Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 30, 2013

Syria: New Constellations Emerge

It is by Fisk and the guy is not always as sober as one would like but his story rings true:
Six weeks ago, a two-man delegation arrived in secret in Damascus: civilians from Aleppo who represented elements of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group largely composed of fighters who deserted the regime’s army in the first year of the war. They came under a guarantee of safety, and met, so I am told, a senior official on the staff of President Bashar al-Assad. And they carried with them an extraordinary initiative – that there might be talks between the government and FSA officers who “believed in a Syrian solution” to the war.
It makes sense for nationalist minded insurgents to stop the fight against the government as other parts of the armed opposition are now aligning themselves with Al-Qaeda and thereby against any nationalist form of Syria.

Last week some 10 to 14 groups in northern Syria, including the hardline Jabhat al-Nusra, united under an Islamic flag. Yesterday 43 groups south of Damascus united as a new Army of Islam under the command of the head of the Liwa al-Islam brigade. While the numbers seem impressive at least some of these "new" associations are fake and one has to keep in mind that there are some 1,200+ insurgency groups in Syria, most of those just local gangs or thieves. Many of those will not be happy with the ascent of a rigid Islamic system and will prefer an amnesty or some other arrangement with the Syrian government.

We may thereby now see a new configuration of the parties in the Syrian conflict. Insurgent groups with Islamic tendencies will unite under ever more radical banners and will depend on "private" money from the Gulf states. The more secular groups, who will no longer receive money or weapons from the defunct FSA command and the useless exile Syrian National Council, will now turn to the government to gain amnesty or some other understanding. They may well join the Syrian Arab Army in the fight against the radical groups. The Kurds have defended their areas against Jihadis as well as the Syrian government but the leftist PYD group leading them does not have good relation with the Barzani clan that leads in the Iraqi Kurd territories. The Syrian Kurds will therefore stay in the national Syrian realm but will demand some local and language autonomy which will be granted.

The precautious U.S. government move to detente with Iran, widely supported by the U.S. population, will put pressure on the Gulf regimes. They are financially bound to the "west" and can not stand against the U.S. will. When Obama will finally throw away the regime change platitudes and decide to shut down the supply lines to the Jihadis in Syria, the Gulf states, as well as Turkey, will have to comply. Iran and Russia put out some feelers that might make it it easier, especially for the Saudis, to dismount from the sectarian horse they have been riding in the wake of Shia ascendency. The only stumbling block for these new arrangements are the hardliners in Israel. But Netanyahoo's star is already sinking with other hawks arguing against his stand and any resistance to these developments will only accelerate its demise.

It will take time for the Syrian government to eliminate the terrorists from Syrian territory. But the now emerging new constellations of the war are much clearer and much more to the advantage of the government then they have been in the previous two years.

Posted by b on September 30, 2013 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (54)

September 29, 2013

Mail Fakes Nairobi Pictures

The British Daily Mail, in a now deleted piece, promoted what it called exclusive CCTV pictures of the Nairobi mall attack.


London Times Africa correspondent Jerome Starkey points out that the picture in the middle is from an April 16 2010 FBI Miami release of photographs of a bank robbery (see pic 4). The picture on the left is from a Reuters distributed video of a raid on a hospital in Columbia released on September 19 2013. The provenance of the other two pictures are yet unknown.

The FBI picture from 2010 is also used in this Mail Online piece, still online, where it is attributed and copyrighted to Keith Waldegrave, a Mail on Sunday photographer.


The caption reads:
Terror at the mall: A gunman takes aim at the hostages as they lie face down inside a bank at the Westgate shopping centre during the terrorist attack
How can a CCTV picture from a public FBI release be copyrighted to a Mail photographer?

Posted by b on September 29, 2013 at 05:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (89)

September 28, 2013

The Rouhani Week

The Rouhani week is over and it was a full success. Contrary to various propaganda claims the Iranian president said nothing essential that differed much from what his predecessor said. But he said it in a different tone and with a much better orchestration and that made all the difference. When Rouhani arrived back in Tehran he was greeted by some 50 protesters who condemned him for talking with the Great Satan. They may well have been part of the Rouhani show demonstrating to the United States that Rouhani can not go all the way it wants him to go. He was also welcomed by Ali Akbar Velayat who is a close advisor to supreme leader Khamenei. His week in New York and his phone-call with Obama can therefor claim to have high endorsement.

The White House seems to be very happy that it can now deal with someone who its own and Israel's propaganda have not (yet) demonized as the next Hitler. It is also glad, for now, that it can avoid a further escalation with Iran and a possible war which, as the campaign against open war on Syria demonstrated, would have no support from United States citizens. Indeed a deal with Rouhani over the nuclear file, easy to get if the U.S. walks back from its hostile position, may help to find a solution for Syria where the U.S. regime change project has thoroughly failed and the threat of a new Al-Qaeda base is now its most pressing concern.

These new developments are destroying the strategy of Israel's prime minister Netanyahoo. He can no longer outright push for War on Iran. The Israeli delegation was the only one that left the UN General Assembly when Rouhani spoke. A clear demonstration of Israel's new isolation. Its AIPAC lobby had already lost the fight for War on Syria and upcoming domestic business will keep Congress occupied with other issues. Sure, there are still some loyal Senators for AIPAC pressing for more sanctions and war "preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capability". Nuclear capability is something Iran achieved some years ago and the U.S. public is not in the mood to wage war to turn the clocks back on that. The lobby has lost for now and some of its leaders are recognizing it. David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, warns Netanyahoo in a Haaretz piece:

[U]nless Israel wants to continue to find itself largely alone on the world stage, it will have to find new ways to make its case, so that it is not just talking to itself and its supporters. Simply implying, for instance, that anyone who sits down with Rohani is a modern-day Neville Chamberlain or Édouard Daladier won’t do the trick.

To the contrary, it will only give offense and alienate. There are more effective and less shrill ways of making the case for caution, vigilance, and strength.

One wonders what "more effective and less shrill ways" Mr Harris has in mind. One thing is sure, he is not yet willing to give up. We can expect some open and some hidden dirty tricks to derail any successful talks between Iran and the United States.

But Netanyahoo may truly lose this one. We will know that he has given up when he changes his target. After the first Gulf war Israel's propaganda changed from demonizing the then defanged Saddam Hussein and instead started to demonize Iran. Israel always needs an enemy, the new Hitler, to distract from its continuing colonization of Palestine and to keep its picture as an eternal "victim" alive. As the War On Iran project fails could, please, Saudi Arabia become Israel's new villain?

Next week Netanyahoo will be visiting Washington and New York. He is unlikely to get the same attention and success that Rouhani got. Another stupid comic stunt at the UNGA in New York would make him even more irrelevant. He needs a new game but will have difficulties to find one.

Posted by b on September 28, 2013 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (120)

September 27, 2013

Hersh On The Osama Raid

What does Seymour Hersh know that we do not know?

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media

Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" – or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Posted by b on September 27, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (127)

September 25, 2013

Syria: The Mask Is Off

It was quite obvious from the very beginning of the protests and insurgency violence in Syria that the violent part was done by sectarian Sunni Jihadists aligned groups who's aim were to implement an Islamic state. Every name of the "brigades" that announced their youtube existence was taken from some famous Sunni hero, historic event or other sectarian religious scheme. The "western" media tried their best to avoid noticing such and for two and a half years continued to talk about "democratic" and "peaceful" "protesters".

But now the mask is finally off:

A collection of some of Syria's most powerful rebel brigades have rejected a Western-backed opposition group that announced the creation of an interim government in exile this month.

The 13 rebel groups, led by the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, also called on supporters of the Syrian opposition to embrace Sharia law "and make it the sole source of legislation."

The new group includes many who were until now members of the openly U.S. supported Free Syrian Army and include the very "democratic" folks Senator John McCain met at the Turkish-Syrian border.

Who does the Obama administration suggest should now sit on the opposition side to negotiate with the Syrian government in Geneva? Neither the exile National Syrian Council nor the exile Supreme Military Command have any control over or traction with the groups fighting against the Syrian government. And how will the Obama administration justify further support for these groups?

Obama will not yet abandon his aim of destructing the Syrian state but pursuing this aim is becoming more and more indefensible.

Posted by b on September 25, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (130)

Some Agreement On U.S.-Iran Negotiations

Iran and the United States have come to some agreement about Iran's nuclear program. They, at least, have agreed on the two main framework points that will be discussed the future negotiations - the points of rights and of peaceful nuclear program.

Considers these excerpts on the issue from president  Obama's and president Rouhani's UN General Assembly speeches yesterday.


We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.
We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.
Iran and other actors should pursue two common objectives as two mutually inseparable parts of a political solution for the nuclear dossier of Iran. Iran's nuclear program - and for that matter, that of all other countries - must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes. [...]

The second objective, that is, acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path towards achieving the first objective.

So these two points as a framework for further negotiations have now been accepted by both sides. The only difference in these positions is "enrichment". Obama still sticks to "access nuclear energy" which, in his mind,  may not necessarily include enrichment.

