Al-Qaeda Gets An Oscar
Hollywood is all about fake. That is what movies are - fake depictions of a fake reality that only exist in the mind of scriptwriters, directors and a usually gullible audience. (Disclosure: I do like some movies.)
Hollywood has never been shy of plagiarizing. Every idea, tale of cinematographic trick that made a splash somewhere - and is thereby a potential money generator - will get copied again and again. Every successful make gets a remake. And another one.
In 2015 the promoting host of the Miss Universe franchise "misread" the name of the winner. He announced "Columbia" when the chosen winner was "Philippines". After he few minutes he "corrected" himself. That "mistake" brought a lot of additional media attention - and financial value - to the event owner.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the U.S. marketing and lobby organization of the movie makers, hands out some yearly rewards arranged to promote specific movies or persons in the movie business. The academy award ceremony is a rather boring event but it gets a lot of hype and media attention (and thereby generates lots of advertisement revenue).
To further increase its value this years event plagiarized the idea of the Miss Universe promoters. One of the hosts announced the wrong winning movie for some category and then reversed himself to announce a different "real" winner. It was a "mistake" just as surely as Hollywood's latest movie was a description of real life.
Those without memory went into the desired frenzy, the insiders yawned. "Oh, that clumsy fake again."
One of this years prices went to a fake "documentary" about a fake "rescuer" group which makes and distributes fake videos, staged photos and fake victims of the war on Syria. These al-Qaeda propaganda sidekicks, the White Helmets, are a British disinformation operation that is financed by more than $100 million of U.S. and UK taxpayer money. Its general task is to convince the "western" public that the war on Syria is justified because of the "cruelty of the Syrian government" which the fakes intend to establish in the mind of its consumers.
Hollywood never was shy of taking government money to promote war on this or that country or "enemy". The Pentagon's liaison office in Hollywood finances many movies. If there are some tanks needed and military heroes in a script the Pentagon will organize the props, real tanks and soldiers, at no cost - provided of course that it can read and "correct" the script the way it sees fit. The makers of "Top Gun" need planes, air craft carriers and lots of explosions? No problem at all and at no costs to the producers. In exchange military recruitment staff will wait to trap moviegoers when they leave the theaters. Congress will happily pass the money for more useless planes.
An Academy Award reinforces the message a production carries and gives the people behind the message additional value. The marketing companies that create and run the "White Helmets" will surely receive a few extra millions for yesterday's Oscar promotion.
Hollywood is all fake. The wrong winner is announced and al-Qaeda gets an Oscar. "No harm done," the promoters of such fakes might say.
Except to the people of Syria. For them the destruction and death promoted by the fancy people in Los Angeles is all too real.
Open Thread 2017-08
News & views ...
Librulism Run Amok - "My 7-Year-Old Is Transgender"
A society concerned about the welfare of its children would protect this boy from his mother's abuse. But here she is rewarded with Washington Post op-ed space to promote her politics to the detriment of her child.
The first time we knew that Henry was different, she was 2. When she found her cousin’s Barbie doll, she lit up like a Christmas tree. “The hair, Mama,” she cooed. “Look at her looong hair!” Henry continued to show us, in every way she could, that she wanted to live as a girl.
Henry is a boy. His mother is as crazy as this dude.
I have raised children. Two, three or seven year old kids have no real concept of gender. They can and do change their roles all the time. Henry is a boy, born a boy with all the biological accessories. A boy who likes to play with dolls is perfectly normal and does not express or constitutes anything special.
Every boy I watched growing up tried and mimicked at times a girls role - put on skirts, put on lipstick etc. (I also inherited pictures showing me as a child doing such.) Likewise girls also change their role into male ones, taking up typical male role behavior, "I am the father now." That is the "play age".
Later, in the early pubertal development, comes a phase where sexual enthusiasm to persons of ones own gender is prevalent. A boy's first "best friend forever" is usually a boy. The girl's "best friend forever" is usually a girl. It does in no way mean that these kids are homosexual. After that phase comes the real sexual orientation and with it the development of a real gender identity. Only when that process is finished can a judgement be made whether the psychological gender identity really differs from the biological one. Only then can real transsexuality, which is a rare phenomenon, be diagnosed.
Is there any peer review research that comes up with a different conclusion?
Real transsexuals can find help with a medical gender change. The country with the most liberal attitude towards such is (the usually demonized) Iran.
I find the current propaganda campaign in "librul" U.S. media for the "rights" of "transsexual children" deeply disturbing. It puts policy above the welfare of children. Equally disturbing is the role of parents in creating such "transsexuals".
The mother writing the WaPo op-ed is doing her child no favor in projecting her preferences on him. She reminds me of those crazy parents who sent their 7 year old child to blow herself up in a police station in Damascus. That girl did not believe that she was a boy. But she believed, like her parents, that she would immediately go to heaven after killing Syrian policemen by blowing herself up in a police station. Her father had told her so.
What is the difference between that father and the mother that tells her five year old boy to use a public girls bathroom because she think he feels like one?
Syria - A Confused Trump Strategy Lets Erdogan U-Turn Again
There are two new developments on the Syrian front. The Islamic State suddenly changed its tactic and the Turkish President Erdogan again changed his policy course.
In the last 24 hours news announcements about victories against the Islamic state (ISIS) rapidly followed each other:
- The Kurdish U.S. proxy forces in east Syria (SDF) announced that it had reached the northern bank of the Euphrates between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. This cuts the ISIS communication line between the two cities.
- Turkish forces and their "Syrian rebel" mercenaries have been attacking Al-Bab east of Aleppo for nearly four month. They made little progress and incurred huge losses. Late yesterday they suddenly broke into the city and today took control of it. Various sources claim that a deal was made between the Turkish forces and ISIS for the later to evacuate Al-Bab unharmed and with its personal weapons. It is not yet known what price Turkey paid in that deal.
- South of Al-Bab the Syrian Army is moving further east towards the Euphrates and took several villages from ISIS. The Syrian move is largely designed to cut the roads between the Turkish forces around Al-Bab and the Islamic State forces in Raqqa. (This now might become a race.)
- Further south another Syrian Army group is moving east towards Palmyra.
- In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor the Syrian army garrison is under siege by Islamic State forces. A few weeks ago the situation there looked very dire. But with reinforcements coming in by helicopter and massive Russian air force interdiction the position held out quite well. In recent days the defenders took several hills from a retreating ISIS.
- In Iraq the army, police and the various government militia are pushing towards south Mosul. Today the airport south of the city fell into their hands with little fighting. Like everywhere else ISIS had stopped its resistance and pulled back. Only a few rearguards offered tepid resistance.
While ISIS was under pressure everywhere the sudden retreat on all fronts during the last 24 hours is astonishing and suggest some synchronicity. A central order must have been given to pull back to the buildup areas of Raqqa in Syria and south Mosul in Iraq.
But ISIS has nowhere to go from those areas. Mosul is completely surrounded and Raqqa is mostly cut off. After the massacres they committed everywhere ISIS fighters can not expect any mercy. They have made enemies everywhere and aside from a few (Saudi) radical clerics no friends are left to help them. The recent retreats are thereby likely not signs of surrender. ISIS will continue to fight until it is completely destroyed. But for now the ISIS leaders decided to preserve their forces. One wonders what they plan to stage as their last glorious show. A mass atrocity against the civilians in the cities it occupies?
When in late 2016 the defeat of the "Syrian rebels" proxy forces in east-Aleppo city was foreseeable the Turkish President Erdogan switched from supporting the radicals in north-west Syria to a more lenient stand towards Syria and its allies Russia and Iran. The move followed month of on and off prodding from Russia and after several attempts by Erdogan to get more U.S. support had failed. In late December peace talks started between Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran with the U.S. and the EU excluded.
But after the Trump administration took over the Turkish position changed again. Erdogan is now back to betting on a stronger U.S. intervention in Syria that would favor his original plans of installing in Syria an Islamic government under Turkish control:
Ankara understands today that Trump is aggressive toward Iran and gave his blessing to Saudi Arabia. Therefore Erdogan is taking a new position: hiding behind Saudi Arabia, mimicking the US hostility towards Iran and, in consequences, declaring himself once more against the Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The new Turkish position was confirmed by Senator John McCain's visit to the Kurdish YPG and U.S. Special Forces in Kobani. McCain came via Turkey. An earlier visits to the YPK by U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk had been condemned by Ankara. Outside of a wider agreement such McCain's antics would not be allowed.
The U.S. is allied with the Kurdish YPK in Syria who are blood-brothers of the Kurdish PKK group in Turkey which the Turkish government has been fighting for decades. The YPG fighters are good and reliable light infantry fighters. They work together with U.S. special forces and are well regarded.
Turkey offers to send its own ground troops together with Saudi forces to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. <snark>The expertise the Saudi military shows in Yemen combined with the Turkish military prowess in its "Euphrates Shield" operation in Syria will surely will be welcome by the U.S. military. </snark>
But there are bigger strategic issues at stake and some agreement between the U.S., Turkey and the Saudis has been found (adopted machine translation):
[T]he sudden transformation of the Turkish position occurred after a lengthy conversation conducted with the US president, Donald Trump, and the visit by the head of the U.S. intelligence agency (CIA). A re-shuffling of the cards took place which induced another turn in Ankara on the Syrian file.
The new U.S.-Turkish understandings that fixed the bridge between President Erdogan and the old U.S. ally is based on the escalation of hostility to Iran and the (re-)establishment of a "Sunni axis" led by the Turkish president. It includes the establishment of a buffer zone in Syria as a prelude to a partitioning [of Syria] scenario.
This is essentially a fall back to the positions taken by the Obama administration in 2011/12. The lessons learned since will have to be relearned. The signals from the U.S. military now suggest the introduction of additional regular ground troops in support of a U.S. proxy force and an eventual U.S. protected enclave in east-Syria. The YPK is the only reliable proxy force available to the U.S. and it needs heavier weapon support to take on Raqqa. But U.S. boots on ground in the Middle East have never been a solution. They are a guarantee of extended fighting and eventual failure.
The strategic view is contradictory. The U.S. wants to fight the Sunni radical forces that Saudi Arabia grows and pampers. Even while ISIS gets diminished new such forces are already growing in Iraq. Any anti-radical strategy that builds on cooperation with the Saudis will fail.
