by the rebels and picked up as news rather than rumor in all "western" media. That "massacre" is supposed to have been in al-Qubeir and was said to have 86 victims. A video of that "massacre" shows some ten seemingly dead children and women.

But something is weird here. No wounds are visible. Two black pieces of whatever, not recognizable as bodies, are introduced as "burned children". The speaker in the video is clearly propagandizing calling for "the world to act." While I can not prove that it is a complete fake, the video does look staged to me.

There was fighting in the area of al-Qubeir reported by the Syrian government:

[T]he Syrian government troops raided a hideout of armed groups in a village of central Hama province, clashing with armed men and killing an unspecified number of them, Syria's state TV channel said on Wednesday.

Two of the government troops were killed in the clashes that took place in al-Qubair village, the TV channel said, adding that the troops' raid was conducted after the local residents asked for help.

The observers tried to reach the area today but were first held back by the Syrian army which said that the area is too dangerous. The observers passed anyway and, the Annan mission said, were later shot at with small arms.

I watched the UN GA on the UN live webcast.

The GA is currently chaired (not unintentionally) by the representative of Qatar who's government is, according to its own statements, arming the rebels in Syria and contributes to the $300 million slush fund for implementing violent regime change in Syria. The first speaker was UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon. He was clearly propagandizing for the anti-Assad party which I found quite shocking for someone who is supposed to be neutral towards UN member countries. He called for "united international action" against Syria which seemed to be a request for sanctions.

He was followed by a spokesman from the Arab League who spread more propaganda and called for Security Council sanctions on Syria under Chapter 7.

Then came Kofi Annan who had a bit more neutral comment on the situation but noticeable also on the anti-Syrian side. The violence has increased he said. This somewhat contradicts this McClatchy report which says that the total number of casualties are down while government casualties have been going up. He mentioned yesterday's "massacre" as it was confirmed when it so far has not been confirmed. He confirmed that the Syrian government has recently again released hundreds of its prisoners. He also confirmed the "presence of a third force", aka terrorists, in Syria. He still seems to dream of a "peaceful transition" without saying what such a "peaceful transition" would be or how it could be implemented when his plan has been rejected by the rebels from the very first day.

Annan was followed by the vice president of the UN Humanitarian Rights Council Simonovic. He differed from Annan in calling yesterday's massacre "not yet confirmed". He again confirmed violence and torture by both sides in Syria. But the reports of his council on Syrian, he says, are only based on witness reports taken outside of Syria. Simonovic seemed to threaten with the International Criminal Court when he called the conflict near to a "internal armed conflict" and said that this characterization has legal consequences.

Then followed the Syrian representative Ja'afari and suddenly the UN webcast picture went black. The sound continued though and the representative asked for a minute of silence for all victims of violence. The UN webcast then suddenly switched to UN Security Council meeting about some old tribunals in Guatemala. After some three minutes the webcast went back to the General Assembly. Ja'afari was still speaking but any watcher of the UN webcast will have missed his first remarks or the minute of silence should it have happened.

Other representatives followed giving the opinion of their governments. On could clear distinguish the U.S. puppets from neutral countries with the first propagandizing against the Syrian government versus the later emphasizing a political process like China, Brazil, Iran and others did.

Interestingly France and the U.S. only send their deputy representatives to read out their statements.

The Russian representative more or less accused the rebels of committing the massacres as they have interest in foreign intervention. He spoke out against any regime change and condemned the delivery of weapons to the rebels. He said that Russia was open to a conference of countries that would help to find a political solution to the situation. This may have allured to a new phase of the Annan plan.

Posted by b on June 7, 2012 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

"The Process Of Beginning The Assessment Process To Try ..."

WSJ

A coalition airstrike during a night raid on a suspected insurgent hideout in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 18 people, including nine children and four women, United Nations officials said.
...
[T]he compound was filled with family members preparing to celebrate the marriage of one of the suspected Taliban commander's daughters, Afghan officials said.
...
"ISAF is in the process of beginning the assessment process to try and determine if the operation and this tragedy that seems to be unfolding in Logar are related," said an ISAF spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. Martyn Crighton.

Shouldn't "the process of beginning the assessment process to try and determine if" one should bomb another wedding be done before the actual bombing?

Posted by b on June 7, 2012 at 04:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

June 06, 2012

Misunderstanding Russia On Syria

The unofficial U.S. government spokesperson David Ignatius writes about some new plan Kofi Annan is supposed to have developed:

To break the deadlock, Annan would create his contact group, composed of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States), plus Saudi Arabia and perhaps Qatar to represent the Arab League, and Turkey and Iran. The idea is to bring together the countries with most influence on the situation.