In 2009 the Obama administration's (wrong) position on Iran's rights, like that of the Bush administration, was "nuclear energy yes but no enrichment":

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Iran’s leaders on Sunday that if they were seeking nuclear weapons, “your pursuit is futile,” and ruled out explicitly the possibility that the Obama administration would allow Iran to produce its own nuclear fuel, even under intense international inspection.
“You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil, nuclear power,” she said, as if addressing Iran directly. “You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.
At that time the current Secretary of State Kerry rejected that "no enrichment" position:
“The Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous . . . because it seemed so unreasonable to people,” said Mr Kerry, citing Iran’s rights as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. “It was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will,” he added. “They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.”
Has Obama now accepted Kerry's position? If he has not done so then there will be no progress in any negotiations. But if Obama accepts Iran's inalienable right to enrich Uranium for its nuclear reactors the question will come down to how much of "rights" and of how much of "peaceful". That is on the first how many centrifuges, what grade of enrichment and what other programs like the heavy water reactor will Iran be able to run without constant U.S. interference. To just say "zero", like Netanyahoo does, is not an option. On the second point the question is how much oversight will the Iranians accept to give confidence in the peacefulness of their program.

When those points are agreed upon there will also be the procedural question of a step by step implementation. What sanctions will be abandoned against what level of additional IAEA oversight of Iran's nuclear program?

There will be a bit of bazaar like haggling over these points. But it seems clear that the two major framework points of any future negotiations have been agreed upon. That Obama has not yet explicitly given up on the "bombastic" point of "no enrichment" is a bit of a disappointment and probably the reason why the Iranians did not accept a direct Obama Rouhani meeting yesterday.

That the U.S. diktat position seems to have softened and a framework for negotiations has been found gives me some hope that the upcoming negotiations will have some positive results.

Posted by b on September 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (52)


One wonders how much international condemnation such reports would (rightfully) provoke if they would read like this:
Hotline lets callers inform on Germanic-Jewish couples

A right-wing, anti-assimilation organization that campaigns to prevent Jewish men from dating Germanic women has opened a hotline enabling members of the public to inform on women so that they can be persuaded to end the relationship.

When called, a recording on the Flamme hotline says the service is meant to “save the daughters of Germania.” In addition to offering support for women, the line also provides the names and telephone numbers of Jewish men that the organization suspects of dating Germanic women.

Bundeswehr soldier passes IDs of Germanic girls who socialize with Jews to anti-assimilation NGO

A female Bundeswehr soldier who is often stationed at checkpoints is apparently very disturbed by the fact that some Germanics and Jews actually hang out. The soldier turned anonymously (on Facebook) to Hand of Brothers a religious organization whose mandate is to “save Germanics from assimilation,” in the hopes they can help her prevent this from happening in the future by talking some sense into these young women.

Posted by b on September 25, 2013 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

September 23, 2013

Some Syria Links

Sharmine Narwani on Questions Plague UN Report on Syria with some bits also from this.

There seems to be little news of Syrian army action against the foreign sponsored insurgents but there is lots of action between some foreign Al-Qaeda bandits and the Syrian ones. One wonders how much of this is real. Could this be a spoof to make the Syrian bandits look more "secular"? Al Qaeda in Syria: We Fought FSA Because It Conspired With John McCain Against Us

There is also ongoing fighting between the Kurds and Al-Qaeda groups sponsored by Turkey: Turkey Stands With al-Qaeda Against the Kurds

The U.S. sponsored exiles are worthless: Rebels View Coalition Leadership Outside Syria as Detached From the Suffering

The Washington Post had a piece on "private" financing for Al-Qaeda in Syria. I regard this as propaganda that gives some plausible deniability to Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are state financing the terrorists and at the same time gives an argument to the "we must finance the good 'secular' terrorists to give them the edge" lunatics in the Senate. Private donations give edge to Islamists in Syria, officials say

On the CW stuff Syria is sticking to its words U.S. official: Syrian CW list more complete than anticipated

Please add other news on Syria in the comments.

Posted by b on September 23, 2013 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

Will They Whack That Socialist Too?

Someone in Manhattan called a guy in the City of London:

Hi Miles, did you see that Reuters piece about that new lunatic?

About that guy speaking in Sardinia? yeah I did. And I had thought we had the Soviets down the toilet.

Yeah, we had. But now these socialists are creeping up again.

That and with an long-term ideology and a big following.

How did this wacko come to power? He have had such a good run. That Polish guy was great for us and that German dude never made a fuss as long as he could get away with his hobby.

Hehe, a small boy a day ...

Look, we can't let this get any more grounds. It must be snuffed out and as soon as possible.

I agree. Do you still have those friends in Palermo.

You mean Mario and his brothers? Those silent knife folks? Yeah. Should I give them a call?

Do so immediately. This guy must be buried before he creates more damage. We have our bottom lines to watch.

I agree. I'll get Mario on the phone as soon as I'll hang up on you.

Pope attacks global economics for worshipping 'god of money'
The pope, who later celebrated Mass for some 300,000 people outside the city's cathedral, told them: "We don't want this globalised economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wants, not money."

"The world has become an idolator of this god called money," he said.
The pope made clear that his assessment was not limited to the local situation.

"It is not a problem of Italy and Europe ... It is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money," he said to the cheers of the crowd.
"To defend this economic culture, a throwaway culture has been installed. We throw away grandparents, and we throw away young people. We have to say no to his throwaway culture. We want a just system that helps everyone," he said.

I am starting to really like this guy. Let's hope that he has some good protection.

Posted by b on September 23, 2013 at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (41)

September 22, 2013

Kerry Can Not Be Trusted

Lavrov: US pressuring Russia into passing UN resolution on Syria under Chapter 7
“Our American partners are starting to blackmail us: ‘If Russia does not support a resolution under Chapter 7, then we will withdraw our support for Syria’s entry into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This is a complete departure from what I agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry',” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Channel 1's Sunday Time program.
“Our partners are blinded by an ideological mission for regime change,” said Lavrov. “They cannot admit they have made another mistake.”
“I am convinced that the West is doing this to demonstrate that they call the shots in the Middle East. This is a totally politicized approach,” said Lavrov.
There were two Geneva agreements on negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition between the U.S. and Russia. Then there was the latest agreement on Syria's chemical weapons. The U.S. has tried to renegotiate or reinterpretate all three of these agreements.

It is obvious, not only to Russia, that the United States government and especially its current Secretary of State can not be trusted. It will not stick to even written agreements.

Iran's new president Rouhani and his team must keep this in mind when they start to negotiate with their United States government colleagues.

Posted by b on September 22, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (77)

September 21, 2013

Open Thread 2013-20

News & views ...

Posted by b on September 21, 2013 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (175)

September 20, 2013

Media Spins Syrian Chemical Disarmament Process

This is anti-Syrian propaganda:
Syria has submitted a letter detailing of its chemical weapons to the global chemical weapons regulator but officials said the information was only part of the required details.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)said the letter had fallen short of its requirements and indefinitely postponed a Sunday meeting to discuss a Russia-US plan to destroy Syria's arsenal.
This is, more or less, reality:
"We have received part of the verification and we expect more," an OPCW spokesman said.

A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the details had been submitted, saying: "It's quite long ... and being translated."

The organization's core members are due to vote - probably next week - on a plan aimed at fast-tracking the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpiles by mid-2014.

So the "letter" in the propaganda is in reality "quite long" and still has to be translated. That takes time and is likely the reason why the OPCW meeting has been postponed for a day or two. That there are additional yet unfulfilled requirements, like detailed documentation that could not have been produced on such short notice, was to be expected and is just normal. But notice how some media are trying to spoil the process of getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons even before it really starts.

Posted by b on September 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)

They Only Understand Force

In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times, displaying all the self-assurance of Douglas MacArthur discoursing on Orientals in 1945. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it."

Such crass language, redolent with racist, ethnocentric connotations, speaks volumes. These characterizations, like the use of "gooks" during the Vietnam War, dehumanize the Iraqis and in doing so tacitly permit the otherwise impermissible. Thus, Abu Ghraib and Haditha -- and too many regretted deaths, ...

One would have thought that such language, which Bacevich rightly characterizes as racist and ethnocentric, would not be used in a White House under a black president.

But alas, it is:

But, the officials say, these are the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.

“The common thread is that you don’t achieve diplomatic progress in the Middle East without significant pressure,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said Thursday. “In Syria, it was the serious threat of a military strike; in Iran it was a sanctions regime built up over five years.”

The result of such thought will of course be similar to the result in the War on Iraq where the United States lost and had to leave with its tail between its legs.

Posted by b on September 20, 2013 at 08:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (129)

September 18, 2013

Syria: NYT, HRW Wrong To Claim Chemical Attack Origin

Human Rights Watch and the New York Times are trying to implicate the Syrian Arab Army in a chemical incident that happened on August 21 in Ghouta near Damascus. Using the report of an United Nations commission which investigated various sites around Damascus they try to reconstruct from where the rockets suspected to have been used in the attack may have been fired from.

The UN commission identified two finds of largely intact rockets that landed in a way that lets one estimate from which directions these rockets have been fired. Lining out from the impact sites towards the direction from where the rockets came the crossing of the two lines point, say HRW and the NYT, to the possible launch point of both rockets. That point, a Syrian army artillery site, is then seen as implicated in the chemical attack.

When taken together, the azimuths drawn from different neighborhoods lead back to and intersect at Mount Qasioun — so far an impregnable seat of Mr. Assad’s power — according to independent and separate calculations by both The New York Times and Human Rights Watch.

“Connecting the dots provided by these numbers allows us to see for ourselves where the rockets were likely launched from and who was responsible,” Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery analyst for Human Rights Watch, noted in a statement on Tuesday.