It is impossible to get Turkey and the YPK/PKK to fight on one side - McCain visit or not. The U.S. would loose its only reliable proxy force in Syria should it make common cause with Erdogan in the fight about Raqqa. Any anti-Kurdish Turkish-U.S. controlled "safe zone" in north Syria will come under fire from all other sides on the ground. Any U.S. base in Syria will be the target of various regular and irregular forces. In the long term the new plans are doomed and Erdogan's latest u-turn is unlikely to be rewarded.
But until then we can expect more bloodshed and more fighting in Syria. As Eljah Magnier comments:
The US policy in Syria seems frantic and far-fetched without efficient powerful allies on the ground, and is unable to retake cities from ISIS with its Kurdish proxies alone. And the “honeymoon” between Washington and Riyadh will certainly have a substantial negative effect on the war in Syria. This will increase the closeness between Russia and Iran, but the tension between US and Russia is also expected to increase: one side (the US) wants partition and the other (Russia) wants a unified Syria without al-Qaida and ISIS, and without Turkey occupying the north of Syria and a Saudi Arabia return to the Bilad al-Sham. At this stage, it is difficult to speculate on what this clash of incompatible objectives will produce on the ground in Syria.
The War Hawks Rolled Donald Trump
President Trump's first National Security Advisor Mike Flynn got kicked out of office for talking with Russian officials. Such talks were completely inline with Trump's declared policies of détente with Russia. (I agree that Flynn should have never gotten the NSA job. But the reasons for that have nothing to do with his Russian connections.)
Allegedly Flynn did not fully inform Vice-President Pence about his talk with the Russian ambassador. But that can not be a serious reason. The talks were rather informal, they were not transcribed. The first call is said to have reached Flynn on vacation in the Dominican Republic. Why would a Vice-President need to know each and every word of it?
With Flynn out, the war-on-Russia hawks, that is about everyone of the "serious people" in Washington DC, had the second most important person out of the way that would probably hinder their plans.
They replaced him with a militaristic anti-Russian hawk:
In a 2016 speech to the Virginia Military Institute, McMaster stressed the need for the US to have "strategic vision" in its fight against "hostile revisionist powers" — such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — that "annex territory, intimidate our allies, develop nuclear weapons, and use proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries."
General McMaster, the new National Security Advisor, gets sold as a somewhat rebellious, scholar-warrior wunderkind. When the now disgraced former General Petraeus came into sight he was sold with the same marketing profile.
Petraeus was McMaster's boss. McMaster is partially his creature:
He was passed over for brigadier general twice, until then-Gen. David Petraeus personally flew back to Washington, D.C., from Iraq to chair the Army’s promotion board in 2008.
When Petraeus took over in the war on Afghanistan he selected McMaster as his staff leader for strategy,
McMaster's best known book is "Dereliction of Duty" about the way the U.S. involved itself into the Vietnam War. McMaster criticizes the Generals of that time for not having resisted then President Johnson's policies.
He is the main author of an Army study on how to militarily counter Russia. McMaster is likely to "resist" when President Trump orders him to pursue better relations with Moscow.
Trump has now been boxed in by hawkish, anti-Russian military in his cabinet and by a hawkish Vice-President. The only ally he still may have in the White House is his consigliere Steve Bannon. The next onslaught of the "serious people" is against Bennon and especially against his role in the NSC. It will only recede when he is fired.
It seems to me that Trump has been rolled with the attacks on Flynn and the insertion of McMaster into his inner circle. I wonder if he, and Bannon, recognize the same problematic development and have a strategy against it.
The "Blind Sheik" And The CIA - Media Again Bury U.S. Support For Radical Islamism
Two days ago the Takfiri Islamist leader Omar Abdul-Rahman , the so called "Blind Sheik", died in a U.S. prison. He had been found guilty of involvement in the 1993 attempt to bring down the World Trade Center in New York and of other crimes.
The obituaries of Omar Abdul-Rahman in U.S. media are an example of white washing of the U.S. exploitation of radical Islamism for its imperial purposes. While extensively documented in earlier media and official reports the CIA's facilitation and involvement with Abdul-Rahman is seemingly stricken from history.
Since the 1970s Omar Abdul-Rahman was involved in the growth of radical Sunni Islamism:
Founded in 1976, Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt (FIBE) is part of the banking empire built by Saudi Prince Mohammed al-Faisal. Several of the founding members are leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.
Financed by Saudi sources Abdul-Rahman created various groups of radicals in Egypt and gets deeply involved with Al-Qaeda, recruiting fighters for Afghanistan in cooperation with the CIA and the Pakistani secret services. He was the ideological leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Islamic radical organization in Egypt responsible for several terrorist attacks. He traveled to the U.S. several timed between 1986 and 1990 to further his violent ideology. His visas were issued by CIA agents despite his appearance on a State Department terrorism watch list. In 1990 he moves to the U.S. where he preached his violent Islam and continued to recruit fighters for radical causes.
In December 1990 the New York Times reported:
The 52-year-old religious leader, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, entered the country more than five months ago despite being on a State Department list of people with ties to terrorist groups, the authorities said. He illegally obtained a tourist visa from a consul in the United States Embassy in Khartoum, the Sudan, in May, according to records of the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and State Department officials.
In July 1993 the NYT reported that "illegally obtained tourist visa" was not illegal at all:
Central Intelligence Agency officers reviewed all seven applications made by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman to enter the United States between 1986 and 1990 and only once turned him down because of his connections to terrorism, Government officials said today.
Mr. Abdel Rahman helped to recruit Arab Muslims to fight in the American-backed war in Afghanistan, and his lawyer and Egyptian officials have said he was helped by the C.I.A. to enter the United States.
American officials had acknowledged last week that the diplomat at the United States Embassy in Khartoum who signed the May 1990 visa request that allowed Mr. Abdel Rahman to enter the United States was in fact a C.I.A. officer.
Several attempts to remove Abdel-Rahman from the U.S. mysteriously failed. In 1991 he was inexplicably granted a Green Card despite still being blacklisted.
His involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing was a typical "blowback" from the CIA's chronic support of radical takfiri Islamism, supported by Saudi Arabia, whenever it helps its "regime change" plans here or there. Over the last years such CIA support led to the growth of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
After the recent death of Omar Abdul-Rahman several obituaries appeared in U.S. media. But none of them mention or dig into his deep and long CIA connections and the continuing CIA support for radical Islamism.
There is zero mentioning of the CIA and the visa shenanigans in his NYT obit, despite its earlier reporting. Neither the Associated Press nor AFP mention any connection to the CIA. The British service Reuters buries the visa story in one sentence in the 12th paragraph.
That the deep involvement over the years of the CIA (and FBI) in the crimes Omar Abdul-Rahman is now swept under the carpet and forgotten is not just coincidentally. It is a distinct feature of U.S. political culture.
The British poet Harold Pinter referred to this in his 2005 Nobel lecture:
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest.
I have called this chronic forgetfulness the concept of immaculate conception of U.S. (foreign) policy. There never is an acknowledged history of U.S. misdeeds that may have led to this or that current blowback. When there is one it immediately gets buried, pushed out of sight, never to be talked about. The same applies to partisan policies within the U.S.
Currently the fake "resistance" against a Trump presidency blasts his policy of seeking better relations with Russia, his temporary travel ban reference to seven specific countries and his words against media leaks. But it was the Secretary of State Clinton who initiated a "reset" with Russia, it was the Obama administration that set a ban on those seven countries and it was the Obama justice department that used the espionage act against journalists for publishing leaked material. That all is now forgotten and not to be talked about.
Likewise the deep CIA connection with Omar Abdul-Rahman is now scrubbed from any of the semi-official media reporting. This at the same time the CIA continues its involvement with radical Islamists in Syria and elsewhere.
Pinter continued his lecture:
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
Open Thread 2017-07
News & views ...
Elections In France - CIA Spies On Political Parties, NYT Claims "Russian" Interference
New York Times Editorial, February 18, 2017: Keeping the Kremlin’s Hands Off France’s Elections
With the United States engulfed in questions about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, France is determined to head off any such meddling in its coming presidential election.
Wikileaks, February 16, 2017: CIA espionage orders for the 2012 French presidential election
All major French political parties were targeted for infiltration by the CIA's human ("HUMINT") and electronic ("SIGINT") spies in the seven months leading up to France's 2012 presidential election. The revelations are contained within three CIA tasking orders published today by WikiLeaks ...
On Monday Richard Ferrand, the director of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign, claimed that the Russians had unleashed “hundreds and even thousands” of hacking attempts against Mr. Macron, and that RT and Sputnik, government-controlled news outlets, are spreading fake news, as they were said to have done during the American election cycle. The stories about Mr. Macron range from allegations that he is engaged in a secret extramarital gay affair to accusations that he used state funds to pay for foreign travel.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, who has received Russian financing, is expected to win the most votes in a crowded field in the first round of voting, on April 23.
The espionage order for "Non Ruling Political Parties and Candidates Strategic Election Plans" which targeted Francois Holland, Marine Le Pen and other opposition figures requires obtaining opposition parties' strategies for the election; information on internal party dynamics and rising leaders; efforts to influence and implement political decisions; support from local government officials, government elites or business elites; views of the United States; efforts to reach out to other countries, including Germany, U.K., Libya, Israel, Palestine, Syria & Cote d'Ivoire; as well as information about party and candidate funding.
France is wise to take steps now, though it is too early to know whether they will have much effect. Mr. Ayrault was absolutely right, however, when he stated on Wednesday what should be obvious to all democratic governments: “After what happened in the United States, it is our responsibility to take all measures to ensure that the integrity of our democratic process is respected.” At stake, he said, is “our democracy, our sovereignty and our national independence.”
(For the record: In 2014 the National Front party of Marine Le Pen took out a regular loan from the First Czech Russian Bank registered in Moscow. This after French banks had rejected all loan requests by the party. On July 1 2016 the FCRB's license was revoked by the Russian Central Bank over other issues.)
I agree with the NYT that "Ayrault is absolutely right" to take steps now. Those steps will hopefully prevent further U.S. interference in French elections which the NYT editors so blatantly ignore.
