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February 19, 2019

Why Iran Needs To Talk With The Taliban

The Trump administration is preparing a public argument for war on Iran. The Washington Times has some 'senior administration officials' claiming that Iran is allied with al-Qaeda and thus could and should be attacked:

Iran-al Qaeda alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes

Iran is providing high-level al Qaeda operatives with a clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money and weapons across the Middle East, according to Trump administration officials who warn that the long-elusive, complex relationship between two avowed enemies of America has evolved into an unacceptable global security threat.
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The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in the days after the 9/11 attacks provided the legal framework for President George W. Bush to order U.S. military action against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. The law has underpinned the U.S. counterterrorism campaign and has largely gone unchanged for the past 17 years through three presidential administrations.

Congressional and legal sources say the law may now provide a legal rationale for striking Iranian territory or proxies should President Trump decide that Tehran poses a looming threat to the U.S. or Israel and that economic sanctions are not strong enough to neutralize the threat.

That Iran is colluding with al-Qaeda, which it actively fights in Syria and Iraq, is obviously nonsense. When the U.S. attacked Afghanistan some families of al-Qaeda fighters fled to Iran where they were put under house arrest. They were and still are hostages Iran uses to prevent al-Qaeda attacks against its country. The Washington Times admits this:

One captured 2007 document, apparently written by an al Qaeda operative, concluded that, in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of neighboring Iraq, “Iranian authorities decided to keep our brothers as a bargaining chip.”

At the recent conferences in Warsaw and Munich the Trump administration failed to gain any European support for its anti-Iran strategy. Iraq has likewise rejected all U.S. attempts to position it against Iran. If the U.S. wants to attack Iran it will need to go it alone. Its 'allies' west of the Persian Gulf will give financial support but are not a serious military force. What they can do though is to ramp up terrorism against Iran.

The former Indian ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar suspects that the U.S. is trying to envelope Iran from the east to establish land routes that can be used for such purposes. The plan includes Pakistan and even the Afghan Taliban:

[T]oday, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Israel’s covert allies in West Asia. They are joined at the hips in the project to overthrow the Iranian regime. We may expect that the Af-Pak could become a major theatre from where their covert operations would be launched with the help of Pakistan under the watch and protection of the US to destabilise Iran. Tehran has repeatedly alleged that the two Arab states are working in tandem with the US and Israel.

After last Tuesday’s fedayeen attack in Iran’s southeastern region of Sistan-Baluchistan bordering Pakistan (in which 27 Iranian troops were killed in circumstances eerily similar to what happened in Pulwama), top Iranian generals have openly alleged the role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Unsurprisingly, Saudis and the Emiratis who are bankrolling the Pakistani economy, have come to call the shots in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Tehran is expecting turbulent times.
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[W]e have an explosive mix today, such as we have never come across before in our region and which no one could have foreseen previously — except, indeed, the astute mind of Hamid Karzai — whereby the Taliban leadership has come under immense Pakistani pressure to eschew its “Afghan-ness” and accede to the US wish list on an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan (which is also backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Israel.)

Bhadrakumar points to several recent incidents that suggest that such a plan is indeed in the making. He urges the Indian government to renew its alliance with Iran to counter such acts.

The Taliban will not like any plan that leaves foreign forces in their country. Removing all foreign forces from Afghanistan has always been their foremost aim. Yesterday the Taliban negotiators were supposed to meet their U.S. counterparts in Islamabad where they would also have talks with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and probably with Khan's current guest, Clown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. They canceled the talks on short notice. They may want to avoid additional pressure to submit to the U.S. plans of keeping some troops on Afghan ground.

Iran is also in talks with the Taliban. It may be able to offer them an alternative to the support they get from Pakistan. The U.S. has left the Afghan government in Kabul out of its talks with the Taliban while Iran kept it fully informed. Kabul may also prefer Iranian help in mediating an end of the long conflict.

Securing its eastern flank will be a high priority for Iran. A bid to change the allegiance of the Taliban from Pakistan to Iran may be the best way to achieve that.

Posted by b on February 19, 2019 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (46)

February 18, 2019

Syria Sitrep - French Officer Criticizes U.S. Way Of War - Assad Offers Kurds Some Autonomy

A large double-tap car bombing (vid) hit Idleb city in northwest Syria today. Some 20 to 30 people were killed and more wounded. Idleb governorate is controlled by the al-Qaeda aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) but many other terrorist groups continue to exist within the area. All fight each other over the available resources.

In September the Astana agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran was the basis of a ceasefire in Idleb governorate. Turkey was supposed to cleanse the area of HTS and other terrorist groups. It deployed soldiers to fortified observation posts around the region but did little else to fulfill the agreement.

Turkey is not only dragging its feet on Idleb but allows new foreign fighters to go there:

According to local sources in the province cited by Sputnik, around 1500 terrorists crossed the Turkish border into Idleb under the cover of the Turkish authorities supported by Turkish agents and directly supervised by the Turkish Gendarmerie (Jandarma) that is affiliated to the Turkish army.
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The sources mentioned that the terrorists are of Western nationalities, in addition to others who hold nationalities of East Asian and Arab countries, who were transported towards Jisr al-Shughour area that is under the control of terrorists from China and Turkistan, while the other foreign terrorists were transported to camps of Jabhat al-Nusra and Hurras Eddin in the southern and southeastern countryside of Idleb.

It is likely that many of these new arrivals are ISIS terrorist who fled from east Syria to Turkey and were then routed towards Idleb. The terrorist in Idleb governorate continue to attack Syrian troops around them. They use up quite a lot of ammunition and must have supply lines from Turkey to sustain the fighting.

Another recent meeting in the Astana format with Russia, Iran and Turkey confirmed the basic agreement but did not achieve a common position on how to proceed.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet just published an interview with Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. On Idelb he said:

Q: Should we expect an operation into Idlib in the short term?

A: We should leave that to our military experts. We do need an operation, but we have to decide on whether it will be Turkey’s operation or some other countries’. We should not hope to make a deal with the children of Ahrar al-Sham. That is a false hope, they are terrorists, they are al-Nusra, they are the children of al-Qaeda.

At the recent security conference in Munich Russia's Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov also mentioned (vid @~15:00min) the situation in Idleb. He said that there would be common Russian and Turkish patrols in some areas of Idleb governorate but provided no details.

For now everyone waits for the U.S. to retreat from northeast Syria as Trump has ordered. Idleb will only be attacked when that proceeded.

The Islamic State as a territory holding entity is finished. It will continue to exist for some time as an underground terrorist movement in Syria and Iraq and as a brand that local groups elsewhere will use for their misdeeds.

Since the end of last week the last holdout of ISIS is down to a few thousand square meters. The U.S. is now again negotiating with the terrorists instead of finishing them off:

More than 300 Islamic State militants surrounded in a tiny area in eastern Syria are refusing to surrender to U.S.-backed Syrian forces and are trying to negotiate an exit, Syrian activists and a person close to the negotiations said Monday.
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The DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective in eastern Syria, said several trucks loaded with food stuff entered IS-held areas in Baghouz in Deir el-Zour on Monday morning. The group also reported that ISIS released 10 SDF fighters Sunday without saying whether the supplies of the food stuff were in return for the release.

DeirEzzor 24 said that the truce reached between ISIS and the SDF last week has been extended for five more days as of Sunday.

A French colonel who led an artillery group in the fight against ISIS criticized the U.S. way of fighting that war:

Colonel Francois-Regis Legrier, who has been in charge of directing French artillery supporting Kurdish-led groups in Syria since October, said the coalition's focus had been on limiting its own risks and this had greatly increased the death toll among civilians and the levels of destruction.

"Yes, the Battle of Hajin was won, at least on the ground but by refusing ground engagement, we unnecessarily prolonged the conflict and thus contributed to increasing the number of casualties in the population," Mr Legrier wrote in an article in the National Defence Review.

"We have massively destroyed the infrastructure and given the population a disgusting image of what may be a Western-style liberation leaving behind the seeds of an imminent resurgence of a new adversary," he said, in rare public criticism by a serving officer.

French artillery in northeast Syria (source)

Note the mix of LU107 high explosive and LU214 white phosphorus grenades (Nexter catalog)
which together can be used to "shake 'n bake" the enemy forces. The tactic is highly controversial.
bigger

Several times during the last months bad weather prevented the use of aerial bombing and artillery fire against ISIS. The terrorists always used these pauses to counterattack. The poorly armed and led Kurdish/Arab SDF suffered a lot of casualties because of these. The colonel opines that a well armed professional ground force would have shortened the conflict with less casualties and much less damage.

The original essay by the soon to be former colonel was taken down from the web. It is available in French on page 65 of this pdf.

It is still not clear if or when the U.S. forces will leave northeast Syria. President Trump had asked Turkey to take over the area but Syria, Russia, Iran and the Kurdish forces the U.S. used as proxies against ISIS are against this. A U.S. attempt to recruit British, German or French forces to occupy the area failed.

The Syrian ground must obviously be turned back to the Syrian government. The Kurdish forces, controlled by the anarcho-marxist PKK/YPG which Turkey and others designate as terrorists, use their current position to demand political autonomy in the area they now control. The Syrian government is strongly against this. Any federalization of Syria would be the beginning of its end.

