Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 01, 2015

Obama Administration SHOCKED That People Being Bombed By It Retaliate (Updated)

Over the last year the U.S. bombed Jabhat al-Nusra personal and facilities in Syria some five or six times. The al-Qaeda subgroup also has a history of attacking U.S. paid "relative moderate" proxy forces in Syria.

The Pentagon recently inserted another U.S. mercenary group into north Syria. This was accompanied by a media campaign in which the administration lauded itself for the operation. The newly inserted group is especially trained and equipped to direct U.S. air attacks like those that earlier hit al-Nusra fighters.

Now that freshly inserted group was attacked by Jabhat al-Nusra. Some of its members were killed and others were abducted.

The Obama administration is shocked, SHOCKED, ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED that Jabhat al-Nusra would do such a ghastly deed. "Why would they do that?" "Who could have known that they would attack U.S. proxy forces???"

The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. It came a day after the Nusra Front captured two leaders and at least six fighters of Division 30, which supplied the first trainees to graduate from the Pentagon’s anti-Islamic State training program.

In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure.

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.
...
A senior Defense Department official acknowledged that the threat to the trainees and their Syrian recruiters had been misjudged, and said that officials were trying to understand why the Nusra Front had turned on the trainees.

Like other Obama administration operations this one did not fail because of "intelligence failure" but because an utter lack of common sense.

Could someone explain to the fucking dimwits in the Pentagon and the Obama administrations that people everywhere, and especially terrorists group, hate it when you bomb them and kill their leaders? That those people you bomb might want to take revenge against you and your proxies? That people you bombed will not like your targeting team moving in next door to them? That alQaeda is not an "ally"?

These people are too pathetically clueless to even be embarrassed about it.

The accumulated intelligence quotient of the administration and Pentagon officials running the anti-Syria operation must be below three digits. But aside from their lack of basic intelligence the utter lack of simple "street smarts" is the real problem here. These people have no idea how life works outside of their beltway cages.

UPDATE: The one sane guy at the Council of Foreign relations, Micah Zenko, foresaw this debacle and wrote on March 2:

[The U.S. trained mercenaries] will immediately be an attractive target for attacks by the Islamic State, Assad’s ground and air forces, and perhaps Nusra and other forces. Killing or taking prisoner fighters (or the families of those fighters) who were trained by the U.S. military will offer propaganda value, as well as leverage, to bargain for those prisoners’ release.

He compared the whole operation to the 1961 CIA invasion of Cuba:

Last September, the White House and Congress agreed to authorize and fund a train-and-equip project similar to the Bay of Pigs, but this time in the Middle East, without any discussion about phase two. The Syrian project resembles 1961 in two ways: What happens when the fighting starts is undecided, and the intended strategic objective is wholly implausible.

On more thought from me on why the dimwits did not foresee that Nusra would attack. The White House insisted on calling a part of Nusra the "Khorasan group" and explained that it was only bombing this groups of alQaeda veterans now part of Nusra because the "Khorasan group" planning to hit in "western" countries. No expert nor anyone on the ground in Syria thought that this differentiation was meaningful. Nusra is alQaeda and so are all of its members.

But the White House and Pentagon probably thought that Nusra would accept the artificial separation they themselves had made up. That Nusra would understand that it is seen as an "ally" and only the "Khorasan group" is seen as an enemy. If that was the line of thinking, and the situation seems to point to that, then these people have fallen for their own propaganda stunt. They probably believed that the "Khorasan group" was an accepted narrative because they were telling that tale to themselves. Poor idiots.

Posted by b at 07:10 AM | Comments (81)

July 31, 2015

"ISIS Free Zone" Plans Lead To Even More Chaotic Situation In Syria And Iraq

The fifty something mercenaries the U.S. military trained to act as Forward Air Controllers to direct U.S. air attacks towards whatever target in Syria have run into trouble. Shortly after entering Syria some were abducted by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and last night some were killed and more wounded when Jabhat al Nusra attacked their headquarter. The defenders then used their new skills to direct U.S. air attack on the attackers. Nusra released a statement saying that it would now fight against any "American project" in Syria.

The U.S. wants its mercenaries to occupy parts of Syria that will allow resupplies to be safely transported for further attacks on the Syrian government as well as for attacks on the Islamic State. It markets the areas to be occupied as Islamic State free zones. Turkey wants those areas to be Kurd free zones as it wants to keep them to resupply the Islamic State and other extremist organization which operated with Turkish, Saudi and Qatari support against the Syrian and Iraqi government.

The plan to insert these Forward Air Controller specialists to direct air capabilities is on top of the CIA program which for years now trains, equips and pays some 10,000 mercenaries to attack the Syrian government at a cost of $1 billion/year. Another force that will soon be inserted into Syria are Syrian Turkmen trained and supplied by Turkey:

Turkish jets (and artillery when necessary) will hit targets mostly in this region for “cleaning” it of ISIL forces. This is planned to be executed with the help of a 5,000 strong army mainly consisting of Turkmens living in Syria. One source said that this force, which has been assisted by Turks, would be in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition.

One wonders how Jabhat al-Nusra will react to that "Turkish project".

Last night a warehouse in Reyhanli on the Turkish side of the Syrian border and allegedly controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood welfare organization IHH went up in flames. A while ago trucks allegedly belonging to IHH with supplies on their way to Syria were stopped by Turkish police who found that those trucks were actually under control of the Turkish secret service M.I.T. and carrying weapons and ammunition into Syria. (The policemen were later arrested for doing their job.) The IHH warehouse that went up last night might well have been a M.I.T. depot with supplies for the Turkmen mercenaries.

If the U.S. really wants to use its newly hired Forward Air Controllers against the Islamic State it will now have to protect them not only against the Islamic State but also against Jabhat al-Nusra and probably also against the Turkmen on the Turkish payroll.

A U.S. general said today that "All credible anti-ISIL forces on the ground in Syria will receive coalition support as required." Which groups does he actually mean? "Credible anti-ISIL forces" are the Syrian Arab Army and Hizbullah? The Syrian Kurds with the YPG and PKK who the Turks are currently bombing? The Jabhat al-Nusra al-Qaeda affiliates who, on and off again, also fight against the Islamic State? Who the hell does he mean? Does he know who he means?

As it looks now the whole "ISIS Free Zone" attempt is likely to make the fight against ISIS more difficult.

Is it this chaos that the White House really wants?

Posted by b at 01:40 PM | Comments (19)

July 30, 2015

Death Of Mullah Omar Will Make Afghan Peace More Difficult And ISIS Stronger

Yesterdays some announcements were made that the leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar died. It was the fifth or sixth time that Mullah Omar was said to have died so I ignored it. But today the official Taliban political office confirmed the news and said that Mullah Omar had died on April 23 2013 in south Afghanistan.

This confirmation, and the date of the death, will have all kinds of ramifications. Not only in Afghanistan but also in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A few weeks ago an official Taliban Eid message that was attributed to Mullah Omar. It endorsed negotiations with the Afghan government. Some negotiations were already happening through the good office of the Chinese and with participation of Pakistani and (likely) U.S. government officials. What will happen with those is now up in the air. As Barnett Rubin explains:

The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army [...] will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence.

Michael Semple adds:

[F]or many involved in the conflict, Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate has been a flag of convenience. They should be expected to defy any attempt by his successors to impose a ceasefire. Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

I doubt that a fragmented insurgency is more easy to overcome than a united one. With whom will you talk about peace when the Taliban fall apart?

The Taliban named Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur as new leader of the Taliban but not (yet) as Emir of the Islamic Emirate. [UPDATE: The official Taliban site now named Mansur also as "Amir-ul-Momineen" and thereby as official leader of the Islamic Emirate.] He has been the acting deputy Taliban leader for some time. His rise to power is explained by two huge mistakes in U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Anand Gopal gives this short biography of Mullah Mansur:

  • Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur is from Band-i-Timor, Maiwand, Kandahar. He fought in 80s jihad in taliban fronts
  • Most notably, he fought for a time under Mullah Faizlullah Akhundzada, alongside Mullah Omar
  • During the Taliban regime he was head of the air force and also the (often absent) head of the civil aviation ministry
  • In 2002 he surrendered & retired to his home in Kandahar, agreeing to abstain from politics. However, the US did not accept reconciliation
  • Militias/US raided his home repeatedly. Final straw came when the US killed Hajji Burget Khan, revered leader of Mansur’s Ishaqzai tribe
  • He asked friends in the Afghan gov’t to protect him, and they advised that he flee to Pakistan. There, he reconnected with old comrades
  • As other important leaders (Osmani, Obaidullah, Beradar) were eliminated, Mansur rose steadily up the ranks to become de facto leader

In 2002 and 2003 U.S. special forces went after former Taliban leaders who had given up fighting and retired. This revenge driven campaign reignited the Taliban. They went back underground and again took up weapons. Then the manhunt campaign against Taliban leaders targeted the most experienced leaders who were in control of the fighters. These were the grown ups one could have talked with. Instead younger, more fierce leaders took over after the elder ones were killed and these are now less likely to agree to compromises. U.S. tactics in Afghanistan restarted a war against the Taliban that had been over and prolonged the new war by killing the leadership ranks of the Taliban who could have made peace.

Like Osama bin Laden the current head of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri had pledged allegiance (bay'a) to the Emir of the Islamic Emirate Mullah Omar. He renewed that pledge only last fall. He and his followers now learns that his pledge has been to a dead man. That is a huge disgrace. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as well as al-Qaeda in Yemen had prevented their fighters to give bay'a to Caliph Baghdadi and the Islamic State with the argument that al-Qaeda had already given bay'a to Mullah Omar. That argument is now more than dead and the leaders who used it are discredited. A lot of Jabat al-Nusra fighters will now turn towards the Islamic State giving more power to that already quite strong group.

Posted by b at 12:53 PM | Comments (13)

Human Rights Watch Markets ISIS As Safe Haven, Then Laments About It

A piece in the New York Times reports about second generation immigrants in Britain who now emigrate to the Islamic State:

Leaving behind the Western opportunities their parents came to Britain for, those young Muslims make for a promised land of religious virtue, Muslim community and righteous revolution.

“It’s the ultimate marketing success,” said Mr. Akunjee, who represents the families of three teenage girls who recently absconded to Syria. “They manage to sell a war zone as a Muslim safe haven.

One Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, finds that lamentable:

“They manage to sell a war zone as a Muslim safe haven.” says the NYT quote. But who are "they"? is t the Islamic State? Are the dozens of beheading videos the Islamic State publishes really promoting a safe haven? Why would anyone feel safe with all such killing and gore? Are "they" maybe others involved in such a lying "safe haven" marketing campaign?

How about the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch?

Cont. reading: Human Rights Watch Markets ISIS As Safe Haven, Then Laments About It

Posted by b at 09:55 AM | Comments (15)

July 29, 2015

Open Thread 2015-30

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:46 PM | Comments (93)

July 27, 2015

The U.S. and Turkey Have A *Something* Plan

According to several news reports the U.S. and Turkey have agreed to do something in north Syria. But  there seems to be no agreement on anything else. There is disunity about the aim of something as well as on the target of any something operation. The means of achieving something are in dispute. Even the geographic space in which something is supposed to happen is undefined. The only agreed upon issue besides doing something is to throw the Kurds, the most successful force against the Islamic State so far, under the bus. 

Consider all the caveats and general vagueness in the NYT report about the "agreement":

BAGHDAD — Turkey and the United States have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together to sweep Islamic State militants from a 60-mile-long strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say.

The plan would create what officials from both countries are calling an Islamic State-free zone controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents, which the Turks say could also be [...]

[...] many details have yet to be determined, including how deep the strip would extend into Syria, [...]
[...]
“Details remain to be worked out, [...]
[...]
[...] the plan faces the same challenges that have long plagued American policy in Syria.
[...]
Whatever the goal
,[...] raising the question of what they will do [..]
[...]
[...] questions also remain about which Syrian insurgents and how many will be involved in the new operation. [...] relatively moderate have been trained in a covert C.I.A. program, but on the battlefield they are often enmeshed or working in concert with more hard-line Islamist insurgents.

In another complication, gains for such insurgents would come at the expense of Syrian Kurdish militias
[...]
Turkish officials and Syrian opposition leaders are describing the agreement as something [...] But American officials say [...] it was not included in the surprise agreement reached last week
[...]
[...]  United States officials said Turks and Americans were working toward an agreement on the details of an operation [...]
[...]
That is an ambitious military goal [...] American officials emphasized that the depth of the buffer zone to be established was one of the important operational details that had yet to be decided.
[...]
Insurgents, as well as their supporters in the Syrian opposition and the Turkish government, are already envisioning the plan as a step toward [...]
[...]
American officials in recent months have argued to Turkish counterparts [...]
[...]
But until now [...]
[...]
By contrast, the new plan [...]
[...]
“Any weakening of ISIS will be a privilege for us on the battlefield,” Ahmad Qara Ali, a spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group that often allies with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate. [...]
[...]
Such Syrian Arab insurgents would gain at the expense of the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia known by the initials Y.P.G. that is seeking to take the same territory from the east. While the United States views the group as one of its best partners on the ground, Turkey sees it as a threat; [...]
[...]
[...] challenges to this border strategy still remain, American officials acknowledged. [...] American officials [...] conceded [...]

(Did we notice the new "relative moderate" category the NYT introduced here for anti-Syrian insurgents? This especially for Ahrar al Shams like ilk who are nearly indistinguishable from AlQaeda.)

The vagueness of this "agreement" lets me assume that the Turks railroaded the U.S. negotiators with their surprise announcement about the use of Incirlik airbase last week. That announcement came after a phonecall between Obama and Erdogan. Did they really agree on anything but throwing the Kurds under the bus, with Turkey now shelling their positions in Syria?

Or is this vagueness about the strategy an administration ploy to make it look as if it is dragged into its policy by an ally. If things go wrong it could then always blame Turkey for overreaching.

