Tag Archives: John Bolton

John Pilger on war with China, the West’s loss of perception, and how “many journalists have simply given up”

“When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

“I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

“Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.” — John Pilger

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On today’s season finale special episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to award-winning journalist and film-maker John Pilger in an extended interview about the current state of global affairs as it enters what Pilger describes as a state of world war: the ‘Coming War on China’ that he had warned about in an earlier documentary (embedded within the transcript below) has already arrived he says.

He also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump amidst the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework that saw the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia; a situation where Washington’s goal is to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He likewise sees a growing risk of war between other nuclear superpowers, most especially Pakistan and India.

Pilger also talks about western sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Iran and how they are deliberately bringing suffering to the citizens of those countries; how Brexit has provided a distraction from the most pressing issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad; and finally, he provides an update on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison:

The full transcript of the interview is my own [interview begins at 2:30 mins]:

Afshin Rattansi: John thanks for coming back on. Boris Johnson [is] in Germany today. All eyes on the G7 at the end of the week: Russia not invited, China not considered by the IMF to be an advanced economy, but they will be talking about China apparently – we are being led to believe that Hong Kong is the centre of this weekend’s negotiations or talks.

John Pilger: Yes – what are these talks about? Excluding two of the most interesting developed powers in the world, China and Russia. I mean you know the truth is – what nobody is talking about – is there is a world war. It’s not a shooting war. But it could easily become a world war. There is a war already on China.

There has been a war of attrition against Russia for some years now: breaking up the Russian Federation is an American objective. Maintaining the supremacy of the US in all areas of human affairs – economic affairs, cultural affairs – is what particularly this regime in Washington is committed to. All regimes have been committed to.

It’s now reaching a head because they see a challenge in China. A challenge, and undoubtedly it’s an economic challenge, but it’s not a military challenge. This Nineteenth Century view of the world that permeates Washington and has returned to this country, the United Kingdom, has now created a war situation with China.

Very few know that China has now changed its nuclear posture from low alert – that is separating the warheads from missiles – to high alert – putting them together, the same as the United States. That’s something China didn’t do for many, many years, but they are clearly worried there now.

AR: You’re documentary was “The Coming War on China”, but you’re saying it is a war: we’ve seen colour revolutions thwarted – some successful against Putin in Russia. Is Hong Kong – millions of pounds have gone in from the National Endowment for Democracy – does Beijing understand what Hong Kong is?

JP: Oh yes. Yes, I think Beijing understands perfectly. The reason there is a rebellion in China is complex, of course, the people in Hong Kong do have a grievance. There is an inequality. But really what has happened is that manufacturing has moved to the mainland. The interference in Hong Kong, the subversion in Hong Kong by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy, through its local agents… and by all the others who make regular pilgrimages to John Bolton. Of course they are part of the war on China.

That’s not to take away from the fact that there are grievances within China – within Hong Kong – but Hong Kong didn’t sign up for two countries, two systems. It signed up for one country and two systems. And I find it almost grotesque the whole idea [that] the Union Jack should be draped over the speaker’s chair in the assembly in Hong Kong, when it was the Union Jack over hundred that represented an oppressive system.

I went to Hong Kong several times to write about the oppression of the police under the British. A corrupt police force led by British officers. A brutal police force. There was never any democracy.

AR: Even up to the 1990s?

JP: Right up to the 1990s. What there was – Hong Kong has been a business island. Well one could say that perhaps China is a business nation. And the mainland has usurped this special role of Hong Kong.

AR: So why here are we treated to endless images – as you say, no doubt some of these protesters have justification for opposing what is going on in Hong Kong – but yet the Gilets Jaunes protests are probably not going to be discussed in Biarritz this weekend at the G7?

JP: Because never before have people been called upon to think within such a narrow spectrum. And we could sit here all day talking about the iniquities of the media and so on, but it’s even wider than the media. There is a spectrum in which we are, if you like, allowed to think.

The news is dominated by Hong Kong and yet 29 miles from England there’s France, and this extraordinary rebellion of the Yellow Jackets, which has produced the most equally extraordinary violence from the state, has been virtually ignored. The same is true of Kashmir. I mean Kashmir was a fleeting moment, if you like, allowed into our perception. And here is a country bigger than Belgium, bigger than Portugal – 30 million people – where people are denied everything by the Indian state: denied food, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. India’s been doing this for a very, very long time. But India is our friend – the world’s greatest democracy and so…

AR: Trump says he’s being even-handed on it. China, of course, which has an interest there – another nuclear power apart from the other two – has taken it up at the Security Council.

JP: It’s our perception, I suppose, that we’re thinking about here… the way people are concerned that we’re going to run out of medicines after October 31st. We have no perception of the way the people of Iran are suffering under the sanctions that deny cancer drugs almost entirely because of these sanctions.

We have no perception of the way the people of Venezuela are suffering under sanctions. We have absolutely zilch understanding of how the people of Gaza continue to suffer in their open prison, as that has been obliterated almost from the news agenda and by extension from our perception. So within this spectrum – this narrow spectrum – the manipulation of people is probably the most extraordinary I’ve know in my career as a journalist.

AR: But obviously it’s not a physiological problem amongst journalists in newsrooms around the world that they can’t understand say Brexit no deal – there’s going to be problems here with medicines and food – and not understanding Yemen.

JP: I think journalists have given up. Many journalists have simply given up. There is a so-called mainstream, which is a misnomer: it’s not a mainstream at all, it’s an agency of extreme economic policies, policies that produce 4.1 million children in poverty in Britain.

AR: Four million children, two million under the age of five in Britain.

JP: Yes. And the kind of suffering that has come out of these extreme policies – called neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it – is echoed through our media in the same way that the whole absence of a warning that these virulent campaigns against China and Russia (particularly against the nuclear armed countries) could actually lead to something.