“This isn’t conclusive,” Mr. Lyons added. “But it is highly suggestive.”

But that analysis is faulty. At least one of the two rockets the UN commission assessed contained no chemical agent at all. In the whole area where that one rocket was found none of the environmental probe showed any sign of a chemical weapon impact. It is therefore not legit to use that impact as a direction finding point for the launch point of the chemical weapon incident. Before and after the chemical incident the sites the UN visited had been reported to be under conventional artillery attack. There is no conclusive evidence that binds the rocket debris found to the chemical incident.

Specifically the first site the UN commission visited was near Moadamiyah, south of Damascus. The investigators took blood and urine samples from some people they met on their visit there. Those samples proved positive for exposure to Sarin. But all environment samples taken in Moadamiyah proved negative (Appendix 6 and 7 of the UN report. Sample 1 to 12 taken on August 26.) If those person found in Moadamiyah would have been exposed in Moadamiyah the environment there would also have been exposed. But the UN team found that this was not the case. The persons must have been moved to Moadamiyah after having been exposed elsewhere. The 140 mm rocket the UN team assessed in Moadamiyah can thereby not be implicated in the chemical attack.

The second point where the UN team found ammunition and assessed the direction where it came from was in Ain Tarma east/south-east of Damascus. The ammunition debris found there was from a 330 mm rocket. Environmental probes taken in Ain Tarma and from parts of the found rocket debris showed exposure to Sarin. The UN commission report does not explicitly state that the ammunition found carried the chemical agent. It notes that the area was well traveled and that people were seen moving ammunition debris around.

The UN commission report does not say how the chemical agent found in some of the investigated areas was distributed. It does not say that it came from rockets. It identified two impact sites of rockets and directions that allows to assume the direction, not the distance, from where those rockets were fired from. But one of those sites and rockets was never exposed to the chemical agent in question while the other site, and the ammunition debris found there, was. To conclude from these finds that ammunition carrying chemical agents were fired from a specific point or army unit or was fired by rockets at all is not legit but propaganda.

In 2008 Human Rights Watch falsely accused Russia of having used cluster ammunition in the Georgia war even while the ammunition found was easily identifiable as "western" sourced ammunition. C.J Chivers, who wrote the above for the New York Times, has been implicated in propaganda reporting on Syria claiming "poorly armed rebels" while he knew and had seen that those "rebels" had received many modern arms and ammunition from their "western" and Gulf sponsors.

Posted by b on September 18, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (126)

September 17, 2013

Syria: Who Really Wants Assad To Go?

Michael Oren, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to the United States, wants to lift any doubt about who really wants Assad to go:
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.

This was the case, he said, even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated to al-Qaida.

“We understand that they are pretty bad guys,” he said, adding that this designation did not apply to everyone in the Syrian opposition. “Still, the greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. That is a position we had well before the outbreak of hostilities in Syria. With the outbreak of hostilities we continued to want Assad to go.”

So Israel, according to Oren, would rather have AlQaeda ruling in Syria than the current secular government. Israel is not the only country that has such desire:
On other issues, Oren – who has contact in Washington with some ambassadors from Persian Gulf countries – said that that “in the last 64 years there has probably never been a greater confluence of interest between us and several Gulf States. With these Gulf States we have agreements on Syria, on Egypt, on the Palestinian issue. We certainly have agreements on Iran. This is one of those opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.”
Don't expect to read over any such agreements in the New York Times. The Times does not cover anything that might Israel shine in a bad light.

A week ago the Guardian reported that the National Security Agency "routinely" hands over raw, unfiltered intelligence data it illegally collects on U.S. citizens and others to Israeli agencies. The New York Times did not mention this in any of its own reports. It did not even provide a wire story from one of the news agencies on the issue. Its managing editor, rather incredible, claimed to the NYT's public editor that it was not "a significant or surprising story" and therefore not worth of any coverage.

How much of the NSA data does Israel use for its drive to install AlQaeda in Syria? And how much of does it use to influence the New York Times editorial policies?

Posted by b on September 17, 2013 at 06:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (72)

September 16, 2013

A Spoiler Attempt On U.S.-Iran Negotiations

Obama said in a recent interview that some letters have been exchanged between the U.S. government and the new government of Iran. The new Rohani administration in Tehran is doing its best to show its willingness to negotiate with the "west" over its nuclear program and other issues. The Obama side swwms also to be ready to at least feel out how far Iran might want to go.

Negotiations between Iran and the United States are not welcome by Israel and the Gulf states. Israel needs to have some "bad guy" bogeyman in the neighborhood to point away from its continuing colonization of the West Bank and the Golan heights. Saudi Arabia is unwilling to allow a somewhat enlightened and developed example of an Islamic State in its neighborhood. Its own people could get ideas that other forms of government than by some dictatorial king might be desirable and compatible with their religion. These two powers will attempt to spoil any negotiations between the "west" and Iran.

A recent report may be part of such an attempt. It asserts that the new Iranian government may be willing, in negotiations, to do away with one of its enrichment sites:

SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran's new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country's central bank to do international business again.
Fordo is an underground side and that would be difficult to dismantle through bombing. It is the guarantee Iran has build for itself that its nuclear program can not be erased solely by air attacks. Would Iran, as the first step in negotiations, dismantle on of its best defenses against an attack? That does not sound credible to me. Note also the very odd sourcing of that claim: "SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources ... that Iran ... is reportedly .." What "intelligence sources" from what country? And what does "reportedly" mean here? That those "intelligence sources" have read such a claim in some blogpost or fishwrap?

More plausible to me is that someone is trying to exaggerate what Iran could be willing to offer in a first step to thereby create disappointment and dismay when that first offer is made and does not meet the expectations created by such reports.

There will be more such spoiler attempts. Likely more intelligent ones and more severe ones. Some will aim at a solution of the Syria crisis and some directly at U.S. Iran negotiations. Such spoilers must be exposed and confronted to degrade their effects.

Posted by b on September 16, 2013 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (57)

Three Current News-items On Syria

As I am time restricted today just three points on the developments in Syria:
  • The UN report on chemical stuff used in the Damascus suburb Ghouta on August 21 finds (pdf) that Sarin has been used which was probably distributed by unguided 140mm rockets. The report and the facts therein say nothing about who might have fired those missiles.
  • The Turkish air force shot down a Syrian helicopter that, it alleges, violated Turkish airspace. The helicopter fell on Syrian ground. This, to me, seems to be an attempt to insert a spoiler into the recently achieved U.S.-Russian understanding about Syria's disarmament of chemical weapons. That spoiler, and others to come, will likely be ignored by the relevant sides.
  •  The U.S. is finally recognizing that to keep the Syrian government in place is the least bad choice it has. The former CIA No. 2 Mike Morell is the first of the Washington insiders to publicly make that point. He concludes though, wrongly, that there must be more balance between opposition and the government to achieve some transition first. That is not going to work. The core quote from his interview:
[I]t's going to take the institution of the Syrian military and the institutions of the Syrian security services to defeat al Qaeda when this is done. And every day that goes by, every day that goes by, those institutions are eroded.

Posted by b on September 16, 2013 at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (57)

September 15, 2013

Syrian Government Air-Support For The Syrian Insurgents?

From yesterday's Short History Of The War On Syria - 2006-2014:
The Syrian Military Council will do its best to derail [the chemical weapons deal]. But it will soon be out of political support and out of money. Meanwhile the local SMC forces are fighting al-Qaeda aligned groups. It could well be that some of the local Syrian insurgency groups will soon join government forces in attacking the Jihadis.
That was, may be, a bit wrong. It seems like its not the local Syrian insurgency groups joining government forces in fighting the Jihadis but just the other way around.


On September 12 al-Qaeda leader Zwahir called for the al-Qaeda elements in Syria to stop cooperating with the "moderate" local insurgents working with the SMC.

On September 13 the al-Qaeda elements in Syria declared war against at least two SMC associated groups:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) accused the two other groups of attacking its forces and suggested they may have even collaborated with the government.
Sources said most of the Islamist clashes were down to localised power disputes, but some added there was also a larger conflict over how to impose Islamist rule.
Yesterday, September 14, fighting between SMC associated forces and al-Qaeda groups was reported to take place in several places including one logistically important town on the border to Iraq:
On Saturday night, deadly clashes in al-Bu Kamal erupted between ISIL and the Allahu Akbar Brigade, an opposition group credited with the capture of the city from Assad forces in November 2012 and which also operates under the Supreme Military Council.
Today Hassan Hassan, the deputy opinion editor of The National newspaper from the United Arab Emirates and a promoter of the insurgents tweeted this:
Video of the regime's bombing of Abu Kamal - why is the regime back to Abu Kamal after it left in November last year?
Hassan Hassan حسن ‏@hhassan140

Smoke after the regime attacks the city of Abu Kamal

My interpretation based solely on the above is that the Syrian government, "the regime", has joined the local insurgents in their fight against al-Qaeda elements. After al-Qaeda declared war against the local SMC supported insurgents fighting started in Abu Kamal and elsewhere. The government currently has no troops in or approaching Abu Kamal but is bombing there today. The only plausible explanation seems to be that the Syrian government gives air-support to some local insurgents.

Giving air-support to those local insurgents who fight al-Qaeda groups would be a very smart way to decrease the number of the Syrian governments enemies without risking the life of its soldiers.