Or the administration intentionally committing to nothing and just giving Erdogan enough rope to hang himself?

Would the Obama administration even have the legal authority to support the "moderate" AlQaeda "rebels" with airstrikes? So far it could not name any.

Whatever.

This something plan has little chance of achieving anything but more war and chaos in Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Something will fail.

Posted by b at 10:42 AM | Comments (88)

July 26, 2015

Turkey's War On Kurds Realigns Syrian Kurds With Their Government

A short update to yesterday's (corrected) post on the situation in Turkey and Syria.

Last weeks suicide attack on a meeting of young, mostly Kurdish socialists attributed to the Islamic State was probably a false flag operation initiated by Erdogan's secret service. I discussed the possibility of such an attack a month ago: The Turkish Military Rejects Erdogan's War Plans - "False Flag" Needed?. The attack on the Kurds was then used to justify an operation against the Islamic State. But that operation is only pretended. That Erdogan's claim of attacking the Islamic State is only theater and that his real aim is a war on the Kurds who fight the Islamic State can be seen best in these tweets:

@SlemaniTimes
Turkey arrests 593 individuals on terrorism charges, though only 32 are #ISIS members, the rest are from Kurdish parties.

(The expression "Kurdish parties" is not completely correct here. Some people from the marxist DHKP-C party, which is mostly not Kurdish, were also arrested.)

From yesterday:

@CNNTURK_ENG:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night Turkish jets made 159 sorties against #PKK camps in N.Iraq&hit 400 targets pic.twitter.com/oGVJmKsGbs

@CNNTURK_ENG:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night there was no air strike against #ISIS, targets were hit by tank fire near #Kilis.

In yesterday's post I named as one of Erdogans aims as to: "Rally nationalist for a new round of elections to Erdogan's side. Shut out the Kurdish HDP from the next election to again win an outright AKP majority."

Today the leader of rightwing-nationalist MH Party and a vice leader of Erdogan's AK Party called for prohibiting the leftist HDP from taking part in the next elections likely this fall. The HDP won 12% in the last election and is the party that is also representing the PKK Kurds. Kicking out the HDP would assure that Erdogan's AKP could again achieve an outright majority of parliament seats. It could then continue with Erdogan's plan to change the constitution and to move all executive powers to the president's office which he occupies.

Two soldiers killed, 4 others injured in car bombing in Turkey’s southeast which guarantees a further tit-for-tat escalation of the revived conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state.

Turkey has called for NATO consultative meeting under chapter 4. I doubt very much that his operations, obviously in support of the Islamic State, will get official help from NATO.

In Syria President Assad held a public speech and described the current situation in the country. Reuters headlines: Syria's Assad: Army focusing on holding most important areas

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday the army had been forced to give up areas in order to hold onto more important ones in its fight with insurgents ...

Reuters, and others who now report this, are a bit late to the game. That the Syrian government had decided to keep the army mostly to holdable defensive positions was reported and explained here on June 4(!):

The parallel onslaught of U.S., Turkey and GCC supported al-Qaeda "moderate rebels" and Islamic State Jihadists necessitates that the Syrian government concentrates its capabilities and assets and moves into a defensive stand.

This is not a strategic change of course or a sign of weakness but a tactical move. To sacrifice exhausted army units in further defending outlying and thereby indefensible minor parts of the country would simply be unwise.

The Kurds in Syria and their leader Salih Muslim are under attack from the Islamic State and now also from Turkey. They have now offered to reconcile with their only reliable partner, the Syrian government. Salih Muslim said that the Kurds would join the Syrian army if that army would show a "new mentality". He spoke favorably of the father of Bashar al Assad and his relations with the Kurds and discussed various forms of federalism.

THIS IS HUGE!

Should the Syrian government take up this offer for talks (likely!) and guarantee some kind of Kurdish autonomy within some federal Syrian structure the Syrian army would regain the manpower to again go on the offense. Supported by Iran and Russia and united with the Kurds the Syrian army would again be dominant power in the country and likely be able to retake the insurgency and islamist occupied areas.

Posted by b at 01:36 PM | Comments (46)

July 25, 2015

Turkey Lauches War On Islamic State's Worst Enemies - The Kurds

Since 2013 a ceasefire between the state of Turkey and Kurdish PKK rebels in south-east Turkey held up well. The government pledged some support for Kurdish cultural autonomy and in return the ruling AK Party gained votes from parts of the Kurdish constituency. The AKP government also has good relations with the Kurds in north Iraq. It buys oil from the Kurdish regional government and supports the kleptocracy of the ruling Barzani clan in that autonomous Iraqi region.

The PKK is a militant Kurdish organization in Turkey. The equivalent in Syria is known as YPG. In Iran the group is called PJAK and in Iraq HPG. The HDP party in Turkey is the political arm of the PKK. The PYD is the political arm of the Syrian YPG. All these are essentially the same egalitarian, secular marxist/anarchist organization striving for Kurdish autonomy or independence.

[Correction per CE in comments:
The PKK is main Kurdish party in Turkey. Its military arm is the HPG. Usually though only PKK is used to identify both. The equivalent in Syria is the PYD as the party and the YPG as its military arm. The HDP that now sits in the Turkish parliament after wining 12% of the vote is not the political wing of the PKK (which is itself a political party). HDP is an umbrella party of several far-left secular parties, including Kurdish, and is for minority rights including and foremost those of Kurds. (Confused? So was I.)]

Turkey has now reopened its war on the PKK Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and in Syria. Turkish police rounded up hundreds of Kurdish activists in Turkey and tonight dozens of Turkish fighter planes attacked PKK positions in Syria and Iraq. This war is likely to escalate and will be long and bloody. It will be mostly fought on Turkish ground. How did it come to this?

The war on Syria and support by Turkey for even the most radical islamists fighting the Syrian government changed the relations with the Kurds. It is undeniable that Turkey not only supports the Free Syrian Army but also the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is the transit country for international suicide bomber candidates joining these organizations. Weapons, ammunition and other goods are smuggled into Syria with the help of the Turkish secret services and the Islamic State exports oil to Turkey. The Islamic State is recruiting in Turkey and is believed to have many sleeper cells throughout the country.

When the Islamic State attacked Kurdish positions in Kobane in north Syria the U.S. intervened on the side of the Kurds. Turkey was miffed and at first blocked all support. The Kurds in Kobane are, like the Kurdish rebels in Turkey, organized in the PKK/YPG. They want an continuous autonomous region in north Syria connecting all Kurdish enclaves along the Turkish Syrian border.

Ankara fears that such a region could be joined by the Kurdish areas in south-east Turkey. This would be a threat to the Turkish state. Turkey wants to gain land in the war on Syria not lose any. Idleb and Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq are regions that Erdogan would like to add to his realm.

Cont. reading: Turkey Lauches War On Islamic State's Worst Enemies - The Kurds

Posted by b at 04:03 AM | Comments (38)

July 24, 2015

Blog Trouble (Meta) II

In March we had payment problems with Typepad, the provider of the hosting service for this blog. After some hefty discussions they admitted that the fault was on their side and they again made the blog accessible. The same problem recently reappeared and the same discussion started all over again with the same result.

One would hope that organizations, or at least the people talking with their customers, are somewhat learning entities. Unfortunately, most are not.

 

Posted by b at 10:27 AM | Comments (25)

July 21, 2015

Hiding Its Own Role NYT Publishes Anonymous Officials' Snowden Smears

What do certain U.S. administration officials do when they want to push a line of propaganda out to the world? They call up some willing stenographer from the New York Times. The NYT stenographers guarantee anonymity to the government officials and they certainly do not check the logical or factual plausibility of the fairy tales they are told. Instead they write up what they whatever is said as exclusive and a scoop.

In today's fairy tale, by Eric Schmidt and Ben Hubbard, we are told that the Islamic State leader "takes steps to ensure [his] groups survival".

Funny idea. Why would a group that survived the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the years since under constant, intensive military pressure NOW take steps for its survival? I had imagined it had taken such steps years ago. Otherwise how would it still exist?

But asking real questions is not a NYT journalist's job:

The Islamic State’s reclusive leader has empowered his inner circle of deputies as well as regional commanders in Syria and Iraq with wide-ranging authority, a plan to ensure that if he or other top figures are killed, the organization will quickly adapt and continue fighting, American and Iraqi intelligence officials say.

The officials say the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delegates authority to his cabinet, or shura council, which includes ministers of war, finance, religious affairs and others.

The Islamic State has deputy leaders which run various different parts of the organization? Wow. How would we ever have known this without anonymous "American and Iraqi intelligence officials" explaining such?

Any bigger organization has a leadership that delegates to deputies who run various parts of the business. That's how people organize and how they have done about anywhere and anytime. Would anyone, and for what reason, have expected something different from the Islamic State? Why then are we presented such a story?

There is nothing really new in the piece. It says that IS is run as a large organization and has somewhat autonomous branches in various countries. That was all well known. But the real agenda of the whole story may be condensed in just one paragraph which stands out as an obvious lie:

The Islamic State has also studied revelations from Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about how the United States gathers information on militants. A main result is that the group’s top leaders now use couriers or encrypted channels that Western analysts cannot crack to communicate, intelligence and military officials said.

IT IS ALL SNOWDEN'S FAULT say anonymous government officials and the NYT's voice activated tape recorders, aka <I>journalists</I>,  write it down and publish it.

But Osama Bin Laden was killed before Snowden left the NSA. Did he use cell phones or did he fear that those would be used to trace him? Have AlQaeda and the Islamic State started to use encryption only after the Snowden revelations? No :

[AlQaeda] ditched cell phones in favor of walkie-talkies and coded names. Information was passed through intermediaries. If someone needed to send an email, it was shielded by highly sophisticated encryption software.

That quote is from 2011, years before Snowden. But protecting communication started even earlier. In 2008 the Taliban in Afghanistan shut down cell phone towers that traced their movements. Such groups always protect their communication because they know that their enemies will use those to find and kill them. There is nothing new about this and whatever Snowden did has nothing to do with that. The NYT stenographers surely know this but they still write down the smears they are told without examining and explaining the actual facts.

And by the way - what secret did Snowden actually publish? He gave NSA papers to reporters and newspaper and they are the ones who selected some and made them public. One of those papers was the New York Times. The sentence inculpating Snowden should thereby have said:

The Islamic State has also studied revelations published by the New York Time about how the United States gathers information on militants.

That the NYT was involved in the same issue that is now used by anonymous officials to smear Snowden is of course not mentioned in the story.

The New York Times fired Judith Miller who wrote down fairy tales told by anonymous administration officials about no existing Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. How was whatever she did different from the stenographing Schmidt and Hubbard are doing in today's piece?

Posted by b at 12:29 PM | Comments (19)

July 20, 2015

U.S. Military Seeks Reasons To Prolong Afghanistan Occupation

When the U.S. attacked Afghanistan the purpose was to remove the Taliban government which had given guest status to the AlQaeda leadership. Only a few weeks later, that job was done.

The alleged purpose of the occupation of Afghanistan then changed into hunting down AlQaeda remnants. But those had already fled to Pakistan and elsewhere.

The U.S. military instead started to hunt and kill former Taliban members even when those were just local farmers or former Taliban leaders who had given up any fighting and were willing to cooperate. This manhunt and the accompanying torture and killing of civilians revived the Taliban movement and a new revolt, now against the U.S. occupation and its puppet government, started. The alleged purpose of the U.S. military in Afghanistan changed again.

The task was now to fight the new anti-government forces while building an Afghan army that would be able to later take care of that job. But finally peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership started. An end of the inner Afghan conflict is slowly coming into sight.

But now, as pressure on the military to leave Afghanistan grows, a new threat conveniently springs up just in time to argue for a further occupation:

The emergence of militants in Afghanistan claiming allegiance to Islamic State could disrupt White House plans to remove the remaining U.S. troops in that country by the end of next year.

Islamic State has provided new ammunition to Pentagon and Afghan officials seeking to persuade the White House to reverse its decision to pull out U.S. troops. Their argument, in effect, is that Islamic State could grow and the same security collapse that occurred in Iraq could happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. removes its troops as planned.

Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday that President Obama’s pledge to withdraw most of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 was made before the appearance of Islamic State. He said the militant group has contributed to a worsening overall security situation in the country this year.

The threat of the somewhat imaginary Islamic State group in Afghanistan is vague. Those who are said to have joined it are former Taliban. The overall picture and number of potential enemies has thereby not changed at all. There has also been no significant operation yet of Islamic State followers in Afghanistan. They have likely killed less Afghan troops and civilians than the U.S. does with its regular friendly fire mistakes:

NATO forces launched an airstrike on an Afghan army outpost Monday, killing eight Afghan soldiers and wounding five others in an apparent friendly-fire incident, local officials told NBC News.
...
A later statement by Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense said that helicopters belonging to the U.S.-led military coalition had come under enemy attack in the area and returned fire, mistakenly hitting the army post, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. military has recently intensified its air strikes in Afghanistan. But air strikes can never solve the issues on the ground nor can foreign troops. Only the local people can. There are no real justifications for the U.S. military to stay in Afghanistan. The inner Afghan conflict has been going on since at least 1978. It will take another decade or even longer to calm down. There will always be this or that group that disagrees with the Afghan government and takes up arms. Outer forces with whatever motive would only prolong that time frame.

The U.S. military should be ordered out of Afghanistan and the country shielded from further outer military intervention. Only then can it find back to peace.