The abandonment by the United States of the INF treaty – the most important anti-nuclear war treaty ever signed – and here we had yesterday, I think it was, the US now testing again these intermediate-range nuclear weapons. And Russia, Putin, saying well yes of course we’re in an arms race again. The dangers of this. The dangers of accidentally, mistakenly beginning a nuclear war are not known to most people. That’s left out of this spectrum.

AR: Some say the INF treaty had to be revised because China was always opposing and violating the terms… in which the INF treaty was originally negotiated between Gorbachev and…

JP: That would come out of Washngton. And even if that treaty did need revision, then revise it. I remember those discussions and I interviewed a number of the American negotiators, extraordinary men… who sat down and negotiated with the Russians these complex treaties. They were serious people. We are not dealing with serious people.

AR: Some school textbooks in this country still say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prices to pay for ending the Second World War. You went there.

JP: You only have to read the US Air Force bombing survey and it’s very clear that that wasn’t the case.

When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.

AR: Well, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who advises Trump we are led to believe, says that all options should be on the table against dictators like Maduro, against people in Iran who lead their government – attacking all these different places.

JP: I’ve interviewed John Bolton. John Bolton comes as close to being a political lunatic as you can get.

AR: He had friendly conversations with Boris Johnson here just the other week.

JP: Often political lunatics can have a very friendly conversation with others if they recognise similarities. But Bolton particularly is a man absolutely salivating it appears – and I don’t think I’ve ever said this about any politician of this kind – for a war. Or for an attack. Or for an overthrow. Or for a coup. That he is in the position he is in is the most terrifying thing.

AR: In foreign policy terms you see the European Union, which completely backs John Bolton’s view on Venezuela – Britain and Brussels completely aligned with Washington saying Juan Guaidó is the real leader of Venezuela. The EU is an arm of Nato?

JP: Well, you see the problem with the whole Brexit nonsense – this utterly almost internecine struggle of wills following the referendum in 2016 – is how much it excludes. There is no public debate, certainly no parliamentary debate – probably there never would have been – no public debate on the fact that the European Union is an agency of Nato. And Nato is, almost by definition, certainly by example, a nuclear war fighting provocative organisation. All this is supported by the EU. It should be part of our debate about the EU. I have no doubt there are great virtues in some things about the EU.

AR: Of course it’s the kind of thing Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party here in Britain, used to talk about. Is there reason why he perhaps has been on the fence – or is regarded as being on the fence about Lexit versus Brexit, because he understands that?

JP: Jeremy Corbyn seems to have become so overwhelmed by Brexit, whereas the country – this country – in which so many people are suffering is as a result of this hideous ideology “austerity”. One only has to drive outside London as I’ve done in making the film I’ve made about the National Health Service. And drive into rather nice places like Wiltshire and see the boarded up towns. This needs a Labour leader.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as that Labour leader, but Brexit seems to have overwhelmed every party, anyone who steps anywhere near Parliament or this subject – it’s a very important subject, of course. No deal or not no deal. But what is most important is whether the National Health Service will survive, not Brexit, but will survive the ideological attacks on it. Whether people will survive this hideous mutation of welfare called Universal Credit.

In Durham, a father of three killed himself because he had no money anymore, it hadn’t come through under Universal Credit. The suffering of people in this developed country, which is now the sixth or seventh richest country in the world, is obscene.

AR: This is a week when the Childhood Trust has said that in Britain children are eating toilet paper to stave off hunger. Is this in a sense, when you talk about the United States or Germany, is this the Achilles heel? Because, of course, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, there are people heading to 2020 to overthrow, democratically, Donald Trump, who seem to have a different vision. And is the 2008 crisis the context: the foreign policy, the home policy, the starvation?

JP: I mean I think Sanders and the rest of them are social democrats rushing to catch up with a kind of social democracy which has been in Europe and is now being rapidly extinguished. But their foreign policy doesn’t change. We had two of the leading socialists – at least they are members of the Democratic Socialists of America – vote for Donald Trump’s 738 billion arms budget recently in Congress. That should concern us in the outside world, that Sanders and the others – which they interestingly call “the left” in the United States – okay, but they’re social democrats – whether they bring some form of civilised life to a country where now up to half the population are suffering some form of impoverishment (in the United States).

AR: You certainly won’t hear them defending Julian Assange of Wikileaks. If anything they might arguably be seen as part of those people who consider Wikileaks a Russian cut-out of an organisation. You met Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison not far from this studio. Chelsea Manning of course is refusing to testify against Julian Assange. She’s in solitary in the United States. Tell me first of all about Julian’s health.

JP: Can I just say very quickly, first you know we’ve been talking about censorship by omission on a huge scale. A federal court ruled that there was no Russian connection with Julian Assange. That he had constitutional rights to do as he did as a journalist and as a publisher, and that has been completely ignored.

Julian’s own condition is, how do I put it, very dangerous. When I last saw him about ten days ago I was shocked because he’d lost more weight. He was isolated. They seemed to be imposing a regime that must be punitive on him of isolation. He’s in the health wing – what they call the ‘healthcare wing’ or ‘hospital wing’ – of Belmarsh prison, but he’s in a single cell and he told me that I see people walking by and I’d like to talk to them but I can’t.

Category A prisoners, murderers and others who have committed serious crimes, are allowed to fraternise; Julian is not allowed to fraternise. He’s not even allowed to telephone his American lawyers and he’s facing extradition to the United States. He had to wait two and a half months to see an optician and then when he got his glasses one of the lens didn’t work.

He’s being denied the right – the right – to prepare his own defence. He’s denied access to documents. Access to the library. A laptop. His lawyer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce spoke to the governor on the fourth of June about this and received no reply. What’s going on?