It should also help to dismantle the stupid assertions that some slanted reporting by Russian news outlets, in contrast to completely faked "news" by the NYT, could somehow influence voter decisions in France or anywhere else.
Syria - Turks Fail To Take Al-Bab - "Rebels" Die In Infighting
This week the Turkish President Erdogan visited the Gulf states. He asked for bigger investment in Turkey and for cash for his project to occupy more parts of Syria. A week ago Erodgan had claimed:
“Al-Bab is about to be captured. Manbij and Raqqah are next,” Erdogan said, adding their number one priority was to form a safe zone in the country.
Operation Euphrates Shield has entered a new phase in al-Bab, as the offensive stage is over now that the town has largely been recaptured from Daesh.
“The operation in al-Bab is over," Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar said at a press conference in Qatar on Wednesday during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's trip to Gulf countries.
Silence now dominates the area that was once scene to heavy clashes. Turkish tanks patrol al-Bab's streets and the Syrian opposition has pressed a major advance.
That claim was a huge lie. While Turkish forces had earlier taken some outskirts of Al-Bab and claimed to own 40% of the city they were by then stuck and later in full retreat.
Yesterday the Turkish forces lost the Al-Hikma hospital and the automatic bakery they had earlier captured and retreated from all inner districts of Al-Bab. At least 90% of Al-Bab is still in Islamic State hands.
Geolocated video by the Islamic State and Turkish supported forces show that the Turks are back at their starting points at the outer city limits.
As many as 430 Syrian civilians have been killed by Turkish forces and their auxiliaries. Just last week the MI-6 sponsored Syrian Observatory said that Turkish bombing killed more than 60 in Al-Bab. It confirmed videos posted by the Islamic State which showed killed children and destroyed houses. Unlike with every death cause by fighting between Takfiris and the Syrian Army no "western" main-stream media picked up on that.
Turkey started to invade Syria between Aleppo and Euphrates exactly six month ago. The aim was to prevent the Syrian Kurds from taking an east-to-west corridor along the Turkish border. Such would have closed off Turkey from further influence in Syria. The Turks had hired some of the Syrian "rebels" they had earlier supported to fight the Syrian government to now fight the Islamic State and the Kurds. The Takfiris of Ahrar al-Sham are their storm troopers.
The first three month showed some rapid progress. The Islamic State was bribed to move out of the northern Syrian areas without a fight and the Turks moved in. But in December they reached Al-Bab, a city east of Aleppo with originally some 60,000 inhabitants. There resistance from the Islamic State picked up and the Turkish progress stopped. Turkish armor, often placed without cover in sight of the front line, was destroyed in mass by Islamic State anti-tank missiles. Casualties climbed and the mercenaries of the FSA refused to continue the fight.
As of Thursday casualties number so far were at least 64 Turkish soldiers killed and 386 wounded. Of the FSA auxiliaries at least 469 were killed and 1,712 wounded. A dozen main battle tanks were confirmed as lost. Unofficial sources claim that more than 30 Turkish tanks were destroyed as well as 20+ armored infantry carriers - nearly two battalions wasted for no significant gain.
The Free Syrian Army mercenaries Erdogan hired to take on the Kurds and the Islamic State are now mostly useless. They do not fight efficiently but profusely waste ammunition for spray-and-pray show offs (vid).
To compensate for that Turkey injected its own special Forces and now has some 3,000 soldiers involved in the operation. But that did not help either - losses continued and no progress was made. Another 5,000 Turkish soldiers were now send (Tur) to join the operation. It was also announced that Turkey plans to erect three garrisons in Syria. On top of the eluding Al-Bab Erdogan now also wants to take the Islamic State held Raqqa and the Kurdish held Manbij.
His plan of a Raqqa operation is ludicrous. It would require to fight for and hold a corridor through Kurdish-Syrian areas:
Ankara's preferred plan of action envisages Turkish and U.S. special forces, backed by commandoes and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels entering Syria through the border town of Tel Abyad, currently held by Kurdish YPG militia, the newspaper said.
The forces would effectively cut through YPG territory, before pushing on to Raqqa, which lies about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south.
Such a plan would require the United States to convince the Kurdish militia to grant the Turkey-backed forces a 20-kilometre (12-mile)-wide strip through YPG territory in order to push south, ..
The U.S. would not (and could not) hold back Kurdish forces from attacking such a long Turkish supply line.
But who takes such announcements serious anyway? After the alleged coup against him Erdogan kicked out every officer who was not, in his view, sufficiently loyal to him. His air-force was hurt the most. Allegedly only 0.4 qualified pilots per plane are available now instead of the regular 2-3. It takes up to a decade to train new pilots.
The ground army may be in slightly better shape but NATO's second biggest military is no longer the serious force it once was. The whole Turkish operation is in disarray. Moreover - there is no plan for the day after or any exit strategy. Decisions and announcements change from day to day.
The current Turkish plans contradict the Astana agreements concluded with Russia, Syria and Iran. Only a short, temporary role for Turkish forces was agreed upon. Al-Bab was supposed to be taken by Syrian forces. Syria has officially protested at the UN against the Turkish invasion. But neither Syria nor Russia or Iran have started to fight the Turkish forces. "Just let the Turks bleed," seems to be their current slogan.
Erdogan set the date for a referendum in Turkey over a new constitution. The vote in April would legalize his quasi dictatorial powers. But the quagmire in Syria and the stalemate at Al-Bab will cost him. Why choose a dictator prone to lose his fights? Unconfirmed rumors are swiveling around claiming that Erdogan is trying to bribe the Islamic State to leave Al-Bab. Such a move would fit Erdogan's motives. He needs the victory and does not shy away from otherwise illegitimate methods.
South of Al-Bab the Syrian army is moving towards the Euphrates. It will cut off the Turkish forces path to Raqqa and Manbij. In north-east Syria formerly Turkish sponsored Takfiris fight each other. Jund al-Aqsa, allied with Islamic State, is mass killing "moderate rebels" allied with Al-Qaeda. Hundreds of "rebel" fighters and prisoners have lost their lives in such infighting.
In the south "moderate rebels" and al-Qaeda try to attack the city of Daraa, held by regular Syrian forces. The attacks failed. Jordan closed its borders and no longer takes care of wounded "rebels". The Military Operations Room in Jordan has stopped all supplies and payments to anti-Syrian forces. Only Israel is still secretly helping them.
Syrian government forces mop up isolated rebel strongholds near Damascus. Some Syrian army forces are moving to retake Palmyra. The east-Syrian garrison in Deir Ezzor, isolated and attacked by the Islamic State, is still holding out. Bigger operations against the Takfiris in the south and north-west are planned but the smart move now is to just sit tight and let the enemies, Takfiris as well as Turks, continue in their self destruction.
In Which Reporting About "Fake News" Turns Out To Be Such
Another rather amusing piece about fake news is published in today's New York Times.
It is amusing because no fact in the piece agrees with the headline. The piece itself turns out to be fake news. It is about old stuff, not news at all, and the content does not support the theses.
Some Ukrainian expats lobbied in the Netherlands against a vote for a EU-Ukrainian association agreement. Some Dutch people of Russian heritage also lobbied that way. The Dutch eventually rejected the agreement with 61.1% of votes against it and 38.1% in favor.
That vote took place in April 2016. I am not aware of any reason why that poll would now deserve a piece. Its purpose is certainly not to report current news or the vote itself. It does no explain what the vote was really about nor does it mention the numeric results.
A few expats in the Netherlands took part in public discussions and argued for the side of the vote that eventually won. They did so without hiding their identity, fairly and completely within the bounds of all laws. There is no sign at all that they had any influence on the vote.
But that is not good enough for the NYT. "Putin did it" is a standing order. Indeed the lobbying Ukrainians must have been "fake Ukrainians" and secretly Russians because somehow no Ukrainian would ever argue against the violent Maidan putsch and its consequences:
They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support.
The most active members of the Ukrainian team were actually from Russia, or from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, and parroted the Kremlin line.
The author seems to express that people "from Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine" (which include at least a third of the country) are "fake Ukrainians"? That they have no agency as Ukrainians but are only capable to "parrot the Kremlin line"? Are these Russian speaking Ukrainians of less value? Is there something wrong with having an opinion that does not parrot the Washington/Brussels line?
Then comes a caveat that takes the intended blow out of the whole buildup of the piece:
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian team was directed by Russia or if it was acting out of shared sympathies ...
Could it be that it is neither-nor? That there is third reason why they acted that way? Maybe because they are convinced that the EU-Ukraine agreement is not in the best interest for either country? (Not said in the piece: The agreement in questions is way more than an trade or economic agreement. It includes binding defense and political alignment clauses.)
Let us look at the "Fake Ukrainians" and "Group of Russians":
One such [Russian] contact is Vladimir Kornilov, a Russian-born historian and political analyst who grew up in eastern Ukraine and now lives in The Hague, where he runs a one-man research outfit called the Center for Eurasian Studies.
Before the Dutch referendum last year, Mr. Kornilov campaigned against the Ukraine trade deal, describing himself benignly as “a Ukrainian expat in The Hague” who was “stunned by the seemingly endless stream of lies and propaganda” about Russia and felt obliged to respond.
Vladimir Kornilov looks around 40 years old. When he was born there was no "Russia" or "Ukraine" as we understand them today. The historic Russia included the Ukraine. When Kornilov was born there was the Soviet Union with many federal entities. "Russian-born" and "grew up in eastern Ukraine" is a national categorization that no one made before the USSR fell apart. People would have said "born in Moscow" and "grew up in Donetsk" or something of that kind.
Kornilov strongly disagrees with the NYT piece and especially the "fake Ukrainians" headline:
Vladimir Kornilov @Kornilov1968
@nytimesworld Dear editors! What does it mean "Fake Ukrainians"? Your author know that I'm an Ukrainian citizen and don't have another pass
4:07 AM - 16 Feb 2017
The only "Russian" with which the piece comes up with is a young student who came to the Netherlands as a child:
A particularly active member of the Ukrainian team was Nikita Ananjev, a 26-year-old student born in Moscow who moved with his mother to the Netherlands, where he is now chairman of the Russian Student Association.
Ananjev describes himself publicly as "Dutch raised but still 80% Russian".