Yesterday the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered a compromise to the Kurds. In a speech in front of the heads of local councils he announced local council elections and the decentralization of some political decisions. The required law 107 is already in place but its implementation was held up by the war:

[Assad] said that the essence of the local administration law is achieving balance in development across all areas by giving local administrative units the authority to develop their areas in terms of economy, urban development, culture, and services, thereby improving citizens’ living conditions by launching projects, providing job opportunities, and providing services locally, particularly in remote areas.

President al-Assad said it is no longer practical to manage the affairs of the society and state and achieved balanced development in the same centralized way that had been used for decades, noting that the population of Syria in 1971 when the previous law was issued was around 7 million, while the population in 2011 when law 107 was issued had reached around 22 million.

That the implementation of elected local administrations is offered now is a clear sign to the Kurds that they can get some autonomy but not the wide ranging one that they ask for. While they can have local elections, councils and administrations as all other areas will have, there will be no separate armed force, police of judicative in Kurdish majority areas.

Several times over the war the Kurds overreached, made too large demands and lost because of it. Turkey took the Afrin area and the Kurdish population had to flee because the Kurdish leadership did not want the Syrian army to take over control. In a later part of the speech Assad again addressed the Kurds without specifically naming them. He warned:

“The Americans will not protect you… you will be a bargaining chip in their pocket along with the dollars they have, and they have already started bargaining. If you don’t prepare yourselves to defend your country, you will be mere slaves for the Ottomans. Only your state will protect you and only the Syrian Arab Army will defend you when you join it and fight under its banner.

“When we stand in one position and in the same trench, face a single enemy, and aim in the same direction instead of aiming at each other, there will be no worry of any threat no matter how big, His Excellency said.

President al-Assad said the time has come for those groups to decide how history will judge them, and that they have a choice: to be masters in their own land, or slaves and pawns in the hand of occupiers.

The offer is quite clear and the consequences of not accepting it would be harsh. The Kurds and the area they hold must come back under Syrian government control or Turkey will grab it and will put the Kurds under its boots. The pigheadedness of their leadership could easily lead to that. In his speech Assad already predicts that they will reject his offer before - maybe - accepting it.

“As you noticed, I will not name these groups, but as usual, for a few hours or maybe for a few days, they will issue statements attacking this speech, then you will know who I’m talking about,” he added.

A few hours after Assad's speech the Kurdish commander of the SDF was again begging the U.S. to keep 1,500 of its troops there.

Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), called on international coalition allies to keep 1,000-1,500 troops in Syria.
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“We would like to have air cover, air support and a force on the ground to coordinate with us,” Kobani told reporters at an undisclosed airbase in northeast Syria, Reuters reports.

It is very unlikely that Trump will change his position. The U.S. troops will leave. Only the Syrian government can give the Kurds the protection they need.

How many more Kurds will have to die until their leadership finally accepts that?

Posted by b on February 18, 2019 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (61)

February 16, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-10

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The U.S. attack against Venezuela triggered riots in Haiti. Haiti received oil and credit from Venezuela under very preferential conditions. The money saved was supposed to go into a special PetroCaribe fund to be spend on social projects in Haiti. When the U.S. enacted sanctions against Venezuela, Haiti stopped paying and the cheap oil flow ended. The fund was looted by local politicians. When the government then supported the U.S. coup attempt against Venezuela the people had enough and took to the streets.

BajoElCieloDeMoscú @VuelvaLaURSS - 17:28 utc - 14 Feb 2019
Translated from Spanish
The Haitian people have been protesting for five days against the dictator who supports Guaidó in Venezuela, Jovenel Moises. In 5 days, the repressive forces of this criminal have murdered 52 Haitians and left 247 wounded. So you can see the streets of Puerto Principe, full of bodies.

The video attached to the above tweet shows five civilians, presumably dead, laying in the road.

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A former chief of staff Nicolas Maduro, now a professor at Science Po in Paris, warns in an interview that the situation in Venezuela could easily escalate into a civil war.

Q: One of the things that have been said by the opposition very clearly is that there will be new elections. That is part of their plan.

A: And what guarantees that the departure of Maduro doesn't create a civil war, for instance? The reality of Venezuela is that it is a very polarized country. It is totally unrealistic or irresponsible to think or to assume that there are all the guarantees for Venezuela to be in a peaceful situation. In order to be an election, you have to agree on the terms of that election. When will the election be held? Who can be allowed to run for those elections? And that's exactly the problem — saying there will be elections is assuming that the problem is solved before even addressing it.

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Greg Grandin on sovereignty and Latin America: What’s at Stake in Venezuela?

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Other stuff:

- "It's all about the Benjamins baby." That tweet by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the reaction to it, put new focus on the Zionist lobby. M.J. Rosenberg: This Is How AIPAC Really Works - WSJ: Aipac raises more than $100 million a year, which it spends on lobbying politicians

- A longread by Matthew Hoh, who resigned over Obama's 2009 surge in Afghanistan: Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies

- A Chinese anime video series about the life and work of Karl Marx: The Leader (with subtitles in 7(!) languages)

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 16, 2019 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (163)

The Deep Nation Of Russia

In a newly published essay, a close aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the system of governance in Russia. It stands in contrast to the usual 'western' view of the 'autocratic' Russian state.

U.S. media often depict Russia as a top-down state, run at the whims of one man. They cite western paid scholars to support that position. One example is this column in Friday's Washington Post:

Why Russia no longer regrets its invasion of Afghanistan
Putin is reassessing history to make the case for adventures abroad.

On February 15 1989 the last soldiers of the Soviet army left Afghanistan. Later that year the Congress of People’s Deputies, the elected parliament of the USSR, passed a resolution that condemned the war:

Now, however, the Russian government is considering reversing this earlier verdict, with the Duma set to approve a resolution officially reevaluating the intervention as one that took place within the bounds of international law and in the interests of the U.S.S.R.

The authors ascribe the move to the Russian president and claim that he makes it to justify Russia's engagements in current wars:

The Kremlin is rewriting history to retrospectively justify intervention in countries such as Ukraine and Syria as it seeks to regain its status as a global power.
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To avoid domestic opposition, [Moscow] cannot allow the public to perceive Syria through the prism of the Afghan experience. Putin and his allies have decided to tackle this problem head-on by reinterpreting that experience.
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That is why perhaps Putin, and Russian lawmakers, are marking the poignant anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by attempting to ascribe meaning to that long-lost meaningless war.

The columns is typical for the negative depiction of Russia, and its elected leader. Each and every move in the bowels of the Russian Federation is, without evidence, ascribed to its president and his always nefarious motives.

It is also completely wrong. The new resolution it muses about never came to a vote:

Most anticipated the Duma’s Afghan bill would re-appear for final consideration earlier this week, signed by Mr Putin in time for today’s anniversary. Unexpectedly, however, the bill disappeared from view at the last minute, with insiders citing a lack of agreement of a final draft.

On Friday [its author], Frants Klintsevich confirmed to The Independent that his initiative had failed to receive “necessary backing”. He says drafting problems were to blame, and that the bill had been sent back for amendments. It “might, or might not” be resurrected, he added: “We will continue to fight for it. I don’t know if we will be successful.”

The resolution, which the Washington Post authors claim is motivated by Putin's need to justify current interventions, was not pushed by Putin at all. It was the Kremlin that stopped it. How does that fit to the presumed motives they muse about?

The 'western' view of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the "long-lost meaningless war", is that it was the catastrophic for the Soviet Union and led to its demise (pdf). That view is wrong. The war was neither meaningless, nor lost.

The war was seen as strategically necessary to keep fundamentalist Islamists, financed by the United States, from penetrating the southern republics of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet army pulled out of Afghanistan it left a well equipped and capable Afghan army behind. The Afghan government was able to resist its U.S. financed enemies for three more years. It fell apart only after financial support from Russia ended.

In size and relative cost the Afghan war, and its domestic impact in the Soviet Union, was only a third of the size and impact of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The Vietnam war did not destroy the United States and the Soviet war in Afghanistan did not destroy the Soviet Union. The reasons for its demise were ideological inflexibility and a leadership crisis.

Those problems have now been solved.

Last Monday Vladislav Surkov, a close aid to Putin, published a fundamental essay about the nature of governance of Russia:

Putin’s Lasting State

The intentionally provocative essay is central to understand what motivates the new Russia and how and why it functions so well (when compared to earlier times).


Vladislav Surkov - bigger

“It only seems that we have a choice.” is its first sentence. The illusion of having a choice is only a trick of the western way of life and western democracy, writes Surkov. After the social and economic catastrophe of the 1990s, Russia became disinterested in such a system. In consequence:

Russia stopped collapsing, started to recover and returned to its natural and its only possible condition: that of a great and growing community of nations that gathers lands. It is not a humble role that world history has assigned to our country, and it does not allow us to exit the world stage or to remain silent among the community of nations; it does not promise us rest and it predetermines the difficult character of our governance.

Russia has found a new system of governance, says Surkov. But it is not yet up to its full capacity:

Putin’s large-scale political machine is only now revving up and getting ready for long, difficult and interesting work. Its engagement at full power is still far ahead, and many years from now Russia will still be the government of Putin, just as contemporary France still calls itself the Fifth Republic of de Gaulle, ...

He points out how Russia early on (see Putin's 2007 speech in Munich) warned of the dangers of the U.S. led globalization and liberalization that tries to do away with the nation state.

His description of the 'western' system of governance is to the point:

Nobody believes any more in the good intentions of public politicians. They are envied and are therefore considered corrupt, shrewd, or simply scoundrels. Popular political serials, such as “The Boss” and “The House of Cards,” paint correspondingly murky scenes of the establishment’s day-to-day.

