Open Thread 2016-06
News & views ...
Elijah Magnier On The Mistakes Of ISIS And The Future Of Jabhat Al-Nusra
Last night Elijah J. Magnier tweeted a small essay about the mistakes the Islamic State leader and his predecessor made in Iraq and Syria. Then followed a shorter essay about Jabhat al-Nusra and the development in Syria. As he is one of the most knowledgeable experts on the war in Syria and Iraq his thoughts deserve a wider discussion.
This is my summary of his tweets on the Islamic State:
Abu Mus'ad al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ignored directives from Aymen al-Zawaheri, the operational leader of al-Qaeda central, to not attack the Shia in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi attacked Shia and Sunnis who disagreed with him and ignited a sectarian war. Had he only attacked the U.S. occupiers the Shia of Iraq, and the anti-U.S. states around Iraq (Iran, Syria) would have been with him. He could have gained much influence over all Iraq but for his (bloody) mistake.
The leader of the Islamic State (the former AQI) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi made more than one mistake. He rejected al-Qaeda central's advice to restrict his organization to Iraq and to leave Syria to an autonomous al-Qaeda entity Jabhat al-Nusra. The Baghdadi's troops crept into Syria and attacked Jabhat al-Nusra. Until then Jabhat was very low profile, fought successfully and gaining many followers in Syria. It could have gained more men and areas if it had been left alone. But the infighting between Baghdadi's group and Jabhat severely weakened both.
The second mistake Baghdadi made was shortly after the conquering of Mosul. He declared war on all other groups in Iraq and also on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Kurds and other states. He also incited the "west" against him through his grueling marketing videos. Without that he could have gained much outside support from the various Sunni states. Iraq would look much different today had Baghdadi not declared war on everyone (but on Turkey). Baghdad and parts of south Iraq would probably be in his hands.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is now fought by everyone. It will be defeated and revert back into an underground terrorist organization.
The current talks over Syria in Geneva are unlikely to have any concrete result. But they are a move in the right direction. The Saudi/Qatari/Turkish/U.S. proxy fighters continue to lose ground in Syria. The only hope for those countries and their proxies to receive some benefit from their "investment" in Syria is to gain concessions during negotiations.
The main Jihadi groups, the Islamic State, Jabhat al Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) and Ahrar al Sham are not taking part. According to UN resolution 2254 any ceasefire in Syria would exclude these entities and all groups aligned with them. The UN Security Council calls:
... to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council ... and notes that the aforementioned ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings and entities ...
Those groups the Saudis now send to Geneva were previous allied and fighting together with Jabhat al-Nusra. In north Syria Jaish al-Fath, an alliance of Nusra, Ahrar al Shams and various U.S. supported FSA groups, conquered Idleb. But the FSA and other proxy groups will now have to distance themselves from Nusra or will have to go down with it.
Al-Qaeda asked Ahrar al-Sham to unite over a year ago but Ahrar refused. The news of Ahrar's rejection is thereby not new.
Jabhat al-Nusra tried to keep a low profile, promoting other Syrian rebels, due to its link to al-Qaeda central that crippled it. Jabhat al-Nusra has succeeded to integrate - on the surface - with other rebels group. A smart move to create "Jaish al-Fath" but that won't last.
It was fine as long as Russia was out of direct involvement in the Syria war. Russia now imposed itself not only on the U.S. but also on the regional players. Now that the U.S. is not willing to stand against Russia in Syria, the game is run differently: Salafist Jihadists are no longer tolerated.
The only chance for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to minimize their losses in Syria is to push all rebels to distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra. Russia is aware of that. What Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have lost on the ground won't be gained in diplomacy at the Geneva talks. Jordan already inspired its proxies to distance themselves from Jabhat al Nusra. Qatar, Turkey and the Saudis will very soon follow.
Jabhat al-Nusra is not unaware of the move. Despite the blood and deep, very deep animosity between Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS they have no choice but to cease hostilities between them. Cessation of hostility does not mean that they will merge. ISIS is in deeper trouble than Nusra.
Jabhat al-Nusra still has another option when ISIS and Nusra will remain the only "two enemies" of everyone in Syria. The majority of Jabhat al-Nustra fighters are Syrians. They can easily disperse within their communities and wait for "better time". This happened before in Iraq during the peak of the "Awakening".
So far Elijah Magnier.
I mostly agree with the above but for the future of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. It will surely try to go underground and it will for a while continue to exist as a terrorist entity. But unlike in Iraq where the U.S. invasion completely destroyed the state and its institutions, Syria still is a real state and has a functioning bureaucracy. Unlike Iraq it has centrally controlled secret services that are able to hunt down underground terrorists. According to Mao the guerrilla fish needs the sea of an accommodating population to swim in. I doubt that enough of the population of Syria will support Jabhat as an underground organization. There will be snitches at every corner and every person somewhat associated with Jabhat al-Nusra will be dead, in jail or under strict surveillance.
So while the Islamic State in Iraq, after it is again cut down to an underground entity, may survive there, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria will probably be rooted completely.
Why Long-term Occupations Of Afghanistan Always Fail
The U.S. military now plans for a permanent occupation of Afghanistan. A discussion of the historic analogy of the Soviets in Afghanistan shows that this is unlikely to be a successful endeavor.
A Pakistani official summed up the Soviet dilemma in Afghanistan as follows:
The Soviets can continue to occupy the country, but the can not win over the people. The longer they stay, the more they alienate the people. The more they alienate the people, the longer they must stay. This Russian dilemma is also the Afghan dilemma, and both seem condemned to suffer the consequences.
Quoted in Joseph. J.Collins, Afghanistan: The Empire Strikes Out, Perimeters, 1982
The above is an apt description of the current situation in Afghanistan, just replace Soviet with American.
Having tried suppression through torture and indiscriminate bombing, massive bribing, escalation via the "surge", COIN and other social science nonsense, the U.S. military is now pushing for a decades long occupation of Afghanistan to facilitate the long-term Afghanization of the conflict:
Top U.S. military commanders, who only a few months ago were planning to pull the last American troops out of Afghanistan by year’s end, are now quietly talking about an American commitment that could keep thousands of troops in the country for decades.
[T]here is a broad recognition in the Pentagon that building an effective Afghan army and police force will take a generation’s commitment, including billions of dollars a year in outside funding and constant support from thousands of foreign advisers on the ground.
“What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave,” said a senior Pentagon official with extensive experience in Afghanistan and Iraq who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years. You have to be there for a very long time.”
The above quoted paper looked at such a long-term occupation and Afghanization as an exit-option for the Soviets:
"Afghanization" might provide a long-term solution, but efforts to carry out such a policy to date have shown little immediate return. This lack of return is not surprising since the Soviets have not generally been successful in developing Soviet-style cadres in Third World countries. Indigenous pro-Soviet movements have been successful, but only when they have drawn on nationalism or on ethnic or tribal affiliation. Soviet prospects for exploiting these unifying factors in Afghanistan are extremely poor.
Again replace Soviets with American and the statement holds.
The paper concludes with a lecture which the hubristic politicians and generals in Washington DC still have not learned:
Afghanistan is proof positive that great power does not insulate its holder from great mistakes. Indeed, having great power tempts the possessor to regard it as invincible whatever the circumstances. Afghanistan vividly demonstrates that even superpowers are at the mercy of religious, ethnic, radical and other such historic forces in their dealings with Third World countries. Armored divisions and unusable ICBMs have rarely overcome the indigenous forces of nationalism and religious faith. Great powers must take this into account in their dealings with Third World countries. There are tides which one dares not to swim against.
Afghanistan is a conglomerate of people of various ethnicity, tribal and religious affiliations. There is, besides maybe in sports, no real Afghan nationality on which one could build an overarching structure to rule. The scholars of the 1980s knew this, but their lecture was forgotten. When will it be relearned?
My First Take On The Presidential Election
Say what you will about Donald Trump but he knows how to market himself. Staging a feud with Fox News and abstaining from tonight's Republican candidate debate gives him more media coverage than taking part. He is already the front runner of the Republican candidates. More debating could only endanger that position. Staying away and making a fuzz about it gives him a bigger lead.
That Trump knows marketing well gives me some doubt about his real positions. Who owns him? Who pays his campaign? Answers to these questions are likely more revealing than the fascist dog-whistle politics he publicly emphasizes. He seems to favor neither neoconservative nor liberal interventionist foreign policy. That would be welcome change.
On the democratic side I do not see a chance for Clinton to win. I believe that the American people have had enough of the Clintons. If she would win the nomination she would lose in the presidential election as many voters would abstain. Her policy record is abysmal. Yes she has experience - of misjudgement and not learning from it. In interior policies she is clearly in the hands of Wall Street and the big banks. Her "liberal" image is all fake. In foreign policy she is "the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes":
“If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” [top neocon Robert Kagan] added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”
Sanders is hard to see as president. His domestic policies are somewhat comparable to middle-of-the-road European social-democrats. His foreign policy stand isn't clear. While not an interventionist he supports the colonists in Palestine. The people obviously favor him over Clinton but he will need big money for the big campaign should he get the nomination. To whom would he sell out?
