In this new essay published on May 1st, John Pilger recalls the ‘electric’ opposition of writers and journalists to the coming war in the 1930s and investigates why today there is “a silence filled by a consensus of propaganda” as the two greatest powers draw closer to conflict.
Dec. 20, 2008: Protesters in Montreal threw shoes at a target poster of President George Bush outside the U.S. Consulate to show support for the Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeizi , who threw his shoe at the real Bush. (Anirudh Koul, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
There is a war coming shrouded in propaganda. It will involve us. Speak up
In 1935, the Congress of American Writers was held in New York City, followed by another two years later. They called on “the hundreds of poets, novelists, dramatists, critics, short story writers and journalists” to discuss the “rapid crumbling of capitalism” and the beckoning of another war. They were electric events which, according to one account, were attended by 3,500 members of the public with more than a thousand turned away.
Arthur Miller, Myra Page, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett warned that fascism was rising, often disguised, and the responsibility lay with writers and journalists to speak out. Telegrams of support from Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, C Day Lewis, Upton Sinclair and Albert Einstein were read out.
The journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn spoke up for the homeless and unemployed, and “all of us under the shadow of violent great power”.Martha, who became a close friend, told me later over her customary glass of Famous Grouse and soda:
“The responsibility I felt as a journalist was immense. I had witnessed the injustices and suffering delivered by the Depression, and I knew, we all knew, what was coming if silences were not broken.”
Her words echo across the silences today: they are silences filled with a consensus of propaganda that contaminates almost everything we read, see and hear. Let me give you one example:
On 7 March, the two oldest newspapers in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, published several pages on “the looming threat” of China. They coloured the Pacific Ocean red. Chinese eyes were martial, on the march and menacing. The Yellow Peril was about to fall down as if by the weight of gravity.
No logical reason was given for an attack on Australia by China. A ‘panel of experts’ presented no credible evidence: one of them is a former director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a front for the Defence Department in Canberra, the Pentagon in Washington, the governments of Britain, Japan and Taiwan and the west’s war industry.
“Beijing could strike within three years,” they warned. “We are not ready.” Billions of dollars are to be spent on American nuclear submarines, but that, it seems, is not enough. “Australia’s holiday from history is over”: whatever that might mean.
There is no threat to Australia, none. The faraway ‘lucky’ country has no enemies, least of all China, its largest trading partner. Yet China-bashing that draws on Australia’s long history of racism towards Asia has become something of a sport for the self-ordained ‘experts’. What do Chinese-Australians make of this? Many are confused and fearful.
The authors of this grotesque piece of dog-whistling and obsequiousness to American power are Peter Hartcher and Matthew Knott, ‘national security reporters’ I think they are called. I remember Hartcher from his Israeli government-paid jaunts. The other one, Knott, is a mouthpiece for the suits in Canberra. Neither has ever seen a war zone and its extremes of human degradation and suffering.
“How did it come to this?” Martha Gellhorn would say if she were here. “Where on earth are the voices saying no? Where is the comradeship?”
Post-Modernism in Charge
The voices are heard in the samizdat of this website and others. In literature, the likes of John Steinbeck, Carson McCullers, George Orwell are obsolete. Post-modernism is in charge now. Liberalism has pulled up its political ladder. A once somnolent social democracy, Australia, has enacted a web of new laws protecting secretive, authoritarian power and preventing the right to know. Whistleblowers are outlaws, to be tried in secret. An especially sinister law bans ‘foreign interference’ by those who work for foreign companies. What does this mean?
Democracy is notional now; there is the all-powerful elite of the corporation merged with the state and the demands of ‘identity’. American admirals are paid thousands of dollars a day by the Australian tax payer for ‘advice’. Right across the West, our political imagination has been pacified by PR and distracted by the intrigues of corrupt, ultra low-rent politicians: a Johnson or a Trump or a Sleepy Joe or a Zelensky.
No writers’ congress in 2023 worries about “crumbling capitalism” and the lethal provocations of ‘our’ leaders. The most infamous of these, Tony Blair, a prima facie criminal under the Nuremberg Standard, is free and rich. Julian Assange, who dared journalists to prove their readers had a right to know, is in his second decade of incarceration.
The rise of fascism in Europe is uncontroversial. Or ‘neo-Nazism’ or ‘extreme nationalism’, as you prefer. Ukraine as modern Europe’s fascist beehive has seen the re-emergence of the cult of Stepan Bandera, the passionate anti-Semite and mass murderer who lauded Hitler’s ‘Jewish policy’, which left 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews slaughtered. “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet,” a Banderist pamphlet proclaimed to Ukrainian Jews.
Stepan Bandera torchlight parade in Kiev, Jan. 1, 2020. (A1/Wikimedia Commons)
Today, Bandera is hero-worshipped in western Ukraine and scores of statues of him and his fellow-fascists have been paid for by the EU and the US, replacing those of Russian cultural giants and others who liberated Ukraine from the original Nazis.
In 2014, neo-Nazis played a key role in an American bankrolled coup against the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was accused of being ‘pro-Moscow’. The coup regime included prominent ‘extreme nationalists’ – Nazis in all but name.
At first, this was reported at length by the BBC and the European and American media. In 2019, Time magazine featured the “white supremacist militias” active in Ukraine. NBC News reported, “Ukraine’s Nazi problem is real.” The immolation of trade unionists in Odessa was filmed and documented.
Spearheaded by the Azov regiment, whose insignia, the ‘Wolfsangel’, was made infamous by the German SS, Ukraine’s military invaded the eastern, Russian-speaking Donbas region. According to the United Nations 14,000 in the east were killed. Seven years later, with the Minsk peace conferences sabotaged by the West, as Angela Merkel confessed, the Red Army invaded.
A march of Azov veterans and supporters in Kiev, 2019. (Goo3, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)
This version of events was not reported in the West. To even utter it is to bring down abuse about being a “Putin apologist”, regardless whether the writer (such as myself) has condemned the Russian invasion. Understanding the extreme provocation that a Nato-armed borderland, Ukraine, the same borderland through which Hitler invaded, presented to Moscow, is anathema.
Journalists who travelled to the Donbas were silenced or even hounded in their own country. German journalist Patrik Baab lost his job and a young German freelance reporter, Alina Lipp, had her bank account sequestered.
Silence of Intimidation
In Britain, the silence of the liberal intelligensia is the silence of intimidation. State-sponsored issues like Ukraine and Israel are to be avoided if you want to keep a campus job or a teaching tenure. What happened to Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 is repeated on campuses where opponents of apartheid Israel are casually smeared as anti-Semitic.
Professor David Miller, ironically the country’s leading authority on modern propaganda, was sacked by Bristol University for suggesting publicly that Israel’s ‘assets’ in Britain and its political lobbying exerted a disproportionate influence worldwide – a fact for which the evidence is voluminous.
The university hired a leading Queen’s Counsel to investigate the case independently. His report exonerated Miller on the “important issue of academic freedom of expression” and found “Professor Miller’s comments did not constitute unlawful speech”. Yet Bristol sacked him. The message is clear: no matter what outrage it perpetrates, Israel has immunity and its critics are to be punished.
A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that “for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”.
No Shelley spoke for the poor, no Blake for utopian dreams, no Byron damned the corruption of the ruling class, no Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin revealed the moral disaster of capitalism. William Morris, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw had no equivalents today. Harold Pinter was alive then, “the last to raise his voice”, wrote Eagleton.
Where did post-modernism – the rejection of actual politics and authentic dissent – come from? The publication in 1970 of Charles Reich’s bestselling book, The Greening of America, offers a clue. America then was in a state of upheaval; Nixon was in the White House, a civil resistance, known as “the movement”, had burst out of the margins of society in the midst of a war that touched almost everybody. In alliance with the civil rights movement, it presented the most serious challenge to Washington’s power for a century.
On the cover of Reich’s book were these words: “There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual.”
At the time I was a correspondent in the United States and recall the overnight elevation to guru status of Reich, a young Yale academic. The New Yorker had sensationally serialised his book, whose message was that the “political action and truth-telling” of the 1960s had failed and only “culture and introspection” would change the world. It felt as if hippydom was claiming the consumer classes. And in one sense it was.
Within a few years, the cult of ‘me-ism’ had all but overwhelmed many people’s sense of acting together, of social justice and internationalism. Class, gender and race were separated. The personal was the political and the media was the message. Make money, it said.
As for “the movement”, its hope and songs, the years of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton put an end to all that. The police were now in open war with black people; Clinton’s notorious welfare bills broke world records in the number of mostly blacks they sent to jail.
George Floyd protesters in Miami react to police firing chemical irritants on May 30, 2020. (Mike Shaheen, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)
When 9/11 happened, the fabrication of new “threats” on “America’s frontier” (as the Project for a New American Century called the world) completed the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a vehement opposition.
In the years since, America has gone to war with the world. According to a largely ignored report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the number killed in America’s “war on terror” was “at least” 1.3 million in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
This figure does not include the dead of US-led and fuelled wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somalia and beyond. The true figure, said the report, “could well be in excess of 2 million [or] approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware and [is] propagated by the media and major NGOS.”
“At least” one million were killed in Iraq, say the physicians, or five per cent of the population.
No One Knows How Many Killed
The enormity of this violence and suffering seems to have no place in the western consciousness. ‘No one knows how many’ is the media refrain. Blair and George W. Bush – and Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Straw, John Howard et al – were never in danger of prosecution. Blair’s propaganda maestro, Alistair Campbell, is celebrated as a ‘media personality’.
In 2003, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the acclaimed investigative journalist. We discussed the invasion of Iraq a few months earlier. I asked him, “What if the constitutionally freest media in the world had seriously challenged George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of spreading what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
He replied. “If we journalists had done our job, there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
I put the same question to Dan Rather, the famous CBS anchor, who gave me the same answer. David Rose of the Observer, who had promoted Saddam Hussein’s ‘threat’, and Rageh Omaar, then the BBC’s Iraq correspondent, gave me the same answer. Rose’s admirable contrition at having been “duped”, spoke for many reporters bereft of his courage to say so.
Their point is worth repeating. Had journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, a million Iraqi men, women and children might be alive today; millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and Islamic State might not have existed.
Mock coffins placed near the offices of military contractors during a protest against the Iraq war in and around Washington. March 21, 2009. (Victor Reinhart, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Cast that truth across the rapacious wars since 1945 ignited by the United States and its ‘allies’ and the conclusion is breathtaking. Is this ever raised in journalism schools?
Today, war by media is a key task of so-called mainstream journalism, reminiscent of that described by a Nuremberg prosecutor in 1945: “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically… In the propaganda system… it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”
One of the persistent strands in American political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism. Although Trump was credited with this, it was during Obama’s two terms that American foreign policy flirted seriously with fascism. This was almost never reported.
“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Obama, who expanded a favourite presidential pastime, bombing, and death squads known as “special operations” as no other president had done since the first Cold War.
According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people and people of colour: in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan.
Every Tuesday – reported the New York Times – he personally selected those who would be murdered by hellfire missiles fired from drones. Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target”.
A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones had killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, “but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.”
In 2011, Obama told the media that the Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi was planning ‘genocide’ against his own people. “We knew…,” he said, “that if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte [North Carolina], could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
This was a lie. The only “threat” was the coming defeat of fanatical Islamists by Libyan government forces. With his plans for a revival of independent pan-Africanism, an African bank and African currency, all of it funded by Libyan oil, Gaddafi was cast as an enemy of western colonialism on the continent in which Libya was the second most modern state.
Destroying Gaddafi’s “threat” and his modern state was the aim. Backed by the US, Britain and France, Nato launched 9,700 sorties against Libya. A third were aimed at infrastructure and civilian targets, reported the UN. Uranium warheads were used; the cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. The Red Cross identified mass graves, and Unicef reported that “most [of the children killed] were under the age of ten”.
When Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, was told that Gaddafi had been captured by the insurrectionists and sodomised with a knife, she laughed and said to the camera: “We came, we saw, he died!”
On 14 September 2016, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in London reported the conclusion of a year-long study into the Nato attack on Libya which it described as an “array of lies” – including the Benghazi massacre story.
The NATO bombing plunged Libya into a humanitarian disaster, killing thousands of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more, transforming Libya from the African country with the highest standard of living into a war-torn failed state.
Under Obama, the US extended secret “special forces” operations to 138 countries, or 70 per cent of the world’s population. The first African-American president launched what amounted to a full-scale invasion of Africa.
Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has since built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing.
It is as if Africa’s proud history of liberation, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela, has been consigned to oblivion by a new white master’s black colonial elite. This elite’s “historic mission”, warned the knowing Frantz Fanon, is the promotion of “a capitalism rampant though camouflaged”.
In the year Nato invaded Libya, 2011, Obama announced what became known as the “pivot to Asia”. Almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to the Asia-Pacific to “confront the threat from China”, in the words of his Defence Secretary.
There was no threat from China; there was a threat to China from the United States; some 400 American military bases formed an arc along the rim of China’s industrial heartlands, which a Pentagon official described approvingly as a “noose”.
At the same time, Obama placed missiles in Eastern Europe aimed at Russia. It was the beatified recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who increased spending on nuclear warheads to a level higher than that of any US administration since the Cold War – having promised, in an emotional speech in the centre of Prague in 2009, to “help rid the world of nuclear weapons”.
Obama and his administration knew full well that the coup his assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, was sent to oversee against the government of Ukraine in 2014 would provoke a Russian response and probably lead to war. And so it has.
I am writing this on 30 April, the anniversary of the last day of the longest war of the twentieth century, in Vietnam, which I reported. I was very young when I arrived in Saigon and I learned a great deal. I learned to recognise the distinctive drone of the engines of giant B-52s, which dropped their carnage from above the clouds and spared nothing and no one; I learned not to turn away when faced with a charred tree festooned with human parts; I learned to value kindness as never before; I learned that Joseph Heller was right in his masterly Catch-22: that war was not suited to sane people; and I learned about ‘our’ propaganda.
All through that war, the propaganda said a victorious Vietnam would spread its communist disease to the rest of Asia, allowing the Great Yellow Peril to its north to sweep down. Countries would fall like ‘dominoes’.
Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam was victorious, and none of the above happened. Instead, Vietnamese civilisation blossomed, remarkably, in spite of the price they paid: three million dead. And the maimed, the deformed, the addicted, the poisoned, the lost.
If the current propagandists get their war with China, this will be a fraction of what is to come. Speak up.
Click here to read John Pilger’s article as it originally appeared on his official website.
And here to find the same piece on Consortium News with images and links retained above.
“A genuine Libyan decision would lead to something that the West does not want. That’s why they go to Berlin… Berlin has a very bad reputation in Africa. Remember Berlin 1884, the conference in which they divided Africa up between European powers: divided African minds and African wealth. Now you come to Berlin 2020, it’s the same game being played for centuries, and we’re not buying it.”
— Moussa Ibrahim
On today’s Going Underground, host Afshin Rattansi spoke with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s former spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim about the upcoming Berlin Conference. Ibrahim explains why Germany has been chosen as the location to manage Libya’s crisis, how the West introduced chaos to Libya and has managed the chaos ever since, why Turkey is militarily backing the UN-backed government, and the conditions of the Green Resistance‘s alliance with former CIA-asset turned warlord General Haftar.
The interview begins with Moussa Ibrahim’s expectations for the talks taking place in Berlin tomorrow.
The following transcript is my own:
Moussa Ibrahim: It’s extremely easy to get lost in the details of the Libyan crisis, and this is really a part of the game the imperialist West has been playing for decades and decades in the region. Europe introduces chaos into Libya, and then what it does [is] it manages this chaos for years and years to come, sometimes by military means, sometimes by political means, conferences, negotiations, economic sanctions, UN decrees, European Union involvement.
All of this is to keep the country under control so they can rob its national wealth and control its political system, and prevent – more importantly – its population from rising up and making sure that the country is sovereign and independent from foreign influence. The Berlin Conference is just another step in this direction.
Afshin Rattansi: Okay, there are no good guys and bad guys as the corporate media loves so much. Is it your understanding that the ceasefire is holding at least in Libya? There are reports of some Turkish-backed GNA [Government of National Accord] – the UN-mandated soldiers – dying.
And have you been invited to the Berlin Conference? Has Saif Gaddafi been invited to the Berlin Conference?
MI: From the outside, they claim that they are inviting everyone. The reason that they imposed a ceasefire (especially from Turkey’s side) is because they understood that the Libyan Army was about to capture Tripoli.
Now those leading the Libyan Army were previous CIA-assets, as you said, but the Green Resistance of Libya has been using the Libyan Army as a vehicle to move forward and guarantee a level of sovereignty and independence for the country. They came up with this ceasefire to save the Islamist militias and the so-called ‘Government of National Accord’ that they imposed upon the Libyan people in 2014.
AR: So it is the entire international community that is against the Libyan people, arguably. And actually I meant General Haftar had been a former CIA-asset. So are you saying that this conference has been hastily convened because the Government of National Accord was about to lose all power? And it is mandated by all of the Security Council members including China, including Russia, let alone Britain and the United States.
MI: Of course this is something that the West does all the time. They change the rules. They assign roles between different parties in any conflict.