We understand if there is no basic justice in the treatment of somebody like this, who is in prison because he infringed bail – that is just about the merest – it’s not a crime actually – it is about the merest thing that the law can nail you for (and that is infringing your bail). He is there also, of course, because he is facing US extradition. But primarily he is there for this minor offence and he has been treated in the way that political prisoners are treated all over the world. That’s a moniker that won’t be appreciated, but it applies.

AR: Have his previous partners, the Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times, have they helped to seal his fate?

JP: Yes they have helped to seal his fate. Mind you they’re worried. They’re worried because in the federal court ruling it was made clear by the judge in this very considered judgement that newspapers like The New York TimesThe New York Times and the Guardian published the war logs in 2010 – the war logs from Iraq, the war logs of Afghanistan that Wikileaks had been the conduit for, had passed to them – they published them first, before Wikileaks.

In law, and that’s what he [the judge] was saying, they are as liable. But they are also, as Julian is – and this was the point he was making – are protected by the US Constitution. Now the US Constitution is being torn up by the Trump administration. That’s why Julian, basically, is in the trouble he is.

All these charges that he’s meant to be facing in the United States are concocted. They’re ridiculous. They don’t apply. They are charges against a journalist and a publisher, but they would apply equally against the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, the editor of The New York Times, and the editor of El País, the editor of Der Spiegel, the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. They know this and they’re worried.

But they’re in such cahoots, they collude so deeply with the establishment of their country, and that now means the intelligence agencies – they have the power now in western societies – they collude so deeply with them that they dare not speak up. I suggest that as this whole grotesque charade against Julian Assange goes on, they should speak up pretty quickly.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, China, John Pilger

Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells BBC: “you see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason”

On July 16th, BBC HARDtalk’s Zeinab Badawi visited to New York to interview Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who was attending high level talks at the UN. Hostilities between Iran and the US are at a historic high; after the recent shooting down of the US drone, President Trump said he was “ten minutes away from war with Tehran.”

Asked by Zeinab Badawi whether he accepts that America doesn’t actually want war, Javad Zarif replied:

“I accept that President Trump doesn’t want war, but I know that there are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war.” [from 10:10 mins]

With regards to how he assesses the likelihood of war, Zarif says:

“You see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason. It’s next to our coast. We have almost 1,500 miles of coast with Persian Gulf. It’s not the Gulf of Mexico. We are there protecting our territorial waters and if this drone had been shot in international waters – over international airspace – why did we get to pick up the pieces?” [from 10:30 mins]

The pretext for war with Iran is a familiar one – Iran is constructing weapons of mass destruction. In fact, for decades hawks in the West have echoed the claims made by Netanyahu that Iran is on the brink of building the bomb. This month we even heard Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt state without evidence that Iran is just a year away from developing a nuclear bomb.

In response to claims that Iran is a year away from making a nuclear bomb, Javad Zarif says:

“If Iran wanted to build a bomb, we would have built a bomb a long time ago. We could have built a bomb a long time ago. We do not want to build a bomb because we believe that a nuclear bomb will not augment our security. But if the Europeans are serious about a nuclear weapons free Middle East, there is somewhere else that they need to be looking and that is Israel where they have at least 200 warheads.” [from 9:20 mins]

Zeinab Badawi then poses the questions another way, suggesting that Iran might “stumble into a war”, to which Zarif replies:

“Well again, it’s the Persian Gulf because it’s next to our borders. It’s a body of water that Iran has protected, Iran has maintained the security and freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for millennia, and we will continue to do that. We are the major power in that region… Those who have brought their naval vessels to Persian Gulf are not helping to secure this body of water. […]

“Of course there is a possibility of accidents, but we cannot leave our own neighbourhood. Those who have come from outside have to decide why are they in that neighbourhood? And whether their presence in that neighbourhood is helping stability and security in that neighbourhood?  […]

As President Trump has said we were ten minutes away from war, because had they taken measures against Iran, President Trump had been told that Iran would be taking measures in self-defence.”

[from 11:55 mins]

Adding:

“The united States is right now engaged in economic war against Iran. There are countries that are providing the United States with logistical support, with reconnaissance; that means they are participating in the war… If there is a war then I do not think anybody will be safe in our region, but let us all try to avoid one. We don’t need a war; we’ve gone through eight years of war; a war that was imposed on us with the help of everybody.” [from 13:30 mins]

Javad Zarif is also highly critical of Europe and the easy way it has capitulated to US sanctions:

“If the Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, all of them try not to allow the united States to bully them into abiding by its decision, would the United States be able to destroy the global economy and put sanctions on all of them?” [from 4:10 mins]

Continuing:

“So you want to accept US dominance in global economy even to your own detriment? Unfortunately, this is what they’re saying and I don’t think this way they can resolve this crisis or any crisis. The Europeans and the rest of the global community are strong enough to withstand this… People are dying from cancer. Kids are dying from EB. People are dying from MS. Just because there are a very limited [range] of pharmaceuticals that we cannot produce in Iran and the United States says that they are exempt from sanctions but financial transactions in order to purchase them are not exempt.” [from 5:10 mins]

Asked why Iran has begun to enrich uranium to higher grades than those sanctioned under the JCPOA ‘Iran deal’, Javad Zarif says:

“We implemented the agreement fully. IAEA made 15 reports from the beginning: 5 of them after the US withdrawal; and all of them indicated thatIran was fulfilling its commitments fully. Unfortunately, the Europeans could not take advantage of this and just dragged their feet. It won’t happen again. You know Iran is a country with an old civilisation. For us the dignity of our people is extremely important. [from 7:25 mins]