The Republican party is coming around in favor of Trump. The party big-wigs believe he has no real positions, that they can manipulate him. That is probably wrong. The Democratic party machine is clearly in favor of Clinton. Would it try to sabotage Sanders if he wins primary after primary? Could they throw in another plausible candidate?
My gut instinct say it will be Sanders against Trump with a voter turnout advantage for Sanders. What is your take?
Libya: The Imperial Violence Keeps Giving
Imperial violence is a gift that keeps giving. After the U.S. lied to the UN Security Council about alleged Ghaddafi threats against "protesters" in Benghazi the UNSC allowed for the use of force to protect them. Russia and China abstained instead of vetoing it.
Libya, Spring 2011
The U.S. and its NATO allies abused the UNSC resolution. They weaponized the "protesters", bombed the country to smithereens and killed the leading government figures including Muhammar Ghaddafi. Then U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton the monster, famously bragged (vid): "We came, we saw, he died."
The UNSC resolution is the reason why then Russian President Medvedev was not allowed to run for a second term. Now President Putin - then as Prime Minister only responsible for interior politics - said that as he read the UNSC resolution he found holes in its wording a whole army could march through. Medvedev had made a huge mistake by allowing it to pass. That he had to go is the only positive result of the NATO attack on Libya.
Now the U.S. wants to attack Libya again:
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday that military officials were “looking to take decisive military action” against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Libya, where Western officials estimate the terrorist group has roughly 3,000 fighters.
Administration officials say the campaign in Libya could begin in a matter of weeks. They anticipate it would be conducted with the help of a handful of European allies, including Britain, France and Italy.
This will go it always goes, bomb strikes, special forces on the ground, proxy fighters trained by U.S. forces or private companies who will then develop into their death squads and terrorize the population.
There is chaos in Libya as was foreseeable and predicted here when the war on Libya began. There are many armed groups and two parliaments and two rudimentary governments, on in the east and one in the west. The UN just tried to set up a third, unity government and failed:
Libya's internationally recognized parliament voted on Monday to reject a unity government proposed under a United Nations-backed plan to resolve the country's political crisis and armed conflict. ... Since 2014, Libya has had two competing parliaments and governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east. Both are backed by loose alliances of armed groups and former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Many of the "rebels" who were paid by Qatar and others to overthrow the Libyan government are Islamists. Many went from Libya on to Syria to fight against the Syrian government and the U.S. helped to supply weapons from Libya to those foreign terrorists in Syria.
It is unlikely that the real U.S. interest now is to fight the few foreign Islamic State fighters in Libya. Most of the Islamic State followers in Libya are locals of some specific tribes who earlier were part of this or that local Islamist gang. They are not a threat and other local forces will hold them at bay.
The U.S. wants the whole country under its indirect control but has so far only half of it:
The armed forces allied to the eastern government are led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally. He has also fought Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi and has become one of Libya's most divisive figures, enjoying strong support in the east but despised by forces allied to the government in Tripoli.
Haftar was once with Ghaddafi but was shunned after he screwed up in a war with Chad. Around 1990 he tried to overthrow Ghaddafi but failed. He went to the U.S., became a U.S. citizen and worked for the CIA. In 2011 he was back in Libya again attempting to overthrow Ghaddafi.
In 2011 the U.S. failed to install its proxy ruler over Libya. It is now going back in a new attempt to gain full control over the country and its resources. Once established in Libya it can subjugate countries in northern Africa.
It is easy to see that this will develop into more war, more terror and more refugees who will flee their home. The imperial violence keeps giving.
Open Thread 2016-05
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Syria: The Battlefield Negotiations Now Favor The Syrian Government
The Syrian army today liberated the the town Rabiah in Latakia province as well as several other villages in the area near the Turkish border. Rabiah, together with Salma which was liberated a few days ago, was one of the jihadists strongholds in the region. Russian air support and artillery (vid) was again decisive. Pictures from the town showed graffiti the "moderate" foreign supported insurgents left behind. It read "All Alawites will be exterminated".
This map shows the current frontline as well as the old frontline from where the Latakia campaign started a few weeks ago.
The jihadis evacuated all positions west of Rabiah and are on the run. Turkey closed its border to prevent them from crossing it. They will seek refuge in Kinsabba near the Jabal al-Akrad heights, their last strong point, which will be attacked next. After that the general attack will be launched at Jisr al Shanghaur in Idleb province from the west and the south after which a larger pincer attack on Idleb city is planned.
Latakia province and the Russian bases there are now secured. Opposition supply lines from Turkey are largely severed. The momentum is clearly on the side of the government troops.
In the south there the Syrian army continues to clear Sheikh Miskeen near the border to Jordan. Should the city be freed the southern insurgents supply lines from Jordan will be in jeopardy. The lines are already restricted as Jordan clamps down on militants crossing its border.
In the north as well as in the south various rebel groups started to fight each other. Clashes between various groups were reported from Daraa in the south and in Idleb between Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra groups. Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's section in Syria, is now under heavy pressure on many fronts and has called for more foreign fighters to join it. There are already strategic discussions within Nusra to end the open war and to go back being an underground guerrilla to hit at the Syrian government and other entities from behind their lines. But the guerrilla fish needs the water of the population to swim in and it is doubtful that Nusra has support of more than very few Syrian citizens.
The Syrian army also liberated Qatar (vid) from the Wahhabi Islamic State supporters. Unfortunately this Qatar was not the country at the Persian Gulf but a small town north east of Aleppo.
The Syrian government troops and some 200,000 civilians in Deir Ezzor in east Syria are under continuing heavy attacks from fighters of the Islamic State. The Syrian army sent reinforcements by transport helicopters, the Russian air force has dropped tens of tons of food for the population and Russian jets provide air support for the defenders.
In the Kurdish area in the north-east of Syria Russian specialist are working to establish another air base. The Turkish President Erdogan said such a base would not be tolerated. But what can he do besides launching an open war against Russia which Turkey would lose just like the other 17 wars it once waged against Russia. The U.S. is establishing its own base nearby to supply Kurdish forces. The Russian base will make sure that the U.S. base will not gain any permanence.
A report in the NYT describes how the U.S. organized the attack on Syria while the Saudis provided the financing at a rate of several billions per year. The report misleads as it only looks from 2013 onward. We already know that the CIA provided weapons and fighters from Libya reached Syria in late 2011 to early 2012.
But the U.S., as well as the Syrian government side, now wants the conflict to die down. It is putting a lot of effort into the next Geneva talks between some opposition groups and the government. Those opposition groups have been selected by Saudi Arabia and Russia has rejected the inclusion of the Salafi Army of Islam and the lack of representation of Kurdish groups. A compromise over this may now be possible with the Kurds and other non-Islamist opposition groups coming to Geneva as a third delegation.
But the war will not be decided through talks. The real negotiations happen on the battlefield. The Syrian government and its supporters will continue the attacks and will build on their recent successes. It is now likely that they will achieve war deciding results before the Geneva talks become serious.
NYT Finds Troubles In Russia Which Are Already Cured
The New York Times has another Schadenfreude piece to make its readers giddy about Russia's economic problems. It seems that nothing is better to divert from job losses and zero wage growth in ones own economy than to pick on some other nation.
But the piece has problems in finding real problems in Russia. It points to only one small demonstration by some elders against cuts in their transportation subsidy. The cuts were discarded. Some people in small private companies have not received their pay. Such small problems are hardly a specialty of Russia and the general "anxiety" the writer tries to find is nothing special. Where the piece goes into the wider economic discussion it lacks basic economic math. How else could one explain these numbers:
With the federal budget approved in December based on oil at $50 a barrel, Anton Siluanov, the finance minister, announced that the country faced a budget deficit of about $40 billion, and ministries were ordered to cut spending 10 percent
Russia has around $360 billion in foreign currency reserves and some $120 billion in two rainy day funds, down from just under $160 billion a year ago. At current spending rates, however, the two funds are expected to last only 18 months.
Two rainy day funds with $120 billion to cover a $40 billion yearly deficit before further cuts or tax increases. How does that compute into "only 18 month"?
Because of economic sanctions over Ukraine and the fall of oil prices Russia has had a bad year. But Russia's financial situation has already stabilized. Mark Adomanis dug into the numbers:
Russia’s Central Bank was bleeding reserves at an enormously quick pace as 2014 came to an end. However, this bleeding has been staunched: over the past year, reserves have stabilized at around $370 billion.
Russia’s current FX reserves are, depending on your assumptions, somewhere between 18 and 22 months worth of “import coverage,” substantially more than the (highly unscientific!) six month threshold that is usually considered the minimum level necessary for macroeconomic stability.