Posted by b at 12:31 PM | Comments (30)

July 18, 2015

Open Thread 2015-29

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:08 PM | Comments (104)

July 17, 2015

U.S. Air Force Is Supporting AlQaeda In Yemen And - Coming Now - Also In Syria

A few days ago newly Saudi trained Yemeni forces were inserted into the southern harbor city Aden to fight against Houthi and parts of the Yemeni army loyal to the former president Saleh. The inserted forces had brand new mine resistant vehicle and were led by special forces from the United Arab Emirates. With Saudi and U.S. air support they managed to push the Houthis from several Aden quarters. But after a day of fighting the attack got stuck and the Houthi hit back. An Emirati officer, likely acting as Forward Air Controller providing target designation for the air attacks, was killed. The Wall Street Journal notes that AlQaeda was part of the Saudi/U.S. supported forces:

Local militias backed by Saudi Arabia, special forces from the United Arab Emirates and al Qaeda militants all fought on the same side this week to wrest back control over most of Yemen’s second city, Aden, from pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, according to local residents and Houthi forces.

The U.S. is providing the ammunition, refueling and targeting intelligence for the "Saudi" campaign. Not only did it help to recently destroy various important bridges, hospitals and all three cement factories in Yemen, it is now actively giving air support to AlQaeda.

The same is likely to happen in Syria:

They arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, the favored vehicle of Islamist fighters in the Middle East and South Asia. But these men, the first graduates in the faltering U.S. train-and-equip program, were traveling into Syria to fight against an extremist insurgency, the Islamic State. The U.S. military calls them the “New Syrian force” and disclosed that they are to coordinate with rebel forces already on the ground who have a different objective – to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The goal, a spokesman said, is to expand the effectiveness of all moderate forces.

Who please are the "moderate forces" in Syria? The clowns from Jaish al Fatah, Jabhat al Nusra (AlQaeda) and their best friends, the Brookings favorite Ahrar al-Shams, come to mind.

These groups, supported with the help of U.S. intelligence by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, last month took Idlib in northern Syria. As reaction to that the Syrian government received additional support from its allies and pulled back to defensive positions. Since then new Jihadist attacks against Aleppo, Daara and in the Golan heights all failed with high casualties on the attackers side.

So now it is time to insert those "new" forces and, like in Yemen, offer AlQaeda the help of the U.S. air force:

[Maj. Curtis J. Kellogg, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, told McClatchy] “However, it is anticipated that New Syrian Force personnel will coordinate with other moderate opposition forces to build trust between organizations that are countering ISIL and apply the skills they have learned through the train-and-equip program to increase the combat effectiveness of all forces they operate with.”
...
The “New Syrian Force” will be able to call in U.S. airstrikes, as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG, a militia that has captured dozens of villages from the Islamic State in recent weeks. A U.S. government official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss details of the program said the force on the ground will communicate with a U.S. military officer who’ll pass requests for air support to coalition commanders.

The "new" forces the U.S. is inserting will thereby be the Forward Air Controllers who will call in the U.S. air force "to increase the combat effectiveness of all forces they operate with". They will join the other insurgents on the ground, AlQaeda and other Jihadis, who have the premier aim of overthrowing the Syrian government.

Does anybody believe that the targeting data the "new" U.S. trained forces in Syria will be submitting will be solely of Islamic State targets?

But while the U.S. is giving air support to AlQaeda in Yemen and in Syria the lunatics of the Washington Post are threatening Iran for "meddling" in the Middle East:

Stopping Iran’s destabilizing behavior is the priority in the Middle East, as senior Israeli, Saudi and Emirati officials agree privately, whatever the public commotion about the nuclear deal. This essential task of confronting Tehran should be easier now that the Iranian nuclear program is capped for at least a decade.
...
What’s the best way to confront Tehran on these regional issues? As with the nuclear problem, the right strategy is a combination of pressure (including possible military force) and diplomacy.

"So yeah. Let's bomb Iran so we can help AlQaeda to swallow up Yemen and Syria."

I remember from years ago travel that the water in Washington DC is heavily chlorinated. Since then, it seems, they added LSD to it.

Posted by b at 11:46 AM | Comments (46)

July 16, 2015

Billmon: The Eurosystem's (Monetary) Control of Europe's Politics

Note: This post was composed from a Twitteressay by Billmon.

J.W. Mason lists some Lessons from the Greek Crisis:

Before the crisis no one even knew that national central banks still existed — I certainly didn’t. But now it’s clear that the creditors’ unchallenged control of this commanding high ground was decisive to the outcome in Greece. Next time an elected government challenges the EU authorities, their first order of business must be getting control or cooperation of their national central bank.

The quote says "control or cooperation," but I can guarantee the latter is never going to happen.

It is nearly impossible to exaggerate the degree to which the campaign for central bank "independence" has made them the enemies within for any left governments.

The central bankers waged a 50-60 year political war to wrest back the monetary flexibility that the break down of Bretton Woods gave to national governments. Having won that war across most of the developed world in the 70s and 80s, they extended the battlefield to the emerging markets in '90s and '00s.

The autonomy of central banks (meaning the political allegiance to Wall Street/London City/Frankfurt etc.) was maybe the biggest neoliberal victory of all. If rightwing political victories (Reagan, Thatcher et. al.) were the beachheads of the Great Counterattack on social democracy then "independent" central banks became the citadels of the occupation forces: Neoliberalism's "Republican Guard."

Ironically, the ECB was originally conceived - or at least was sold to the European left - as a way for governments to regain monetary flexibility at a higher level. As a way to a) escape US dollar hegemony and to b) outflank the Bundesbank by formalizing the joint political control of European monetary policy. I do not know if the hack establishment Social Democrats who sold that vision ever believed it, but if so, more fool them. Because what the European Monetary Union became, obvious now, was a way to turn the vision on its head: formalize joint MONETARY control of Europe's politics.

The "Eurosystem", the network of national central banks governed by the European Central Bank, gives central bankers unprecedented ability to squeeze and manipulate national governments in a coordinated way. It is as if every government in the Eurozone ALREADY has a colonial entity watching it like the Troika's agents are supposed to watch Syriza in Athens. And, since the ECB Governing Council (like other EU institutions) tries to operate by a non-transparent "consensus" (i.e. the votes are not revealed), the degree to which national central bank heads are representing the ECB in their countries, rather than the other way around, is often not clear.

As long as the cozy comprador system tied peripheral governments to the core (i.e. Berlin), the role of the ECB and the Eurosystem could be obscured. Peripheral governments appointed "made guys" (i.e. banksters and/or their technicians) to national central bank boards and pretended to govern. Core politicians and their local comprador politicians let the Eurosystem technicians in Frankfurt tell them what "structural reforms" they should push to make the EMU "work."

But the moment an outsider government like Syriza came to power, the role of the Eurosystem and the national central banks in it could no longer be hidden. The fact that the Greek National Bank was an instrument of the ECB in Frankfurt, not of the Greek government in Athens, became obvious to everybody. The ECB's role as the muscle behind the Eurogroup's (Berlin's) diktats put the Greek National Bank in the position of helping to choke its own banks and terrorize its own citizens. And under the rules of EMU the Greek government was completely powerless to do anything about it. A defining moment.

The inescapable conclusion is that the allegedly "independent" Eurosystem now operates not as a network of central banks but as a parallel government.

The role of the Eurosystem within the half-hidden political order of the eurozone really is comparable to the Soviet or Chinese Communist Party. Like the Communist Party, the Eurosystem is now the "leading organ" of the neoliberal order, operating at all levels of the EU structure and providing "guidance" to elected political structures which are not formally under its legal control, but in reality are dominated by it. And behind the administrative apparatus of the party (Eurosystem) is the Central Committee (Eurogroup) and the Politburo (the key creditor government officials). And behind THEM is the real locus of the party's centralized power: the General Secretary (Germany/Merkel).

So J.W. Mason is quite right: it is impossible for any left government to attack the dictatorship of finance unless it controls its national central bank. But while control of the national central bank is necessary, it is hardly sufficient. As long as the EMU exit is off the table, verboten, so to speak, control of the national central banks only eliminates the "near enemy."

Ultimately it comes down to political will, which in parliamentary democracies, comes down to public support. As long as the majority (of all voters or of propertied influentials, depending on the system) is more loyal to the Euro than to national sovereignty an effective challenge to the dictatorship of finance is impossible - no matter how many national central banks the left controls.

Posted by b at 06:57 AM | Comments (230)

July 14, 2015

First Thoughts About The Iran Deal

Some deal was agreed upon between Iran and some security council countries. It will take some time to read and understand the full paper and the annexes, some 160 pages, to judge the outcome. What the media will write about it will be mostly spin from either side and the devil is as always in the details.

The deal itself is a major infringement on Iran's sovereignty extorted though a manufactured crisis about an Iranian nuclear weapons program that does not and did not ever exist. To see the hypocrisy of it just count the nukes:


bigger

The U.S. has a bad record of sticking to international deals it made. North Korea was promised two civil nuclear electricity plants to be build by the United States for stopping its nuclear activities. None was build and North Korea restarted its weapon program. Libya agreed to give up the tiny preliminary nuclear program it had and the U.S. destroyed the state.

Netanyahoo's puppets in the U.S. congress will do their best to blockade the current deal. Should they not be able to do so attempts will be made to press the next U.S. president into breaking the agreement.

Iran must now be very careful to not get trapped into more concessions or even a war.

Posted by b at 06:36 AM | Comments (80)

EU To Greece: Capitulate Or We Will Send In The Turks

"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt." - John Adams (1735-1826) When the threat of debt slavery not immediately worked some EU "leaders" threatened Greece with war.

Are threats of war now again a "European value"?

During a pivotal meeting with Merkel, French President François Hollande and European Council President Donald Tusk, Tsipras at one point received a thinly veiled threat that if he walked away and left the euro, Greece risked going it alone geopolitically, too.

According to two officials in Brussels with knowledge of the exchange, the specter was raised of aggression from Turkey — a neighboring nation viewed in Greece as a historic antagonist.

Even if Tzirpas manages to get the dictates from Brussel through the parliament in Athens no problem will be solved. Debt that can not be paid back will not be paid back. There is no chance that Greece will ever be able to come up with the money it formally owns. There is an assumption that some €50 billions can be raised through a sell off of state assets. Zero to may be €5 billion is realistic. No money will be available for economic expansion. Austerity will kill the sick and old.

That or the Turks are coming? I am not sure what I would choose.

Posted by b at 06:06 AM | Comments (67)

July 12, 2015

Greece: Schaeuble's Track

by Harm Bengen

Posted by b at 10:37 AM | Comments (111)

July 11, 2015

Washington Post Promotes Al-Qaeda Affiliate As "Moderate"

The Fred Hiatt funny pages, aka the Washington Post Opinon page, has a leader of Ahrar al-Shams writing against the official definition of "moderate rebels" in Syria.

Ahrar al-Shams is a violent Salafi terrorist group in Syria which was co-founded by an old time Al-Qaeda member:

Abu Khalid al-Suri, also known as Abu Omeir al-Shami : Suri was a co-founder of Ahrar al-Sham and acted as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s representative in Syria, charged with facilitating reconciliation amongst Islamist militants in the region. Suri was killed in a suicide bombing against Ahrar al-Sham’s headquarters. Ahrar al-Sham and other militant organizations blamed ISIS. Suri's close ties with Al Qaeda became clear after his death, when AQ commander Ayman al-Zawahiri published a eulogy for the fallen Ahrar al-Sham leader and AQ posted a video documenting his participation in Al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan, including photos of him with Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri.

While al Suri is dead the group he founded has not "moderated" one bit. It regularly cooperates and fights together with Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda arm in Syria. Here is recent a picture of both groups leaders affirming their allegiance to each other.

Keep that in mind when the Ahrar al-Shams ideologue writes:

[T]he United States has defined the term “moderate” in such a narrow and arbitrary fashion that it excludes the bulk of the mainstream opposition.

The group to which I belong, Ahrar al-Sham, is one example. Our name means “Free Men of Syria.” We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians. We are fighting for justice for the Syrian people. Yet we have been falsely accused of having organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Washington Post now prints op-eds by one of the most despicable terrorist groups in Syria and allows it to spew pure lies. Ahrar al-Shams has no links to al-Qaeda? Except that it was founded by a top al-Qaeda guy and cooperates, like in the recent attack on Idleb, with the official al-Qaeda arm in Syria.

Time for a joke?

  • This weekend the Washington Post has Ahrar al-Shams writing: "We are moderates. At least we're not Al-Qaeda. Support us."
  • Next weekend the Washington Post will have a Jabhat al-Nusra op-ed claming: "We are moderates. So at least we're not ISIS. Support us.
  • Then, a week later, the Washington Post will print an op-ed by ISIS leader al- Baghdadi: "We at least are honest."

There has been a campaign, in several phases, to portrait first the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood with its bloody history and later al-Qaeda aligned Salafi terrorists as Moderate Cuddly Homegrown Al-Qaeda. Qatari and Saudi money was involved in these campaigns.

One wonders how much the Washington Post was paid to let such dreck appear in a U.S. mainstream paper.

Posted by b at 12:16 PM | Comments (25)

July 10, 2015

Open Thread 2015-28

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:37 PM | Comments (145)

July 08, 2015

U.S. Wants To Trick Iran Into Never Ending Nuclear Talks

The talks between the P5+1 and Iran about the nuclear issues have been prolonged and prolonged. The U.S. does not get what it wants, total Iranian capitulation, and is not ready to find real compromises.

It seems that the Obama administration now wants to trick the Iranians into never ending talks and to thereby keep Iran under those restrictions that were agreed upon when the talks started:

[T]he White House may allow Iran nuclear talks to continue indefinitely under an interim agreement that already limits Iran's nuclear program.

While the pressure of deadlines set for June 30 and Tuesday succeeded in squeezing important concessions from Iran, "we haven't gotten everything that we wanted yet," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"What we want to make sure of is that we continue to …keep in place, an agreement that freezes Iran's nuclear program, rolls it back in some key areas, while we continue to have these conversations," he said.

This may have been the plan all along.