German was, you know, one of the better countries of Europe in 2011. It wasn’t involved heavily in the bombardment of Libya. It even objected to the very act of war, and proposed a peaceful road for negotiation. And that’s the reason – the very reason – Germany has been chosen; because the other European powers have been indeed morally bankrupt in Libya, [so] completely and utterly that no initiative can come from France, Britain or Italy, let alone The States, of course. Turkey, as well, because of its cultural, religious and historical links to Libya, was chosen and appointed by its European allies to manage the case jointly with Germany for the next few years.
They always change the agents. They change the parties that play the part. But the core of the matter is the same. Keep Libya politically weak, under the control of the West, keep robbing the national wealth, make sure that the Libyan population does not rise up to gain Libya back and make it independent and strong. And of course, as you know Afshin, play the media game. Talk about democracy, elections, negotiations, ceasefires; and they do it very well with newspapers, media, with experts, with intellectuals, and we are aware of this. We are not to be fooled again by the West.
AR: Okay, if Haftar is backed by Paris, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Riyadh, France obviously also backing the GNA. Trump criticising Turkish agreement over oil between Sarraj’s Government of National Accord government saying it was unhelpful… I’m not sure whether that means Trump is going to come to the rescue. What is the Green Resistance? There has been, as you just mentioned, media, intellectuals, and the rest of it; it is not mentioned in the context of Libya.
MI: Inside Libya, all Libyans are aware of the Green Resistance. We are everywhere. We are the many, we are the majority; even our enemies inside the country admit to that. And actually, they have been for years now saying it publicly. They know any true political settlement; any transparent, truly, genuinely democratic system will lead to Libya being Green again.
I agree, it does not mean that we are going to own it, or govern it, for ourselves. It means we are going to liberate it from the foreign agenda. And because there is an international veto against the Green Resistance, we decided – many of us – to join the vehicle available to us, which is the Libyan Army. The Libyan Army is composed mainly (more than 80%) of officers and soldiers of the Green Libya. The West knows that very well, and they don’t want Libya with the, you know, [help] of the Green Resistance to go back to being independent and sovereign, and therefore go back to the old Gaddafist agendas of liberation, of uniting Africa, uniting the Arab world, opposing imperialism, maintaining the national wealth, development… independent economic development from the Capitalist system.
AR: That doesn’t sound like any time soon. General Haftar has said he has no problem with Saif Gaddafi running for president. Do we know whether Saif Gaddafi is even alive, let alone the fact that he’s not been invited to tomorrow’s Berlin Conference? And do you fear that given Trump’s recent drone assassination of Iranian General Soleimani that they could take Saif Gaddafi out if he’s alive now?
MI: There’s no doubt. We are afraid for Saif’s safety.
Saif al-Islam is a Libyan citizen. He is a leader and he is loved by a major proportion of the Libyan population. He has a genuine political programme and project for the country, but no-one from outside of Libya of course, wants to listen to him, because they know his voice is very dangerous to the agenda of the West, although Saif al-Islam and his followers have been saying for years now that they don’t want to take revenge against anyone, they don’t want conflict, they want an independent, peaceful and democratic Libya, and not just talk.
We have a very particular, definite written-down programme for all of this. We call for every single Libyan party, political current, to come together in a Libyan city – not in Berlin – under the supervision of the African Union, because we are African, and without any foreign participation.
No-one is accepting this because they know where this would lead. A genuine Libyan decision would lead to something that the West does not want. That’s why they go to Berlin. Remember Afshin, Berlin has a very bad reputation in Africa. Remember Berlin 1884, the conference in which they divided Africa up between European powers: divided African minds and African wealth. Now you come to Berlin 2020, it’s the same game being played for centuries, and we’re not buying it.
AR: Okay. Well, just finally and briefly, does it matter if General Haftar signs an agreement in Berlin, or is the question itself meaningless? And do you think he’s about to take Tripoli regardless?
MI: We are challenging Haftar because our alliance with Haftar is a very particular one. Haftar came under the CIA and American army protection in 2011. We will not forget that. He claims now that he is seeking Libya’s independence and freedom, and that’s why we are working under his official command in the Libyan Army. But if he signs anything in Berlin, if he goes against Libya’s sovereignty, and Libya’s independence and freedom, make no mistake, we will work no more with Haftar. And thousands and thousands of soldiers and officers will go out of their way to oppose such an agreement, and the whole equation of the Libyan political situation will be changed radically.
An investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.
The inquiry commissioned by David Cameron, was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Isis into Syria.
But although it was due to be published in the spring of 2016, it has not been completed and may never be made public due to its “sensitive” contents.[…]
It comes after Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested during a leadership debate, that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are good for industry.
The Government has recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and a stream of British ministers have visited the kingdom to solicit trade, despite its ongoing involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.
Click here to read the full article published by The Independent entitled “Home Office may not publish terrorist funding report amid claims it focuses on Saudi Arabia” on June 1st.
And here to read more in a related article published by the Guardian.
2. Nicholas Wilson tries to speak about arms sales to Saudi Arabia
At a hustings in Rye on 3 June, where I am standing as an independent anti-corruption parliamentary candidate, a question was asked about law & order. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in answering it referred to the Manchester terrorist attack. I took up the theme and referred to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia & HSBC business there. She spoke to and handed a note to the chairman who removed the mic from me.
The following are extended extracts drawn from the opening and closing sections of an article published on June 1st by investigative journalist John Pilger – I very much encourage readers to follow links to the full article.
The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.
Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”.
The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years.
The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.
The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.
Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May?
These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology. […]
In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys”. Implacably opposed to Mu’ammar Gadaffi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gadaffi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.
Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.
On Saturday 3rd, John Pilger discussed with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s ‘Going Underground’ the close ties between British intelligence and the LIFG jihadists, and how the Manchester atrocity was an avoidable product of UK foreign policy:
The Manchester atrocity on 22 May was the product of such unrelenting state violence in faraway places, much of it British sponsored. The lives and names of the victims are almost never known to us.
This truth struggles to be heard, just as it struggled to be heard when the London Underground was bombed on July 7, 2005. Occasionally, a member of the public would break the silence, such as the east Londoner who walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. “Iraq!” he said. “We invaded Iraq. What did we expect? Go on, say it.”
At a large media gathering I attended, many of the important guests uttered “Iraq” and “Blair” as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly.
Yet, before he invaded Iraq, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “the threat from al-Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq… The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly”.
Just as Blair brought home to Britain the violence of his and George W Bush’s blood-soaked “shit show” [Barack Obama’s description of Cameron’s role in Libya], so David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, compounded his crime in Libya and its horrific aftermath, including those killed and maimed in Manchester Arena on 22 May.
The spin is back, not surprisingly. Salman Abedi acted alone. He was a petty criminal, no more. The extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.
Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?
In the current election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a guarded reference to a “war on terror that has failed”. As he knows, it was never a war on terror but a war of conquest and subjugation. Palestine. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Iran is said to be next. Before there is another Manchester, who will have the courage to say that?
The same article was republished by Counterpunchhere.
John Pilger had also appeared on ‘Going Underground’ on May 24th when he spoke about the Manchester bombing, Saudi Arabia, Trump and wikileaks:
For further links and information, I also recommend an article written by Max Blumenthal published in Alternet subtitled “How the U.S. and the U.K. helped bring jihadists like Salem Abedi to Libya and Syria”.
In October 2011, Russia drew a line in the sand when it vetoed western intervention in Syria.
The UN security council is expected to seek a fresh resolution on Syria after Russia and China on Tuesday night vetoed a draft that threatened sanctions, a security council source said.
The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.
Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council. 1
Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.
In response, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, provided his own translation of the Russian statement of explanation for their veto:
The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.
Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.
In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.
The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.
The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.
The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.
The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.
This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.
As Murray points out, the validity of the Russian statement is borne out by the facts on the ground, even if the mainstream media has turned away from presenting the true horror of the atrocities that have been committed by Nato and the rebel forces in the name of freedom and democracy, most especially in the case of Sirte:
Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was one of very few independent journalists reporting inside Libya. He consistently dismissed the official story of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is what he had to say in an interview at the end of July 2011:
Without question, it has to be emphasized that the NATO-led bombings have deliberately targeted Libyan civilians and have sought to punish the civilian population in Libya. Water facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, food facilities, hotels, civilian vehicles, restaurants, homes, government office buildings, and residential areas have all been bombed. This includes the Libyan Supreme Court, a civilian bus, a Down’s Syndrome facility, a children’s vaccination centre, and Nasser University. The NATO claim that military command and control buildings are being targeted is nonsense and untrue.
The NATO goal has not been to protect civilians, but to provoke civilians into blaming Colonel Qaddafi and his regime for the war and NATO’s war crimes against the Libyan people. NATO believes that the brutality of its bombings of Libyan civilians and its strategy to create a shortage of fuel, money, medicine, food, and water would cause regime change in Tripoli by pushing the Libyan population to oust Qaddafi. 2
And here is Mahdi Nazemroaya giving an eyewitness account at a Toronto Conference for “The Truth about Libya” a few months later on Sept 9th, when he spoke passionately against the lies of the mainstream media that covered up the horrors of the NATO intervention:
Craig Murray likewise points out that: “NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties” and goes on to describe Susan Rice’s reaction to the Russian statement as ‘pathetic’:
Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse. I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently forseeable result of America’s own rash actions, was just pathetic.
That Russia and China will resort to appeals to ‘humanitarianism’ only when it suits their own geostrategic agenda is true, of course. In this instance, Russian being primarily concerned to protect its interests in Syria, which includes the Tartus naval base 3. But then it’s always so much easier to see through the hypocrisy coming out of Beijing and Moscow, than when it comes from the lips of our own leaders — Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama at the time — or, more importantly, from a media that is unswervingly loyal to the same corporate and establishment interests.
War is a racket, remember that – not my words but those of Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated general in America’s history. And in his famous anti-war pamphlet of the same name, first published in 1935, he writes:
“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
Or, as Craig Murray rewrites it for our contemporary times:
“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.
Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That is an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.
I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.
If there is full scale “intervention” in Syria then we can certainly expect similar results, because, and in spite of the humanitarian justifications that will undoubtedly be given, the real motivation remains the same. A grab for power and money. As Butler says: it’s just a racket.
JUST IN: Shares of Tomahawk cruise missile maker Raytheon up 2.1 percent in premarket trade after U.S. missile strike in Syria.
During the half decade in which a sustained proxy war has engulfed Syria, there have now been two alleged chemical attacks which have prompted demands for direct military “intervention” against Assad. The first happened four years ago when Obama accused the Syrian regime of “crossing a red line” following a release of sarin gas in Ghouta. Allegations which Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh afterwards refuted, challenging Obama’s claims that US intelligence possessed solid evidence proving Assad’s guilt, and more importantly, revealing that the origins of the sarin used in the attack “didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”:
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad. 4
The article quoted above entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th, 2014.
In a follow up article Hersh also provided supporting evidence that the Ghouta attack was most probably carried out by al-Qaeda factions in Syria who quite definitely did have the means:
Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
And Hersh finally went on to implicate Turkey as likely collaborators in the Ghouta atrocity and other less widely reported chemical attacks in Syria:
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat. 5
Following Tuesday’s [April 4th] chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, some 30 miles south of Idlib city, Assad stands accused once again, this time by Trump, of crossing “many, many lines – beyond a red line”. On this occasion, no evidence has yet been provided aside from video footage that purportedly shows rescuers trying to resuscitate victims of an alleged aerial attack. The images are indeed extremely harrowing, but what precisely are we witnessing? The plain fact that the only footage available carries the logo of the al-Qaeda linkedWhite Helmets is grounds alone to query the authenticity of the story.
Quoted below is the gruesome conclusion drawn by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) and associated medical experts after closely analysing similarly disturbing video footage of White Helmet responders dealing with an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015:
‘Lifesaving’ procedures on the children showed in the White Helmets videos were found to be fake, and ultimately performed on dead children. 6
In a related report Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, a prominent figure in the resistance movement against the Pinochet Dictatorship (biographical notes from his current wikipedia entry are reproduced as a footnote †), adds that:
SWEDHR took the time to get the dialogue in the White Helmet movie translated. At 1:16 the doctor in full light green and a gray & black jumper says:
”Include in the picture (meaning in the film or the frame -translators note) the mother should be underneath and the children on top of her, hey! Make sure the mother is underneath.”
Perhaps, if the video had been subtitled, the UN officials [who watched the film in the closed-door session at the UN Security Council] might have queried this overt staging of an event that one must assume, was chaotic, harrowing and stressful. Perhaps, they would have found it strange, that in the midst of a “chemical weapon” attack, one of the medics, attempting to save the lives of three Syrian children, would be concerned with the positioning of their bodies for the camera. 7
It is noteworthy that the wikipedia entry for SWEDHR may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot as it currently appears (apologies for the size but I wanted to capture the full article):
And here is a close up of the banner at the top — observe how the various “issues” are all dated April 2017:
Lacking the legal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution or approval from Congress, it is on the basis of similarly doubtful and unsubstantiated video evidence that Trump so hastily launched his $100 million offensive – an initial salvo which is presumably set to open yet another front in the West’s ever-expanding post-9/11 warzone. Neo-con David Ignatius even made this extraordinary comparison writing in the Washington Post:
Then came those pictures of the Syrian children. With Thursday night’s action, Trump reached one of those unforeseen tipping points on which decisions of war and peace so often rest: the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the “Zimmermann telegram” of 1917, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, the Iraqi WMD delusion in 2003. What all these triggers for war have in common is that people didn’t see them coming. 8
Anyone with even a passing interest in history will recognise that what those pretexts to major wars in Ignatius’ list share in common is a good deal less superficial than “that people didn’t see them coming”. It is common knowledge that the last two examples were outright lies (not “delusions”), but serious and lingering doubts also remain over the seemingly willful negligence accompanying the separate tragedies which accelerated US entry into each of the world wars. For deceit and deception is not only part and parcel of war itself, more often than not it is a necessary catalyst to instigate war.
Below is a screenshot of the CNN article by award winning journalist Elise Labott, the original link was later redirected to CNN blogs:
Click here to read more about these earlier reports at Global Research.
As the rush to a new war quickens, here are just a few pleas for restraint – extracts from articles and interviews (the transcripts are my own) from a wide range of dissenting but considered and well-informed perspectives.
Trump’s war crime
Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, at the UN Security Council meeting on April 7th:
Holding up an enlarged photo of Colin Powell’s “weapons of mass destruction” speech, Llorenti made an impassioned plea to hold the U.S. to account for Thursday’s unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the U.S. history of imperialist interventions in other nations, including Latin America.
“Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That’s not what international law is about.”
The Andean nation currently holds a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
“I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion (in 2003), the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found,” the Bolivian envoy told the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday.
Arguing that the U.S. acted unilaterally and in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the Bolivian envoy called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
“The United States was preparing once again and carried out a unilateral attack,” Llorenti said. “The missile attack, of course, is a unilateral action. They represent a serious threat to international peace and security.”
“After [the Iraq] invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?” [from 8 mins]
To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.
Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.
In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.
However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?
No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.
Click here to read the full article by political analyst John Wight published in Counterpunch.
On Wednesday 6th in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack inside Khan Sheikhoun, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was interviewed by Sky News. He said:
Ask who benefits – clearly it’s not the Syrian regime or the Russians who are benefitting. And I believe it’s highly unlikely that either were behind what’s happened. There are different possibilities. One is that all of it is fake news: the images, the videos, the information all come from opposition sources and not from any credible independent journalists.
It’s also possible that the pictures show the aftermath of a bombing attack which happened to hit a jihadi chemical weapons munition dump. We know for a fact that the jihadi’s were storing chemical weapons in schools in Eastern Aleppo because these were seen later by western journalists. This is one distinct possibility.
We never learn, do we? Iraq’s chemical weapons – remember that one? We were stampeded. Aleppo, we were told that there was a holocaust going on – massacres – didn’t happen. Independent reporters went in afterwards and saw no evidence of massacres. What we did see were fighters being bussed out quietly. And we discovered subsequently that a lot of the footage was fake.
Asked whether western intervention in 2013 “might have changed things”, Ford replies:
Well, it’s not profitable to discuss the what-might-have-been – personally, I think it was correct in 2013 not to intervene on the side of the jihadis. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that most of the people, when they thought about it for a second, would ask themselves: well, what’s going to replace Assad and the secular regime which is protecting minorities, Christians, women’s rights? I don’t think the Islamists would have been a better bet, and that is even more the case today. Remember that in Idlib where this happened is a rats’ nest of the most extreme jihadis.
Dogs returning to their own vomit. They made all these mistakes: Iraq, Libya – they never learn and they would like to reproduce the same scenario in Syria. Fortunately, the Trump administration moved only last week – and this may be significant here – moved only last week to disown the Obama policy of trying to unseat the Syrian regime. Trump’s people said: we’re more interested in unseating ISIS – that’s our priority. And you may think it’s significant that this attack comes days after that. Now if the jihadis wanted to complicate Trump’s task of making America’s policy more sensible, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way than trying to mount a piece of fake news like this.
