Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 30, 2012

Democratic Possibilities

According to Stephanie Speirs, director for Yemen at the National Security Council 2011-12, "Yemen is now a model for democratic possibilities."

Ballot of the February 21 2012 election in Yemen. One candidate, no "No" vote.

Such are the democratic possibilities the Obama administration wants everyone to have.

Posted by b on November 30, 2012 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

November 28, 2012

Egypt: Still Time For Compromises?

Thanks for the good discussion in the previous Egypt thread. Arnold Evans, with whom I usually agree, has a different take on the situation there than I have.

When one looks at the history of this revolution it was the Brotherhood that came late to it. It was the Brotherhood that promised not to go for the Presidency and not to go for a majority of the parliament. They broke both of those and several other of their promises. They can not be trusted to do what they say.

Morsi was elected with some 51% of the 50% of the Egyptian electorate that voted. That is not what I would call a clear mandate. It is at maximum a caretaker position. But that wasn't enough for him. With the power in the parliament the MB stuffed the constitutional assembly with its own people and ignored the opposition. Some of  yesterday's protesters had voted for Morsi but are now dissatisfied with them. I doubt that the MB and Morsi still have a majority of Egyptians behind them.

A constitution must reflect the whole of the electorate, not just the majority party. The purpose of a democratic constitution is to protect the minority from the dictatorship of the majority. But everyone but the MB and the Salafists has by now left the constitutional assembly because all their attempts for compromises and to make it inclusive were voted down.

When Morsi declared himself an incontestable pharaoh he also moved the deadline for the writing of the new constitution two month into the future. Today the MB declared that the constitution draft would be ready tonight and would be immediately put up for a vote. That is not a reasonable political process.

There were and still are much better ways to do this. After the downfall of Suharto in Indonesia the constitution was changed bit by bit in a long process. The attempt in Egypt to create a completely new one while riding on a roller coaster of political and economic upheaval is unlikely to go well.

The Egyptian president is supposed to be non-partisan. But while Morsi has officially left the Brotherhood his policies are exclusively the Brotherhood policies. Are we really to believe that this is what his voters wanted? Or did they want some figure they could trust to lead the political process to bring Egypt forward towards a stable state?

The alternative to Morsi is not the return of a dictatorial SCAF. Neither the U.S. nor the military believe that that could be done without igniting a civil war. (Thanks to Libya the Brotherhood cells are by now well armed.) The alternative to a partisan Morsi is an inclusive Morsi.

As Nathan Brown writes:

[W]hile the crisis is not fully a product of the actors’ intentions, Egyptians will not find a path forward unless their leaders find within themselves an intention to resolve their differences through compromise. The constitutional process is badly broken, but it can still be repaired.

The opposition can find a set of demands that is not predicated on denying Islamists the fruits of electoral victory or bringing the president down. The president can back down on parts of last week’s dictatorial moves.

The basic elements of compromise have not been destroyed — yet.

The Brotherhood announced a demonstration of its followers on Saturday. It plans to have this at Tahrir square where yesterday a hundred thousand protested against Morsi and where some of those protesters are still camping out. Should the two groups meet the situation could become bloody very fast. The "elements of compromise" would than likely be destroyed.

The Brotherhood should step back, avoid the danger of a blood conflict and go for a real democracy. If it is so convinced of having a majority behind it why does it want to rush a process that will define and guide Egypt through the next decades?

Morsi's priority now should be to get a new parliament elected. The constitution should be left alone until that parliament is well seated and has defined its working procedures. It could then task an inclusive group of notable people as constitutional assembly to write a new constitution in which each article is compromised on until it receives at least a two-third majority of the constitutional assembly. The constitutional draft should then be voted on by all until one is found that a super-majority of the people can agree on.

Only an inclusive solution can guarantee Egypt's stability.

Posted by b on November 28, 2012 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (107)

November 27, 2012

Media Whitewash Morsi's Dictatorial Powergrab

When the Egyptian president Morsi gave himself dictatorial powers I suggested that:
We will not hear a word of protest over this from the White House. Just imagine an Egypt where the government would have to implement what the Egyptian people want. The horrors. Much nicer than to have a new dictator, even a religious one, to implement Washington's policies.
With his negotiation of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Morsi had just proven that his foreign policy is very much in line with western wishes and unchanged from Mubarak times.

We therefore have heard nothing from the White House or other western governments that puts pressure on Morsi to retract his edicts. What we get instead is an attempt by some leading western media to whitewash the dictatorial powergrab by suggesting that Morsi has somewhat backtracked on it.

None of that is true. Morsi spokesperson made it clear that nothing, that is zero, changed in his declaration:

Egypt's President is sticking by a controversial decree granting him sweeping powers, on the eve of planned nationwide rallies to protest the move.

There is 'no change to the constitutional declaration', presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters, after a meeting on Monday between Morsi and the country's top judges aimed at defusing the dispute.

Unlike what some media suggest there was no change in Morsi's position. That he would continue in his dictatorial stage was also obvious when yesterday Mursi changed the professional union code to allow himself to stack union leader positions with Muslim Brotherhood people:
According to the new law, the manpower minister, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, may appoint workers who are members of the group in leadership positions that would become vacant in the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which has always been affiliated with the government.
It also grants the minister the right to appoint board members of unions if the minimum required number of members is not attained for any reason, to fill the vacant seats on the board.

Labour activists fear the law paves the way for Brotherhood control of the federation.

The unions and the striking workers, especially in the northern port cities, were very much part of the movement that brought Mubarak down. Stacking the union boards is an attempt by the bourgeois Muslim Brotherhood to get the workers under their control.

But none of pieces with the misleading headlines about the alleged "compromise" mentions the union coup. As long as Morsi is keeping in line with western foreign policy and even supports the general anti-worker globalization agenda he will be lauded to the hilt. It will not matter that he is dictatorial, that his police continues to torture or that the Brotherhood elite will defraud the country.

All the western talk about democracy and human rights is again proven to be just hot air and the western media is again very much in line with that scam.

There are again huge protests in Cairo's Tahrir square and people are again calling for the downfall of the regime. Only this time they will get no support from the Brotherhood friendly Al Jazeerah and from those western media that are whitewashing the new dictatorship.

Posted by b on November 27, 2012 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (97)

November 24, 2012

Open Thread 2012-30

Found nothing I'd like to write about so this one is for your news & views.

Posted by b on November 24, 2012 at 01:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (161)

November 22, 2012

Morsy Issues Constitutional Decree - Declares Himself Pharaoh

The New York Times has a fawning story about the new relation between Obama and Egypt's president Morsi:
As he and Mr. Morsi talked, Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection. Three hours later, at 2:30 in the morning, they talked again.