The idea to keep the talks and the restrictions on Iran forever as An Alternative to the Iran Deal? was first published by one Yishai Schwartz on the conservative lawfareblog in May:

First, American negotiators would have to allow the current round of negotiations to fail, but without blowing up or reneging on any already-made commitments. Doing so should not be too difficult. ... Every few months, the sides will hold a summit and announce progress. Occasionally, limited sanctions relief will be exchanged for better inspections and increased constraints. In a few years, when memories have faded and sanctions are once again strangling the Iranian economy, we might pursue another comprehensive deal on more favorable terms. But more likely, we will continue to muddle along for years to come, exchanging limited relief for limited constraints---always keeping Iran from a nuclear capability, but never fully relaxing the vise.

Ali Gharib pointed out at that time that the Iranians are unlikely to go with such a plan:

Hardliners in Iran have already, for two years, been sniping and attacking negotiations, attacking Iran’s moderate president Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif. For the moment, Iran’s chief hardliner, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has backed his negotiating team, but with caution and reservations. What the JPOA held for Iran was a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not clear that Khamenei will simply hang on if Iran fails to get closer to it. If the big prize—lifting the harshest sanctions—remains elusive, Iran’s incentive to check itself will fade.

It is quite clear who is stalling the talks now. Iran wants all UN sanctions, including those on its weapon purchases and ballistic missiles, lifted. Those sanctions were put onto Iran over the nuclear issue dispute. The U.S. does not want to lift those, as it earlier agreed to, even when the nuclear dispute is resolved:

Russia and China have expressed support for lifting the embargo, which was imposed in 2007 as part of a series of penalties over Iran's nuclear program.

But the U.S. doesn't want the arms ban ended because it could allow Tehran to expand its military assistance for Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled government, for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

What have these issues to do with the nuclear agreement? Nothing. The U.S. is now trying to abuse the 2007 UN sanctions over nuclear activities to press completely unrelated issues. This may well be part of a strategy to forever prolong the talks.

The hawks in Iran as well as the Supreme Leader will not agree to such U.S. trickery. They will end all talks and return the nuclear program to its earlier status lifting all restrictions. The rather liberal Rouhani government will be damned as having fallen for the U.S. negotiation ploy.

Posted by b at 02:54 PM | Comments (56)

July 07, 2015

Countdown To Grexit

The Greek referendum seemed to have given some push towards a compromise. But the powers that rule the Euro did not agree. The European Central Bank continues to starve the Greek banks. In a few days they will be toast and a Greek exit from the Euro will be inevitable. That seems to be what the hardliners in Berlin around the psychopathic Finance Minister Schaeuble want to achieve.

The Greek Prime Minister Tzirpas managed to get the backing of the people and most other political parties for a compromise offer. But the promises he made before the referendum already fall apart. The banks did not reopen, a deal is not in sight and given the fast deterioration of the real economy the situation will soon be immensely more difficult.

He will have to answer questions. Why can't he present a written proposal in Brussels today as he promised to do? Why hasn't he anticipated the assault on the banks by the ECB and the powers behind it? Why hasn't he prepared for an exit from the Euro? Why was there no scenario planning anticipating the current situation?

The German media and politicians have villainized the Greek so much, based on crude propaganda a denial of the on facts, that a Grexit seems to be the now favored public opinion in Germany. The public opinion in other northern and eastern European countries is very much the same. People do not want to "give more money to the Greek" even though hardly any money was given to them so far. What was given in taxpayer guarantees was given to German and French banks. The consequences of a Grexit seem to be beyond the realm of discussions.

Supporting some partial debt jubilee now, hardly noticeable when stretched over decades, and giving the Greek economy the ability to grow out of debt would be much cheaper for European taxpayers than a complete Greek default which will trigger the payment of hundreds of billions of guarantees. With an exit from the Euro such a default is very likely. Greece would then have no debt at all. It could again borrow from maybe Russia and other sources who would be happy to make some money lending to a then nearly debt free country.

On top of the catastrophic results of a five years austerity program the carnage in Greece from a hasty, unplanned bankruptcy and exit from the Euro would be huge. But the example of other cases of state bankruptcy show that the recovery is usually quite fast and the long term possibilities much more favorable than the slow death a continued austerity program would guarantee.

(I am still under an unusual workload but the end is in sight.)

Posted by b at 12:19 PM | Comments (182)

July 05, 2015

Greece: Oxi Wins

Here are the first preliminary official result of the Greek referendum:

Counted votes 10%
YES 40,1%
NO 59,9%

Oxi ("no" in Greek) wins. The shameless blackmail and terrorism of the eurocrats failed.

Unfortunately they are unlikely to yet give on their neoliberal nonsense. But this vote sets an example for others and other referenda will follow. The European idea may still have some life in it.

Posted by b at 01:36 PM | Comments (194)

July 04, 2015

Some More Greece Referendum Links

Some more links to Greece ...

Interfluidity with probably the best piece on Greece explaining how the Euro introduction led to the current situation in Europe and in Greece.

The IMF econometrics people tried to save whatever is left of their reputation by publishing their results that call for debt relief for Greece. Some European countries tried to prevent the release. This attempt to keep the information away from the Greek before they vote shows again how undemocratic these "leaders" are. That the European Central Bank closed the money line of Greek banks and thereby forced their closure before the referendum is part of such an undemocratic and a terrorizing strategy. How can the ECB under its rules offer money to a basket case like Bulgaria, which is not even an ECB member, but not keep the money line to Greek banks open?

The IMF, like the rest of the troika, still pretends that more austerity in Greece could somehow end the crisis. That is nonsense! You can not increase taxes on the general population, cut government expenditures and at the same time expect economic growth. That does not compute and any model that forecasts such an outcome is obviously bogus. Need proof? Look at Greece which by now had to try this impossible stunt for some five years. It can't and therefore doesn't work.

A fifteen minute interview (vid) with the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The government of Greece seems to be reacting, not acting according to a well though out plan. Varoufakis tries to paper over it but I don't find him convincing.

(On a Monday deadline and therefore still very busy ...)

Posted by b at 01:48 PM | Comments (70)

July 02, 2015

Greece: Sane Voices Call For A "No" Vote

The IMF still wants austerity for Greece but is now also demanding a huge debt relief which the European governments do not want to give. They earlier transferred the private risks from the banks who had stupidly lend to Greece to their tax payers. Having to admit now that this will cost their taxpayers a lot of money is a political threat to them.

James K. Galbraith is right with his description of those leaders:

[T]he leaders of today's Europe are shallow, cloistered people, preoccupied with their local politics and unequipped, morally or intellectually, to cope with a continental problem. This is true of Angela Merkel in Germany, of François Hollande in France, and it is true also of Christine Lagarde at the IMF. In particular North Europe's leaders have not felt the crisis and do not know the economics, and in both respects they are the direct opposite of the Greeks.

Galbraith hopes for a "no" vote in the Greek referendum. The "offer" the Troika made would be refused. This would give the Greece government a new mandate to negotiate and to not surrender.

Joseph Stiglitz, with an economics Nobel prize under his belt, says he personally would vote "no":

[A] no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

His op-ed was also printed in today's Handelsblatt, the main German business paper. It may even have some effect on some politicians in Berlin.

The officialdom, and commercial interests, are trying to push for a yes vote. In that they don't even refrain from deception and outright fraud. That claim in the media that a poll showed that the Greek would vote "yes"?

@Edward_hugh
Greek polling company GPO disown PNB Parisbas "sell side" sponsored vote survey widely reported in press today. pic.twitter.com/AkZvRgymas

 

PS: (I am still very busy and posting will be light.)

Posted by b at 12:02 PM | Comments (125)

June 30, 2015

Open Thread 2015-27

(Busy...)

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:56 PM | Comments (137)

June 28, 2015

The Turkish Military Rejects Erdogan's War Plans - "False Flag" Needed?

The war on Syria would not be possible without the huge involvement of Turkey on the side of the islamists fighting the Syrian government. Despite some success by Kurdish guerrillas along the border with Turkey against the Islamic State there are still open routes that allow the islamists to cross and which are their most important supply lines.

The Kurdish success against the Islamic State and other Turkey supported islamist groups, created with U.S. air support, is seen as a strategic threat to Turkey. The Kurds already have a semi-autonomous state in north Iraq. They now could possibly create one in Syria along the Syrian Turkish border. They may later want to integrate Kurdish areas in Turkey.

"I am addressing the whole world: We will never allow a state to be formed in northern Syria, south of our border," Erdoğan said at a Ramadan event organized by Turkish Red Crescent in Istanbul late June 26.

"We will keep up with our struggle whatever the cost is. They are trying to complete an operation to change the demographics of the region. We will not condone," he said.

The economic situation in Turkey is getting worse. Erdogan and his AKP party lost in the recent elections but want to avoid a coalition government. Erdogan isn't finished. He will call for new elections but will first create a situation that will diminish the vote for the mostly pro-Kurdish party HDP and thereby recoup their parliamentary votes for his AKP.

All three issues: the Turkish proxy attack on Syria through islamists forces, countering the threat of Kurdish consolidation in Syria and diminishing support for the pro-Kurdish party in Turkey could possibly be furthered in Erdogan's favor if he could create a wider conflict with the Kurds.

Last weeks Islamic State raid on Kobane, allegedly from Turkey, killed over 200 people, mostly civilians. This was a much bigger terrorist attack than the ones in Tunisia, Kuwait and France which were hyped in "western" media. But with U.S. support on the side of the Kurds the islamist Turkish proxy forces have trouble to defeat the Kurds.

Erdogan's solution to his problems is to send the Turkish military. Its task would be to keep the Kurds in Syria from progressing further and to keep the logistic lines for the Islamic State to Turkey open. The army fighting against Kurds in Syria could also help to diminish non-Kurdish support for the pro-Kurdish HDP in Turkey.

But the Turkish army does not want to fight Erdogan's war:

Turkey’s government wants more active military action to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the regime, Kurdish and jihadist forces in Syrian territory, but the military is reluctant to do so, playing for time as the country heads for a new coalition government, official sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.
...
One source explained the “need” as to “prevent more clashes between the ISIL and the Kurdish forces led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), prevent the PYD from taking full control over the Turkish-Syrian border and create a safe zone against a new wave of refugees on Syrian territory, no longer in Turkey.”

Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel has delayed the government directive with justifications of international law and politics and the uncertainty of reactions from the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, as well as from its supporters Russia and Iran, together with the United States.

The government has been conducting dialogue since then to convince the army on its plans.

The army is blocking Erdogan's move to send at least one division into Syria. It wants its orders in writing and from a new, yet to be formed, government. The Turkish attack will therefore - should happen at all - not be launched before fall.

With this move the army leadership, surely in contact with the U.S., takes one of three of Erdogan's reasons for sending the military off the table:

Twitter whistleblower Fuat Avni wrote in the early hours of Saturday that President Erdoğan is concerned about what the anonymous account alleged to be secret coalition efforts between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and that a Syrian war appears to be the only way to create chaos that will lead to increased support for the AK Party.

As the army does not want to follow Erdogan's plan he may to have look for other ways to create an emergency situation. Could some "terrorist attacks" on Turkish land from Syria be used to press the army into immediate action? The Turkish intelligence service M.I.T. is in Erdogan's hand. It does not shy away from dirty "false flag" business. Could it be used to create the crisis Erdogan needs? Could the neoliberalcons in Washington DC help him?

Posted by b at 12:12 PM | Comments (46)

June 27, 2015

The Greek Tragedy: Curtain Closes On Most Absurd Act

Nothing was posted here so far on the Greece tragedy. I did not touch the issue as there was excellent coverage elsewhere and what the whole issue produced so far was more absurd theater than serious economic policy. But one act of the drama is now coming to a preliminary end and the tragedy may now unfold into something new with potential serious geopolitical consequences.

Greece took up a lot of debt when banks were giving away money without caring for the ability of the debtor to pay back. When that game ran out, some six years ago, Greece could not no longer take up new credit to pay back its old debts. That is the point where it should have defaulted.

But the Greece government was pressed on to pay back the debt to the commercial banks even when it had no money and not enough income to ever do so. Bank lobbyists pressed other EU governments to raid their taxpayers to indirectly cover the banks' losses. These other governments then pushed Greece to take on "emergency loans" from their states to pay the foreign commercial banks.

Nothing of that money ever reached the people in need in Greece. Here is a gif that explains what happened to all those foreign taxpayer loans treats "given to the Greek".

To get these new loans Greece had to agree to lunatic economic measures, an austerity program and neoliberal "reforms", to fix its balance of payments. But austerity has never worked, does not work and will never work. It crashes economies, lowers tax incomes and thereby further hinders a government to pay back it debts. It creates a vicious cycle that ends in an economic catastrophe.

After six years of austerity nonsense the Greece voted for a new party that promised to end the cycle and stop the austerity measures. But the new Syriza government misjudge the situation and the nastiness and criminal energy of the other governments and organizations it was negotiating with. It early on said it would not default and thereby took away its own best negotiation argument. The negotiations failed. The creditors still demand more and more austerity. Now it will have to default but under circumstances that will make it much more difficult for Greece to get back on its feet.

Yesterday the Syriza prime minister Tsirpas, in a speech to his people, called for an end of the blackmail and for a referendum to decide on the way forward:

Fellow Greeks, to the blackmailing of the ultimatum that asks us to accept a severe and degrading austerity without end and without any prospect for a social and economic recovery, I ask you to respond in a sovereign and proud way, as the history of the Greek people commands.

To authoritarianism and harsh austerity, we will respond with democracy, calmly and decisively.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy will send a resounding democratic response to Europe and the world.

Paul Maison of Channel 4 news sees this as a positive and likely successful step. The people will vote no to austerity and the IMF, European Central Bank and various country governments will still keep giving fresh money to Greece. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism does not believe that this will happen. She calls the referendum a sham. Greece will default and the only thing the referendum will do is to keep Syriza in the political business. She blames Tsirpas for having misjudged the situation and for being unprepared of what is likely to come:

Greek defiance of its creditors will make it more, not less dependent on them in the next year. How badly things turn out for Greece will depend in significant degree on how much they do to ameliorate the impact of the implosion of the banking system, whether they take extreme measures to keep Greece in the Eurozone, and if Greece tumbles out, how much they provide in humanitarian aid and targeted trade financing (most important, for petroleum imports).

