Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 27, 2014

Obama Regime Thugs Kill American Citizens

In Ferguson Obama regime thugs and shabiha beat up and shoot peaceful protesters. The regime even uses soldiers, SOLDIERS, against its own citizens. In Cleveland the regime kills (video) a twelve year old boy in cold blood. The kid wasn't even protesting but just playing around in a park. Why is Obama killing children?

How long will the international community allow this illegitimate regime to continue its war against its own people?

Posted by b at 11:58 AM | Comments (36)

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.): "Syrian, Iraqi Soldiers Are Klingons"

The Hill reports: US in talks over Arab boots on the ground

The U.S. and allies are discussing the possibility of deploying ground forces from Arab nations to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to a top Republican lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee.

"At the current time there are no Arab-country forces on the ground in either Iraq or Syria. There are discussions on how to do that but right now it's the Kurds or the Peshmerga that are fighting," said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) in an interview Tuesday with The Hill.
...
Wittman said military commanders told him the air campaign is indeed degrading ISIS's capability but that there is a need for more boots on the ground, though not necessarily U.S. forces.

Wittman wants to deploy Jordanian soldiers in Iraq and Syria. He apparently believes that Jordan is an Arab country while Iraq and Syria are, in his mind, not Arab countries. In his view Iraqi and Syrian troops, who have been fighting the Islamic State and other Jihadists daily for several years now, do not wear "Arab boots". He likely believes that those soldiers are Klingons or some other alien form of life.

Who elects such idiots?

Posted by b at 08:22 AM | Comments (18)

November 26, 2014

A Rescue Raid In Yemen That Might Not Have Happened

As we recently wrote about Yemen:

The state of Yemen was destroyed by the clueless U.S. sponsored interventions. The Islamic State might get destroyed the same way. But the outcome will not be a new order but, like in Yemen, utter chaos and bloody anarchy.

The chaos and anarchy was added to yesterday, according to the NYT, by a U.S. special force raid somewhere in Yemen:

In a predawn raid on Tuesday, United States Special Operations commandos and Yemeni troops rescued eight hostages being held in a cave in a remote part of eastern Yemen by Al Qaeda’s affiliate there, officials from both countries said.

The freed captives were six Yemeni citizens, a Saudi and an Ethiopian, who were unharmed, Yemeni officials said in a statement. Earlier reports that an American hostage was freed were incorrect, according to Yemeni and American officials.

About two dozen United States commandos, joined by a small number of American-trained Yemeni counterterrorism troops flew secretly by helicopter to a location in Hadhramaut Province near the Saudi border, according to American and Yemeni officials. The commandos then hiked some distance in the dark to a mountainside cave, where they surprised the militants holding the captives.

So why did U.S. special force raid some hostage takers if none of the hostages is American? The Saudi freed may have been the Saudi deputy consul to Yemen who was captured two years ago. But I find it unlikely that the U.S. would risk boots on the ground in Yemen to free a minor Saudi diplomat.

Rumor has had it for a few month that a U.S. marine had been taken hostage by the local al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. Yesterday's raid may seem to confirm this. But the news about it still much too uncertain to know this.

The BBC says the raid was in the Hajr al-Sayar district of Hadramaut governate. But local lawyer Haykal Bafana finds problems with a raid in Hajr al-Sayar described as in a "remote area" and a rescue from a "cave":

Cont. reading: A Rescue Raid In Yemen That Might Not Have Happened

Posted by b at 08:45 AM | Comments (9)

State Department Changes Rhetoric On Civilian Casualties In Syria

The Syrian air-force attacked some Islamic State targets in the eastern Syrian city Raqqa. Many were killed and wounded including civilians.

During the last years the U.S. government would condemn and comment such an attacks as "Assad is killing his own people".

That has changed. The US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) commented on Twitter on the air-raid on Raqqa:

 

So instead of a demagogic "Assad kills his own people" State CSO now comments "civilians caught in the crossfire".

That quote demonstrates a remarkable change in the State Department's position. Unsurprisingly supporters of the Jihadists and mercenaries fighting the Syrian people were quite enraged about that comment calling it a "new low".

That "new low" change in rhetoric may have come because the air raids by the U.S. air force on Jihadists in Syria also cause civilian death. Or it may be the expression of a genuine change in the position towards the Syrian government. We can not yet tell how far this may go.

How will the State Department now comment when Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State or U.S. supported mercenaries kill civilians during their attacks on the Syrian government? Will those also be "caught in the crossfire"?

When the State Department condemns those civilian death in stronger words than those killed during  government action then a genuine, not just rhetoric, change of positions will have occurred.

Posted by b at 04:49 AM | Comments (8)

November 25, 2014

Hagel Firing Points To More War

Yesterday U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice fired Defense Secretary Hagel. It was a huge mistake for President Obama to agree to that move. There are many foreign policy problems the White House created for itself. None of those are the fault of Hagel but nearly all of them can be traced back to Susan Rice herself and her surreal management style:

Earlier this year, the decision on how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan in 2015 was the subject of 14 meetings of NSC deputies, four gatherings involving Cabinet secretaries and other NSC “principals,” and two NSC sessions with the president, according to a former senior administration official.

The consequence of those meetings was to pare back the military’s request by just 700 troops — from 10,500 to 9,800.

After Obama and Rice, against earlier promises, secretly extend U.S. combat in Afghanistan, the number decided after 20 NSC meetings is already again up in the air and likely to increase. Such decision making exemplifies mismanagement by Susan Rice, not by Hagel.

Rice wanted Hagel fired because she was pissed when Hagel called her out on the chaotic non-policy she developed against the Islamic State and with regard to Syria. As a realist he knows that the U.S. will need the Syrian army under President Assad to push the Islamic State back into the underground. Against the advice of the military Rice, a "liberal interventionist", insists on ousting Assad.

The neocons, including the writers on Fred Hiatt's funny pages in the Washington Post, want Michèle Flournoy as replacement. She is a COIN propagandist who argued for both surges, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both surges as well as COIN failed to deliver what Flournoy and others promised.

Adding more incompetence to the U.S. foreign policy process as a Flournoy nomination would assure will not promote world peace but more war.

Posted by b at 12:20 PM | Comments (33)

November 24, 2014

Extended U.S. Iran Talks Likely To Fail Again

The recent negotiations over limits of Iran's civilian nuclear program were unsuccessful. But instead of coming to that conclusions all parties agreed to prolong the deadline for another seven month. In fact two new deadlines were introduced. One in four month to reach a framework agreement and one in seven month to reach a complete understanding. The first deadline is very fuzzy as a "framework agreement" could be just anything. The second deadline is likely one that will not see any further extension.

The open points at the end of this negotiation round were the same as at its beginning. What maximum numbers of centrifuges would Iran be able to use? What is the timeline for lifting sanctions? How long is the whole agreement to run?

The first point, number of centrifuges, is irrelevant. The whole concept, introduced by the U.S., of a "possible breakout time for Iran to get material for one bomb" is nuts. If Iran would be interested in nuclear weapons it would produce those in secret and in numbers that would make them a viable deterrence. The difference between five thousand or fifty thousand centrifuges running under IAEA supervision would not influence that.

The timeline for lifting sanctions could also be simple. As soon as Iran fulfills x% of the agreed upon steps x% of the sanctions should be lifted. Some U.S. sanction are related to other than the "nuclear Iran" issues and can only be lifted by the U.S. congress. Those would likely stay in place but could be reduced in their effects by executive orders.

The timeline for the whole agreement is something that is also easy to do. Iran offers a three or five year limit, the U.S. wants a double digit number of years, the compromise is right in the middle.

All this is easy and could have been done in a 30 minutes phone call. That the last days of negotiations in Vienna, with seven foreign ministers in attendance, could not reach a simple solution is likely because one side does not want one. I am sure that Iran wants a reasonable agreement. I am also quite sure that the U.S. is the blocking side. It wants to keep sanctions as future pressure points even as Iran agrees to limit its nuclear capabilities.

The U.S. needs Iran to solve conflicts in Iraq, in Syria and elsewhere. But that need is not yet urgent enough to allow for some sensible position change in the general attitude towards Iran and its interests. Only if the U.S. faces more pressure from its deteriorating position in the Middle East is a change of mind in Washington likely. The seven month extension of the talks is too short to allow for that. I therefore find it likely that the next talks and the whole negotiation round will fail (again) and that the cooked up conflict will prevail.

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

November 23, 2014

Haykal Bafana on Yemen, Three Years On

Some recent tweets, storified here, by Haykal Bafana, a Yemeni lawyer in Sanaa:

Way too quiet in #Yemen's political, news, rhetoric, propaganda & social media circles for the last 5-6 days. I'm not sure if that's good.
Key danger points in #Yemen now : Draft constitution, GPC internal strife, Houthi expansion to Marib, 3 year mark of 23 Nov 2011 GCC Deal.
We have a president, ministers, all that state-like jazz. But there is no government in power right now in the republic of #Yemen.
23 Nov 2011 3 years ago, the UN-managed GCC Deal suspended #Yemen's constitution, granted immunity to Saleh & began fucking up Yemeni lives.
For 3 years, #Yemen has had to put with diplomats talking rubbish, doing nonsense & lurching cluelessly from one disaster to another.
Diplomats who suspended #Yemen's Constitution & threw a 1-candidate election now draft a new constitution for Yemenis. In Abu Dhabi.
The same cabal of diplomats witlessly restructured #Yemen's armed forces while not realizing they were causing its disintegration.
Then the very same diplomats were surprised when Houthi militia and AQAP started to rampage all over #Yemen & the disintegrated Army.
3 years ago today, on 23 November 2011, the problems were much simpler in #Yemen.
3 years after 23 November 2011, the GCC Deal has made #Yemen into an unmitigated disastrous diplomatic fiasco.
In #Yemen capital Sanaa, one can get away with anything right now, all the way down to murder. I am not shitting you.
The worst that will happen is that the President will set up a committee to investigate, if the murdered man is reasonably important. #Yemen
But even then, the committee meets a few times over qat, and will always decide that they can't find out fug all about who murdered the chap
#Yemen | No govt news (hell, no govt actually) but Marib power lines to capital Sanaa repeatedly attacked today. 9 power cuts in 24 hours.
There are many ways to make #Yemen better faster. None of them are being pursued at the moment. Signing out : stay in one piece, people.

We wrote about the 1-candidate election "ballot":

Despite the demand in the Yemeni constitution that there must be, at least formally, several candidates, the sole candidate is Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who has for 17 years served as vice-president under President Saleh. There isn't even a Yes and No vote to gauge his support. The only candidate is Hadi, the only vote is a Yes and there is no way that he will not win by a 100% majority.

We predicted:

In a letter to Hadi Obama said that Yemen has become a model for peaceful transition in the Middle East. He did not mention the thousands of people maimed and killed during the last year up to this fake change no one can believe in.

The southern separatist, who were betrayed by the southerner Hadi when he joined Saleh to be made vice-president, the defected general Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar and his tribe, the Salafist and AlQaeda groups in the south and the Houthi tribes in the north boycotted the election. Some polling stations were attacked and at least 4 people were killed today.