This unwieldy group would then draft a transition plan and take it to Assad and the Syrian opposition. This road map would call for a presidential election to choose Assad’s successor, plus a parliamentary ballot and a new constitution — with a timeline for achieving these milestones.

There is no way the Syrian government and the Russians would agree to this plan.

Why should they? It would give the U.S. and the Gulf tyrannies all they want. It also would not work.

How does this plan stop the terrorists that roam in Syria? How would it stop the money flowing to them? How would it address "the opposition" when there is no united opposition?

That plan was likely whispered into Ignatius ears by some U.S. diplomat rather than Annan.

The major mistake "western" writers make in their rather stupid comments is their misunderstanding of the Russian and Chinese position.This is not about a Russian harbor in the Mediterranean and not about cultural ties though there are intensive ones.

To those countries the fight over Syria is a principle one. In their eyes the U.S. is trying to establish a dogma that inner strife in any country, even when fueled by outer interference, justifies the removal of a regime by force or other means.

The U.S. is instigating protests by some rather lunatic "democratic forces" in Russia. It is pushing Tibetan exiles to stoke unrest in the Tibetan parts of China. It interferes in other local Chinese affairs.

It is obvious to the Russian and Chinese governments that, should the new dogma get established, they will be next in line for the situation Syria is now in. They will do about everything to not let that happen.

They are also on the right side of history. One of the biggest cultural achievement of the "west", paid for with lots of blood, was the establishment of the principals of the Westphalian peace which forbid outside interference in interior sovereign state affairs. This principal also underlies the charter of the United Nations:

Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter.

The "west" has no, as in zero, rights to interfere in other countries.

That is the point Russia and China are making. And for that to stick they must, and absent of much greater threats will, hold on to their positions.

Posted by b on June 6, 2012 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (58)

June 05, 2012

Afghanistan Logistics - A Joker For Putin

The U.S. continues to provoke Pakistan:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging leaders of India to play a more robust role in Afghanistan, as U. S tensions with Pakistan, India's arch-rival, continue to churn.

Inviting India to surround Pakistan will not be welcome in Rawalpindi. Adding that to the continuation of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, even on people mourning their dead, Obama's unwillingness to say "sorry" for the killing of Pakistani soldiers by U.S. troops and the recent snubbing of President Zardawi at the NATO summit one can only imagine how enraged the Pakistani feel towards the U.S. It is now likely that, even if the U.S. would be willing to pay the demanded transit fee of $5,000 per container, the Pakistani government, facing upcoming elections, would no longer be able to agree to that.

There has even been talk of war against U.S. forces. Today, as Panetta is in India, Pakistan tested a nuclear capable cruise missile. It was the fifth test of various nuclear capable Pakistani missiles within the last six weeks. That is supposed to send a message and the addressee is not only India. A war against Pakistan will not happen but the threat of war is real.

As the U.S. seems determined not to make peace with Pakistan it creates itself a huge problem for the retreat from Afghanistan. The only way out is now either by air or through the north. NATO has just signed new deals that will allow transports through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It also has agreements with Russia and Turkmenistan and while the routes through those countries are expensive and long they are also relatively secure.

So the retreat will have to go through the north with, like in Soviet times, only two major routes to leave the country.

General Concept and Scheme of Soviet Withdrawal (Lester W. Grau)
bigger

The Soviets also used the western part of the ring road from Kandhar via Herat towards what is today Turkmenistan while the U.S., it seems, will mostly rely on the eastern part of of the ringroad via Kabul, Bagram towards Termetz and Uzbekistan. U.S. troops concentrations are in the east of Afghanistan and around Kabul and there is no easy way from the east to the western exit route.

But that eastern part of the ringroad has one very problematic choke point, the Salang tunnel:

For 20 miles north and south of the old Soviet-built tunnel at Salang Pass, thousands of trucks are idled beside the road, waiting for a turn to get through its perilous, 1½-mile length.

This is the only passable route for heavy truck traffic bringing NATO supplies in from the Central Asian republics to the north, as they now must come.

There are other roads, but they often are single-lane dirt tracks through even higher mountain passes, or they are frequently subject to ambushes by insurgents and bandits. So a tunnel built to handle 1,000 vehicles a day, and until the Pakistani boycott against NATO in November was handling 2,000, now tries — and often fails — to let 10,000 vehicles through, alternating northbound and southbound truck traffic every other day.

“It’s only a matter of time until there’s a catastrophe,” said Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, the head of maintenance for the Salang Pass. “One hundred percent certain, there will be a disaster, and when there is, it’s not a disaster for Afghanistan alone, but for the whole international community that uses this road.”