Pressed by Zeinab Badawi who asks “so why enrich the uranium… partial compliance is not acceptable”, Zarif responds:

“The Europeans cannot say whether partial or full compliance is acceptable or not. It’s the deal itself. Paragraph 36 of the deal says that Iran or the other side – if we are not satisfied with the implementation of the deal by the other side, we can take some measures within the deal. That is in order to keep the deal surviving: to keep it from going totally dead. […]

“This deal was written based on total mistrust. Neither side trusted the other side. That is why we put everything in black and white. Very clearly stated that if we don’t comply, what they can take. If we are the initial breakers of the deal, they can take measures. If they are the initial breakers of the deal, they can also take measures.” [from 8:15 mins]

And later in the interview:

“Look we did not leave the negotiation table. It was the United States that left the negotiating table… You see this deal was the subject of twelve years of negotiations, two years of which were intense negotiations. I spent days, months, negotiating this. We spent a lot of time with the United States negotiating this deal. It’s about give and take… if you allow a bully to bully you into accepting one thing, you’ll encourage him to bully you into accepting other things. We negotiated this deal. We did what we were supposed to do; the US did not do what it is supposed to do. The United States is working on the policy line that what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.” [from 16:50 mins]

In response to broader Western accusations that Iran’s meddling has destabilised the region, Zarif says:

“Did we support Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran? Did we support ISIS? I mean President Trump himself said Iran is fighting ISIS. Are we bombing the Yemenis? Did we invade Yemen? Was it Iran that basically arrested the Prime Minister of Lebanon and kept him in prison for three weeks? If the United States is looking for those responsible for malign behaviour in the region the United States needs to look at its own allies. […]

“President Trump has said that I am not engaged in military war against Iran that I am engaged in economic war against Iran. What does it mean to be engaged in economic war? Economic war targets civilians, military war targets military personnel, civilians are sometimes collateral damage. But an economic war targets civilians. The United States Secretary Pompeo has said that we want the Iranian people to change their government. So putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorising Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That’s the classical definition of terrorism. […]

“Mike Pompeo’s allies in our region, Saudi Arabia, spend 67 billion dollars a year on military equipment. They are bombing the Yemenis. Are we doing that? We only spent 16 billion dollars last year on the entire military budget.”

[from 19:00 mins]

Finally, regarding the seizure of the oil tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar by British Royal Marines who boarded the ship on July 4th, Zarif says bluntly:

“It’s piracy plain and simple. First of all there are EU sanctions against buying Syrian oil, not against selling Syria oil… but we announced from the very beginning that that ship was not destined for Syria. […]

“The Tanker is not Iranian. It was carrying Iranian oil, which we had sold, and it was going to a place in the Mediterranean other than Syria. We made it clear. You know that we are under sanctions from the United States [and] their objective is to bring our oil sales to zero. That is why we will do whatever we can to avoid the United States knowing what we are doing.

“One more thing. The United Kingdom, by taking our ship – by confiscating our ship – is helping the United States imposing its illegal oil sanctions against Iran. This is not about EU sanctions against Syria, this is about Iran. That is why John Bolton thanked Great Britain for giving them the best Fourth of July present possible.

“If the UK wants to serve US interests they should not be talking about trying to preserve the JCPOA.”

[from 14:30 mins]

All transcriptions above are my own.

Click here to watch this interview uploaded on BBC iplayer, which is available for 11 months.

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Filed under Britain, did you see?, Iran, USA

Don’t attack Iran: take urgent action to stop the build up to war

The following statement has just been released by Stop the War Coalition:

Last night the Trump administration took us to the brink of war with Iran. According to the New York Times, the order to attack communications and military bases, including missile installations, was sent out and operations begun. Planes had taken off and ships were in position to attack. Shortly before the attack was due to start, it was cancelled.

All this points to the extreme danger presented by the current crisis. The fact that the top US foreign policy decision makers – Trump, Pompeo and Bolton – are all committed to a policy of confrontation with Iran is not an accident. It reflects the balance of opinion across Washington that a hard line is necessary with the Islamic Republic. This policy – most obviously expressed in the scrapping of the nuclear deal with Iran last year – can only reinforce the position of hardliners in Tehran. It means too that there are powerful forces in Washington that are looking for the pretext for war and will seize any opportunity for an attack.

A war with Iran would have incalculable consequences, greater even than the disastrous war on Iraq in 2003. In these circumstances, the anti-war movement must mobilise now to pressure our government to publicly oppose Washington’s recklessness and demand that military action is ruled out.

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Action you can take:

Join the Stop the War PROTEST on Wednesday 26th June at 5:00 pm outside Downing Street

SIGN the online petition.

Take part in the nationwide campaign day on Saturday 29th June:

Protest, petition or set up a stall. The need to campaign against a war on Iran is urgent. Do what you can in your local area to pressure our government to call for de-escalation and explicitly rule out military options against Iran.

Contact Stop the War Coalition (office@stopwar.org.uk or 0207 561 4830) with details of your actions and StWC will post them.

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Why the Risks of War with Iran are Real | Chris Nineham

Neither the US nor Iran really wants war we are told, because the reality of such a conflict is too horrific to contemplate. But the Gulf tanker crisis and the US response shows that we are alarmingly close to open hostilities. It is true that there are voices in the US defence establishment calling for restraint. It appears to be the case too that the Iranian government is operating on the assumption that the US doesn’t want a war. But there are several reasons why such assumptions are not a sound basis for judgement.

First, some do want military action against Iran. And they really are not marginal players. They include notably the US’s two main allies in the Middle East and the two most senior foreign policy officials in the US government. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel have been putting a strong case for action against Iran for some years. The US and its Western allies are closer to these countries governments than they have ever been.