The cease-fire brokered between Israel and Hamas on Wednesday was the official unveiling of this unlikely new geopolitical partnership, one with bracing potential if not a fair measure of risk for both men. After a rocky start to their relationship, Mr. Obama has decided to invest heavily in the leader whose election caused concern because of his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in him an intermediary who might help make progress in the Middle East beyond the current crisis in Gaza.

Having established his credentials with the colonial overlord Morsi immediately felt free to also establish his credentials as the new dictator of Egypt:
President Mohamed Morsi's Thursday decree announced that all decisions, laws and declarations passed by the president since taking office cannot be appealed or revoked by any authority, including the judiciary.
Mursi also gave himself the power to take any decision to "protect the revolution."

We will not hear a word of protest over this from the White House. Just imagine an Egypt where the government would have to implement what the Egyptian people want. The horrors. Much nicer than to have a new dictator, even a religious one, to implement Washington's policies.

The Egyptian revolution has failed. It will now devour its children.

Posted by b on November 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (100)

November 21, 2012

A Maybe Ceasefire

After 150 people were killed dead and $1 billion in damages some kind of a Gaza ceasefire will be in place at 9pm local time. We have yet to see if it holds. Just a week ago Egypt had brokered a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas only to see it sabotaged when Israel killed Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari and started the current conflagration.

This ceasefire comes after Hillary Clinton managed to broker a deal between two intractable foes, Bibi Netanyahoo and Ehud Barak who until today differed over a ceasefire agreement.

It is not yet clear what has been agreed on but a first phase of quiet. What about the Israeli blockade of Gaza? What has Egypt agreed to with regard to its border with Gaza? Will it hinder the restocking of Hamas' armament which will, as nothing was settled, be needed for the inevitable next round?

What was promised to other groups in Gaza who would probably like to continue the fight? And what did Obama promise to get Netanyahoo to agree to this ceasefire?

There is also the inevitable question of "Who has won and who has lost?" The parties will not have agreed on an answer to that question. What do you think is the answer to that question?

Posted by b on November 21, 2012 at 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

November 19, 2012

Gaza: Ceasefire Conditions And Interests

According to the BBC's Paul Danahar the Israeli conditions for a ceasefire in Gaza are:
  1. No hostile fire of any kind to come from Gaza into Israel including smalls arms fire at Israeli troops near the border
  2. Hamas fighters must be stopped from traveling to the Sinai to carry out attacks against Israel at the Sinai/Israel border
  3. Hamas must not be able to rearm - International and regional actors needed for this
  4. A ceasefire must not simple be a "time-out" for Hamas, it must be an extended period of quiet for Southern Israel

Israel wants Egypt to play a "key role" in this, guaranteeing the points 2 and 3. That is just another of many attempt of dumping its Gaza problem onto Egypt. Morsi would be crazy to agree to that. There will thereby be no guarantees.

According to an U.S. official Israel also wants the Hamas official "in charge of guns" in Gaza to guarantee the ceasefire. That is a great idea but Israel killed the most able guy, Ahmed al-Jaabari, capable of not only controlling Hamas but also the other fighting groups, right at the beginning of its new war on Gaza. That has significantly reduced the chances for a long term ceasefire. There will be promises from other groups to hold fire but there can again be no guarantees.

Hamas has, of course, also demands. It wants guarantees that:

  1. Israel stops its bombardments,
  2. promises not to enter Gaza,
  3. ends targeted assassinations and
  4. lifts its economic blockade of the Gaza strip.

Whatever the outcome no one, not even the U.S, could guarantee Israel's promises and Hamas certainly knows that Israeli promises are usually not worth the paper they are written on.

But these are now the opening position to what looks likely to become protracted negotiations.

Netanyahoo wants to win the demanded concessions solely by continuing the air war, bombing this or that house of some Hamas functionary or another police station into rubble. In principle Israel could continue to do so for weeks. But after more than 1,400 strikes on Gaza all obvious targets on its list have already been hit. What is it going to bomb next if not civil infrastructure and the civil population?

Netanyahoo, as well his allies in Washington and London, fears a ground war in Gaza. His troops would likely get bogged down in urban guerrilla fighting and would take losses from the new arms Hamas acquired from Libya and elsewhere. Public opinion in Israel would turn against Netanyahoo should any invasion of Gaza end up with high casualty rates on the Israeli side.

But if Israel continues the bombing the pressure from the outside to end the war will increase. There are this time many more journalists in Gaza than there were in 2008. Detailed news and pictures of each and every civilian killed is getting out and with each of them Israel's position in the court of world opinion will sink further.

The bombing campaign has a time limit and a ground war is too dangerous. Those are the weaknesses of Netanyahoo's position.

Hamas knows those weaknesses. As longer it holds off a ceasefire while continuing to fire some rockets into Israel the better its negotiation position will become. It will probably try to goad Netanyahoo into a ground war. One rocket hit with a high Israeli causality rate might be sufficient to achieve that. After such a hit public pressure, especially from the right, to go "all in" would increase. At some point Netanyahoo might have no other way to end the stalemate but by committing more forces. Hamas is likely well prepared for that moment.

As long as Hamas keeps its fighting spirit and does not give in to appeasement pressure from Qatar and other U.S. clients it has a good chance of - in the end - coming away stronger while seeing Netanyahoo weakened.

Posted by b on November 19, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

November 18, 2012

"Positively Identified" Journalists Attacked

Israel hits 2 Gaza media HQs, 6 journalists injured
The Al-Shawa building, struck in the early hours, houses a number of media organizations, including Ma'an News Agency's headquarters in the Gaza Strip.

A Ma'an correspondent said the impact was focused on the eleventh floor, where the office of al-Quds TV is located.

Six journalists were moderately injured, five of whom were identified as Darwish Bulbul, Ibrahim Labed, Muhammad al-Akhras and Hazem al-Daour, all al-Quds TV employees.
A second Israeli airstrike around 7 a.m. hit a second media complex in Gaza City , the al-Shuruq building.

Sky News Arabia and Al-Arabiya reported that their offices have been affected.

Shortly after the above happened:


The sites that we targeted overnight were all positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of months.

Posted by b on November 18, 2012 at 02:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (69)

November 17, 2012

The IDF's Stupid Hasbara

Really stupid hasbara is ...

... bragging about ones own missile strike while using the hashtag #stoptherockets.

h/t bungdan

Posted by b on November 17, 2012 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (31)

November 16, 2012

Gaza: Fiction And Facts

Wall Street Journal
Israel Mobilizes Troops as Hostilities Escalate
After nearly four years of calm along the Gaza border, Palestinian militants have slowly stepped up their mortar and rocket attacks on Israel in recent months.
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 OCTOBER - 6 NOVEMBER 2012 - Gaza Strip
Palestinian casualties by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip:
Killed this week: 1
Killed in 2012: 71
Killed in 2011: 108
Injured this week: 1
Injured in 2012: 291
Injured in 2011: 468
Israeli casualties by Palestinian fire from Gaza
Injured this week: 3
Injured in 2012: 19

Posted by b on November 16, 2012 at 02:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (66)

November 15, 2012

Open Thread 2012-29

News & views ...