The U.S. missed the chance to use the movement against Saleh for some real transition in Yemen. This will come back to bite it.

Obama recently called Yemen a "model" for the fight against the Islamic State. He is right in one sense. The state of Yemen was destroyed by the clueless U.S. sponsored interventions. The Islamic State might get destroyed the same way. But the outcome will not be a new order but, like in Yemen, utter chaos and bloody anarchy.

Posted by b at 07:30 AM | Comments (10)

November 22, 2014

Open Thread 2014-28

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:03 PM | Comments (206)

November 21, 2014

How The U.S. And Israel Support Al-Qaeda in South Syria

When the Obama administration said it bombed the "Khorasan group" in north Syria experts wondered what that meant. There was and is no such group. What the Obama administration called Khorasan group were leadership people of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syria branch of al-Qaeda, which years ago had been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan before coming to Syria. So why make a distinction between Jabhat al-Nusra active all over Syria and a leadership group of Jabhat al-Nusra situated in north Syria?

My hunch is that there is active cooperation between Jabhat al-Nusra and the U.S. especially in south Syria and the distinction was made to keep some form of alliance in the south alive. The mercenaries of the Fee Syrian Army in south Syria have been trained and armed by the CIA in Jordan and are controlled through a multinational operations room somewhere in Amman.

In the south Nusra is actively fighting on the side of the Fee Syrian Army which is also getting support from Israel. During the last months the FSA, with al-Nusra fighters as storm troopers in the lead, captured large parts along the Jordanian and Israeli border with Syria. There aim is, as we reported two month ago, to open a corridor towards Damascus. There progress against the Syrian army in the border area was made with the help of supporting Israeli artillery fire.

Reuters confirms today that Nusra, as we wrote, is leading the fighting in the south:

Fighters from Al-Qaida's Nusra Front and other insurgents attacked and briefly entered Baath City in southern Syria on Thursday, the army's last major bastion in a province flanking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
...
Hundreds of Nusra fighters who fled from the eastern Deir al-Zor province after being driven out by Islamic State earlier this year have regrouped in southern Syria, boosting the rebel presence there, activists say.

"It gave the fighters in the area the upper hand," said Abu Yahya al-Anari, a fighter from Ahrar al-Sham.
...
Insurgent gains since earlier this year have been mainly achieved by Nusra Front together with other Islamist brigades and rebels fighting under the umbrella of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army. Unlike rebel in-fighting further north, they have coordinated well so far.

In the north Jabhat al-Nusra fought mercenary groups supported by the U.S. and Turkey. In the south it cooperates well with such groups supported, equipped and trained by the U.S. from Jordan and by Israel. Al-Nusra in the north was renamed "Khorasan group" so it could be bombed without endangering the Fee Syrian Army alliance with al-Nusra in the south.

The Nusra fighters in the south will of course use the weapons and other equipment the Fee Syrian Army groups receive from the CIA and other secret services. These groups are fighting together and are naturally sharing their resources.

In October, a month after I reported about the operations in the south, the Washington Institute, part of the Israel Lobby in the U.S., acknowledged those plans and pushed for more U.S. and Israeli support at the southern front. It did of course falsely minimize the participation of Nusra.

Coordinated Israeli, Jordanian, and allied assistance in the south could boost the moderate Syrian rebels there, stave off an extremist takeover, and facilitate the ongoing international campaign against ISIS.

So far, most Israeli support for moderate, local, non-Islamist rebel battalions along the border has been limited to humanitarian aid, such as treating 1,400 sick and wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals, supplying medication, food, and heaters to villagers, and so forth. Some rebel groups maintain constant contact with the IDF, including frequent secret meetings reportedly held in Tiberias, but only a modest amount of weapons have been provided to them, mainly rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The operation in the south has nothing to do with ISIS which has so far little presence in the south but is solely directed against the Syrian army, the government of Syria and the people of Damascus. The fighting is led, as Reuters today acknowledged, by Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and U.S. and Israel support is given to local Fee Syrian Army groups strongly aligned with al-Nusra.

The U.S. and Israel will certainly have know what Reuters reports today and what we claimed earlier. They have been and are actively and knowingly arming groups who strongly cooperate and share their resources, received from the U.S. and Israel, with al-Qaeda.

Posted by b at 12:31 PM | Comments (34)

November 20, 2014

Samantha Power Warns Against Intervention Fatigue, Performs In "Rise Up" Stunt

ISIS comes to Libya

(CNN) -- The black flag of ISIS flies over government buildings. Police cars carry the group's insignia. The local football stadium is used for public executions. A town in Syria or Iraq? No. A city on the coast of the Mediterranean, in Libya.

Fighters loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are now in complete control of the city of Derna, population of about 100,000, not far from the Egyptian border and just about 200 miles from the southern shores of the European Union.

UN Ambassador Warns Against Intervention Fatigue

Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warned the American public against a kind of intervention fatigue, emphasizing that U.S. leadership is needed now more than ever amid global threats from Ebola to the Islamic State.

I think there is too much of, ‘Oh, look, this is what intervention has wrought’ … one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons,” Power said Wednesday during the Defense One Summit.

What lessons, if any at all, has Power drawn from her Libya "intervention"?

---

In another appearance yesterday Power was interrupted by "protesters" at an event that launched a cable channel dedicated to "regime change" youth protests:

The protesters were very on-message for Fusion’s event, a gathering of young activists from around the world under the “Rise Up” brand the cable channel — a joint-venture between Disney-owned ABC and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision — has been attaching to its coverage of protest movements around the world. They raised signs saying “Millennials think you’re a war hawk” — a nod to Fusion’s self-declared target demographic — while one yelled “we’re here to rise up.”

The whole story has the smell of an utterly staged "reality" show. "Protester on stage in three, two, one, now!" Power played her role as attacked "war hawk" - knowingly or not - pretty well.

The new channel's main task will be the enrichment of its owners. But it will also be used to further the projects of its political backers, including of Samantha Power. Its mission:

Fusion is about independent, isolated elements interacting to create world-changing energy. Fusion media platforms offer engagement and influence with millennials who are leading and participating in global protest movements and a strong point of view in the areas of news and current events, politics, lifestyle and pop culture.

Translation: This is a propaganda shop that will engage pseudo liberal "youth" to created political "grassroot support" for U.S. regime change operations.

That fits perfectly with Samatha Power's projects. The new channel certainly has not "overdrawn lessons" from earlier interventions. Its purpose is to further new ones.

Posted by b at 11:15 AM | Comments (48)

November 19, 2014

How Can We Solve The Problem Of Fully Automated Production?

This 40 minutes video shows the production of the BMW i3 car. It is a fully electric car made from carbon fiber on an aluminum structure.

(An ever longer video series showing more of the pre-production process - part 1, 2, 3 and 4.)

The factory and the production process is all new. What is impressive and depressing is the lack of people. There are hundreds of robots doing their jobs and in total maybe 20 people feeding them materials and later on another 20 people outfitting the car interiors.

An in depth report of the production process gives some impressions from the car body production line:

Body Shop head Ralf Brüggemann, like Koschkar, manages most of the operations in the facility from a mezzanine that overlooks the plant floor. At first glance, the Body Shop visitor confronts a sea of orange robots (173 in all, supplied by ABB Robotics, Zurich, Switzerland), constantly turning, rotating, lifting and placing black carbon fiber parts and structures in an array of discrete, enclosed assembly cells. Only occasionally does one see shop personnel move components from one cell to another.
...
“We are at 99.7 percent quality,” Brüggemann claims, but adds, “we are always chasing higher quality.”

Brüggemann, who has experience in other BMW assembly plants, also says that the i3 Life Module Body Shop is “less complex than a steel body shop. Lighter weight makes product handling much simpler.”

A high quality product, simpler to make than the older ones and in a nearly totally automated environment. In total some maybe 400 people are producing 40,000 new cars per year. Many of those cars will likely be sold through automated processes on a few internet sides.

The factory shows a very high degree of automation that will become the standard of all production. In future hardly anyone of the population of industrialized nations will work in manufacturing industries. This immense automation push is historical comparable to the industrial revolution which put many people into poverty, emigration or death.

One wonders then how people are supposed to get enough income to buy products like the i3. How can we handle the social disruption such technology leaps produce?

One interesting concept I am learning about is a machine tax used to distribute a part of the income from production into a guaranteed basic income for everyone. Is that a possible solution?

Posted by b at 01:12 PM | Comments (68)

November 17, 2014

IS Promotes Its Bloody Multinationality - Obama Says Assad Stays

With a well planned media campaign in three acts the Islamic State announced its growth into a multinational entity and into more countries. Meanwhile the U.S president finally accepted that president Assad of Syria will, at least for the time of a "transition", continue in his position.

A week ago Jihadist groups in five Arab countries published videos in which they pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State and its Caliph. The groups are in Algeria, Egypt (Sinai), Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The videos seemed to have been edited by the same professionals that edit all Islamic State official videos but they included local footage from each country.

Last Thursday act two happened when a new audio tape with a speech from the Caliph was published:

Baghdadi’s speech was divided into two main parts. The first one took around two-thirds of the time of the recording and lasted 17 minutes. Baghdadi tackled the failure of the international alliance’s operations, which he called “Crusade campaign,” and he mocked the Arab participation in them. In the second part, which was the most dangerous, he announced that IS is expanding and new provinces are rising in several Arab countries. Both parts were under Baghdadi’s main headline, which stated that jihad would persist and would target all people and lands at all times.

As a third step a well produced video was published, some 16+ minutes long, which showed a row of 18 Islamic State fighters each beheading a captured Syrian officer or pilot. This is a picture from the video:


bigger

Cont. reading: IS Promotes Its Bloody Multinationality - Obama Says Assad Stays

Posted by b at 03:38 PM | Comments (61)

November 16, 2014

This "Putin Isolated" Nonsense Is Dangerous

These headlines are silly:

Even more silly then those headlines was the German prime news Tagesschau which used a picture of Putin seemingly sitting alone at a lunch table to prove his "isolation". But news service pictures show that he is sitting with the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff waiting for the other lunch guests to sit down next to them. These were simply not visible in the frame Tagesschau selectively used.

And do these headline writers, TV correspondents and politicians know what the 20 in G-20 means? The people who publicly miffed Putin in Brisbane were Obama, Cameron, Harper, Abbott and Abe. I count five out of twenty.

Those leaders who did not "isolate" Putin by grandstanding in front of the media were from Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Republic of Korea and Turkey. Many of the leaders of those countries had one on one talks with Putin. Merkel alone had a three hour talk with Putin. Did that make him feel lonely?

Fact is Putin is about as isolated as the Pope.

Fact is also that those "world leaders" who "isolated" Putin represent a minority of people, military and economic power of the world. As Putin himself correctly pointed out before the G-20 meeting:

Incidentally, the combined GDP of the BRICS countries calculated using purchasing power parity is already bigger than that of the so-called G7 countries. As far as I know, the BRICS countries have more than $37 trillion calculated using purchasing power parity, while the G7 has $34.5 trillion. And this upwards trend is in favour of the BRICS, not vice versa.