Greece should have defaulted six years ago. Tsirpas should have prepared for default immediately after he became premier. He should have used it as a threat during the negotiations. Greece will now have to default in the worst possible situation and with little thought given to the consequences of the default.

But the consequences will not be limited to Greece.There will be consequences for the EU, for NATO and for the political balance in the Mediterranean. Greece may now decide to leave the "western" realm and thereby set an example others could follow.

The German and other European governments promised their taxpayers that Greece will not default and that the austerity program pushed onto it will succeed. They will now rightfully lose some of their political and economic credibility. The Greece default will be a somewhat harsh and expensive lesson for the voters in those countries too. Let's hope that they will draw the right conclusions.

Posted by b at 10:30 AM | Comments (153)

June 25, 2015

The NYT Pre-Announces Iran Deal Failure

Judging from this NYT editorial a nuclear deal with Iran is not going to happen. The blame will of course be put on Iran even while the real reasons for the likely failure are unreasonable U.S. demands.

The editorial blames the Iranian senior leader Khamenei for the failure. Khamenei yesterday held a speech and repeated his red lines and parameters for a deal. There was nothing new in it. The same points have been made by him in since the start of the negotiations.

He says there will no IAEA snap inspections of Iranian military sites. It is well known that the U.S. used such international inspections in Iraq to extensively spy on the Iraqi military. There will be no questioning of Iranian scientists by the IAEA. Five nuclear scientist have been murdered in Iran after their names and faces became publicly known. Israel is suspected to be behind those killings. It is unreasonable to ask those scientist to risk their lifes to answer irrelevant questions about unfounded allegations of former nuclear research. Khamenei insist on an immediate lift of the sanctions when a deal is signed. He reasonably suspects that any other scheme, like with the sanctions on Iraq, would be used to keep the sanctions on forever while pressing on Iran to fulfill additional commitments. This especially when the IAEA, which is under strong U.S. influence, would be the agency to judge if a commitment is fulfilled or not. The agency would never be satisfied and the sanctions would stay.

The NYT editorial says Khamenei's points are "at odds with a framework agreement reached on April 2". That is a bit weird as the actual full framework agreement has not been made public. So how do the editorial writers know this? "Western officials also say Iran has agreed to ..." Oh, western officials claim something. Then of course they, not Khamenei who has repeated the above points over and over again, must be right?

The editorial comes two days after the NYT published an op-ed by one Alan Kuiperman which claimed that the Iran deal "has a fatal flaw". The op-ed was so fatally flawed on the facts that the Arms Control Association felt it necessary to rebuke (scroll down) it in detail.

Today the news side of the NYT carries a piece by its main sophister David Sanger which reports on a letter some republicans and five former functionaries of the Obama administration sent to him about the Iran deal warning that the deal "may be flawed". Only in the 11th paragraph do we learn their names and that the group was led by Dennis Ross, a well known Israel stooge. Only in the 26th of 27 long waxing paragraphs do we learn that letter was not written by those who sent it:

The letter emerged from a study group on nuclear issues organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a policy institute.

Not mentioned is that the Washington Institute was founded by AIPAC and is part of the Israeli lobby. Any letter that "emerged" there was likely written in Tel Aviv.

That the NYT now seems to run against any reasonable deal is suspicious. The paper is often the pre-publishing administration outlet spiked by background talks to "announce" official administration positions before they become official. I regard its current onslaught on a reasonable deal and the early assignment of guilt as a pre-announcement of the U.S. government position which will become official when, in a week or two, the current talks in Geneva will have failed.

Posted by b at 02:51 PM | Comments (57)

June 23, 2015

Israel's Plan To Steal More Syrian Land Runs Into Trouble

Despite supportive propaganda in U.S. media Israel's plan to steal more Syrian land "to protect the Syrian Druze" runs into trouble.

Israel claims that the Druze in the north-eastern Golan heights need protection against attacks by the Jabhat al-Nusra Jihadis. It "offers" to send its soldiers to keep the Al-Qaeda terrorists away.

But the Druze are no fools. They know that Israel supports the Jihadis and has done so for a quite long time now. Israeli soldiers were filmed exchanging goods with Nusra terrorists. Wounded Jihadis find help in Israeli military hospitals. Attacks on Syrian soldiers by Syrian "rebels" including Al Qaeda were supported by Israeli artillery fire.

The Syrian army protects the Druze in Syria from attacks by Jabhat al-Nusra Jihadists and other terrorists. Now, after sitting on the sideline for quite some time, Druze militia have joined the Syran army and will fight on its side:

The overstretched Syrian military, fighting battles across multiple front lines, is relying here on a key ally: members of the Druze sect, an offshoot of Islam that has adherents in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Thousands of men from the province are said to have signed up to protect Suwayda, the Druze heartland. Syria is believed to be home to about half of the estimated 1.5 million Druze worldwide.

"We, the sons of Suwayda, will be martyred on our front doors before we let them pass," vowed Maj. William Abu Fakher, a pro-government militiaman who stood guard with other Druze volunteers, several in their 50s, at a checkpoint in the sun-scorched terrain.
...
"Our only choice is to repel and refuse the entry of any terrorist group into the area of Suwayda," Sheikh Yusef Jarboo, a top Druze cleric in Syria, told Lebanese broadcaster Al Mayadeen in an interview this month. "We shall resist with all the power we have."

About 27,000 Druze fighters, the cleric said, were being incorporated "under the umbrella" of the Syrian military, which numbers perhaps 200,000 plus tens of thousands of pro-government militiamen and allies from Lebanon and beyond.

There are also rumors of support by Hizbullah fighters and trainers for the Druze militia. All that does not sound like those Druze really need Israeli "protection". The Druze are famously suspicions of other groups intends. It is part of their sect's survival strategy. They do not fall for the Israeli plot.

There are some 100,000 Druze in Israel and some of those serve in the Israeli army. An additional 20,000 Druze live on the Israel occupied side of the Golan heights. They reject Israeli citizenship and do not serve in the army.

But that Israel supports Jihadis who attack Druze in Syria is also a concern for the Israeli Druze in the military:

A Druze army officer, on patrol at one of the outlooks, said: "If Israel continues to treat wounded from rebel units, the Druze will have to take off their uniforms."
...
He said that he was angered by the fact that Israeli Druze soldiers were forced, in his words, to evacuate wounded Syrians who had fought under the rebel command which threatened their Syrian brothers.

The Druze on the Israel occupied side of the Golan heights have family on the other side of the border.  As the terrorists now attack their families on the Syrian side they have now twice attacked Israeli ambulances which were transporting Jihadis wounded in Syria to an Israeli military hospital:

One Syrian militant was beaten to death and one was wounded in very serious-to-critical condition after Druze protesters attacked Monday night an Israel Defense Forces ambulance in northern Israel carrying Syrian members of armed militias wounded in the civil war there. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded.
...
This is the second time in 24 hours that protesters have struck an ambulance carrying wounded Syrians.

The Israeli government claims that it does not help terrorist in Syria but only wounded normal Syrian people who would not hurt the Druze. That sounds unconvincing not only to the Druze as even the wounded terrorists claim the opposite:

Sheikh Muafiq Tarif, the Druse spiritual leader in Israel, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the community’s anger reached a boiling point following an interview on Channel 2 with one of the injured Syrians being treated in Israel. According to Tarif, the patient was a Syrian rebel who said that he was willing to return to the civil war and harm Druse.

“This broadcast stirred up emotions throughout the Druse community,” Tarif said. “The wounded man said that he was going back to Syria to kill Druse. This should’ve sounded the alarm for everyone.”

If Israel continues its plans to "protect" the Druze in Syria and to occupy their land it will run into more trouble. It will first have to ask Jabhat al-Nusra to attack the Syrian army and the Druze protecting their homeland. Such an attack must be successful enough to provide that Israel's "help" is indeed needed. Israel will then have to "attack" Jabhat al-Nusra or at least to let it seem that way. But the Syrian army and the Druze militia on the Syrian side will still be there and defend against any Israeli invasion. At the same time the 20,000 Druze on the occupied Golan side will create trouble for any Israeli move and even the Druze in the Israeli military might subvert the operation.

The whole plan to use Israel supported Jihadists in Syria as an excuse to "protect Syrian Druze" and to take over Syrian land does no longer look like an easily implementable idea.

Posted by b at 12:22 PM | Comments (76)

June 22, 2015

So The Spy Services Are The Real Internet Trolls

Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept provides new material from the Snowden stash.

The British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) includes a "Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group" which "provides most of GCHQ’s cyber effects and online HUMINT capability. It currently lies at the leading edge of cyber influence practice and expertise." In 2011 the JTRIG had 120 people on its staff.

Here are some of its methods, used in support of British policies like for regime change in Syria and Zimbabwe:

All of JTRIG’s operations are conducted using cyber technology. Staff described a range of methods/techniques that have been used to-date for conducting effects operations. These included:
  • Uploading YouTube videos containing “persuasive” communications (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Setting up Facebook groups, forums, blogs and Twitter accounts that encourage and monitor discussion on a topic (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Establishing online aliases/personalities who support the communications or messages in YouTube videos, Facebook groups, forums, blogs etc
  • Establishing online aliases/personalities who support other aliases
  • Sending spoof e-mails and text messages from a fake person or mimicking a real person (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deceive, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Providing spoof online resources such as magazines and books that provide inaccurate information (to disrupt, delay, deceive, discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter or denigrate/degrade)
  • Providing online access to uncensored material (to disrupt)
  • Sending instant messages to specific individuals giving them instructions for accessing uncensored websites
  • Setting up spoof trade sites (or sellers) that may take a customer’s money and/or send customers degraded or spoof products (to deny, disrupt, degrade/denigrate, delay, deceive, discredit, dissuade or deter)
  • Interrupting (i.e., filtering, deleting, creating or modifying) communications between real customers and traders (to deny, disrupt, delay, deceive, dissuade or deter)
  • Taking over control of online websites (to deny, disrupt, discredit or delay)
  • Denial of telephone and computer service (to deny, delay or disrupt)
  • Hosting targets’ online communications/websites for collecting SIGINT (to disrupt, delay, deter or deny)
  • Contacting host websites asking them to remove material (to deny, disrupt, delay, dissuade or deter)

It is unlikely that the British GHCQ is the only secret service using these tactics. Other government as well as private interests can be assumed to use similar means.

To "deny, disrupt, degrade/denigrate, delay, deceive, discredit, dissuade or deter" is exactly what Internet trolls are doing in the comment sections of blogs and news sites. Usually though on a smaller scale than the GHCQ and alike.  The more these services grow and their methods proliferate the less possible will it become to have reasonable online discussions.

Posted by b at 10:56 AM | Comments (42)

June 21, 2015

Saudi Cables: The "Iran Kills Saudi Ambassador in DC" Plot Was A U.S.-Saudi Conspiracy

Update: Please see comment 3 on this thread which claims that the Saudi file in question below is not a genuine Saudi product but a translation of an Iranian newspaper piece. I currently have no way to verify the source but will update when we learn more.

In October 2011 the Obama administration accused one Mansour Arbabsiar and Iran of a rather weird "plot" to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington DC. Recently released Saudi foreign ministry papers published by Wikileaks shine some new light on the case.

The "plot" accusations as reported at that time:

The United States on Tuesday accused Iranian officials of plotting to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in a bizarre scheme involving an Iranian-American used-car salesman who believed he was hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million.

The alleged plot also included plans to pay the cartel, Los Zetas, to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina, according to a law enforcement official.

The plotters also discussed a side deal between the Quds Force, part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Los Zetas to funnel tons of opium from the Middle East to Mexico, the official said. The plans never progressed, though, because the two suspects — the Iranian-American and an Iranian Quds Force officer — unwittingly were dealing with an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, officials said.

I called the plot "nonsense" and another well known blogger suspected "a black flag operation by Israel or Saudi Arabia". I later added:

The failed used car salesman Mansour J. Arbabsiar, who is accused in the "Iran kills Saudi ambassador" movie plot, is a hapless idiot and petty criminal whose businesses deals always went wrong. He couldn't even match his socks, smoked marihuana and drank a lot of alcohol, was nonreligious, an opponent of the Iranian regime and only cared about money. A business man who knows him calls him "worthless" and his neighbors believed he was dealing in drugs.
...
Every Iran expert interviewed thinks the story as presented is nonsense: Alireza Nader from Rand Corp, Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, former CIA agent Robert Baer, Carter era NSC official Gary Sicks, Bush 2 NSC official Hillary Mann Leverett (also here), Muhammad Sahimi of PBS/Tehran Bureau and Iran scholar Hamid Serri.

As reasons for the Obama administration to run the story I listed:

  • To get some momentum for additional international sanctions on Iran
  • To prop up the connections with the Saudi regime as that had threatened to distance itself from the U.S. over the U.S. veto of a Palestinian state

Now Arash Karami, who covers Iran for AL-Monitor, found a document in the Saudi leak stash that is relevant to the plot. The document is in Arabic. He asked the public:

Arash Karami - @thekarami

Does this say anything about the Arbabsiar-Saudi ambassador case?

The document is dated April 2012.

Journalist Farhad Pouladi responded:

  • yup. "a week before accusing Iran, Prince Moqrin met with VEEP Biden to initiate a political and media game against Iran which..
  • focus on an Iranian living in the US called ...ArbabSeyr...
  • it is not in this page... but it is a lengthy plot, part three is the assassination plot... part 2 is about Amano's role!