Posted by b on November 15, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (51)

Kooks Fighting Each Other

The Israeli defense force changed the name of its attack on Gaza likely to somewhat hide its theological background.

The attack began with the assassination of Ahmed al-Jaabari, the leader of the military arm of Hamas, the al-Qassam brigade. This start, as usual during a ceasefire, makes it more unlikely that this war on Gaza will end soon. Al-Jaffari was somewhat Israel's subcontractor because he was "in charge of maintaining Israel's security in Gaza". Shortly before he was killed he had received the draft for a long term truce with Israel. He was probably the only one who could and would influence other militant factions in Gaza and thereby guarantee a ceasefire and peace. Killing him while negotiating a truce with is a sign of fanaticism and not of rational thought.

The Israeli operations name was first announced in Hebrew as "Pillar of Cloud" which the general sense is a "Shekhinah" - the visible symbol of the divine presence - which occurs several times in the Exodus, the saga in which the Israelite flee from Egypt. In this case there is a more specific interpretation:

As a couple representative verses from Exodus 14:20-21 state:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.

The midrash on this section—which is cited by Rashi, the most famous Jewish biblical commentator, and taught in many Hebrew schools—elaborates:

They [the Egyptians] shot arrows and catapult stones at them, but the angel and cloud caught them.

About an hour after the "pillar of cloud" name was announced the IDF spokesperson on Twitter started to use a different name, "pillar of defense", as a hashtag in its English tweets. That name is now used in most "western" media.

The question is why? Maybe the IDF believes that most "westerners" would think the Isrelis are kooks for believing in fairytale of pillars of cloud as some divine defense. The IDF would be right about that:

So that's what a Pillar of Cloud is: A worldly instantiation of an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies. And that's what the people who conceived and executed this wave of strikes against Hamas officials and Gazan civilians chose to call them. If anyone was worried about the increasing religious and ethnic fanaticism of the Israeli leadership, they should still be worried. Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security? Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?
Pillar of defense just sounds more reasonable to the secular ear and hides the nasty Israeli racism and fanaticism that is behind this attack.

The whole Exodus story of god coming as a pillar of cloud and, at night, a pillar of fire to lead the Jews out of Egypt is of course a myth. In reality it was the Satorinoi volcano eruption 1500 BC that let smoke and at night fire appear on the horizon.

Not to be outdone in kookiness the Al Qassam brigade named its missile fire against the Israelis "Operation Shale Stone" in reference to the Quran sura 105.4:

Have you not considered, [O Muhammad], how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their plan into misguidance? And He sent against them birds in flocks, Striking them with stones of hard clay, And He made them like eaten straw.
The interpretation:
In this famous chapter, Allah, Most High, bequeathed the Ka’bah to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and in presenting the story of the companions of the elephant, He prophesied his success, help and victory.

That is, whatever plans and preparations the enemies made and whatever practical stratagems they brought in order to demolish the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) entire mission, Allah, Most High, in order to annihilate them, made their very plans and efforts work against them. As such, as the birds destroyed the owner of the elephant, so too, this prophecy will endure till the Day of Resurrection. Whenever any owners of the elephant arise, in order to destroy them, Allah, Most High, always makes the necessary arrangements to demolish their efforts.

To use this sura for a fight against a Jewish army is historically mistaken. The "companions of the elephant" were Yemeni under the Christian king Abraha who in 570 AD, year that Muhammed was born, wanted to destroy the Kaabah in Mecca to get more pilgrims to his new build cathedral in Sana and was defeated without achieving his goal.

Using religious fairy tales as motivations or justification for wars is a guarantee that the fighting will be more brutal, savaging and deadly than needed while it hides the usually rather secular aims that those who start such wars in reality have. Both sides should do away with this nonsense.

The twitter streams of @IDFspokesperson and @AlqassamBrigade are documented on Storify.

Posted by b on November 15, 2012 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

November 14, 2012

Another War On Gaza

It is election season in the worlds most militarized state and Netanyahoo therefore does what his voters like him to do - killing Palestinians:
Israel killed the military commander of Hamas in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip Wednesday, bringing the two sides to the brink of a possible new war.

The attack came despite signs that Egypt had managed to broker a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants after a five day surge of violence which saw more than 100 missiles fired out of Gaza and repeated Israeli strikes on the enclave.

Additionally to the military commander a police station and other targets have been bombed. A second wave of strikes is ongoing as I write. The Izzis have given the operation a name, "Cloud Pillar" or something like that, which means that this will be longer operation and another war on Gaza.

If Egypt were still under Mubarak I would expect that the slaughter would end after about thousand death and nothing would have changed. Unless Israel fully occupies the Gaza strip there would be no lasting strategic effect.

But Egypt now has a government that is has to, at least somewhat, answer to its voters. There will soon be new parliamentary elections in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood is in a political competion with forces on the left and on the right. Seeing their brokering of a truce sabotaged by Israel and under internal political pressure the Morsi government will have to do more than to just stand by and watch.

The situation is also different with regard to other players. Hamas has support from Turkey and Qatar. Jordan is very weak as is the Abbas regime in the West Bank. Both could fall.

This war on Gaza could thereby have strategic effects which would likely be of the kind that Netanyahoo voters will not like.

Posted by b on November 14, 2012 at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (70)

The Predator State

fiscal cliff (fskl  klf) 

bipartisan rethorical political device to

  1.  cut social safety nets
  2.  enrich the elite of the predator state
Instead of just jumping over the fake cliff as his voters would certainly prefer Obama will use it to pay back the billion dollar he borrowed from the predators to finance his reelection.

Posted by b on November 14, 2012 at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Symptoms Of Decline

Joshua Foust thankfully takes down the Petraeus cult and deserves to be quoted at length:
General Petraeus had a reputation his record simply could not support. It would be difficult to say Iraq was noticeably improved by his presence – certainly before 2006, but also during the Surge (which produced only a temporary cessation in the incredible violence). At CENTCOM (United States Central Command, where he was Director from 2008-2010), he oversaw the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, which has been a humiliating disaster. Additionally, his protégé, Stanley McChrystal, made a mockery of civil-military relations and was summarily fired. As ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) commander, Petraeus oversaw a dramatic rise in violence in Afghanistan, the adoption of “night raids” and a complete breakdown of relations between Kabul and Washington. And at the CIA, he has pushed the final transformation of an agency known more for its human element into a paramilitary engine of assassination – leaving a huge gaping hole where the country’s human intelligence capabilities used to be.

This is not a man who should be drummed out of office for having an affair. He should have been drummed out of office for not living up to his own legend. David Petraeus is a paper tiger: his personality cult looks impressive until you get close enough, and then the whole façade crumbles away.