The media has helped spread the war fever. New York Times columnist and Iraq war cheerleader Thomas Friedman reflexively proposed that Syria be partitioned, with U.S. troops if necessary. On CNN, correspondent Arwa Damon wept over the lack of U.S. resolve, suggesting that a bombing campaign against Damascus would somehow salve the wounds of Syria.
But there has been one issue major media outlets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. military offensive. Who holds power in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is perhaps the most inconvenient set of questions for proponents of “humanitarian” military intervention in Syria.
The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed what a leading scholar has described as a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.
Even analysts who have repeatedly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syria have described Idlib as the “heartland of al-Nusra.”
Click here to read the full article by Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton, published in Alternet on Wednesday 5th.
The same piece includes the following insightful update (with all links maintained from original):
Several hours after this article was published, the U.S. attacked the Syrian government, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, in the city of Homs. ISIS seized on the opportunity and launched an offensive against the Syrian government immediately after the U.S. strike. The attack was likewise applauded by the Salafi jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sham, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
On Saturday 8th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Peter Oborne, Associate Editor of the Spectator magazine, and Middle East Eye columnist, who has visited Syria during the war and is about to return. Here extracts from what Oborne said:
Well the pictures are terrible – really shocking and awful. But the question is: what’s behind them; what could have created this situation; and was the Syrian government/regime involved? And I think it’s very unwise to jump to immediate conclusions. That’s what history teaches you. Intelligence agencies produce stuff which is unreliable and false: you know going back to WMD before the Iraq invasion. You got back to the reasons given for the Libyan intervention, five years after that, and then the attempts to get western involvement in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta. I just think that we need to pause.
I think there should be an investigation: it’s very shocking what’s happened. But to immediately blame the Assad regime and then say look we’ve got to go to war is not the sensible response. […]
Matthew Rycroft [British ambassador to the UN Security Council] is a young man, and he’s probably not that experienced, and he’s probably a bit naive. Intelligence agencies need to assess in a responsible and adult way what happened. And to suddenly launch World War Three – which this potentially could become –on the back of a whole series of media reactions to a very serious and terrible event is not sensible. We need to know the truth about what happened first.
One of the questions is cui bono – who benefits? And if you look at the situation of the Assad regime now you can’t really say that it’s in their interest to go around dropping chemical weapons. They knew four years ago in 2013, the United States came very close to bombing Damascus in the wake of that [chemical incident at Ghouta]. Now do they want that to happen? I don’t think so.
From the perspective here in London, you know, it looks like the war is almost over. Do you want to reignite something absolutely terrible? […]
I can’t look into the mind of President Trump, but I was surprised. We know that there has been a constituency to go to war in Syria. In my view, to get involved in that would have made things far worse – led to far more innocent deaths, to far more deaths of children. And if the West is going to pile into Syria then it’s going to cause unintended consequences on a limitless scale, as we saw when we used the false justification of WMD in Iraq. So much better is to sit back, pause, use proper intelligence techniques to work out and analyse what did happen, and respond over time. But what we are seeing now is hysteria. […]
We don’t know how many people have died in Syria because of the terrible war which has been going on for the last four years. Is it 200,000? Is it 400,000? I don’t know. How many lives have been destroyed? How many children have died? (All the rest of it…) If any situation called for restraint, this is the one.
Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has just come back from Saudi Arabia. She’s trying to sell British arms, etc (I presume) to Saudi. Saudi has a long-standing determination to destroy the Assad government in Syria. And I’d just like to be clear about what Mrs May’s… you know, you need to be aware of who Mrs May talks to. It is not in the interests of humanity or the world to get involved in a new war in Syria to take it in a fresh direction on the basis of an event we know practically nothing about.
The immediate fall out
President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.
The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.
Is that the change that Trump wanted?
As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States. According to the New York Times:
“In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….
Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)
The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.
Click here to read the full article by Mike Whitney published in Counterpunch. The same piece also includes Mike Whitney’s transcription of part of a 14 minute interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show with former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi. It is reproduced below:
Philip Giraldi: I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t — and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.
Scott Horton: Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?
Philip Giraldi: Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.
Scott Horton: So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?
Philip Giraldi: They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.
Scott Horton: You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?
Philip Giraldi: It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”
I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time. [click here to listen]
Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)
Whitney also quotes from a recent statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:
And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media. Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:
“The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.
…Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)
“Managed chaos”. Brilliant. That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell. That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources.
Here is US Congressman Thomas Massie challenging the official narrative on CNN to the undisguised chagrin of the anchor:
The original upload is no longer available so here’s another version courtesy of CNN:
Click here to listen to former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, interviewed on Scott Horton show on April 6th.
The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.
This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.
What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.
Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology”
For a more comprehensive summary of the report I recommend this article by independent journalist Eva Bartlett.
In a talk given on April 14th, Noam Chomsky directs attention to Theodore Postol’s analysis and also challenges the official White House narrative:
Finally – perhaps not to everyone’s taste – here is James Corbett’s sardonic quick-fire dissection of the same events in four minutes flat:
2Taken from an interview of Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the publication Eurasia. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2011 by two Italian researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences/L’Istituto di Alti Studi in Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie (IsAG), Chiara Felli and Giovanni Andriolo. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26774
The Russian expansion of the Tartus would include the installation of an air defence system with S-300 PMU2 Favourite ballistic missile system that would be a virtual threat to the Ceyhan, maritime traffic, the flow of oil, and would provide an air defence shield for vital portions of Syria that are strategically important, especially in the event of a war. In essence Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Syria would be protected from either Israeli or American aerial bombardment. It is clear that the Russian aims in Syria are a symmetrical reaction to American objectives for the Middle East and part of a global chess game.
† Marcello Ferrada de Noli had a classical liberal ideological background, influenced by his eldest brother, a lawyer with previous membership in the right-wing Liberal Party. However, he later evolved towards left-liberal and social-libertarian positions. At age 22, Marcello Ferrada de Noli was one of the founders of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. MIR was a Chileanpolitical party and former left-wingguerrilla organization (founded on October 12, 1965) prominent in the resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship. Together with his old-time school friend Miguel Enríquez (died in combat 1974) and Marco A. Enríquez, Ferrada de Noli was an author of the Political-military Theses of MIR – known also as La Tesis Insurreccional – the first document of MIR approved in its foundation congress of 1965; there he represented left-libertarian standpoints.
During the government of the Christian Democratic Party, President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared MIR to be illegal and Marcello Ferrada de Noli was posted in the nationwide published wanted-list of thirteen fugitive MIR leaders, together with his friends Miguel Enríquez, Bautista van Schouwen, and others. Later captured in August 1969 Ferrada de Noli was acquitted without trial after having been kept in isolation at Concepción prison (La Cárcel). Altogether he had been captured or imprisoned on seven occasions for his political activities in Chile during his time in the MIR but was never condemned by a Chilean court.
In the aftermath of the resistance to the military coup of 1973 Marcello Ferrada de Noli was captured in Concepción and taken first to the Stadium and later was imprisoned in Quiriquina IslandPrisoners Camp. After his liberation he went to Italy, where he was one of the witnesses before the Russell Tribunal which investigated human rights violations in Chile and Latin America. He then became a member of the Russell Tribunal Scientific Secretariat in Rome.
“America is an ideology that is unique because its main feature is its denial that it is an ideology. It’s both conservative and it’s liberal. And it’s right, and it’s left. And Barack Obama is its embodiment.”
This is the assessment of John Pilger taken from a speech entitled “Empire, Obama and America’s Last Taboo” which he delivered in San Francisco shortly after Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
“In a sense, Obama is the myth that is America’s last taboo. His most consistent theme was never change, it was power.”
“Obama’s very presence in the White House appears to reaffirm the moral nation — he’s a marketing dream — but like Calvin Klein or Benetton, he’s a brand that promises something special, something exciting, almost risqué. As if he might be radical, as if he might enact change… he’s a postmodern man with no political baggage — and all that’s fake.”
The sycophancy ran like a polluted babbling brook through page after page. “He was a vulnerable figure in many ways … But the grace. The all-encompassing grace: in manner and form, in argument and intellect, with humour and cool … [He] is a blazing tribute to what has been, and what can be again … He seems ready to keep fighting, and remains a formidable champion to have on our side … … The grace … the almost surreal levels of grace …”
I have conflated these quotes. There are others even more hagiographic and bereft of mitigation. The Guardian’s chief apologist for Obama, Gary Younge, has always been careful to mitigate, to say that his hero “could have done more”: oh, but there were the “calm, measured and consensual solutions…”
None of them, however, could surpass the American writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the recipient of a “genius” grant worth $625,000 from a liberal foundation. In an interminable essay for The Atlantic entitled, “My President Was Black”, Coates brought new meaning to prostration. The final “chapter”, entitled “When You Left, You Took All of Me With You”, a line from a Marvin Gaye song, describes seeing the Obamas “rising out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity”. The Ascension, no less.
I will only reprint extracts of Pilger’s latest article since I very much encourage readers to follow the link and read it in full. His anger is palpable, but, as always, Pilger is fluent and restrained. It is with facts that he accuses Obama and with genuine dismay that lambasts that entourage of liberal toadies who are today putting the final touches to their hagiographies.
According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan.
Every Tuesday – reported the New York Times – he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones. Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target”. A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.”
Like the fascism of the 1930s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent media whose description now fits that of the Nuremberg prosecutor: “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically… In the propaganda system… it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.
Take the catastrophe in Libya. In 2011, Obama said Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi was planning “genocide” against his own people. “We knew… that if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
This was the known lie of Islamist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces. It became the media story; and Nato – led by Obama and Hillary Clinton – launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. Uranium warheads were used; the cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. The Red Cross identified mass graves, and Unicef reported that “most [of the children killed] were under the age of ten”.
Under Obama, the US has extended secret “special forces” operations to 138 countries, or 70 per cent of the world’s population. The first African-American president launched what amounted to a full-scale invasion of Africa. Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing.
The obsession with Trump is a cover for many of those calling themselves “left/liberal”, as if to claim political decency. They are not “left”, neither are they especially “liberal”. Much of America’s aggression towards the rest of humanity has come from so-called liberal Democratic administrations – such as Obama’s. America’s political spectrum extends from the mythical centre to the lunar right. The “left” are homeless renegades Martha Gellhorn described as “a rare and wholly admirable fraternity”. She excluded those who confuse politics with a fixation on their navels.
While they “heal” and “move forward”, will the Writers Resist campaigners and other anti-Trumpists reflect upon this? More to the point: when will a genuine movement of opposition arise? Angry, eloquent, all-for-one-and-one-for all. Until real politics return to people’s lives, the enemy is not Trump, it is ourselves.
What Bush had built, Obama afterwards sold to the disaffected with false promises and outright deception. By stealth and guile, he oversaw the continuation of the Bush years’ policies, and, moreover, advanced the normalisation of the selfsame neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda: Wall Street bailouts, the surveillance state, the “war on terror”.
Thanks to the accelerated erosion of civil liberties (have we forgotten NDAA 2012?), the militarisation of police and the frightening escalation of the use of drones, Obama also opened the way for greater tyrannies to come. So we all have more reason to fear a future under Trump. But then the rise of Trump is surely Obama’s outstanding legacy.
Pilger’s scathing appraisal of Obama should be read in its completeness, if only as a necessary antidote to the eulogising of the liberal press.
Click here to read John Pilger’s complete article entitled “This week the issue is not Trump. It is ourselves.”
In a final act, Obama launched airstrikes near Sirte, Libya against ISIS targets in an attack which killed 80 people:
Incoming president Donald Trump, who takes office on Friday, is reportedly receiving aggressive but unspecified plans to intensify US war efforts against Isis. It is unclear if they focus primarily on the remaining Isis strongholds in Iraq and Syria or aim to reignite the Libya campaign as well.
From a report written by Spencer Ackerman and Chris Stephen and published in the Guardian.
It is abundantly clear from our dark alliance with Saudi Arabia and our conduct in support of jihadists in Syria that our current leaders have learned nothing from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya as we prepare to plunge head-long into the abyss of a world war.
The warning comes from former Democrat presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in an article published on October 21st by Counterpunch.
On every occasion it goes like this. Firstly, a pretext – an outright and convenient lie that justifies invasion. A lie to be repeated again and again until it sticks; so better to make it sound plausible (although even plausibility is not as important as it might first appear). Then the military offensive and a regime change – the true intention. And lastly, there follows an absolute collapse of law and order and the breakdown of civil society in a once stable, perhaps even relatively prosperous nation. The repeated outcome is a failed state and a puppet regime, overrun with Jihadist terrorists, but not to worry – the only cameras left at this stage of events will be the ones used for targeting drone-strikes.
So here’s a quick recap:-
Afghanistan – fifteen years ago the pretext was Bin Laden, of course, wanted dead or alive. Then, once the place had been bombed to hell, with the Saudi-backed Taliban overthrown thanks to the assistance of warlords of the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’, a pro-western government led by Hamid Karzai was briskly installed. (Tremendous news if you happened to be building oil pipelines – remember Unocal? – or for those in the business of smuggling opium.)
Iraq – here it was ‘babies out of incubators’ first time around (a since discredited story about a non-existent atrocity scripted and staged by PR firm Hill & Knowlton 1) and then came those still more infamous missing WMDs which the weapons inspectors led by the exemplary Hans Blix simply couldn’t uncover any evidence of, but which, as Bush Jr. joked later, “gotta be somewhere”. He even had the temerity to say it during the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. And the press just lapped it up, as he knew they would:
The WMDs were a fiction, of course, as Bush was later forced to admit more soberly 2, but so what – those admissions came much too late to change anything. A million people had died already and millions of other disposable lives are still being quietly destroyed thanks to the use of chemical agents like white phosphorous and the misleadingly named ‘depleted uranium’ (DU). Read more here.
With Libya, there was a different Commander-in-Chief and a new twist: the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect’ invoked to deal with freshly concocted stories of regime-supplied Viagra and mass rape. A more nonsensical fiction than before – but never mind that, the press dutifully lapped it up.
Gone too was ‘shock and awe’ (at least in name). The bombs tearing up Libyan lives were more lovingly delivered since dropped under the guise of a “humanitarian intervention”. A “no-fly zone” that Russia and China very reluctantly sanctioned (having eventually succumbed to hysterical and sustained criticism across the western media) which immediately paved the way to more expansive (and wholly unsanctioned) “kinetic action” as Nato supplied air cover to the bloodthirsty Salafist militias on the ground.
The slaughter of innocents by those same ‘moderate’ al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, and especially the widespread lynching of black Africans, was barely reported upon in the western press – the greater truth is unlikely to ever come out. But you can read more about it here – and here in an earlier post.
Today we have more of the same in Syria – once again, the intention was always regime change and indeed there is rather more candour in admitting this than on past occasions. However, the movable official narrative and the facts on the ground quickly diverge thereafter.
The West and its Middle East allies have covertly backed a mix of al-Qaeda factions from the very earliest days of the Syrian conflict, precisely as they did in Libya. In both instances, when it comes to western-backing, use of the term ‘moderate’ is next to meaningless. Here is an article I posted in August 2012 as news of Islamist infiltration was first beginning to leak into mainstream articles. And here is a more intensively documented piece put together a year ago and closely detailing our clandestine support of al-Qaeda factions and their splinter group ISIS.
The ‘moderate rebels’ are mixed in with al-Qaeda terrorists, the official story now openly confesses – an incremental shift from outright denial to open admission of terrorist ‘links’ that accidentally provides a measure of just how far the mask of the West’s legitimacy has fallen. It has shifted out of desperation, as the strategy for overthrowing Assad and the Syrian government began to falter.
So the clamour again is for another “no-fly zone”; a more overtly aggressive act of war-making, necessarily portrayed as an act of peace. That “no-fly zone” always means ‘war’ is unarguable as I have already pointed out on a number of occasions during the lead up to the bombing campaign in Libya (here is one post). But why trust me, when you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth:
The issue is not complicated. As today’s leaks show Hillary Clinton laid it out back in 2013 when she said, “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk— you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”
The quoted reminder is courtesy of a piece by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition. His article, published on Tuesday 11th, continues more alarmingly:
Or, just last month, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted, “right now, for us to control all of the air space in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia; that’s a pretty fundamental decision”.
‘Fundamental’ is putting it lightly – but let’s go on with Nineham’s excellent analysis of the likely consequences for the Syrians (I’ll come back to consider the prospect of apocalyptic madness in a moment):
The situation in Aleppo and other parts of Syria is desperate. The idea of a no-fly zone can seem attractive because people rightly want there to be an effective humanitarian response. But as these two quotes outline, a no-fly zone would need to be secured by Western forces against opposition from Syria and Russia. Air defenses would have to be taken out and Syrian and Russian planes shot down. In the end a no-fly zone in Syria would work the same as the no-fly zone in Libya did, as a corridor for western military bombing. […]
People say the situation in Syria can get no worse, but they are wrong. As Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary explained today in parliament, “in a multi-playered, multi-faceted civil war such as Syria, the last thing we need is more parties bombing”. Such action will inflame and escalate an already desperate situation leading not just to more agony on the ground in Syria, but almost certainly to the break up of the country.