A scoundrel must not be allowed to go too far for the simple reason that he is a scoundrel. But when all around you (we surmise) there are only scoundrels, one is forced to use scoundrels to restrain other scoundrels. As one pounds out a wedge using another wedge, one dislodges a scoundrel using another scoundrel… There is a wide choice of scoundrels and obfuscated rules designed to make their battles result in something like a tie. This is how a beneficial system of checks and balances comes about—a dynamic equilibrium of villainy, a balance of avarice, a harmony of swindles. But if someone forgets that this is just a game and starts to behave disharmoniously, the ever-vigilant deep state hurries to the rescue and an invisible hand drags the apostate down into the murky depths.

In contrast to the western system, Russia does not have a deep state. Its governance is out in the open, not necessarily pretty, but everyone can see it. There is no deep state in Russia, says Surkov, there is instead a deep nation:

With its gigantic mass the deep nation creates an insurmountable force of cultural gravitation which unites the nation and drags and pins down to earth (to the native land) the elite when it periodically attempts to soar above it in a cosmopolitan fashion.

Vladimir Putin is trusted with leading Russia's deep nation because he listens to it:

The ability to hear and to understand the nation, to see all the way through it, through its entire depth, and to act accordingly—that is the unique and most important virtue of Putin’s government. It is adequate for the needs of the people, it follows the same course with it, and this means that it is not subject to destructive overloads from history’s countercurrents. This makes it effective and long-lasting.

This unique Russian system makes it superior:

The contemporary model of the Russian state starts with trust and relies on trust. This is its main distinction from the Western model, which cultivates mistrust and criticism. And this is the source of its power.

Surkov predicts that it will have a great future:

Our new state will have a long and glorious history in this new century. It will not break. It will act on its own, winning and retaining prize-winning spots in the highest league of geopolitical struggle. Sooner or later everyone will be forced to come to terms with this—including all those who currently demand that Russia “change its behavior.” Because it only seems as if they have a choice.

Putin will have signed off the essay before it was published. It is, like his Munich speech, a public challenge to the western ruling class. "Wake up," it says. "Don't rely on those dimwits who ascribe this or that superficial motive to us. This all goes much deeper."

The western Russia analysts will write heaps of bad articles about the Surkov essay. They will probably claim that it shows that Putin has  delusions of grandeur. I for one read it as a honest description of Russia's natural state.

We thankfully do not have to rely on the 'experts'. Those who want to understand Russia can read the essay themselves.

Posted by b on February 16, 2019 at 06:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (167)

February 14, 2019

Venezuela - Media Find Trump's Coup Plan Does Not Work

On January 25, two days after Random Guyidó declared himself President of Venezuela, the lack of planing in the U.S. coup attempt was already obvious:

My impression is that Trump was scammed. It was long evident that he gives little attention to details and does not think things through. Most likely Bolton, Pompeo and Rubio presented him with a three step plan:

Phase 1. Support the self declared president Guaidó; Phase 2: ... (wishful thinking) ...; Phase 3: Take half of their oil!
...
Bolton and Pompeo are both experienced politicians and bureaucrats. They likely knew that their plan was deeply flawed and would require much more than Trump would normally commit to. My hunch is that the soon coming mission creep was build into their plan, but that they did not reveal that.

The U.S. coup planners and their Venezuelan puppets had hoped that the Venezuelan military would jump to their side. That was wishful thinking and unlikely to happen. They also thought up some "humanitarian aid" scheme in which pictures of trucks crossing a long blocked bridge would soon shame the Venezuelan president into stepping down. That was likewise nonsense.

Unless the U.S. is willing and able to escalate, the coup attempt is destined to fail.

'Western' media now recognize that phase 2 of the coup plan is in deep trouble. Today the Guardian, Bloomberg and the New York Times all describe growing frustration with the lack of success.

The Guardian notes:

[T]hree weeks after Guaidó electrified the previously rudderless opposition movement by declaring himself interim leader, there are signs his campaign risks losing steam.

An anticipated mass defection of military chiefs – which opposition leaders admit is a prerequisite to Maduro’s departure – has not materialized, and Maduro’s inner-circle has begun claiming it has weathered the political storm.

Bloomberg writes:

Since Juan Guaido declared himself interim president three weeks ago and offered amnesty to officers who abandon Maduro, more than 30 countries led by the U.S. have hailed the move, waiting for the military to follow. There hasn’t been a rush to his side.
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In a country with more than 2,000 generals and admirals, only one top officer -- who commands no troops -- has pledged allegiance to Guaido.
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This is a major reason why the revolution isn’t moving as quickly as some had hoped when Guaido electrified the world on Jan. 23 with his declaration. This has led to impatience and finger-pointing. U.S. policy makers and those around Guaido -- as well as leaders in Brazil and Colombia -- are eyeing one another and worrying about failure. Officials in each camp have said privately they assumed the others had a more developed strategy.

The NY Times shows similar frustration:

[The opposition's] goal was to bring the supplies into Venezuela, forcing a confrontation with Mr. Maduro, who has refused the help. This would cast Mr. Maduro in a bad light, opposition leaders said, and display their ability to set up a government-like relief system in a nation where the crumbling economy has left many starving, sick and without access to medicine.

But there was no dramatic confrontation.

The "aid" delivery failed, according to Bloomberg, for lack of planning and coordination:

Worry about what comes next has intensified. At a meeting in the U.S. embassy in Bogota, Colombia, last week, military, intelligence and civilian leaders from both countries discussed ways of moving humanitarian aid into Venezuela. There was a sense of frustration in the air, according to a participant who agreed to discuss it on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. said it was paying for the aid but wanted Colombia to find trucks and drivers to move it in. The Colombians said no one would accept the mission because the Venezuelan military would arrest them. The aid remains in warehouses near the border.

At similar meetings in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, a person who attended said the dynamic was the same -- the U.S. expecting Colombia to find the means to deliver the aid and the Colombians saying they can’t.

The opposition is only now thinking up its own crazy scheme for delivering the "aid":

In Cúcuta, members of the opposition say they are considering options to physically force the shipment into Venezuela.

Omar Lares, a former opposition mayor in exile in Cúcuta, said organizers want people to surround an aid truck on the Colombian side and accompany it to the bridge. A crowd of thousands would be gathered on the other side to push through a security cordon, move the containers blocking the bridge, and accompany the aid into Venezuela.

“One group over there, one over here, and we’ll make one large human chain,” he said.

And what does he think the battalion of Venezuelan soldiers between the two groups will do? Just step aside and allow an invasion of their country?

The struggle could make for some marketable TV pictures but it would not achieve anything. The lack of planning is daunting even to the lobbyists in Washington DC:

The opposition has created immense expectations, and it’s not at all clear they have a plan for actually fulfilling them,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America.

The U.S. coup plotters and their Venezuelan proxies seem to recognize that there will be no imminent change:

Addressing a congressional hearing, the US special envoy on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, claimed “Maduro and his band of thieves” were finished. He claimed international pressure meant “there is a storm brewing inside the Maduro regime that will eventually bring it to an end”.

But while Abrams said Washington was “hopeful and confident” of Maduro’s demise he admitted it was “impossible to predict” when it might come. The US would maintain pressure “over the next weeks and months”, he added, suggesting a quick resolution is no longer expected.

Opposition leaders have spent recent days trying to dampen expectations that Maduro’s exit is imminent.

Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition leader and Guaidó ally, admitted that goal “could take some time”.

The little spontaneous support the Random Guyidó had in some parts of the population is already lessening. Yesterday's demonstration he had called for saw less attendance than the one on January 23. He now says that he will force the 'aid' crossing on February 23 but he does not seem to have a real plan to achieve that:

President of the National Assembly Guaido also promised the country that US-delivered humanitarian aid will “enter the country no matter what” on February 23, issuing an “order” for the military to allow it to enter. However, military leaders have dismissed these calls, with the Central Defense Region tweeting in response that the armed forces would not take any orders from an “imperial lackey.”

“One month after the swearing in we have done it. This February 23 the humanitarian aid will enter the country. The Armed Forces have 11 days to decide if they are on the side of the Venezuelans and the Constitution or on that of the usurper,” he claimed in reference to President Maduro.

If the U.S. does not do more than it has done so far the government under President Maduro can sit this out. The sanctions and the lack of oil revenue will create many immediate problems. But in a few weeks Venezuelan oil will have found new buyers. Fresh money will come in and new sources for imports of medicine and staple food will have been found.

Over the same time the Random Guy will lose support. The party he nominally leads only won 20% of the votes. The other opposition parties were never informed of his plan to declare himself president. Their support for the step was lukewarm and will cool further. They may in the end support the mediation talks Maduro has offered and which the UN, Uruguay and Mexico also support. The talks could lead to new parliament and/or presidential elections in a year or two and thereby solve the situation.

The U.S. would not be satisfied by a compromise solution. Trump is now committed to 'regime change' in Venezuela. But how can he do it?

Waging an open war against that country would be very messy, expensive and difficult to justify. To start and support a guerilla war - Elliott Abrams specialty - takes time also costs a lot of money. The chances to win it are low. Moreover Trump wants to get re-elected but could lose many votes over both scenarios.

What else then can he do?

Posted by b on February 14, 2019 at 01:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (155)

February 13, 2019

Netanyahoo Asks Arabs To "Advance The Common Interest Of War With Iran"

The U.S. had called for a high level anti-Iran meeting in Poland. The purpose of the meeting was to bring with its allies and poodles into line with the U.S. agenda on Iran, to press them at least into issuing harsher sanctions. But the European rejected that.