So, in early 2016, Russia is in a situation in which its foreign currency reserves are stable at a reasonable (if not high) level and in which its corporate sector has already undertaken a significant (if not full-scale) de-leveraging. That does not sound, to me, like a country which is on the verge of collapse.
Sure, Russia has relative high inflation and the free floating ruble lost value against the U.S. dollar as most other currencies did during the last year. But the only negative effect of that is in more expensive imports and Russia has enough resources and production capacities to hardly need any. The doom and gloom the NYT tries to find in Russia is just not there. When the oil price collapsed the Russian government acted quickly and avoided the troubles other countries will still have to go through:
The pain being experienced by Russian consumers is very real. Indeed, part of the reason that Russia’s macroeconomic position remains resilient is that it has already taken some extraordinarily painful medicine in very large doses. Most oil producers have attempted to delay adjustment to the “new normal” of low oil prices by, among other things, maintaining currency pegs at artificially high rates or running gargantuan budget deficits. Not Russia. It let the ruble float back at the end of 2014, largely so that it wouldn’t have to spend its reserves in a futile effort to protect an expensive ruble. And, given the austerity talk emanating from the Kremlin, it seems determined to limit its deficit to a modest 3-4% of GDP.
None of this is set in stone. Russian policy making, which to this point seems to have been largely by the economic textbook, could change in a more populist direction. There’s a lingering danger of the imposition of currency or capital controls, either of which would be a disaster. But while lots of oil producers do genuinely seem headed for an economic apocalypse, Russia does not. At least for now.
There is a danger in the false NYT depiction of Russia as an economic basket-case. Policymakers who only read such pieces will see an opportunity to push Russia over the economic edge and will try some rather reckless stunts. They will then be surprised when a strong standing Russia retaliates. Such situations can lead to unnecessary escalations.
Warmed-Over Propaganda: 'Putin Asks Assad To Leave'
For nearly five we are told every six month or so that Russia or Iran is, NOW FOR REAL, dropping its support for Syria and/or its President Assad.
These claims are part of psychological disinformation campaign the U.S. and its allies are running against Syria. The stories are supposed to sow doubt between Syria, its allies and supporters.
The media love to blather about such groundless speculation and each such propaganda round is accompanied by a wave of the ever same stupid analysis. It will be the same today after some "western" intelligence agencies, likely British this time, again claim that Putin asked Assad to step down:
Russian President Vladimir Putin asked long-time ally Bashar Assad to step down as president of Syria toward the end of 2015, the Financial Times reported.
The message from Putin was relayed by Colonel-General Igor Sergun, the head of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency before his death in January, according to two senior western intelligence officials who spoke to the FT on the condition of anonymity.
How convenient that the guy who allegedly talked with Assad is now dead. That might be a good chance to blame the Kremlin, which strongly denies the above report, for his death. We can be assured that Putin 'probably' murdered him.
But why should Russia ask Assad to step down when this would demoralize the Syria army with which it is fighting? Why would that be in Russia's interest?
According to one European intelligence official, speaking to the FT, after beginning airstrikes in Syria “Putin had taken a look under the bonnet [hood] of the Syrian regime and found a lot more problems than he was bargaining for.”
As if Russia would need to "take a look" at Syria. It has had deep relations with the country for decades, there are many economic and personal ties and Syrian officers are trained in Russia. Russia's foreign services knows more about Syria than anyone's else. There was surely no need to "look under the bonnet" after the Russia decision to intervene was made. Russia does not act like the U.S. which jumps into conflicts head first before figuring out the aims of its interventions and means to reach them. Russia's targets and means were identified before it went into Syria. Even if Syria is a mess "under the bonnet" how would dismissing Assad change that? Is there anyone in sight who could do a better job?
Cameron, the British premier, probably needed this diversion and threw this propaganda bone towards the Financial Times. Cameron had famously claimed that:
"there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups."
The foundation of his former comrade in crime Tony Blair today put a nail through that claim:
Our study of 48 rebel factions in Syria revealed that 33 per cent - nearly 100,000 fighters - have the same ideological objectives as ISIS. If you take into account Islamist groups (those who want a state governed by their interpretation of Islamic law), this figure jumps to 60 per cent.
Despite the conflicting ideologies of the rebel groups, 90 per cent of the groups studied hold the defeat of Assad's regime as a principal objective. Sixty-eight per cent seek the establishment of Islamic law in Syria. In contrast, only 38 per cent have the defeat of ISIS as a stated goal.
Some 60-80% of the "rebel" groups in Syria do not want to fight the Islamic State but want the diverse, secular country under Islamic law. If they would carry such opinion in Britain Cameron surely would label them extremists.
The Blair foundation is tricky with its numbers. The claim that the 1/3 of the groups it checked are extremists and have 100,000 fighters will let some lazy thinkers assume that the total number of fighters is 300,000. But that is completely false. The 1/3 of the groups the foundation names as extremists include all major groups on the ground like Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaish Islam. Together the named groups have more than 90% of the total men power on the opposition side. While there are several dozens factions that may not be extremists these are all very small and hardly more than local village guards.
But we shall not think any further along that line.
Did you hear that Putin 'probably' killed the boss of his military intelligence? And that he wants Assad to leave immediately?
Putin 'Probably Approved' Murder Of Baby Jesus
Thought you ought to know this.
Syria - Some Preliminary Positioning For An Endgame
When the Russian campaign in Syria started Obama promised that it would end in a quagmire. Various media and opinion writer picked up that narrative. It was false as Russia was and is executing a well thought out campaign.
Being confronted with reality the U.S. media is now changing its false narrative. The LA Times writes:
The Latakia attack mirrors similar government gains across the country, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian air power, have been on the offensive.
It's a dramatic shift for the forces of Assad, who less than six months ago had warned supporters that the government would have to "give up areas" after a string of humiliating setbacks.
The gains have strengthened the government's position in the run-up to Syrian peace negotiations scheduled to begin next week in Geneva.
The Obama administration and its anti-Syrian allies had hoped for a defeated Syrian government in Geneva that would agree to their capitulation conditions. They now have to change the narrative. Peace talks in Geneva, they now argue, can not take place because the Syrian government is winning. Headlines the Washington Post - Russian airstrikes are working in Syria — enough to put peace talks in doubt:
[A]fter 3½ months of relentless airstrikes that have mostly targeted the Western-backed opposition to Assad’s rule, they have proved sufficient to push beyond doubt any likelihood that Assad will be removed from power by the nearly five-year-old revolt against his rule. The gains on the ground are also calling into question whether there can be meaningful negotiations to end a conflict Assad and his allies now seem convinced they can win.
“The situation on the ground in Syria is definitely not conducive to negotiations right now,” said Lina Khatib of the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative think tank.
The Arab Reform Initiative is a bastard child of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc. and various Middle East dictatorships. The Middle East Project was founded by Henry Siegman, a former National Director of the American Jewish Congress and has various hawkish U.S. politicians like Scowcroft and Brzezinski as its senior advisers.
In their view the Syrian government has to be regime changed and can not be allowed to win. Negotiations will have to be put off until the government is likely to fall. Thus the U.S./Saudi/Turkish controlled "opposition" of militant Islamists wants to exclude the Kurds and non-militant opposition from any negotiations and sets additional conditions that make negotiations impossible. They practically demand that Russia and Syria declare and keep a one-sided ceasefire before any ceasefire negotiations can happen.
In the meantime various parties are positioning themselves for the larger endgame. The Kurds in Syria want a corridor along the Turkish Syrian border to connect their areas in the east with the Kurdish enclave in the west. They are fighting against The U.S. supported gangs north-west of Aleppo with Russian support and with Russian and U.S. support against Islamic State gangs north-east of Aleppo. The U.S. is invading Syrian ground and building an airport in the Kurdish areas in east Syria. This probably to later support and guarantee an oil-rich Kurdish state:
The airport, known as “Abu Hajar”, lies southeast of the town of Remelan, site of one of Syria’s largest oilfields, run by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which sells its production through Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Russians may counter that move with their own airport in the area.
Israel, which buys most of the Kurdish oil and just again made friend with Turkey, is now officially calling for an independent Kurdish state. The Turks will not like that at all.
Turkey wants to prevent a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has instigated the "Turkmen" insurgents in Syria under its control to attack the Islamic State from their Aleppo-Avaz-Turkey corridor towards the east right along the border fence where Turkey can provide artillery support. That campaign stalled after a few days and several captured towns are now back in the hands of the Islamic State. New Turkish equipment and soldiers arrived on the Turkish border near the Jarablus border crossing which is currently in the hand of the Islamic State. It is the Islamic State's only open crossing to a somewhat friendly state. Should the Kurds come near to that crossing Turkey is likely to invade Syria to set up a wider buffer against the Syrian Kurds.