It is quite amazing that the views of MPs like Boris Johnson and Andrew Mitchell are taken seriously at all on issues of foreign policy. Andrew Mitchell voted for the Iraq War, for the intervention in Libya and twice for bombing in Syria. Johnson too has voted for every war he has been able to. If the daily reports of carnage and chaos in the news are not enough to convince people of the catastrophic effects of these escapades, they have been roundly condemned as chaotic disasters in a series of official reports, including Chilcot, the Select Committee Report on Libya, and the House of Commons Defence Committee report on the intervention in Syria. 3
But here’s the mystery – it’s not really a mystery, but let’s pretend for just a moment. When the modus operandi becomes this transparent, how come it still works as effectively as it does? How do good people fall into the belief time and again that the next bombing campaign will be different – will result in a better outcome and not perpetuate the carnage of this monstrous “war on terror”?
And how do our western powers manage to stake a claim to having any kind of humanitarian agenda whatsoever, especially when simultaneously they are aiding the despotic regime of Saudi Arabia in its genocidal bombing of Yemen? Are we supposed to believe that the powers-that-be – our marvellous military-industrial complex – really love Syrians so much more than Yemenis?
There’s actually no mystery at all. The war party is extremely adept at playing on and manipulating our good conscience. It operates by unabashed deceit and by virtue of the largesse of foundation funding – these two go hand-in-hand in fact. If you want some names of our deceivers then read this earlier article and this one too. In short, beware the pressure groups and NGOs – take care to follow the money. But most importantly of all, beware the corporate media. The corporate media has taken us into each and every one of these disastrous wars and without its relentless, monotonous and insidious manufacturing of our consent there would be no “war on terror” at all:
In the video embedded above, independent journalist James Corbett exposes Channel 4 news as they are caught lionising the very same criminal gang (literally the same men) who filmed themselves beheading a twelve-year old boy.
For it is an easily corroborated fact that the West and its allies have a long and sustained history of manipulating gangs and insurgents, and most notably Islamist factions, to achieve their desired geostrategic objectives, yet this irrefutable truth must never be widely disseminated. Amnesia is vital, therefore, and thankfully the media is highly dependable when it comes to aiding our forgetting. But then, every atrocity the West commits is simply a cock-up; our enemies alone commit all the war crimes (with the singular exception of the crimes of Tony Blair).
Meanwhile, compliance of the press is likewise assured whenever it comes to pushing buttons readying us for the next war. Allowing an occasional embarrassing truth to dribble out now and again serves to regain some public trust – just enough to convince us of how the media maintains a vital role in holding power accountable rather than simply operating as a propaganda arm for the establishment. In this regard Blair serves the cause as a wonderful decoy too – his own unprosecuted crimes taking much of the heat off Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama.
Moreover, to those who in any way sponsor our perpetual “war on terror” yet talk freely and hypocritically about the ‘war crimes’ of others please do reflect on the Nuremberg rulings which deem every war of aggression “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 4
But here is the truly startling difference today: these purveyors of war appear to have become more irresponsible and reckless than ever before. Indeed, it seems that many in our press corps are finally losing a grip on reality. Inevitable perhaps, once groupthink takes such a hold of you.
This “no-fly zone” in Syria, if launched, means war not just against Syria and its already deeply committed ally Iran, but also and unavoidably against Russia. Yet voices across parliament and throughout the media are cheering on this unthinkable act. Do these same low-grade politicos and media hacks feel so assured of their place hunkered down in some impenetrable secret bunker, tucked up with the Strangeloves? Or do they feel rather unconcerned about the catastrophic potential of a war with Russia, imagining it will somehow remain contained like all our other ongoing wars – faraway and in someone else’s backyard? In short, are they blasé or just plain stupid? I confess to feeling contempt either way. Contempt combined with a growing sense of bewilderment and dread.
1Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيره الصباح), called “Nurse Nayirah” in the media, was a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, who gave false testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990, stating that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H.W. Bush. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and that her testimony was scripted as part of a PR campaign run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International.
On Thursday [Feb 4th], David Cameron and Angela Merkel joined with lesser lights Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in London to host the “Supporting Syria & the Region 2016” conference.
Alongside many other luminaries including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, European Council president, Donald Tusk, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, they were gathered – according to the “about” page of the official website – “to rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war” by lending support to an “event built on 3 previous conferences that have been generously hosted in Kuwait.”
This hypertext link to “Kuwait” is intriguing to say the least. Following it you will read:
Kuwait is one of the world’s major international donors of humanitarian assistance and is both a pioneer and standard-bearer for the establishment of development funds in the Gulf region.
Kuwait has increased its support for multilateral humanitarian action exponentially since the start of the crisis in Syria.
In September 2014, the United Nations, in recognition of Kuwait’s humanitarian efforts to bring together and galvanize the international community for the relief of the Syrian people, designated the State of Kuwait an “International Humanitarian Centre”.
Largesse that is indeed confirmed by an analysis paper published by the Brookings Institute back in December 2013. However, there is charity and there is charity…
Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]
From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground. 1[bold emphasis added]
Mission accomplished: the oil and the gold
Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.
The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”
Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:
This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).
(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)
Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.
Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.
French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression. 2
The quoted document can be read in full at the U.S. Dept of State FOIA virtual reading room.
Click here to the full article “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya” at Global Research.
Thus, to prevent Libya slipping outside the global financial stranglehold held by western financiers, the French led the way for Nato to unleash a barrage of “shock and awe” air strikes under cover of the dusted down UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and a “no-fly zone”. This opened the way to the seizure and control of national resources including Libyan oil, and, if this recently declassified memo is accurate, Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves which were “intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency”.
The motive was always regime change and scare stories such as the one about Viagra-fuelled mass rape dutifully planted by our ever complaisant media, although quickly debunked, still served as an adequate pretext for “intervention”. Nato’s attack on Libya had nothing to do with saving lives:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was “deeply concerned” that Gaddafi’s troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” she said.
Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. 3
Compare this with today’s callous indifference toward the plight of ordinary Libyans suffering the lawless mayhem of life in a failed state overrun with Salafist warlords. It isn’t hard to understand why. The west has “won” that war: the transnationals got what they wanted. “We came, we saw, he died”, as Hillary famously gloated. With Gaddafi dead, the real mission was indeed accomplished: the spoils were “ours”.
So ended one more episode in an already tedious and dreadful tale…
Read more about western motives for war on Iraq in this earlier post.
Solidarity with refugees
By late Summer 2014, however, the exodus of refugees from war-torn Libya had become so great that the British government felt compelled to take action. And act it did, in accordance with its genuine concerns:
Britain will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, claiming they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Foreign Office ministers have quietly announced.
So Cameron and his government washed their hands of all responsibility. The “swarm of people” – Cameron’s own obscene description4 – fleeing from a war in Libya that he had personally helped to ignite, needed to be held back whatever the human costs. Indeed, as the Guardian article of late 2014 continues:
Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep. […]
The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, responding to the Foreign Office refusal to take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.
“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.
“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.” 5
However, these faceless boat-people were about to be given their humanity back, if only momentarily. It would take the horror of seeing the washed up body of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. An image of war that lodged in our minds and stirred feelings of sorrow and compassion more effectively than any amount of pictures of ruined buildings or grainy videos of air strikes. Almost at a stroke, the public perception of the “immigrant crisis” was altered.6
Little more than a week later on Saturday 12th September, the Solidarity with Refugees event kicked off at Park Lane and headed to Downing Street “with speeches in Parliament Square from a number of politicians and public figures including Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour party, and musician and activist Billy Bragg.”
In fact, Jeremy Corbyn had only been elected Labour leader a couple of hours earlier. Yet, almost immediately thereafter, and in characteristic fashion, he turned his back on the clamouring press hounds (who had done their best to ignore him up until then), barely acknowledging their presence at all, and made a short journey to speak instead to a mass rally in Parliament Square:
Parliament Square was packed with Corbyn supporters waving banners reading “refugees welcome” and other messages of support. They cheered and chanted “Jez we can, Jez we can” as he took to the stage hours after being voted Labour leader and demanded that the government recognise its “obligations in law”.
Corbyn said: “Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law, that would be good. But above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.” 7
I wasn’t amongst the crowds, but I had lent a little support to the occasion by promoting the “Solidarity with Refugees” rally here on this blog in the preceding days. The announcement copied directly from a Stop the War Coalition email read (in part):
Stop the War has come together with many other organisations to call for a national demonstration in London. We are also urging our members, supporters and groups to take any action they can on that day where they live, alongside anti-racist and refugee groups.
Successive British governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, plus on covert intervention in Syria. The outcome has been destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East, the growth of terrorism in the region, and the displacement of millions.
Their only solution is further war, even though it is increasingly obvious that this option is only creating yet more chaos. Just as we oppose wars, we try to show solidarity with its victims.
At the bottom of the page there was an accompanying list of those “other organisations” (also available on facebook):
National day of action called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London.
However, if you follow the link from the Guardian instead (find it above), it takes you to a somewhat different list of key organisations posted on an alternative facebook page. This altered roll call reads in full as follows:
Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Amnesty International, Stand Up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network, War on Want, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Black Out London, Emergency UK, Student Action for Refugees, London2Calais, British Syrian Medical Society, Avaaz.
There are a number of variations between these lists, but I wish primarily to draw attention to two changes in particular (as highlighted). Firstly, at the head of this extended list there is a relatively unknown organisation called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”. Secondly, there is Avaaz.
Now, had I realised Avaaz were in any way connected to this action, I would not have promoted it, regardless of the endorsement of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because Avaaz is not, and never has been, any part of the antiwar movement – in fact, of all the prominent campaign groups, Avaaz was foremost in calling for military action against Libya. Having played a prominent role in bringing about the destruction of Libya, rather than offering up apologies, Avaaz then promptly demanded another Nato “no-fly zone” over Syria. (Read more here.)
So the presence of Avaaz at any event raises my suspicions. But then we also have the “Syria Solidarity Movement” at the top of the list – so who are they?
Syrian solidarity and the lesser known “IS Network”
The [Solidarity with Refugees] protest was set up less than two weeks ago by Ros Ereira, 38, from north London. The former television producer, who currently spends much of her time looking after her toddler daughter, created a Facebook page on 1 September calling for today’s protest. Within a week tens of thousands of people had pledged they would come and she had the logistical support of major organisations including Amnesty, Stop the War, the Refugee Council and Syria Solidarity UK.
According to the same article in The Independent:
Ms Ereira said: “I was looking for a demonstration ahead of the European summit and when I couldn’t find anything my friends encouraged me to set up something of my own. I thought it would just be my friends and now unexpectedly 90,000 people have said they’re going to come.”
Abdulaziz Almashi, 30, co-founder of Syria Solidarity UK, will be among those leading the rally. Mr Almashi is a computer science PhD student who came to the UK from Syria in 2009 to study. He still has brothers in Syria working as a doctor and a dentist in field hospitals. “Syrians have been abandoned totally by the international community,” he said. “If the international community doesn’t want to stop the massacres in Syria, the least they can do is accept refugees.” 8
In fact, Abdulaziz Almashi, who shared the podium with Ros Ereira at the rally, was a co-organiser of the rally, as London’s Evening Standard makes clearer. 9 And this where the story starts to gets interesting…
For just who is Abdulaziz Almashi and the campaign group Syria Solidarity UK? Well, type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google and the top link brings up a site with domain name http://www.syriauk.org/.
Click on that link and you open the Syria Solidarity UK website which also calls itself the “Syria Solidarity Movement UK” or more simply “Syria Solidarity Movement”. The site also takes you to a facebook page for “Syria Solidarity Movement”. In short, “Syria Solidarity UK” (co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi) and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” (most prominent amongst the supporters of the “Solidarity for Refugees” rally) turn out to be the same organisation – or if there is any difference between them then I entirely fail to discern it.
As human rights groups go, this particular “Syria Solidarity Movement” is a relative newcomer, and certainly not to be confused with an entirely unconnected campaign group that shares an identical name – more on this later. The first sightings I could find appear in the articles of a similarly greenhorn Trotskyite website called “International Socialist Network”, which chose the ill-fated abbreviated acronym “IS”. 10
This lesser known “IS Network” formed from a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party but then quickly became defunct, having “voted unanimously to dissolve itself in April 2015” less than two years after its formation in June 2013. “Sharing a rage and a desire for change is not enough to hold an organisation together in the long term,” they wrote in a solemn swansong.
But a year prior to their dissolution, IS Network posted this:
We’re currently trying to link up all the different student groups and activists who have been doing solidarity work on Syria in isolation, and build a cohesive movement which can begin to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began.
And to be clear here: this initial call to recruit activists to establish a “Syria Solidarity Movement” contains a hypertext link to the same organisation later “co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi”.
The post then continues:
The main [lie] is that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution, or that its revolutionary potential has disappeared following the escalation of the military conflict. This is false. […]
We will do what we can to rectify this by promoting links between student organisations, trade unions and solidarity campaigns in Britain, and the civil opposition on the ground in Syria which still keeps alive the spirit of the revolution.
We have working groups for students, trade union activists, humanitarian aid and media. If you wish to volunteer for any, please contact us. 11
Later other “radical leftist” groups went on to promote this new offshoot called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”.
For instance, on September 10th (a few days prior to the rally in London), RS21 (short for revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, which is just a different splinter group made up of disaffected SWP members) wrote:
Suddenly, everyone is talking about Syria. Saturday’s demonstration will be in solidarity with all refugees, but a Syrian refugee is one of the key organisers. Campaigners from the Syria Solidarity Movement UK and Stop the War Coalition are among those involved in the planning, along with many other organisations. Everyone should welcome this commitment to unity against the government’s treatment of refugees and other migrants.
The article also adds a different piece of the jigsaw (since if Abdulaziz Almashi is one co-founder of the group, then who else works alongside him?):
As part of an ongoing discussion, Mark Boothroyd, who was a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement UK, argues that the mainstream anti-war movement has failed Syrian revolutionaries struggling against a brutal dictatorship.12 [bold highlight as original]
Following the links (or my footnotes), it turns out that Mark Boothroyd was, in fact, the author of the previously quoted IS Network recruitment drive which had encouraged activists to join the new “Syria Solidarity Movement” (see above).
Later, in November 2015, the (supposedly) alternative magazine Left Foot Forward wrote:
“The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria.” 13
(With link retained – which connects, of course, back to the Syria Solidarity UK website.)
By December, Peter Tatchell, someone I once admired, was also linking arms with Syria Solidarity UK.
Then, on December 9th, a letter appeared in the Guardian. It was provocatively entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” and signed by (amongst others but in the order as published) Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK, Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner, Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member(although not by Caroline Lucas), Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK, and Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK.
We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority.
What the signatories to this letter share, it seems, is the opinion that war in Syria remains ‘revolutionary’ in character (in the Marxist sense); their condemnation of StWC continuing as follows:
As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. 14 [bold emphasis added]
But this characterisation both of “the rebels” and the antiwar movement is demonstrably false. For the (armed) opposition to Assad is indeed “largely composed of jihadi extremists” having infiltrated as a fifth column during the very earliest stages of the conflict. That the opposition is comprised of mercenaries and terrorists is now well-documented (as I have previously shown). It is also easy to establish that these same jihadist groups have been bankrolled by our Gulf State allies and greatly assisted by Nato member Turkey. So they are indeed “agents of imperialism” (if, perhaps, unwitting ones) in a proxy war between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more broadly the US, Nato and Israel against Russia.
Moreover, the charge that StWC is “marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny” may provide a clever smokescreen, but it is also execrable nonsense. All it actually means is their own opinion has been marginalised, which is hardly surprising, since those leading the attack against StWC are neither “non-aligned” nor honest brokers for peace.
And this is why in the concluding sentences they talk only of the “Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad” 15 failing to include any mention whatsoever of the extraordinary array of jihadist factions fighting alongside the lesser forces of so-called Free Syrian Army (which is itself a dubious conglomeration of Islamist militia). There is no mention even of Jabhat al-Nusra – Syria’s main branch of al-Qaeda.
This is what Mark Boothroyd, co-founder of the “Syria Solidarity Movement” and signatory to the Guardian letter, concluded an extended piece he wrote in praise of “the rebels”:
For these reasons, whatever happens, the rebels will keep fighting. Spokesperson for Ahrar Al-Sham, Ahmad Qura Ali commented:
The regime continuing and Assad staying is a failure….It also demonstrates disrespect towards the sacrifices of the Syrian people and, even more importantly, irreverence towards the will of the Syrian people,” 16
Boothroyd’s tacit endorsement of Ahrar Al-Sham (amongst other ‘rebel factions’) tells us a great deal. For Ahrar Al-Sham (literally “Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) is indeed leading “the revolution” as one of the largest brigades in this so-called “moderate opposition”. And yet, Ahrar Al-Sham describes itself – on its own website – in the following manner [translation courtesy of Al Jazeera]:
“The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”. 17
This is the “revolution” Mark Boothroyd and comrades are backing today.
Syrian Solidarity UK: leading the pro-war advocates
Earlier I outlined what you will find if you type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google. But what if instead you type “Syria Solidarity Movement” – that other name for the same organisation? The top link then turns out not to be the campaign group co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi and Mark Boothroyd, but a totally different and unrelated “Syria Solidarity Movement”. An organisation that adopted the domain name syriasolidaritymovement.org long before Almashi and Boothroyd decided to create their alternative.