John Bolton, who as National Security Advisor is the last man in any meeting with the President, is famously an advocate of war against the Islamic Republic. But Secretary of State Pompeo is equally hawkish. As a Republican Tea Party member of Congress from 2011 to 2017, he regularly called for regime change in Iran. In 2014, Pompeo demanded the Obama administration break off the talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal. He even called instead for launching airstrikes, saying fewer than 2,000 bombing sorties could take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

No surprises then that Pompeo’s response to the attacks on tankers in the Gulf has been to insist without credible evidence that Iran is responsible and throw in a highly questionable list of alleged recent Iranian atrocities for good measure. On top of the last round of tanker attacks these include an assault on the Green Zone in Baghdad not previously linked to Iran and a bombing in Afghanistan that has actually been claimed by the Taliban. Listening to his statement it was hard not to be reminded of the adrenaline pumped pronouncements in the run up to war in Iraq.

Donald Trump’s impulsive foreign policy style is hardly reassuring in this situation. His record of provocative action includes threatening North Korea with a nuclear strike, dropping the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in Afghanistan and surprise missile blitzes in Syria. But such confrontational and unpredictable behaviour isn’t just a quirk of personality. Despite Trump’s apparent isolationist rhetoric during his election campaign, America First policy has in practice meant less concern with multilateral institutions and an increased belligerence in key areas.

The general view in Washington is that Barack Obama’s strategy of projecting US power through proxies and drone warfare, stressing alliances and power balancing, failed to deal with the national humiliation in Iraq and Afghanistan or to rise to new challenges. Hence arms spending has been ramped up, and confronting Russia and Chinese influence has been flagged as the central concern. Faced with growing military challengers the administration’s approach is essentially to take them on and win.

The Iran policy has been developed in this context. Scrapping the nuclear deal and tightening sanctions on Iran are chiefly designed to inflict regime change but are also meant as a signal of a new bullishness in the Middle East and beyond. The results have been disastrous. The Iranian currency has plummeted, imports have been badly effected and living standards have fallen sharply. Last month’s ending of the oil exemptions has brought things to crisis point. Oil exports, by far Iran’s biggest earner, look like halving this month compared to last. Even in the short term, this is extremely damaging. Far from encouraging domestic opposition to the regime, most commentators agree this economic warfare is strengthening anti-western feeling and pushing the regime towards retaliation.

In the last few days Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but rejected the invitation he apparently carried from Trump saying “I do not consider Trump as a person worth exchanging any message with and I have no answer for him, nor will I respond to him in the future.”

War with Iran is closer than it has ever been. Just like in the run up to war in Iraq, there is a very powerful Washington lobby who think it is sound policy. In general, the Washington foreign policy establishment is on a rebound from the perceived timidity of the Obama years, in particular the situation with Iran is becoming tenser by the day. War can be avoided but the anti-war movement needs to be active and organised.

Click here to read the same article posted by StWC on Monday 17th.

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Alternative action you can take:

Pass the StWC resolution at your local party or trade union branch:

This branch notes:

That the US is on the verge of war with Iran, escalating a dangerous situation in the Middle East to the brink of a regional war.

That this is part of the policy of regime change advocated by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s two senior foreign policy officials.

That the wars pursued by our government, following the US’ lead, have been opposed by the majority of the population who want to see a change in UK foreign policy.

That the so-called special relationship has helped to tie Britain to a failed and damaging foreign policy.

This branch believes:

Rather than falling in line with the Trump administration’s dangerous brinkmanship, the British government should be calling for restraint and de-escalation and explicitly ruling out military options.

That Britain needs a new, independent, foreign policy based on co-operation and diplomacy. That such a policy would end the waste of billions of pounds that would be better spent on welfare, education and the NHS.

That the anti-war movement has played an important role in creating anti-war opinion in this country and strengthening the movement is essential to achieving a change in foreign policy.

This branch resolves:

  • To demand the government opposes military action on Iran.
  • To affiliate to Stop the War Coalition.
  • To oppose future foreign military interventions by the UK government.

DOWNLOAD HERE

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In the event of a US attack on Iran: protest @ Downing Street – details TBC.

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let’s bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran… but first we need the pretext

Remember this outburst from former Republican presidential candidate, the late John McCain?

How about this obscene proposal from Trump’s largest donor Sheldon Adelson:

“What I would say is listen, you see that desert out there? I want to show you something. You pick up your cell phone… even at travelling rates… and what are they called? Roaming charges. You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say ‘Okay, let it go’. So there’s an atomic weapon goes over on a ballistic missile, so it’s in the middle of the desert and it doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever. And then you say ‘See – the next one is in the middle of Tehran.’ So we mean business.”

And it is important we do not forget General Wesley Clark’s well-known testimony that in the weeks following 9/11 he had been passed a memo by staff at the Pentagon from the office of the Secretary of Defense, then occupied by Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Paul Wolfowitz:

“that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” [from 1:20 mins]

Finishing off, Iran… Shouldn’t his statement still send a chill?

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So now let’s consider the main advocates for war on Iran today: Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton.

Here is an extended extract taken from an article I posted in response to Bolton’s appointment as National Security Advisor back in April 2018:

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 1, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 2

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 3

Click here to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 4

Click here to read the post from April 14th entitled “illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2”.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, arguing that “regime change” may be the international community’s only option to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in 2007:

Then more than a decade later on New Year’s Day 2018:

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Mike Pompeo was first appointed by Trump as Director of the CIA, and once his feet were under the table he immediately reaffirmed US good relations with Saudi Arabia before setting his sights on Iran. Michael D’Andrea is a notorious CIA hard-liner who had already earned the nicknames ‘Dark Prince’ and ‘Ayatollah Mike’, this bloodthirsty reputation gained after he “ramp[ed] up the drone program inside Pakistan… [and] also expanded its drone program to Yemen”. Then in June 2017, Pompeo moved D’Andrea to head the CIA’s Iran operations. 5

Within a year, Pompeo was himself promoted to serve as Secretary of State in Trump’s cabinet alongside the newly appointed Bolton. At his swearing-in ceremony Pompeo spoke of “confronting all types of Iranian hostility, and… deciding on the next steps for the flawed JCPOA [i.e., the Iran deal].” In his next breath he also echoed Trump’s election promise made at AIPAC, adding: “And we will soon move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, years ahead of schedule.” The rest is now history, of course.