The State Department then changed the agenda:

“The idea was to have a conference, a ministerial, and basically break our diplomatic isolation on Iran,” said a person familiar with the planning of the event. “It started out as an Iran conference in disguise but has probably actually been forced to take on more actual broader Middle East content now."

The person added: “They changed some of the focus and were forced to pony up with content on Syria and Yemen particularly."

The meeting took place today but the European powers did not fall for the trick. They want keep the nuclear agreement with Iran:

Even Poland on Tuesday said it disagreed with the U.S. approach to Iran. Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters the nuclear pact was valuable and expressed hope the conference could help participants find common ground.

While the U.S. delegation includes Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, other major players have either refused to attend or are sending low-level delegations. The EU’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said she had other commitments.

Germany and France only sent lower level staff. The British foreign minister will only attend a side session on Yemen.

The State Department went to some length to obfuscate the real purpose of the conference. Its press statement today says:

The agenda is wide-ranging, and will include a discussion of the Administration’s efforts to promote a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as a conversation on how to address ongoing regional humanitarian crises. The Secretary will provide an update on the situation in Syria and discuss other U.S. priorities in the region, including concerns regarding Iran’s destructive activities.

Smaller breakout sessions will provide ministers the opportunity to focus on specific areas of concern such as missile development and proliferation, cyber security and emerging threats, and terrorism and illicit finance.

That State Department effort to somewhat hide the real agenda was sabotaged when the Prime Minister of Israel arrived and made it clear what the meeting is all about:

I am going to a meeting with 60 foreign ministers and envoys of countries from around the world against Iran. What is important about this meeting – and this meeting is not in secret, because there are many of those – is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran."

[Update 3:40pm]

The statement has now been changed into "combating Iran". But that is not what Netanyahoo said in Warsaw and there is video to prove it. There were also witnesses:

Aron Heller @aronhellerap 18:44 utc - 13 Feb 2019

Did @netanyahu really say “war” with Iran? I was there and the word was ”milchama” = war.

[End Update]

Why is Netanyahoo doing this?

No other country, except maybe the U.S.,  has any interest in waging war on Iran. Certainly not the Arab countries near the Persian Gulf. In case of a war they are all extremely vulnerable to Iranian retaliation. Their oil and gas installations would be in serious danger. The desalination plants which provide their drinking water are all within easy reach of Iranian missiles.

By claiming that the conference is about waging war on Iran Netanyahoo is not only embarrassing the State Department and Secretary Mike Pompeo. He also makes it extremely difficult for other attendees to justify their presence. The Arabs will be especially furious that they are shown in such an open alliance with Israel and its hostility against Iran. Scheming with Israel in the dark is fine. But being publicly associated with a war mongering Israel is difficult to sell to their people. It would be unsurprising to see some of them leave.

The whole conference is an own goal for the Trump administration. Instead of showing unity with its allies it now only demonstrates the depth or their disagreement. Netanyahoo's statement may help him to win some votes in the upcoming election in Israel. But the hoped for alliance with the Gulf Arabs is now as far off as it has ever been.

Posted by b on February 13, 2019 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

February 12, 2019

Russiagate Is Finished

For more than two years U.S. politicians, the media and some bloggers hyped a conspiracy theory. They claimed that Russia had somehow colluded with the Trump campaign to get him elected.

An obviously fake 'Dirty Dossier' about Trump, commissioned by the Clinton campaign, was presented as evidence. Regular business contacts between Trump flunkies and people in Ukraine or Russia were claimed to be proof for nefarious deals. A Russian click-bait company was accused of manipulating the U.S. electorate by posting puppy pictures and crazy memes on social media. Huge investigations were launched. Every rumor or irrelevant detail coming from them was declared to be - finally - the evidence that would put Trump into the slammer. Every month the walls were closing in on Trump.

At the same time the very real Trump actions that hurt Russia were ignored.

Finally the conspiracy theory has run out of steam. Russiagate is finished:

After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
...
Democrats and other Trump opponents have long believed that special counsel Robert Mueller and Congressional investigators would unearth new and more explosive evidence of Trump campaign coordination with Russians. Mueller may yet do so, although Justice Department and Congressional sources say they believe that he, too, is close to wrapping up his investigation.

Nothing, zero, nada was found to support the conspiracy theory. The Trump campaign did not collude with Russia. A few flunkies were indicted for unrelated tax issues and for lying to the investigators about some minor details. But nothing at all supports the dramatic claims of collusion made since the beginning of the affair.

In a recent statement House leader Nancy Pelosi was reduced to accuse Trump campaign officials of doing their job:

“The indictment of Roger Stone makes clear that there was a deliberate, coordinated attempt by top Trump campaign officials to influence the 2016 election and subvert the will of the American people. ...

No one called her out for spouting such nonsense.

Russiagate created a lot of damage.

The alleged Russian influence campaign that never happened was used to install censorship on social media. It was used to undermine the election of progressive Democrats. The weapon salesmen used it to push for more NATO aggression against Russia. Maria Butina, an innocent Russian woman interested in good relation with the United States, was held in solitary confinement (recommended) until she signed a paper which claims that she was involved in a conspiracy.

In a just world the people who for more then two years hyped the conspiracy theory and caused so much damage would be pushed out of their public positions. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. They will jump onto the next conspiracy train and continue from there.

Posted by b on February 12, 2019 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (136)

February 11, 2019

Venezuela - 57% Say Maduro Is Their Legitimate President

The legitimacy of a ruler can best be determined by asking the ruled people.

The independent Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces asked (in Spanish) 1,580 Venezuelans in direct interviews who they consider to be the legitimate president of Venezuela.

57% said that the Nicolás Maduro is the legitimated president. 32% said Juan Guaidó. 11% did not know or did not respond.

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The well-respected scientific research service of the German Bundestag advised (in German) that foreign recognition of someone as a president does not confer legitimacy. Legitimacy of a president requires that he has actual enforcing capabilities within the country. As long as that is not established a recognition must be seen as interference in the internal affairs of the foreign country. Such an interference, which the German and other governments committed, is inconsistent with international law.

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Alfred-Maurice de-Zayas, a professor for international law and a longtime senior lawyer at the United Nations, confirms that opinion. He writes:

Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, articles one and two of which affirm the right of all peoples to determine themselves, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order are being grossly violated in the case of Venezuela.

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ignoring the will of the people of Venezuela and the rule of law U.S. media continue to manufacture consent for regime change in Venezuela.

Posted by b on February 11, 2019 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

February 10, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-09

It was a quiet week as your host had the sh**s and was generally unwell. The full service will resume next week.

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Steffan Watkins found that the weapons mentioned in the above post came within a larger CIA operation.

Steffan Watkins @steffanwatkins - 4:54 utc - 10 Feb 2019
U.S. registered Boeing 767 Cargo plane N881YV (ICAO:AC23C6), operated by 21 Air, LLC, wet-leased to GPS-Air, flew every single day from 2019-01-11 to 2019-02-07 from Florida to VZ or CO, sometimes both; then stopped.
On the 7th. Why might that be?
Funny story; do you know when the Venezuelans published the name of the suspect flight and laid out the spread of guns allegedly from the plane? February 5th. Flights stopped when the public were told about them happening February 7th.

Others found that several people involved in the above flights were also involved in 'extraordinary rendition' torture flights for the CIA. They, of course, deny this but the evidence is clear: Miami Herald: Air charter firm, client both deny role in alleged shipment of arms to Venezuela

When I wrote the above I was not aware of this Greg Palast piece on the same issue: In Venezuela, White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Coup

More on Venezuela:

RT has an interview with Rafael Ramírez who ran the Venezuelan oil industry under Hugo Chavez. He fell out with Maduro and very much dislikes his policies. He is also against the U.S. led coup attempt. I sthere a chance for a 'third way'?
Hasta la (Cha)vista? Rafael Ramirez, ex-permanent representative of Venezuela to the UN

Fox News claims that "Venezuela stockpiles 5,000 long-range Russian missiles" that threaten the United States. Those 5,000 missiles are Man Portable Air Defense Missiles (MANPADs) with a maximum range of some 6,000 meters(!).

Adam Johnson list other propaganda points:
Western Media Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt

The Democratic Party leadership is fully on board with the Trump administration's regime change plans and repeats all its talking points. It suddenly forgot #Russiagate and that Trump only does what Putin wants him to do.

It is hard to think of anything more condemning than this:

John Bolton @AmbJohnBolton - 1:43 utc - 10 Feb 2019
Appreciate @SpeakerPelosi‘s strong statement of support. The U.S. stands united in its support of Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó, and of the peaceful, constitutional transition to democracy in Venezuela.
Pelosi Statement on the Situation in Venezuela

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 10, 2019 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (165)

February 09, 2019

Racism And The Fight Over Venezuela

The U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela is not only about oil and general U.S. imperialism. It is attempt to bring a specific type of people back into power. The same type of people that rule in Washington DC.

The Nation describes how the U.S. has long funded and manipulated the opposition in Venezuela. The Random Guy™ Juan Guaidó, who claims the presidency, was created through this process:

How Washington Funded the Counterrevolution in Venezuela
Self-declared president Juan Guaidó comes from the right-wing, US-backed student movement that tried to subvert Hugo Chávez’s government.

The piece includes this revealing sentence:

A former USAID/OTI member who helped devise US efforts in Venezuela said the “objective was that you had thousands of youth, high school, and college kids that were horrified of this Indian-looking guy in power. They were idealistic.