So the immediate and most obvious question is this: why adopt the name of a pre-existing campaign organisation? An odd decision made odder since it automatically denies you ownership of a matching domain name. Indeed, can there be any rational explanation other than here is a case of deliberate identity theft? A new campaign group, with an outlook diametrically opposed to its rival, set up deliberately to overwrite it. Not conduct befitting a benign human rights organisation.
More surprising, maybe (please judge for yourself), is how factions of the erstwhile ‘radical left’ have fallen lockstep in line with establishment demands voiced by our corporate media who demand “intervention” in Syria. But then, once you delve into the articles above, a common theme emerges: the same one expounded in that front-running article published by IS Network (quoted above) “to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began… that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution”. This stated goal of “keep[ing] alive the spirit of the revolution” is ostensibly the reason RS21, Left Foot Forward, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are backing this new “Syrian Solidarity Movement”:
The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime. 18
The above statement under the title “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians”, was penned by Syria Solidarity UK but published by Left Foot Forward. And what follows is another hit piece aimed squarely at the Stop the War Coalition in which the organisation accuses StWC of excluding “Syrians from discussion of their own country” and then lying about it. Yet in reality, this tiny group which has somehow managed to get tremendous media attention (more in a moment) has latched on to StWC in a deeply parasitical fashion. Here, for instance is Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of “Syria Solidarity Movement”, giving a soapbox speech outside the BBC before joining a Stop the War march on December 12th (a month to the day after his organisation published the statement above which lambasts StWC):
The problem is this: what is an organisation that openly calls “for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone”19 doing at an antiwar rally in the first place? Worse, why is their co-founder provocatively waving the flag of “rebel armies” comprised of and affiliated to Islamist militia groups that were armed, trained and funded by western governments and their Gulf State allies? The answer Abdulaziz Almashi gives to all these questions is this one: “listen to Syrians”. A three word refrain that begins his speech, just as in sloganised form it lends legitimacy and moral authority to his whole Syria Solidarity UK campaign.
Moreover, as a slogan it is as fraudulent as it is deliberately dishonest. There is no singular Syrian voice. How could there be? Not that the gulf between pro- and anti-government sides is the razor sharp divide of Shia versus Sunni we are encouraged to believe. In fact, most of those who support the government including fighters in the Syrian Army are Sunni not Shia. 20 And if we are really to “listen to Syrians” then we will find a wide range of opinions (as you would from any other nation), although only a minority of those living in Syria who support these so-called “rebel groups”, which are indeed sectarian. What the majority desire instead, besides a rapid return to law and order, is the restoration of Syria as a secular society:
[T]he results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.
That comes from an article by Jonathan Steele published by the Guardian more than four years ago in January 2012. He continues:
The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. 21
Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s full article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media”.
Reliable polls of the Syrian people are hard to find but a subsequent ones from May 2013 based on Nato data and published by the World Tribune also reported widespread support for Assad compared with almost none for the opposition. 22 Likewise, a more recent survey conducted last summer by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, published in the Washington Post on September 15th, found only 21% of Syrians said they “prefer life now than under Assad”; 79% said “foreign fighters made the war worse” and; significantly, 49% “oppose US coalition air strikes”. 23 Once again, this is far from the ringing endorsement for “intervention” claimed by supporters of “Syria Solidarity Movement”.
So there are two points to highlight here. Firstly, the so-called “Syria Solidarity Movement” of Abdulaziz Almashi is not about “Syrian solidarity” at all. Indeed, rather than taking an impartial stance, it allies itself with the entire coalition of the anti-Assad forces (with the singular exception of ISIS from which it sensibly distances itself). Secondly, although it portrays itself as a human rights organisation, it is actually a pro-war movement – openly so once one delves into any of its literature – yet on occasions when it suits, it feigns an antiwar position.
In fact, once we consider the background and origins of “Syria Solidarity Movement” in any detail, it begins to look very much like a Trojan Horse set up to infiltrate and embarrass the antiwar movement. It is surely noteworthy, therefore, that both the BBC and Channel 4 have given this otherwise inconsequential and fledging organisation considerable airtime.
On November 5th, for instance, Muzna Al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK was allowed ten minutes on BBC’s Daily Politics show to interrogate Labour MP Diane Abbott about StWC’s alleged “silencing of Syrians” when a few supporters of the group disrupted a public meeting. Throughout the studio debate, presenter Andrew Neil does his best to chaperone Muzna Al-Naib. Her political stance is never questioned and neither did he challenge the highly confrontational approach of the protesters (one of whom was the very non-Syrian Peter Tatchell):
(Incidentally, Diane Abbott comes across quite badly in this interview – not for the first time in her political career – but then so, in my opinion, does the unnervingly self-satisfied Muzna Al-Naib and insufferably smug host Andrew Neil.)
Here is Muzna Al-Naib again, now sat beside two likeminded compatriots answering softball questions on Channel 4 news on November 30th. The tone of the report is peremptorily favourable from the outset: “South London, where we’ve come to hear from Syrians, who know most about Syria, but whose voice is heard least… what do Syrian’s themselves actually think?” Direct echoes of the tendentious refrain of Syria Solidarity UK itself:
And here is Abdulaziz Almashi interviewed (a little more vigorously) by BBC news on December 23rd:
In little more than a year then, two representatives of the group (one a co-founder) have reached a television audience of millions and on at least three occasions. One has to marvel at such rapid success. What’s their secret…?
Avaaz and Purpose Inc.
In one of the very first posts put up by the Syria Solidarity UK website, published in March 2015, there are two closely affiliated organisations that are hypertext linked. Here is the concluding section of the relevant article:
Following the 16 March [chlorine gas] attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.
Each of the links above leads to a webpage that loudly calls for a “no-fly zone”. No great surprise given that at every turn of their own campaign this demand for western “intervention” is repeated. For example, this photo features prominently on the “about” page:
But what about those linked-in organisations: the “White Helmets” and “The Syria Campaign” – groups that also feature prominently as sidebar links beneath the heading ‘resources’? Cory Morningstar, an independent investigative journalist, has located the lynchpin. She writes:
Purpose Inc. (with its co-founders) is a favourite of high-finance websites such as The Economist and Forbes and sells its consulting services and branding/marketing campaigns to Google, Audi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others that comprise the world’s most powerful corporations and institutions. In 2012, it raised $3m from investors. “Ford Foundation, which has given Purpose’s non-profit arm a grant, reckons it is shaping up to be “one of the blue-chip social organisations of the future.” 25
So is there evidence supporting Morningstar’s accusations of astroturfing? Well, this is where my own trail had also been inadvertently leading – but then it soon seems that all roads lead to Purpose Inc.
The Syria Campaign is a non-profit organisation registered as a company in the United Kingdom as The Voices Project—company number 8825761. (You can’t be a registered charity in the UK if most of your work is campaigning.)
We have a Governing Board who are legally responsible for the organisation and oversee strategy and finance for The Syria Campaign. The board members are Daniel Gorman, Ben Stewart, Sawsan Asfari, Tim Dixon and Lina de Sergie. [Bold highlights added]
That was taken from “about” on The Syria Campaign website. It continues:
The Syria Campaign is fiercely independent and accepts no money from governments, corporations or anyone directly involved in the Syrian conflict. This allows us full autonomy to advocate for whatever is needed to save lives.
Seed funding for The Syria Campaign was provided by The Asfari Foundation with supporting funds from other Syrian donors across the world who are frustrated by global inaction on Syria. [bold highlight added]
Following the trail a little further brings up who is behind “The Voices Project” (Avaaz also means “voice” by the way). It is a registered company and so comparatively easy enough to find some further answers:
The Voices Project 26 has a registered office address at c/o Paul A. Hill & Co, 3 Bull Lane, St Ives, Cambridgeshire [a firm of charter accountants who specialise in “tax services”] and eight current officers who are Sawsan Asfari (appointed 17 July 2015), Timothy Edwin Dixon (appointed 8 September 2014), Daniel Gorman (appointed 17 July 2015), John Jackson (appointed 8 September 2014), Salma Kahale (appointed 17 July 2015), Lina Sergie Attar (appointed 17 July 2015), Ben John Stewart (appointed 17 July 2015) and, last but not least, Jeremy Heimans (appointed 24 December 2013). 27
Most of those named tally with the board members declared by The Syria Campaign, but there are two exceptions – both highlighted above – Timothy Edwin Dixon28 and Jeremy Heimans. Two names which alongside John Jackson (also highlighted) also form part of a different team:
Meet the team on a mission: when it comes to moving people towards action, we’re the experts.
A little of the blurb that greets you at the organisation called Purpose. And beneath the blurb are pictures of the shiny, happy people who work there including Jeremy Heimans, who is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer; Tim Dixon, listed as both Chief Political Strategist and Managing Director of Purpose Europe 29; and John Jackson, a Senior Advisor.
“Purpose moves people to remake the world” it says on a different webpage with rolling footage of an unnamed actor (Middle Eastern in appearance) being gently unblown up, a young child actress tinkering with a handgun in such a curious manner as to cause you to want to grab it off her, and a debonair couple, the black man eyeing an untouchable white companion. The message is this: we are cool, we are sophisticates, we are right on! It is a message determined to enter your mind like a maddening but seductive whisper.
We create new organizations and ventures to tackle issues where mass participation and collective action can unlock big change.
This it admits with unflinching candour before adding how when it comes to their ‘philosophy’, Purpose deals in “Pragmatic Idealism”:
We take the world as it is in order to help make it what it ought to be. We challenge power when we need to—but that’s not all we do. We proudly collaborate with the public and private sectors, old and new power, allies and adversaries—all with eyes wide open.
And there is much more:
WE BUILD MOVEMENTS
Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.
We deploy our award-winning creative campaigning and technology capabilities to launch new brands, technology products and social movements that stand out.
We rapidly prototype campaigns to scale and deepen engagement in our movements. We execute at all levels of ambition, directing some of the largest public engagement campaigns in the world today.
Then at the bottom of this page they provide a list of “Selected Partners” which includes Google, Audi, Ben & Jerry’s, alongside campaign groups including Walk Free, Oxfam, ACLU and – as you might expect – The Syria Campaign.
The business [Purpose.com] was co-founded by Jeremy Heimans, who calls himself a “movement entrepreneur”. Mr Heimans previously co-founded Avaaz, a campaigning group focused on poor countries, and GetUp!, a citizens’-rights group in his native Australia. Those were charities. Purpose aims to make profits, though not necessarily to maximise them. Like another big petitions business, Change.org, it is structured as a B Corporation, the American legal term for a for-profit company with a social mission. It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.
It sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes. Audi, for example, wants to design and promote machines to dispense clean water in India, a market where it hopes to burnish its car brand. Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting “new economy” products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee. 30 [bold emphasis added]
From a puff piece published in The Economist entitled “Profit with Purpose”, under the caption “The business of campaigning”, which also lazily admits that “Grassroots movements have usually been built, as the name implies, from the bottom up.” To which the polite response is: codswallop! – there is absolutely no “usually” about it.
In short then, Purpose Inc is the PR firm behind Avaaz and all of its related campaign groups.
The White Helmets
You might think that after seeing the consequences of their campaign for “freedom and democracy” in Libya, journalists like Nicholas Kristof and “humanitarian campaigners” like Avaaz would have some qualms.
writes Rick Sterling (co-founder of the original Syria Solidarity Movement), as he attempts to disentangle the misinformation surrounding the White Helmets, Avaaz, war-advocate Nicholas Kristof and their joint calls for a Syria no-fly zone. He continues:
Unfortunately they have learned nothing. They have generally not been held to account, with a few nice exceptions such as this Greenwald/Hussain article. And now they are at it again. Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.
The following illustration shows the sequence and trail of deceit leading to Avaaz’s call for a No Fly Zone in Syria.
Sterling then provides further background on the emergence of the so-called White Helmets:
White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria. Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.
The trainees are said to be ‘nonpartisan’ but only work in rebel-controlled areas of Idlib (now controlled by Nusra/Al Queda) and Aleppo. There are widely divergent claims regarding the number of people trained by the White Helmets and the number of people rescued. The numbers are probably highly exaggerated especially since rebel-controlled territories have few civilians. A doctor who recently served in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo described it as a ghost town. The White Helmets work primarily with the rebel group Jabat al Nusra (Al Queda in Syria). Video of the recent alleged chlorine gas attacks starts with the White Helmet logo and continues with the logo of Nusra. In reality, White Helmets is a small rescue team for Nusra/Al Queda.
But White Helmets primary function is propaganda. White Helmets demonizes the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention. A White Helmet leader wrote a recent Washington Post editorial. White Helmets are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc. According to their website, to contact White Helmets email The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [bold emphasis added]
He also outlines the important role played by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:
The “White Helmets” campaign has been highly successful because of uncritical media promotion. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an advocate of the NATO/US attack on Libya. According to him, villagers who had been shot, injured and their homes destroyed were not bitter, they were thankful! “Hugs from Libyans” is how he viewed it. It was, of course, nonsense, helping to pave the way in the invasion and destruction of the country.
Now Kristof is uncritically promoting the White Helmets, aiding and abetting their political and propaganda message seeking foreign intervention in Syria. 31
Click here to read Sterling’s full article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015.
War on the antiwar movement
[But] Does the most hardened peacenik really believe that Iraqis currently enjoy more liberty and delight than they would if Saddam were brought down?
So wrote neo-con apologist Julie Burchill in her Guardian column as the Iraq War got underway. The same rant continues:
Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That’s the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats’ names are the worst – a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world. We don’t know the precious names of the countless numbers Saddam has killed. We’re talking about a people – lots of them parents – subjected to an endless vista of death and torture, a country in which freedom can never be won without help from outside.
Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?
Her antiwar invective then hisses to a climax in which she projects a picture of post-intervention Iraq that could hardly be more a variance with the horror of events as they unfolded and the chaos that remains:
What these supreme egotists achieve by putting themselves at the centre of every crisis is to make the Iraqi people effectively disappear. NOT IN MY NAME! is western imperialism of the sneakiest sort, putting our clean hands before the freedom of an enslaved people. But even those whose anti-war protests started in good faith now know that when Saddam’s regime comes tumbling down, thousands of Iraqis will dance and sing with joy before the TV cameras, and thank our armed forces for giving them back their lives. 32
It is Burchill, of course, who was most guilty of “western imperialism of the sneakiest sort”. Burchill, who through such naked propaganda supplied ammunition to snidely undercut the goodwill of the millions brandishing antiwar banners. The method is all in her slippery abuse of the English language: turning peacemakers into “peaceniks”, into “anti-war nuts” and, best of all, into “appeasers”.
So compare Burchill’s warmongering propaganda of a decade past to that more recent open letter written by Abdulaziz Almashi, Peter Tatchell and others published by the Guardian last December (and already quoted above):
Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. 33
The rhetoric is more crafted and less abrasive than in Burchill’s rant but the insinuation is entirely unaltered. That those attached to the cause of ending the war are merely the secret appeasers of a dictator. A still more uncanny similarity is how this recent onslaught against the antiwar opposition came so hot on the heels of another Commons vote for airstrikes. 34 And after David Cameron’s shameless characterisation of the peace movement — Jeremy Corbyn (such a prominent figure in StWC) very much included — as “terrorist sympathisers”.
As Tariq Ali (another founder member of StWC) wrote in response:
Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.
The article entitled “The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn” published by The Independent, continues:
Stop the War was founded in different times [to previous peace movements]. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas. […]
The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue.
Following that Commons debate, the media were falling over themselves in rival bids to talk up what Tariq Ali rightly describes as “Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well)”; relishing the chance to open up the fractures not so latent within the parliamentary Labour Party. Such swooning media focus on Benn’s opportunistic betrayal and forlorn attempt to appear Churchillian meant that Corbyn’s more measured speech was totally overshadowed:
[Notice: the video embedded above was taken down from youtube within 24 hours of posting this article — an alternative version can be found at the end of the article]
If the press had been more attentive, however, they may have drawn attention to a message received from a Syrian in Corbyn’s constituency by the name of Abdulaziz Almashi. He has asked me, said Corbyn, if the Prime Minister is able to guarantee the safety of his family when “your air force drops bombs on my city” [19.20 mins]. 35 And yes, this is Abdulaziz Almashi who leads the campaign demanding a “no-fly zone” over Syria, and whose organisation has been so scathing of StWC.
It would have been more honourable to deliver the message instead to the sympathetic ear of Cameron – a person who also wants “intervention” – even if in the eyes of the PM, Syrians living in exile, like Almashi, are just “a bunch of migrants” 36 – to quote his most recent outburst of casual bigotry. And Cameron does have more important matters on his mind too:
Instead, Almashi chose to spin Corbyn a line, hoping to be mistaken, as he was, for a fellow anti-war activist. It was a small propaganda coup that he instantly backed up by posting on the website of (please note) The Syria Campaign a message headed:
“Corbyn quoted me in Parliament today. Not bombing Raqqa [ISIS stronghold] isn’t enough. We must take positive action.”37
“Positive action” is code, of course, for regime change – just like “no-fly zone”.