Wessam el-Deweny a "political researcher and translator", described by NPR as a "young Egyptian activist",  also responded to Arash Karami's question:

  • It says head of Saudi intelligence met Joe Biden a week before they accuse Iran of assassinating the Saudi ambassador
  • they agreed on a diplomatic hoax which is stirring the media against Iran over the story of this person called Mansour Arbabsiar
  • The scenario is expected to pave th way for a request from Security Council to issue a new decision against Iran
  • They also agreed that the accusations will be directed against Al-Quds Force for its leading role in Iran's regional politics

The source of the Saudi leak stash is unknown and some of the documents in it may be fake. But this one could well be genuine.

All signs at the time of the plot and all expert opinions about it were saying that the plot was either a total fake or some sting operation by the Justice Department that was turned into political fodder against Iran. The now published document confirms as much.

In May 2013 Mansour Arbabsiar was sentenced to 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 3 counts of the originally wider accusations. Guilty pleas after sting operations are a regular occurrence. There were some irregularities on the legal side of the case:

The authorities have said that Mr. Arbabsiar knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights to remain silent or to have a lawyer present during his interrogation in his first 12 days in custody, and that he confessed to his role in the plot and shared “extremely valuable intelligence.”

For all we know the guy was just a hapless dupe of Iranian descent and the Justice Department, having caught him in a drug sting, wanted a big political case. It seems the guy will have to die in prison for falling for a confidential informer for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

If the case really turns out to have been a conspiracy between the Obama administration and the Saudi dictatorship than he may have a chance to be set free. But despite the new found document that conspiracy will be hard to prove.

Posted by b at 11:40 AM | Comments (17)

WaPo Propagandizes For Israeli Takeover Of More Syrian Land

Israel plans to steal more Syrian land by claiming a "buffer zone" in the Syrian Golan heights under the pretext of protecting Syrian Druze from Jihadists it supports there in the first place.

The Washington Post is promoting the Israeli propaganda version of "protection" by obfuscating and lying about the events in the area. Here is the relevant headline on the Washington Post home page. "Israel's Druze minority" is threatened? Hmm ... that indeed would be news.

The section page then has a bit more correct headline talking about "Druze in the Golan". But it still does not inform who of the Druze, those on the Israeli side or those on the Syrian side of the demarcation line, are really threatened.  Only the sub-headline informs that the threat is to Druze in Syria, not - as the homepage claims - to Druze in Israel.

The piece itself is a mess, quotes only Israeli viewpoints and contains several lies. Here are some of the most obvious ones:

After four years on the sidelines, the complex and violent dynamic in the Golan highlands threatens to draw Israel into the Syrian war

How was Israel "on the side line" when in fact Israeli jets have several times bombed Syrian army positions, when the Israeli army is using tanks to help Jabhat al-Nusra jihadists take over Syrian army positions at the border and when Israel publicly serves as general hospital for wounded jihadists? UN observers on the Golan have reported exchanges and cooperation between Israel and the jihadis. That is not a sideline position but an explicitly one-sided one.

Both the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra and especially the Islamic State, worry the Druze, because the two Sunni militias consider the Druze, a heterodox offshoot of Shiite Islam, as infidels and defilers of Islam.

Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State are now just Sunni "militia"? Harmless vigilance committees protecting their home turf?

In the past, the Druze have supported Assad, living under his protection, but now they fear they will be overrun. Their leaders are refusing to send more sons to enlist for Assad, saying they need fighters at home to protect their clans but also signaling their calculus that Assad is losing ground.

The claim that "the Druze have supported" Assad is false. How do we know? We can just follow the link in the Washington Post piece which goes to an April 2014 tweet another Washington Post reporter made. That tweet says:

The Druze still on the sidelines

So how does that back up the claim that the Druze supported Assad? It doesn't. It contradicts that claim.  The Syrian government claims that no Druze conscripts have joined the Syrian army since the conflict started. How did that "support Assad"?

Aside from false headlines and unsupported claims the piece reeks of pure propaganda bullshit because it does not include any Syrian voice. There is no mentioning of the Syrian government position or any first hand voice from the Syrian Druze. The only sources are Israeli officials and Israeli Druze who are identified as former members of the Israeli army.

How are such false headlines and one sided "reporting" supposed to be journalism?

Posted by b at 05:49 AM | Comments (25)

June 20, 2015

Open Thread 2015-26

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:57 PM | Comments (82)

June 19, 2015

"Moderate Rebels" Spent CIA $$$ To Finance The Islamic State

ISIS-Imposed Fuel Embargo Threatens Syria’s Medical Centers  NYT - June 18 2015

Islamic State fighters are preventing fuel shipments from reaching rebel-held parts of northern Syria, causing severe shortages ...

Since the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, seized oil-rich regions in Syria’s north and east, it has used the output to finance its efforts to build an Islamic caliphate that straddles the Syria-Iraq border.

Traders from elsewhere in Syria, such as the rebel-held regions in the northwest, have long bought locally refined petroleum products in Islamic State-controlled areas and trucked them home, where residents came to rely on them to power their cars and fuel generators that ran clinics, bakeries and other essential facilities.

But, but , but ... weren't we told that buying oil from ISIS is a great sin? Weren't alleged Syrian government purchases of oil from the Islamic State seen as a sign that Assad was in bed with Caliph Baghdadi? Indeed:

Presumably that propaganda line is now dead as the "rebels" themselves now admit buying oil from the Islamic State.

But why do they really have a shortage of fuel? Most of the oil the Islamic State sells is going through Turkey so one might ask why the "rebels" in north Syria, with direct access to the Turkish border, have no other source than buying directly from the Islamic State.

Diligent observers of the war on Syria have know for quite long that oil under Islamic State control ends up with "western" states and their proxy forces in Syria. In September 2011 the EU banned oil imports from Syria but in April 2013 the ban was rather silently lifted to allow imports of oil from areas under Syrian "rebel" control. In September 2014 a EU official told the EU parliament that some EU member states were buying oil from the Islamic State. Even in 2013, when the embargo was lifted, it was obvious that the "rebels" were largely radical islamist jihadis. As a Defense Intelligence Agency document noted already in 2012:

The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.

So some "moderate" islamists in Syria were buying oil from the other islamists in Syria. They must have spend millions on it. It is thereby very likely that a part of the $1 billion per year the CIA spends on these "moderates" ended up in the pockets of the Islamic State. This while the Syrian government was condemned for allegedly financing the Islamic State through its oil purchases.

Posted by b at 10:00 AM | Comments (39)

June 17, 2015

Years Too Late - Media Suddenly Recognize Futility Of Drone Strikes

Two days ago when news appeared of the alleged killing of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Yemen I wrote:

Aside from the obvious unreliability of such reports one wonders what the killing of this or that "terrorist" is supposed to achieves. There will always be another one and the next one and so on and the violence will only get worse ...

Then some U.S. drone strike killed Al-Qaeda old guard member Nasser al-Wuhayshi in Yemen and suddenly main stream media also start to doubt the value of this tactic.

This is an astonishingly synchronous recognition of the problem. While the U.S. may be "successful" in killing this or that leader of some terrorist gang the overall phenomenon just keeps growing. The Telegraph's sub headline catches it best:

'America has taken on a foe 5,000-strong. It has killed 10,000 of them. There are only 20,000 left'

Except that the original Al-Qaeda was only a few hundred strong and existed only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some fifteen years later, after the U.S. War of Terror killed and several hundred thousands of unrelated persons and thousands of jihadists, Al Qaeda and its derivatives are active in over a dozen countries and have several ten-thousands of followers. As I wrote:

The constant U.S. resort to military means is an expression of the lack of conflict resolution policies.

Still none of the above pieces comes up with a decent list of  policies that could start to address the problem without increasing it.

Here is a first try:

  • Stop drone strikes and the like as they obviously only creating more terrorists.
  • Stop using extremists, like jihadists and neo-nazis, as a policy tool against this or that inconvenient ruler.
  • Restrict the resources such groups need to grow on. This will require to pressure the Saudi and Qatari dictators, including with threats to their regimes existence, to stop financing the proselyting of their radical version of Islam as well as the "private" financing of such groups from their countries.

It is unlikely for now that such steps will be taken. But it took years for the media to recognize the futility of drone strikes. A few years on they may even start to consider the obvious first steps towards a solutions of the problem.

Unfortunately many more will die in the War of Terror before that will happen. 

Posted by b at 10:53 AM | Comments (57)

June 16, 2015

China Announces Rice Bag Fallen Over - NYT: "It's About US!"

This willful misinterpreting of Chinese government announcement by the New York Times can only be explained by some laughable egocentric U.S. view. "It's all about US!"

NYT: China to Halt Its Building of Islands, but Not Its Projects on Them

BEIJING — China announced on Tuesday that it would soon halt island-building projects around some reefs and shoals in disputed waters of the South China Sea but that it would continue constructing military and civilian facilities on those outcroppings.

The announcement may have been intended to ease tensions with the United States, which has strongly criticized the building of the islands and has sent surveillance flights close to the sites, to the chagrin of the Chinese military. The construction of facilities, though, would further establish the sites as islands that China could claim as its territory.

No, the Chinese institutions did not announce the HALT of its building of islands. It announced that the building of some islands was about to be FINISHED.

Xinhua: China to complete land reclamation of construction on some Nansha Islands soon

BEIJING, June 16 (Xinhua) -- The land reclamation project of China's construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands, as planned, will be completed in the upcoming days, according to relevant Chinese competent departments.
...
After the land reclamation, China will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements, Lu said.

He stressed the construction activities on the Nansha islands and reefs fall within the scope of China's sovereignty, which are "lawful,reasonable and justified."

The NYT speculates on no factual basis that the "halt", which never happened, "may have been intended to ease tensions with the United States".

No. The "halt" clearly was not intended for that. There was no "halt". The reclamation phase is finished. It is complete. The building projects on the islands will continue. And no, China does not care what the U.S., or the NYT writers, want to spin around its projects. Like other countries in the South China Sea it uses the islands it controls as it sees fit and without regard for empty U.S. bullying.

Are there some magical red, white and blue colored glasses one can wear to misread clearly worded Chinese announcement in such a way?

Update: The NYT has now heavily edited and changed its story without noting the changes. The first sentence now reads:

BEIJING — By declaring Tuesday that it would soon complete its contentious program of building artificial islands in the South China Sea, Beijing hopes to diminish tensions with the United States while reassuring its home audience that it has delivered on its pledge to resist American military pressure, experts said.

The "halt" turned into the more correct "complete". But the general "it's about US" nonsense continues and is now supported with "expert" voices. Here are screenshots of the original version (1, 2) quoted above.

Posted by b at 03:31 PM | Comments (16)

June 15, 2015

The Deprofessionalized Empire

We can be sure that the number of times Mokhtar Belmokhtar was reported being killed is greater than the number of times he actually was killed:

Aside from the obvious unreliability of such reports one wonders what the killing of this or that "terrorist" is supposed to achieves. There will always be another one and the next one and so on and the violence will only get worse:

When their leaderships are debilitated in a successful strike, militant groups become far less discriminate in their target selection by redirecting their violence from military to civilian targets.

The constant U.S. resort to military means is an expression of the lack of conflict resolution policies.

As Chas Freeman elaborates:

In recent years, the United States has killed untold multitudes in wars and counterterrorist drone warfare in West Asia and North Africa. Our campaigns have spilled the blood, broken the bodies, and taken or blighted the lives of many in our armed forces, while weakening our economy by diverting necessary investment from it. These demonstrations of American power and determination have inflicted vast amounts of pain and suffering on foreign peoples. They have not bent our opponents to our will. Far from yielding greater security for us or our allies, our interventions – whether on the ground or from the air — have multiplied our enemies, intensified their hatred for us, and escalated the threat to both our homeland and our citizens and friends abroad.

Freeman sees a lack of a diplomatic mindset in U.S. policies. The militarization of policy is evolving into a self licking ice cream cone. The root cause he identifies is a lack of professionalism in leading policy positions:

The post-Cold War period has seen major expansion in the numbers of political appointees and their placement in ever lower foreign policy positions along with huge bloat in the National Security Council staff. This has progressively deprofessionalized U.S. diplomacy from the top down in both Washington and the field, while thinning out the American diplomatic bench. Increasingly, the U.S. military is being thrust into diplomatic roles it is not trained or equipped to handle, further militarizing U.S. foreign relations.

The chaotic response of U.S. political actors to this or that perceived problem, with contradicting alliances and daily changes of priorities, does not help to achieve anything but chaos. What does it say when even U.S. proxy forces do not understand what is going on:

“Until now we don’t know what the coalition wants. Does it intend to fight ISIS or empower ISIS?” said Gen. Ahmed Berri, the deputy chief of staff of moderate rebel forces, using an alternative name of the Islamic State.

I find it likely that even the policy makers in the National Security Council and the State Department have no real idea of what they are doing. As political appointees they lack, as Freeman says, foresight and experience. They are daily pulled into different directions of ever changing policies based on competing mediocre analyses from a manifold of self interested pressure group. Run this way the U.S. can be sure to soon lose even the pretense of being an empire.

Posted by b at 04:17 AM | Comments (40)

June 14, 2015

Israel Plans To Steal More Syrian Land

Israel actively helped Al Qeada in Syria, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, with artillery strikes against the Syrian Arab Army. The United Nations observers in the Golan height reported contacts between the Israeli army and AlQaeda terrorists. Israel supplies equipment to AlQaeda and prominently gives medical care to injured AlQaeda fighters.

The CIA is also prominently helping AlQaeda by sponsoring "moderate rebels" in Syria and providing them with weapons at a cost of $1 billion per year. These weapons as well as the CIA trained fighters inevitable end up with the jihadists.

One part of the Israeli plan behind its support for AlQaeda is to hurt the Syrian state as much as possible. A destroyed Syria is no threat to Israel but the destruction of the Syrian state would be a welcome excuse to appeal for more military help from its allies because of the "chaos" beyond its borders. Another part of the plan is to simply steal more Syrian land. Israel has already occupied the south western Golan heights and top positions on the heights. It is now planning to steal the north eastern parts and to control the valuable water resources there.