Now all this silly isolation talk would be funny if the people in power would recognize it for the bullshit it is. Unfortunately a lot of stupid people in Washington DC, politicians as well as media folks, believe in their own propaganda bullshit and therefore tend to miscalculate in their assessments of global policies. This is dangerous as it often has bloody consequences.

Posted by b at 12:12 PM | Comments (120)

November 15, 2014

Obama's Mercenary Attacks On Syria Are Breaking The Law

According to the Washington Post the U.S. administration is discussing to increase the numbers of CIA trained mercenaries in Syria:

The Obama administration has been weighing plans to escalate the CIA’s role in arming and training fighters in Syria, a move aimed at accelerating covert U.S. support to moderate rebel factions while the Pentagon is preparing to establish its own training bases, U.S. officials said.

The proposed CIA buildup would expand a clandestine mission that has grown substantially over the past year, U.S. officials said. The agency now vets and trains about 400 fighters each month — as many as are expected to be trained by the Pentagon when its program reaches full strength late next year.

The piece mentions training in Jordan and Qatar.

Hurriyet reports that training is also to start in Turkey:

Officials from both the United States European Command (EUCOM) and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and high-ranking Turkish military officials agreed on a number of points about the training of Syrian opposition fighters in Turkey.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) members, including Syrian Turkmens will be trained at the Hirfanlı gendarmerie training center in Kırşehir, sources told to the Hürriyet Daily News. U.S. officials will also take part in the training.

The U.S. will primarily provide weapons and ammunition for the Syrian opposition, with the costs of the training also expected to be provided by Washington.

Around 2,000 Syrian fighters are slated to be given military training, which is set to begin at the end of December.

No journalist seem to have asked the administration on what legal basis this training and inserting of mercenaries against the Syrian government is taking place. What please in international or even U.S. law allows a U.S. president to send a proxy mercenary force against the state of Syria or any other state?

The administration knows very well that the legal ground it is standing on is very, very weak. The people it trains are criminals and do not observe basic laws of war or human rights. The administration's solution to breaking the law is trying to change it:

Cont. reading: Obama's Mercenary Attacks On Syria Are Breaking The Law

Posted by b at 01:46 PM | Comments (34)

November 14, 2014

Open Thread 2014-27

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:06 PM | Comments (113)

Masha Gessen Is A Fact-Challenged "State Propaganda Agent"

UPDATED below

Anti-Russia propagandist Marsha Gessen is a pet of neolibcons with regular space in Fred Hiatt's funny pages. Whenever she writes about Russia she gets, like the U.S. president, nearly every fact wrong. It is almost as if she has opinions and then creates facts to argue that her opinions are right and the only possible ones to have.

Ohh - the paragraph above is prejudice and slander?

But Gessen now confirms that she, in her own words, is not a journalist but a "state propaganda agent". She also confirms (again) that the facts she uses never cross the realm of reality.

Yesterday Mahsa Gessen stormed out of the taping of a radio show as she was upset about the professional background of one of the participants of the show. Explaining herself Gessen wrote:

The reason was that after a detailed preliminary discussion on topics and possible guests, the lineup had nothing in common with what was discussed and included a woman who was identified as a "Russian-American journalist." Neither the host nor the producers seemed to know anything about her - except that until earlier this yea she had worked for the Kremlin propaganda holding Russia Today and now is flogging a book supposedly critical of Putin. I have not read the book, but I do know that people who work for Russia Today are not journalists.
...
I tried to explain to [the producer] that my problem is not with a difference of opinion - it's with the misrepresentation inherent in calling state propaganda agents journalists.

So if people who work for state sponsored media, like Russia Today, are not journalists but "state propaganda agents" what then is Masha Gessen?

In September 2012, Gessen was appointed as director of the Russian Service for Radio Liberty, a U.S. government funded broadcaster based in Prague.

Besides her obviously total lack of self awareness Gessen, who did not name the person she ranted against but used slander like "that woman", was completely wrong about the facts. Anna Arutunyan, the journalist with whom state propaganda agent Masha Gessen would not discuss, now responded:

Since Masha Gessen decided to bring this up, I need to clarify some of her incorrect claims: I have never worked for RT. I have never worked for Voice of Russia. The quotes about Pussy Riot that she ascribes to me actually belong to Anton Fedyashin (all of which can be Googled). I worked at The Moscow News for ten years, until Dmitry Kiselyov took over RIA Novosti and work there became impossible due to my critical reporting. As I understand, Gessen was informed of who would be on the show well in advance (my info was on the Open Source website).

So Masha Gessen, through her most recent hissy fit, proved what the first paragraph said. She acknowledges that she is no journalist but, as she worked for a U.S. government sponsored media outlet, is a state propaganda agent. She also proved again that she has no factual base for her opinions and seemingly does not even care enough about those to do some two minute research.

But let me assure you that U.S. media will continue to love and pay her for her anti-Russian nonsense and for her oh-so-democratic calls for a popular coup against an elected Russian president with a 88% public approval rate.

UPDATE:

Gessen now posted a response to criticism of her rant. In it he gets, as you might have guessed, the "facts" wrong:

A few facts. I said Anna Arutunyan worked for the holding Russia Today. This holding owns the newspaper Moscow News. The newspaper has lived through many incarnations - it was most recently reinvented by the state as a hip offshoot of the propaganda machine, one that would kill the independent city magazine Bolshoi Gorod. The independent magazine has since essentially stopped to exist. Arutunyan worked there until earlier this year. What I said about VoR is that Arutunyan hosted an unconscionable show on Pussy Riot there right around the time Nadya and Masha were being shipped off to prison colonies. Here is a transcript of that show. http://voiceofrussia.com/.../radio.../70924886/90978067/. There is a lot more where that came from, like an article accusing those of us who were calling Putin authoritarian a few years back hysterical. So no, I am not confusing her with anyone. And no, Alexey Kovalev, being a critic of the regime when/if it suits you does not make a journalist of someone who works or has worked for the Kremlin's propaganda machine. And yes, that goes for you too

The facts marked bold are completely wrong. I dod not check the other claims.

There was and is no holding named Russia Today. The Moscow News was since 2007 partially owned by RIA Novosty. At the end of 2013 RIA Novosty was merged with the international radio service Voice of Russia to create Rossiya Segodnya (which can be verbally translated as "Russia Today" but is a different organization than the well known TV station Russia Today). The Moscow News was killed in that process and Anna Arutunyan left. The TV station Russia Today was and is largely independent but is since a few month ago under the same top management as Rossiya Segodnya.

Arutunyan never "hosted" a show on Voice of Russia. As one can clearly see from the transcript Gessen herself linked the host of the show was one Dmitry Babich and Arutunyan was one of five guests on a panel about Pussy Riot. Arutunyan has a total of six sentences in that panel and those are mostly about the church and the state. It is nothing nefarious about Pussy Riot in those.

Gessen again is completely away from any reality. She is even wrong about the content of the transcript she herself links to. Then again - as she claimed herself she is no journalist but a "State Propaganda Agent" for the United States. Facts then don't matter.

Posted by b at 09:43 AM | Comments (64)

November 13, 2014

NYT Editors - Liars and Hypocrites

NYT Editorial Nov 13 2014: A Response to President Xi Jinping

The Times has no intention of altering its coverage to meet the demands of any government — be it that of China, the United States or any other nation. Nor would any credible news organization.

NYT Dec 16 2005: Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
A "credible news organization"? Not.

Posted by b at 05:19 AM | Comments (43)

November 12, 2014

Obama Excludes "Black Sites" From Torture Prohibition

Obama to United Nations Committee Against Torture: "We tortured some folks. We'll keep our options open to do that again and again."

The Obama administration, after an internal debate that has drawn global scrutiny, is taking the view that the cruelty ban applies wherever the United States exercises governmental authority, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. That definition, they said, includes the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and American-flagged ships and aircraft in international waters and airspace.

But the administration’s definition still appears to exclude places like the former “black site” prisons where the C.I.A. tortured terrorism suspects during the Bush years, as well as American military detention camps in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars there. Those prisons were on the sovereign territory of other governments; the government of Cuba exercises no control over Guantánamo.

Obama says that the convention against torture does doesn't apply where torture by U.S. goons is most likely.

Is there anything which tells us that the Obama administration is not using this self-defined exclusion?

Posted by b at 12:04 PM | Comments (44)

November 11, 2014

Kerry In Search Of Genie Magic

Taking a break from stuck talks with the Iranian delegation Secretary of State Kerry visited the bazar of Muscat, Oman to enlist a new spirited member for his policy team. "Sometimes one has to resort to unusual measures to solve all these difficult problems," Kerry explained. "This genie lamp will magically enlighten the world about your wisdom," market vendor Ali Baba assured the secretary.

 

Posted by b at 02:09 PM | Comments (23)

November 10, 2014

(Not) U.S. (Not) Israel Utilized Anti-Iranian Terror Group Jundallah

Jundallah is a radical Sunni group based in Baluchistan near the Pakistani-Iranian border. It has attacked Iranian soldiers as well as civilians. There were many rumors in the media that some U.S. operation was utilizing the group for terror attacks against Iran. But a 2012 story claimed that it was not the U.S. but Israel which sponsored the group's attacks. A story published yesterday refutes this and admits U.S. involvement though it tries, unconvincingly, to blame this on one "bad apple" rogue actor.

In January 2012 Mark Perry wrote an impressive story about the Jundallah group:

A series of CIA memos describes how Israeli Mossad agents posed as American spies to recruit members of the terrorist organization Jundallah to fight their covert war against Iran.

Several bloggers, including me, expressed doubt about the story:

Why is this whitewash of the CIA coming out right now, just two days after the assassination of another Iranian engineer?

Why is there no mention at all of JSOC, the U.S. military Joint Special Operations Command forces who are, according to Sy Hersh, operating in Iran? What is their relation to the Israelis?

Why is the U.S. now doing so much to say it has nothing to do with the assassination? Notice that this changed. State Department spokesperson Nuland when asked on January 11 immediately after the event issued no denial at all.

As Marc Wheeler pointed out:

Israelis and Americans have long hidden behind each other when working with Iranians, going back at least to the Iran-Contra ops that Dick Cheney had a fondness for. Hiding behind Israelis lets American officials pretend we’re not doing the taboo things we’re doing. Hiding behind Americans lets Iranian partners working with Israelis pretend they aren’t working with the Zionist enemy. That false flag business works in many different directions, after all.

I concluded:

The Mark Perry story may well be right in the detail. I doubt its value in telling something of the bigger picture though. It it does not tell us anything of what the U.S. agencies and military are currently doing in Iran and it certainly should not be used to exculpate the U.S. from the killing of the Iranian scientists.

Nearly three years after the Mark Perry story blamed Israel for cooperation with Jundallah a new story by James Risen and Matt Apuzzo now admits intense U.S. involvement with the group. The guy allegedly culpable for running Jundallah is claimed to be a New York Port Authority officer:

Cont. reading: (Not) U.S. (Not) Israel Utilized Anti-Iranian Terror Group Jundallah

Posted by b at 09:28 AM | Comments (43)

November 08, 2014

WaPo Blames Syria But U.S. Iraq Invasion Created The Islamic State

One Missy Ryan at the Washington Post wants her readers to swallow this nonsense:

While the Obama administration is expanding its effort against the Islamic State, it has resisted calls from some of its Middle Eastern allies to more directly pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose long civil conflict has created the conditions that gave birth to the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

The conflict in Syria, started by the U.S. and other international supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, had nothing to do with the "birth" of the "Islamic State and other extremist groups".