Kornilov and Ananjev are the only two relevant persons the NYT piece identifies. They are the "Fake Ukrainians" and "Group of Russians" the headline describes.
The "fake Ukrainian" is not "fake" at all but a real Ukrainian. The "Group of Russians" is a Dutch raised student in Rotterdam. The NYT has found no sign of any actual Russian influence on their public arguments or opinions. There is zero evidence in the piece, none at all, that these people "tilted a Dutch vote". There is not even one attempt made to show that this was the case.
The people of the Netherlands, Dutch people, voted against the preference of the NYT editors by a quite large margin. That this might have to do with the rather bad agreement the vote was about, or with the illegality of the U.S. organized Maidan putsch, does not deserve any question or attention. Instead we get false assertions about foreign influence stated as facts with nothing to back that up.
The "fake news" in the headline makes sense only as a description of the piece itself.
There is no argument in it that actually supports the headline. There are no "fake Ukrainians", there is no "Group of Russians" and those few expats who were active did not "tilt the Dutch vote".
The piece is also fake news because it contains no news at all. The vote was 10 month ago. The expats lobbied openly before the vote took place. Nothing mentioned in the piece has since changed. There is no one new fact in it.
It is cooked up propaganda which does no include any facts to back up its message. A rather sorry attempt to stoke the anti-Russian campaign that was intensified by Hillary Clinton first to win the election and, when that had failed, to explain her loss. It fits the imperial illusion of the "sole superpower" the NYT generally peddles. But it does not really serve its purpose. It is completely unconvincing and easy to debunk. It is fake news.
The Dangerous Precedents Of The Hunt Against Flynn ... And Trump
Kicking Flynn out of his office has hurt Trump. His standing is diminished. The efforts against Flynn, mainly by the "deep state" in the intelligence agencies, were designed to change Trump's declared foreign policy aims. They worked. Yesterday the White House spokesperson said:
President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.
Today Trump tweeted:
Donald J. Trump Verified account @realDonaldTrump
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
4:42 AM - 15 Feb 2017
That is a position Trump had not preciously taken. "Return Crimea" is a no-no to any current and future Russian government. If Trump insists on this the prospective détente is already dead.
Several writers along the political spectrum point out that this show of raw power by the "intelligence community" is a great danger.
Damon Linker in The Week:
The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America's democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn's ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn't the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.
In a liberal democracy, how things happen is often as important as what happens. Procedures matter. So do rules and public accountability. The chaotic, dysfunctional Trump White House is placing the entire system under enormous strain. That's bad. But the answer isn't to counter it with equally irregular acts of sabotage — or with a disinformation campaign waged by nameless civil servants toiling away in the surveillance state.
Robert Perry at Consortium News:
Flynn’s real “offense” appears to be that he favors détente with Russia rather than escalation of a new and dangerous Cold War. Trump’s idea of a rapprochement with Moscow – and a search for areas of cooperation and compromise – has been driving Official Washington’s foreign policy establishment crazy for months and the neocons, in particular, have been determined to block it.
The neocons and liberal hawks also hated Flynn because – as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency – he oversaw a prescient 2012 analysis that foresaw that their support for the Syrian insurgency would give rise to “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria.”
Flynn’s resignation and its acceptance by Trump also prove that these tactics work and that “tough-guy” Trump is not immune to them.
The so-called permanent government of Washington and its complicit mainstream media – what some call the Deep State – have taught Trump a lesson and have learned a lesson, too. They now can be expected to redouble their march toward war and more war, ironically with progressives and leftists in tow.
Justin Raimondo at Antiwar:
Flynn was in the crosshairs of the War Party because he’s the most prominent of those around Trump who advocated for détente with Russia. Also, his somewhat loopy belief that Islam, per se, is a pernicious political ideology rather than a religion, made him a natural enemy of the pro-Saudi faction within the intelligence community, which had long worked with Riyadh to, among other things, overthrow the government of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
The Flynn resignation is just the beginning. As one Politico writer put it, it won’t stop there. They’ll move on to new targets, and they won’t rest until they’ve bagged their real target: the President of the United States
Eli Lake for Bloomberg:
[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it's strange that Flynn's "lie" to Pence would get him fired. It doesn't add up.
A better explanation here is that Flynn was just thrown under the bus.
Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.
In the end, it was Trump's decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. "First it's Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus," he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.
Trump will now cave in on foreign policy: on Russia, on Syria and everywhere else the borg demands it. He has been put "on notice" and will either do as he is told to do or he will be the prey in an even bigger hunt.
It is alarming that the so-called left part of the U.S. policy is lauding the "deep state" for this open attack on the elected government. They are now justifying the methods that will one day be turned against themselves. Why do they fail to see this?
The Flynn Defenestration Will Hamper Trump's Foreign Policy
Trump's National Security Advisor Flynn resigned after only three weeks in office. While I am certainly no fan of Flynn or of Trump I find this defenestration a dangerous event. It will hamper any big change in U.S. foreign policy that Trump may envision.
The resignation followed a highly orchestrated campaign against Flynn by intelligence officials, the media and some people within the White House.
After the election and Trump's unexpected win the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia and sent Russian embassy officials back to Moscow. This move was intended to blockade a Trump policy of better relations with Russia. Flynn talked with the Russian ambassador and, as a direct result, the Russian's did not respond tit for tat for the sanctions and expulsions. This was an absolutely positive move and in full accordance with announced Trump policies. Henry Kissinger made a similar move and visited the Russian embassy weeks before he became Nixon's NSC. During the 2012 election Obama made a similar "deal" with the Russians in a comparable situation:
President Barack Obama was caught on camera on Monday assuring outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have "more flexibility" to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after the U.S. presidential election.
Despite tens or hundreds of claimed White House leaks in the media I am still not sure what really happened next. Trump's enemies and some intelligence officials accused Flynn of lying about the phone calls with the Russian ambassador. It is unclear what the alleged lies really are and especially why they should matter. Obfuscation is part of any White House business. If Flynn had secretly talked with the Israeli ambassador (which he probably did) no one would have attacked him.
So why was Flynn really under pressure and why didn't Trump back him? It would have been easy for Trump to say: "I ordered Flynn to do that. Obama did similar. In both cases it was a GREAT success. USA! USA! USA!" Nobody would have been able to further attack Flynn over the issue after such a protective move.
But Trump, completely against his style, held his mouth and did nothing. What else happened in the White House that let him refrain from backing Flynn?
Sure, the real beef other people have with Flynn is not about Russia but other issues, like his plans to reform the intelligence services. But by throwing Flynn out like this Trump opened himself to further attacks.
As it looks now a rather small gang of current and former intelligence officials - with the help of the anti-Trump media - leaked Flynn out of his office. They will not stop there.
Now blood is in the street and the hyenas will lust for more. The Trump magic is broken. He has shown vulnerability. Now they will go after their next target within the Trump administration and then the next and the next until they have Trump isolated and by the balls. He just invited them to proceed. All major foreign policy moves he planned will be hampered. The detente with Russia has probably ended before it even started.
There is another, overlooked country where Flynn's position as NSC influenced policy decisions. Flynn had at times lobbied for Turkey and good relations with the Erdogan government. Even on the very day of the presidential election an op-ed of his damning Erdogan's enemy Gülen and lauding Turkey was published.
After Trump was inaugurated and again talked of no-fly-zones the Turkish president Erdogan made another of his famous 180 degree turns.
Erdogan had wanted a no-fly-zones (aka a Turkish protectorate) in Syria from the very beginning of the war. The Obama administration would not give him one and in the later years shunned him. Erdogan turned to Russia but was told that he would have to limit his ambitions in Syria: no no-fly-zone, no Turkish march to Manbij or Raqqa. Erdogan agreed. But after Trump talked of new sanctions and Flynn was installed as NSC Erdogan again changed his position. He is now again calling for a no-fly-zone and is again promising to conquer Manbij (held by Kurds) and Raqqa (held by the Islamic State). (Any such attempt would be hopeless. The Turkish army and its Islamist proxy forces have tried to conquer the much smaller Al-Bab, held by the Islamic State, for over four month now and still fail at it.)
The Russian's will have taken note of such unreliable behavior. One wonders how Erdogan now feels as his lobbyist in a top position of the Trump administration is gone. If the Trump administration now acts against his plans will he creep back to Putin and ask for forgiveness? Would that be accepted?
Flynn is no big loss for the world, the U.S. or the Trump administration. But Trump has now lost the initiative. He long managed to set the media agenda for the day by this or that "outrageous" tweet or remark. Now this advantage has been taken away from him over some nonsense allegations and his lack of backing for one of his top people.
He will soon rue the day he let this happen.
Organized Campaigns Hit At Trump's Foreign Policy Plans
At the end of his administration Obama implemented a series of anti-Russian moves. The most obvious was the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over unfounded allegation of Russian interference in the U.S. elections. Other moves included the launching of an Ukrainian offense against the Russian supported resistance in the east Ukraine.
These moves were designed to impede the incoming Trump administration in its announced plans towards more friendly relations with Russia. The incoming Trump administration countered Obama's sanction move. Its designated National Security Advisor Flynn phoned up the Russian ambassador in Washington. He did not promise to immediately lift the sanctions but indirectly asked him to refrain from any harsh response:
The transcripts of the conversations don’t show Mr. Flynn made any sort of promise to lift the sanctions once Mr. Trump took office, the officials said. Rather, they show Mr.Flynn making more general comments about relations between the two countries improving under Mr. Trump, people familiar with them said.
This was arguably a sensible move in line with a smooth transition of government.
In the end the Russian government refrained from any in kind reaction to the Obama sanctions.
This was blow to the promoters of hostilities with Russia. It did not stop their meddling. The effort moved towards kicking Flynn out of his new position as NSC. A concerted media campaign was launched to insinuate an early Flynn failure and to press for his dismissal.
Bradd Jaffy @BraddJaffy
Within the last 30 mins — NYT, WashPost, WSJ and Politico each dropped pieces that have to be alarming for your future if you're Mike Flynn
5:51 PM - 12 Feb 2017
Keep in mind that some 95% of the U.S. media was hostile to Trump during the election campaign. They all peddled the nonsense of "Russian hacks" when an insider leaked emails from the Democratic National Council. They are all willing to support any move that might hinder the Trump administration.