One of the first speeches Pompeo gave after becoming Secretary of State was to the ultra conservative Heritage Foundation. In it he makes little secret of America’s intention to seek regime change in Iran:

“I can’t put a timeline on it, but at the end of the day, the Iranian people will decide the timeline… The Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly that will be wonderful. If they choose not to do so, we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes that I set forth.” 6

Shortly after this, he also compared Iran’s leaders to a “mafia” 7

Which brings us to the latest two attacks on oil tankers sailing in the Gulf of Oman, and to Mike Pompeo’s statement that it is “the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks”:

“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

Yet even the BBC news report from which this transcript is taken, has taken the trouble to insert a huge caveat. It reads: “Mr Pompeo presented no evidence”, before going on to reproduce the rest of Pompeo’s (baseless) allegations in full. 8

Mike Pompeo has repeatedly said he wants regime change in Iran, whilst Bolton has still more aggressively called for war on Iran, and who are we to doubt their word especially in light of America’s track record for illegal wars and invasions. So you would have to be extremely naive to trust any story that can usefully serve as yet another pretext for yet another Middle Eastern war, especially so when it is directed against the perennial arch-enemy of the neo-cons Iran. You must be that much more naive again when such allegations are made while the drums to war are already pounding:

As the Trump administration ratchets up tensions with Iran, escalating fears that the United States is looking for a possible path to another war in the Middle East, several Democratic presidential contenders are standing firm in their rejection of the White House’s attempts to create a legal rationale for war. They were responding to comments Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made in a May 21 classified briefing for members of Congress that suggested that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, passed by Congress three days after 9/11 could provide a legal basis for a war with Iran.

From an article published in yesterday’s The Intercept, which continues:

In interviews with The Intercept, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as well as spokespeople for Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said it would be illegal for the U.S. government to rely on a 2001 law that authorized military force against perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to go to war with Iran.

Five other prominent Democratic senators, including 2016 vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, filed a bipartisan amendment on Thursday to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for the 2020 fiscal year to prohibit funds from being used for military operations against Iran without congressional approval. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky also joined the Democrats.

Pompeo’s remarks were referenced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., early Thursday in a House Armed Services Committee markup session and confirmed to The Intercept by Gabbard, who was also present at the May briefing. 9

Click here to read the full report by The Intercept entitled “Mike Pompeo Said Congress Doesn’t Need to Approve War With Iran. 2020 Democrats Aren’t Having It.”

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If we set aside the obvious march to war, and also the recent history of other wars founded on lies and deceptions, and the more distant history of false flags including perhaps most pertinently the entirely phoney Gulf of Tonkin Incident that led to full-blown war against Vietnam, and also look right past the bellicose biographies of Bolton and Pompeo, such as to limit considerations solely and directly to the immediate facts as we find them, then still the case against Iran looks an extremely flimsy one. Here are three responses to the evidence as it has been so far presented.

In an article published today by Global Research, Stephen Lendman closely scrutinises the allegations on the basis of available evidence. He writes:

On Thursday, CENTCOM [US Central Command] used easily manipulated video footage to claim Iranian mines were responsible for damaging the Kokuka Courageous tanker, one of two vessels damaged in the Gulf of Oman.

On Friday, Yutaka Katada, president of the company owning the tanker refuted the claim, saying there’s a “high chance” that a “flying object” struck the ship, not a mine as the Trump regime claimed.

“I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” he stressed, adding: “The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole. Then some crew witnessed the second shot.”

No credible evidence backs the Trump regime claim about Iranian responsibility for what happened.

Aside from Britain sticking to the fabricated Trump regime claim, other European countries are dubious about its accuracy.

On Friday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the CENTCOM

“video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s senior advisor Nathlie Tocci expressed a similar view, saying:

“Before we blame someone, we need credible evidence,” adding:

Claiming Iran attacked a Japanese-owned tanker while its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran on a diplomatic mission “is not an especially rational thing to do.”

Operations Wolverines (OW) describes itself as follows:

“Deep State Denizen. COGSEC. IO. Critical thinking. Narrative Hijacking. High Brow Memetics. Fusion Analysis. Disruption Operations.”

In response to CENTCOM’s dubious video, falsely claiming an Iranian mine struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker, OW tweeted the following:

“I’ve reviewed 100+ hours of BDA and I can tell you this, the Navy edited this video and it’s now misleading.”

“Missing: data (skew angle, speed, GEO coordinates, etc), color (converted to black and white), platform, pilot commentary, and it’s too zoomed in.”

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted the following:

“That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded to Thursday’s Gulf of Oman incident saying:

“Moscow resolutely condemns the attacks whoever might be behind them,” adding:

“We think it necessary to refrain from quick conclusions. It is inadmissible to place responsibility for the incident on anyone until a thorough and unbiased international investigation is over.”

“We are worried over the tensions in the Gulf of Oman. We take note of deliberate efforts to whip up tensions, which are largely encouraged by the United States’ Iranophobic policy.”

As of now, the Trump regime failed to get world community support for what appears to have been a Thursday false flag to blame Iran for what no evidence suggests it had anything to do with.