Academic accounts of the genesis of the Islamic State, Jabhad al-Nusra and others point to a much earlier creation of these groups:

A popular narrative holds that the surprising recent events in Iraq can be attributed mainly to the unraveling of Syria.
...
[This] is just part of a picture, one constructed by connecting the dots from events that we can observe, rather than from a careful analysis of the group known as the Islamic State. Consider another possibility: the Islamic State’s resurgence since 2010 in both Iraq and Syria is the result of a carefully crafted plan. The Islamic State counteroffensive in Iraq, conducted under the noses of a waning U.S. presence in the country, created conditions for the Islamic State to establish a new political coalition that remains intact to date. The high-level of military excellence achieved by the Islamic State in their campaign as much as any political factor, has influenced their return and creates a host of challenges for the military, intelligence, and diplomatic professionals tasked with their defeat.

The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra were both part of AlQaida in Iraq (AQI). The were created in reaction to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. After having been temporarily defeated during the "surge" of U.S. troops AQI revived and fought an intense war against the Iraqi government. When the conflict in Syria started the war in iraq was again raging. A part of AQI transferred to Syria under the name of Jabhat al Nusra. It used the eastern part of Syria primarily as a retreat and training space. AQI split in two when the Iraqi part detached itself from AlQaida central in Pakistan as well as from Jabhat al-Nusra and transformed itself into the independent Islamic State.

The conflict in Iraq ignited by the United States is the creation point of these extremists group. The conflict in Syria allowed the growth of these groups into the geographically near eastern parts of Syria but the Syria conflict had no relation to those groups founding. Ahrar al-Shams and the Islamic Front, other extremist group in Syria, were also founded and led by senior AlQaeda members mostly from Iraq. Like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra these groups do not originate in the Syrian conflict but in a wider and older context.

The origin of these groups lies in the the U.S. war on Iraq. To accuse the Syrian government for their creation is propagandistic nonsense.

Posted by b at 09:24 AM | Comments (115)

November 07, 2014

Pentagon Team To Learn How To Commit War Crimes

I once had a bit of respect for the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey. That is gone:

The highest-ranking U.S. military officer said on Thursday that Israel went to "extraordinary lengths" to limit civilian casualties in the recent war in Gaza and that the Pentagon had sent a team to see what lessons could be learned from the operation.

Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged recent reports criticizing civilian deaths during the 50-day Gaza war this year but told an audience in New York he thought the Israel Defense Forces "did what they could" to avoid civilian casualties.

Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Watch are usually reluctant to criticize Israel. Some of their big donors are Zionists and they also receive money form "western" governments which support Israel. Still: HRW:

Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties.

Amnesty (pdf):

Amnesty International examines targeted Israeli attacks carried out on inhabited civilian homes in the light of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, specifically the rules on the conduct of hostilities. It does so by focusing on eight cases, in which targeted Israeli attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 111 people, of whom at least 104 were civilians, including entire families, and destroyed civilian homes.
...
In all the cases documented in this report, there was a failure to take necessary precautions to avoid excessive harm to civilians and civilian property, as required by international humanitarian law. In all cases, no prior warning was given to the civilian residents to allow them to escape.

Someone should ask Dempsey why he believes that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are wrong in their assessments. And does the Pentagon really need to send a team to Israel to learn how to commit war crimes? Is there too little experience of bombing this or that wedding?

Posted by b at 12:10 PM | Comments (64)

November 06, 2014

U.S. State Department (Again) Behaves At Kindergarten Level

A few days ago there was a preparatory meeting for a nuclear security summit, a global meeting initiated by the U.S. to control access to nuclear resources. Russia, which believes that the IAEA is the agency that should take care of the issue, did not take part. The State Department pretended to be surprised by Russia's no-show:

Russia has failed to show up at a meeting planning the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, U.S and European officials said Monday, in a potentially serious blow to efforts by President Barack Obama to cement his legacy as leaving the world safer from nuclear terrorism than when he took office.

The officials said it was not immediately clear whether Moscow intended to boycott the summit itself or was just temporarily showing displeasure over Washington's harsh condemnation of Moscow's role in Ukraine unrest and the U.S. lead in orchestrating Western sanctions and other punitive measures in response.

The State Department now admits, after Russia pushed back, that these "officials" lied:

Russia has told the United States that it will not attend a 2016 nuclear security summit, the State Department said on Wednesday, in the latest sign of frosty ties between Washington and Moscow.

Explaining why it would stay away, Moscow said it doubted the value of the summit, which is to be held in Chicago in 2016, and believed the views of states which disagreed with the event's organizers would be ignored.
...
"Russia delivered a demarche to the United States in advance of last week's preparatory meetings informing us that it no longer planned to participate in the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

There was no explanation for why the "U.S and European officials" lied about the issue. Who was stupid enough to believe that such lies would be helpful for anything? By lying these "officials" achieved two points:

  1. No one can trust any news based on "U.S and European officials" claims. These "officials" may well be or are even likely lying as the above case shows and anything those "officials" say, even on trivialities, may be the opposite of what they will say tomorrow.
  2. Russia is pissed off even more and any future cooperation with it will become more difficult.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had informed Washington in mid-October about its decision. "We regard the recent leaks about (the decision) in the American media as an unsuccessful attempt to put pressure on the Russian side in order to change our position," the ministry said. "We consider such efforts counterproductive."

I for one do not understand what the people at Foggy Bottom are thinking. Kindergarten behavior like this will achieve what?

Posted by b at 12:28 PM | Comments (37)

November 04, 2014

"Western Training" And The Fight Against The Islamic State

"Training" foreign troops seems to be some magic solution for various foreign policy problems. "Training" a new Iraqi army against the Islamic State is the latest of such a hoped for miracles. But all recent "western training" has been more problematic than successful.

The various foreign troops trained at the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas, turned out to be capable, but only as torturers and death squads:

Observers point out that School alumni include: 48 out of 69 Salvadoran military members cited in the U.N. Truth Commission's report on El Salvador for involvement in human rights violations (including 19 of 27 military members implicated in the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests), and more than 100 Colombian military officers alleged to be responsible for human rights violations by a 1992 report issued by several human rights organizations. Press reports have also alleged that school graduates have included several Peruvian military officers linked to the July 1992 killings of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and included several Honduran officers linked to a clandestine military force known as Battalion 316 responsible for disappearances in the early 1980s. Critics of the School maintain that soldiers who are chosen to attend are not properly screened, with the result that some students and instructors have attended the School after being implicated in human rights violations.

Foreign officers trained over the last decade in various military "anti-terrorism" programs seem somewhat prone to coup against their government:

The army officer who has seized power in Burkina Faso amid popular protests in the West African country was twice selected to attend counterterrorism training programs sponsored by the U.S. government, U.S. military officials said.
...
Although the training he received was relatively brief, Zida’s experience carries echoes of other African military officers who went on to topple their governments after being selected by the U.S. government for professional military education courses.

In March 2012, an army captain in Mali who had attended a half-dozen military training courses in the United States led a coup that deposed his democratically-elected government.

The United Kingdom offered to train 2,000 Libyan "soldiers" to clean up the anarchy its attack on Libya created. In a first tranche 325 were recently selected, "vetted" and flown to the UK for some basic infantry training. Some 90 of them decided they did not want to be soldiers and asked to be flown home. Additionally some 20 claimed asylum. The rest tried to have some fun. Two stole bicycles, rode to Cambridge and sexually assaulted several women. Some others raped a male person. The training program has been abandoned and the rest of these "vetted" and "trained" gang was send home to presumably reenforce the anarchy there.

The U.S. trained the Iraqi army over several years and at a cost of billions of dollars. As soon as that army was assaulted it fell apart. Four divisions fled when attacked by rather minor forces of the Islamic State.

But do not despair. The U.S. has found the perfect way to solve the Islamic State problem in Iraq. It will now simply train a few new divisions and those freshly trained folks will then surely be able to defeat and destroy the Islamic State.

Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led air power and hundreds of advisers, are planning to mount a major spring offensive against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria, a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges.
...
United States officials say that the initial force they are planning to advise consists of only nine Iraqi brigades and three similar Kurdish pesh merga units — roughly 24,000 troops.

The counterattack plan calls for at least doubling that force by adding three divisions, each of which could range from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

The United States is relying on allies to augment American trainers. Australia, Canada and Norway have committed several hundred special forces to one or more of the training or advisory missions, a senior United States military official said.

For the expected quality of that farce and its training just see above.

The Islamic State is currently ruling over some 4 to 6 million people. It is recruiting and drafting among these to increase the size of its own army. How many able young men of fighting age can be generated from a millions strong, traditionally child rich population? 100,000? 300,000? The Islamic State has capable trainers from the old Baathist Iraqi army and it uses a fighting style that mixes guerrilla tactics and conventional warfare. It has captured enough weapons and ammunition to fit out several tens of thousands soldiers.

Even with air support the few forces the U.S. plans to train will be mince meat as soon as they will try to enter areas the Islamic State wants to hold.

The "western" military model is simply not fitting to the kind of conflicts encountered in other parts of the world. The mentalities, traditions, ideological incentives and education levels are much different.

"The west" still feels superior to "the rest" because it has, in the past, won so many colonial wars. But as Samuel Huntington once remarked:

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.

It was an advantage in technology that allowed "western" forces to win in colonial wars. But at least in ground wars both sides now basically use the same technology and similar weapons. There is no longer a technical advantage and some basic "training" does not help much to escape from an incoming stream of hot machine gun bullets. The U.S. war of independence is a good example for this. While the British army still could win in other colonial wars a colonial fight against an enemy at a similar technical level but with higher motivation ended in defeat.

Any force that is supposed to grind down the Islamic State and its army needs an ideological motivation and will to fight that is at least equal to the one of the Islamic State fighters. As an attacking force it will also needs superior numbers. The U.S. and other "western" armies are unable to create such a force in Iraq. The only entities which can do such on short notice are the Iranian revolutionary guard and Hizbullah. Any efforts of "training" a new force against the Islamic State that does not involve those will be in vane.

The recent history of "western training" of foreign forces is a history of failures and defeat. It is stupid to assume that this time will be different. If the U.S. wants to defeat the Islamic State it will have to make nice with its other "enemies" and it will have to let them lead the training and the fighting. Anything else will likely fail and end up in a few decades with the embarrassing acceptance of a new state in the former territories of Iraq, Syria and whatever other country the Islamic State decides to slice apart.

Posted by b at 03:15 PM | Comments (100)

November 03, 2014

Open Thread 2014-26

More news & views ...

Posted by b at 12:45 PM | Comments (309)

Syria: "Sunni ... form Assad's chief power base"

(Sorry for light, boring posting while I am busy with some urgent personal issues.)