That Petraeus could rise through the ranks as he did and could keep up the façade is only one sign of the dysfunction of the U.S. military and the associated political-industrial complex. Here is another such sign neatly expressed in one side sentence in a piece about the Asia pivot (itself a result of dysfunctional strategic thought):
Doubts persist among lawmakers and naval experts about the maneuverable and relatively small littoral combat ship, which is not designed to operate in a combat environment.

The biggest symptom of its dysfunction is the loss of two very expensive wars against minor enemies during the last decade.

A brown nosing, narcissistic but incapable officer corps, "combat ships" not designed for combat and a military not capable to win wars are sure signs of a decline in U.S. power. Unless the U.S. political elite goes through some upheaval and completely rethinks its approach to military force the U.S. will certainly lose more wars and accelerate its own decline.

The rest of the world will not be too unhappy with that. Unfortunately though even a dysfunctional military and a declining power can still create massive damage.

Posted by b on November 14, 2012 at 07:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

November 13, 2012

Imagination Test

What are they saying?


Posted by b on November 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

November 12, 2012

A Black-Hole Prison in Benghazi

As the Petraeus "All In" affair continues to unfold new revelations about the attack in Benghazi are the most interesting parts of it.

On October 26 Petraeus lover Paula Broadwell gave a talk (video) at an alumni symposium. She pointed out that three Libyans were held at the CIA "annex" compound in Benghazi and that this was probably the reason why it was attacked. That was know due to a Foxnews report that was published earlier that day:

According to a source on the ground at the time of the attack, the team inside the CIA annex had captured three Libyan attackers and was forced to hand them over to the Libyans.
Foxnews now stupidly asks if that Broadwell speech may have revealed classified information. But as Broadwell refereed to "the facts that came out today" she obviously had read the Foxnews report and just repeated its claims.

But there is a new much more important issue buried in today's Foxnews report:

A well-placed Washington source confirms to Fox News that there were Libyan militiamen being held at the CIA annex in Benghazi and that their presence was being looked at as a possible motive for the staged attack on the consulate and annex that night.

According to multiple intelligence sources who have served in Benghazi, there were more than just Libyan militia members who were held and interrogated by CIA contractors at the CIA annex in the days prior to the attack. Other prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East were brought to this location.

The Libya annex was the largest CIA station in North Africa, and two weeks prior to the attack, the CIA was preparing to shut it down. Most prisoners, according to British and American intelligence sources, had been moved two weeks earlier.

The CIA compound in Benghazi was a black-hole prison the CIA was supposed to close. The CIA somewhat denies that it held prisoners there:
The CIA, though, categorically denied these allegations, saying: “The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.”
The CIA is correct in that the Executive Order 13491 (pdf) denies it detention authority:
Sec. 4. (a) CIA Detention. The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.
But the CIA denial is irrelevant. The people who talked to Foxnews are claiming that prisoners were "held and interrogated by CIA contractors", not by the CIA itself. The Executive Order only refers to the CIA, not to the military. We know that "former" special operation soldiers were operating from the "annex". How much "former" these are is a yet unknown. The drone that came to observe the situation as the annex was attacked was operated by the military for observation of some alleged militant training camps near Benghazi. Also unknown is which "contractors" the CIA hired for that dirty part of the business it is no longer allowed to do itself.

We do know that U.S. Special Forces are involved in lot of secret operations in northern Africa. For example on April 20 three Special Force soldiers accompanied by three Moroccan prostitutes died in a traffic accident in Mali.

What the men were doing in the impoverished country of Mali, and why they were still there a month after the United States suspended military relations with its government, is at the crux of a mystery that officials have not fully explained even 10 weeks later.

If that Foxnews report gets confirmed it seems that the CIA station in Benghazi was not only involved in weapons transfers to Syrian insurgents but was also part of some combined operation with Special Forces in which contractors were used to do detention and interrogation "stuff" that the CIA and maybe even the special forces are no longer allowed to do.Are there more such prisons and to which one were the people who were held in Benghazi transferred to? The CIA prison in Somalia?

The prison and the questions it opens is of course something the Obama administration would have wanted to hide before the election and would explain its laughable "that Mohammed video made them do it" claims.

Posted by b on November 12, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

Syria: The New Coalition For Further Destruction

Last week the Syrian National Council elected a Christian, George Sabra, as its leader to somewhat disguise that it is still under control of the Muslim Brotherhood.
[T]he Brotherhood secured 23 seats out of 41 seats for the general secretariat of the Syrian National Council.
The new SNC leader called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict - not:
"We need only one thing to support our right to survive and to protect ourselves: We need weapons, we need weapons," Sabra told reporters after the vote.
Under pressure from the U.S., which wants a more compliant puppet than the SNC, and under advice from the Qatari paid Brookings Doha, the SNC then agreed to join with some other opposition groups that were hand selected by U.S. government.

This created a new monster, the "Syrian National Coalition for the Forces of the Opposition and the Revolution". While the SNC was at least disguising its sectarian stand the new SNCFOR is again lead by someone who will likely not be acceptable for the minorities:

The group’s new leader, Moaz al Khatib, who had served as the imam at the historic Umayyad mosque in Damascus until he left the Syrian capital in July. [...] Khatib is said to have the support of municipal councils in rebel-held areas. He also has the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
(Would a Cardinal Ratzinger really be a good choice to lead a secular protestant Prussia?)

One difference between Sabra and Khatib is a noticeable change in their demands:

In his first remarks as head of the new organization, Khatib said Syrians “need humanitarian aid and to stop the bloodshed.” He avoided calling for arming the Syrian resistance.
That remark is consistent with the calls by the U.S. for a "political solution" in Syria. It would fit my hunch that the purpose of this new group is to allow for negotiations and for regime-led change in Syria.

But the new group smelled the rat:

Some of the last holdouts said they suspected that the agreement was a sly way for the international community to negotiate with Mr. Assad about a transition to a new government. So one clause in the agreement specifically bars such talks.
The agreement, translated to English here, that led to the creation of the new SNCFOR is quite interesting. It does not allow for any compromise:
  1. The invitation extended by the State of Qatar in coordination with the Arab League bore fruit when the Syrian National Council and the other opposition groups attending this meeting agreed to form the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Membership in the new body will be left open to all hues of the Syrian opposition. The Coalition’s Statutes shall make clear each side’s proportion of representation.
  2. The sides agreed to bring down the regime and all its symbols and mainstays, to disband the regime’s security services and to call to account those responsible for crimes against Syrians.
  3. The Coalition commits not to engage in any dialogue or negotiation with the regime.
  4. [...]

If this coalition would actually get to power and would adhere to its point two, Syria would go through the same anarchic chaos as Iraq did after Paul Bremer abandoned the Baath party and all Iraqi security forces.

At least one independent opposition group in Syria has rejected the new coalition:

“We think that any brokers of opposition unity should be neutral. Right now international players are pulling the opposition apart by sponsoring certain groups over others."