He said 90 percent of the traffic now is trailer and tanker trucks carrying NATO supplies.

With 10,000 trucks per day the roads at this bottleneck are likely to get worse during the retreat and periods of full closure of the tunnel, due to weather, accidents or attacks, are to be expected.

What makes this retreat more difficult than the Soviet one is the sheer mass of equipment that the U.S. has used in Afghanistan. The Soviet units had much less equipment and amenities than the U.S. troops have. They also left much of it for their Afghan partners. Today's Afghan army is unlikely to be able to use modern U.S. equipment and much more will have to be transported back than in Soviet times.

That equipment will also, unlike in Soviets times, have to cross multiple boarders of various countries each of which has its own interest and corrupt officials. The retreat will be very expensive and not only in monetary terms.

From a global political standpoint the necessity of a U.S. retreat through the north has some advantages. It gives Russia a kind of veto over U.S. foreign policy. "You want to invade Syria? Sorry those containers can not pass right now. We need check on them fist, those papers seem to be wrong and by the way those trains are unlike to run this month or next."

With the only route out of Afghanistan now solely through the north the U.S. gave Putin a joker, a wild card, that he can threaten to play whenever he feels that he needs to. That may well tame some other agressive  U.S. foreign policies.

Posted by b on June 5, 2012 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Terror Tuesday

Each Tuesday Obama heads the counter terrorism meeting at the White House. He looks at "baseball cards" and decides who's family is next to be put on the "kill list".

He seems to believe that there is no god but Obama. That is wrong.

Posted by b on June 5, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

June 04, 2012

Open Thread 2012-15

News & views ...

Posted by b on June 4, 2012 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (89)

June 03, 2012

The Guardian Readers Don't Feel Well Served

The British Guardian with its orientalist accounts of the Houla massacre is one of the most anti-Syrian news outlet. It now, laughably, tries to explain that Syrian pro-government forces are responsible for the Al-Qaeda style killing of whole families of government supporters by throat cutting and beheading. This when it is well known that there are AlQaeda like forces active in Syria and that the area where the massacre happened was and is under rebel control.

But such obvious lying about and manipulating such events and witness accounts has its consequences.

The most recommended comment to today's Guardian editorial on Syria is this one by 44kicks with, as of now, 50 recommendation from other readers:

44Kicks
2 June 2012 9:48PM

I don't believe a single f**king word the guardian has to say about Syria.

Similar reader sentiment can be found at other western news sides that fabricate the current anti-Syrian narrative.

One would think that writers and editors of mainstream media like the Guardian would somehow feel discomforted over such feedback from their readership. But that does not seem to be the case. If it is neither the truth nor their readers who do they then serve?

Posted by b on June 3, 2012 at 05:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (115)

June 02, 2012

In Which I Agree With People I Don't Like

I am confused. What is wrong with me today that I agree, at least in parts, with the Russian Orthodox Church, the National Review and Henry Kissenger?

The church:

As the West sought to pressure the Kremlin recently to help stop the killing in Syria, diplomats from Damascus were ushered into the heart of one of Russian Orthodoxy’s main shrines.
...
In his warnings, Patriarch Kirill I invokes Bolshevik persecution still fresh in the Russian imagination, writing of “the carcasses of defiled churches still remaining in our country.”
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The issue of “Christianophobia” shot to the top of the church’s agenda a year ago, with a statement warning that “they are killing our brothers and sisters, driving them from their homes, separating them from their near and dear, stripping them of the right to confess their religious beliefs.”
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The statements on “Christianophobia” amount to a denunciation of Western intervention, especially in Egypt and Iraq, which lost two-thirds of its 1.5 million Christians after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The National Review (via FLC):

Yes, Assad’s minority Alawite Muslim regime is a key ally of Iran’s revolutionary Shiite-supremacist government. That does not alter the stubborn fact that the anti-Assad “opposition groups” are dominated by Sunni supremacists. Stubborn facts cannot be evaded by clever labeling — “opposition groups” in Syria having become the euphemism du jour that “rebels” was in Libya, “peaceful protesters” in Egypt, “uprisings” in Tunisia, and so on. Nor can we confidently assert any longer that what is bad for Iran must be good for us.

That war criminal:

Who replaces the ousted leadership, and what do we know about it? Will the outcome improve the human condition and the security situation? Or do we risk repeating the experience with the Taliban, armed by America to fight the Soviet invader but then turned into a security challenge to us?
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In reacting to one human tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another. In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath. A sense of nuance is needed to give perspective to the proclamation of absolutes.