In Iraq the Turks continue to occupy bases in Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of the Iraqi-Kurdish mafia boss Barzani. This despite threats from the Iraqi government. But that government is now again controlled by the U.S. The Iranian influence had waned after clashes between the Iranian General Suleiman and the U.S. installed Prime Minister Abadi:
A source in the office of the Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, “The United States delay of its support to Baghdad was not a coincidence or an unintentional lazy reaction. It was a strategic decision to: Teach Iraq a lesson for rejecting U.S military bases; To observe the Iranian military capability and inability of Tehran to use air power and intelligence gathering to defeat ISIS; To submit Baghdad to its will and dictate its conditions”.
That the U.S. used the ISIS phenomenon to again achieve regime change and U.S. control in Iraq was confirmed by Obama in an interview with Thomas Friedman:
The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki. ...
But all those U.S. games are just short term thinking. The Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria are landlocked and none of their direct neighbors has interest in a Kurdish state. After his mandate ran out and was not renewed by the parliament Barzani's presidency in Iraqi Kurdistan is illegitimate. The next ruler in the Kurdish areas in Iraq is likely to be less friendly with Turkey and the U.S. In Iraq the influence of Iran with the people will always be bigger than U.S. influence with parts of the elite. In Syria it is Russia that will dictate how the future of the state will look.
In the long run the U.S. has little chance to keep its currently regained dominant position. Obama is repeating his predecessors mistake of believing that U.S. meddling in the arena can be successful and continue forever.
The Islamic State is receding. It recently had to cut its wages by half. It is under continues bombing and has to fight ever bigger battles with ever higher losses. The population in the areas it holds is not happy. It will soon again revert to a guerrilla movement of underground terrorist cells. Then other interests of the various actors will again come to the fore, the U.S. will no longer be needed and again be dispelled from the theater. Then the U.S. will again wonder why it did not learn from the earlier lesson.
Open Thread 2016-04
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No, The Nuclear Sanctions On Iran Did Not Work
Some (not so) smart people believe that the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal shows that "sanctions worked":
Doug Saunders @DougSaunders
The Iran paradox: this week proved that sanctions worked. So it was the worst week for US Congress to impose new sanctions
10:42 AM - 17 Jan 2016
This is completely wrong. Sanctions did not work in the case of the nuclear issue with Iran. Sanctions will also not work one Iran's ballistic missile program.
Other authors have already expanded on this in length but it needs repeating.
For Iran the development of a civil nuclear program for electricity and other needs was and is seen as a precondition to become a fully developed modern state. The U.S. and Israel wanted to prevent that. Israel sees Iran as a competing power in the Middle East and the U.S. sees Iran as too independent and too powerful to be left alone. Both want to restrict Iran's development unless Iran agrees to again become the client state it once was.
The vehicle to pressure Iran was its nuclear program and an assertion that "Iran has no right to an enrich" Uranium. That assertion was wrong as a legal argument as any state has a natural right to use its resources as it like but the U.S. went to great length to make that claim. If it would have gotten its way it would have achieved a veto over how Iran, and others, could manage and use its natural resources.
It was that U.S. claim and Iran's will to resist it that prolonged the conflict over a decade. After first (false) claims were made that Iran was developing nuclear weapons negotiations ensued and made fast progress. Iran was willing to restrict its activities and to have its nuclear program under full inspection. But its was the U.S. "no right to enrichment" point that blocked any solution. Writes UK negotiator Peter Jenkins:
Having served on the UK’s Iran Nuclear negotiating team in 2004 and 2005, I know that in March 2005 President Hassan Rouhani and Minister Javad Zarif, then in different roles, were ready to offer a deal very similar in its essentials to the JCPOA.
At that time Iran had only a few experimental centrifuges and little enriched Uranium.
But the U.S. insisted that Iran had no right to enrichment and blew the negotiations. Sanctions followed and Iran responded by building up more enrichment capabilities. Several more sanction rounds followed and Iran responded to each round by again increasing its capabilities. After the last round of sanction Iran announced that it would create highly enriched Uranium to fuel nuclear submarines.
At that point the U.S. finally understood that it was senseless and impossible to ever increase international sanctions as a way to stop Iran's nuclear program. Only two alternatives were left. A very aggressive and expensive military attack on Iran followed by a lengthy occupation for which the U.S. public had zero appetite or negotiations and concessions to settle the issue.
A new negotiation round started in November 2013 and at the core of the issue was again Iran's right to enrich:
Disagreement over whether Iran has the right under international law to enrich uranium goes to the heart of the decade-old dispute over its nuclear program and has complicated diplomacy to end the standoff.
Iranian officials made clear on the third day of talks in Geneva on Friday that the Islamic state's "right" to enrich uranium must be part of any interim deal aimed at curbing its atomic activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.
The United States says no country has that explicit right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1970 global pact designed to prevent the spread of atomic bombs.
During those negotiations in 2013 the U.S. finally caved and a few days later an preliminary agreement was reached:
The initial nuclear deal struck with Iran at the weekend states unambiguously that the second step – or “comprehensive solution” – will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”
The wording allows Tehran to state that the U.S. and five other powers in the negotiations have conceded that a final agreement, due within six months, will leave Iran with a domestic uranium-enrichment program.
Iran interpreted that as the acknowledgement of its right to Uranium enrichment. After this key issue was solved further negotiations were about give-and-take points but no longer about a fundamental disagreement.
As was revealed only later the U.S. had given up on the "no right to enrichment" claim even before the November 2013 negotiations:
The secret US-Iran diplomatic channel that helped advance the interim nuclear deal last year got underway after a message from US President Barack Obama was conveyed to Iran: The United States would be prepared to accept a limited Iranian domestic enrichment program as part of a nuclear agreement in which Iran would take concrete and verifiable steps to assure the world its nuclear program would remain exclusively peaceful.
Obama’s message that he would be prepared to accept a limited Iranian enrichment program in an otherwise acceptable deal was conveyed to Iran at a secret meeting in Oman in March 2013, by a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, which also included Jake Sullivan, now Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, as well as Einhorn and then-White House Iran adviser Puneet Talwar.
It was the U.S. that caved and pulled back from its (indefensible) position that Iran was not allowed to enrich Uranium. It was this concession by the U.S. - not the sanctions - that brought Iran to the table and which allowed to end the conflict over Iran's nuclear program.
In Less Than 24 Hours U.S. Breaks Spirit Of Agreement With Iran
Just yeterday, shortly before the Iranian nuclear deal went into implementation. I asked
How long until the U.S. will, one way or another, transgress against it - if not in letter then in spirit?
The answer is in. It took the U.S. less than 24 hours to break the spirit of the deal and to again promote hardliners in Tehran:
The US Treasury says it is imposing new ballistic missile sanctions on Iran after Tehran released five American prisoners. The move also comes less than a day after some of the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program were removed by the US and EU.
Washington has imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for helping to supply Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Treasury Department stated.
“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” Adam J. Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a press release.
The US move comes after an Iranian missile test carried out in October that broke a UN Security Council resolution restricting the development of missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The nuclear agreement makes sure that Iran does not have and can not develop nuclear warheads. What sense then does it make to restrict its ballistic missile capabilities?
Of Iran's neighbors Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia all have medium to long range ballistic missiles. Missiles from Israel and the U.S. also can reach Tehran. Four out of those five have nuclear warheads for their missiles. Turkey is developing its own offensive missile capability.
Absent an Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons there is absolutely no justification for the upholding of the UN resolution and for new sanctions.
Even before U.S. prisoners were to be freed by Iran yesterday as part of the nuclear Hillary Clinton irresponsibly called for new sanctions on Iran. On can understand that as the money she wastes for egomaniac campaigning to become president comes from Israel-Firsters like Haim Saban.
Saban says his greatest concern is to protect Israel. At a conference in Israel, Saban described his formula. His three ways to influence American politics were: make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.
Clinton's statement likely added a seven digit figure to her campaign fund.
That Clinton is corrupt down to her last fiber is not news. But there was no such reason for the Obama administration to now make this move. It is an expression of arrogance and disdain for decency.
Next month the people of Iran will vote for a new parliament. The Rouhani government, with which the nuclear deal was successfully negotiated, now looks as if it was duped into the deal. The hardliners opposed to that government were just given the very best argument they could have asked for. They always said the U.S. can not be trusted. The Obama administration proved them to be right.
When And How Will The U.S. Infringe On The Iran Deal?
The nuclear deal with Iran may go into implementation today.
The question I am currently asking myself is:
How long until the U.S. will, one way or another, transgress against it - if not in letter then in spirit?
Libya disarmed in December 2003 and was attacked by the U.S. and others -with the help of Islamist proxy forces- in February 2011.
I do not expect a Libya like war against Iran. But the U.S. is never short of some subterfuge to to break agreements. Some reason will be found that then will be used to infringe on the nuclear agreement and to implement new measures to hinder Iran's development. The time-frame for this will be much shorter than the eight years it took to attack Libya.