The Kurdish minority as also not yet agreed to the new coalition.

It is also likely that this new coalition, like the SNC before it, will destroy itself in endless bickering. Its founding agreement leaves several important points open to further negotiations:

  • The Coalition’s Statutes that will regulate each side’s proportion of representation. (1)
  • The set up of technical and specialized committees required for its work, their number and the modalities of their establishment and duties. (7)
  • An Interim Government to be formed only after receiving international recognition. (8)

With all the pressure and haggling that was needed to create the new coalition in the first place the process getting to the further more detailed agreements will likely very be ugly and take very long.

Additionally it is yet unknown if any of the insurgents groups who are fighting on the ground will follow the command or policies of the new body. That seems unlikely. Especially the Jihadi groups receive their weapons and money from Saudi and Qatari sources independently. Unless these sources dry up they will see no need to agree to any political leadership.

The end of the conflict depends on the United States and on Israel. Washington has the power to end the conflict simply by telling Turkey and Jordan to close their borders for to the insurgents and their logistic support. It can pressure Saudi Arabia and Qatar to end their support. But that is not yet in the U.S. and Israeli interest nor is their interest to intervene. As the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and negotiator with Syria Itamar Rabinovich sees it:

I don't think Israel pushes for intervention. The policy is very passive. When you don't have great choices, you don't really push hard for any of them. If Israel was told that Assad was going to be replaced by a liberal, Westward-looking government, you know, it would be quite happy. But this is not a very likely scenario. The more likely scenario is instability, maybe fragmentation, maybe chaos, maybe Islamist takeover -there are lots of negative possibilities here. So I would say it is ambivalent, with a slight preference to see him go than to see him stay.
I do believe that Israel's real preference is different. To avoid uncertainty it would like Assad to stay, but it wants, which it cannot say publicly, a much weaker Syrian state that will then no longer be able to resist to Israeli pressure.

As written here earlier:

Destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria is [the insurgents] and their supporters aim.
The leading men on the ground now recognize this:
"When the revolutionaries get stronger, and start to best the government, the international community stops weapons being sent.

"Then when the revolutionaries become weak, more support arrives. When you look at what's happened, at the support starting and stopping, you realise it is arranged so as to leave Syria in chaos, rather than to bring about change."

A some point Israel and the U.S. may fear that more destruction would lead to too much chaos. At that point they may stop their support for the insurgency. let it die on the battlefield and negotiate with Assad.

Posted by b on November 12, 2012 at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

November 10, 2012

When Did The Pentagon Know About Benghazi?

Did the editor at the very recommendable Al-Akhbar read the piece s/he headline?

It is just a Reuters piece but headlined by Al-Akhbar as: Pentagon knew of Sept.11 Benghazi attack before it began. Before??? Before!!!

Yes, but before we jump into conspiracy theories let's read the first lines:

Pentagon leaders knew of the Sept. 11 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi an hour after it began, but were unable to mobilize reinforcements based in Europe in time to prevent the death of the US ambassador, according to a timeline released on Friday.


Puh. So after reading that we can be assured that everything that the government said to have happened in Benghazi really happened the way we are told it did. BTW - The original Reuters piece at the Reuters Canada site is headlined Pentagon releases Benghazi timeline, defends response.

Al-Akhbar only changed the headline but either the editor did a poor job or those folks put this up as a hint that they know something we do not yet know.

Any speculation what that might be? And how does this fit with the timing of Petraeus' resignation over the "All In" biographical research Paula Broadwell did in "The Education of David Petraeus"?

Posted by b on November 10, 2012 at 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

Petraeus' Fall - Late But Welcome Justice

So Petraeus got caught screwing with his dishonest hagiographer Paula Broadwell and had to resign. (My hunch is that there is much more behind this story but it will take a while until we learn about that.) 

Petraeus was responsible for many horrible things done in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. On example is the liberation of Tarok Kolachie in Arghandab River Valley. Paula Broadwell described the destruction of such villages, and other Petraeus crimes. She was callous towards the victims and flattering to the perpetrators. Another Petraeus adulator and buffoon, Tom Ricks, published her. He also should, together Petraeus and Broadwell, go down in flames.

Before liberation

After liberation

Joshua Foust, no bleeding heart himself, wrote at that time:

I cannot comprehend why the deliberate destruction of villages seems to be an official, sanctioned ISAF policy in the South. Is is abhorrent, an atrocity, and there is no excuse for it (nor are there words for the anger it’s stirred in me, reading about it from afar; I suspect Broadwell would sniff at me to stop whining as well, were we to discuss it in person). This should outrage and infuriate everyone who reads about it. But, and this is where I move from rage to despair: how could we ever possibly hope to stop it?
Removing the perpetrators from their position is the only way to stop such atrocities. Petraeus' and Broadwell's fall is late but welcome justice.

Posted by b on November 10, 2012 at 01:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (47)

November 09, 2012

Pentagon Admits Violation Of Iranian Airspace - Or Not

From the Washington Post report on the U.S. drone that Iranian jets chased away with some warning shots:
The MQ-1 Predator drone returned to its base unscathed, even as the Iranian aircraft chased it away from the Islamic Republic’s borders, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday, disclosing details of an incident that the Obama administration chose to keep quiet during the final stretch of the presidential campaign.
An Iranian Su-25 fighter jet pursued the U.S. drone as it retreated from Iranian airspace, the spokesman said.
I find it somewhat relieving that the Pentagon actually admits that its drone violated Iranian airspace. It is somewhat disturbing though that other reports do not mention this. They indeed say the opposite:
“Our aircraft was never in Iranian airspace,” Mr. Little said. “It was always flying in international airspace.”
In the DoD news briefing Little repeated that line at least four times.

So I wonder where the WaPo writer, Ernesto Londoño, picked up the "retreated from Iranian airspace" detail.

It may well be that Londoño is correct. The international borders in the area east of Kuwait are not well defined, neither on land nor at sea. The three countries have never agreed on any of them. Cyrus Safardi reminds us of an incident in 2007 when Iranians plucked a British patrol from the sea:

At the time the UK govt claimed repeatedly that the Marines had been captured inside Iraqi waters. The London Times reported, a year after the event, that the Brits had simply decided to draw their own boundary lines, without telling anyone else.
The Pentagon may be doing the same here. If the ownership of various islands and the borders between Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, especially at sea, are disputed how then can the Pentagon claim that the drone was exactly 16 miles away from Iranian territory and 4 miles away from Iran's sovereign 12 mile zone?

Iran has confirmed the incident but did not say anything about where it happened.

Posted by b on November 9, 2012 at 07:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (53)

November 08, 2012

Syria: From Regime Change To Regime-Led Change

Some tweets I collected during the day.