Being "horrified" that the "Indian-looking" Hugo Chávez was in power does not seem "idealistic". One might call it racist though. A number of those white, well off, U.S. trained college kids joint politics in right wing parties. They wanted to take power. But to sell one of theirs as a leader of a country where the majority is mestizo was a problem.

To solve that problem the Random Guy, despite being known only by 20% of Venezuelans, was selected to lead the U.S. coup attempt:

A figure named Juan Andrés Mejía would have been next in line but for reasons that are only now clear, Juan Guaido was selected.

“There is a class reasoning that explains Guaidó’s rise,” Sequera, the Venezuelan analyst, observed. “Mejía is high class, studied at one of the most expensive private universities in Venezuela, and could not be easily marketed to the public the way Guaidó could. For one, Guaidó has common mestizo features like most Venezuelans do, and seems like more like a man of the people.

Guaido is a stand in. He was selected because he somewhat looked like the majority of the people of the country.

The two pictures below further demonstrate the role race plays in the conflict in Venezuela.

Venezuela currently has two assemblies that claim the right to legislate. In 2015 the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly, the original parliament of Venezuela:

However, the Venezuelan Supreme Court barred four lawmakers from taking their seats while it probed allegations of electoral fraud. As a result, only 163 of the 167 lawmakers were sworn in on January 5. The next day, three opposition deputies were sworn in over protests by members from the legislature’s minority who announced their intention to challenge the move.

The Supreme Court of Venezuela then held that the National Assembly was in contempt of the court. The move created a political stalemate. To solve it the president called for the election of a Constitutional Assembly. Its main task is to consider constitutional changes. But it can also overrule legislation that the National Assembly makes. The Supreme Court accepted the solution. The National Assembly, the rotational presidency of which Random Guy took at the beginning of this year, is since only a secondary parliament.

There is a visual difference between the two assemblies:

Opposition legislators of the National Assembly

Via VOA - bigger
Members of the Constitutional Assembly

Via BBC - bigger
National Assembly - Detail
Constitutional Assembly - Detail

The rich in Venezuela are overwhelming white people. They long ruled the country. The mestizo majority are the poor. Hugo Chavez brought them to power. The white people want the power back.

This obvious racist aspect of the conflict is missing from the general reporting of the issue. It only comes to light in the published visuals.

The race conflict is of course not unique to Venezuela. In the U.S., especially under Trump, racism is also prevalent. It is, I believe, the subliminal reason why the U.S. ruling class is joint in the effort to regime change Venezuela.

Posted by b on February 9, 2019 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (99)

February 08, 2019

Open Thread 2019-08

News & views ...

Posted by b on February 8, 2019 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (222)

February 07, 2019

Venezuela - U.S. Aid Gambit Fails - War Plans Lack Support

A day after the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela the U.S. game plan was already quite obvious:

The opposition in Venezuela will probably use access to that 'frozen' money to buy weapons and to create an army of mercenaries to fight a 'civil' war against the government and its followers. Like in Syria U.S. special forces or some CIA 'contractors' will be eager to help. The supply line for such a war would most likely run through Colombia. If, like 2011 in Syria, a war on the ground is planned it will likely begin in the cities near that border.

bigger

The U.S. is using the pretext of 'delivering humanitarian aid' from Columbia to Venezuela to undermine the government and to establish a supply line for further operations. It is another attempt to pull the military onto the coup plotter's side:

[I]f the trucks do get across, the opposition can present itself as an answer to Venezuela’s chronic suffering, while Mr. Maduro will appear to have lost control of the country’s borders. That could accelerate defections from the ruling party and the military.

Dimitris Pantoulas, a political scientist in Caracas, called the opposition’s aid delivery plan a high-stakes gamble.
...
“This is 99 percent about the military and one percent about the humanitarian aspects,” he said. “The opposition is testing the military’s loyalty, raising their cost of supporting Maduro. Are they with Maduro, or no? Will they reject the aid? If the answer is no, then Maduro’s hours are numbered.”

A New York Times op-ed by a right-wing former foreign minister of Mexico, Jorge G. Castañeda, details the escalation potential:

According to Mr. Guaidó and other sources, $20 million in American medicines and food will be unloaded this week just outside Venezuelan territory in Cúcuta, Colombia; Brazil, and on a Caribbean island — either Aruba or Curaçao — near the Venezuelan coast.

Venezuelan military officials and troops in exile will then move these supplies into Venezuela, where if all goes well, army troops still loyal to Mr. Maduro will not stop their passage nor fire upon them. If they do, the Brazilian and Colombian governments may be willing to back the anti-Maduro soldiers. The threat of a firefight with their neighbors might just be the incentive the Venezuelan military need to jettison Mr. Maduro, making the reality of combat unnecessary.

This escalation strategy is unlikely to work unless some additional provocation is involved. The Venezuelan government blocked the border bridge between Cúcuta in Colombia and San Cristobal in Venezuela. Its military stands ready to stop any violation of the country's border.

The U.S. responded to the blocking of the road with a sanctimonious tweet:

Secretary Pompeo @SecPompeo - 16:55 utc - 6 Feb 2019

The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro's orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE. #EstamosUnidosVE

The U.S. government, which actively helps to starve the people of Yemen into submission, is concerned about Venezuela where so far no one has died of starvation? The lady ain't gonna believe that.

The Venezuelan military has shown no sign of interest to change its loyalty. The fake aid will be rejected.

The government of Venezuela does not reject aid that comes without political interference. Last year it accepted modest UN aid which consisted mostly of medical supplies from which Venezuela had been cut off due to U.S. sanctions. The UN claimed that around 12 percent of Venezuelans are undernourished. But such claims have been made for years while reports from Venezuela (vid) confirmed only some scarcity of specific products. There is no famine in Venezuela that would require immediate intervention.

The International Red Cross, the Catholic church's aid organization Caritas and the United Nations rejected U.S. requests to help deliver the currently planned 'aid' because it is so obviously politicized:

"Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
...
"What is important is that humanitarian aid be depoliticised and that the needs of the people should lead in terms of when and how humanitarian aid is used," Dujarric added.

Rejecting aid out of political reasons is not unusual. When the hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused huge damage along the U.S. gulf coast, a number of countries offered humanitarian and technical aid. U.S. President Bush accepted help from some countries, but rejected aid from other ones:

An offer of aid from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, which included two mobile hospital units, 120 rescue and first aid experts and 50 tonnes of food, has been rejected, according to the civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson.

Mr Jackson said the offer from the Venezuelan leader, whom he recently met, included 10 water purification plants, 18 power generation plants and 20 tonnes of bottled water.

The U.S. intent to establish a 'humanitarian aid' supply line into Venezuela has a secondary purpose. Such aid is the ideal cover for weapon supplies. In the 1980s designated 'humanitarian aid' flights for Nicaragua were filled with weapons. The orders for those flights were given by Elliot Abrams who is now Trump's special envoy for Venezuela.

While the trucks from Colombia are blocked at the border other 'humanitarian aid' from the United States reached the country.

Officials in Venezuela have accused the US of sending a cache of high-powered rifles and ammunition on a commercial cargo flight from Miami so they would get into the hands of President Nicolás Maduro's opponents.

Members with the Venezuelan National Guard [GNB] and the National Integrated Service of Customs and Tax Administration [SENIAT] made the shocking discovery just two days after the plane arrived at Arturo Michelena International Airport in Valencia.

Inspectors found 19 rifles, 118 magazines and 90 wireless radios while investigating the flight which they said arrived Sunday afternoon. Monday's bust also netted four rifle stands, three rifle scopes and six iPhones.

The pictures show sufficient equipment for an infantry squad. Fifteen AR-15 assault rifles (5.56), one squad automatic weapon (7.62) with a drum magazine, and a Colt 7.62 sniper gun as well as accessory equipment. What is missing is the ammunition.

Where one such weapon transport is caught multiple are likely to go through. But to run a war against the government pure weapon supplies are not enough. The U.S. will have to establish a continuous supply line for heavy and bulky ammunition. That is where 'humanitarian aid' convoys come in.

Unless a large part of the Venezuelan military changes sides, any attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government by force is likely doomed to fail. The U.S. could use its full military might to destroy the Venezuelan army. But the U.S. Senate is already quarreling about the potential use of U.S. forces in Venezuela. The Democrats strongly reject that.

A Senate resolution to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, once expected to get unanimous support, has been torpedoed by a disagreement over the use of military force, according to aides and senators working on the issue.
...
“I think it’s important for the Senate to express itself on democracy in Venezuela, supporting interim President Guaido and supporting humanitarian assistance. But I also think it should be very clear in fact that support stops short of any type of military intervention,” [Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.] told NBC News.

It is unlikely that Trump would order a military intervention without bipartisan support.

The a clandestine insertion of a mercenary 'guerrilla' force into Venezuela is surely possible. Minor supply lines can be established by secret  means. But, as the war on Syria demonstrates, such plans can not be successful unless the people welcome the anti-government force.

Under the current government most people in Venezuela are still better off than under the pre-Chavez governments. This lecture and this thread explain the economic history of Venezuela and the enormous progress that was made under Chavez and Maduro. The people will not forget that even when the economic situation will become more difficult. They know who is pulling the strings behind the Random Guy Guaido who now claims the presidency. They know well that these rich people are unlikely to better their plight.