Posted by b on September 15, 2013 at 01:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

September 14, 2013

A Short History Of The War On Syria - 2006-2014

In 2006 the U.S. was at war in Iraq. Some of the enemy forces it very much struggled to fight against were coming in through Syria. The same year Israel lost a war against Hizbullah. Its armored forces were ambushed whenever they tried to push deeper into Lebanon while Hizbullah managed to continuously fire rockets against Israeli army position and cities. Hizbullah receives supply for its missile force from Syria and from Iran through Syria. Its long-term plans to attack Iran and to thereby keep supremacy in the Middle East depend on severing Hizbullah's supply routes. The sectarian Sunni Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, saw their Sunni brethren defeat in Iraq and a Shia government, supported by Iran, taking over the country. All these countries had reason to fight Syria. There were also economic reasons to subvert an independent Syria. A gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey was competing with one from Iran to Syria. Large finds of natural gas in the coastal waters of Israel and Lebanon make such finds in Syrian waters quite plausible.

In late 2006 the United States started to finance an external opposition to Syria's ruling Baath party. Those exiles were largely members of the Muslim Brotherhood which had been evicted from Syria after their bloody uprising against the Syrian state between 1976 and 1982 had failed. In 2007 a plan for regime change in Syria was agreed upon between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The aim was to destroy the "resistance" alliance of Hizbullah, Syria and Iran:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
By 2011 three years of drought, caused by global warming and Turkey's upstream dams and irrigation projects, had weakened the Syrian economy. Large parts of the poor rural population lost their means of living and moved into the cities. They provided the fertile ground needed to launch an uprising against the Syrian state.

The U.S. part in the plan was to provide the media and "global opinion" cover for the insurgency. To that purpose it used the tool from its "color revolution" tool box. "Citizen journalists" were recruited, trained and provided with the video and communication equipment needed for media propagandizing. Others were trained in organizing "peaceful civil demonstrations". The Saudis took care of the darker part of the plan. They financed and armed rebel groups, often related to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, which had the task to instigate a wider insurgency by taking on government forces as well as the peaceful demonstrators.A main part of the scheme was the introduction of a sectarian view that would split the largely secular Syria into several constituencies.

A local disturbance in Deraa near the Jordanian border was used to launch the uprising. Peaceful demonstration were held but soon shots were fired towards the police as well as towards the demonstrators. Inevitably both sides escalated. Groups armed by the Saudis target the government forces. Having colleagues killed and wounded the government forces retaliated against the demonstrators. Some of those took up arms themselves and fought the government. "Citizen journalist" propagandized the victims on the "peaceful demonstrators" side but never mentioned those on the government side. "Western" media agencies followed that scheme. Cells in other Syrian cities were activated. Again "peaceful demonstrations" were cover for "a third force", as the Arab League investigation commission named it, which fought against government forces and also instigated the demonstrators to take up arms. The U.S. government helped by issuing its own propaganda for example by lying about Syrian artillery deployment against demonstrators when, at that point, none had yet happened. U.S. para-government organizations, Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, joined the campaign against the Syrian government. Cyber attacks against the Syrian government news agency helped to suppress the other side of the story. Up to today the website of the official Syrian Arab News Agency,, is purged from Google search results.

It was soon visible that the planned for "color revolution" strategy did not work. The Syrian state was more resilient than had been perceived. The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was more beloved and respected than the insurgency instigators ever expected. He also fulfilled many of the demands the serious protesters had. The constitution was rewritten, new parties were allowed, elections held and the most abusive security forces came under stricter control. The big cities, even though predominantly Sunni, did not support or join the increasing violent and sectarian fighters. Defections from the Syrian army and from political cadres were few and unimportant. For some time the Syrian economy held up quite well. The general population as well as the government rejected the scheme of a sectarian divide.

The enemies of Syria had to increase their commitment. Saudi Arabia and Qatar used all their capabilities to recruit foreign Jihadis willing to fight in Syria. The CIA, using Saudi money, brought in weapons and thousands of tons of ammunition from all over the world. Insurgency groups were provided with training and battlefield intelligence. A group of exiles was build up as external future government.

The Syrian government had to retreat to conserve its forces. Major parts of rural Syria were taken over by the insurgency. The population there fled over the boarders or into the cities. Where the insurgency foraged into parts of cities it was difficult to dislodge without creating immense damage to the infrastructure and buildings. But the Syrian government learned its lessons. With the help of its friends from Iran and Hizbullah its army units were retrained to fight against insurgency forces. Paramilitary units of locals were build up to take over those parts the army had cleaned of insurgents. Russia kept the supplies coming.

On the side of the insurgent instigators some things started to go wrong. The Jihadis Saudi Arabia provided were good fighters but ideologues that did not fit into the Syrian social context. They started to clash with the population as well as with local fighters. Just today a large fight is taking place in north-east Syria between Jihadi groups and local bandits. Arguments with al-Qaeda inspired forces over weapon supplies from Libya killed the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi. Despite being revamped at least three times the planned for government in exile group proved ineffective due to bickering and infighting between its sponsors. The "peaceful protesters" media campaign broke down as more and more stories and pictures from the massacres committed by the insurgency came to light. The population in those countries that supported the insurgency turned against any involvement in the conflict.

When it became likely that the insurgency might not be able to overcome the Syrian army U.S. president Obama introduced his "red line" over chemical weapon use. This was an invitation to the insurgency side to introduce chemical weapons to the battlefield, to then blame the Syrian government and to thereby create a U.S. intervention on their side. They tried to do so for a few times but Obama was then not yet willing to commit outright force. To prevent the upcoming Jihadis from taking over Syria should the Assad government fall, the U.S. planed to have U.S. trained "moderate" fighters take the lead in the fight especially in the capital Damascus.

In mid August 2013 a group of 300 CIA trained fighters entered Syria from Jordan. A second group followed soon after. (The Obama administration is now trying to change that date.) Their task was to go to Damascus and to take the fight to the Syrian government itself. They were obliterated on their way to Damascus' suburbs. Without U.S.air support, like it provided in Libya, further use of U.S. trained forces would have been useless. The "red-line" plan was activated. On August 21 some chemical stuff was released in some Damascus suburbs. Immediately an immense number of videos showing rows of alleged dead were uploaded to Youtube. But those videos did not show the right symptoms for a Sarin attack nor did they show the medical attention one would expect in the hours immediately following a real chemical weapon attack. It was clearly a false flag incident. But Obama tried to convince the world that the Syrian government had indeed used chemical weapons and released some flimsy claims of evidence but no evidence at all. He called on allies to join him for a military intervention.

The British parliament voted down a request from its government to join the war. The British population, like in the U.S., had no stomach for another lengthy war. Obama was in a catch 22 situation. He could go to war without asking Congress and would then face a possible impeachment from a very hostile House, or he could ask Congress for a vote for war. He soon climbed down from his "I'll wage this war" position and decided to go to Congress. The U.S. population was widely against another Middle East war as was the U.S. military. Pressured by their constituents and in view of unconvincing claims of evidence about the "massacre" Congress denied Obama its vote for war. In this Congress even defied AIPAC and the Israel lobby lost its first fight in over 22 years.

Obama has an urgent domestic agenda to implement. There is Obama-care, the budget and an upcoming fight over on the debt ceiling. Having lost in Congress Obama could not, solely on his assumed presidential powers, go to war. He would have risked an immediate impeachment process and a lame duck status for the rest of his presidency. What was he to do?

There the white Russian knight, Vladimir Putin, rode to Obama's rescue.

Putin offered a deal: Syria would agree to give up its unconventional weapons and the U.S. would agree for the Syrian government and president Assad to stay in power. The idea goes back to August 2012 when former Sen. Richard Lugar had proposed such a deal in Moscow.

Syria's chemical weapon are pretty useless on the tactical battlefield. But their potential use against Israeli population centers had proven to be a quite useful strategic deterrence. But now those weapons had become a liability. Instead of preventing an external war owning them was now threatening to invite one. At the same time Hizbullah's conventional missile force had already proven to be a good deterrent without the problems unconventional weapons carry with them. Syria can give away its current strategic deterrence and trust its allies in Iran and Russia to provide an equally effective replacement.

Obama took the rescue line Putin threw to him. He knew that openly entering the Syrian war against a well prepared opponent and its allies would mean a long and uncertain war. He was in a lose-lose situation but could now come out of it and look like a winner. He rescues Israel from the threat of a gas attack and cashes in on a win from his peace-prized hobby horse - WMD-disarmament.

Today the foreign ministers of the Russian Federation and the United States agreed on a Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons. It will require, if possible, the elimination of all of Syria's chemical weapons by mid 2014. The agreement does not say anything about the future of the Assad government. But Russia will have made sure that guarantees were given and received. Syria would not give up these weapons without such a deal. Russia as well as Syria know that Obama must keep face and they will not talk about the silent backroom deal that was made earlier today in Geneva. They behave like Nikita Khrushchev who kept silent over his agreement with Kennedy about the removal of U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey after the Cuba missile crisis. Besides those guarantees any fulfillment of the disarmament, which may take a bit longer than today agreed upon, depends on the survival of the Syrian government. Taking down Assad is for now out of question.

Obama will now, slowly, reduce support for the Syrian insurgency. He will press Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to do likewise. As faster Syria agrees and moves to eliminate its chemical weapons as faster will Obama retreat from the war. U.S. media will soon turn to the budget fight and the NSA spying affair as the major news themes and the U.S. public will forget about Syria.