As predicted the consolidation of insurgent groups in Syria is continuing with the more radicals ever winning:

The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.

The ousted groups were supported by the CIA and had U.S. weapons including tank-killing TOWs. Those are now in the hands of al-Nusra which already prepares to take more ground.

The Obama administration will have difficulties to further deny the obvious. The idea of training some "new FSA" gangs and to supply them with U.S. weapons is nuts. The only force on the ground in Syria that can take on the Islamic State is the Syrian army. Two days ago I smelled some turn in the media towards a more benign presentation of the Syrian government. It earlier was nearly always depicted as sectarian and as solidly run by minority Alawi. That was always wrong but it was the leitmotif of all "western" Syria reports. Here is now another Associated Press piece about Sunni refugees within Syria that challenges that view:

Sunnis, who form the country's majority faith group, form Assad's chief power base, even as the rebellion is dominated by Sunnis. Minorities, like the Alawites, Shiites and Christians, mostly support the government or have remained neutral.

It also shows that the Syrian administration is still able to govern decently:

Government services, while scrappy, still exist. Workers receive salaries, even if the local currency is falling. There is still power, though cuts are routine. Health care is still free, although residents say waits are long as doctors leave their posts.

So what is really not to like with the Syrian president Assad the readers of those AP pieces will ask themselves. Isn't he better than all alternatives?

Posted by b at 12:44 PM | Comments (40)

November 01, 2014

Syria: New Hints Of A Changing U.S. Position

Here are some remarkable media mentions of Syria.

From RAND, the Pentagon think tank, on Alternative Futures for Syria.

Among the Key Findings:

Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests.
...
It is regime victory that now appears to be most likely in the near to mid-term, due to the confluence of military and political factors favoring pro-Assad forces.

An Associated Press reporter visits the Latakia area and talks to the people who are all staunch supporter of the Syrian government: Syria's Alawites pay heavy price as they bury sons.

The piece includes this fact that has been true since the fighting in Syria started:

Syria's army represents the sectarian makeup of the country: it is largely Sunni Muslim, fighting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels.

This was so far hardly ever mentioned in "western" media" which was thereby propagandizing sectarianism and further war.

Another remark that does not fit the usual picture. Some people protest against President Assad not because he is fighting against the insurgents but because he is not waging enough war:

"If anything, their critique of Bashar is that he is too weak, so they would rather have a hard-line guy in power," said the aid worker, who requested anonymity because he wasn't meant to speak to reporters.

Also remarkable. Who does the U.S. trust to have the best intelligence to fight the Islamic State? Syria of course. But as official collaboration is not (yet) allowed, the arrangement is covered up as espionage: U.S. Spying on Syria Yields Bonus: Intelligence on Islamic State:

U.S. Spies Have Been Tapping the Communications of President Bashar al-Assad’s Regime for Information on Islamic State Militants

I am sure that the U.S. could not listen to Syria government communication about IS, and would not make the fact that it can public, if the Syrian (and Russian) government would not want them to.

The U.S. plan was to let some of its "enemies", the Syrians, Iranians, Russians, fight it out with some of its other "enemies", the radical Islamists and by proxy the Saudis and Qataris. All would be weakened and the relative U.S. role in the Middle East would be strengthened. But with the Islamic State blowback in Iraq, in Lebanon and in future likely in further places, the plan to let the enemies destroy each other is increasingly risky.

What we are seeing now, and the Associated Press report above is in my view not just a coincidence, is a slow change in the U.S. position. It is starting to lean towards a more appreciating view towards the Syrian government. How far that change will go is not yet knowable.

My take on the letter Secretary of Defense Hagel sent to the White House is that his demand for a clearer strategy on Syria is not, as Reuters assumes, a request for more help to the insurgents but a request to let go of the animosity towards the Syrian government and to further cooperate with it in the fight against the Islamic State. That is the essence of the RAND study quoted above which Hagel's house paid for. If my reading of it is correct the White House would be wise to follow Hagel's view.

Posted by b at 03:42 PM | Comments (43)

October 31, 2014

Syria: Pro-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Anti-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Dead

How a month can change the perspective ...

McClatchy, September 27 2014: Rebel-held towns in Syria protest US bombing of al-Qaida affiliate

The protests in rebel-held territories illustrated the confusion among Syrians over the aims of the U.S.-led coalition and the support that al-Qaida’s Nusra Front enjoys among rebel factions.

In Afamia, a town in western Hama province, demonstrators carried Nusra’s black flags, chanted anti-Assad slogans, called for the downfall of the Syrian Opposition Coalition — the U.S.-backed civilian organization that the United States recognizes as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people — and condemned what they called “the coalition strikes against the mujahedeen,” or holy warriors.

McClatchy, October 29, 2014: Syria rebels plead for U.S. help as Nusra, a former friend, goes on the attack

Al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, which has long been viewed by that country’s rebels as an ally in the battle to topple President Bashar Assad, has turned on them in recent days, forcing the beleaguered rebels into a three-front war that they say they are sure to lose unless the United States changes policy and sends them more weapons.
...
Commanders warned Wednesday that assaults this week by Nusra could cause the collapse of rebel front lines, which already were under stress from fighting the Islamic State and the Assad government.

The CIA and special forces in contact with those "moderate rebels" can now say "told you so" when they ask for more help. After the pro-Nusra demonstrations last month more material help is unlikely to come:

A third CIA-vetted commander said that the U.S.-led coalition had cut the flow of arms and ammunition to a trickle and painted a dire image of the outcome should this not change.

There are some nine different wars going on now between the various insurgent groups and between them and the government of Syria and its supporters. That chaos helps the Syrian army to gain ground.

But the chaos will shrink. The "Fee Syrian Army" is pretty much dead. The Nusra front is shrinking with many of its fighters and officials deserting and joining the Islamic State. In a few month the Islamic State will be the only group fighting against the Syrian (and Iraqi) government and Hizbullah and other pro-government militias. That battle will be epic.

The shiny, all new, to be U.S. trained "Fee Syrian Army" planned for now is unlikely to ever get off the ground.

"We're not going to be able to build that kind of credible force in enough time to make a difference," said a senior U.S. officer who is involved in military operations against the militants and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "We've watched the moderate opposition dwindle and dwindle and now there's very little left."

To find fighters and support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia Obama would have to promise to use the "new" FSA against the Syrian government. But destroying the Syrian government is likely a guarantee that the Islamic State will seize Damascus and the rest of Syria. The Obama administration seems to rightfully fear that and will, despite heavy pressure from some hawks and Pentagon brass, hopefully not go that way.

Posted by b at 11:01 AM | Comments (16)

October 30, 2014

Open Thread 2014-25

(Busy with end-of-month deadline ...)

News & views ...

Posted by b at 03:28 PM | Comments (96)

October 28, 2014

U.S. State Department Tweets Incite People To Join Terrorist Groups

The U.S. State Department is running some odd (dis-)information campaign under the name "Think Again Turn Away". It is using so called "social media" to, supposedly, deter people from joining extreme international groups. It has a Facebook page with 8,450 likes and a Twitter account with some 12,700 followers.

But the whole program seem to be run by some bumbling intern. How please is this tweet supposed to deter young, easily impressed people from joining the Islamic State or any other extremist group fighting against the Syrian government?

That tweet is a direct invitation to join any of the hundreds of extremist insurgency groups that are fighting against the governments in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

That the above tweet is inciting people to join to commit terrorism against the Syrian state is not the only issue. Its content is a lie. The British doctor in question came to Syria illegally and provided medical services to insurgents. He was caught and put into jail. There he hanged himself:

A British surgeon, imprisoned in Syria for over a year, has died in detention, his family has told the BBC.

Dr Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, travelled to the city of Aleppo last year to help civilians.
...
A Syrian government official said Dr Khan had committed suicide in his cell.
...
Last week the family expressed concern that Dr Khan was depressed and may want to harm himself.

If a depressed man with known suicidal tendencies hangs himself in prison and there is zero evidence of any other involvement in his death how can the State Department claim that he "was killed by regime forces"?

The link in the above State Department tweet goes to an AlJazeerah story. AlJazeerah is a TV station financed by the government of Qatar which has also given billions in cash and weapons to insurgents in Syria including, at least indirectly, to Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Is promoting Qatari government media and thereby its policies of promoting terrorism now also one of the State Department's tasks?

The State Department tweet is linking media of the terrorist supporting Qatari government with a false claim about a doctor`s death to incite against the Syrian government. It thereby justifies terrorism attacks against the Syrian state and its people. Such justifications incite young people, especially in the "west", to join Jihadist groups that are fighting against government forces in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Is that an expression of the State Department's official policy?

Foggy Bottom should "Think Again" about this media campaign and "Turn Away" from such primitive policies.

Posted by b at 01:28 PM | Comments (38)

October 27, 2014

Syria: "No (U.S. supported) Field Force To Liberate Damascus"

Obama's pointman for the efforts against the Islamic State, Gen. John Allen, gave an interview to the Saudi Asharq Al-Awasat paper. There are lots of interesting bits in it but this part on the role of the "Free Syrian Army" and the "new" forces the U.S. wants to train sticks out:

Q: But you don’t see the FSA units that are being trained to fight ISIS as being those who will later fight the regime’s armed forces?

No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize. There is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]. We have to create so much credibility within the moderate Syrian opposition at a political level . . . that they earn their spot at the table when the time comes for the political solution. Now, there could be FSA elements that ultimately clash with the regime, that may well be the case, as they seek to defend themselves and those areas that they dominate and as they seek to defend their families and their ways of life . . . it could be an outcome. But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus—that is not the intent. The intent is that in the political outcome, they [the moderate Syrian opposition] must be a prominent—perhaps the preeminent voice—at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek.

It seems to me that the Obama administration has given up on the FSA and the Syrian exile opposition. Reports from inside the insurgency claim that the U.S. support has slowed to a trickle and to many groups simply ended. The Syrian army is gaining the upper hand in more and more battles. The creation of the "new" anti-Syrian force, should it ever come into being, is just a fig leaf for giving up on overthrowing the Syrian government.

The strategy against the Islamic State that Allen describes is some decade long program of social engineering in Iraq by creating some Iraqi National Guard like the U.S National Guard. That is, in my view, likely to fail.

Obama has kicked the can down the road for the next president to kick again, to give up on the issue or to try some yet untried hail mary pass.

---

Another more short term issue is Kobane, the Syrian town held by Kurdish PKK/YPG forces. The Islamic State just released a video in which its prisoner John Cantlie, who may have joined the IS by now, is "reporting" from Kobane: : "The Islamic State won the battle in Kobane, it's nearly over here". The video is impressive with aerial footage of Kobane, a direct view on Turkish tanks and western style stand-up reportage of IS talking points by John Cantlie. But from the media reports Cantlie remarks on one can guess that the video was shot about a week ago and Kobane has still not fallen completely. The IS success claim in the video seems therefor somewhat exaggerated.