The excuse for doing so is the chaos it created itself by supporting AlQaeda against the Syrian army and the threat AlQaeda now poses against the local population on the Syrian side of the heights:

Reports Sunday afternoon on Israel's Walla news website claimed that Israel is making plans to create a special buffer zone in Syrian territory meant to offer safety and humanitarian aid to Syrian Druze refugees that face the growing threat of massacres at the hands of Islamic State militants and other jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate.

The "buffer zone" will soon be Israeli occupied land and overtime Israel will annex the land for Jewish settlements. 

Misjudging the circumstances the Druze in Syria had taken a neutral stance in the war on Syria and did not defend the Syrian state. Some 27,000 of them evaded mandatory conscription in the Syrian army. A few days ago AlQaeda fighters killed some 20 people in a Druze village. With scarce resources the Syrian army can and will no longer defend the Druze enclaves and the Druze now have the choice to come under the control of the jihadis and be pressed to convert to Wahhabi Islam or to come under a brutal Israeli occupation.

Other minorities and communities in Syria which did not or do not support the Syrian state will over time likely end up with similar objectionable choices.

Posted by b at 09:41 AM | Comments (21)

June 12, 2015

Open Thread 2015-25

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:25 PM | Comments (118)

June 11, 2015

The Guardian Joins The "Moderate Al Qaeda" Public Relation Campaign

This long read in the Guardian is the next attempt to beautify AlQaeda as the "moderate" Islamists that deserve our support. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal suggests to "reach out" to AlQaeda in Syria and that it should be "wooed rather than bombed.

The Guardian journalists interview the AlQaeda ideologues Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada who are both under control of the Jordanian secret service. Their job is to condemn the Islamic State while letting Al Qaeda appear as a poor but honest social movement of Islamism. The Guardian writers lap it all up.

On a sunny spring afternoon, three weeks after his release from prison, Maqdisi sat on a sofa at his friend Abu Qatada’s house, fuming about Isis: the group had lied to him and betrayed him, he said, and its members were not worthy of calling themselves mujahideen. “They are like a mafia group,” Abu Qatada added, while Maqdisi nodded his assent.

Jordan lives off money from Saudi Arabia. It supports al-Qaeda in Syria, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, as long as the dollars keep rolling in from Riyath. Israel is supporting Jabhat al-Nusra in the Golan heights. Is it by chance that a fervent Zionist, Spencer Ackerman, is one of the authors of this flattering homestory?

The two ideologues make an odd pair in the fight against Isis. Qatada is 6ft 3in tall, broad shouldered and lumbering, while Maqdisi is rake thin and full of hyperactive energy, bounding round the room and speaking at double speed; at serious moments, Maqdisi is given to making a sudden joke or bursting into giggles. Sometimes they will go for walks with each other in the Jordanian countryside. More often they travel long distances by road after being asked to attend funerals of fallen al-Qaida fighters.

See? These are really nice people ... and AlQaeda is really just a very poor movement:

Dr Munif Samara – a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan and a close associate of Maqdisi and Qatada, who sat with both men as they were interviewed – painted an even more gloomy picture of al-Qaida’s position. A GP who runs a free clinic treating injured Syrian fighters and civilians, Samara has more experience than Maqdisi or Qatada with the day-to-day operations of jihadi organising, and has often handled the affairs of the two men during their frequent jail stints. He said that donations, which once came in waves of “hundreds of thousands”, have dried up as donors directed their money to Isis, or else refused to fund further bloodletting between the two groups. Another former al-Qaida member, Aimen Dean – who defected to become a spy for British intelligence – told the Guardian that one of his sources in Pakistan’s tribal areas said the finances of al-Qaida central in Waziristan were so desperate that it was reduced at one point last year to selling its laptops and cars to buy food and pay rent.

So we are to believe a British spy who tells us that AlQaeda can't pay its rent? What nonsense.

The whole piece is made to make it look as if AlQaeda is somewhat just a small group of engaged people on their long travel to fulfill their ever escaping dreams. And see, they even have a sad about this 9/11 thing:

In recent years, Maqdisi has even come to believe that al-Qaida’s conception of jihad – one licensed in part by his own scholarship – may have been incorrect, a jihad of “spite” rather than “empowering believers”. Even the attacks of 9/11, Maqdisi said, were part of a misguided strategy. “The actions in New York and Washington, no matter how great they appeared to be – the bottom line is they were spiteful.”

Instead AlQaeda is now destined to become the new salvation army:

Maqdisi now wants al-Qaida to begin providing social services, as Hamas has done in Gaza. “That kind of enabling jihad will establish our Islamic state. It will enable it to become a place of refuge for the weak,” he said. Al-Qaida branches in Tunisia and elsewhere have been putting this suggestion into practice – with jihadis guarding hospitals, building infrastructure, and even picking up litter.

(Nice try, by the way, to falsely link Hamas to AlQaeda.) Now compare that to the savages of the Islamic State. Isn't AlQaeda so much nicer? And poor? And overwhelmed by the savages of the Islamic State? And in demise?

These folks really only want to do good. Like yesterday, when they murdered dozens of Druze in north Syria, including children and elderly.

Who asked the Guardian to write such a dreck admiring piece of these Jihadist? Who gave them direct access to these terrorists? Under what conditions and to what purpose?

Posted by b at 06:04 AM | Comments (53)

June 10, 2015

Pew Survey On Ukraine

The PEW Research Center has a new opinion survey of several NATO countries and Russia with regards to the Ukraine conflict:

Publics of key member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) blame Russia for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Many also see Russia as a military threat to other neighboring states. But few support sending arms to Ukraine. Moreover, at least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia.

The last sentence is the reason why the neocon's will likely fail to instigate a NATO war on Russia.

Americans and Canadians are the only publics where more than half think their country should use military action if Russia attacks a fellow NATO member (56% and 53%, respectively).

Sure. A war would not be on their ground these people believe. But a war on Russia could become nuclear and then all bets are off even for those living on the western side of the Atlantic. Did no one tell them?

There is lots of stuff in the survey and its worth to read it. I personally am somewhat comforted that my country stands out a bit. A majority of Germans are against Ukraine joining NATO or the EU. A majority is also against delivering weapons to Ukraine and against the use of force by NATO.

The survey confirms that Putin is at an all time high in Russian people's opinion and a very large majority trust him in all regards. Now compare that to the opinion Ukrainians have about the Nuland installed puppet government:

Ukrainians give both their president and prime minister negative marks. A plurality disapproves of President Petro Poroshenko’s job performance (43%), while just a third approves. A majority (60%) is unhappy with the way Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is handling his job. Roughly half or more of eastern Ukrainians give Poroshenko (49%) and Yatsenyuk (66%) negative reviews. Western Ukrainians also give Yatsenyuk bad marks (55%) but are divided on Poroshenko (39% approve, 39% disapprove).

PEW did not survey the people in the federalist held areas in the east. With those included the numbers for the Ukrainian government would be considerably worse. Given that the media in Ukraine are mostly in the hands of pro-western oligarchs these results are really quite bad. There was speculation some time ago that Nuland had planned to replace Proshenko with the Scientology follower Yatsenyuk but given these numbers there is no longer a chance for such a move.

Meanwhile the conflict in east Ukraine is flaring up again with Donetsk city again being under daily artillery fire from the Ukrainian government side. The summer in east Ukraine will likely get hot again.

Posted by b at 11:32 AM | Comments (61)

June 07, 2015

Turkish Voters Slap Erdogan

Erdogan loses the parliament election in Turkey. With some 95% of the votes counted the results (seats) are:

  • AKP 41.5% (261)
  • CHP 25.3% (130)
  • MHP 16.7% (84)
  • HDP 12.0% (75)

Erdogans AKP lost nearly 9% compared to the last election. The Kurdish HDP jumped above the 10% limit and thereby prevents the AKP from ruling as the sole party. The AKP will have to arrange a coalition with the hard nationalist MHP to form a new government.

The reasons for the loss were the end of the credit fueled economic boom that the AKP had engineered since 2000. There was also a lot of infighting within the AKP and Erdogan's policy of fueling the war in Syria is quite unpopular.

Any coalition government the AKP may arrange will likely be less aggressive than the current one. It is doubtful that the current prime minister Davutoglu, the very aggressive promoter of a new Ottoman empire, will keep his position.

Erdogan as a politician is now wounded and the AKP is weakened. This will lead to more infighting within the AKP and maybe even a split of the party into several fractions. In all this result  will likely leave less capacity in Turkey for wide ranging geopolitical adventures.

Posted by b at 02:31 PM | Comments (44)

June 05, 2015

Open Thread 2015-24

Some news & views from me. Please add yours in the comments.

The Ukrainian government intensifies the economic war against the people in the area of Luhansk and Donetsk:

Luhansk Oblast Governor Hennadiy Moskal has completely cut off the water supply to Russian-occupied territories in retaliation for shelling by the Kremlin-separatist forces.

More general this in the NYT!

Senior officials in Kiev, complaining about Russian violations of the agreement and knowing their army can never defeat the Russian-backed separatists militarily, have decided simply to cut off the eastern regions from the rest of the country.

That policy would violate the Minsk accord, ...

The Ukrainian government never adhered to the Minsk agreements but now its official policy.

Don't ever give money to these folks until they completely changed their leadership: How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes.

The U.S. seems to (again) move the goal posts in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. China (and Russia) do not agree with this: China urges no new demands at Iran nuclear talks. My bet is still that the U.S. wants the talks to fail.

Did you know?

  • Number of genuine terrorist plots in the US since 9/11: 6
  • Number of terrorist plots manipulated by the FBI since 9/11: 175

But they need to spy on you because ... terrorism!!!

To defend against these revelations of illegal surveillance the administration is pulling out stories it has obviously held back especially for this purpose: Federal Government Suffers Massive Hacking Attack. The claim is "the Chinese did it" but there is zero proof (and no good motive) for that. But claiming so helps to justify the illegal NSA activities.

Last but not least: A good one for its historic background by Gary Sick: Saudi Arabia's Widening War

Posted by b at 02:31 PM | Comments (105)

June 04, 2015

Damascus Goes Into Defense Mode

When the enemy with overwhelming numbers is attacking in full force it makes sense to retreat to the best defensible lines and to protect only the most valuable assets.

The parallel onslaught of U.S., Turkey and GCC supported al-Qaeda "moderate rebels" and Islamic State Jihadists necessitates that the Syrian government concentrates its capabilities and assets and moves into a defensive stand.

This is not a strategic change of course or a sign of weakness but a tactical move. To sacrifice exhausted army units in further defending outlying and thereby indefensible minor parts of the country would simply be unwise. The Syrian government is still strong and at least 75% of the Syrian people within Syria are under its realm. The war on Syria will go on for years and there will come other phases when the Syrian army will again go on attack.

Some 10,000 al-Qaeda fighters, a third of them foreigners, crossed from Turkey with new U.S. supplied TOW anti-tank weapons and overran the Syrian defenses in the governate and city of Idleb. The move was unexpected in its size and force. The Syrian government recognized that more resources would be required to counter the attack and dispatched officials to Iran and Russia to request more help.

Iran released a new $1 billion loan and is also sending some 15,000 additional paramilitary fighters from Iraq and Iran to support the defenses of Damascus, Homs and the Latakia coast area. Hizbullah is engaged in the Qalamon mountains next to Lebanon and in the process of mopping up al-Nusra and other Jihadist groups in the area. Russia has publicly announced to further support the Syrian government. It is not yet known what exactly Russia is planning to do but we can expect to see more and newer weapons delivered to the Syrian army and air force.

Meanwhile the U.S. propaganda machine is working hard on three points. The first is to depict the Syrian government as no longer supported by its people and to sow doubt about its alliances with Iran and Russia. With the new support coming now that line is temporarily inoperable but will be revived when convenient.

The second propaganda stunt is to deny that Jabhat al-Nusra is a real operative part of Al-Qeada with the long-term aim to attack the "west". This claim is necessary to justify further U.S. support to the Nusra led campaigns in Idleb and elsewhere. There were rumors about al-Nusra rejecting al-Qaeda and attempts to invent some internal strife about the question. An AlJazeerah Arabic softball interview with Nusra chief Jolani was arranged to soften its image. But Jolani did not perform as AlJazeerah sponsor Qatar expected. He again declared full allegiance to al-Qaeda central and his obedience to al-Qeada chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. Nusra is thereby not "al-Qaeda aligned" or "al-Qaeda linked" or an "al-Qaeda franchise". Jabhat al-Nusra is al-Qaeda. Jolani left no doubt about it.

The third and most stupid propaganda claim is an alleged cooperation of the Syrian government with the Islamic State. "Look, we planned this big operation against Assad in Aleppo and Assad bombed us. The next day the Islamic State attacked us and Assad did not bomb them. See, he did not help us. He must be with the Islamic State." Some stupidity really has no bounds. Here is how well the Syrian army and the Islamic State really "cooperate":

Islamic State bombers have blown up about a dozen explosive-packed trucks at Syrian army checkpoints around the government-held northeastern city of Hasaka city over the past five days, the city governor said on Thursday.
...
"More than thirteen explosive-laden vehicles have attacked army checkpoints and sowed terror and fear among citizens," City Governor Mohammad Zaal al Ali told state television by telephone from inside the city.

The fighting in Syria is now between three parties. Al-Qaeda terrorists supported by U.S. aligned external states, the Syrian government and its allies and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. All three are fighting each other but the Syrian government hopes that the fighting between Nusra and the Islamic State will intensify and diminish its two enemies. It sees the Islamic State not as its own problem but as a problem for the whole world. It will now go into a defensive mode and protect its core assets. Other entities will have to attack the Islamic State. The bet is that the Islamic State will, probably soon, directly attack the "west" and/or Gulf entities and that these attacks will result in others taking care of the Islamic State problem.