The Syrian opposition does not like the deal and does not want it to succeed. The Syrian Military Council will do its best to derail it. But it will soon be out of political support and out of money. Meanwhile the local SMC forces are fighting al-Qaeda aligned groups. It could well be that some of the local Syrian insurgency groups will soon join government forces in attacking the Jihadis. General Selim Idris may find some low level bureaucratic job in Dubai or Qatar.

The Saudi king hates al-Qaeda ideologues just as much as he hates the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sasanids. He will agree to stop the war and will crack down on its financiers. Prince Bandar, who's responsibility was the recruiting the insurgent fighters, has (again) screwed up his job by not keeping them under control. He may be sent back into the desert. The Gulf states will (have to) follow the Saudi example.

In Israel Netanyahoo knows that he lost this fight. AIPAC's defeat in Congress tells him that. While this round against the resistance was indecisive, a lot of Syria has been destroyed and its strategic arms have for now been dismantled. Netanyahoo will agree to the U.S. plan of winding down the war but will demand some undeserved "compensation". He always does and Obama always gives to him.

The Turkish premier Erdogan will try to continue to support the insurgency in Syria. He is the only statesman who does so for ideological reasons. A true believer. But he also has lots of problems with his other neighbors and the external credit driven Turkish economy is on the verge of falling into a deep hole. Some hints from Russia and Iran that this winter might bring some technical difficulties with Turkey's gas supplies may be enough to make him finally throw in the towel. There are also some people within his own party, especially the Anatolian businessmen, who no longer agree with his rule. They may use his political weakness to bring some one else to the fore.

Out of support and out of any chance to ever win the fight the Syrian part of the insurgency will likely stop fighting and try to come to some clemency agreement with the government. The foreign al-Qaeda parts will continue the fight. But they have little ideological base in the Syrian population and have no chance against a full fledged mechanized army. There will be a clamp down against their financial backers. For some time their terrorism will continue though. The U.S. may soon help Syria with intelligence or drones to fight them down.

Russia is the clear strategic winner of the war on Syria. It is back as a power in the Middle East and has laid the base to stay there for quite some time. It has won major points in the global public opinion. Gazprom will be happy to help Syria with exploring and retrieving its coastal gas reserves. That will pay for Syria's reconstruction and rearmament. Gazprom may also buy gas from the Iran-Syria pipeline, sell it to Europe and strengthen its monopoly there.

Iran has reinforced its strategic role and is now well positioned for negotiations of a deal with the United States that could end the 30 years of hot and cold hostilities. It has spent quite a bit on Syria and will spend more to help rebuilding it but the strategic result, a win for the "axis of resistance", is well worth that price.

Syria and Syrians have won the war and lost a lot. It will take years to reintegrate the refugees, to rebuild and to let the wounds and deep rifts heal. Syria has also regained its independence. In 2014 Bashar al-Assad will likely be reelected as president of the Syrian Arab Republic and Syria's history will remember him as a gracious ruler and as a hero.

The people of the United States have, for the first time in decades, stopped a war that their president wanted to pursue. That is a huge victory and a precedence. They should remember it well when the next manufactured war on this or that small country comes up. They have the power to stop it.

Posted by b on September 14, 2013 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (136)

September 13, 2013

Open Thread 2013-19

News & views ...

Posted by b on September 13, 2013 at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (136)

September 12, 2013

Libya's Destruction - Based On "Exceptionalism", Lies And Propaganda

In an op-ed in the New York Times the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin warns the people of the United States against further interventions:
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
Putin especially mentions Libya which he describes as now "divided into tribes and clans."

Libya today is worse than that. It has moved on into lawlessness and ruin. Only yesterday, a year after a U.S. ambassador was killed in Bengazi, the foreign ministry building there was attacked with a large bomb. The biggest concern for the "west" is of course the spice from Libya, which is no longer flowing.

The Libya intervention, like those many before it, was build on lies and propaganda. A new policy brief on the Libya intervention from the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School makes three points:

The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. Libya's 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Muammar al-Qaddafi did not target civilians or resort to indiscriminate force. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO's intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi's regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans.

The Intervention Backfired. NATO's action magnified the conflict's duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors. If Libya was a "model intervention," then it was a model of failure.

Three Lessons. First, beware rebel propaganda that seeks intervention by falsely crying genocide. Second, avoid intervening on humanitarian grounds in ways that reward rebels and thus endanger civilians, unless the state is already targeting noncombatants. Third, resist the tendency of humanitarian intervention to morph into regime change, which amplifies the risk to civilians.

Twelve years after 9/11 the U.S. is turning to a bit less interventionist policies. Obama's defeat over Syria in both houses of Congress and in the public opinion is a very welcome sign of that. But there is still this very American disease of exceptionalism which Putin is very right take on:
I would rather disagree with a case [President Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
This assumed exceptionalims has very bad results. It is a costly illusion not only for the Libyan or Syrian people but, in the long run, also for the U.S. people themselves.

Posted by b on September 12, 2013 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (84)

September 11, 2013

Syria: The Axis Of Resistance Must Do More

The first propaganda wave to get U.S. citizen support for regime change in Syria was based on the usual nonsense of "democracy" and "freedom". It took too long because domestic support for the Syrian government was much bigger than anticipated and the Syrian state would not fold. After a while real news reports about the Syrian opposition leaked out and it became obvious that the Syrian government was fighting a bunch of criminals and Jihadis. The U.S. military and U.S. citizens balked against fighting on those folks' side.

A new campaign was needed and the false-flag "chemical weapon" attack in a Damascus suburb was created to launch it. That campaign failed too. First in the British parliament and then in the U.S. congress. The plan was too obvious and the claim of evidence soon tuned out to be empty. Obama had driven himself into a corner. His credibility was at stake and he would probably have launched an open war on Syria even without congressional support.

Putin came to his rescue, Obama blinked and the campaign folded.

A third campaign is now being build, this time over the Syrian-Russian offer to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons. Obama and some Senators are trying to build a new regime change base by declaring any purported delay of hick-up Syria's voluntary disarmament a casus belli.

This campaign is likely to also fail. Russia and China will not agree to any UN resolution that opens even the smallest possibility to be abused for a case against Syria.

But all that does not save Syria. The U.S. led Saudi/Turkish/Israeli support for the insurgency with weapons, ammunition and training continues. It has to be stopped or Syria will be destroyed. The main logistic paths for the insurgency are the southern Turkish border and Jordan.

What has the resistance axis done to close those routes down? Yes, Hizbullah helped to shut down the Lebanese route. But where are the incentives for Jordan and Turkey to stop their support? Where is the pressure that makes them do so? What has been done to induce the insurgent's financiers to stop the money flow?

Russia can for now hold back the United States. But the task of closing the support areas for the Jihadis and to go after their supporters falls to the regional forces.

Come on folks. You already had two years time. Now get this done.

Posted by b on September 11, 2013 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (152)

September 10, 2013

No Need For UN In Syria's Chemical Weapon Solution

Gregg Carlstrom summarizes Obama's confused messaging on Syria:
We are "seriously skeptical" of an offer, which we originally and accidentally proposed just a few hours earlier, to peacefully resolve a standoff over a "red line" which we accidentally set down last year. At the very least, it will delay for several weeks our response to a "deplorable" slaughter, our "Munich moment," which we promise will be "unbelievably small and extremely limited."
For anyone who closely followed yesterdays events (and the longer term issues) it is clear that the Obama administration had not planned for this development to happen. It was not the result of apt U.S. diplomacy but the result of another Kerry gaffe that Russia used to turn a terse situation into a win for nearly all sides.

The Russian initiative using Kerry's offhand remark saves Syria from an imminent attack by U.S. forces that would have shifted the battlefield balance towards the foreign supported insurgents and terrorists. It reenforces Assad's international position as the head of the state of Syria. It also saves the Obama administration from a serious defeat in Congress and from an embarrassing unilateral and illegal strike that would have been too big to be seen justified - internationally as well as domestically - and too small to placate the Israeli warmongers and other insurgency supporters.

The United Nations Secretary General, China, Britain, France and the Arab League welcomed the Russian initiative. Syria accepted it. Predictably the Syrian insurgents are against the Russian proposal as are the Israelis. They will not matter. The Obama campaign momentum towards war is now broken and can not be repaired. Going to war now would require a complete new propaganda campaign build on a different pseudo-rational cause.

France now proposes a UN Security Council resolution to underwrite the yet to be defined proposal. The U.S., Britain and France will try to put such a resolution under UN Chapter VII which would eventually allow for the use of force against Syria. Neither Russia nor China will agree to that. There is actually no need for a UN resolution at all though Russia may prefer to have some UNSC statement on the issue if only to pull the United States back into the realm of international law.

Syria's chemical stockpiles can be put under international control by immediately handing the keys of the warehouses over to Russian and Chinese officers. Syria could then contact the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and ask for its inspectors to work with those foreign officers to compile and verify lists of the stockpiles and to create plans for their eventual destruction. The OPCW is a legal international organization in its own rights and not a United Nations agency. Syria would join the OPCW by signing and ratifying the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC). Syria would inform the United Nations Secretary General of these steps. There is no legal reason at all for the United Nations or the Security Council to be involved in any of these steps.