Feeling Ignored By Obama Saudi Dynasty Threatens To Hurt Itself
Someone paid Kim Ghattas, a BBC correspondent in Washington, to write an extremely pro-Saudi piece for Foreign Policy.
The money was not well spent. The piece, The Saudi-Iran War Is America’s Fault, is as lousy as its headline.
The central argument goes somewhat like this:
"If the U.S. does not stop the nuclear disarmament of Iran - the Saudis baddest foe - then the Saudis will have no other choice but to destabilize Saudi Arabia."
No. That does not make sense. But that is the argument the piece makes. It is also something that the Saudis are actually doing.
The United States cannot ignore or choose to stay out of the brewing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is not a purely religious feud, and it is not someone else’s civil war — it’s a hornet’s nest in which Washington poked its finger by pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. ... It is this shifting regional context caused by the JCPOA [nuclear deal] that explains not only Saudi Arabia’s increasingly assertive stance in recent months, but also its decision to execute Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Jan. 2.
Not only is the Obama responsible for Saudi warmongering at Tehran but he also killed the Saudi rabble-rouser Nimr al-Nimr!
How did he do that?
The Saudis knew that going ahead with the death sentence would provoke the Iranians and worry the Americans. So why did they choose this moment to do it? It was time to send a clear message to U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration that Riyadh is sufficiently antagonized by Washington that it no longer feels obligated to go along with American efforts to tiptoe around Iran.
So the Saudis killed Nimr because, like a child that stomps its feet, they needed Obama's attention.
The Saudis also went to war against Yemen because of Obama's lack of attention, says the author. That war goes badly she admits but the Saudis will go on anyway because Obama is dangling after Iran. How the support for the Saudis war on Yemen by U.S. air-tankers, intelligence, targeting advice and expedited ammunition delivery can be seen as a lack of U.S. attention is left unexplained.
The Saudis are also miffed that Obama did not protest when an anti-western terrorist on their payroll was killed:
In December, the head of a powerful Islamist Syrian rebel group, Zahran Alloush, was killed in an airstrike that rebels blamed on Russia. He was no moderate and no friend of the West, but he was a powerful rebel leader and his death was a blow to Syrian peace efforts.
In the eyes of Riyadh, Washington’s muted reaction to Alloush’s killing was worse than the strike itself.
So Obama should have protested the killing of an anti-western Jihadi, who publicly put children and women into cages as human shields, because ...
The nonsense continues like that. Yes, says the author, the Saudis are richer and have more and better weapon than Iran and more international support. But they still fear Iran and that is Obama's fault.
The threat is, the author says, that the Saudis will continue their childish behavior and further hurt themselves. That would, somehow, be bad. Obama must therefore pad them on their head and slap Iran.
The author does well in describing the irrationality of recent Saudi behavior. But she then uses that irrationality as a pro-Saudi argument for more U.S. engagement. It does not strike me as a compelling reasoning. I doubt it will convince anyone else. The Saudi embassy in Washington should ask for its money back.
There is no doubt that the Saudis are not doing well right now. Their war on Yemen is expensive, endless and has zero positive results. Big partners of the new alliances the Saudis announced repudiate to be part of it. The still sinking oil price is creating huge budget troubles.
But the Saudis could still behave worse and if this unconfirmed report is right they will soon start doing so:
Saudi King Salman Al-Saud plans to abdicate his throne and install his son Mohammed as king, multiple highly-placed sources told the Institute for Gulf Affairs.
Mohamed bin Salman is the current deputy crown prince, second in-line to the throne, and defense minister.
King Salman, 80, has been making the rounds visiting his brothers seeking support for the move that will also remove the current crown prince and American favorite, the hardline Mohammed bin Naif from his positions as the crown prince and the minister of interior.
Salman plans to abdicate and install his son as king while he is still alive to guarantee his offspring would not be marginalized and driven out of power like all the sons of former Saudi kings who lost power and influence after the death of their fathers.
The sources did not give a specific time line for the abdication but believed the matter will be concluded within a matter of weeks.
Deputy Clown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, the guy who has Debt To GDP, is responsible for the totally irresponsible war on Yemen and its continuation. His planned economic and social reforms practically guarantee social discontent within Saudi Arabia. His coronation would also lead to deep trouble within the very large al-Saud family. Many older princes would feel snubbed out and pull their strings to regain power.
The precipitant change of guard is probably the worst the Saudis could do to themselves. But, as the first quoted piece above argues, this is the very reason why Washington should pamper the Saudis and attack Iran.
Let us hope that no one else in Washington draws such a lunatic conclusion.
Syria: Obama's Delusion Over Russian Retreat Continues
Some U.S. media say that Iran is "aggressive" when it detains U.S. ships and sailors ... who invade Iranian waters.
It is such delusional worldview that has people all over the world shake their heads over U.S. media and politics.
But this messy thinking starts at the top. The Obama administration is filled with delusional thinkers. Consider this nonsense, relayed by the unofficial spokesperson David Ignatius, over Putin's position towards the Syrian President Assad:
Putin this week seemed to take a public step toward the U.S. position that Assad must go eventually. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild released Tuesday, Putin hinted that he might grant Assad asylum.
Putin’s reference to asylum was taken “very seriously” by the White House, a second administration official noted Tuesday. “I think he was sending a signal about where he stands” that was consistent with what Russian officials have been telling the United States in private, the official said.
The transcript of the interview is available in English and Russian for all to see.
Putin was in no way "sending a signal". He was deflecting a direct question that the reporters asked. He took a firm stance that Assad must stay and be allowed to take part in new elections:
Question: If, contrary to expectations, al-Assad loses the elections, will you grant him the possibility of asylum in your country?
Vladimir Putin: I think it is quite premature to discuss this. We granted asylum to Mr Snowden, which was far more difficult than to do the same for Mr al-Assad.
First, the Syrian people should be given the opportunity to have their say. I assure you, if this process is conducted democratically, then al-Assad will probably not need to leave the country at all. And it is not important whether he remains President or not.
How is that "sending a signal"? The only signal I perceive therein is that - as far as Russia is concerned - Assad will stay where he is right now. I have no doubt that the private statements of Putin and the Russian government in this case are exactly the same than the official ones.
In October Obama demanded that Russia let go of Assad or end in a quagmire. Since then the position of the Syrian government has solidified and the Russian support has turned out to be very effective and not a burden. The position of the U.S. administration and its jihadist proxy forces in Syria has deteriorated. With each Islamic State attack the pressure to end the U.S. war on Syria is increasing.
How then can the "administration official" come up with this nonsense?
Is there still this neocon superiority illusion that lets U.S. news media and politicians believe they are the only ones who matter? That the U.S. is the only country which has a say in global issues?
One would have thought that the lost war in Iraq and the U.S. quagmire in Afghanistan would have cured such delusions. But stupid thinking seems hard to heal.
Syria: Russian Campaign Enables Government Progress - Terrorist's Lines Fall Apart
To put pressure on Turkey for more support the Islamic State attacks the Turkish economy. But that is in vain if the Syrian government and its supporters can close the border to Turkey. That now looks very possible as the Syrian government, supported by Russian air force and indirect fire, is winning on all fronts.
Turkey received the fruits of its support for terrorists in Syria today. Ten people, most of them foreign tourists, were killed in a suicide attack in the Sultanahmet district, a main tourist area in Istanbul.
The Turkish government says the culprit was a 28 year old Saudi man. That mostly excludes that this was an attack of the PKK or any radical left group. The Islamic State is likely the organization behind this attack.
The attack's real target is the Turkish economy. Istanbul is the third most visited tourist city in Europe. That will now change. Earlier Russia warned its citizens against visiting Turkey. The German government and others are now likely to follow. Russians and Germans were the two top tourist origins for Turkey. This will have significant consequences for the Turkish economy and employment situation.
Turkey has supported the Jihadists anti-government terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Until,very recently the Islamic State ran a sophisticated immigration operation through the Turkey-Syria border:
Turkey has long said that it is unable to secure its 500-mile border with Syria. In January, as Isis was logging people passing in and out of Tel Abyad, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, told the Independent that sealing the border would be impossible.
The border crossing remained open until Kurdish forces took control of the town in June, at which point Turkey promptly sealed it. The crossing remains closed, a government official confirmed.
There are still other parts of the border where people can cross from Islamic State held territory to Turkey and back. Imports to the Islamic State come mostly from Turkey while stolen oil is exported to Turkey. Turkey will have to stop all support for the various terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq or it will experience ever increasing mayhem on its own soil.
Last year Turkey helped an alliance that included al-Qaeda in Syria and similar groups in capturing Idleb province and Idleb city from the Syrian government. That attack und the Turkish support for these groups was one of the reasons that prompted the Russians to intervene on the Syrian government side. Since then Russian intelligence and air support has helped to turn the war on Syria around. The government forces are now winning on every front.