U.S. politicians are making the same mistakes with regards to Venezuela as they made with the regime change wars on Iraq and Syria. They believes that all people are as corrupt and nihilistic as they are. They believe that others will not fight for their own believes and their own style of life. They will again be proven wrong.

Posted by b on February 7, 2019 at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (100)

February 06, 2019

U.S. Asks More Countries To Occupy Northeast Syria

Monday's piece about the situation in Syria included a judgment that now seems to be wrong.

The Trump administration planned to replace U.S. troops in northeast Syria with those of various allies.

James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to 'protect the Kurds' and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops.

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 - 17:33 utc - 24 Jan 2019

The Jeffrey plan being carried to Ankara/Rojava is very complex, requires open-ended commitments from UK-France, Turkish patrols in rural areas, SDF acquiescence, 3rd party forces, and US top cover, perhaps including a US enforced NFZ (unclear if POTUS is on board with this bit)

A week later the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failed to win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides.

The assertions that the scheme failed may have been premature. There are signs that it is still been worked on.

Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked to foreign ministers and officials of the U.S. coalition against ISIS. He made a remark that seems to announce a request to these allies to send their troops to replace the U.S. forces in northeast Syria:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday reassured allies that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was not “the end of America’s fight” and called on them to recommit to permanently defeating Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
...
“Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it, just as we’ve had over the past months and years,” Pompeo said, “To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue.

“Those requests are likely to come very soon,” he added, without elaborating.

Pompeo also wants (vid) the coalition to "removal of all Iranian led forces from Syria." He also asked for hundreds of millions fro Iraq.

One of the participants of the meeting was the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a rather daft member of the formerly social democratic party. As he traveled to Washington DC he lamented (in German) about a "vacuum" that would be created when the U.S. troops withdraw (my translation):

Before his flight to Washington Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said: "In Syria we still have no clarity how a vacuum can be avoided after the announced U.S. troop draw-down, so that no new escalation of old conflicts and a resurgence of the Islamic State can happen." He hoped to receive more information on the issue during the talks in Washington. The danger from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq "is by far not over."

How come these politicians never learned physics? Northeast Syria is not closed off from the atmosphere or the surrounding lands. That makes a vacuum there impossible.

Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford offers a helpful Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria. It includes this entry:

Term: Vacuum. ‘The US will be leaving a vacuum when it pulls troops out’.
Meaning: Restoration of law and order. Once the US stops blocking the way the Syrian government will return to the currently US-controlled territory and will keep ISIS down, as it is doing in the rest of Syria, and Turkey out.

The tone of Maas' remarks seems intended to prepare the German public for a military mission in northeast Syria.

Turkey had already rejected the idea of foreign troops on its southern border. Yesterday Erdogan felt the need to again emphasize it:

As Turkey prepared for a summit on Syria with Russia and Iran, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country wanted sole control over a proposed buffer zone in northern Syria, rejecting a plan by the United States for a multinational force to police the area.
...
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Washington was trying to get Western partners, such as Australia, France and the United Kingdom, to patrol the stretch of Syrian territory along the Turkish border after US troops leave the area. Washington is concerned that Turkey will attack the YPG once US soldiers are withdrawn.

In his speech, Erdogan said the US plan was not an option. “I repeat: Any proposal except a model for a safe zone under Turkish control, with other countries just providing logistical help, is unacceptable.”

He said there was no example for a safe zone successfully administered by “international powers.” The Turkish president said Turkish troops would be welcomed by locals in Syria: “They trust us.”

Nearly all population centers near the Turkish borders in northeast Syria have a Kurdish majority. The Kurds certainly do not trust Turkey. Erdogan wants to push the Kurds away from the Turkish border. He would then 'resettle' the Syrian refugees in Turkey in those areas. Most of the refugees are relatives of Turkish supported 'rebels' and aligned with Erdogan's Islamist ideology.

Prewar map of ethnic majorities by town

Green=Kurd, Purple=Arab, Red=Turkmen, etc -
Map by Ariyan Newzad - source - bigger

The U.S. idea of bringing in some other foreign troops to replace the U.S. contingent is unfortunately not dead. Pompeo announces new "requests", Maas is playing up a "vacuum" and Erdogan feels the need to emphasize Turkish opposition to it.

Any foreign state would be crazy to commit to such a scheme. A deployment of troops there would be:

  • Illegal under international law,
  • against the will of the host country Syria,
  • against the will of the NATO member and neighbor Turkey,
  • in the midst of ethnic-religious conflicts,
  • without secure communication routes and
  • without a defined end.

The people benefiting from such a deployment would by the PKK/YPK Kurds that helped to defeat ISIS. But they are themselves an internationally recognized terrorist organization that should not be supported. The other party to benefit is Israel which historically uses the Kurds to undermine the sovereignty of Arab countries. A foreign troop deployment in northeast Syria would help Israel's aim to keep Damascus weak.

The J. Jeffrey plan is a mess and should not have been given any thought at all. It is worrying that discussions about it still continue.

Posted by b on February 6, 2019 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

February 04, 2019

Syria Sitrep - Trump Says U.S. Will Leave But Pentagon Keeps Adding Forces

The U.S. retreat from northeast Syria is still not happening. In yesterdays interview with CBS President Trump again said the troops would leave, but the the Pentagon is doing the opposite of retreating.


(not current) bigger

The Islamic State forces north of the Euphrates are left to holding some 4 square kilometer of ground near the border to Iraq. The few hundred ISIS fighters still alive could be killed in a day or two which would then be the right time for the U.S. to leave as President Trump announced two month ago.

But the U.S. military keeps increasing its troop numbers and supplies in the area. During the last two month the number of U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria rose by nearly 50%. Instead of the officially acknowledged 2,000 there are now at least 3,000 U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria. New weapons and equipment arrive every day. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory reports, the U.S. is bringing in a significant number of TOW anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns even though there is no longer an apparent use for these:

[T]he International Coalition Forces brought quantities of anti-armor thermal missiles during the recent period, to their bases east of Euphrates area, in conjunction with bringing quantities of machineguns known as “DShK”, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that the range of the missiles reaches about 6 km, but the reasons for bringing these weapons was not known, especially as the “Islamic State” Organization in its last pocket at the east bank of Euphrates River is almost ended, ..
...
[T]he Syrian Observatory has documented since the US president’s decision to withdraw until the 3rd of February 2018, the entry of 1130 trucks at least, carrying equipment, ammunition, weapons, military, and logistic equipment to bases of the International Coalition east of Euphrates, ..
...
The process of entering the trucks also comes in conjunction with the arrival of hundreds of soldiers of the US Special Forces to the Syrian territory in a specific and special operation, the goal of which is to arrest the remaining leaders and members of the “Islamic State” Organization who are trapped in the remaining 4 kilometers for it east of Euphrates, ..

Today the New York Times finally confirms the increased troop numbers the Observatory reported weeks ago:

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, officials said on Sunday. The number of American troops in Syria has actually increased in recent weeks to more than 3,000 — a standard practice to bring in additional security and logistics troops temporarily to help protect and carry out the process of pulling out — three Defense Department officials said.

The explanation makes little sense. One does not need 1,000 additional troops to secure and remove the stocks of a 2,000 strong force deployment in mostly friendly territory.

The NYT also reveals that the U.S. wants to led the Kurdish PKK keep the arms it received:

A meeting in late January of the National Security Council’s “deputies committee” — the No. 2 leaders of national security departments and agencies — recommended allowing the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to keep the equipment the Pentagon has provided them and for an American-led air campaign to continue airstrikes to defend them against the Islamic State, according to two senior American officials.

This breaks a promise the U.S. repeatedly made to Turkey and gives Ankara more reasons to threaten the Kurds.

On Saturday a U.S. air attack targeted a Syrian army position south of the Euphrates near the border town al-Bukamal:

A military source told SANA that the U.S.-led coalition warplanes carried out an air strike overnight Saturday on Syrian artillery position in Sokkariyeh village, west of al-Bukamal city.

The source added that the attack resulted in destroying the artillery and injuring two soldiers.

SANA reporter said that, in parallel with the coalition’s aggression, Daesh terrorists attacked military points in the area, but the army units repelled the attack and killed and wounded most of the attacking terrorists.

This is one of several incidents that lets one assume that the U.S. intentionally lets some ISIS fighters escape to bother the Syrian government.

The U.S. military says it fears the ISIS would regrow should U.S. troops retreat. But that argument only holds when no other troops would replace them. The only viable solution to handle northeast Syria after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State is obviously to ask the Syrian government to retake control of its land. It could defeat remaining Islamic State sleeper cells, handle the prisoners the Kurds have taken,  and keep the YPK/PKK and Turkey apart. But the U.S. foreign policy borg is still unwilling to concede that.

James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to 'protect the Kurds' and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops.

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 - 17:33 utc - 24 Jan 2019

The Jeffrey plan being carried to Ankara/Rojava is very complex, requires open-ended commitments from UK-France, Turkish patrols in rural areas, SDF acquiescence, 3rd party forces, and US top cover, perhaps including a US enforced NFZ (unclear if POTUS is on board with this bit)

A week after that tweet the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failed to win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides.

No news has been released of any different scheme. The YPK/PKK Kurds the U.S. used as proxy force against the Islamic State recently lobbied in Washington to keep some U.S. troops in the area:

The group’s message to Washington policymakers has centered around slowing the US withdrawal, and stopping Turkish plans to police a safe zone on the border of northern Syria, which the SDC sees as a potentially deadly repeat of the 2018 incursion into the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.