Posted by b at 01:58 PM | Comments (45)

June 03, 2015

Media's Beloved "Expert" Eliot Higgins - Wrong Again And Again And Again

Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses, the founder of Bellingcat "by and for citizen investigative journalists", is beloved by NATO media. Higgins is always able to "prove" by amateur "analysis" of open source data that the "bad guys", just as the U.S. or NATO claim, did indeed do the bad thing that happened. The problem is that Higgins is no expert of anything. He was an unemployed office worker who looked at Youtube videos from Syria and tried Internet searches to find out what weapons were visible in the videos. That is all that made him an "expert".

But Higgins claimed to prove that the Syrian government launched rockets with Sarin on Ghouta, an area south of Damascus. An MIT professor and real expert proved (pdf) that he was wrong.

Higgins claimed to "prove" that rockets launched from Russia hit Ukraine by looking at aerial pictures of impact craters. But a real expert of the method said that crater analysis is “highly experimental and prone to inaccuracy” and warned against its use without further corroboration.

Now another "expert" of Bellingcat, who's source of "expertise" is unknown but likely also low, tries to prove that Russia manipulated some aerial pictures it published about the MH17 airline incident in Ukraine. That made some splash in the usual NATO media but is complete nonsense. Yes, the pictures were obviously "manipulated" as labels were added to them. But that the visual content of the pictures were changed, as the "expert" claimed to prove by a JPEG compression analysis, is clearly bullshit. The "expert" claims that "all image content should present roughly the same [compression] error levels if the photo has not been altered." That is nonsense. JPEG compresses a flat white surface with low error level and a rough multicolor part of a picture with a higher compression error level. That is digital compression 101 which I myself learned when I was doing a bit of math work on the early PNG format definition. So it turns out that the "expert" simply does not understand how JPEG compression works.

Out of three big "finds" that made it into the media Higgins and Bellingcat had three that were proven to be wrong by real experts. Any media who further quote "analysis" by the "experts" Higgins and Bellingcat should be regarded as propaganda outlet and not as a serious source of news.

Posted by b at 11:20 AM | Comments (39)

June 01, 2015

The Current Overproduction Crisis And War

Ian Welsh makes Fourteen Points on the World Economy as the US GDP Drops .7 Percent. He believes that the economy is again turning towards a global recession. This recession comes even as there has not been a real recovery from the last global economic crisis:

Let me put this another way: The developed world is in depression. It has been in depression since 2007. It never left depression. Within that depression, there is still a business cycle: There are expansions, and recessions, and so on. Better times and worse times.

The business cycle is again turning down and is doing so sharply. Not only in the U.S. but also in Europe and Asia.

Every central bank has been throwing money at the local economies but that money finds no productive use. Why would a company invest even at 0% interests when nobody will buy the additional products for a profitable price? How could consumers buy more when wages are stagnant and they are already overburdened with debt taken up in the last expansion cycle? The central banks are pushing on a string while distorting normal market relations. This intensifies the original crisis.

My belief is that the global crisis we see is one of overproduction, an excess or glut of supplies and on the other side a lack of consumption. The exceptional cheap money created by the central banks makes  investment in machines preferable over employment of a human workforce. The result: Manufacturing hub starts work on first zero-labor factory

Chen predicted that instead of 2,000 workers, the current strength of the workforce, the company will require only 200 to operate software system and backstage management.

The (Central) bank gave Mr. Chen cheap money and at an interest rate of 0% a complete automation of his company may indeed be profitable. It is unlikely though that he would make the same move at an interest rate of 10%. But on the larger macro economic scale Mr Chen needs to ask this question: "How will the 1,800 laid off workers be able to buy the products my company makes?" Some of the laid off people may find marginal "service" job but the money they will make from those will likely be just enough to keep them alive. And over time flipping burgers will also be automated. And then?

Karl Marx described such overproduction crises. Their cause is a rising share of an economy's profits going to an ever smaller class of "owners" while the growing class of marginal "workers" gets less and less of the total pie. In the last decades this phenomenon can be observed all over the developed world. The other side of the overproduction crisis is an underconsumption crisis. People can no longer buy for lack of income.

While a realignment of central bank interest rates to historical averages, say some 6%, would help to slow the negative process it would not solve the current problem. Income inequality and overproduction would still increase though at a lesser pace. The historic imperialist remedy for local overproduction, capturing new markets, is no longer available. Global trade is already high. There is little land left to colonize and to widen the markets for ones products.

There are then two solutions to such an crisis.

One is to tackle the underconsumption side and to change the distribution of an economy's profits with a much larger share going to "workers" and a smaller share going to "owners". This could be achieved through higher taxes on "owners" and redistribution by the state but also through empowerment of labor unions and like means. But with governments all over the world more and more captured by the "owners" the chance that this solution will be chosen seem low.

The other solution for a capitalist society to a crisis of overproduction is the forced destruction of (global) production capabilities through a big war. War also helps to increase control over the people and to get rid of "surplus workers".

The U.S. was the big economic winner of World War I and II. Production capacities elsewhere got destroyed through the wars and a huge number of global "surplus workers" were killed. For the U.S. the wars were, overall, very profitable. Other countries have distinct different experiences with wars. In likely no other country than the U.S. would one find a major newspaper that arguing that wars make us safer and richer.

I am therefore concerned that the intensifying crisis of overproduction and its seemingly casual preference for war will, in years to come, push the U.S. into starting a new global cataclysmic conflict.

Neoconservatives like Victoria Nuland tried to goad Russia and the EU into a big war over Ukraine. The top lobbyist of the military industrial complex, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is trying to instigate a war between China and its neighbors over some atolls in the South China Sea. The U.S. is at least complicit in the rise of the Islamic State which will leave the Middle East at war for the foreseeable future.

Are these already, conscious or by chance, attempts by the U.S. to solve the problem of global overproduction in its favor?

Posted by b at 01:18 PM | Comments (85)

May 30, 2015

Open Thread 2015-23

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:56 PM | Comments (108)

May 29, 2015

Imperial NYT: Each FIFA Member One Secret Vote Is "Strange Electoral Math"

The New York Times was tipped off about last weeks U.S. induced Swiss police raid on FIFA functionaries in Geneva. It seems to hold some grudge against the football association maybe because the U.S. lost its bid for the World Cup 2022 to Qatar.

It is obvious that the U.S. is trying to install its own puppet on top of FIFA. Their candidate is a member of the corrupt family of Jordanian king. It is not that the U.S. is against corruption. How would the situation be today if FIFA, like some huge banks, had given to the Clinton Foundation, Obama's presidential library or "lobbied" some Representatives and Senators?  Corruption is just fine in the U.S. as long as it works in its interest. But FIFA rules make it difficult for the U.S. to get its will.

The reason, says the New York Times, is "the strange electoral math of FIFA".

So what is strange with that math?

The members of FIFA are the national football associations. Each gets one vote. The voting is secret.

Imagine that. Every member has an equal vote and can vote as it likes without any real way to pressure it. That's strange? From the NYT piece:

Mr. Blatter is widely expected to win a fifth term on Friday — in a vote only miles from the luxury hotel where Wednesday’s arrests took place — in part because of FIFA’s electoral math. The FIFA president is elected by a one-vote-per-country poll of its 209 member federations, making the many smaller countries who support Mr. Blatter an effective counterweight to his unpopularity elsewhere, most notably in Europe.

One country one vote is indeed strange math. Imagine the UN would be run this way. How would the U.S. and other Security Council members get their will if every country had a real vote?

There is no proposal in the NYT piece on how to change that strange math. How would the U.S. like to have the votes arranged? Countries ranked by population numbers? China, India, Nigeria, Brazil would certainly love that arrangement. But their votes would likely not go the way the U.S. wants them to go. Countries'  votes ranked by local football popularity or historic football success? Portugal or some other small country might then have the greatest weight. The U.S. vote would rank somewhere at the very end of the list.

No. There is no better way to run FIFA than the way it is run today. A World Cup is a billion dollar business. The money collected by FIFA through TV licenses, advertisement and merchandizing is flowing back to the national soccer federations. They are supposed to use it to support and promote the sport. Unfortunately some corruption is inevitably involved in such a huge and complex business. The world will have to live with that. The alternative is to relinquish control over football to some totally unaccountable, likely U.S. controlled conglomerate. That would be the end of the game.

I suggested that the U.S. assault on FIFA for corruption cases going back to the early 1990s comes now  because FIFA will today vote on a Palestinian proposal to eject Israel for impeding Palestinian football. Taking the 2018 World Cup from Russia is a convenient but secondary target. Israel has conceded that it is guilty of hindering Palestinian football by offering concessions in bid 
to avert vote to oust it from FIFA. But those concessions are likely not enough:

The source said FIFA president Sepp Blatter welcomed Israel’s proposal but stressed it would need [chairman of the Palestinian Football Association] Rajoub’s consent before removing the vote on banning Israel from FIFA’s slate.

The source said Rajoub acceded, but added another demand – that FIFA ask UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon to issue a decision within three months on whether the five Israeli teams based in West Bank settlements were within Israeli territory.

FIFA regulations stipulate that teams not located within Israeli territory require the Palestinians’ consent to participate in Israeli leagues. Since the UN does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, the decision would de facto force Israel’s soccer federation to expel these teams from the league or run the risk of breaking FIFA’s rules.

The Palestinians should stick to this demand. Israel, like apartheid South Africa, should be kicked out of FIFA. There must be no tolerance for racism and occupation in the world's most beloved sport.

Posted by b at 05:43 AM | Comments (112)

May 28, 2015

Reuters Exclusive: Russian Troops Near Ukraine's Border

European Union sanctions against Russia are up for renewal. To prevent them from being lifted some additional NATO propaganda hyping the Russia threat and warning of an imminent invasion if Ukraine is necessary.

Reuters is always willing to be helpful with this. Consider its record of uncritical Exclusive News on the topic:

In none of the above stories have I seen any real reporting with a critical assessment of the veracity of such news.

Russia, like any normal state, always has some troops near its borders as well as training areas for larger unit exercises. Troops moving within the wider border area is simply normal.

Some 90% of the Canadian army is stationed less than a hundred miles from the U.S. border. When will Reuters finally manage to report that threat of an immediate invasion?

Posted by b at 12:16 PM | Comments (34)

May 27, 2015

Ahead Of Israel Expulsion Vote U.S. Orders Raid On FIFA

Today the U.S. ordered Swiss police to raid, incarcerate and extradite to the U.S. six FIFA officials for alleged corruption. The raid, with obviously pre-alarmed New York Times reporters on the scene, comes shortly before a FIFA vote to expel Israel from the association.

This Friday the world football association FIFA is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, for its 65th regular World Congress. One of the votes on the agenda (pdf) is about the "Suspension or expulsion of a member". There is also an "Update on Israel-Palestine".

The Palestinian Football Association has called for a vote to suspend Israel from FIFA:

The Palestinian group objects to Israeli teams playing in the West Bank. They also say Israel restricts movements of Palestinian players between the West Bank and Gaza as well as for international matches.

"They keep bullying here and there, and I think they have no right to keep being the bully of the neighborhood," Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub said of Israel. "If the Israelis are using the issue of security, I can say that their security concern is mine. I am ready to fix parameters for security concerns, but security should not be used ... as a tool in order to keep this racist, apartheid policies."

He declared the situation in the West Bank far worse than apartheid that existed in South Africa because right-wingers and extremists in Israel want to "delete Palestine." In the 1960s, FIFA suspended South Africa for decades after it failed to comply with the association's nondiscrimination policies. The nation was also expelled from FIFA a month after the Soweto Youth Uprising of 1976.

"I am not asking for the suspension of the Israeli association; I am asking to end the suffering of the Palestinian footballers," Rajoub said. "I am asking to end the grievances, the humiliation we are facing."

The vote requires a 75% majority of the 209 FIFA members. There was a good chance that it was going to be successful.

But now, just by chance, the U.S. government ordered the Swiss police to raid the hotel where the main FIFA functionaries are residing to arrest some of them on corruption charges going back to the early 1990s. The U.S. wants these to be extradited to face a U.S. court.

Also, just by chance, reporters and photographers of the New York Times happen to be in that very Swiss hotel lobby, at 6 am, to capture the incident live:

As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. They went to the front desk to get keys and proceeded upstairs to the rooms.
...
The charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, which wields enormous power and does its business largely in secret.

While some of the indicted persons are U.S. citizens one wonders what contorted maneuvers the U.S. justice department will make to claim jurisdiction over foreign national FIFA functionaries:

United States law gives the Justice Department wide authority to bring cases against foreign nationals living abroad, an authority that prosecutors have used repeatedly in international terrorism cases. Those cases can hinge on the slightest connection to the United States, like the use of an American bank or Internet service provider.

Is there corruption involved when FIFA decides to run the World Championship in this or that country? Are there kickbacks when it sells media rights? Might there be gambling going on in the casino?

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds? Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money] Croupier: Your winnings, sir. Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.

Additional to their U.S. ordered raid the Swiss also feel compelled to open criminal proceedings around the 2018 and 2022 World Cup FIFA votes. The U.S. lost out against Russia and Qatar in its bid for those games and U.S. hawks still want to change that. It is not that paying bribes to be chosen for world games is unfamiliar to the U.S., but being rejected necessitates regime change at the top of the responsible organization.

In the United States it is legal to bribe politicians, via campaign financing, in practically unlimited amounts. Not one U.S. banker has been indicted for the massive Wall Street fraud that brought the world economy to a halt. The world is aware of this and it does not like the U.S. to lecture it about moral outrages. FIFA, while certainly corrupt, is also the soul of world football and the organizer of the most beloved championship in the world. If the U.S. believes that using something similar to terrorism charges against FIFA will have a positive echo in the world it is very mistaken.

Especially as the just by chance motive for this is pretty obvious.

As an Israeli journalist already gloats:

Anshel Pfeffer
Poor Jibril Rajoub. Doesn't look like his gimmick is going to get much attention right now #FIFA

Let me guess: That was a main purpose of this raid?

Posted by b at 03:31 AM | Comments (84)

 
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