But Turkey is not the only "western" country that is still actively supporting the Jihadidsts:
In a statement Monday to Foreign Policy, the Syrian Emergency Task Force said Russian planes bombed one of its offices in central Idlib province in a strike that “completely destroyed” the facility and equipment. The staff — which host civil society workshops, helps distribute U.S. humanitarian aid, and documents atrocities — was not present during the incident, and no one was killed, according to SETF.
Can someone explain why and how the U.S. Syrian Emergency Task Force, which is financed by the U.S. State Department, can continue to operate in al-Qaeda occupied Idleb?
When the Russian air support in Syria started and the Syrian army went on the offense a large number of U.S. provided anti-tank guided missiles where used by the terrorists. The number of such missile attacks has now significantly decreased. The Russian bombing broke the logistic lines of the various groups and ransacked their headquarters and support areas. The four month bombing campaign is now showing real results.
In Latakia in north west Syria the Syrian army today took the resort town Salma which had been a major center of terrorist activities in the area. Yesterday a whole suburb west of Aleppo city fell to the Syrian army. East of Aleppo city the Syrian army is advancing towards Al Bab which lies on one of the Islamic State's major roads to Turkey. Near Rastan in Homs province the Syrian army crossed the Orontes river and captured Jarjisah. Further south the Syrian army is progressing towards the Jordanian border. The Russian air attacks also support the advances of the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State under the label of the U.S. created Syrian Democratic Front. The SDF is now moving to Manbij north east from Aleppo from the east and towards Avaz north-west of Aleppo from the west which together with the Syrian government rush north towards Al Bab develops into a pincer movement that will cut the Islamic State and other terrorist groups from the Turkish border.
Since the beginning of active Russian support the Syrian army has - according to the Russian General Staff - liberated more than 150 towns and villages from the terrorist forces. Since the beginning of January more than twenty two towns have been freed.
Bombing is not a solution for conflicts. The U.S. started bombing Iraq 25 years ago and has bombed it ever since. last year alone it dropped over 23,000 bombs on Muslim countries. But the Russian bombing in Syria is in support a legitimate and capable government which has the majority support of its people and that makes all the difference.
The Russian campaign has significantly decimated the militant's fighting force. A few weeks ago the head of the Islamic State Baghdadi had called for a general mobilization of all Muslims to support his shrinking state. Yesterday the main religious leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's organization in Syria, also issued a call for total mobilization. The Chechen terrorist groups in Latakia under Emir Muslim Shishani are calling for help. The fronts held by these shrinking forces now regularly fall apart when under Russian style attacks. They are now near their breaking point.
During World War II a majority of casualties were caused by indirect fire. During the recent fighting in Ukraine some 80-90% of the casualties on the Ukrainian government side were caused by massive artillery attacks. The Syrian army has copied this Russian style of fighting by using more by artillery and airstrikes for the preparation of attacks. This preserves the manpower of friendlies but requires strong logistics and causes massive damage on buildings and infrastructure.
With the lack of manpower resulting in defeats everywhere the militants and their supporters have upped their "information operations". In a massive propaganda effort they asserted the people in Madaya, under siege by Syrian troops, were starving. Lots of fake and old pictures distributed by "activists" and mainstream media like the BBC showed starving people. But Madaya, like other cities under siege from the terrorists, had received food for several months in October and in late November. The militants seized all provisions and sold them to the inhabitants at extortion prices. Still the International Committee of the Red Cross could not confirm any famine casualties. The propaganda campaign over Madaya did not achieve the intended result of more "western" intervention. Madayan received fresh food but so did Fuar and Kefraya which are bigger and under siege by the terrorist forces.
The "starving" claims were fake assertions as they have accompanied the war on Syria from its very beginning. According to the Indian ambassador in Syria at that time al-Qaeda was involved even in the very first weeks of the 2011 "peaceful protests". A fact that at that time was denied by "western" media and is still covered up in recent reporting.
But as 9/11 showed and today's attack in Istanbul again demonstrates supporting fundamentalist terrorist forces always comes back to bite. Unfortunately only after creating terrible damage elsewhere.
Open Thread 2016-03
(While I am busy ...)
Your news & views ...
So The DEA Sent Sean Penn To Get Al Chapo?
The Rolling Stones story in which actor Sean Penn meets and interviews the Mexican drug lord El Chapo is weird. Some of the details do not make sense. It smells.
El Chapo was recently (re-)captured in an large operation by Mexican marines together with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents.
Even more suspect than the Sean Penn piece itself is the fact that the NYT published a large front page piece on the the Rolling Stone story some minutes before the Rolling Stone story itself was published. Who gave it to the NYT and when? The NYT repeats essentials parts of the Penn piece but in a more polished version.
It also adds this to the overall story:
A Mexican government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential matters, said the authorities were aware of the meeting with Mr. Penn.
An AP reporter seems to have talked to the same anonymous Mexican official who suggests:
[A] Mexican official said security forces at one point located the world's most-wanted trafficker thanks to a secret interview with U.S. actor Sean Penn.
The NYT piece also has says this about the story:
In a disclosure that ran with the story, Rolling Stone said it had changed some names and withheld some locations. An understanding was reached with Mr. Guzmán, it said, that the story would be submitted for his approval, but he did not request any changes. The magazine declined to comment further Saturday.
But that is wrong. This is the actual Rolling Stones lawyerish wording:
Disclosure: Some names have had to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.
How come "the subject" has no name? Is it really El Chapo aka Mr. Guzmán or is it some three letter agency?
Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel also thinks that the story has a smell and that it seems that Penn was used, likely knowingly, by some agency to get El Chapo.
That is why the story has some of the weird angels Marcy finds. That the NYT hangs this piece of another magazine so high is part of the cover up of the DEA's Penn operation.
Go read Marcy for additional details.
Open Thread 2016-02
News & views ...
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Has Debt-To-GDP
The Economists interviews Muhammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He has debt-to-GDP. And yes, that is sick.
There is quite a lot of obfuscation and lying in his answer, like when he denies to be responsible for the war on Yemen, but there are also some interesting points.
It turns out the guy wants to do a "Thatcher revolution for Saudi Arabia" with new regressive taxes, a large sell off of public assets, privatization of social services and so on. He does not believe that there will be any resistance against that or that people will call for "no taxation without representation". Actually he claims that there is a lot of consultation with the people going on all the time but he does not say how that supposedly happens.
The Saudi Arabia watchers I read never mention such consultations. So that is a bit weird. Does he really believe he can change the basic social contract of the country without any resistance?
And here are the parts of his answers where he slips and which explain why (emphasis added):
[W]e have clear programmes over the next five years. We announced some of them, and the rest we will announce in the near future. In addition to this, my debt-to-GDP is only 5%. So I have all points of strength, and I have the opportunities to increase our non-oil revenues in many sectors, and I have a global economic network.
We do not expect that our unemployment will grow, we believe it will decline over the next few years, to a good extent. At the same time I have reserves now, ten million jobs that are being occupied by non-Saudi employees that I can resort to at any time of my choosing. But I don’t want to pressure the private sector, unless this is the last resort.
Do you think having a greater proportion of women in the workforce would be good for Saudi Arabia?
No doubt. A large portion of my productive factors are unutilised. And I have population growth reaching very scary figures. Women’s work will help in both of these issues.
The young dude not only thinks he owns the country, he actually thinks he is the country. He has debt-to-GDP, he has ten million jobs in reserve, he has all women of Saudi Arabia as productive factor and he has scary population growth.
Does the guy understand that such an attitude guarantees that he personally will be held responsible for everything that will inevitably go wrong with his country?
It is doubtful that this dude will die of old age.
Was This Fantasy Syria Timeline Leaked To Push For Open War?
Last years weed harvest at the White House must have produced some extraordinary strong stuff. That at least would explain this leaked administration timeline for regime change in Syria:
An internal timeline prepared for U.S. officials dealing with the Syria crisis sets an unspecified date in March 2017 for Assad to "relinquish" his position as president and for his "inner circle" to depart.
The document obtained by the AP starts Syria's new political process next month. An 18-month transition period would be initiated, consistent with the plan endorsed by the U.N. Security Council last month. The U.N.'s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has set a Jan. 25 date for government-opposition peace talks to begin in Geneva.
The U.S. timeline envisions the Security Council signing off on a framework for negotiations between Assad's representatives and the opposition, leading to the formation of a security committee in April. That would be accompanied by an amnesty for some government and military members, and moderate opposition leaders and fighters. The transitional governing body would then be created.
In May, the Syrian parliament would dissolve, according to the timeline. The Security Council would recognize the new transitional authority and lay out the transition's next steps. These include major political reforms, the nomination of an interim legislature and an international donors' conference to fund Syria's transition and reconstruction.
The next six months, through November 2016 — when Obama's successor is elected — would be devoted to the sides drafting a new constitution. The Syrian people would get a chance to vote on that document in a popular referendum in January 2017, according to the timeline.
In March 2017, the timeline reads: "As[s]ad relinquishes presidency; inner circle departs."