The lobbying effort is likely to fail.

The Kurds still demand a substantial autonomy in exchange for letting the Syrian army retake the control of the northeast. Damascus rejects any local autonomy that goes beyond cultural rights. The teaching of a Kurdish language in local schools will be allowed, but there will be no separate Kurdish administration. As the alternatives fail to evolve the Kurds will soon have to choose between agreeing to Damascus' conditions or getting slaughtered by a Turkish invasion force.

Meanwhile Russia is working to reestablish the Adana Memorandum of 1998 between Turkey and Syria. In it Syria promised to hinder all Kurdish attacks from Syria on Turkey, while Turkey promised to refrained from anti-Kurdish engagements on Syrian grounds. The reviving of the agreement would require that Turkey gives up on the parts of Syria its forces and currently occupy and continue to turkify. There are already low level contacts between Turkey and Syria on the ground, but the Turkish President Erdogan is not yet willing to go further. A new meeting in the Astana format between Turkey, Russia and Iran is supposed to take place on February 14. It might come up with a new solution.


In his Sunday interview with CBS President Trump again explained his position on the retreat. Asked about concern that the defeated ISIS might rise again should the U.S. move out he responded:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes. We have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean, I was there recently. And I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these-- I've-- I've rarely seen anything like it. And it's there. And we'll be there. And, frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria. Now the other thing after this--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How many troops are still in Syria? When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Two thousand troops.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They are starting to, as we gain the remainder, the final remainder of the caliphate of the area, they'll be going to our base in Iraq. And, ultimately, some will be coming home. But we're going to be there and we're going to be staying--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So that's a matter of months?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to protect Israel. We have to protect other things that we have. But we're-- yeah, they will be coming back in a matter of time. ...

Trump's claim that there are only 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria shows that he apparently does not know what Pentagon is doing behind his back. He also has no idea of any real timeline for the retreat even as he continues to promote it.

Trump believes that he can keep troops in Iraq and use that country as a base against Iran:

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops [in Iraq] now?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --but when it was chosen-- well, we-- we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Whoa, that's news. You're keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East--
...
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do.

That the U.S. plans to stay in Iraq to "watch Iran" was news to the president of that country:

Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that President Donald Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for U.S. troops stationed there to “watch Iran.”
...
“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”
...
“It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran” and other neighboring countries, Salih said.

There are already moves underway in the Iraqi parliament to (again) kick the U.S. out of the country. The Sadr faction, the biggest one in parliament, is preparing legislation to achieve that. Other groups have threatened to use force to push the U.S. out. Back in December Elijah Magnier predicted that the U.S. would have either leave voluntarily or will be pushed out by force:

The Iraqi parliament can exert pressure over the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to ask President Trump to pull out US troops before the end of his mandate in 2020. The US establishment and the “Axis of the Resistance” can both connive and plan, but the last word will belong to the people of Iraq and to those who reject US hegemony in the Middle East, ..


Back to Syria. Idelb governorate continues to be the largest problem left in the receding war on Syria. It is ruled by the al-Qaeda aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).


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The Syrian military is waiting for orders to attack the enclave and is using artillery to 'soften up' the al-Qaeda positions near its lines. A new Bloomberg piece notes the contradiction in the argument of those who want the U.S. to stay in Syria because of ISIS. They never say a word about the much larger al-Qaeda force:

Islamic extremism in that war-torn country, runs their argument, is nowhere near as extinct as the President claims.

There’s plenty of evidence that the critics are right about that. But it doesn’t necessarily translate into a case for staying in Syria. Because US troops aren’t even marginally involved in the fight against the biggest remaining jihadi force there — which is al-Qaeda, not ISIS.
...
After eight years of civil war, the biggest chunk of jihadi-held territory in Syria now belongs to al-Qaeda, America’s original enemy in the global war on terror. Almost two decades after the September 11 attacks, the group’s Syrian affiliate has been on the march, seizing Idlib province in a dramatic advance last month. Its military strength is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, perhaps the largest concentration of armed jihadists ever assembled in one place.

But the US military isn’t fighting it — and isn't likely to, even if Trump were to abandon his plan to withdraw.

It will be Syrian, Russian and maybe some Iran supported forces that will have to clean up the mess the U.S. created by arming al-Qaeda. But they can only do so when their backs are not threatened by some new nefarious U.S. scheme. That the U.S. continues to supply dubious forces in the northeast, including with anti-tank weapons, increases the concern that Trump's repeated announcements of a retreat are not the last words spoken on that issue.

Posted by b on February 4, 2019 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (180)

February 03, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-07

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 3, 2019 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (141)

U.S. Coup Attempt In Venezuela Lacks International Support

There is little doubt where 'western' media stand with regards to the U.S. led coup-attempt (vid) in Venezuela. But their view does not reflect the overwhelming international recognition the Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro continues to have.

The Rothschild family's house organ, the Economist, changed the background of its Twitter account to a picture of the Random Dude™, Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. regime changers created to run the country.


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The tweet is quite revealing:

The Economist @TheEconomist - 23:59 utc- 31 Jan 2019

Juan Guaidó and Donald Trump are betting that sanctions will topple the regime before they starve the Venezuelan people econ.st/2DMOeEk

It is quite obvious that Trump’s Illegal Regime Change Operation Will Kill More Venezuelans. The Economist supports that starvation strategy.

The supposedly neutral news agencies are no better than the arch-neoliberal Economist. The Reuters' Latin America office also changed its header picture to Random Dude. It reverted that after being called out.

Agence France-Press stated at 11:10 utc yesterday that "tens of thousands" would join a rally.

AFP news agency @AFP - 11:10 utc - 2 Feb 2019

Tens of thousands of protesters are set to pour onto the streets of Venezuela's capital #Caracas Saturday to back opposition leader Juan Guaido's calls for early elections as international pressure increased on President #Maduro to step down http://u.afp.com/Jouu

That was at 7:10am local time in Caracas several hours before the rally took place. Such "predictive reporting" is now supposed to be "news". A bit later AFP posted a video:

AFP news agency @AFP - 15:50 utc - 2 Feb 2019">

VIDEO: Thousands of opposition protesters pour onto the streets of Caracas to back Venezuela's opposition leader Juan #Guaido who is calling for early elections, as international pressure increases on President Nicolas #Maduro to step down

That was at 11:50am local time. The attached video did not show "thousands" but some 200 people mingling around.

Hours later a pro Random Dude rally took indeed place. From what I gathered it was attended by some 50-80 thousand people. (Others calculate less.) Flags of the United States and Israel were raised: 1, 2, 3, 4.


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Pro Chavismo rallies took place in several Venezuelan cities. These were not billed as anti-coup demonstrations but as commemorations of the 20 year anniversary of socialist policies. That might have effected their size. The rally in Caracas was attended by some 20-30 thousand people: 1, 2, 3.


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The New York Times report on yesterday's events in Venezuela mentions the pro-government rallies only in paragraph 33 to 35 of its 37 paragraph long story.

The shorter Washington Post report puts them in paragraph 15 and 16 with lines that are consciously constructed to make the rallies seem  tiny and Maduro look like a liar:

The pro-government demonstration in central Caracas had drawn about 300 people by 10:30 a.m. Dressed in red and carrying ruling party flags, they were marching toward the presidential palace.

“Our people, once again, overflowing this avenue,” Maduro said, addressing his supporters. “Those who accuse us of being a dictatorship must know that since the foundation of the revolution, we have become a profoundly free and democratic people. Venezuela will never have a dictatorship.”

The rally took place after noon. How many people walked somewhere at 10:30am is irrelevant to the total participation. The pictures prove that the venue where the rally took place was indeed quite full.

During his speech Maduro called for new elections to the Venezuelan parliament, the National Assembly. The parliament, currently not functional as the Supreme Court blocked its power for not following its judgments, is controlled by the opposition.


The U.S. is now trying some gambit over 'aid' it wants to deliver to the opposition in Venezuela. National Security Advisor John Bolton originally planned to deliver it through the Red Cross:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Saturday that we would be prepared to donate an initial $20 million dollars to the Red Cross, to the UN High Commission for Refugees. So we’re looking at all this very carefully.

But the Red Cross rejected such politicization of its traditionally neutral role:

Alexandra Boivin, ICRC delegation head for the United States and Canada, said the ICRC had told U.S. officials that whatever plans “they have to help the people of Venezuela, it has to be shielded from this political conversation.”
...
ICRC director of global operations Dominik Stillhart said the committee would only take part in such coordinated efforts if they are executed “with the agreement of the authorities, whoever the authorities are.”

A new scheme was though out:

[Random Dude] said that in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro’s government.

The 'aid' must be thoroughly checked before it enters the country and the government should take care to distribute it evenly. During the war on Syria so called 'humanitarian aid' from Turkey, Israel and Jordan was used as cover for large scale weapon and munition transports which mostly ended up in the hands of Jihadists.

So far the Venezuelan military proved to be solidly in the camp of the government. Two officers, a military attache in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC and an air force general who fled to Columbia, are the only known defectors. Both had office jobs and did not command any operational units. This analysis provides that without military support the coup attempt is unlikely to be successful. As the Venezuelan author concludes:

For now, Venezuela faces a government weak in the economic and social arenas, but with strong judicial and military institutions. This will be the case unless —weakened by international pressure— Chavismo’s emerging fissures gather momentum and are able to undermine the government’s stability. However, as long as the U.S. government’s strategy operates on the basis of threats, Chavismo will have a reason to remain strong and unified.