The destruction of Syria's stockpiles will take a long time. One would want to avoid to transport those chemicals and would preferably build a special handling and incineration facility somewhere in the Syrian desert to then destroy those chemicals and munitions. This may take, like in the United States, a decade or two or even longer.

I do not see any way the U.S. and its allies can reasonably press for a Chapter VII resolution. Syria declares, like many states did earlier, that it will voluntarily take the steps towards fulfilling the CWC. Why then should it, unlike any other countries before it, be threatened with force to do so? If there is to be a UNSC resolution on chemical weapons in the Middle East Russia and China must insist for it to cover all Middle East countries including of course Israel's chemical weapons. It is an reasonable demand and will be rejected bei the U.S. which is then a good reason to blame it for a failing resolution.

If Obama is smart he will recognize that Russia pulled him back from destroying his presidency. He should use the moment to rethink his Syria strategy, to dissociate himself from the Saudi-Israeli-Turkish alliance to destroy Syria and to finally agree on a diplomatic-political solution for the Syrian people.

Posted by b on September 10, 2013 at 07:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (266)

September 09, 2013

Syria: Lavrov Checkmates Kerry Over Offhand Remark

Secretary of State Kerry held a pretty ridiculous press conference (see at 2.43pm BST) in Britain today which was mocked widely for some unfortunate remarks.

There are three points to discuss. First two minor ones with the big blunder that Lavrov used to checkmate Kerry and a U.S. attack on Syria at the end.

Starting at 4:20 Kerry describes the way the Obama administration wants to attack Syria: a very limited, in a very targeted short term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing. Unbelievable small limited kind of effort. Now that has been engaged in previously on many different occasions. President Reagan had a several hours or whatever effort to send a message to Ghadaffi in the wake I think of Pan Am 103 and other terrorist activities.
Aside from the laughable "unbelievable small" attacks (which will cost Republican votes in the Senate) the lesson to draw from Reagan's attack on Libya is exactly the other way around.

Reagan did not attack Libya over the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie but the destruction of Pan Am 103 in a terrorist attack in December 1988 came after Reagan had carried out a "message sending" attack on Libya and Ghaddafi's family in 1986.

The bombing of Pan Am 103 was the consequence of Reagan's strikes, not their cause. If the comparison of the planed strikes on Syria to Reagan's strikes is to hold, one would expect additional terrorist attacks on planes as a consequence of U.S. attacks on Syria. Pan An 103 is an argument not to strike Syria but Kerry has some "unbelievable small" historic knowledge and does not see that.

A second minor point is in Kerry's remarks in which he mocks the Syrian president Assad's credibility (at 1:25):

I personally visited him once on the instruction of the White House to confront him on his transfer of Scud missiles to Hizbullah which we knew has taken place and all kinds of facts and he set there and simply denied it to my face not withstanding the evidence I presented him and what we showed him.
While the Israelis and U.S. officials at one point claimed such, there is serious doubt that Syria did transfer Scuds to Hizbullah. Scuds are liquid fueled and therefore difficult to handle in the battle field. They need several trucks to carry the missiles and the corrosive fuels and take hours to prepare. If Syria or Iran supplied Hizbullah with missiles in the payload/range capacity of Scuds those would have been more modern solid fueled Fateh-110 which are much easier and faster to handle.

The third and biggest blunder in Kerry's speech starts at 0:04 into the video:

... [Assad] could turn over any single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn its over. All of it. And without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to to do it and it can't be done obviously.
That seemed like an off remark but there have been mentions in the Israeli press of some plans to press Syria into giving up all its strategic weapons which would of course leave it without any retaliation measure against an Israeli attack.

Shortly after Kerry made the remarks about Syria giving up its chemical weapons the State Department tried to walk things back:

The State Department sought Monday to clarify comments from Secretary of State John Kerry about how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could prevent a military strike from the United States.

Al-Assad "could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week," Kerry said during a press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."
A spokeswoman for Kerry sought to put his remarks in context moments later.

"Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

But that "rhetorical argument" was taken up by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov:
Russia has urged Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent destruction to avert a possible military strike.

“We are calling on the Syrian authorities not only agree on putting chemical weapons storages under international control, but also for its further destruction and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Lavrov said. “We have passed our offer to Al-Muallem [Syrian Foreign Minister] and hope to receive a fast and positive answer,” he added.

It is unclear if Syria will support the offer, but if it helps to avoid a military strike, Russia is immediately prepared to work with Damascus, Lavrov said.

One could imagine Syria agreeing at least to the first part of Russia's idea. Why not have Russian "international control" officers on the ground of the chemical weapon sites and thereby have quasi human shields who will prevent these sides from being attacked? Why not agree to this minor inconvenience when it will prevent an open U.S. engagement in the war on Syria? Why not use such "international control" to refuted future false flag attacks?

It will anyway take a looong time until those chemical weapons would some day really be destroyed. It takes probably a decade to build the special facilities needed to do so and both, Russia as well as the U.S, are many years behind in fulfilling their own commitments of destroying their chemical weapon stocks.

The Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem welcomed the Russian proposal.

Kerry unconsciously set himself a trap and Russia used it to checkmate him and a U.S. attack on Syria. How can Obama convince Congress to allow him to bomb Syria when there is such an easy (though still to be negotiated) way to avoid starting another war?

Posted by b on September 9, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (133)

September 08, 2013

NSA Breaks Internet, Rewrites Constitution

The Washington Post reveals the next chapter of NSA spying. It invalidates the excuse of "Bush did it":

Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011

The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency’s use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases, according to interviews with government officials and recently declassified material.
The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage.
[I]n 2011, to more rapidly and effectively identify relevant foreign intelligence communications, “we did ask the court” to lift the ban, ODNI general counsel Robert S. Litt said in an interview. “We wanted to be able to do it,” he said, referring to the searching of Americans’ communications without a warrant.
The Obama administration secretly amended the 4th amendment to now read:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized unless the government wants to be able to do it.
As we learned this week the NSA also broke all Internet security. If the NSA can break into "secure" connections how secure is your Internet banking? How easy is it for the government to fake "secure" transactions for whatever means?

The NSA can also spy on all smart phone data on iPhones, Android or BlackBerry phones. As we will learn later today the NSA does not only spy against "terror" targets or foreign politicians but also uses its capabilities to achieve economic gains. I suspected all along that international economic spying, not fighting "terrorism", is the major motive for many NSA programs.

The NSA spying undermines trust which is one of the basic necessary elements for communication and economic transactions. It will take a while for this to sink in, but I expect that we will see major changes in how international networks and commerce operate. There will be a strong trend to de-globalize and re-nationalize telecommunication networks and technology. This will extinct the Internet as we know it.

The NSA has stolen the Internet. We need to take it back.

Posted by b on September 8, 2013 at 02:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (51)

September 07, 2013

Senate Surrenders War Powers Over False Flag Incident

While U.S. citizens are calling their representatives to vote against AIPAC pressure and against a war on Syria and Iran the really problematic vote is more likely to happen in the Senate.

The Obama administration asked the Senate for an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in Syria over an alleged chemical weapons attack. That AUMF was already worded incredibly wide and would have allowed the president to wage unlimited war over all the Middle East and beyond.

But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was first to consult over the AUMF, partially made the already wide language of the Obama draft AUMF even wider and worse. It effectively surrenders all war powers to the office of the president.

While on first sight the body of the new AUMF (pdf) seems to limit the president's ability to wage war, a huge "Easter egg" was put into the preambling Whereas clauses. Here are the three critical ones which have to be seen in combination:

  • Whereas in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (Public Law 108–175), Congress found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;
  • Whereas Syria’s use of weapons of mass destruction and its conduct and actions constitute a grave threat to regional stability, world peace, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners;
  • Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States

That last whereas clause contradicts the constitution as well as the War Powers Resolution of 1973. It gives the president unlimited power to wage war anytime he finds the wobbly defined "national interest" of the United States endangered. It is huge blank check.

Why are the Senators on the verge of handing such power to the president? It makes life easier for them. It can push off their responsibility to decalre wars and blame the president when things go wrong. It is a dereliction of the Senate's duty.

While the AUMF looks likely to be defeated in the House, a positive vote in the Senate on these new presidential powers would be taken by this and future presidents as a precedent and would support any future case in which the president wants to go to war without consulting with Congress.

The citizens of the United States should concentrate on defeating this Senate vote. Call your Senators before you call your House members and ask them to vote against this overarching claim of presidential powers.

This is even more important now as the case of the "chemical attack" in Syria looks more and more fraudulent. A number of former intelligence officers have written to the president to warn him that the case has not been made, that the provided intelligence is fraudulent and that the incident in Syria was, as we maintained from the beginning, a false flag incident created by Saudi, Turkish and Israeli services:

We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this.
Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you.
That the incident near Damascus was a false flag committed by the insurgents in Syria is also the stated opinion of the Russian Federation.

The Israeli plan for Syria is to keep up a lengthy war of attrition between the insurgency and the Syrian government:

“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”
As we said a year ago:
Destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria is their and their supporters aim.
The Israeli plan of endless war in Syira also seems to be the plan the United States government supports. Balance both sides, provide weapons and support the insurgents when they are week, reduce support when they are winning, keep the war ongoing as long as possible and with the most possible damage:
"I don’t expect huge, huge change on the day after on the ground,” said the official, who is traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry to a meeting here with European Union foreign ministers on the Middle East.