Syria's new government would assume full powers from the transitional body after the parliamentary and presidential elections in August.
This reads as if a White House intern got high and dreamed up a wishlist for regime change planers. There are more problems here than actual steps:
- Who is "the opposition"?
- What is a "security committee" and who would decide who joins it?
- Who would legislate an amnesty under what legal authority?
- What is a "transitional government body" and who would decide who joins it?
- On what basis should such a presumably unelected body have any authority to institute "major legal reforms"?
- Why would Assad "relinquish" his presidency?
- Why would the "inner circle", which presumably includes Syria's military leaders, agree to depart?
- What about the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Syria?
Following this fantasy timeline would constitute a complete surrender of the current Syrian government and its allies. With the Syrian army progressing on all fronts there is no reason for them to agree to it.
The people who leaked the above nonsense must know that it is complete unrealistic. Why then was it leaked?
My hunch is that the leak is from someone who has a "faster please" mentality for spreading more chaos in the Middle East. The Associated Press story is framed as "Assad would outlast Obama presidency". It is to incite the war hawks like Clinton to demand an faster if not immediate "solution". Such would require an open war including with Russia.
We expect this leak to be followed by new calls for a "no-fly zone" and other war starting gimmicks.
North Korea's Test Of A "Hydrogen Bomb" Was Only Somewhat Successful
A few hours ago North Korea exploded another nuclear device. It was its fourth test of a nuclear bomb and the 2055th global nuclear detonation of such a device.
First size estimates from seismic data measured by China and others say that the bomb developed a force equivalent to about 10 kilotons TNT.
The very exited DPRK TV anchor announced that its scientist exploded a "miniaturized H bomb". The English announcement says it "scientifically verified the power of smaller H bomb." A hydrogen bomb consist of two stages. A primary nuclear fission device is exploded to trigger a secondary nuclear fusion device consisting of hydrogen isotopes. Such bombs are very powerful and the rather low yield of roughly 10kt make it quite doubtful that this was an actual working H bomb as these are usually several magnitudes stronger.
The earlier North Korean tests of fission bombs had yields of 1 kt, 4 kt and 9 kt. The first one is considered to have been a partial dud. This fourth test today may have been a partial dud of an H bomb or it may have been just a basic fission device with probably added tritium for a boosted reaction. Only a measurement of the radionuclides resulting from this test will make it possible to determine its real configuration.
There had been recent signs that another nuclear test in North Korea would soon happen. Satellite images showed that a new test tunnel was dug into a mountain. There were rumors since 2013 that North Korea is working on a hydrogen device. In early December the North Korean leader announced that his country was ready to test an H bomb but this was dismissed by the U.S. as bluster. North Korean announcements are usually over the top exaggerated but also basically true. I therefore consider this to have been a real test of an H bomb as announced but one which was only partially successful.
After the Korea war the north of the country was completely obliterated. Hardly any structure with more than one level was left standing. The factories, the electricity network and its dams were destroyed:
American planes dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea -- that is, essentially on North Korea --including 32,557 tons of napalm, compared to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific theatre of World War II.
Since then a huge amount of the North Korean gross domestic product has been spent on its military. When it started to test nuclear devices North Korea announced that it would use the new capabilities to replace or shrink its conventional military. The savings would be used to increase the standard of living for its people. Strategic assessments say that its nuclear and missile development is not aimed at creating a first strike force but a deterrence capability.
North Korea considers the U.S. and the U.S. influenced South Korean government as its primary enemies and aggressors and Japan as a secondary threat. China and Russia are seen as somewhat friendly countries but kept at a distance.
As the U.S. develops its 'pivot to Asia' anti-China posture it is pushing for more hawkish policies in South Korea and Japan and presses for an alliance between these historic enemies. Despite hawkish, rightwing governments in both countries the success of that strategy is only slowly developing. The North Korean test will be probably allow for further steps towards a NATO-like anti-China and anti-North Korea structure.
Contrary To Media Claims U.S. Always Sides With Its Saudi Clients
The "western" public, especially in Europe, now prefers good relations with Iran over relations with Saudi Arabia. It is a natural development when one considers that jihadi terrorism is a real concern and that the people involved in most international terrorist incidents follow variants of the Saudi spread Wahhabi ideology.
This is now developing into a problem for the U.S. administration. Saudi Arabia, as other Gulf statelets, is a U.S. client state. Without U.S. support it would have ceased to exist a long time ago. The Saudis are made to pay for U.S. protection by buying overpriced U.S. weapon systems for tens of billion dollars per year. They also finance joint projects like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and currently the U.S. regime change war on Syria.
U.S. relation with Iran have become somewhat better due to the nuclear deal. But the Islamic Republic of Iran will never be a U.S. client state. Seen from the perspective of the global strategic competition it is in the same camp as the U.S. foes Russia and China. Unless the U.S. ceases to strive for global dominance it will continue to support its proxies on the western side of the Persian Gulf rather then the Iranians of the eastern side.
The changed public view, very much visible after the recent Saudi execution of Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, necessitates to mask the real U.S. position by claiming that it is opposed to Saudi Arabian policies. The stenographers in U.S. media are always willing to help their government when such a cover up for a shoddy position is needed.
In the Washington Post Karen De Young supports the administration by providing this lie:
The United States has long joined international human rights organizations and other Western governments in criticizing Saudi human rights abuses ..
Her colleague David Sanger at the New York Times is debunks that nonsense point with a rare reference to reality:
The United States has usually looked the other way or issued carefully calibrated warnings in human rights reports as the Saudi royal family cracked down on dissent and free speech and allowed its elite to fund Islamic extremists.
Sanger then replaces the "U.S. supports human-rights in Saudi Arabia" lie with another blatant one:
the administration has [..] been sharply critical of the Saudi intervention in Yemen
The Obama administration has since March provided expedited arms sales, logistics support, targeting intelligence, air refueling and combat search and rescue for the Saudi war on Yemen. Its navy helps with the blockade of the Yemeni coast. How can the Obama administration be "sharply critical" of the Saudi war on Yemen when it provides the critical means for that war?
Since Sunday there have been at least 11 Saudi air attacks on Yemen's capital Sanaa. Last night another wedding hall, the Commerce Chamber and the AlNoor Centre for the Blind were destroyed by U.S. provided Saudi bombs. I doubt that we will hear any "sharply critical" condemnation of that bombing of civilian infrastructure from U.S. officials.
In the Saudi-Iran proxy conflicts the U.S. supports and urges the Saudis on because it is in its geopolitical interest. Saudi financed jihadist have been helpful in achieving U.S. geopolitical goals in the 1980s in Afghanistan against the Soviets, in Yugoslavia, in Chechnya as now in Syria against the Russians and in Xinjiang against the Chinese. There is no room for human rights or other concerns within that framework. There is room though for billions of weapon sales and millions given by the Saudis to U.S. and UK politicians as well as for public relations.
The New York Times editors falsely claim there is no choice for the U.S. other then to do what it does:
The tangled and volatile realities of the Middle East do not give the United States or the European Union the luxury of choosing or rejecting allies on moral criteria. Washington has no choice but to deal with regimes like those in Tehran [..] or in Riyadh to combat the clear and present danger posed by Islamist terrorists or to search for solutions to massively destabilizing conflicts like the Syrian civil war.
That is utter bullshit. The U.S. is working on regime change in Syria at least since 2006. The U.S. is enabling "the clear and present danger posed by Islamist terrorists" through its alliance with al-Qaeda. It always had and has the choice to cease and desist from meddling in the Middle East and elsewhere to the benefit of the average U.S. citizen as well as to the benefit of the people living in the Middle East.
U.S. media lie when they depict the U.S. as a benevolent entity that stumbles through the Middle East and other areas misled in the dark by Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is the U.S. that is the ruthless superpower that solely enables those barbaric entities to exist.
The Saudi War On Everything Iran May Bounce Back As New Houthi Missile
I still believe that, from the Saudi rulers viewpoint, the execution of a bunch of al-Qaeda types and the Saudi Shia rabble-rouser Nimr Baqr al-Nimr was a smart move to divert the attention of their people from the accumulating problems of their rulers and the recent 40% gas price hike. But it comes with now escalating costs.
The biggest danger to the al-Saud family which dictatorial rules over Saudi Arabia is the proven validity of an alternative Islamic system. The Islamic Republic of Iran has such an alternative system and its reintegration into the world after the nuclear deal shows its validity. Some people and Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia might get the idea that they also could also have a system where every vote counts and policies are decided at the ballot box. This without a kleptocratic, dictatorial family and, importantly, without doing away with their core Islamic values. This, not religion, is why the Saudis have fought Iran since its revolution in 1979 and why they try to curb its influence wherever they can. The al-Sauds fear for their family and its sinecures.