Thus this morning news was filled with these headlines:
- NYT - Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down
- WaPo - As Flynn falls under growing pressure over Russia contacts, Trump remains silent
- WSJ - Mike Flynn’s Position as National Security Adviser Grows Tenuous in White House
- Politico - Trump reviews top White House staff after tumultuous start
All these stories are based on "inside views" from multiple "former and current officials". All are build around the baseless allegations against Flynn of somehow colluding with the Russian government. All are likely more wishful thinking than fact.
It would be astonishing if Trump falls for this obviously well organized campaign against his administration. Should he fire Flynn or give in to such pressure his enemies will smell blood, find a new target within his administration and intensify their fire.
Indeed a second well coordinated assault on an announced Trump policy, a change of course in Syria, is already in the making. This one aims at further maligning the Syrian government in an effort to make it impossible to argue for cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State.
- A few days ago Amnesty International published an unfounded report about alleged executions in Syrian prisons.
- Today Human Rights Watch claims that the Syrian government systematically used Chlorine in the fight over Aleppo. The sources are solely opposition supporters.
- Based on similar vague "facts" the Atlantic Council, a NATO lobby with financial ties to Gulf governments, launches a huge propaganda report (large pdf) about the "war crime" of liberating Aleppo from Jihadis.
None of these "humanitarian" organization is concerned about the current devastating situation in Aleppo. For 40 days the water has been cut off by the Islamic State at the Euphrates pumping stations. There is no electricity. Fuel is sparse. Medications are difficult to find.
Their hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. These organizations all assert that the Syrian government, for example, attacked hospitals in east-Aleppo solely to hit civilians. At the same time they all applaud a much bigger assault on the Islamic State held Mosul by U.S. and Iraqi troops. There, the head of Human Rights Watch asserts, the hospitals are used by the Jihadis and thus attacks on them are justified:
Kenneth Roth @KenRoth
As battle for Mosul proceeds, ISIS is regularly occupying hospitals & medical facilities, endangering patients/staff bit.ly/2kqXuUR
The anti-Flynn campaign as well as the bad-Assad campaign are aimed at Trump policy changes. These changes move away from the course the borg implemented throughout the Obama reign.
Meanwhile the Trump administration implements regressive economic and social policies without any noticeable resistance in the media, in Congress or from so called Non-Government-Organizations:
President Trump has embarked on the most aggressive campaign against government regulation in a generation, joining with Republican lawmakers to roll back rules already on the books and limit the ability of federal regulators to impose new ones.
The borg or deep state is way more concerned with keeping up its plans of uncontested global dominance than with the welfare of the citizens within the empire.
Trump promised to put "America first", to prioritize the inner well being of the States over the quest for global hegemony. His voters elected him for that purpose. Should he fall for the organized campaigns against his plans predictable foreign policy disasters will dominate his presidency. He will then lose any chance for reelection.
CIA Honors Major Terrorist Financier For Successful Cooperation
Seymour Hersh - The Redirection:
[T]he Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
Mr Biden said that "our biggest problem is our allies" who are engaged in a proxy Sunni-Shiite war against Syrian President Bashar Assad. He specifically named Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were (Jabhat) Al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world," Mr Biden said.
… we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.
Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra, to the point that a senior Qatari official told me he can identify al-Nusra commanders by the blocks they control in various Syrian cities. But ISIS is another matter. As one senior Qatari official stated, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, received a medal on Friday from the CIA for his distinct intelligence-related counter-terrorism work and his contributions to ensure international peace and security.
The medal, named after George Tenet, was handed to him by CIA Director Micheal Pompeo after the Crown Prince received him in Riyadh on Friday in the presence of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.
Open Thread 2017-06
News, views & whatever ...
Its Foreign Greed And Delusion That Kills Yemeni Children
Ten-thousands, and soon hundred-thousands die in Yemen as result of zealotry, greed and bureaucratic infighting of foreign countries. The Wahhabi Saudis fight in Yemen against Iranian Shia that ain't there. Under the eyes of the CIA they nurture local al-Qaeda forces to do their bidding. The UAE seeks new ports in Yemen thereby disturbing Saudi pipeline dreams. The Pentagon tussles with the CIA over budgets of special operations. The minor local Yemeni conflicts between the various tribes develop into a war due to foreign interference and financing. Bombing campaigns have replaced tribal mediation.
The executive branch of the United Nations is under pressure from the U.S.-Saudi coalition. It is not allowed to report on the real consequences of the devastating war on Yemen. The leads to rather comical assertions.
On August 31 2016 the UN coordinator on Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said that 10,000 people had died due to the war on Yemen:
Speaking from the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator said the new figure was based on official information from medical facilities in Yemen.
The number could rise further, McGoldrick said, as some areas had no medical facilities, and people were often buried without any official record being made.
"We know the numbers are much higher but we can't tell you by how much," McGoldrick told reporters
On January 17 2017 the UN coordinator on Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said that 10,000 people had died due to the war on Yemen:
"[T]he estimates are that over 10,000 people have been killed in this conflict and almost 40,000 people injured", UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick told reporters in the capital Sanaa on Monday.
He did not provide a breakdown between civilians and combatants.
The UN numbers did not change from August 2016 to January 2017. Despite intense bombing and ravaging famine no one seems to have died. But those numbers are of course mere fantasies. The real death toll due to the war on Yemen is at least ten times higher. The numbers the UN envoy claims are political. He is not allowed to reveal the real ones.
In mid 2016 the Saudis pressured the then UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon to take it off a list of countries that are harming children:
Muslim allies of Saudi Arabia piled pressure on UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the blacklisting of a Saudi-led coalition for killing children in Yemen, with Riyadh threatening to cut Palestinian aid and funds to other UN programs, according to diplomatic sources.
A UN Secretary General with some backbone would not have relented but would have publicly shamed the Saudis and their allies at each possible occasion. Not so Ban Ki-moon:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a U.N. blacklist for violating child rights because its supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs.
Ban said he had to consider "the very real prospect" that millions of other children in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and many other places "would suffer grievously" if U.N. programs were defunded.
The United States and Britain actively supported Saudi Arabia in getting its way at the UN and within the UN Security Council.
But the UN giving in to blackmail did not save any children. UNICEF, somewhat independent from the General Secretary, reports much higher (though still incomplete) numbers that come nearer to the truth:
Yemen has lost a decade's worth of gains in public health as a result of war and economic crisis, with an estimated 63,000 children dying last year of preventable causes often linked to malnutrition, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
A decade has been lost in health gains," she said, with 63 out of every 1,000 live births now dying before their fifth birthday, against 53 children in 2014.
Releno later told a news briefing that the rate of severe acute malnutrition had "tripled" between 2014 and 2016 to 460,000 children.
"The under-5 mortality rate has increased to the point that we estimate that in 2016 at least 10,000 more children died of preventable diseases," she said.
In medical statistic terms these are "excess death". They would not have occurred without the war waged on the country. It is unlikely that these UNICEF numbers are complete.
The mountainous north-west of Yemen is the core area of the Zaidi Shia population from which the Houthi militia fighting the Saudis and their proxies derive. It is now mostly cut off from communication and supply channels. Hospitals and schools in the area have been heavily bombed and its main northern city Sadah has been completely destroyed by Saudi air attacks. The Zaidi comprise about 45% of Yemen's 24 million people and up to 1962 Zaidi caliph ruled the country for over 1,000 years. For the Saudi Wahhabi zealots the Zaidi are not real Muslims and deserve to die.
Many people in the north west have fled to Yemen's capital Sanaa. But even there food is running out. Hungry children roam the streets begging for food.
The Yemenis, and especially the Zaidi, have always been independent minded. They will not give in to Saudi pressure. The Saudis can not defeat them. Together with their U.S. and British allies they have therefore decided on a follow a genocidal strategy. They cut off the country, which usually imports up to 90% of its basic food needs, from the outside world. Saudi ships patrol the coast and the land borders are mostly under Saudi control. Only smugglers and the few official UN convoys provide some relief. But this is obviously far from enough. The ten-thousands "excess death" are a direct consequence of the U.S.-Saudi blockade.
Besides the war on the Zaidi, geo-political conflicts are waged in Yemen. The Saudis accuse the Zaidi of being proxy forces of Iran. But there is no evidence for this. No Iranian weapons or Iranian advisor have been seen in Yemen. Iran had warned the Houthi not to expend their rule. Contacts between the Houthi and Iran are now few and superficial. The U.S. navy caught a few smuggling Dau on the way from maybe Iran to Somalia. It claims that the old and few weapons they carried were destined for Yemen which is already overflowing with weapons. No evidence for this claim has been provided.
The real geo-political fight is taking place within the U.S.-Saudi coalition. The United Arab Emirates is nominally part of the coalition. They have provided forces and hired mercenaries to fight the Houthi in Yemen. But it is mainly interested in the southern ports of Aden (containers and general cargo) and Mukalla (oil and gas) and supports a southern independence movement. The UAE owned port management company DP World had its exclusive concessions for the ports canceled when the Houthi kicked out the former government. First the Houthi, then al-Qaeda took control over the ports. The UAE now occupies the port cities with the help of south-Yemeni mercenaries and again manages and controls the ports.
The Saudis have their own interest in those ports. They have plans for pipelines from their main oilfields up north to Mukalla. The pipelines would allow the Saudi oil exports to circumvent the vulnerable sea lane through the street of Hormuz. But for that they need a port on the Yemeni coast.
The Saudis have supported and allied themselves with radical Salafi groups in Yemen. One of these runs under the name al-Qaeda but it is not as tightly joined to the global al-Qaeda organization as it seems. The Saudi supported al-Qaeda groups, originally hired to fight the Houthi, "liberated" the southern ports. They were ordered out when UAE supported forces arrived but intermittently attacks the UAE occupied Aden and, as Yemeni sources claim, also attacks Mukalla under the label ISIS or Islamic State.