It seems that Abdulaziz Almashi and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” he fronts will use any ploy to get attention. But then, given the intense media spotlight on his organisation’s earlier altercation with StWC, quoting from Almashi must be seen as a serious error of judgement on the part of Jeremy Corbyn too. And faced by so many adversaries in all quarters, he ought to take great care to avoid more serious stings in the future.
Click here to read an official ten-point response by the StWC to “the chorus of attacks” that was published on December 9th and entitled “It is the war party that has a reputation problem, not Stop the War”.
The war in Syria is hardly less inextricably wrapped up with the war in Libya than it is with the war in bordering Iraq. All three are products of western “intervention” and all three nations are now overrun with Salafist gangs. But there are important differences too.
The West’s role in the “shock and awe” annihilation of Iraq was an overt act of aggression and flagrantly illegal. Those most publicly responsible for orchestrating the fall of Baghdad have been justly disgraced. After the assault on Libya, however, an equivalently illegal act of western adventurism, that was likewise predicated upon a demonstrably false pretext, and set upon nothing short of regime change, the perpetrators suffered little to no opprobrium. A craftily negotiated UN resolution, quickly violated, provided useful cover. In general, the lies surrounding Libya have been much better concealed.
Meanwhile, this other grinding war in Syria, has been inflamed by terrorist militias closely affiliated to those now running rampant in Libya and Iraq, who are sponsored by Gulf State allies (including Kuwait) and often with the clandestine support of the Nato powers (Turkey in particular). In other words, in Syria the West has consistently led from behind, taking even greater care to cover its tracks. Otherwise, as I wrote at the top, this repeating tale is one as tedious as it is atrocious.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and not forgetting Yemen: this is really one war. A series of overlapping and interconnected battles for resources: oil, pipelines, finance, you name it. Wars to bring about regime change. Wars to capture and hold territory. And the one truly significant difference between old-fashioned imperialism and this swankier post-modern variant is in the branding. The public relations has stepped up a gear; it had too. So there is more guile to today’s propaganda, which is packaged and marketed using sophisticated strategies, then delivered into our homes via the new technologies and an increasingly complaisant media.
And the stated rationale for war is nowadays less haughty and considerably more liberal. Flag planting is out, as is any talk of “the white man’s burden”, and in their stead is ‘grassroots’ petitioning for “humanitarian intervention”. All the spin and the layers of gloss providing cover for the same old racket General Smedley Butler warned about more than seventy years ago. So here is a nice summary of how the same racket functions today:
Promoting the imperial social media fad of equivocating on US and NATO invasions that destroy entire societies, ostensibly because the current head of state is ruthless or corrupt, Avaaz apologists neglect the growing list of countries where these invasions have made things worse. Indeed, I am at a loss to find a country in my lifetime (1952-present) where US military aggression — either directly or through proxy mercenaries and US-financed and trained death squads — made things better.
Of course, if you look at militarism as a market-oriented strategy, then making war or creating armed mayhem is just part of doing business. With the crippling financial sanctions available to the US through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, invasion is just for show — part of the expected social spectacle — that routinely transfers wealth from the U.S. Treasury to Wall Street and the military industrial complex. 38
The horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya alone ought to be enough proof, if proof is actually needed, that western “intervention” is a failure (for the victims caught in the crossfire and trapped on the ground). Those calling for another “no fly zone”, as Abdulaziz Almashi and his friends on the radical left do, either have appalling amnesia, or else are acting in extremely bad faith.
Here is a different upload of Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech on December 2, 2015. In this version, Corbyn speaks about the letter from Abdulaziz Almashi at 18:30 mins in:
1 From an analysis paper entitled “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home” written by Elizabeth Dickinson, published by the Brookings Institute in December 2013.
Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, Cameron told ITV News attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.
6 Little Alan Kurdi’s limp body on that Turkish beach sparked many reactions. In response, some appealed for a humane European-wide policy towards refugees, while dreamers implored us all to imagine, John Lennon-like, “a world without borders”. Meanwhile, as the media lurched into one of its periodic feeding frenzies, the most callous opportunists used a personal tragedy to claim just cause for an intensified bombing campaign. Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece The Sun on Sunday ran with this deplorable headline:
For Aylan – Exclusive poll: 52% say bomb Syria now
On which side in the Syrian conflict this contrived 52% – of the staff inside the News Corp office, perhaps? – believed Britain ought to bomb was less clear. Two years earlier in the aftermath of the Ghouta massacre, it had been Assad in the crosshairs when he was declared guilty of the ordering the killing. The charge against him (and the Syria Army) was based upon reputation and has never been substantiated, but calls to bomb the Syrian regime became a matter of urgency. Had air strikes been sanctioned, then Syria, like Libya before, would now be overrun by jihadist “rebels”: a diabolical outcome, but no great surprise to the policymakers at the Pentagon or in the White House.
Instead, a miracle occurred. A (very nearly) unprecedented antiwar vote against any British government stopped this stampede to war in its tracks. It would be Ed Miliband’s finest moment as Labour leader (although largely forgotten) and briefly clipped the wings of the UK war party. In response, Russia then stepped forward to help broker a deal which led to the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Another little remembered act of peacemaking. But then, a year after America’s war against ISIS, Russia joined the military campaign (extending air strikes to other terrorist groups). This jolted Britain into joining the conflict. So three months after the death of Alan Kurdi and Murdoch’s sabre-rattling headline, new excuses were found. “Britain has got its mojo back!” These are the words of our Chancellor, George Osborne, when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations in the immediate days after the vote. And the CFR applauded.
In the event description on Facebook, organisers Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi wrote: “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes…”
Within three months of the demise of the IS Network, Islamist fighters who were formerly called ISIL/ISIS had “declared the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state” and “now simply refer[red] to itself as The Islamic State”.
حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية حركة إسلامية إصلاحية تجديدية شاملة، أحد الفصائل المنضوية والمندمجة ضمن الجبهة الإسلامية وهي تكوين عسكري، سياسي، اجتماعي، إسلامي شامل، يهدف إلى إسقاط النظام الأسدي
في سورية إسقاطاً كاملاً، وبناء دولة إسلامية، تكون السيادة فيها لشرع الله -عز وجلَّ- وحده مرجعاً وحاكماً وموجهاً وناظماً لتصرفات الفرد والمجتمع والدولة
Sunni Muslims make up 70% of Syria’s 25 million people and it is they who fill the ranks of the rebellion against Assad’s minority Alawite regime, considered apostates by Sunni clerics. Yet one reason why Assad remains in power despite being outnumbered by a rival sect is that many Sunnis are on his side, and their support is aiding his survival, say analysts and rebels.
“If Sunnis were united behind the rebels, trust me, Bashar would’ve fallen within days,” says Abu Qays, an anti-regime Syrian activist in the eastern city of Deir e-Zor who uses a nickname for security reasons.
In May 2013, the US-based World Tribune reported, based on NATO data, that 70% of Syrians support Assad. The same piece suggested that 20% of Syrians surveyed felt neutral about the conflict, and only 10% supported the opposition. This figure has not been scrutinised, or even discussed, by most media sources.
The Voices Project was founded on 24 Dec 2013 and has its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The organisation’s status is listed as “Active” and it currently has 8 directors. The company’s first director was Mr Jeremy Heimans. The Voices Project does not have any subsidiaries.
C/o Paul A. Hill & Co
3 Bull Lane
The first position as a director we have on file for Mr Timothy Edwin Dixon was in 2014 at The Voices Project. His most recent directorship is with Purpose Europe Limited where he holds the position of “Managing director”. This company has been around since 21 Dec 2012. In total, Timothy has held 2 directorships, all of which are current. [bold highlight added]
Purpose Europe Limited was registered on 21 Dec 2012 with its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The business has a status listed as “Active” and it currently has 3 directors. The company’s first directors were Purpose Global Llc, Mr Simon Peter Willis. Purpose Europe Limited has no subsidiaries.
3 Bull Lane
34 (Last time around) British Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq had been granted in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003. Burchill’s attack on the antiwar protesters was published in the Guardian on March 19th. And the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. (This time) Parliamentary approval for airstrikes in Syria granted on December 2, 2015. Letter castigating StWC was published by the Guardian on December 9.
The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps.
Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week.
“They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.”
Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:
Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.
Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”
He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2
As reported bythe Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.
Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).
Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”
Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.
In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3
Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.
I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.
Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.
International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.
To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.
Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!
And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.
It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.
ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.
Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.
For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.
Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.
The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”. Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.
Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.
When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.
It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.
Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.
And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.
In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:
Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.
So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?
On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:
Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’ Here’s what Kerry said:
“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”
There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”
The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?
No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?
Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:
Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:
“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”
Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:
“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”
In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….
Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:
It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.
Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.
4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:
When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.
6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.
Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.
7In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:
Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.
According to a recent survey conducted between June 10th and July 2nd by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, that was published in the Washington Post on September 15th, 82% of Syrians questioned believe “IS is US and foreign made group”.*
So are four out of every five Syrians mistaken…?
This will be the longest article I have ever published and also the most intensively documented. The main assertion is that the story of the Syrian “civil war” as it has been (and continues to be) presented – periodically reframed to conceal the most glaring discrepancies in the permitted narrative – is entirely phoney. That the Arab Spring was not so much the catalyst for an uprising which opened the door for Islamist terrorists, but served as a pretext to orchestrate regime change by means of a deliberate invasion of Salafist death squads. In short, that al-Qaeda factions (ISIS is merely an allied splinter group and a later brand) were always the unwitting agent and enabling force for western expansionism in the pursuit of corporatist geostrategic interests – most obviously for the capture and control of fossil fuel resources.
To argue that al-Qaeda/ISIS operate as our pawns does not mean, however, that we own them – only that (with the help of close allies) we have covertly backed them, and then manoeuvred and manipulated them to pursue our ends. This strategy is not as novel as it may sound, but tried and tested in the Cold War battle to defeat the Soviet Union when we armed and backed the Mujahideen (forerunners to al-Qaeda) during Operation Cyclone.
More than three years ago (August 7th, 2012), I published an article entitled “what’s the truth about the civil war in Syria?” in which I collated evidence of how the west and its allies were already knowingly supporting al-Qaeda fighters against Assad. Back then I wrote:
It seems then, that America are back in the business of supporting al-Qaeda. This is not as unusual as it may sound. If you wind back only as far as the Libyan intervention you’ll find that al-Qaeda was leading much of the opposition there too. Indeed, you may recall that back in November, the black flag of al-Qaeda was actually raised over the courthouse in Benghazi – the place where the Libyan revolution had first ignited
And including an appending quote taken from an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain, that reads:
The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.
What follows is a sequence of official admissions and mainstream articles that document the origins of ISIS in Iraq and subsequent expansion into Syria which prove beyond contradiction that the west backed the extremists since the earliest stages of the “civil war”, how the majority of the so-called “rebels” are and always have been foreign invaders and not domestic insurgents, and why the only viable long-term solution must be a political one that starts with the total isolation of all Islamist terrorist groups. For as Vice President Joe Biden confessed to us a year ago, when they were looking for opponents to fight the Assad government “there was no moderate middle”. Moreover, Biden, strangely eager to spill the beans, then went on to say:
[America’s allies] poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.
[Joe Biden’s speech from October 2014 is transcribed in its entirety in the timeline below.]
However, what Biden failed to add is how both the emergence and the survival of ISIS are not solely due to Gulf state support nor merely the maintenance of supply lines running via Turkey, but more directly thanks to the clandestine activities of the CIA under the leadership of General David Petraeus and then John Brennan who spent $1 billion a year ($1 out of every $15 of the CIA budget) to train and equip some 10,000 fighters. To a considerable extent, it has been the CIA that built up ISIS:
The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.
Much of the CIA’s money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country.
Click here to read the full Washington Post report entitled “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut” published on June 12th.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the Nato war against ISIS which began August last year has been an inherently phoney one. A war committed to achieving two mutually incompatible outcomes: on the one hand, the restoration of order by the annihilation of Islamist terrorists in the region, and, on the other, the defeat of the Syrian army to bring about the toppling of the government. And given these contradictory goals, how can we be sure that the primary mission has ever been to weaken ISIS, rather than an opportunity to further damage and degrade Syrian infrastructure, which is, of course, another prerequisite for regime change?
Today’s “coalition of the willing” is in any case intrinsically conflicted. For instance, when the US supported Kurdish resistance fighters in the battle to liberate Kobane a year ago, we are told that they accidentally airdropped weapons and other supplies to Islamic State fighters – which happened because “Turkey would not allow Kurdish fighters to cross its borders into Kobane to bolster the town’s defenses.” So which side is Turkey, a Nato member, on?
More recently, once Turkey had joined the ostensibly anti-ISIS coalition this July, its first action involved the launch of airstrikes simultaneously against both IS and Kurdish forces. Little surprise then, that after well over a year and around $4 billion spent conducting this undeclared air offensive there remains no end in sight at all. Meanwhile, and as with previous wars against Iraq and Libya, the civilian death toll directly resulting from the western intervention is rarely reported upon and officially denied. Our bombs are “surgical” and our killings of civilians simply don’t get counted.
Finally, ISIS really is not the invincible force we are accustomed to believe. Rather, they are affiliated gangs of thugs and murderers, who have been successfully held off and then beaten back by committed and courageous though wholly under-resourced Kurdish resistance forces in the north of Syria. However, for those who desire either to see the butchering continue in order to undermine regional stability, or else to use this threat of murderous hoards in a bait and switch where the ultimate aim is always regime change (the neo-con agenda all along, and an outcome that is furthered by chaos and instability) we should not be surprised if the propaganda tends to magnify the strength of ISIS and to exaggerate the difficulty of eradicating them. In reality, they are surrounded by enemies on many sides and if supplies of armaments, other material support and finance were shut off – with Turkey controlling its own border and with serious pressure applied to their sponsors in the Gulf States – then ISIS, as sitting ducks, would rather quickly wither away.
The greater part of this article will be based around an adaptation and extension of a timeline of mainstream articles put together and published by Kevin Borge. His aim, in part, is to reveal how instead of joining the dots, the corporate media overlooks the evidence (evidence it has actually published), in order to preserve an overarching officially sanctioned narrative which justifies all ongoing western “interventions” on the grounds of spreading “freedom and democracy” and other “humanitarian” goals.
In the same spirit as Borge I have tried to limit my own commentary so far as possible and to let the endless misdirection and duplicity within the mainstream version of events speak for itself. In contrast to Borge, I have also decided to try to prise apart the interlocking roles played by i) the United States, Nato and the other western powers; ii) the Gulf States and most especially – though certainly not exclusively – Saudi Arabia and Qatar; iii) Turkey under President Recep Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; and last but by no means least, iv) Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel.
But I will begin with what is arguably the single most extraordinary admission so far in this sorry tale…
When Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was interviewed in late July by Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera’s show Head to Head, Hasan pointed to a DIA report presented in August 2012 but recently declassified through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which correctly predicts: “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
In other words, as Hasan points out, “the US saw ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing”
Flynn replies [from 9:35 mins]:
I think that where we missed the point – where we totally blew it – was in the very beginning. I mean we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember – I mean it’s only been a couple of years – the Free Syrian Army, that movement, I mean where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today? And how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now, we’ve allowed these extremist militants to come in…
Hasan cuts in: Why did you do that? You were the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency… Did you see this document in 2012? Did this come across your table…? So when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say “what on earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels? And what did you do about it? Did you say we shouldn’t be supporting these groups?
Flynn responds: I did. I mean we argued about these different groups that are there and we said, you know, who is that is involved here. And I will tell you that I do believe that the intelligence was very clear, and now it’s a matter of whether or not policy is going to be as clear and as defining and as precise as it needs to be. And I don’t believe it was…
Hasan: Just to clarify here, today my understanding is you’re saying we should have backed the rebels.
Flynn: We should have done more earlier on in this effort, you know, than we did…
Hasan: But three years ago, let’s just be clear – for the sake of our viewers – in 2012, your agency was saying quote: “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” In 2012, the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote “Islamic extremists”?
Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job, but… my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be. And I will tell you it goes before 2012. I mean when we were in Iraq and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean it was very clear what we were going to face.
Hasan: Well, I admire your frankness on this subject. Let me just clarify once more: you are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew those groups were around. You saw this analysis and you were arguing against it. But who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: The administration turned a blind eye to your analysis…
Flynn: I don’t think they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a wilful decision.
Hasan: A wilful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: Well, a wilful decision to do what they’re doing… you have to really ask the President, what is it that he actually is doing with the policy that is in place because it is very, very confusing. I’m sitting here today Mehdi and I can’t tell you exactly what that is, and I’ve been at this a long time.
[The transcript above is mine.]
Click here to watch the full interview first broadcast on Friday July 31st at the Al Jazeera website.
Before proceeding to the more closely documented timelines, some further background and additional insights are available in a Guardian article written by Nafeez Ahmed and published shortly after the Ghouta gas attack on August 30, 2013. Here are some extracts:
In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorised CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. A range of US government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had “cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations” intended to weaken the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria,” wrote Hersh, “a byproduct” of which is “the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups” hostile to the United States and “sympathetic to al-Qaeda.” He noted that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria,” with a view to pressure him to be “more conciliatory and open to negotiations” with Israel. One faction receiving covert US “political and financial support” through the Saudis was the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
According to former French foreign ministerRoland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television:
“I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”
After referring back to Wesley Clark’s notorious post-9/11 memo outlining US plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, Ahmed then continues:
Much of the strategy currently at play was candidly described in a 2008 US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War (pdf). The report noted that “the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.” As most oil will be produced in the Middle East, the US has “motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states”:
“The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized… For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources… The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war.”