The Saudis, together with Israel, tried everything to sabotage the nuclear deal. They want Iran back in the isolation box. But it is now too late. I have not read one piece in "western" media today that was negative on Iran and/or positive on Saudi Arabia. The wind of international politics has changed and it is now Saudi Arabia that comes under pressure. The impulsive reaction of the current Saudi rulers is to escalate and escalate even more and to fight Iran wherever it is present, like in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, or even where it is not present like in Yemen.
While the Saudis claim that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen there is not the slightest proof for that assertion. There have been no Iranians found in Yemen and no Iranian weapons. The Houthis the Saudis fight in Yemen are not Shia like the Iranians but are nearer to Sunni Islam than to Iranian 12er Shia. There has been no evidence that Houthis have received anything from Iran and all stories about Iranian weapon shipment to Yemen turned out to be false.
This is now likely to change.
After the killing of al-Nimr some Iranian hardliners organized a mob that stormed and ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran. This was an attack on what they see as appeasement policies of the Iranian President Rouhani. It was stupid of the Rouhani administration to not have foreseen such a move and increase protection for the embassy. It is now bending over backwards to apologize for the incident but to no avail.
The Saudis cut diplomatic relations to Iran and pressed Bahrain and Sudan to do the same. The Bahraini rulers need Saudi protection and Sudan the Saudi money. The UAE only lowered its diplomatic presence in Tehran from ambassador to chargé d'affaires. Interestingly the other Gulf countries did not follow the Saudi decision. The Saudis also stopped all civil flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia and forbid their citizens to visit Iran. Business between the countries will be stopped. Iranians on pilgrimage to Mecca are still welcome.
It is unclear what this is supposed to achieve. What could Iran reasonably do that would let the Saudi rulers retract these measures without losing face? This was another impulsive and erratic move that only hurts the Saudis people and the ruling family's international reputation.
More dumb moves are expected. The Saudis will likely up their proxy fight against Iran in Syria and possibly also in Iraq by giving more weapons and financial support to Jihadists of all strife. A new government in Lebanon, on which Iran and Saudi Arabia had recently agreed, is now again far away. The Saudis will also try to escalate the fight against the Houthis and their imaginary Iranian support in Yemen. But after nine month of bombing Yemen's infrastructure to dust there is little to escalate. All ground attacks by the Saudis and their various hired proxies have been fought to a standstill.
This then is the place where Iran can escalate in response. It has the technology and know how to hand the Houthis some serious missile capabilities. Such missiles would allow them to achieve pinpoint hits on Saudi targets. The whole southern Saudi Arabia would then become a Houthi shooting range. Saudi Arabia would have to file for peace or would have to evacuate significant parts of the country.
The al-Nimr execution and the diversion of the Saudi public to strife with Iran will help the Saudi rulers to calm down internal disturbances. But the escalation comes at significant international political costs and may end up, via Houthi missiles, to increase the internal problems the Saudis are so keen to avert in the first place.
The Saudi Execution Of Al-Nimr Was A Smart Move
The Saudi government executed 47 longtime prisoners who had be sentenced to death over terrorism and general revolting against the government.
From its viewpoint it was a smart political move.
The Saudis are in trouble over their war on Yemen. After nine month of bombing the hell out of the country there is no chance that the aim of their war, reinstalling their proxy government in Sanaa, will be reached anytime soon. Meanwhile Yemeni forces raid (vid) one Saudi town after another. The Saudi regime change projects via Salafi jihadists in Iraq and Syria are also faltering. The low oil price make it necessary for the Saudi government to introduce taxes on its people. New taxes are hardly ever popular.
To divert from these problems the Saudis decided to get rid of a bunch of prisoners and to use the event to regain some legitimacy. Many of the 47 killed were truly al-Qaida types who a decade ago had killed and blown up buildings in Saudi Arabia and wanted to violently overthrow the Saudi government. With the recent anti-Saudi calls of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda a jailbreak or some hostage taking to free the prisoners were a real possibility. Only four of the killed were of Shia believe. One of those was the prominent rabble rousing Shia preacher Nimr Baqr al-Nimr from the majority Shia eastern Saudi province Qatif.
Al-Nimr had called for the youth in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to raise up against the government. He called for the overthrow of all tyrants not only in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain but also of the Assad government in Syria. He was no Iranian stooge but defended its form of government. Al-Nimr said he was against violence but several of the demonstrations he called for ended with dead policemen and protesters. It was quite astonishing that the Saudi government let him preach for so long. A Sunni cleric in Saudi Arabia would have been put to jail or killed for much less revolutionary talk.
Some dumb people like Human Right Watch's Kenneth Roth say that al-Nimr wanted a democratic state:
Kenneth Roth @KenRoth
Sheikh Nimr's real offense: leading peaceful protests for Saudi democracy, equality for Shia
That is nonsense. A U.S. diplomat talked with al-Nimr in 2008. A cable available through Wikileaks summarizes:
Al-Nimr described his and al-Mudarrasi's attitude towards Islamic governance as being something between "wilayet al-faqih," in which a country is led by a single religious leader, and "shura al-fuqaha," in which a council of religious leaders should lead the state. Al-Nimr, who conducted religious studies for approximately ten years in Tehran and "a few" years in Syria, stated that all governance should be done through consultation, but the amount of official power vested in the hands of a single official should be determined based on the relative quality of the religious leaders and the political situation at the time.
A system led solely by religious judges or clerics is not a democracy. From that interview it also seems that al-Nimr had no clear picture of what he really wanted. His point was to always "side with the people, never with the government" independent of who or what was right or wrong.
The Saudi government's patience ended when in June 2012 al-Nimr disparaged the death of the interior minister and crown prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud:
He stated that "people must rejoice at [Nayef's] death" and that "he will be eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of Hell in his grave"
That did him in. Al-Nimr was imprisoned and sentenced to death.
There was concern that actually killing al-Nimr would increase Sunni-Shia tensions. Several governments and the United Nations had warned that doing so would increase sectarian strife.
Well, that is the point!
The Saudi government's legitimacy depends on financial largess and on being a sectarian Wahhabi "defender of the faith". Raising the sectarian bar by provoking a Shia reaction only helps the Saudis to rally the Wahhabi Sunni clerics and the people to their side. The killing of a prominent Shia also gives cover for executing the al-Qaeda types. These do have many sympathizers within Saudi Arabia and killing them without killing al-Nimr would have led to protests or worse by Sunni radicals. Even with this cover some al-Qaeda type entities outside of Saudi Arabia are threatening revenge.
The Iranian government and Shia organizations in Iraq fell for the trick and protest against al-Nimr's execution. It allowed some organized gangs in Tehran to storm the Saudi embassy and to set it on fire. In Saudi Arabia's eastern province young Shia protesters violently attacked police forces (vid).
This was exactly what the Saudis rulers wanted and need.
It may also have been what some conservative Iranian circles were looking forward to.
Open Thread 2016-01
News & views ...
Iran Fends Off Childish New Sanction Threats
Last years agreement over Iran's nuclear program could have cleared the way to better relations between the U.S. and Iran. Better relation could lead to cooperation in solving conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
But the U.S. is not willing to go there. It is trying to keep Iran hostile even with the nuclear issue solved.
Just follow recent headlines:
The test occurred Nov. 21, according to the official, coming on top of an Oct. 10 test Iran confirmed at the time.
“I am pleased to report that we have seen important indications of significant progress towards Iran completing its key nuclear commitments under the deal,” the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said.
Iran fulfills the nuclear deal and ships out enriched Uranium. It thereby gives away its meager means to even produce one nuclear weapon. This is immediately followed by a hostile move from the U.S. together with some nonsense propaganda over small fireworks in the Gulf, the Persian Gulf.
Iran immediately reacted to these crazy moves.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and the U.S. all have ballistic missiles that can hit Iran. Why should Iran not have a capability to deter them with its own ballistic missile force? Given that Iran has no nuclear weapons program there is no sound reason to deny it conventional missile capabilities. China, Russia and the Europeans accept that and will prevent any UN sanctions over the issue.
Only after Iran made it clear that it will not take part in the childish games the Obama administration wanted to play did the administration retract.
Duh! Why make the threat in the first place when it was clear from the onset that it would be a bad move?
Tally this up as other own goal the Obama administration inflicted onto itself.
Who came up with the crazy idea of sanctioning Iran over harmless ballistic missile tests? Why do this at a time, just after Iran shipped out its Uranium, that make it look like intended sabotage of the nuclear deal? The deal with Iran is the only major foreign policy success the Obama administration ever had. Why endanger this legacy?
It will be interesting to read and compare the self serving memoirs of Obama administration officials when their time in office is over. My perception is that Obama is completely disinterested in policies. That Susan Rice, his National Security Adviser, has the retarded mindset of a junior highschool brat. That the neolibcons at the State Department run circles around a hapless John Kerry. And that the Pentagon, CentCom and the CIA are all running the own tunnel vision policies without any regard of a bigger national strategy.
Unfortunately there is little hop that the next administration will be any better.