It’s likely just a matter of time before something similar occurs again, pushing things closer to war on Iran in a part the world already boiling from US aggression.

[bold highlights as original]

Click here to read the full article entitled “Trump Regime Lurching Toward Possible War on Iran” published by Global Research.

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Craig Murray has also made the case that these attacks are a rather obvious false flag provocation:

I really cannot begin to fathom how stupid you would have to be to believe that Iran would attack a Japanese oil tanker at the very moment that the Japanese Prime Minister was sitting down to friendly, US-disapproved talks in Tehran on economic cooperation that can help Iran survive the effects of US economic sanctions.

The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was holed above the water line. That rules out a torpedo attack, which is the explanation being touted by the neo-cons.

The second vessel, the Front Altair, is Norwegian owned and 50% Russian crewed (the others being Filipinos). It is owned by Frontline, a massive tanker leasing company that also has a specific record of being helpful to Iran in continuing to ship oil despite sanctions.

It was Iran that rescued the crews and helped bring the damaged vessels under control.

That Iran would target a Japanese ship and a friendly Russian crewed ship is a ludicrous allegation. They are however very much the targets that the USA allies in the region – the Saudis, their Gulf Cooperation Council colleagues, and Israel – would target for a false flag. It is worth noting that John Bolton was meeting with United Arab Emirates ministers two weeks ago – both ships had just left the UAE.

The USA and their UK stooges have both immediately leapt in to blame Iran. The media is amplifying this with almost none of the scepticism which is required. I cannot think of a single reason why anybody would believe this particular false flag. It is notable that neither Norway nor Japan has joined in with this ridiculous assertion.

Click here to read the same piece entitled “The Gulf of Credibility” on Craig Murray’s blog.

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Likewise, Vijay Prashad challenged US claims that Iran attacked the oil tankers on yesterday’s Real News, and called for a full investigation to uncover the truth:

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1

“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

 

2 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

3 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

4 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

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When Mr. D’Andrea took over as the counterterrorism chief, only a handful of the agency’s drones were operational in Pakistan, and there were only three strikes that year, according to the Long War Journal, which keeps a tally of drone activity. By 2010, when the drone campaign was at its height, the agency launched 117 strikes against Qaeda militants and other jihadists sheltering in the mountainous tribal areas that run along Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.

The agency also expanded its drone program to Yemen under Mr. D’Andrea’s direction, and many in the C.I.A. credit him with playing an instrumental role in impairing Al Qaeda.

From an article entitled “C.I.A. Names New Iran Chief in a Sign of Trump’s Hard Line” written by Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 2, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20170602174554/https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/world/middleeast/cia-iran-dark-prince-michael-dandrea.html

6 Quoted in an article entitled “Iran told: comply with US demands or face ‘strongest sanctions in history’” written by Julian Borger and Heather Stewart, published in the Guardian on May 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/21/iran-nuclear-deal-mike-pompeo-us-sanctions

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Pompeo, in a California speech to a largely Iranian-American audience, dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who negotiated a nuclear deal with the United States and five other countries, as “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry.” […]

Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said, citing what he called Iranian leaders’ vast wealth and corruption.

From an article entitled “Pompeo assails Iran’s leaders, compares them to ‘mafia’” written by Warren Strobel and Dana Feldman, published in Reuters on July 23, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-iran-pompeo/pompeo-assails-irans-leaders-compares-them-to-mafia-idUKKBN1KD04E

8 From an article entitled “Gulf of Oman tanker attacks: Iran calls US accusation ‘unfounded’” published by BBC news on June 14, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48630374

9 From an article entitled “Mike Pompeo Said Congress Doesn’t Need to Approve War With Iran. 2020 Democrats Aren’t Having It” written by Akela Lacy and Jon Schwarz, published in The Intercept on June 14, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/06/14/mike-pompeo-iran-war-authorization/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Craig Murray, Iran, Japan, USA

Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

Paul Blomfield replied to my letter on October 9th as follows:

I’m pleased to reassure you that I fully support Emily Thornberry’s position. I know that we have previously exchanged emails before about the issue of military intervention more widely.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, campaigns & events, Syria

Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2

Reposted below before my own thoughts and analysis is the full statement released today by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition.

Gesture Bombing – the Causes and Consequences of a Pointless Airstrike

Theresa May’s cynicism is so deep it’s hard for us comprehend. There was quite simply no possible good outcome from this bombing in the Middle East, even from our rulers’ warped perspective. People will surely have died, the war will be prolonged, it will have done nothing to control chemical weapons and tensions with Iran and Russia will have risen. International law is unambiguous that these strikes were illegal too.

But no matter, Trump has been obeyed and May thinks she looks tough on the world stage. Not really though. It’s too obvious she is frightened of parliament, which is reconvening on Monday and that she is taking orders from Washington. It is also clear that the US’s position in the world is weakening.

Deadly Decline

This action has been shaped by the failure of Western policy in the Middle East. It is not true that the West has been doing nothing in Syria over the last few years. Britain was involved in covert ops before 2015 and regular bombing raids since the vote in 2015. According to Airwars, the West has been involved in more than 50,000 bombing raids in Syria in the last four years, killing thousands of civilians. But their basic plan, to use the Syrian opposition to secure regime change by arming them and providing them with military back up, has been unsuccessful. The project of getting rid of Assad has been abandoned for the time being.

The bombing of Libya in 2011– an intervention most strongly promoted by Britain and France – was clearly a catastrophe. Sold as a humanitarian operation, it ended with 50,000 dead, brutal regime change and complete state failure. Even Barak Obama has said later he regretted sanctioning it. Before that there was Iraq. The invasion and occupation did untold damage to the country and the wider region. That intervention more than anything is the root cause of the current chaos in the Middle East. But it was also a failure from the point of its main protagonists in Washington and Whitehall.