The report noted especially that Syria is among several “downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow”, increasing a risk of conflict. Thus, although the RAND document fell far short of recognising the prospect of an ‘Arab Spring’, it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, US defence officials were alive to the region’s growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.
Incidentally, and contrary to some wilder claims, there is no convincing evidence that most instrumental to igniting hostilities that then plunged the country into “civil war” was the Syrian government’s failure to respond to a severe drought:
There is no doubt that the major drought witnessed in Syria between 2006 and 2011 had a catastrophic environmental and societal impact on the country, but it is not the over-arching cause of the war.
So writes Louis Allday who was working at the British Embassy in Damascus at the time.
Click here to read his full account published on September 11th by Counterpunch.
i) Timeline for US, Nato and other western powers from 2006
Please note that the bold emphasis is mine throughout unless otherwise stated.
The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that “these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists. […]
The proposal says part of the effort would be run through a foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF).
The Front includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, but now says it seeks peaceful, democratic reform […]
Money for the election-monitoring proposal would be channeled through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. According to MEPI’s website, the program passes out funds ranging between $100,000 and $1 million to promote education and women’s empowerment, as well as economic and political reform, part of a total allocation of $5 million for Syria that Congress supported earlier this year.
The State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, and finance activities inside Syria, the Post said. Barada TV began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria that began last month as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad the Post said. The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after political ties with Damascus were frozen in 2005, the newspaper said. The financial backing has continued under President Barack Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad, the Post said.
In Syria, there is mounting evidence that Al Qaeda and its allies are actively deploying terror tactics and suicide bombers to overthrow the Assad regime.
Syrian citizens who prefer the secular and stable state to the prospect of an Iraqi-style sectarian state may well be turning this same question around to the US government: are you with us, or with the terrorists?
This week, head of the Salafi jihad and close ally of al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, pledged “deadly attacks” against Syria as “our fighters are coming to get you” because “crimes” by the regime ”prompts us to jihad”.
If only the Syrian uprising was as simple as the Arab Spring narrative where citizens seek democracy and freedom. But those unarmed protests have long since been hijacked by a cocktail of agendas which have little to do with Syrian democracy, and more to do with a proxy war to create a sectarian Sunni state that weakens Shi’te Iran’s main partner in the region.
[In his “historic” State of the Union address on September 20th, 2001] Bush was correct in claiming that al Qaeda “want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan” – who were all US-Israel allies at that time.
But his list stopped short of mentioning Syria or Iraq, the real targets of al Qaeda. Why does overthrowing Syria, using the same terror tactics, fail to attract the same degree of outrage?
Bush continues: “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.”
This pledge appears to have fallen on its own sword, given the funding of the jihadists in Syria. The terrorists have bred and spread across borders, which is the opposite of Bush’s prophecy.
The US administration must come clean about its financial aid. It cannot use one hand to sign a blank cheque to the rebels, and the other hand to cover its eyes to their immoral and illegal tactics. It cannot hide behind “the end justifies the means” as there are too many innocent lives at stake. […]
The US regime should be actively and publicly distancing itself from the foreign terrorists and Salafist jihadists that are proliferating within sovereign Syria.
It should be condemning al Qaeda for its militant intervention. It should be condemning the Saudi sheikhs who issue fatwas for an Alawite holocaust. […]
Perhaps the US is applying another principle that they may have learned from their pragmatic Arab allies – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The official position is that the U.S. has refused to allow heavy weapons into Syria. But there’s growing evidence that U.S. agents — particularly murdered ambassador Chris Stevens — were at least aware of heavy weapons moving from Libya to jihadist Syrian rebels. […]
In November 2011 The Telegraph reported that Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria. Last month The Times of London reported that a Libyan ship “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets.
We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes – and he will go – there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an al-Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.
[almost precisely two years later, October 2014, Biden entirely contradicts this statement – see below]
Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. […]
The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.
Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. […]
The group’s prominence makes clear the dilemma of Syria’s revolutionaries, as well as those who might provide support to them. Though members of Nusra operate independently of the other rebel groups that have taken up arms and particularly those that are calling for elections if Assad is deposed it is increasingly clear that their operations are closely coordinated with more secular rebels.
Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall. […]
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected. […]
For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism. “The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman. The US has announced an extra $60m (£40.2m) in direct aid to the rebels, including military rations and medical kits.
In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries and head a court that applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work and now profit from the crude they produce. Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.
Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.
Syria’s main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is losing fighters and capabilities to Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist organisation with links to al-Qaida that is emerging as the best-equipped, financed and motivated force fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]
Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently. “Fighters feel proud to join al-Nusra because that means power and influence,” said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. “Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it,” he added. “They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations.” Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala’a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. […]
Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA’s al-Tawhid Lions brigade. […]
Western governments say they are aware of the al-Nusra problem, which is being monitored by intelligence agencies, but they are uncertain about its extent.
It’s a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists’ goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. […]
Many pledge allegiance to the notion of a unified Free Syrian Army (FSA). But on the ground there is little evidence to suggest the FSA actually exists as a body at all. […]
So far the Islamist groups have been the ones to attract outside support, mostly from private Sunni Muslim backers in Saudi Arabia, according to fighters in Syria. […]
The moderates are losing ground. In many parts of rebel-held Aleppo, the red, black and green revolutionary flag which represents more moderate elements has been replaced with the black Islamic flag. Small shops selling black headbands, conservative clothing and black balaclavas have popped up around the city and their business is booming. Reuters met several Islamist fighters who had left more moderate rebel brigades for hardline groups. One member of Ahrar al-Sham, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said: “I used to be with the Free Syrian Army but they were always thinking about what they wanted to do in future. I wanted to fight oppression now.”
CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders. The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. […]
The training began in November at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said. […]
But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.
Up to 35 CIA operatives were working in the city during the attack last September on the US consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, according to CNN.” […]
The television network said that a CIA team was working in an annex near the consulate on a project to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels. Sources said that more Americans were hurt in the assault spearheaded by suspected Islamic radicals than had been previously reported. CIA chiefs were actively working to ensure the real nature of its operations in the city did not get out. So only the losses suffered by the State Department in the city had been reported to Congress.
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. […]
Maybe the Americans should ask al-Qa’ida for intelligence help – after all, this is the group with “boots on the ground”, something the Americans have no interest in doing. And maybe al-Qa’ida could offer some target information facilities to the country which usually claims that the supporters of al-Qa’ida, rather than the Syrians, are the most wanted men in the world.
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war. […]
The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.
Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say. While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda.
The rebel leader touted as the West’s last hope to stem the tide of extreme jihadist groups in Syria has said he will not fight against al-Qa’ida, and openly admits to battling alongside them. Speaking from a safe house on the outskirts of the Turkish town of Antakya, Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) told The Independent that the fight against al-Qa’ida was “not our problem” and admitted his fighters conduct joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra – the official al-Qa’ida branch in Syria.
The Obama administration asked Congress on Thursday to authorize $500 million in direct U.S. military training and equipment for Syrian opposition fighters, a move that could significantly escalate U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war. Money for the assistance, which would expand a CIA covert training program, is included in a $65.8 billion request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO.
Brookings Institute, September/October 2014 Issue:
The cons begin with the simple fact that the United States has no interests in Syria itself. Syria is not an oil producer, a major U.S. trade partner, or even a democracy. […]
But there is, in fact, a way that the United States could get what it wants in Syria — and, ultimately, in Iraq as well — without sending in U.S. forces: by building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists. The United States has pulled off similar operations before and could probably do so again, and at far lower cost than what it has spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. […]
Second, any proposal must provide for the defeat of both the Assad regime and the most radical Islamist militants, since both threaten U.S. interests. […]
Recruiting Syrian army personnel would be the first task.
Led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world. Investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Chicago-based BMO Private Bank. President Barack Obama approved open-ended airstrikes this month while ruling out ground combat. […]
Lockheed, the world’s biggest defense company, reached an all-time high of $180.74 on Sept. 19, when Northrop, Raytheon Co. and General Dynamics Corp. also set records. That quartet and Chicago-based Boeing accounted for about $105 billion in federal contract orders last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.
During a question and answer session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last week, Vice President Biden somehow managed to anger some of the U.S.’s most vital allies in the fight against Islamic State.
Biden has now apologized to both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for the comments, but to anyone who has been following the conventional wisdom in foreign policy circles, it’s not surprising that he would think this privately (even if it is surprising that he would say so publicly). […]
The vice president’s comments may be a “gaffe” in diplomacy – and, yes, his comments do reveal a worrying habit of lumping al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in with Islamic State and not noting the difference between private and public funding at play here. But there are genuine, though complicated, concerns at the heart of this gaffe.
Here is a FULL transcription of Joe Biden’s now infamous “gaffe”:
The idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock or a James Madison beyond one sand dune.
The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was… [hesitation] there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle is made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers, made up of people who in fact have ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.
And what happened was, and history will record this because I’m finding that former administration officials as soon as they leave, write books, which I think is inappropriate. But any rate. [audience laughter] No I’m serious, I do think it’s in appropriate. At least give the guy a chance to get out of office. And what my constant cry was… was that our biggest problem was our allies.
Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [who] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera.
What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.
Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in eastern Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.
So what happened? Now, all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they have seen the lord. Now we have … been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbours, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be the aggressor. It has to be led by Sunnis. To go and attack a Sunni organization. And so what do we have for the first time?
Now Saudi Arabia stops funding. Saudi Arabia’s allowing training on its soil. American forces under Title 10 training. The Qataris have cut-off their support for the most extremist elements of the terrorist organisations. And the Turks, President Erdogan told me – he’s an old friend – said “you’re right, we let too many people through.” Now they’re trying to seal their border.
The same Washington Postarticle includes an oddly bowdlerised transcription of Biden’s speech which is cut short and missing the final highlighted paragraph, which it claims was lost because “the White House recording cuts out”. The article then adds:
President Erdoğan told me, he is an old friend, said you were right, we let too many people through, now we are trying to seal the border.
But as you see from the video above, in actual fact Biden’s remarks are significantly different to those reported by Hurriyet Daily News (a Turkish news source). His true statement also contains embarrassing admissions that would certainly have strained US relations with its two closest Gulf allies – hence the rapid apologies and retractions.
Rather than defeat, containing their activities within failed or near-failing states is the best option for the foreseeable future. […]
There is a parallel here between the war on Islamic extremists and the war on drugs: the absolute end-states for both may be unachievable, but that in no way diminishes the need to execute counter operations. Some wars cannot be won but still must be fought. There are other hard questions for even bigger threats in the Middle East, such as how to ensure a nuclear free Iran and how to deal with the Assad regime in Syria. For ISIS, though, we may have it right.
The US and Turkey have reached a tentative deal to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, according to officials from both countries, amid reports that commanders will be given authority to call in air strikes. […]
At the same time The Wall Street Journal reported that some rebels will be equipped with pick-up trucks modified with mounted machine guns as well as radios for calling in US airstrikes – an approach modelled on that used to successful effect by Kurdish forces in Kobane last month.
Since 9/11, Washington has considered al Qaeda the greatest threat to the United States, one that must be eliminated regardless of cost or time. After Washington killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, it made Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s new leader, its next number one target. But the instability in the Middle East following the Arab revolutions and the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) require that Washington rethink its policy toward al Qaeda, particularly its targeting of Zawahiri. Destabilizing al Qaeda at this time may in fact work against U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS. […]
It is certainly ironic that at this point, when the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat and Zawahiri alive.
The prosecution of a Swedish national [Bherlin Gildo, 37] accused of terrorist activities in Syria has collapsed at the Old Bailey after it became clear Britain’s security and intelligence agencies would have been deeply embarrassed had a trial gone ahead, the Guardian can reveal.
His lawyers argued that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was, and were party to a secret operation providing weapons and non-lethal help to the groups, including the Free Syrian Army. […]
Gildo’s defence lawyers quoted a number of press articles referring to the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, including one from the Guardian on 8 March 2013, on the west’s training of Syrian rebels in Jordan. Articles on the New York Times from 24 March and 21 June 2013, gave further details and an article in the London Review of Books from 14 April 12014, implicated MI6 in a “rat line” for the transfer of arms from Libya. […]
The attorney general was consulted about Monday’s decision. Karmy-Jones [for the crown] told the court in pre-trial hearings that Gildo had worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, a “proscribed group considered to be al-Qaida in Syria”. He was photographed standing over dead bodies with his finger pointing to the sky.
Reports were cited that MI6 had cooperated with the CIA on a “rat line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. […]
A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.
In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”, the Pentagon report goes on, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. […]
That doesn’t mean the US created Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies certainly played a role in it – as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, acknowledged last year. But there was no al-Qaida in Iraq until the US and Britain invaded. And the US has certainly exploited the existence of Isis against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western control.
Syrian rebels receiving U.S. military training to battle Islamic State militants are being paid $250 to $400 per month, depending on their skills, performance and leadership position, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Training opposition fighters in the safety of Turkey, Jordan, and other friendly countries would still be the first step. But it would not over time be sufficient, either, since many opposition fighters are reluctant to leave their home territories and thereby leave their families and communities unprotected in order to go abroad for training. The idea would be to help moderate elements establish reliable safe zones within Syria once they were able. American, as well as Saudi and Turkish and British and Jordanian and other Arab forces would act in support, not only from the air but eventually on the ground via the presence of special forces as well. […]
This type of plan may be the only realistic path forward… Moreover, while it is not without risks for the United States, the scale of military involvement envisioned is not substantially greater than what we have been doing the last year or so in Afghanistan. President Obama…. should not view Syria as a problem to hand to his successor, but rather a crisis that demands his attention and a new strategy now.
“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” added Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who also escaped from Ramadi and now lives in the makeshift Baghdad camp that is only occasionally supplied with water. Such conspiracy theories about America’s support for Islamic State are outlandish, no doubt. But they are so widespread that they now represent a political reality with real-world consequences—making it harder for the U.S. and allies to cobble together Iraqi forces that could regain the country’s Sunni heartland from Islamic State’s murderous rule one day. […]
This spreading perception that the U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating Islamic State has undermined local resistance to the militant group in Anbar in recent months. It represents a major obstacle to recruiting local Sunni tribes—one of the U.S. strategies in the war—provincial leaders say. […]
“We don’t have any trust in Americans anymore,” said Alia Nusseif, a prominent Shiite lawmaker from Baghdad. “We now think ISIS is being used as a tool by America to divide and weaken Iraq.”
The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will soon recognize the Free Syrian Army as the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a high-ranking official in Bahrain told the Saudi Gazette.
As Syria slides towards a civil war, a wealthy Syrian exile is racing to provide additional arms and ammunition to the loosely organised bands of rebels fighting under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Abu Qotaiba, a nom de guerre, has lived for the past 19 years in a wealthy Gulf country. He told The Independent he was buying weapons from arms dealers in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and sending them into Syria, despite the cost of an AK-47 rising from about $300 to about $1,500. “Now is a chance for [dealers] to sell them at a high price,” Abu Qotaiba said. Earlier this week, US Senator John McCain told reporters that there were ways to get weapons to the Syrian opposition without direct US involvement.
“People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves,” he said. […]
The FSA has proved successful at getting hold of arms, he said. Syrian security forces can no longer go wherever they wanted in the country, especially inside cities such as Homs and Idlib because some streets were controlled by the FSA. Abu Qotaiba refused to say where the Libyan weapons came from, only denying that the arms were provided by Libya’s National Transitional Council. They came “through some revolutionaries,” he said. “There are many Libyan people trying to help. They want to return the slap to Bashar because he supported Gaddafi. They have lived our situation.”
In other news, Qatar’s prime minister said Monday he was in favor of delivering arms to the Syrian opposition that is battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said during an official visit to Norway.
Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. […]
Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.
As TIME reports here, disorder and distrust plague two of the rebels’ international patrons: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The two Gulf powerhouses are no longer on the same page when it comes to determining who among the plethora of mushrooming Syrian rebel groups should be armed. The rift surfaced in August, with the alleged Saudi and Qatari representatives in charge of funneling free weaponry to the rebels clearly backing different factions among the groups — including various shades of secular and Islamist militias — under the broad umbrella that is the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
An investigation has concluded that Swiss hand grenades exported to the United Arab Emirates several years ago found their way to Syria after being given to Jordan, the Swiss government said Friday.
Switzerland set up a joint commission in July with the UAE to investigate whether grenades exported to the Gulf nation were sent on to Syria. The move came after a newspaper published a photograph indicating a Swiss-made grenade was found with Syrian rebels.
The private funding of individual militias — some with extremist views — further complicates the task facing the Obama administration as it ventures into arming Syria’s rebels. With its decision to increase support for the Syrian opposition, Washington is seeking to influence a patchwork of militia groups with wildly different abilities and views about how Syria should be run after the war.