Sam Dagher Wall Street Journal

#Syria opposition leader tells @malas_n US diplomats told him: Forget no-fly zone, forget mil intervention, forget US will provide u w/ arms
Andrew Hammond Reuters
#Qatar PM, #turkey FM appealed in closed sessions for #syria opposition to unite but seems only a fig-leaf 'agreement' will emerge at most
Basma Al Jazeera English
The Turkish foreigh minister just walked out of the meeting in Doha and refused to give any statement
Shadi Hammid Brookings Doha
Just bumped into someone who just left the Doha #Syria talks. He had a look of resignation. "Its a mess," he said.
Blake Hounshell Foreign Policy
It's almost like the Obama administration deliberately sabotaged its own initiative #Syria

Could that indeed be intended?

No, Hounshell gets that wrong.

Yes, the U.S. does want to kill the SNC. But that is necessary to create a viable Syrian opposition that allows for a political solution for the situation in Syria. Largely because of Libya the aim and plan of the U.S. has changed from regime change in Syria to regime-led change.

Clinton made clear that she thinks the SNC is worthless. She used quite undiplomatic language to express her disdain about their disunity. The SNC reacted to that by including some more groups and by electing a new executive committee:

Syria's main opposition bloc elected an all-male leadership team early Thursday, undermining its own bid to showcase itself as a more diverse group that can represent all those trying to oust President Bashar Assad.

With 42 members the new executive committee includes 0 women, 0 Christians and 0 people from other Syrian minorities. It is still an exclusive Muslim Brotherhood shop. I doubt that this will win them Hillary's support.

The current SNC is adamant against a compromise solution in Syria in which president Assad keeps his job at least until the next Syrian presidential election. But for Russia and China keeping Assad will be the only acceptable political solution. Rejecting pressure from Britain, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies for the use of force the U.S. now also seems to want such a solution:

Another Syrian National Council official at the talks said [U.S. ambassador] Ford had emphasized that Washington is seeking a “political solution” to the 20-month-long national uprising.

Washington is no longer following the Brookings Doha Center advice. Shadi Hamid, the Brookings Doha man, is furious about this. He wants a military intervention and his most important issue now is to further arm the rebels. That is understandable for two reasons. The rebels can no longer hold ground and had to revert to terror tactics because they did not follow the steps of guerrilla warfare. They are likely to fail and the false hope is that more weapons would help them.

The other reason is money. Brookings Doha Center is a paid piper for the Emir of Qatar. Its director Salman Shaikh was: "Director for Policy and Research to Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the Consort of the Emir of Qatar". The center is largely financed by Qatar and: "The Brookings Doha Center International Advisory Council is co-chaired by H.E. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the State of Qatar."

What the Brookings Doha people now express shows a serious break between the U.S. and Qatar.

Qatar wants an armed overthrow of the Syrian government. It wants regime change at any price. It does not care about the day after. In principle the U.S. is not against a forceful regime change BUT, and that is big but, it wants to know, and if possible control, what happens after the overthrow. It does not want another Middle East war with U.S. troops on the ground and it does not want uncontrolled Syrian chemical weapons flowing around.

The experience from Iraq, and especially the fresh and personal experience from Libya, is that there needs to be a viable plan for the day after. One dead ambassador is enough. No one, including the SNC, Qatar or Brookings Doha, has a viable plan for Syria the day after Assad is gone. Any day after scenario the U.S. can now accept requires to keep the Syrian state intact. That requires an opposition that will accept a temporary continuation of Assad's rule.

As the unofficial spokesperson David Ignatius explained today:

What does [Obama] want to accomplish? My list: [...] a deal for a political transition in Syria (a shorthand Syria summary would be to organize the opposition so that it’s strong enough to bargain, then help win a Nobel Peace Prize for Vladimir Putin).

Clinton will soon leave her job. A usable Syrian opposition could be her last big achievement. It will be a better legacy than being remembered for starting another war.

The liberal-interventionist Susan Rice was poised to replace Clinton. But after her Benghazi blunder, claiming that no terrorism was involved, she is unlikely to get the job. Senator John Kerry now seems to be the favorite choice. It would be a very good one. Someone who personally experienced a real war is less likely to start more of them. My hunch is that it is he who is behind the change in the U.S. position and the new talk of a "political solution" and regime-led change in Syria.

Posted by b on November 8, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (59)

November 07, 2012

Syria After The U.S. Election - Further Escalation

Three month ago I wrote:
The U.S. public is against an open war on Syria. That is the likely reason why the Obama administration is holding back. But that reasoning may well change when the U.S. presidential election is over.
Just a few minutes after the election results were known pressure started to escalate the war on Syria:
Britain and the United States should make finding a way to solve the Syrian crisis a priority following the re-election of President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday.

"Right here in Jordan I'm hearing appalling stories of what is happening inside Syria," Cameron told journalists at a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

"...One of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis."

Britain will now open direct talks with the armed insurgent groups.

Meanwhile the Russian foreign minister Lavrov claimed that the insurgents use U.S. made Stinger missiles, not Soviet era SA-7s from Libya, to down Syrian aircraft:

“We have verified information that there are more than 50 stingers in Syria now,” Lavrov told a press conference in Amman, Jordan, referring to a type of surface-to-air missile. The conference followed talks with the minister's Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh.

Lavrov reminded the press that leaders of the Free Syrian Army had many times said that it considered civilian aircraft to be legitimate targets.

Shunted by the U.S., the Syrian National Council is now trying to change its feathers:
Syria's main opposition bloc, under US pressure to reshape into a widely representative government-in-exile, agreed on Monday to broaden its structure to accommodate 13 other groups, a spokesman said.
Participants "have agreed a restructuring plan and to reduce the number of (current) members of the general secretariat to accommodate 200 new members representing 13 political groups and independents," said SNC spokesman Ahmad Kamel.

Kamel said the existing membership would be reduced from 313 to 220 to pave the way for the additional 200 members. The general secretariat will convene in its revamped form on Tuesday, he added.

The meeting is also expected to discuss an initiative by leading dissident Riad Seif, which seems to enjoy US support but has encountered reservations from some SNC members, to unite all Syrian groups opposed to Assad.

Instead of some 300 quarreling members there will now be 400 with even more diverse interests and opinions.

But there is a prize dangling in front of all these people. As Al Jazeerah correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra notes:

Riad Seif told SNC French President Francois Hollande promised him weapons if the Syrian opposition would reunite

Over the last months the insurgents have made zero military advances. They now use more and more bomb explosions and assassinations against those Syrians, likely a majority, who are not with them:

“We are planning to escalate our attacks on the areas of the government thugs,” said one member of the Jundullah Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army full of Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.

The Brits are "talking" to the armed opposition, the French are promising more weapons and U.S. made Stingers are floating around. There are talks between Turkey and the U.S. to deploy Patriot missiles near the Syrian Turkish border. These could create a no-fly zone in northern Syria. All signs are still pointing to a further escalation of the war on Syria. We can expect Obama to join in that.