“That grinding war of attrition will continue and the regime’s manpower shortages will continue to grow, but I would not expect a breakthrough on the ground.”

The war on and in Syria could stop within a few weeks if the United States and its allies would stop delivering weapons, ammunition and other support to the insurgency and would seriously seek a negotiated solution. But the United States will not do so as long as its strategy for the destruction of Syria is working.

The Syrian government and its supporters must recognize this. It is not enough to keep fighting the insurgents. The war must be pushed onto those who support them. The Jordan King Abdullah needs to feel under pressure to finally close down the CIA insurgency training camps within his country. The Turkish prime minister Erdogan is already in political trouble. This trouble needs to be reenforced to induce him to change his aims and to shut down any and all support for the insurgency. There are ways and means, not necessarily neat ones, to achieve such.

Posted by b on September 7, 2013 at 07:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (236)

September 06, 2013

On The Way Towards War

Harper writes at Pat Lang's place that the launch of the new Middle East war is imminent:
I am told by current intelligence officials that President Obama intends to bomb Syria in the coming days--with or without Congressional approval. With the whip count in the House of Representatives looking worse and worse for the war party, the White House is pressing Harry Reid to rush the Senate vote, perhaps as early as Monday evening, Sept. 9, the day that the Congress returns to Washington and the debate is scheduled to begin. If Obama can get a Senate majority, sources close to the White House say that he will order strikes before the House can get started. Perhaps this is why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is saying that a House vote is unlikely before the week of Sept. 16, given that passions are running so high on the issue. The reality is that opposition in the House is growing and the chance of a "yes" vote from the GOP-led lower chamber is well below 50 percent.
A report in the New York Times somewhat disagrees:
Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.
Obama's and Kerry's arguments, based on dubious intelligence, for the illegal war that they don't even dare to call such are not having the impact they hoped. Even fanatic Obama supporters reject their reasoning.

While the Senate may pass the all-out-war resolution the House seems likely to reject it. To change that a massive Israeli and AIPAC lobbying operation for war on Syria and Iran is underway:

Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
Obama has canceled further travel to press on Congress and to propagandize to the public for his war.

One reason for this war and its likely extension to Iran is the fact that sanctions against Iran are breaking down in Europe and elsewhere. That the sanctions on Iraq were receding without achieving their goals was one of the arguments that was made for the war on Iraq.

But rejection of the war within the U.S. and globally is massive. The U.S. military is not at all on board and also rejects the war on Syria and its likely regional escalation. The administration is showing no understanding that the other side of an attack also has a vote and that any escalation could well have militarily catastrophic consequences.

Mission creep already starts even before the open shooting begins. Instead of "a few cruise missiles" the orders have moved to an all out bombing campaign on more than 50 sites to "degrade" the Syrian military and thereby relatively increase the power of the already coordinating and preparing al-Qaeda insurgents.

The build up of forces in the area continues. Russia is sending more ships to the Syrian coast as are other countries. The U.S. has moved an aircraft carrier to the Red Sea from where it could reach Syria. I am certain the Navy would prefer that carrier to be in the Mediterranean. But to get there it would have to pass through the Suez Canal where only this week a container ship was attacked with several RPGs by al-Qaeda aligned fighters. A U.S. carrier on its way to kill more Muslims would certainly be a preferred target to them. The Suez Canal is for now a no-go zone for U.S. war ships which could have a serious impact should U.S. war plans, as they are likely to, fail after the first contact with the enemy. In further war preparations the U.S. ordered non-emergency diplomatic staff to leave Lebanon.

Turkey is shifting more and more troops towards the border with Syria. This could be the preparation of a land invasion. Erdogan urgently wants and needs a war while the Turkish population is largely against it. Erdogan's peace negotiations with the Kurds seem to go nowhere and the Turkish economy is on the verge of breaking down:

[T]he benchmark Istanbul stock index has lost one-third of its value since hitting a record high in mid-May, the lira has plummeted to record lows and bond yields have doubled to 10%. Turkey's central bank has failed to stem the declines despite spending more than 15% of its net reserves as billions of dollars exited the country.
Turkey's total foreign debt has nearly tripled since 2002 to $350 billion, more than half of which must be repaid or rolled over within one year. That puts short-term liabilities at about a quarter of Turkey's GDP—two to three times more than Brazil and India.
A war against Syria will hurt Turkey further. It will also hurt the United States. The already diminished global standing of the "sole superpower" will decrease further. The likely prolonged war will cost it more money it does not have without achieving its aim. Going to war against the will of its own people will let others laugh at any U.S. argument of "democracy promotion". The global oil price hike that is already occurring in anticipation of the war will hurt the global economy while it will fill Russia's, Iran's and other oil producers war chest.

But argue against a useless war that will cost the U.S. a lot and you will be accused as "anti-American".

This is the non-sensical response one gets for challenging war promoters:

Laura Rozen ‏@lrozen
look moon you wld like nothing better than russia & iran & china architects of global order. “@MoonofA:
And this is the appropriate response to such idiocy:
billmon @billmon1

Scratch a "liberal" interventionist, find Joe McCarthy hiding underneath.

Posted by b on September 6, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (144)

September 05, 2013

Obama's (In-)Credibility Campaign

Remarks by the President to the White House Press Corps, Aug 20 2012
We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
Obama says he didn’t draw the red line on Syria, world did, Sept 5 2013
Speaking at a press conference in Stockholm ahead of an economic summit in Russia, where he will seek support for a U.S. military strike against Syria, Obama said the “red line” he talked about a year ago against Syria’s use of chemical weapons wasn’t his but an international standard.

“I didn’t set a red line, the world set a red line,” Obama said.

“My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America and Congress’ credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”

Obama is going into wild territory here. It IS his credibility that is on the line. Despite all Israeli fed propaganda against Syria I can not find one internet forum where his case for War On Syria has even slight support.

The President of Russian Federation Putin just called U.S. Secretary of State Kerry a liar. This because Kerry insisted, in contradiction to U.S. intelligence and recent news reports, that the al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Syria are only a shrinking minority of the Syrian opposition.

Kerry asserted that the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution.

"And the opposition is getting stronger by the day," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday."

To this Putin responded:
Mr Putin said: "This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them (the Americans) and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad."
That is in diplomatic settings an extremely strong, though surely calculated wording. It is also correct.

Should Obama and Kerry continue with their ridiculously, amateurish, it's all secret campaign they will lose any and all credibility not only on Syria but on any political issue they will in future touch on.

Posted by b on September 5, 2013 at 07:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (136)

September 04, 2013

Syrian Oppo: "Dead Syrian Ex-Minister Defects To Turkey"

Reuters, Sep 4, 2013: Exclusive: Former Syria defense minister breaks with Assad-Labwani
Former Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

"Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official," Kamal al-Labwani said from Paris.
A Gulf source told Reuters that Habib had defected on Tuesday evening, arriving at the Turkish frontier before midnight with two or three other people. He was then taken across the border in a convoy of vehicles.

Born in 1939, Habib was defense minister from June 2009 to August 2011 and has also served as Chief of the General Staff of the Syrian Army. He is from the port city of Tartus.

YnetNews, Sep 8, 2011: Syrian opposition: Ousted defense minister dead
Websites affiliated with Syrian opposition groups reported on Tuesday that General Ali Habib was found dead in his home a day after he was dismissed as defense minister. On Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad appointed army chief Dawood Rajha to replace Habib.

The SANA news agency reported Monday that Habib had been suffering from a deterioration in his health.
Opposition websites also quoted Syria TV reports allegedly suggesting that Habib had died a natural death.

So who dug him up?

Posted by b on September 4, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (172)

Open Thread 2013-18

News & views (not Syria) ...

Posted by b on September 4, 2013 at 08:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (92)

September 03, 2013

U.S. War On Syria Now Likely To Happen

The United States, France and Britain have made claims that they have evidence of chemical weapon use by the Syrian government against the Al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents.

But those were just claims. None of the claimed evidence has actually been produced. There are claims of satellite pictures showing the launch of rockets, there are claims about interdicted telephone calls between parts of the Syrian military, there are claims of "signatures of sarin" in bio-samples. None of these claimed evidences has been published and opened to public and expert scrutiny. The Russian government as well as the Syrian government allege that these claims of evidence are false. That no evidence exists because the alleged strike from the Syrian government never happened.

One would expect that the media, legislators and the public would demand that real evidence be produced. There is no sound reason to hold it back. The capabilities to get such evidence, should it exist, are well known. There is no need to protect "sources and methods". Still McClatchy, who were also excellent on the false claims about Iraq's WMDs, is the only media outlet asking questions.

That none of the claimed evidence has at all actually been produced tells me that, as I have maintained all along, there is none and that the incident was a false flag one.

The Syrian opposition is today in the process of presenting a "defector", a "medical examiner" with allegedly some knowledge about the incident. His codename is curveball.

Whatever - the truth does not matter anymore:

“The debate is shifting away from ‘Did he use chemical weapons?’ to ‘What should be done about it?’ ” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview after the Monday conference call.

Obama has played the reluctant warrior who would only make a "punitive" strike on Syria that would not change the powers in the battlefield. But he then requested an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has holes big enough to drive an army through and into Tehran. Why would he do so if he really would want to limit himself to a few strikes? Why would he press Congress to pass it? Obama is now also arguing that Iran, Hezbollah and the security of Israel are the real reasons why it is necessary to bomb the Syrian people. Already 16 month ago the President of the Russian Federation Putin had expected such bombing to happen:

At the time, Mr. Obama had no plans for military involvement in the civil war raging in the heart of the Middle East, but Mr. Putin did not believe that. In Mr. Putin’s view, the United States wanted only to meddle in places where it had no business, fomenting revolutions to install governments friendly to Washington.
Well, the plans to attack Syria are indeed quite old and Putin surely knew about them.