This murky conflict is again coming to the fore because UAE special forces took part in a recent U.S. raid on an alleged al-Qaeda camp in Yemen. It has been confirmed that 25 civilians, at least 9 of them children, were killed in the raid. The main U.S. target, an alleged al-Qaeda big wig, escaped. The Saudi proxy government in Yemen protested against the raid. It banned further U.S. ground operation in the country (later taken back). Its ambassador explained that al-Qaeda is part of its fight against the Houthi and not a priority enemy. He repeatedly said that the "highest levels" of the U.S. government were informed of this.
The raid in Yemen was carried out by the Pentagon, not by the CIA. The U.S. special forces were accompanied by UAE forces. After the raid al-Qaeda in Yemen retook three southern towns and is again threatening the UAE controlled port cities.
My recent discussions with Yemeni sources developed around the following speculative picture. In the war on Yemen the Pentagon is mainly allied with UAE and supports its plans for southern Yemen. The CIA is mainly allied with the Saudis, supports their plans and condones their alliance with al-Qaeda. The main target of the U.S. military raid was warned by the Saudis and escaped. The necessary information came from CIA channels.
A similar split between the CIA which supports Jihadis like al-Qaeda and the Pentagon which has to fight them occurred in Syria. The CIA provided weapons, paid by the Saudis, to various militant Islamist groups which the Pentagon knows it will later have to fight. The Pentagon tried to sabotage those CIA operations.
This conflict is between U.S. Budget Title 10 (the Pentagon) and U.S. Budget Title 50 (the Intelligence Services/the CIA) which has been waged for years. The responsibilities and authorities under these titles are disputed and discussed (pdf) over and over again. Has the CIA the lead in special operations or the Pentagon? Who will be able to claim the victories and who can be blamed for the losses?
The Yemeni children, dying of hunger, are the sorry victims of such idiotic fights. Bureaucracy infighting in the U.S. and pissing contests of Arab sheiks over transports routes around the Gulf are deciding their fates.
At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy, ...
That lie will surely be solace for the relatives of the kids killed in the special force raid in Yemen which was planned and ordered by two U.S. presidents. It will nourish the millions of children who hunger and ten-thousands who die in Yemen due to lack of food. Freedom and democracy will be valued by those dying from U.S. bombs dropped from U.S. build planes by U.S. trained Saudi pilots with the help of U.S. intelligence. The new U.S. administration plans to double down on such support.
As so often in such conflicts the locals are mere pawns in games played by foreign countries. If the foreign powers stayed out, the local conflicts would be solved within weeks and the healing could begin. It would, in the end, be the best solution for all. At the end of the 30 year war in Europe that insight was enshrined in international law. But the valuable experience, paid with blood and devastation, has been discarded. How can it be regained?
Hearsay Extrapolated - Amnesty Claims Mass Executions In Syria, Provides Zero Proof
A new Amnesty International report claims that the Syrian government hanged between 5,000 and 13,000 prisoners in a military prison in Syria. The evidence for that claim is flimsy, based on hearsay of anonymous people outside of Syria. The numbers themselves are extrapolations that no scientist or court would ever accept. It is tabloid reporting and fiction style writing from its title "Human Slaughterhouse" down to the last paragraph.
But the Amnesty report is still not propagandish enough for the anti-Syrian media. Inevitably only the highest number in the range Amnesty claims is quoted. For some even that is not yet enough. The Associate Press agency, copied by many outlets, headlines: Report: At least 13,000 hanged in Syrian prison since 2011:
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian authorities have killed at least 13,000 people since the start of the 2011 uprising in mass hangings at a prison north of Damascus known to detainees as "the slaughterhouse," Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday.
How does "at least 13,000" conforms to an already questionable report which claims "13,000" as the top number of a very wide range?
Here is a link to the report.
Before we look into some details this from the "Executive Summary":
From December 2015 to December 2016, Amnesty International researched the patterns, sequence and scale of violations carried out at Saydnaya Military Prison (Saydnaya). In the course of this investigation, the organization interviewed 31 men who were detained at Saydnaya, four prison officials or guards who previously worked at Saydnaya, three former Syrian judges, three doctors who worked at Tishreen Military Hospital, four Syrian lawyers, 17 international and national experts on detention in Syria and 22 family members of people who were or still are detained at Saydnaya.
On the basis of evidence from people who worked within the prison authorities at Saydnaya and witness testimony from detainees, Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were extrajudicially executed at Saydnaya between September 2011 and December 2015.
There are several difficulties with this report.
1. Most of the witnesses are identified as opposition figures and "former" officials who do not live in Syria. Some are said to have been remotely interviewed in Syria but it is not clear if those were living in government or insurgent held areas. Page 9:
The majority of these interviews took place in person in southern Turkey. The remaining interviews were conducted by telephone or through other remote means with interviewees still in Syria, or with individuals based in Lebanon, Jordan, European countries and the USA.
It is well known that the Syrian insurgency is financed with several billion dollars per years from foreign state governments. It runs sophisticated propaganda operations. These witnesses all seem to have interests in condemning the Syrian government. Not once is an attempt made to provide a possibly divergent view. Amnesty found the persons it questioned by contacting international NGOs like itself and known foreign financed opposition (propaganda) groups:
These groups include Urnammu for Justice and Human Rights, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability.
2. The numbers Amnesty provides are in a very wide range. None are documented in lists or similar exhibits. They are solely based on hearsay and guesstimates of two witnesses:
People who worked within the prison authorities at Saydnaya told Amnesty International that extrajudicial executions related to the crisis in Syria first began in September 2011. Since that time, the frequency with which they have been carried out has varied and increased. For the first four months, it was usual for between seven and 20 people to be executed every 10-15 days. For the following 11 months, between 20 and 50 people were executed once a week, usually on Monday nights. For the subsequent six months, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed once or twice a week, usually on Monday and/or Wednesday nights. Witness testimony from detainees suggests that the executions were conducted at a similar – or even higher – rate at least until December 2015. Assuming that the death rate remained the same as the preceding period, Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were extrajudicially executed at Saydnaya between September 2011 and December 2015.
From "between x and y", "once or twice a week", "suggests" and "assuming" the headline numbers are simply extrapolated in footnote 40 in a back-of-the-envelope calculation; "If A were true then B would be X":
These estimates were based on the following calculations. If between seven and 20 were killed every 10-15 days from September to December 2011, the total figure would be between 56 people and 240 people for that period. If between 20 and 50 were killed every week between January and November 2012, the total figure would be between 880 and 2,200 for that period. If between 20 and 50 people were killed in 222 execution sessions (assuming the executions were carried out twice a week twice a month and once a week once a month) between December 2012 and December 2015, the total figure would be between 4,400 and 11,100 for that period. These calculations produce a minimum figure of 5,336, rounded down to the nearest thousand as 5,000, and 13,540, rounded down to the nearest thousand as 13,000.
2. I will not go into the details of witness statements on which the report is build. They seem at least exaggerated and are not verifiable at all. In the end it is pure hearsay on which Amnesty sets it conclusions. One example from page 25:
“Hamid”, a former military officer when he was arrested in 2012, recalled the sounds he heard at night during an execution:
"There was a sound of something being pulled out – like a piece of wood, I’m not sure – and then you would hear the sound of them being strangled… If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then."
A court might accept 'sound of "I'm not sure" "kind of gurgling" noise through concrete' as proof that a shower was running somewhere. But as proof of executions?
Of all the witnesses Amnesty says it interviewed only two, a former prison official and a former judge, who describe actual executions (page 25). From the wording of their statements it is unclear if they have witnessed any hangings themselves or just describe something they have been told of.
3. The numbers of people Amnesty claims were executed are - at best - a wild ass guess. How come that Amnesty can name only very few of those? On page 30 of its report it says:
Former detainees from the red building at Saydnaya provided Amnesty International with the names of 59 individuals who they witnessed being taken from their cells in the afternoon, being told that they were being transferred to civilian prisons in Syria. The evidence contained in this report strongly suggests that in fact, these individuals were extrajudicially executed.
Former prison guards and a former prison official from Saydnaya also provided Amnesty International with the names of 36 detainees who had been extrajudicially executed in Saydnaya since 2011.
Those 95, some of whom may have been "executed" - or not, are the only ones Amnesty claims to be able to name. That is less than 1-2% of the reports central claim of 5,000 to 13,000 executed. All those witnesses could provide no more details of persons allegedly killed?
Amnesty acknowledges that its numbers are bogus. Under the headline "Documented Deaths" on page 40 it then adds additional names and numbers to those above but these are not from executions:
the exact number of deaths in Saydnaya is impossible to specify. However, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has verified and shared with Amnesty International the names of 375 individuals who have died in Saydnaya as a result of torture and other ill-treatment between March 2011 and October 2016. Of these, 317 were civilians at the time of their arrest, 39 were members of the Syrian military and 19 were members of non-state armed groups. In the course of the research for this report, Amnesty International obtained the names of 36 additional individuals who died as a result of torture and other ill-treatment in Saydnaya. These names were provided to Amnesty International by former detainees who witnessed the deaths in their cells
SNHR funds its work and activities through unconditional grants and donations from individuals and institutions.
Now that is true transparency.
SNHR is known for rather ridiculous claims about casualties caused by various sides of the conflict. It is not know what SNHR qualifies as civilians - do these include armed civil militia? But note that none of the mostly civilians SNHR claims to have died in the prison are said to have been executed. How is it possible that a organization frequently quoted in the media as detailed source of casualties in Syria has no record of the 5,000 to 13,000 Amnesty claims were executed?
4. The report is padded up with before/after satellite pictures of enlarged graveyards in Syria. It claims that these expansions are a sign of mass graves of government opponents. But there is zero evidence for that. Many people have died in Syria throughout the war on all sides of the conflict. The enlargement, for example, of the Martyrs Cemetery south of Damascus (p.29/30) is hardly a sign of mass killing of anti-government insurgents. Would those be honored as martyrs by the government side?
5. The report talks of "extrajudicially executed" prisoners but then describes (military) court procedures and a necessary higher up approval of the judgement. One may not like the laws that govern the Syrian state but the courts and the procedures Amnesty describes seem to follow Syrian laws and legal processes. They are thereby - by definition - not extrajudicial.
6. In its Executive Summary the Amnesty report says that "Death sentences are approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria and ...". But there is no evidence provided of "approval" by the Grand Mufti in the details of the report. On page 19 it claims, based on two former prison and court officials:
The judgement is sent by military post to the Grand Mufti of Syria and to either the Minister of Defence or the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are deputized to sign for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and who specify the date of the execution.