The Thirty Years’ War decimated the German population by a third through fighting, maiming and hunger.  It was a sectarian civil war with lots of self interested outside interference. One of my favorite plays, Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children written in 1939, is set in the Thirty Years' War. The war finally ended with the Westphalian Peace which forbid outside interference in interior sovereign state affairs. As a German aware of my people's history I deeply believe in this system.

Syria is a secular state that threatens no one. A small minority of Syrians wants to change that by force and with the help of some self interested people from other countries. That is a sure recipe for a much bigger war. We should not allow this to happen.

Posted by b on June 2, 2012 at 03:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

June 01, 2012

Obama - The Detail Decider Lacks Strategic Foresight

The Obama administration, as part of its reelection campaign, is leaking details of half-secret operations to friendly journalists. These leaks are released to make it look as if Obama were personally and in detail involved in operational decisions. The tactical results of these operations are described as successful, but their strategic outcome are rather important setbacks.

Earlier this week the New York Times published a long piece on secret kill lists of terrorists who are targeted by drones. It portraits Obama as personally deciding who and how to kill various people in foreign countries. But that kill list is just a shiny object:

That’s because it propagates the myth that everyone we’re killing is a known terrorist.
...
There is absolutely no reason to believe, for example, that Obama–or even John Brennan–knew the identity of the up to 8 civilians who were killed by a drone in Jaar, Yemen, on May 15. All anyone knew about them, according to reporting, is that they ran out after an earlier drone strike to look at the impact site. Boom! They were never on any Kill List, but they are nonetheless just as dead as Quso is.

At precisely the moment the press reported the White House had embraced signature strikes in Yemen and pulled control of those strikes into the White House, John Brennan rolled out a propaganda campaign to focus on the deliberation that goes into the Kill List–that is, into drone killings not covered by the new signature strike policy.

The effort, very clearly, is an attempt to distract attention from those drone killings that don’t involve the kind of deliberation so carefully portrayed by the NYT.

The campaign also deceives in that it hides or plays down the long term and negative strategic effect of these drone strikes. In Yemen anti-U.S. feeling, and Al Qaeda, are growing because of the drone strikes and drone strikes are also a major hindrance in cooperation with the Pakistani government. Something that will cost the U.S. billions as it has do wind down operations in Afghanistan without the transport route through Pakistan.

Today the New York Times publishes a piece by propagandist David Sanger about the Stuxnet virus the U.S. and Israel unleashed against Iran's enrichment program. Like the one on drones it is full of spin that makes Obama look very involved in the day to day details of a clandestine operation:

The architects of Olympic Games would meet him in the Situation Room, often with what they called the “horse blanket,” a giant foldout schematic diagram of Iran’s nuclear production facilities. Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to continue, and every few weeks — certainly after a major attack — he would get updates and authorize the next step.
...
“From his first days in office, he was deep into every step in slowing the Iranian program — the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision,” a senior administration official said. “And it’s safe to say that whatever other activity might have been under way was no exception to that rule.”

For the U.S. to admit to the offensive use of cyber-weapons is a strategic mistake. The U.S. is supreme in conventional and nuclear military capability because of its strong industrial base and financial capabilities. These are capabilities other countries would have to achieve to the same grade before being able to match U.S. warfare might. That is much different in cyberspace. There you only need smart people, a bunch of off the shelf hardware and software and a bit of time. It also quite easy to disguise oneself cyberspace and let an attack seem to come from someone else than the original attacker. Therefore deterrence does not work in cyber wars. Despite big Pentagon projects like Plan X the U.S. has little, if any, structural advantage in a fight in the cyber realm. With being the first to use active cyber war the us has set a new standard of what is acceptable in the international realm. Other will now use that to their advantage.

Like the shiny object of kill lists today's revelations about Stuxnet are likely only a diversion from much bigger rogue cyberwar activities, like that huge Flame virus, various U.S. services are running. But unlike global drone killer capabilities, which do need lots of physical resources, cyber capabilities are available to all actors and the cyber realm is a much more leveled playing field.

But back to the Obama campaign. I do not believe that Obama is personally involved in various program details, authorizing every next step, as much as portrait in the NYT piece. After such a program is once launched there is no need for him of being involved at all and playing golf is much more fun than sitting in conferences. The campaign may well be effective in portraying Obama as The Decider daily involved in keeping U.S. safe. But what it really portraits is an Obama who is fixated on tactical level operations which at the same time generate serious strategic set backs.

What is the use of a Decider when he lacks strategic foresight?

Posted by b on June 1, 2012 at 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

 
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