The Turkish government is still refusing to let any reinforcement or supplies come to help of the PKK forces in Kobane. The announced reinforcement by peshmerga fighters form kurdish Iraq, considered to be friendly to the Turkish government, has been held up for "technical reasons." The U.S. has bet some prestige on the Kobane issue. The White House will be furious should the city fall because of Erdogan's foot-dragging.

Posted by b at 03:13 PM | Comments (46)

October 25, 2014

Ukraine: Winter And Reigniting The War

(While I am busy ..)

The Saker says something is up in Ukraine. He expects a Ukrainian offense after tomorrows election (in which the anti-coup opposition is given no real chance to compete).

As I wrote earlier I believe that Jack Frost makes a new military campaign unlikely. I am not sure which side would want to again heat up the low flame "truce" war that has waged over the last weeks. Though both sides seem to have some itch for it.

But it has started freezing in Ukraine and a winter-war would be mostly road-bound, difficult to proceed for both sides with some additional advantages for those defending build up areas. Tanks and trucks would get stuck in muddy fields. It is not the environment in which one can expect wide space taking movements that would change the overall situation.

I am therefore scratching my head and wondering what military genius, obviously without any knowledge of World War II battles in Ukraine, would plan for such a campaign. It would be a quite lunatic endeavor.

Posted by b at 03:08 PM | Comments (186)

October 23, 2014

Israeli Defense Minister Predicts The End Of Artificial ME States

Moshe Ya'alon predicts the end of his country:

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is known for his blunt manner, and in an interview with NPR, he says that a future map of the Middle East will look very different that the one that exists today.
...
"We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt," Ya'alon, who is on a visit to Washington, tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

In contrast, Ya'alon says, "Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea."

Which country in the Middle East is the most artificial? Which one was created as the result of a World War and is solely a "western" idea?

It seems to me that Ya'alon lacks the self awareness to detect the irony in what he said.

Posted by b at 09:28 AM | Comments (102)

October 21, 2014

Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Yesterday Politico promoted a story about "Putin's Coup written by junior neocon Ben Judah. The lede:

The war in Ukraine is no longer only about Ukraine. The conflict has transformed Russia. This increasingly is what European leaders and diplomats believe: that Vladimir Putin and his security establishment have used the fog of war in Ukraine to shroud the final establishment of his brittle imperialist dictatorship in Moscow.

Among those who believe that this is happening, and that Europe will be facing down a more menacing Russia for a long time to come, is Radek Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 until September.

Anything that starts off by calling the elected government of the Russian Federation an "imperialist dictatorship" is obviously rubbish.

But the hard right-wing Radek Sikorski, who ones had a U.S. British passport and is married to the neocon Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum, always makes some funny jokes, like identifying Obama's grandfather as a cannibal, so I read on.

And I was right, there were some really funny lines in there:

Cont. reading: Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Posted by b at 03:02 PM | Comments (71)

Open Thread 2014-24

Your news & views ...

(me busy)

Posted by b at 02:03 PM | Comments (88)

October 20, 2014

Pressured Turkey Accomodates Some Support For Kobane

The U.S. is getting trapped in its support for the Kurds in Kobane while Turkey's Erdogan, for unknown reasons, seems to making a u-turn in his anti-Kurdish position.

Just yesterday the Turkish president Erdogan said that no weapons should be given to the YPK/PPK fighters defending Kobane, near to Turkish Syrian border, against the onslaught by Islamic State fighters:

Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
...
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.

Obama, just after another phonecall with Erdogan on Sunday, showed him the finger and a few hours later U.S. air force planes dropped weapons for the PKK fighters in Kobane.

This was against a new U.S. law which allows U.S. weapon transfers only to "appropriately vetted" anti-IS fighters. Turkey, the U.S. and the EU see the PKK, and the associated YPK in Syria, as terrorists. So who has now vetted these folks?

Obama's excuse is the claim that these weapons were donated by the Kurdish government in Iraq's Kurdish areas (KRG). They are, technically, not U.S. weapons but as the Washington Post remarked:

Much of the material, however, had been at least indirectly provided to the Iraqi Kurds by the United States and coalition allies.

Erdogan had earlier set three conditions for the supporting the Kurds in Syria. They should fight against the Syrian government under the command of the Turkish supported (fictitious) Free Syrian Army, stop striving for any autonomous areas and suspend any action against the Turkish government. His demands towards the U.S. were support for the overthrow of the Syrian government, creation of a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of a secured border zone on Syrian ground. The U.S. had rejected those demands.

But the Kurds in northern Syria now seem to have, at least verbally, moved towards some accommodation of Erdogan's demands. In a statement released by them they say:

The resistance shown by our units YPG and the factions of the free Syrian army is a guarantee for defeating ISIS terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and building a free and democratic Syria was the basis for the agreements signed with factions of the free Syrian Army. As we can see that the success of the revolution are subject to the development of this relationship between all factions and the forces of good in this country.
...
We will work to consolidate the concept of true partnership for the management of this country commensurate with the aspirations of the Syrian people with all its components, sects and social classes.

One might guess that each side will read whatever it will into this statement.

Turkey still rejects any support for the YPK/PKK but has now agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from its allies in north Iraqi under president Barzani to pass through Turkey into Kobane.

"It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say 'yes' (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization," Erdogan said.
...
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which have also fought Islamic State when the militants attacked the Kurds' autonomous region in Iraq over the summer. He gave no details.

Syrian Kurds who had fled from Kobane to Turkey and who support the fighters will not be allowed to return to Syria but Iraqi Kurds will now be allowed to do just that. The deal was arranged by KRG intelligence chief Lahur Talabani. Turkey may hope that the Peshmerga, who are internal Kurdish enemies of the Marxist PKK, may take the lead in the fight against the Islamic State and diminish the PKK influence on this issue. It is not clear if the YPK/PKK fighters will welcome such Peshmerga support.

It is difficult to find out what really happened in this Turkish u-turn. There was either a deal behind this whole and astonishing Turkish turnaround or Obama's weapon drop over Kobane has finally forced Erdogan into a more accommodating position. Or maybe the attempted kidnapping of a Turkish supported insurgent commander by the Islamic State played a role.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, who only last week said that Kobane had no strategic relevance, is lauding the "valiantly fighting" PKK in Kobane:

"It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment," he said.

For weeks the U.S. did not help in Kobane. Only after much publicity documented the fighting did the U.S. intervene. Only after pressure from domestic opposition did the U.S. intensify its bombing against the Islamic State in Kobane. Now Obama is in a trap. He can not let the city fall without loss of face and without receiving vicious attacks from the republicans in Congress. This while the attack on Kobane is most likely only a diversion created by the Islamic State to draw away those U.S. resources which could hinder its consolidation in the Iraqi Anbar province.

Posted by b at 10:21 AM | Comments (45)

October 18, 2014

State Department Contractor Breaks Russian Visa Law, Whines When Caught

The U.S. State Department is continuing its influence program against the Russian state. It finances "workshops" in Russia to eventually prepare for a "color revolution" there. It hires academic trainers from U.S. universities to work on various parts of the plans. One of those parts is the recruitment and influencing of Russian journalists. When the State Department sends those trainers to Russia it tells them to falsely claim to be "tourists". The Russian found out about practice and told those "trainers" to stop such nonsense.

The U.S. media though used the issue to predicatively"blame Russia". That explains factually false headlines like Boston Journalist Briefly Detained in Russia or even worse Two U.S. tourists detained in Russia:

Two American journalists were briefly detained in Russia and taken to court Thursday for teaching an investigative journalism workshop. Both were found guilty of violating visa regulations, authorities said. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.

Since when are "tourists" teaching workshops? Even worse - the same article headline with "U.S. tourists detained" later remarks:

Bergantino and Covington, who had tourist visas, were told they couldn’t continue teaching, but were free to leave the country as scheduled Saturday, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism said.

It said the visas the two journalists held were the type recommended by the U.S. State Department for that visit.

The State Department admits that much:

Asked if the U.S. was concerned about what had happened to them, [State Department spokeswoman Jen] Psaki said: “They were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it’s fair to say.

The "tourists" or "journalists" broke Russian immigration laws and had been advised by the U.S. State Department to do just that. What did they expect the Russian immigration service to do? To also ignore Russian law because the U.S. State Department says so?

One of the State Department contractors, Joe Bergantino, who came as "tourist" to Russia to run a U.S. State Department financed influence workshop is pissed that Russia follows the rules of law. He writes an angry open letter to the Russian president:

Let me repeat the question, Mr. Putin: Was all that really necessary? It’s clear that you enjoy playing the tough guy on the world stage and that the Russian people overwhelmingly support your message to the rest of us: Russia is strong and will exercise her will as she sees fit.

But let me get personal for a moment.
...

What Mr. Bergantino should have asked, and rather himself than Mr. Putin: "Was it really necessary to come to Russia under false pretense? And was it really necessary to, knowingly, break Russian law?"

And would a real journalist, not a propagandist, really lament foreign "tough guy" nonsense without looking into the homeland mirror? How would the U.S. Homeland Security behave if something similar happened in the United States?

We can answer that question. Since 2003 all journalists from all countries who come to the U.S. must get a special and expensive visa as journalists. Even those from countries, like France or Germany, which have general visa-waver agreements with the United States. What happens when such journalists, not even on a foreign state influence contract but just for real reporting, enter the United States to do their job without a special visa?

On the weekend of May 10 and 11, six French television journalists visiting Los Angeles to cover the massive E3 video-game expo were stopped for questioning by LAX border guards, barred from entering the country, and sent back to Europe. "These journalists were treated like criminals—subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard complained in a letter ..

Now compare that to Mr. Bergantino who was not treated like a criminal, received only an administrative warning and was allowed to stay until his regular departure flight.

Which country here, Mr. Bergantino, really owns the moral high ground?

Posted by b at 02:10 PM | Comments (110)

October 17, 2014

How To Create A No-Fly Zone Over Syria

So how does one get political momentum for the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria?

Easy.

Just claim that the current boogeyman is using planes and one is free to shoot ALL planes, especially Syrian government ones, out of the sky.

Islamic State training pilots to fly in three jets -Syria monitor

Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.

The group, which has seized land in Syria and Iraq, has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.

BTW - Who's secret service is funding this Rami Abdulrahman guy?

Afterthought: Isn't the threat of an Islamic State air force a good reason for Russia to finally deliver the ordered S-300 air defense system to Syria?

Posted by b at 07:50 AM | Comments (55)

October 16, 2014

Syria: Arming Insurgents Probably Achieved Its Real Aim

CIA studies, commissioned in 2012 and 2013, found that arming "rebels" in civil wars usually fails. When such operations do somewhat work, like in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the later blowback is hard to avoid. The Obama administration leaked this story now to reject criticism against its current policies in Syria where it has given up on the Free Syrian Army and wants to create another one.

Political scientists have know for quite a while that arming "rebels" is nearly always a bad policy:

In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (..). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective.

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so? Why does it still allow Israel and Qatar to do so?

Dan Froomkin suggests that it is all about electoral politics. Not arming the "rebels" ..

.. probably would have been cast by the elite media — not to mention Fox News — as surrender, costing the Democrats another few House and Senate races.

It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.

Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

Posted by b at 11:47 AM | Comments (27)

Iran Moves Iraq And Syria Portfolio to Higher Management

Foreign Policy wonders about the new publicity the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleiman, is striving for:

Qassem Suleimani, a silver-haired Iranian spymaster Washington has long disparaged as a terrorist, has spent decades staying out of public view as he quietly worked to funnel arms and money to Iranian proxies and allies across the Middle East. Now, he's stepping into the limelight as the face of Tehran's intensifying battle with the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, photos of Suleimani on a mountaintop alongside Yazidi elders who had faced extermination at the hands of the Islamic State and shaking hands with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on battlefields in Kurdistan have been widely shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Iranian state-run media. That means the once-elusive leader of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for high-profile missions outside of Iran, is enjoying a strange form of celebrity

FP is asking "why" Suleiman is now going public but finds no answer to the question aside from pure speculations.

Suleiman was solely responsible for Iran's external relations with various "militant" groups in the Middle East including Hizbullah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine and various Iran friendly militia in Syria and Iraq. While he was successful in earlier years the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well the U.S. intervention in those countries is rather dangerous for Iran's direct security and its influence in those states.

Suleiman's portfolio has now been moved upwards. He is no longer the sole responsible man for Iran's relations to those groups but is now subordinated to a new committee (machine translated) which was formed under Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkani is the Supreme Leader's military adviser and is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Suleiman's sudden publicity is likely a kind of self-defense against his critics in the Islamic Republic: "Look here, I am doing a lot!" The rise of the Islamic State is not the only danger to Iran. The re-introduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State which U.S. allies helped to create, is the bigger problem. Suleiman, his critics say, did not foresee this and/or failed to prevent it.

The new role of Admiral Shamkhani is visible in his recent travels. He met Lebanon's Prime Minister and offered Iranian help against Sunni Jihadists in Lebanon. He also met Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He has visited Syria and held talks with the Syrian president Assad. Yesterday he received the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine and promised further help and weapons for Gaza. Shamkhani's portefolio is wider than just the contact to "militant" groups. He recently had talks with the former French foreign minister De Villepin likely about further developments in Syria.

So unlike in earlier years, when Suleiman was directly negotiating with the U.S. over Afghanistan and Iraq, Suleiman is no longer the sole person to decide over such policies. Endangered in his position he now needs to up his image in Iran and that is very likely the reason why one now seems more pictures of him in the field with various of his client groups.

[Side remark: The FP piece repeats the U.S. propaganda about Iranian origin of "explosively formed penetrators" used against U.S. troops in Iraq:

Shiite militias used advanced weapons called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to destroy American armored vehicles and kill those inside. Those weapons were almost certainly made in Iran and then given, using networks Suleimani helped establish, to Shiite fighters.

Many U.S. media have reported that these penetrators were found to be produced in various workshops in Iraq and there has never been any fact based report that traced their origin to Iran.]

Posted by b at 04:00 AM | Comments (25)

October 14, 2014

Syria: UK Still Wants "Regime Change"

The British government does not get it. There is no reasonable alternative to the current government of Syria. The Syrian National Council is a joke:

Over the weekend, the Syrian National Coalition failed to failed to agree on a prime minister during a summit in Turkey. A member of the SNC said the biggest dispute at the Istanbul meeting centred around a split between the favoured candidates of vital funders Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that those idiots should not be allowed to run Syria. Why then still go for regime change?

Britain's top diplomat says the US-led military campaign in Syria against Islamic State militants must be followed by regime change in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would help the US to stand up a proxy army in Syria that would be capable of fighting both Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and President Assad's forces.

The CIA has been building up a proxy army in Syria for three years. It has supplied it with all kinds of weapons including hundreds of anti-tank missiles. Other "allies" have supplied Chinese anti-air missiles. The CIA proxy army, the Free Syrian Army, is in disarray. It has allied itself with extreme Jihadist forces and the weapons it received have been taken by the Jihadists and have recently been used to shoot down Iraqi army helicopters.

What Hammond now at least admits is that the forces he wants to train are mercenaries. People who fight for money and not for some higher interests:

Hammond argues that regular funding is key to building a cohesive rebel force in Syria. "They will be employees. We’re not talking about training a bunch of freelancers who go off on their pick-up trucks and we never see them again," he says, noting that the FSA already has organized units that draw a regular salary.

He estimates that IS fighters are paid between $300 and $600 a month, which provides a yardstick for funding a proxy army. "The wage bill for a force built up eventually to 50,000 is not going to break the bank,” he says.

I am confident that it will be nearly impossible to find enough Syrians willing to continue to fight to fill another 50,000 men army. The war has been going on for some years and people get tired of it. And what is the difference here between employees and freelancers? Would "employee" mercenaries be more loyal to Hammond than "freelance" mercenaries? Does he think he can pay those Islamic State fighters a bit more than their Caliph pays them and they will forget about the ideology and do his bidding?

Is Hammond really that naive?

Posted by b at 01:00 PM | Comments (114)

A Somewhat Flawed Microsoft "Zero Day" Warning

ZDNet August 16, 2013: Microsoft warns Windows XP users risk 'zero day forever'

Microsoft has been beating increasingly louder the XP end-of-support drum. Earlier this summer, Microsoft gave its reseller partners marching orders to step up their warnings about the end of support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This week, Microsoft echoed that warning, adding a new twist, via an August 15 post on the Microsoft Security Blog.
...
Because a security update will never become available for XP after April 8, "Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero day' vulnerability forever," [Tim Rains, Microsoft's Director of Trustworthy Computing] said.

WaPo October 14, 2014: Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ to hack NATO, Ukraine in cyber-spy campaign

A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
...
The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability — known as a “zero-day” — in August, [iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward] said. The flaw is pres­ent in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.

This post was written and edited on a laptop running Windows XP SP3 :-)

Posted by b at 03:26 AM | Comments (27)

October 13, 2014

Saudis Dump Oil To Increase Leverage Over U.S. Middle East Policies

During the last years U.S. president Obama talked a lot about energy independence:

In his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising recent increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades.

Obama did not say that the increase in U.S. fossil fuel production was only possible because international oil and gas prices had increased above the magic $100 per barrel equivalent. Below that price shale gas and oil extraction as well as oil production from tar sands are only marginally profitable or not profitable at all.

But the "energy independence" talk allowed various experts to claim that the U.S. could now ignore the Middle East:

Clearly, the booming American oil and gas businesses are not problem-free, but the benefits -- economic, geopolitical and environmental -- of this impending energy independence far outweigh the drawbacks.

The days when Mideast oil-producing dictatorships and their friends at OPEC could so easily wave their power over a trembling, oil-thirsty West are on their way to becoming a relic of the past.

As a new world-wide recession is creeping in, consumption of fossil fuels has declined. Typically such a decline would be followed by a decline in production by major producers to keep the prices and their income somewhat stable. But that is not happening.

The Saudis and other Gulf state rulers disliked U.S. energy independence talk very much. They need to keep some leverage over U.S. policy. They now decided to end the U.S. "energy independence" talk and to push the U.S. to again do their bidding. The simple method they apply is to keep oil production high enough during a period of declining consumption to take prices lower and to thereby make new U.S. domestic production a money losing business:

[T]he [Saudi] kingdom, OPEC's largest producer, is ready to accept oil prices below $90 per barrel, and perhaps down to $80, for as long as a year or two, according to people who have been briefed on the recent conversations.

The discussions, some of which took place in New York over the past week, offer the clearest sign yet that the kingdom is setting aside its longstanding de facto strategy of holding prices at around $100 a barrel for Brent crude in favor of retaining market share in years to come.

The aim is clear. Kick producers with higher production costs than OPEC out of the market and thereby retain the global market share as well as the leverage needed to pursue the Gulf countries' political aims:

Kuwait's oil minister Ali al-Omair was quoted as saying by state news agency KUNA on Sunday that OPEC is unlikely to cut oil production in an effort to prop up prices because such a move would not necessarily be effective.

Omair said $76-$77 a barrel might be the level that would end the oil price slide, since that was the cost of oil production in the United States and Russia.

The Saudis and the other Gulf producers all have positive current account balances (pdf, Fig 3). They can easily afford lower oil prices.

U.S. shale and tar sand production costs are higher than Saudi or Russian production cost. They are the first to die when prices are kept low:

Allowing Brent to fall below $85 could slow the U.S. shale boom because some producers would lose money pumping at that price, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America, said in a report Sept. 9.
...
Curtailing the shale boom would ensure continued U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern energy, Bank of America’s Blanch said.
...
“For Saudi Arabia, I can’t see why they’d come in and manage prices unless it falls below $90,” Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB in Oslo, said by phone Sept. 10. “It benefits the Saudis to test where the limit is for U.S. shale.

OPEC’s de facto leader has the “fiscal firepower” to tolerate prices as low as $70 for two years without experiencing economic difficulties, according to Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant in London. The kingdom held reserve assets valued at $741.6 billion in July, almost double the level five years earlier, according to the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency.

This strategy will not only allow the Gulf dictators to retain their market share but the Saudis and others will use this strategy to slow down, if not stop, U.S. overtures to Iran as well as to press for U.S. enabled regime change in Syria.

Posted by b at 09:00 AM | Comments (77)

October 12, 2014

The Ebola Scare

The Ebola virus caused disease is not very contagious but relatively deadly. 40-70% of the Ebola infected people are likely to die from it. (That is not as deadly as life, mind you, as life has a total fatality rate of 100%.)

The early basic symptoms of an Ebola infection are similar to a flue. They also often occur without any infection at all. In the "western" world that is typically after the patient watched too much Ebola scare news on her favorite cable canal.

The means of infection are well known, in general body fluids of all kinds from an infected person will carry the virus. That knowledge alone will help enough to decrease the number of newly infected people as more are warned and protect themselves when caring for an infected person. The epidemic will thereby die out within a few weeks.

There is a positive aspect of the current scare. It will increase funding for research into a vaccine and it will at least lead to better treating methods.

Posted by b at 02:18 PM | Comments (80)

October 10, 2014

War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Eighteen month ago the Syrian president Assad warned that the war against Syria would also inflame neighboring countries:

“We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria,” he told Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal. “Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country’s breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria . . . then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East.”

Since then the Islamic State (aka ISIS) has taken not only east Syria but also Anbar province in Iraq where it is preparing for an attack on Baghdad International Airport and the Iraqi government in the Baghdad "Green Zone".

In cooperation with Turkey the Islamic State has laid siege on the independent Kurdish enclave Kobane in north east Syria. The city is likely to fall soon just as the Turkish government wants it to. Turkey's blockade of reinforcement and supplies for the defenders inflames the 15 million strong Kurdish population in Turkey. The fall of Kobane may well lead to an end of the peace process between Turks and Kurds and to a renewed civil war in south east Turkey. Turkey houses many refugees from Syria and is a major logistic hub for the Islamic State. Its security personal is already under influence of the Islamic State:

There are signs of an anti-Kurdish and pro-Islamist backlash with Turkish police shouting Isis slogans as they charge Kurdish demonstrators.