It is very doubtful that the Syrian government would "deputize" or even inform the Grand Mufti in cases of military or criminal legal proceedings. Amnesty International may dislike the fact but Syria is a secular state. The Grand Mufti in Syria is a civil legal authority for some followers of the Sunni Muslim religion in Syria but he has no official judiciary role. From the 2010 Swiss dissertation Models of Religious Freedom: Switzerland, the United States, and Syria quoted here:
In Syria a mufti is a legal and religious expert (faqih and ‘alim) who has the power to give legally non-binding recommendations (sing. fatwa, pl. fatawa) in matters of Islamic law.
Queries which are either sought by a shari‘a judge or private individuals regard the personal status laws of the Muslim community only. In the Arab Republic fatawa are given neither to public authorities nor to individual civil servants, ..
Neither the Syrian constitution nor any Syrian law I can find refers to a role of the Grand Mufti in any military or civil criminal court proceding. The Amnesty claim "approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria"is not recorded anywhere else. It is very likely false. The Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, is a moderate, recognized and accomplished scholar. He should sue Amnesty for this slander.
Syrian law includes a death penalty for certain severe and violent crimes. Before 2011 actual executions in Syria were very rare, most death sentences were commuted. Allegedly the laws were amended in late 2011, after the war in Syria had started, to include the death penalty as possible punishment for directly arming terrorists.
It is quite likely that the Syrian military and/or civil judiciary hand out some death penalties against captured foreign and domestic "rebels" it finds them guilty of very severe crimes. It is fighting the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extreme groups well known for mass murder and other extreme atrocities. It is likely that some of those sentences are applied. But the Syrian government has also provided amnesty to ten-thousands of "rebels" who fought the government but have laid down their arms.
The claims in the Amnesty report are based on spurious and biased opposition accounts from outside of the country. The headline numbers of 5,000 to 13,000 are calculated on the base of unfounded hypotheticals. The report itself states that only 36 names of allegedly executed persons are known to Amnesty, less than the number of "witnesses" Amnesty claims to have interviewed. The high number of claimed execution together with the very low number of names is not plausible.
The report does not even meet the lowest mark of scientific or legal veracity. It is pure biased propaganda.
Note: An earlier version of this piece mixed up the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Both are registered in the UK and claim to provide accurate casualty data from Syria. Only SNHR is referenced in this Amnesty report.
Russia, Ukraine - Neocon Ceasefire Sabotage Fails To Change Trump's Mind
There are serious signs that the Trump administration will continue to seek better relations with Russia. It declines to get involved in the hustling in Ukraine. It is ready to give up on the catastrophic regime-change agenda the neocons implemented in Kiev with the help of Ukrainian Nazi organizations.
Let us recap. On New Year the neo-conservative Senators McCain and Graham were in Ukraine to fire up Ukrainian troops at the front lines for a new fight with Russia supported rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk. A few days later then Vice President Biden also dropped in on Kiev. The three are declared enemies of Trump's more friendly position towards Russia. They obviously intended to reignite the conflict in Ukraine to sabotage Trump's new foreign policy.
The former Georgian President Saakashvilli has once fallen for the Bush administration's incitement and attacked Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia. When that war went badly he received none of the hoped for backup from Washington and NATO.
Poroshenko should have learned from that. Instead he fell for the incitement and assurances from the senators and restarted the war with the separatist. Multiple news outlets and even Ukrainian generals first admitted that it was the Kiev government that started the current round of fighting by "creeping" into the no-man's zone that was supposed to separate the belligerents. But as usual the "western" media now try to change history and to put the guilt on Russia. They press for a U.S. "response" to the "Russian aggression".
At first it looked that this impressed the Trump administration. The new U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley held a speech that might have been written by her "wailing banshee" predecessor Samantha Powers. It condemned Russia for about everything and promised that sanctions on Russia would stay. But two days later she visited the Russian UN ambassador Churkin in his private home in New York city to make nice. The speech was probably just a head-fake or some uncoordinated screw-up.
The Ukrainian President Poroshenko had tried for several days to get a phonecall scheduled with President Trump. But on Thursday Trump met, very shortly though, Poroshenko's opposition in Ukraine Yuliya Tymoshenko. She is a former prime minister and - said mildly- a controversial figure: always scheming, lying and ready to be offered and take huge bribes. But with some help she could probably win an election in Ukraine should Poroshenko step down.
Only on Saturday Trump finally had a phonecall with Poroshenko. The very short readout is a blast. It speaks of "Ukraine's long-running conflict with Russia" and adds:
"We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border," said President Trump.
Ukraine's conflict is not with Russia and the fighting is not along the border. It is a genuine civil war, ignited by a U.S. regime change operation in Kiev, in witch both side have external support. That Trump does not describes it that way leaves lots of room for interpretation. Is there a new "Russian border" along the current line of the ceasefire? What about the Minsk2 process which Ukraine has failed to implement? What about sanctions?
But the most important points: There is no mention of weapon or other support for Kiev. There is no blame on Russia for the renewed violence at the front-line.
My instant micro interpretation of the readout was:
Trump to Poroshenko (translated): I know you started this on order of McCain/Graham/Biden. Screw you. You will win nothing. You are out.
Poroshenko had fired up his troops and promised to fight the rebels throughout their autonomous area up to the Russian border. The intend behind that was to sabotage Trump's policies. Poroshenke will now have to revise those plans.
Bill O'Reilly: Do you respect Putin?
President Trump: I do respect him but -
O'Reilly: Do you? Why?
President Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us to fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world - that's a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.
O'Reilly: But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.
President Trump: There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think - our country's so innocent?
Whoa - Trump is rejecting the U.S. national religion - exceptionalism. The Republicans would have eaten Obama alive had he ever said something like that. "Are you suggesting that Russia which is always killing civilians is morally equal to us who only kill terrorists?" Now the Republicans will be silent about this and the Democrats will howl.
Taken together the recent statements by the Trump administration are positive for renewed U.S.- Russian cooperation. The Ukraine case will be a non-issue. Poroshenko listened to the wrong master's voice. He will (have to) see the light and leave immediately or he will be kicked out of the way.
The Empty Threat Against Iran - National Security Advisor Flynn Embarrasses Himself
Trump's National Security Advisor Flynn keeps demonstrating the limits of is strategic-intellectual capacity. He went in front of the cameras and issued this empty threat:
The international community has been too tolerant of Iran’s bad behavior. The ritual of convening a United Nations Security Council in an emergency meeting and issuing a strong statement is not enough. The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests.
The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.
What is such bluster supposed to achieve?
Interestingly the statement came out just an hour after Donald Rumsfeld left the White House where he had talked about "process" with Flynn and NSC staff.The neo-conservatives are of course very happy about such nonsense talk. Obama Should Thank Trump for Putting Iran on Notice writes Eli Lake. James Rubin intones: Finally, the president made a smart move on foreign policy. For the very first time the neoconned Washington Post editors are lauding Trump and highlight Flynn's juvenile outburst.
But the U.S. has no way to coerce the 80 million Iranians into anything. The Bush administration learned that (it was one reason why Rumsfeld was fired), the Obama administration acknowledged it and the Trump administration will have to accept that too.
Iran has been under U.S. sanction since 1979. A few more years of unilateral U.S. sanctions will not change its positions one iota. The "international community" supports the nuclear deal and encouraged the lifting of international sanctions. It will not agree to new ones just because some Trump flunky says so.
Iran is needed to achieve peace and to fight Islamic terrorism in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. To even try such without Iranian involvement would require hundred-thousands of U.S. troops. They would fail should Iran decide to not support them. Indeed there is nothing that can be achieved in the Middle East without Iran. While it has only limited capabilities to actively interfere in other countries it can throw up hurdles everywhere and block U.S. controlled solutions.
Smaller direct U.S. attacks on Iran would be responded to with attacks by Iranian proxies elsewhere. U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially their resupplies, would be in imminent danger. A large attack on Iran itself would lead to the destruction of U.S. military bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Every U.S. ship passing through the Street of Hormuz would come under fire.
There will be no significant international support for any U.S. move against Iran. Sending the USS Cole to the Yemeni coast while fantasizing about Houthi mining the waters is a just too obvious setup for a "Gulf of Tonkin" replay.
Any significant military move against Iran would be a strategic foreign policy disaster just like the Bush administration attack on Iraq was one. That attack strengthened Iran's long term position. An attack on the country itself would achieve the same on a much larger scale.
The more grown ups in the Trump administration know all this. Secretary of Defense Mattis, no friend of Iran at all, pulled the rug out from under Flynn's empty threat:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday that the threat from Iran’s missile program does not currently require the realignment of U.S. forces in the Middle East, striking a note of restraint shortly after the White House issued a strong warning to Tehran.
The U.S. Central Command on the Middle East was not even informed about the Flynn threat towards Iran. The move is obviously no a thought through administration policy.
Is Flynn freelancing with such threats trying to prove his worthiness for the administration? Or was he set up by others to embarrass himself?
Open Thread 2017-05
News and views ...
Crazy Ideas About The U.S. Attack In Yemen
The Fake Outrage About Trump piece included a part on a U.S. special force attack in Yemen that had happened just hours before:
The rural home of a tribal leader's family, friendly with some Yemeni al-Qaeda members, was raided by a special operations commando. A U.S. tiltrotor military aircraft was shot down during the raid. One soldier was killed and several were wounded. The U.S. commandos responded with their usual panic. They killed anyone in sight and bombed the shit out of any nearby structure. According to Yemeni sources between 30 and 57 Yemenis were killed including eight women and eight children (graphic pics). The U.S. military claimed, as it always does, that no civilians were hurt in the raid.
One of the killed kids was the 8 year old daughter of al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.
But an open question is still why the raid happen. The military and the administration claim it was to get intelligence, laptops, hard-drives and the like. But that is not a good explanation for an elaborate raid that needed lots of resources and backup. We had noted that "Yemeni sources say that at least two men were abducted by the U.S. military." The U.S. Central Command claims that no prisoners were taken only intelligence material. But a few days ago it also claimed that no civilians were hurt which it now admits indeed happened. My gut tells me that we will hear more on this issue.