From Persian Gulf cities hundreds of miles from the battlefield, wealthy patrons help decide which of Syria’s hundreds of rebel groups will receive money to pay salaries and buy weapons and supplies for the fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
In practice, these donors overwhelmingly back Islamist groups whose ultraconservative views reflect their own, intelligence officials and analysts say.
Rebel sources said Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo. A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases. More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels […]
“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”
Brookings Institute, December 2013:
From an analysis paper entitled Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home by Elizabeth Dickinson.
Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]
From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground.
U.S., Saudi Arabia and Jordan are reportedly helping rebels plan attack starting in south and spreading to Damascus. […]
According to reports in the Syrian media and on websites run by the opposition, Jordan is replacing – or perhaps has already replaced – Turkey as the rebels’ new base of operations. […]
Meanwhile, the United States is constructing runways for reconnaissance aircraft near the border between Jordan and Syria, and in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has flown weaponry and ammunition purchased in Ukraine to bases in Jordan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in western Anbar province, in his strongest such statement since fighting started there early this year. […]
“I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government. I accuse them of openly hosting leaders of al Qaeda and Takfirists (extremists),” he said in the interview when asked about possible Saudi and Qatari links to the violence.
Maliki has long had chilly relations with the Gulf states, who view him as too close to Iran, and has long suspected them of funding al Qaeda-linked groups in order to bring down his Shi’ite-led government.
He accused the Saudi government of allowing “commissions” there “to attract Jihadists, to lure them, to get them fighting in Iraq”.
He also blamed both countries for launching Syria’s three-year civil war through al Qaeda-linked groups that now operate on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, next to Anbar.
“They are attacking Iraq through Syria indirectly. They absolutely started the war in Iraq, they started the war in Syria,” Maliki said. ISIL has been one of the biggest fighting forces in Syria’s civil war.
“Saudi Arabia supports terrorism against the world, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.”
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an activist role in the Syria war, supporting armed groups fighting President Bashar Assad. They both deny supporting al Qaeda.
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. […]
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012… Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.
German Development Minister Gerd Mueller accused Qatar on Wednesday of financing Islamic State militants […]
In March, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, cited reports of Qatari backing for Islamist fighters in Syria and described this as a “permissive jurisdiction” for donors funding militants.
BBC news, September 1, 2014:
CAUTION!!! Before reading further, please note that the author of this article is Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.
It is true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.
This was an extremely common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.
It is also true that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, believing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon fall and that Sunni political Islam was a true vehicle for their political goals, funded groups that had strongly Islamist credentials.
Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam were just such groups, all holding tenuous links to the “bad guy” of the time – the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria. […]
So has Qatar funded Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS.
Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but as with Qatar its determination to remove Mr Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies.
Both countries must undertake some soul searching at this point, although it is doubtful that any such introspection will be admitted in public.
“Our biggest problem was our allies,” [US Vice President] Mr Biden told students at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“The Turks… the Saudis, the Emirates, etc, what were they doing? They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”
These policies ended up helping militants linked to al-Qaeda and ultimately IS, he said.
Leaders of Syria’s Nusra Front are considering cutting their links with al Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, sources said. Sources within and close to Nusra said that Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the group, is encouraging the group to go ahead with the move, which would give Nusra a boost in funding. […]
The Nusra Front is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and has been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. But for Qatar at least, rebranding Nusra would remove legal obstacles to supporting it. […]
But if Nusra is dissolved and it abandons al Qaeda, the ideology of the new entity is not expected to change. [The leader of Nusra, Abu Mohamad al-] Golani fought with al Qaeda in Iraq. Some other leaders fought in Afghanistan and are close al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahri.
Being a directly affiliated al-Qaeda group, the Nusra Front is nearer the IS end of the spectrum. Yet, while the Qatari relationship with the Nusra Front appears to be far from straightforward with some of the state’s initiatives failing, indicating some distance between the two, according to recent reports, Qatar appears to want to reform this relationship. This begs the question of why Qatar would want even loosely to associate itself with a group like the Nusra Front. […]
Secondly, the Nusra Front has pledged to concentrate its efforts on removing the Bashar al-Assad government, as opposed to attacking the “far enemy” (ie Western states)… This is why Qatar is hoping to bring the Nusra Front in from the cold.
If the state can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria. […]
But the fact remains that Qatar is a key Western ally. It hosts a critical US military base, it grafted US and UK higher-education institutions and ideas onto its education system, and has long promoted the Middle East’s most visible and powerful woman, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the Emir’s mother. These are transparently not the policies of a state with sympathies for the likes of IS or al-Qaeda. Indeed, there is no chance that Qatar is doing this alone: the US and UK governments will certainly be involved in or at least apprised of Qatar’s plans.
Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, “met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey,” said a military official working with Mr Belhadj. “Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan president) sent him there. […]
The meetings came as a sign of a growing ties between Libya’s fledgling government and the Syrian opposition. The Daily Telegraph on Saturday revealed that the new Libyan authorities had offered money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad.
A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The Daily Telegraph has seen al-Qaeda’s flag flying openly in some areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces that straddle the borders with Turkey and Iraq and fighters in the rebel Free Syrian Army have told how representatives of the militant group have tried in past months to win control of towns and villages.
Al Qaeda in Syria (often operating as the “Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant”) is using traffickers—some ideologically aligned, some motivated by money—to secure routes through Turkey and Iraq for foreign fighters, most of whom are from the Middle East and North Africa. A growing number of donors from the Persian Gulf and Levant appear to be sending financial support, according to U.S. Treasury Department officials I interviewed.
President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said. […]
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. […]
Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad’s departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment. European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad’s departure.
A Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines, The Times has learnt. Among more than 400 tons of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels.
The middlemen of the two countries [Saudi Arabia and Qatar] operate out of Turkey, the regional military power. Ankara has been quite public with its denunciation of Assad even as it denies any involvement in shuffling weapons across the border to Syrian rebels. […]
According to sources who have dealt with him, Saudi Arabia’s man in the Istanbul control center is a Lebanese politician named Okab Sakr. He belongs to the Future Movement, the organization of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which has a history of enmity with Damascus. […]
The bulk of Ahrar al-Sham’s substantial funding reportedly comes from Kuwait.
Syrian rebel groups meeting in Turkey elected a 30-member unified command on Friday at talks attended by security officials from international powers, delegates said. The 30 included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and excluded the most senior officers who had defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military, they said. […]
Another delegate said that two-thirds of the leadership had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or were politically allied with the group, a composition which resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.
Prime Minister’s [sic] Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “AKP government has helped us a lot” since the war in Syria began, an Islamic State fighter told a Turkish journalist. […]
“Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It [Turkey] showed us affection. Large number of our mujahedeen [jihadis] received medical treatment in Turkey,” he said.
Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.
And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.
In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.
“Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price,” said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded and received an apology from the US vice-president, Joe Biden, over comments in which Biden said the Turkish leader had admitted Turkey had made mistakes by allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.
Erdogan denied ever saying that and told reporters in Istanbul that Biden “will be history for me if he has indeed used such expressions”.
The White House said Biden spoke to Erdogan on Saturday “to clarify comments”, and said Biden apologised “for any implication” that Turkey or other allies had intentionally supplied or helped in the growth of the Isis group or other extremists in Syria.
Responding to questions following his speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday, Biden described Erdogan as “an old friend” and added: “He [Erdogan] said: ‘You were right. We let too many people through.’ Now they’re trying to seal their border.”
Mr Biden also claimed [speaking to students at Harvard Kennedy School] that Turkey admitted it had let too many foreign fighters cross its border into Syria.
The incandescent response from Ankara and expressions of “astonishment” from the United Arab Emirates led Mr Biden to “clarify” that he didn’t mean the allies had intentionally facilitated the growth of IS or other violent extremists.
But there is little doubt about the flow of weapons, money and fighters from these countries into Syria. […]
Unlike the other rebel groups, Islamic State has its own sources of revenue, including until recently a booming business in oil smuggling into Turkey. US officials have accused Ankara of, at best, turning a blind eye to the black market trade. Pressing the government to clamp down on it was a key focus of a recent visit by the Secretary of State John Kerry.
And despite denials by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the steady flow of fighters, including foreign extremists, across Turkey’s long and porous border with Syria is well-documented.
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 12 that a senior US military official accused Turkey of deceiving the American government by allowing its use of Incirlik airbase to attack ISIS, as a cover for President Erdogan’s war on Kurdish fighters (PKK) in northern Iraq. So far, Turkey has carried out 300 air strikes against the PKK, and only three against ISIS! […]
To conceal its deception and mislead the American public, within days of starting its war on the Kurds, Ankara hired Squire Patton Boggs for $32,000 a month, as a subcontractor to the powerful lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. Squire Patton Boggs includes former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, and retired White House official Robert Kapla.
The Gephardt lobbying team for Turkey consists of subcontractors Greenberg Traurig, Brian Forni, Lydia Borland, and Dickstein Shapiro LLP; the latter recently added to its lobbying staff former CIA Director Porter Goss. Other lobbying firms hired by Turkey are: Goldin Solutions, Alpaytac, Finn Partners, Ferah Ozbek, and Golin/Harris International. According to U.S. Justice Department records, Turkey pays these lobbying/public relations firms around $5 million a year. Furthermore, several U.S. non-profit organizations serve as fronts for the Turkish government to promote its interests in the United States and take Members of Congress and journalists on all-expense paid junkets to Turkey. Among the U.S. lobbyists for Turkey, perhaps the most questionable is Porter Goss, CIA Director from 2004 to 2006, who has agreed to sell his soul and possibly U.S. national secrets for a fistful of Turkish Liras.”
Nearly a month after a mysterious Israeli military airstrike in Syria generated political aftershocks from Washington to North Korea, the Israeli government lifted its official veil of secrecy Tuesday. […]
Israel lifted its ban on reporting that the attack took place after Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Israeli jets had hit an “unused military building.” But Israeli officials refused to say anything about the attack, and almost no one who’d be expected to know — from government officials to former intelligence officers — is talking.
BBC news, April 23, 2008:
The Golan Heights had been captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in June 1967 and occupied ever since – in 1981, this became a de facto annexation under the illegal Golan Heights Law. Then, in April 2008, following secret peace negotiations with Syria, reports were leaked that Israel was prepared to withdraw from occupied Syrian Golan.
Israel has passed a message to Syria that it would withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace, according to a Syrian government minister.
The expatriates minister, Buthaina Shaaban, said the message had been passed on by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
She said Mr Erdogan had informed the Syrian President Bashar Assad of the offer by telephone on Tuesday morning.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declined to comment.
Israel and Syria remain technically at war although both sides have recently spoken of their desire for peace.
The Syrian government has insisted that peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights, which it seized in 1967. […]
In an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Ms Shaaban said the offer had come from the Israeli prime minister.
“Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions, on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria,” she said. The Syrian newspaper, al-Watan, carried similar news on its website on Wednesday. […]
Mr Olmert’s office did not deny the Syrian reports, choosing only to state that they “refuse to comment on the matter”. […]
The former US President, Jimmy Carter, who held talks with the Syrian leader recently has said he believes “about 85%” of the differences between Israel and Syria have already been resolved, including borders, water rights, the establishment of a security zone and on the presence of international forces.
“[Mr Assad said] the only major difference in starting good-faith talks was that Israel insisted that there will be no public acknowledgment that the talks were going on when Syria insisted that the talks would not be a secret,” Mr Carter said earlier this week.
Mr Carter said it was now “just a matter of reconvening the talks and concluding an agreement” between the neighbouring countries.
Israel and Syria have said they are holding indirect talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said both sides were talking “in good faith and openly”.
The Syrian foreign ministry also confirmed the Turkish-mediated talks, the first since 2000. […]
The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Golan up to the armistice line of 1967.
Israel has refused to comment on the claim, although a spokesman for Mr Olmert said the current talks were being carried out with the failure of the previous ones in mind, and that the talks had recently gathered momentum.
The US and the EU have welcomed news of the talks, and both have praised Turkey’s role as facilitator.
[bold emphasis as original]
Haaretz, May 9, 2010:
But then we had the three-week long air offensive Operation Cast Lead (Dec 27, 2008 – Jan 18, 2009) ostensibly to stop Palestinian rocket attacks and to disable Hamas (with their leadership ties in Syria). This so-called “Gazan War” would cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of who were unarmed civilians including many hundreds of children. The massacre also signalled the ending of peace talks with Syria. The following extracts are drawn from a thoughtful article written by Zvi Bar’el.
No doubt, Israel is threatened, but so are Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It’s enough to listen to Israel’s threats to “take Syria back to the Stone Age,” “destroy Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure” or smash Hamas to understand that the style of the Israeli threat approaches that of Iran. If anyone should be waking up in the morning in a cold sweat, it’s the Lebanese, Syrians and Gazans, not the Israelis.
Nevertheless, even though Syria has suffered military blows from Israel, it continues to act “impudently,” and Lebanon, which was pounded in war, has stepped up its threats. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza did not stop Hamas from arming itself. And in the West Bank, the occupation forces have not completely neutralized the threat. […]
“[Syrian President Bashar] Assad wants peace but doesn’t believe [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Baidatz told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But his words were lost in the alarming description of the number of missiles in Hezbollah’s hands. Because even though we understand weapons, and we consider Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah a household name, and we assemble and dismantle centrifuges every day, we lose our way when it comes to the peace process.
Baidatz didn’t explain how it’s possible to gain Assad’s confidence, and he wasn’t asked, just as he wasn’t asked whether returning the Golan Heights to Syria under agreed conditions could neutralize the Syrian-Lebanese-Hezbollah threat. These questions are too dangerous to ask to someone from the army – he just might propose a diplomatic solution.
A Syrian rebel group operating along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights said it has no quarrel with Israel, and that its fight is with President Bashar Assad, not the Jewish state — and it will remain that way.
Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, the new commander of the Free Syrian Army, secretly trained in Israel last year after being admitted into to the country for medical treatment, according to the Arabic language Al-Ahd website. He was transferred to a hospital in Israel after he was wounded in a military operation. Rumors spread that he died and was buried in Syria, allegedly to distract attention from his training in Israel.
The Syrian opposition is willing to give up claims to the Golan Heights in return for cash and Israeli military aid against President Bashar Assad, a top opposition official told Al Arab newspaper, according to a report in Al Alam.
A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week.
Reports by UN observers in the Golan Heights over the past 18 months reveal the type and extent of cooperation between Israel and Syrian opposition figures. The reports, submitted to the 15 members of the UN Security Council and available on the UN’s website, detail regular contacts held on the border between IDF officers and soldiers and Syrian rebels.
Syria accused Israeli jets of bombing two installations inside the country on Sunday, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border. […]
Israel has carried out several air strikes in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated weapons to its ally Hezbollah. In June, Israel struck targets inside Syria, including a military installation, following a cross-border attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel said at the time that it had struck nine military targets inside its northern neighbour and had confirmed “direct hits”.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that Israel has been providing aid to Syrian rebels, thus keeping the Druze in Syria out of immediate danger. […]
“We’ve assisted them under two conditions,” Ya’alon said of the Israeli medical aid to the Syrian rebels, some of whom are presumably fighting with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
On the day Russia launched air strikes [Wed Sept 30th] the WSJ published the following:
Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and said he raised U.S. concerns about attacks that target regime opponents other than Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In Syria’s multi-sided war, Mr. Assad’s military—aided by Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah—is fighting both Islamic State and opposition rebel groups, some of which are supported by the U.S. and its allies.
Mr. Kerry said the U.S. and Russia need to hold military talks as soon as possible and Mr. Lavrov said he agreed. […]
Among seven areas that Syrian state media listed as targets of Russian strikes, only one—an area east of the town of Salamiyah in Hama province—has a known presence of Islamic State fighters. The other areas listed are largely dominated by moderate rebel factions or Islamist groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
In other words, “rebel” factions or “Islamic groups” now deemed “moderate” include al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front).
The timelines above are abridged and rearranged versions of the single line produced by Kevin Borge. The ones above also include a number of additions and extensions to Borge’s original.
Click here to read the original timeline for the Syrian War published by Global Research on August 29th.
* Here is a graphic showing polling figures for a range of ten questions taken from the same Washington Post article:
Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:
“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]
Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:
The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.
Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:
Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.
So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.
Patrick Cockburn continues:
Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1
Click hereto read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.
But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:
Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.
No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2
So wrote John Hilary in an excellentarticle entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.
In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:
Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.
Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.
Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.
It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:
The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.
But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.
The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.
Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.
One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone
Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.
After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):
Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:
“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….
Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”
These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:
We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3
Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”
As she explains:
Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.
Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.
Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]
Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.
As Cory Morningstar also points out:
In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4
“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.
Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?
Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.
Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:
Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,
By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.
The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:
Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.
There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.
Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.
Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:
“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5
So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.
We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.
But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?
Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”
“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.
Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):
President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).
Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”
To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.
In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:
Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.
When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.
Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:
The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.
Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:
If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]
I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]
Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]
The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9
Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.
Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:
Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.
Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.
Further down we read that:
At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.
The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.
Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.
Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:
We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.
Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.
Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.
So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.
And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:
Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!
Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:
So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.
The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!
On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:
a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis
Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.
4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:
The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.
Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.