Cont. reading: War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Posted by b at 09:25 AM | Comments (106)

October 09, 2014

Open Thread 2014-23

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:39 PM | Comments (122)

October 08, 2014

Was Obama "Yanked" Into The New Middle East War?

There are big B1-B bombers flying over Kobane and there are U.S. friendlies' eyes on the ground telling them where to drop their bombs. There were many strikes today but the Islamic State fighters, with the help of massive car bombs, are still progressing against the Kurdish defenders.

Last night there were big demonstrations in Turkey by Kurds who demand that the border to Syria be opened to resupply the defenders in Kobane. The Erdogan regime gunned down at least 19 of the peaceful protesters. When will Obama say that Erdogan has "lost his legitimacy"?

The Erdogan regime has put a curfew on all major towns and cities in south east Turkey and deployed the military in the streets. But there are 14 million Turks of Kurdish heritage and if they rise up even the military's might will have trouble to hold them back.

Pat Lang is running a war-game about the Islamic State versus the Coalition war and the first task for the participants was to describe the current situation. One of them, Bandolero, wrote an interesting long term conspired overview over the Middle-East intrigues starting in 2001. I do not necessarily agree with it but find it thought provoking. Bandolero suggests that Obama did not want to engage in the Middle East but was dragged into it. Here is an excerpt as an appetizer:

Despite that Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq are labeled terror organisations, US partners for regime change in Syria, like the Sauds and Turkey, continued to heavily support these organisations (ISIS, Nusra Front et al) deep into 2014, because they deemed them the most effective fighters against the Syrian army, and they want regime change in Syria at any price. Israel and it's friends made clear that they agree with that policy, as they too think, better have Al Qaeda ruling in Syria than Assad. But one such Al Qaeda group, ISIS, - which is likely heavily infiltrated by Syrian, Iranian and Russian intelligence - slipped out of control of it's Saudi masters. ISIS's attack on Mosul (a megacity where Al Qaeda is very strong and deeply entrenched since many years) was planned by it's masters as a blow against the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad and coordinated with Israel's and Turkish clients in the KRG, but Tehran and Baghdad doubled down, and let it happen largely unchallenged while playing surprised. Their bet is, ISIS takeover of Mosul and some more towns in Iraq and Syria will turn against those countries interests, who fuel the sectarian insurgencies in Syria and Iraq.

Chinahand, aka Peter Lee, like Bandolero sees an unwilling Obama dragged into a war he did not want:

Given the too little too late bombing at Kobane, wonder if one of the rules is "targeting by coalition consensus only". So Turkey saying

"IS stands for 'infrastructure', doesn't it? So let's bomb some buildings!". Becoming clearer that GCC/TK want to drag US back into ME

do the dirty work of checking Shia power in Baghdad, removing Assad, and injecting the money & troops to deal with the mess they created.

& let's not forget Israel is doing its bit by working w/ JAN at the ISR/SYR border. "Want to pivot to Asia? Well, pivot to Hell!"

Hate to say it, but US looks like it's totally getting its chain yanked by GCC, Israel, and Turkey,the most brutally inept actors in ME

& this IS campaign will be quite a bloody debacle

Is Obama really unwilling, yanked on by Netanyahoo, Erdogan and the Saudis, or is this going along his own plans? Bandolero and Chinahand think the first is the case. I am not so sure.

It reminds of those Russian peasants who lamented their lot in life with the phrase: "If only the Czar knew." They believed that if the leader only knew how bad things were, something would change. But of course the Czar did know but didn't care. 

A lot of Obama voters seem to be a bit like those peasants: "If only he could". "If only he were not surrounded by those gastly other folks". "If only those damned Middle Easterners would not yank him into war".

So what is it? Was Obama "yanked" into the new Middle East war or were these his plans all along?

Posted by b at 12:43 PM | Comments (114)

October 07, 2014

Ukraine: Waiting For Jack Frost

As little new as happening in Ukraine I refrained from writing on the issue. But there still seems to be a lot of interests in the comments so please have at it.

The Minsk ceasefire is largely holding even as daily battles occurs at the Donetsk airport. There coup-government troops are holed up in the nuclear bunkers beneath the airport and resist all attacks from the federalists while other government units indiscriminately shell the city every day.

But that fight is a bit of a sideshow. The government troops have lost too much material to go on a large offense and the federalists currently lack resupplies from Russia and are thereby restricted to generally defensive positions.

Russia is for now happy with the situation. It sits comfortable and waits for its largest traditional ally, Jack Frost, to come and to squeeze the Ukrainian government into further concessions. As the Washington Post editors with weeping and gnashing of teeth remark:

Mr. Putin is on the cusp of achieving all his major objectives. In addition to Crimea, he has captured a strategic slice of territory containing up to 10 percent of Ukraine’s population, creating a “frozen conflict” that he can use to keep the rest of the country permanently destabilized. He has bluffed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the European Union into postponing the implementation of an economic-association agreement that was the original cause of the conflict. He has pushed Ukraine’s economy into a free fall likely to intensify this winter, especially if Moscow fails to deliver supplies of gas or purchase Ukraine’s goods. If the Kiev government manages to hold successful elections this month and begins to find its footing, Mr. Putin can use his Donetsk clients to restart the war whenever he wishes.

The editorial puts too much hope on the coup government and fails to mention that the Ukraine, or what is left of it, is a crumbling cookie:

Poroshenko, who represents and pleases practically no one besides his Western patrons, finds himself exceptionally isolated, being opposed on all sides and to different degrees by Pravy Sektor, pro-war provocateurs, anti-war activists, and the remaining Russian speakers. With such tense societal fractures, Ukraine seems to be living up to its name as a ‘frontier’, albeit not only one between East and West, but now of one Ukrainian against the other.

The WaPo editors demand more sanctions on Russia or at least no lifting of those already applied. But they are unlikely to have their wishes fulfilled.

There are already signs that the U.S. (and NATO) is trying to make peace with Russia. The U.S. needs Russia in many international venues. When, for example, a solution is found in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the U.S. will need Russian (and Chinese) agreement to conclude an agreement.

For now the Russian government only needs to wait for winter to come. The political fallout of the internal disunity in Kiev will then become even more apparent as will the costs the "west" will have to bear to keep Ukraine alive.

The current stalemate may not be to the liking of those fighting for Novorussiya but without Russian support and supplies they have few means to change the situation. They should now hole up for winter and prepare for a new campaign in spring.

Posted by b at 10:37 AM | Comments (280)

U.S. Finally Reacts To Islamic State Attack On Kobane

After days of doing nothing while the Islamic State fighters encroached on Kobane the U.S. finally started air strikes against IS positions. Reporters near the locations said that several IS tanks were hit.

I assume that it was becoming too awkward to keep up all the rhetoric about the "evil" of the Islamic State while the world media were standing on a hill in south Turkey looking over the border at Kobane, counting the IS tanks surrounding the city and reporting exactly zero U.S. or Turkish attacks on them.

One wonders how the Turkish president Erdogan will feel about these attacks now. He tried to use the Islamic State advance to blackmail first the Kurds in Kobane and then the United States.

His demands to the Kurdish leader of the YPG forces holding the city in exchange for some help were: 1) Cut ties with Assad 2) Join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad 3) Accept a Turkish buffer zone in Syria on your grounds 4) Stop any striving for independence 5) Do not threaten Turkey. The Kurds rejected these conditions.

Towards the United States Erdogan demanded that the U.S. should set the priority on destroying the Syrian government if it wants any Turkish help in its fight against the Islamic State. It should also install a no-fly-zone over Syria acting, like in Libya, as the insurgent's air force and it should support a Turkish buffer zone within Syria.

Especially after the recent spat between Erdogan and Biden I find it unlikely that Obama agreed to Erdogan's and believe that the air attacks today were ordered against Turkey's wishes.

How will Erdogan respond to this? The Kurds will have taken note of his behavior and the war the Kurdish PKK in Turkey waged against the state may soon become hot again. With his relations with all neighbors and now also with U.S. damaged one of Erdogan's few political successes, the peace negotiations with the Kurds, is now also in tatters. Who will he blame for this latest mistake?

After Washington dithered these attacks now come too late. While over the last week Islamic State forces were more or less out in the open around Kobane and easy targets they are now within the city and thereby much difficult to hit from the air. It is also somewhat disconcerting that the U.S. Central Command reports attacks on Kobane and Ayn al-Arab as two categories as if those were different places and not just the Kurdish and Arabic names for and the very same city.

Still - while the whole campaign against the Islamic State is likely to fail I do find it important that at least the heavy weapons it controls get destroyed before they create more suffering and damage.

Posted by b at 07:45 AM | Comments (47)

October 05, 2014

Sitrep Iraq And Syria

A situation report gathered from public and private news sources.

In north east Syria next to the Turkish border fighters from the Islamic State are besieging the Kurdish fighters of the YPG. Up until this afternoon media in Turkey could watch right across the border and see Islamic State tanks surrounding the city. Despite clearly visible and identifiable targets there were no U.S. airstrikes to fend off the IS attack and the Turkish army kept the border close.

One mortar shell, very likely fired by the Islamic State, hit a house on the Turkish side. The army then declared the area a no-go zone and started to evacuate the village on its side. Some month ago errant mortar shells fired by the Syrian army had hit some vegetable fields in Turkey. The Turks retaliated for that with artillery fire. There was no such reaction when the IS mortar hit today.

Media in the area were told to leave and while they were leaving vans with the crews from CNN and BBC were fired on with tear gas by Turkish police/troops. Two vans had their back windows broken with tear gas grenades landing inside (vid). The Turks clearly have no interest in letting the public know what is now happening in Kobane. This evening Kurdish media reported firefights within the city.

In Iraq the Islamic State today attacked Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, and took over most parts of it. The Iraqi Security Forces have allegedly left the city.

IS now controls the axis Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah and highway 1 between Baghdad and Jordan and highway 12 between Baghdad and Syria. The only significant town left between the IS controlled area west of Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) is Abu Ghraib where a quite intense IS presence has already been reported. Should IS be able to set up some of the artillery it earlier captured in Abu Ghraib it could close down BIAP and thereby make any evacuation of U.S. personal a challenge.

The U.S. today used AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to attack IS positions in Ramadi and Hit. Such helicopters are vulnerable to ground fire and would not be used unless the need is dire. The Apaches are stationed at BIAP with the sole purpose of protecting the airport.

Some U.S. paid mercenaries from the Free Syrian Army took a Syrian government position at al-Hurrah half way between the Jordan border and south Damascus. They came from a western direction where they, together with Jabhat al-Nusra, have positions next to the Golan height demarcation zone with Israel and are protected by Israeli artillery. Videos showed them using plenty of U.S. provided TOW anti-tank missiles.

A group of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters coming from the Golan zone tried to attack a Hizbullah position in east Lebanon. They were ambushed and lost some 30 fighters.

North of Aleppo the Syrian army has nearly closed the ring around Aleppo and insurgents who have occupied some parts of the city will soon be under a tight siege.

A big number of Ahrar al-Shams fighters in Aleppo province have today pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. IS will soon be the only anti-Syrian-government game in town.

Posted by b at 03:38 PM | Comments (74)

 
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