There are also some weir conspiracy theories around the raid.
Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel headlined: Trump Fulfills Another Campaign Promise: Kills 8-Year Old American Girl and asked "Was that the point?"
That is a crazy and impossible theory. Trump had been in office for less than ten days. The "raid" included SEAL Team 6 forces, UAE special forces, attack helicopters, U.S. Marine MV-22 tiltrotor planes, various drones and intelligence assets, a ship off the coast that launched Harrier jets and who knows what else. An organization like the U.S. military can not possibly vet, arrange and coordinated such a collection of different units and assets without several weeks of intense preparations. It is impossible that Trump ordered this raid up within very few days and just to kill some girl. Also - the military hierarchy would have very likely rejected such an order.
One can file Marcy's piece next to the dissection about the Liberals On the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown. Note: A loudmouth ruling in the White House does not make the sky fall down.
Another crazy piece was published by Reuters today:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.
As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
On wonders who these three "U.S. military officials" are who try to back-stab Trump and his advisors. The raiders surely had prior and current intelligence, they surely had enough forces on the ground and in the air. Lots of backup actually did come in when needed.
The "three military officials" are also lying about the "reinforced al-Qaeda base". The pictures show a few normal houses in a small tribal village. All reports from Yemen speak of a few local families of which men were hired by the Saudis as anti-Houthi fighters. Such may at times align with local al-Qaeda groups who are also supported by the Saudis but that does not make them al-Qaeda terrorists.
The attack in Yemen must have been planned for month under the Obama administration for reason we likely do not yet know. It was then delayed and handed over "ready to go" to the Trump administration. That was my best guess days ago and it is also what the NYT now reports:
[O]ver dinner with his newly installed secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Trump was presented with the first of what will be many life-or-death decisions [... ] Vice President Mike Pence and Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, also attended the dinner.
Mr. Obama did not act because the Pentagon wanted to launch the attack on a moonless night and the next one would come after his term had ended.
[M]onths of detailed planning that went into the operation during the Obama administration [...] the Defense Department had conducted a legal review of the operation that Mr. Trump approved and that a Pentagon lawyer had signed off on it.
The "U.S. military officials" Reuters quotes must known this. Why do they try to plant their false story and thereby blame not only Trump but also Mattis, Dunford and Flynn - (former) generals who agreed on the mission? Is there some nonsense ongoing like an amateurish "military coup" attempt against Trump that Rosa Books fantasizes about?
The military attack in Yemen was a bad idea. Killing some local Yemenis who work for the U.S. "ally" Saudi Arabia for what? To be hated by their families, clansmen and tribal allies for the next decades?
Then there is the operational failure. According to the NYT and others the SEALs were detected early on, recognized they had been detected and still proceeded. The surprise effect was gone and they ran into an ambush. The operation should have been stopped as soon as they noticed that it was not going as planned. They screwed up just as their command screwed up - up to the strategic level of Obama and Trump.
Just think about the background fight between the local "allies" in the war on Yemen. From my comment at Mary's site:
Take the bigger view. The Saudis want a united Yemen under their full control. The UAE (while said to be allied with Saudis) supports the southern separation movement in Yemen. Dubai Port (DPWorld) wants exclusive rights to Aden and the south Yemeni oil terminals. (These to avoid the strategic problems of the street of Hormuz passages.)
After UAE forces took Aden they were attacked by Saudi supported al-Qaeda (and ISIS) groups. The U.S. military supports the UAE in this family strife because it dislikes the Saudi support for al-Qaeda.
The U.S./UAE hit against that “al-Qaeda aligned” Saudi mercenary gang was as much against the Saudis themselves as it was against al-Qaeda.
Unless there is a really big secret about it yet to unveil, the raid was planned and done for little effect and more out of (Obama typical) pettiness than out of sound strategic necessity. That Trump agree to it was a stupid mistake he by now probably regrets.
That all can and should be criticized. But that does not require unfounded conspiracy theories about some spontaneous raid Trump ordered out of malice or incompetence.
There are plenty of reasons to attack him for what he does. Inventing "bad Trump" stories will only help him along.
Ukraine - Coup Government Tries To Sabotage U.S.-Russia Rapprochement
Fighting in east Ukraine has restarted. This is an attempt by "deep state" forces to prevent any rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia under the new Trump administration.
The west-Ukrainian forces under command of the coup government of President Poroshenko started a large attack against the Russian supported Ukrainian self-defense forces in Donetsk and Lugansk governate.
A ceasefire arranged after the Minsk II agreement provided for demilitarized zones along a line of separation. The Ukrainian government has so far avoided to fulfill the Minsk II agreement that would allow a reuniting of the country. An OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), which includes officers from NATO countries as well as Russia, is supervising the ceasefire and issues daily reports.
On January 26 the SMM reported:
The SMM recorded more ceasefire violations  in Donetsk region, including about 420 explosions, compared with 228 in the previous reporting period. More than 160 explosions were recorded around the Svitlodarsk area, with exchanges of fire also recorded around Avdiivka and Yasynuvata.
The Mission revisited a Ukrainian Armed Forces permanent storage site, whose location corresponded with the relevant withdrawal lines and observed that 12 tanks (T-64) and four mortars (2B9 Vasilek, 82mm) were missing, as previously noted.
The SMM followed up on reports of a blockade of a railway track near government-controlled Hirske. The railway leads towards the “LPR”-controlled settlements of Donetskyi and Sentianivka (formerly Frunze) (49 and 44km west of Luhansk, respectively). The Mission had observed a train travelling east through Donetskyi on 23 January. The SMM observed that the tracks had been blocked by tree trunks under a bridge on the southern edge of the settlement. About 20 unarmed men wearing camouflage clothing told the Mission that they were veterans from former volunteer battalions. The SMM observed a tent near the blockade site.
The observations on the 26th pointed to the preparation of a full attack which was launched on January 28:
The SMM recorded fewer ceasefire violations in Donetsk region between the evenings of 27 and 28 January compared with the previous reporting period (including about 330 explosions compared with about 520). In the following 24 hours, however, the SMM recorded over 2,300 explosions, primarily in the Avdiivka-Yasynuvata-Donetsk airport area.
The SMM observed that the intense artillery barrage was launched north to south originating from the government held area.
The NAZI volunteer battalions from west-Ukrainian Galicia are spearheading the attack. There is ongoing fighting with intense artillery usage on several points along the ceasefire line (map). One main battle ground is the city of Avdeevka in the demilitarized zone north-west of Donetzk city.
The U.S. government propaganda site RFERL sees a "creeping offensive" initiated by the government side. Even the belligerent and anti-Russian Washington Post editors have to acknowledge that the Ukrainian government started this round. While unreasonably blaming Russia they observes:
Ukrainian commanders acknowledge that in recent weeks their forces had moved some positions forward in the no-man’s land between the front lines.
During the last two years the Ukrainian army experienced a massive build up. New equipment came in from the U.S. and other NATO countries and U.S. training missions tried to teach some basic fighting tactics. But while the newly conscripted 250,000 men army looks big on paper it still lacks any coherence and will to fight for the coup government and its U.S. overlords. Only the NAZI "volunteer battalions" have some fighting spirit but they are up against people defending their immediate homes. Any large offense from the government side will thus fail.
The fight was planned and started just after the inauguration of the new U.S. president Trump. Trump has acknowledged that Crimea is part of Russia as its population is overwhelmingly Russian. He has announced to seek good relations with Moscow. He will likely eliminate sanctions against Russia.
For the Ukrainian coup government and its neo-conservative supporters this marks the end of their dreams. If it loses U.S. and NATO support the Ukraine must declare bankruptcy, the government will be kicked out and the country will, over time, move naturally back into the Russian sphere.
To prevent that Poroshenko was ordered to launch a new attack while blaming Russia. He did as his mentors told him and traveled to Berlin in the hope of German support. But such is not coming. The German government let it know that it sees through his games and has no interest in them. The government friendly daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung "leaked" (translated here) that Berlin knows that Poroshenko started the fight to influence Trump and to prevent any sanction relief for Russia. But Berlin believes that the gimmick will fail and Merkel fears that Poroshenko will end up losing another round of the war while Russia will still get the better relations it seeks.
One would hope so. There is nothing to win for western-Europe, or anyone else, in another fight with Russia.
Neither the Trump administration nor the EU has blamed any side for relaunching the conflict. The civil NATO head Stoltenberg stayed within the official line blaming neither side. That surely is not to Poroshenko's favor.
The massive buildup of U.S. and NATO troops along the Russian border as well as the renewed fighting in Ukraine are part of the imperial plan initiated under Obama to squeeze Russia into a minor global role. It is an extremely dangerous endeavor. Russian history shows that it will not allow such. Trump will hopefully reverse the Obama plans and, as far as one can currently tell, seeks to arrange friendly cooperation with Russia wherever feasible.
The destination of the last official foreign visit of former Vice President Biden was Ukraine. The World War III promoting Senator McCain visited Kiev on New Years eve. Both were heavily involved in the earlier coup against the constitutional Ukrainian government. Biden's son is involved in natural gas business in Ukraine. Did they leave directives or suggestions?
The current attempts in Ukraine to sabotage a U.S. Russian rapprochement will probably not be the only ones. Some "accident" in the Baltic or "mistake" in Syria could surely be arranged by "deep state" rogue force. If such happens nether side should fall for it.
Politico wrote about the John McCain / Lindsey Graham New Year visit to Ukraine a month ago. Notice what they said:
“I admire the fact that you will fight for your homeland,” Graham told Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade in the town of Shyrokyne, about four kilometers from the line of contact, according to a video released Monday by the Ukrainian presidency.
“Your fight is our fight,” Graham said during the visit on Saturday alongside President Petro Poroshenko. “2017 will be the year of offense,” he continued. “All of us will go back to Washington and we will push the case against Russia. ..."
McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate and prisoner of war in Vietnam, said: “I believe you will win. I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win. ..."
That is obviously incitement to start a new war. But with their opposition to Trump McCain and Lindsay are out of the decision circles in Washington DC. They can write as many furious op-eds as they want but no one is going to read them and start a war with Russia.