There is of course an alternative. Obama could tell Hollande and Cameron to stand down. He could tell Erdogan to shut down the weapon and fighter traffic between Turkey and Syria. He could read the riot act to the Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Without outside resources the insurgency in Syria would soon die down. Anyone really interested in stopping the fighting in Syria would chose this path.

There is even a convenient and real excuse to stop the intervention in Syria. The insurgents the U.S. and others supported in Libya took at least part in the killing of ambassador Stevens. But instead of using that to stop the catastrophe Obama will likely escalate in Syria which then might well end up in a Somalia and Libya like anarchy.

Posted by b on November 7, 2012 at 05:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)


I am told a rather rightwing warmongerer just won the U.S. elections. Sad.

Posted by b on November 7, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (56)

November 06, 2012

Changing, Or Not, The Shit Chain

Today some of my readers will be able to vote for or against a change in the shit chain. Whatever the outcome of the election may be the taste of the end product is unlikely to change.

Let's hope that this sad and rather undemocratic show will end soon and without months of stupid legal hassle.

Posted by b on November 6, 2012 at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Netanyahoo's Willingness Is Irrelevant

Yesterday the NYT reported on a preview of an Israeli TV cast:
An Israeli news channel reported Sunday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Israeli military in 2010 to prepare for an imminent attack on the Iranian nuclear program, but that their efforts were blocked by concerns over whether the military could do so and whether the men had the authority to give such an order.
Further down in the piece we find that the whole discussion that report is about was irrelevant:
“Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist,” Mr. Barak said in the clip that was shown on Sunday.
Israel simply does not have the means (nor the will) to attack Iran.

But despite reporting that fact only yesterday we today find a report by the same author, Jodi Rudoren, on the whole TV cast that is again full of "Israel will bomb Iran" scare lines.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his willingness to attack the Iranian nuclear program without support from Washington or the world, returning to an aggressive posture that he had largely abandoned since his United Nations speech in September.

How can that be an "aggressive posture" when it is clear that it is obviously a bluff. Netanyahoo may "reiterated his willingness" to conquer Moscow but that neither gives him the ability nor is it a serious aggressive posture. The whole "Israel will bomb Iran" scare is simply a stupid stunt.

Willingness is irrelevant when one lacks the capability.

Posted by b on November 6, 2012 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

November 05, 2012

An Unruly Middle East

What else, but that they all happened within the last 24 hours, is common with these events?

Bombings Hit Bahrain After Government Bans Protests

A series of five bombs went off in the capital of Bahrain on Monday morning, killing two people and reminding the world that the tiny nation's quiet revolt against its royal family is far from over.
Gunshots heard at Turkish Prime Ministry
Gunshots have been heard at the Turkish Prime Ministry building in Ankara during a Cabinet meeting headed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, daily Hürriyet reported Nov. 5.
Weapons found in biscuit boxes in Yemen: ministry
A cargo of weapons originating in Turkey was seized by Yemeni authorities on Saturday in the southern port of Aden, the defence ministry Internet website reported.
Saudi Arabia: al-Qaida shoots 2 guards on Yemen border; 11 militants captured
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry says a group of 11 al-Qaida fighters has killed two border guards while trying to cross into Yemen before they themselves were captured.
Tear gas fired to disperse Kuwait protesters
Kuwaiti security forces fired tear gas to disperse a protest on Sunday by thousands of opposition supporters.
Sinai security chief sacked
Egypt’s interior minister on Sunday sacked the head of security in North Sinai, a day after an attack that killed three policeman in the restive peninsula sparked protests by their colleagues.
Militias battle in Tripoli
Fighting between two militias erupted at the building that previously housed Libya's intelligence agency in central Tripoli early Sunday, sources said.

Posted by b on November 5, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

November 04, 2012

Open Thread 2012-28

Whatever ...

Posted by b on November 4, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (102)

November 03, 2012

Confusion About The New War-On-Syria Plans

For some weird reason the Guardian is selling Hillary Clinton's plans for a new Syrian group that will act as U.S.-proxy in Syria as a Qatari initiative. Clinton's plan include the scraping of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and installing a new wider based entity, the Syrian National Initiative (SNI) led by one Riad Seif. The Guardian is also claiming that this group is supposed to hold peace talks with the Syrian government. I have serious doubts that these claims are true.

West backs Qatari plan to unify Syrian opposition

Britain, the US and other western powers are backing a new attempt to create a single coherent Syrian opposition that could take part in peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime or, if talks fail, provide a channel for greater military support to the rebels.
The Doha initiative has been organised by the Qatari government and has drawn support from the US, Britain and France. Russia, however, opposes the plan, arguing it reneges on an earlier international agreement to pursue the formation of a new government by "mutual consent" of the parties to the conflict. The leadership of the main exile opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has also criticised the plan, in which its influence will be diluted, and it is not yet clear which of the divided rebel forces inside Syria will turn up on Thursday, or whether they will agree on the common platform once they arrive in Doha.
Qatar has been the strongest supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Egypt and in Syria. The Syrian National Council is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Why then would Qatar have changed those plans and create a new group with a more sidelined brotherhood? That does not sound believable to me. Indeed it was Hillary Clinton who was the first to publish that plan and she also seemed to take credit for it:
I have been constantly involved with my counterparts, both in the EU and in the Arab League, in particular with the hosts of the meeting next week in Qatar. We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure. We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.
The Guardian's claim is also contradicted by this McClatchy report from Istanbul:
The Obama administration’s decision to drop its recognition of the Syrian National Council as the leading Syrian opposition group and propose creating a new umbrella organization surprised and puzzled close U.S. allies, diplomats said Friday.

The U.S. government gave no advance notice of its intention to renounce the council as the lead umbrella group, diplomats of three countries said. They said their governments learned about the initiative from news accounts.
“We were a bit surprised, especially when they said they’d suggested the names for the new body,” one Western diplomat said. “Syrians will say the Americans are imposing the names. And I am not sure the Americans would propose the right people.”
Clinton’s intervention is sure to have repercussions for Arab League-sponsored meetings that start Sunday in Qatar, at which the Syrian National Council planned to elect new leadership and reorganize its structure.

“Doha is very confused,” the diplomat said.

A diplomat from a second Western country said that how the talks would reach a conclusion now was “a bit blurry.”
All three diplomats spoke only on the condition that they and their countries not be identified, to avoid harming relations with the United States.

There is now visible disarray among key U.S. allies on how to proceed.

Turkey, the most crucial U.S. ally in the Syria crisis and the only NATO member that shares a border with Syria, held a top-level meeting Friday in Ankara with the Syrian National Council’s leadership. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hosted council President Abdelbaset Sieda and eight members of the council’s executive committee for a two-hour lunch to discuss the meetings in Doha, Qatar.