The U.S. failed to get sufficient international support for its recognition of Random Dude as president of Venezuela. So far only Canada, Israel and 14 Latin American states took its side. A few European nations are slowly following.

But no international organization supports the position. Mexico and Uruguay, both members of the Lima group - a 'coalition of the willing' created by Canada, rejected to recognize Guaido and called instead for new elections. Secretary of State Pompeo's attempt to get the Organization of American States (OAS) on his side failed:

The efforts were unsuccessful, garnering only 16 favourable votes out of the 34 countries, with US allies Guyana, Santa Lucia, and Jamaica abstaining.

The United Nations Secretary General Guterres announced that the UN only recognizes the Maduro government. Italy blocked a European Union recognition of the Random Dude while the EU parliament, which has no power in foreign policies, followed the U.S. position. The EU now only demands new elections to be held sometime in the future. The African Union supports Maduro and spoke out against the coup attempt. Russia, China, NATO member Turkey, South Africa, Iran and Syria spoke in support of the Maduro government.

The media are misleading on the international support. On February 1 Reuters headlined EU states move to recognize Venezuela's Guaido: diplomats. But the piece itself contradicts the headline. It found only four out of twenty eight EU states, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, that were expected to announce support. On February 4 the Washington Post headlined European nations recognize Guaido as Venezuelan leader but the report says that only Spain, France and Sweden took that step. The Guardian also headlines: EU countries recognise Juan Guaidó as interim Venezuelan leader but names only five countries, Spain, France, the UK, Sweden and Denmark, one of which is poised to leave the EU.

In total the 'international support' the U.S. led coup attempt has gained so far is quite thin. It has no international legitimacy. Unfortunately only few if any of the 'western' media will point that out.

Posted by b on February 3, 2019 at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (114)

February 01, 2019

Venezuela - Coup Propaganda Claims Gang Violence Is Coup Supporting Protest

To demonize the President of Venzuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Venezuelan government forces, a concerted effort is made to falsely depict gang violence, and the police reaction to it, as a confrontation between coup supporting protesters and the Maduro government.

Gang violence in the various slums in Caracas and elsewhere has been a problem for decades. The phenomenon is by far not exclusive to Venezuela. The gangs mostly fight each other over territory, but sometimes collide with the police that tries to keep the violence level down. This violence has nothing to do with the recently attempted coup or the anti-government protest by the mostly well-off people who support it.

On January 29 the Washington Post, the CIA's favored outlet, launched the campaign. As detailed yesterday an incident of gang violence and the police's reaction to it was manipulated into a story of anti-government protest.

The first three paragraph of the story told of an alleged anti-government protests in a slum in Caracas which included the arson of a culture center. The next day the police arrested some culprits which led to more violence. Some twenty propaganda filled paragraphs about the coup attempt follow. Only at the end of the Washington Post piece was revealed what really happened. The arson incident took place a January 22, a day before the coup attempt. It was a gang attack:

Around midnight, neighbors say, a group of hooded boys threw molotov cocktails at the culture center.

The following day the police arrested some of the arsonists. More rioting followed:

A group set fire to barricades, threw stones and attacked an outpost of the National Guard. ... Neighbors said that criminal gangs were among the crowd and created havoc by violently confronting the police.

The whole tit for tat incident was typical gang vs. police violence. It likely had nothing to do with the coup attempt.

On January 30 the New York Times added to the propaganda theme:

The agents barged into the home of Yonaiker Ordóñez, 18, on Sunday morning as he slept. Dressed in helmets and carrying rifles, the men grabbed the teenager and forced him to another room without explaining why they came, his family said.
...
The operation resembled one of the many police raids against the gangs that terrorize Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods. But Mr. Ordóñez’s only crime, his family said, was that he attended a protest against the government days before.

The Times goes on to claim that a special police force, the FAES, has replaced the National Guard as anti-protester force. It quotes an 'opposition lawmaker', a 'human rights organization', a 'former military general who broke ranks with Mr. Maduro', a 'criminologist in Caracas who teaches at the Central University of Venezuela' and an 'opposition activist' in support of that claim. No attempt is made to quote someone from the police or government side. How the FAES, a special police force with some 1,000 officers in Caracas, could ever replace the 70,000 strong militarized National Guard is left unexplained.

On January 31 an op-ed by the dude the U.S. wants to make president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, was published in the NYT. He mentioned (not by chance) the same incident describe in the Washington Post. He also claimed that it was motivated by anti-Maduro sentiment:

Last week in Caracas, citizens from the poorest neighborhoods that had been Chavista strongholds in the past took to the streets in unprecedented protests. They went out again on Jan. 23 with the full knowledge that they might be brutally repressed, and they continue to attend town hall meetings.

The phrase 'they went out again on Jan. 23' confirms that the incident happened before the coup-attempt on January 23 and the demonstrations related to the coup.

Today Bloomberg reports of the same incident as WaPo and NYT before. It also falsely claims that the FAES police raids against gangs are part of a government reaction to an alleged anti-Maduro sentiment:

Since protests against Maduro began last week, the socialist regime has regularly sent the police’s elite Special Action Force racing into Caracas slums on personnel carriers and motorcycles. Its masked members, all in black, attack demonstrators with weapons including tear gas, guns and even grenades. They settle long-standing scores and rob residents’ homes, eyewitnesses say. At least 35 people have died amid the demonstrations, adding to scores of deaths in two years of unrest.

The government sent the FAES to arrest gang criminals in Caracas' slums ever since that force was founded for exactly that purpose. To say that it does so "since protests against Maduro began last week" makes absolutely no sense.

The unhinged National Security Advisor John Bolton highlighted the alleged anti-government protest in a radio interview today:

[W]hat we’ve seen, the violence you’ve referred to already, which interestingly has been largely in the poorest parts of Caracas, that is to say directed against the poorest residents of the city, the former supporters of Chavez by basically armed gangs called collectivos [sic!] in Spanish trained and equipped by Cuba. These are the thugs and killers that have been sent out in the past days, were sent out against earlier expressions of opposition to Maduro. And it’s these people, they are absolutely ruthless. This is as cold-blooded, they’re capable of cold-blooded murder, and they’ve engaged in it already. 

"The slums are rising up!" "They get brutally repressed!" It is the same story repeated again and again. It is also false.

Gang violence is a huge problem in Venezuela. Like in other countries it is a side-effect of rapid urbanization and the uncontrolled growth of new city quarters or slums. Other factors are drugs and the availability of weapons. Some six million guns are believed to be in civilian hands and drug dealing is rampant. Youth unemployment exacerbates the problem. The same gang problem exists in Brazil, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico and elsewhere. In Los Angeles 60% of all homicides are gang related.

The problem is not new. In March 2011 the Guardian reported on Drugs, murder and redemption: the gangs of Caracas. In October 2012 Time Magazine published a photo essay about the The Street Gangs of Caracas. In June 2015 the government created a joint military and police force to get a grip on the problem. It was not successful: Controversy Continues over Venezuela’s New Security Operation. The Daily Mail ran a typically sensational piece about gang violence in Caracas in June 2016: Boss of brutal kidnap gang boasts of murdering HUNDREDS - and police admit they're powerless to stop him. In August 2016 Reuters chimed in: Ultra-violent gangs thrive in chaotic Venezuela despite crackdown. In May 2017 the LA Times headlined Venezuela's raging homicide epidemic is going unrecorded.

Since the late 1980s the homicide rate in Venezuela (and elsewhere) has constantly risen. The gang violence existed in Venezuela way before 2002 when the socialists under Hugo Chavez came to power. Several large programs were created to calm it down with more or less success. Special anti-gang forces were created and abandoned. The problem still does not go away. There are many ideas of how to fight gang violence. Some may work, some may not. They all require lots of money and time.

In 2017 the Venezuelan government created the Bolivarian National Police Special Forces (‘FAES’ in Spanish). It replaced a joint military and police force, the Operation Liberate the People, that was criticized after some bloody incidents. The FAES are equipped like typical SWAT teams and have a similar function. Here are pictures of them in a recent raid against criminal groups. There are only 1,000 FAES officers in Caracas, a city with 3 million people. Their job is to react to violent gang crime. The force is too small to be tasked with controlling anti-government demonstrations. That is the job of the regular police and national guard.

Criminal gang activity in the slums and the police reaction to it that has been going on for decades. To now claim that it is somehow related to the recent coup attempt and anti-Maduro activities is nonsensical.

It is typical demonization propaganda. As soon as the U.S. government declares some head of state an 'enemy', U.S. media start to villainize that person. The same stories that were written about alleged cruelty of Saddam Hussein, Muhammad Ghaddafi, Kim Jong-Il and Bashar al-Assad will now be recycled with regards to Nicolas Maduro. In Syria the shabiha, youth groups supporting the Baath party, were claimed to be a secret killer force for the government. The same claim is now made about colectivos in Venezuela. These are civil neighborhood groups doing social work in support of the United Socialist Party. It is lather, rinse, repeat 'reporting' in the service of war mongering.

The people who live in the slums of Caracas have profited most from the socialist policies of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. They are the most avid chavistas. It were those people who took to the streets and came to Chavez' help during the failed coup in 2002. If they would really rise up against the government, the streets would be full and Maduro would be finished.

To claim that these people now engage in the anti-government protests is at best wishful thinking of the coup-attempt supporters. More likely it is war drums propaganda.

Posted by b on February 1, 2019 at 03:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (284)