The AUMF will be rewritten by the House and the Senate and will then be a bit more restricted than the Obama draft. It will likely still be wide and vague enough for the Obama administration and its successor to justify any and all bombing in the Middle East they would ever like to do. It will likely, like Obama's draft, allow for a war on Iran. From the perspective of the Israel lobby and many in Congress that would not be a bug in the AUMF, but a feature.

It is still difficult to estimate how the votes in Congress will go. There will silent but full force pressure from AIPAC, “the 800-pound gorilla in the room," to vote for war on Syria. One might expect the Senate to vote yes and the House to vote no. Unless the result is a very loud "No!" from both houses Obama will be ready, just as Kerry has announced, to ignore it. I for now expect that strikes will happen and that the situation will escalate from there.

Like the Syrian President Assad I see no way that any outright military strike by the United States against Syria would not escalate into some bigger and probably huge conflagration. While many would get killed and maimed there is one aspect to this that might be positive. President Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski thinks that such a widening war would be the end of Israel as the Zionist entity:

It will simply do to Israel what some of the wars have done to us on a smaller scale. Attrite it, tire it, fatigue it, demoralize it, cause emigration of the best and the first, and then some sort of cataclysm at the end which cannot be predicted at this stage because we don’t know who will have what by when. And after all, Iran is next door. It might have some nuclear capability. Suppose the Israelis knock it off. What about Pakistan and others? The notion that one can control a region from a very strong and motivated country, but of only six million people, is simply a wild dream.

Posted by b on September 3, 2013 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (198)

MSNBC: All You Need To Know About Bombing Syria

As the United States decides wheather to bomb Syria with hundreds or with thousands of cruise missiles its media are doing their very best to explain the situation to the somewhat uninformed public.

Consider, for example, the premier program Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Its webpage helpfully provides an overview piece on Syria headlined: In Syria debate, little mention of rebels. The story highlights the, much exaggerated, sectarian difference between the Syrian president Assad and his supporters versus the groups driving the insurgency. An excerpt:

In Syria, the religious dynamic is particularly acute as Assad –a secular Sunni — is under attack mostly from religious Shia groups with varied interests and outside support. It is unknown which groups, if any, may be affiliated politically with elements in Shia-ruled Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Okay, Assad is a Sunni and that is obviously why AlQaeda, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fighting him. It must also be the reason why Iran and Hizbullah are supporting some groups against him. That was really important to learn.

As MSNBC will likely correct that bummer without noting the correction, just a the New York Times is striking AIPAC pressure to hit Syria and Iran out of its stories, here is a screenshot taken about 10 minutes ago.


Anyway, it is good to see that the thoughtful and knowledgeable U.S. media at least try to get the U.S. citizens reasonable informed and thereby equipped to make thoughtful decisions about global war and peace.

Posted by b on September 3, 2013 at 03:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (51)

September 02, 2013

Media Claim Sarin Usage While "Signature Evidence" Is Not Viable

Several newspapers claim that U.S. Secretary of State Kerry said that there is proof of sarin gas used in the recent Syrian incident. These claims are false.

All these headline claims are false. From the McClatchy report this is what Kerry said:

“We have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in east Damascus (that) hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

It is important to differentiate between sarin and mere "signatures of sarin". (UPDATE) The "signature" does not say much about what chemical exposure happened. The U.S. Army book Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare explicitly says that concluding on a chemical agent exposure from "signatures" in bio-samples is false (Chapter 22 (pdf)):

Assay of Parent Compounds

analyzing for parent nerve agents from biomedical matrices, such as blood or urine, is not a viable diagnostic technique for retrospective detection of exposure.

(/update) Sarin, a fluid at room temperature, evaporates and decomposes rapidly. A few hours after sarin exposure it is nearly impossible to find pure sarin samples on or within a human body. Sarin molecules react with other molecules and fall apart. What might be found in a biological sample of someone who was exposed to sarin are therefore only decomposition products of sarin. But the same decomposition products can also occur from exposition to other chemical substances. Especially exposure to typical farming insecticides, chemically organophosphates, is likely to create the same decomposition products that sarin exposure does.

Dan Kaszeta, a former Chemical Officer in the United States Army, is one of the foremost experts in chemical and biological weapons. As he explains in an interview:

A number of reports have claimed to have proven the use of sarin through tests on hair, clothing, blood, tissue, and urine samples.

At least one study shows that the presence of a nerve agent could be deduced by examining post-mortem blood samples for presence or lack of acetylcholinesterase, up to a week after death. A person who has died from Sarin exposure would have little or no acetylcholinesterase present. It should be noted that this would only indicate the presence of a nerve agent and would not specifically indicate Sarin versus any other nerve agent (or even organophosphate pesticide intoxication) nor would it conclusively indicate nerve agent as a cause of death, as other factors may have killed the victim, such as conventional trauma.
One of the decomposition products of Sarin in the human body is methylphosphonic acid. A study shows that this substance is detectable in urine by use of mass spectrometry. This particular substance is not specific to Sarin.
Is it possible other substances could produce false positives for sarin?

Yes. Generally, the more sophisticated and expensive the detection technique, the less scope for false positives. The false positives depend entirely on the detection method. IMS is often fooled by chemicals of the same molecular weight as Sarin. Organophosphate-based pesticides are very similar chemicals to nerve agent chemical weapons, so they may pose a false positive.

The hair and blood samples the U.S. tested came from the insurgents in Syria through an insecure custody chain of evidence. They did not test positive for sarin but showed decomposition products that may have come from exposure to sarin or may have come from exposure to insecticides or some other class of chemical substances.

It is also very important to keep in mind that even proven evidence of exposure to sarin, or any insecticide, does not say anything at all about how such an exposure might have happened and who might have been responsible for it. The indications that the insurgents in Syria might have been responsible are at least as strong as the indications of government use. The insurgents, who do want the U.S. to intervene on their side, also have a very strong motive to create such an incident.

It is irresponsible that headline writers and journalists fail to explain these contexts and claim "sarin usage" while the evidence thereof is inconclusive and while not even the U.S. government made such a indefensible claim at all.

Posted by b on September 2, 2013 at 05:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (187)

September 01, 2013

Obama's Carte Blanche War Resolution

Any war resolution Congress would pass would likely be interpreted by the administration as a license for all out war on Syria and beyond.

But the first draft the executive is putting to Congress is even worse:

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to -
  1. prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapon of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or
  2. protect the United States or its allies and partners against the threats posed by such weapons.
This draft is nearly as wide as the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists that Congress passed on September 14 2001 and which has been (ab-)used by the Bush and Obama administrations as an undiscriminating, unlimited license to incarcerate, torture or kill anyone at the free discretion of the executive.

The key words in Obama's draft and their meaning are:

  • "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" ==> no limits apply
  • "in connection with" ==> as everything is connected ...
  • "or deter the use or proliferation" ==> by whatever means
  • "to .. other state .. actors" ==> target Iran
  • "or components of or materials used" ==> from corrugated steel to petroleum products
  • "protect ... or its allies and partners" ==> the Zionists
  • "against the threats posed" ==> includes non-use but assumed existence of such weapons

It is clear from this wording that such a resolution would allow nearly everything far beyond the "punitive" few cruise missile strikes against Syrian forces the administration marketed so far. It could easily be used for an outright blockade of Iran or even a "preemptive" strike against Iran's industries in the name of "deterrence" and "protecting" Israel.

It is all or nothing, peace or unlimited war. Anyone with peace on her mind should hope and work to prevent any war resolution from passing Congress. The abuse of any war resolution by this and the next executive is practically guaranteed. And even with a Congress approved war resolution any attack by the United States against Syria would still be a illegal war of aggression under international law.

There is some hope that the French parliament may come to help. The French president is now under pressure to also allow a vote on a war on Syria and beyond. That would would likely come before Congress votes and the French people are very much against a war. A "no" vote in the French parliament would increase pressure on Congress to also reject war.

During next weeks discussions it will be important to point out that the U.S. "intelligence" about the chemical incident in Syria is full of holes. The paper by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation used by Cameron to ask for war speaks of 350 people killed in the incident. On Friday Secretary of State Kerry spoke of 1,429 people killed. The draft war resolution speaks of "more then thousand" killed. 350, 1,429, 1,000 - which is it?

Even the often quoted, pro-insurgency Syrian Observatory for Human Rights rejects these numbers as propaganda:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization that monitors casualties in the country, said it has confirmed 502 deaths, nearly 1,000 fewer than the American intelligence assessment claimed.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the organization, said he was not contacted by U.S. officials about his efforts to collect information about the death toll in the Aug. 21 attacks.

"America works only with one part of the opposition that is deep in propaganda," he said, and urged the Obama administration to release the information its estimate is based on.

If the British and U.S. intelligence can not get the death count right what else in their estimates are just guesses based on open source rumors and insurgency propaganda? Are such unconfirmed estimates, not knowledge, really enough to send off armed forces to kill more and more people in foreign lands?

Posted by b on September 1, 2013 at 02:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (270)