Given that the McClatchy report is coming from Istanbul we can safely assume that one of governments that was not informed of Clinton's plans is the Turkish one.

Back to that confused Guardian account:

Observers say that if the Doha initiative is successful, Washington's policy might change, allowing heavier weapons to be supplied to the opposition, whoever wins the US election on Tuesday.

A western official insisted on Friday that the primary goal of a unified opposition would be to engage in peace talks with the regime about a transition, and so the Doha plan was a way of implementing the June Geneva agreement, rather than a substitute for it, as Moscow had alleged.

Now what is it? Is the new initiative intended to escalate or to deescalate? More weapons or peace talks?

"The Qataris have played their cards close to their chest and its not clear they want the same things as us," the western official said.

The "western official" the Guardian talked to was likely a British one. The only other source the Guardian mentions is Salman Shaikh, the head of the Brookings Institution Doha Centre. Salman Sheik had recently released a new report, Losing Syria (And How to Avoid It), on which the new policies seem to at least partially based. Is it he who told the Guardian that the idea to kick down the SNC is a Qatari one? Why?

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what exactly is the plan. Does Hillary know? Do the Qataris know?

It seems very likely that the attempt to install a new leading group that includes parts of all factions will end in a train wreak. Will, for example, the representatives of the Syrian Kurds agree to sit next to the FSA commanders? Really?

Shaha Ali Abdu, also known as Nujeen Dirik, the head of a Kurdish popular defense unit that is part of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) was killed early Friday, said Zuhat Kobani, head of PYD’s foreign affairs committee. Kobani was captured by Free Syrian Army rebels as she met with FSA groups as part of a mediation mission tasked with retrieving the bodies of other Kurds taken hostage during fighting between Kurds and FSA rebels in the city last week, Kobani said.
He said there was evidence Dirik had been killed “savagely.” “She was initially lightly injured lightly in the shoulder during an ambush on the mission, but she called her friends to say she was fine.” “In my opinion she was tortured and killed savagely.” Another kidnapped Kurdish civilian was returned dead Thursday, showing evidence of torture, according to Kurdish leaders and human rights monitors.
According to this usually well informed guy, George Sabra, a SNC Executive Committee member, just told SkyNews that the SNC refuses any alternative to itself. Clinton's plan is then probably dead before its execution started.

What will Washington do then? Throw the towel? I hope so.

Posted by b on November 3, 2012 at 06:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (82)

November 02, 2012

Employment Report: "A Boost For ..."

These two tweets from two policial journalists about the just released employment report  came in at the same time. These people look at the same data at the same time and come to opposite conclusions. This, I think, tells a lot about pundit discussions about various "boost" facters in the U.S. election.

They are useless.

Posted by b on November 2, 2012 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

November 01, 2012

Syria: U.S. Installs New Political Proxy Opposition

The U.S. government seems to renew its attempt to overthrow the Syrian government by force. This will, as I wrote, likely intensify as soon as the election in the U.S. is over.

The U.S. has so far used two proxy forces to run the conflict. One is the military force in form of the so called Free Syrian Army provided via Turkey with money and weapons from Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia while the U.S. provides it with operational intelligence, the communication infrastructure and the media campaign. While the FSA had some success on the ground, especially in reducing Syria's air-defense, it is by now more famous for its Salafist radicalism and for mass killing its prisoners (video). It is not the force the U.S. would like to lead Syria.

The second proxy force the U.S. has been using is supposed to play the political role and to replace the Syrian government. The Syrian National Council, a hodgepodge of Syrian exiles, was thought to take this role and to develop into some exile government that could then be recognized by other states. But it turned that the SNC was neither inclusive nor united enough to put forward the political cover for the U.S. overtaking of Syria.

The U.S. has therefore now decided to throw the SNC out of the window and to create a new political proxy force that can be used instead of the SNC:

The Obama administration has spent the past several months in secret diplomatic negotiations aimed at building a new Syrian opposition leadership structure that it hopes can win the support of minority groups still backing President Bashar al-Assad.
As envisioned by the Obama administration, the new Syrian leadership will include representatives of revolutionary councils and other unarmed groups inside the country. Territory along Syria’s northern border with Turkey that is effectively under rebel military control is to be organized into an administrative zone with non­lethal assistance from the United States, France and other like-minded governments.
U.S. officials said they expected at least 50 opposition representatives, many from inside Syria, to attend the meeting and choose an executive council containing eight to 10 members. If all goes as planned, the Arab League will bless the process at an upcoming meeting in Cairo, officials said. They declined to name Syrian attendees, citing what they said were security concerns. U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, who was withdrawn from Damascus for security reasons a year ago, plans to attend.
The anonymous members of this new, yet unnamed entity were selected by the U.S. government:
The U.S. government has recommended names and organizations it believes should be included in the new leadership structure, Clinton said, emphasizing the participation of representatives of Syrian opposition groups on the ground.
There is just a small problem with this idea. The Muslim Brotherhood SNC is still supported by Qatar and Turkey and is not going away. It just finished a three day conference in Instanbul and decided to reinvent itself as some murky parliament in exile:
More than 200 members of Syrian opposition groups issued a declaration yesterday in Istanbul promising “a general assembly” to rule liberated areas of Syria.
The idea of a parliament in exile is the same one the U.S. is proffering with its new entity:
"We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress," a senior administration official told The Cable.
One wonders who is copying whom in this.

There maybe a small chance that the SNC will be integrated into the new entity the U.S. is planing. But after Clinton remarks on the SNC one really has to doubt that possibility:

“We’ve made it clear that the S.N.C. can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition,” Mrs. Clinton said, referring to the Syrian National Council.
Instead of one disunited SNC supported by the U.S., Turkey, Qatar and the Saudis we will now probably see two disunited entities, one supported by the U.S. and the other by Qatar and Turkey while the Saudis will continue their support for the foreign Jihadists in Syria represented in none of the political proxy entities.

Does anyone expect that this will really work?

Turkey is meanwhile continue to slowly, slowly backtrack from its earlier positions. After lots of Turkish talk of and threats to install a security zone in Syria Erdogan now sounds much different:

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was unable to unilaterally impose buffer zones on its border with Syria and relied on the United Nations to make such decisions.

Responding to questions in Berlin during a joint news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel today, the premier said Turkey “has no authority or right to declare” a buffer zone or a no-fly zone to protect civilians inside Syria. “It is an issue which the UN Security Council can decide on,” he said.

Well, the UNSC will not allow for such a zone.

From the same report comes this interesting detail:

A U.S. military delegation, meanwhile, visited an air base in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir to prepare possible operations related to Syria, Hurriyet newspaper reported today, without citing anyone.
It is the third time that a rumor of such a U.S. visit has been published in Turkey. The Turkish military denies that U.S. military have visited Diyarbakir but the persistence of this claim, published in different Turkish media, makes me wonder what is really happening there.

Posted by b on November 1, 2012 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)