The West’s failure to pacify and secure the country allowed the US’s main enemy in the region, Iran, to strongly increase its reach and influence. Its demonstration of the limits of US power has encouraged other powers to flex their muscles in the region. The resulting interventions in Syria by Russia, Turkey Saudi Arabia and others have of course only increased the death and destruction.

Calculated Killing

So, angry but more and more impotent, the Western powers this time have settled for gesture bombing, and gestures don’t impress anyone. But periods of imperial decline are inherently dangerous. There is no way the US is going to passively accept reduced influence in the Middle East. In so far as there is a Western strategy, it is the attempt to roll back Iranian influence through support of the emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus to reassert control over the region. Assad’s consolidation is only going to encourage a vigorous pursuit of this project. Next time Trump and his most loyal ally are likely to get more serious.

Domestic Damage

Back home this irresponsible and pointless attack will further undermine what is laughingly referred to as May’s authority. What is so heartening – and something that has limited her options from the start – is that the vast majority of people have complete contempt for this kind of calculated killing. All the opinion polls published so far show big opposition to these strikes despite almost blanket support for them in the mainstream media.

The crucial thing is that we continue to build on and to mobilise this opinion. Once again people have shown their willingness to stand up against war. Many thousands have lobbied their MPs, in Stop the War we were notified of 30 protests around the country on Friday – there were no doubt many many, more. A crowd of hundreds closed Whitehall in London. This Monday night in London from 5.30pm we will be back on the streets outside Parliament the day it reconvenes. There will be other protests around the country. Tell your friends, neighbours and workmates protests matter. No to war – yes to democracy.

Click here to read the same article on the Stop the War Coalition website.

*

One year ago, America rushed to judgment to condemn Assad for an alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun:

On April 11, the White House released a declassified four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belated justification for the Tomahawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.

The report, which was authored not by US intelligence agencies but by the White House under the supervision of national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, says that “The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.” 1

Given the undue haste to pin the blame on Syrian forces, many were justifiably suspicious of US claims. Veteran investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Seymour Hersh; former CIA case officer, Philip Giraldi; former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford all spoke out as you can read in this previous post. Meanwhile, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National-Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, who had previously served as a scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon produced a painstaking analysis of the White House report. Here is more from the same The Nation article quoted above:

Postol’s exhaustive critique of the White House report notes that “The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.” And yet, according to Postol, “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft. In fact, the report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.” […]

“In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report.” Postol concludes that the “report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR [White House Report] could not possibly be true.”

The Nation spoke to Postol over the weekend.

“What I think is now crystal clear,” he said, “is that the White House report was fabricated and it certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ.”

“My best guess at the moment is that this was an extremely clumsy and ill-conceived attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Syria without any intelligence evidence that Syria was in fact the perpetrator of the attack…. It may be,” he continued, “that the White House staff was worried that this could eventually come out—a reckless president acting without regard to the nation’s security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia, and a breakdown in cooperation with Russia that would cripple our efforts to defeat the Islamic State.”

“If that is not an impeachable offense,” Postol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”

Click here to read the full report written by James Carden published in The Nation.

Since this time there has been the UN OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) report which claimed to be “confident” that Syria had been responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun. On the face of it then, the US were correct in their original assessment, and this is how the incident is now reported on. What is seldom reported on is how experts were not permitted to visit the site, and so the JIM report relied instead on samples gathered by the very militants that controlled the area. It is vital to understand that no independent experts ever visited the site.

Back in 2013, Reuters reported that:

Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

Luhan adds:

 “The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

So we see how just four years on, the OPCW was quite clearly in breach of its own technical standards with respect to ensuring a chain of custody. Furthermore, as the OPCW itself made clear in its legal framework to the mission to Khan Sheikhun:

The scope of the FFM [OPCW Fact Finding Mission] mandate does not include the task of attributing responsibility for the alleged use. 3

Other criticisms of the report are based on technical details that are explained in detailed reports here  and here.

In short, last year’s allegations that Syrian forces released sarin gas at Khan Sheikhun remain unsubstantiated. In any case, allegations of Assad’s use of sarin have since been quietly dropped by the US administration, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis conceded as recently as February this year:

The U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports from aid groups and others that the Syrian government has used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday [February 2nd].

“We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “We do not have evidence of it.” 4

Click here to read the full AP report entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says”.

*

Last Thursday [April 12th], the same James Mattis was called by Congress to speak before the House Armed Services Committee. In his testimony he said that the US and its allies “don’t have evidence” to support the latest allegations although “we certainly have a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used”.

What he had seen in other words is that same footage we have all seen. Video showing people – mostly very young children – being hosed down with water in an unknown location, and also the more macabre roving camera footage showing close-ups of corpses lying on top of one another inside what appears to be an apartment.

All of this video footage along with initial reports appeared quite suddenly on social media platforms having been uploaded by a small assortment of “pro-opposition” sources: the al-Nusra front terrorist-affiliated White Helmets and the so-called Douma Media Centre as well as the more grandiosely named Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) which is closely associated to USAID and is US State Department funded. It was SAMS that reported on Saturday April 7th:

“Amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighbourhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases – the majority of whom are women and children – were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”.

This lack of credible sources presents us once again with reasonable grounds for doubt. But even leaving aside the questionable origins of the material, it is not at all clear what we were actually seeing or even whereabouts these events took place.

I shall not dwell on the details of the videos but it is evident the children shown are obviously in distress. They may well be in shock from conventional airstrikes or possibly suffering from smoke inhalation due to subsequent fires. We simply don’t know. More chillingly, it is also possible that these children are the victims of those who appear to be first responders – certainly it would not be the first time that children have been used as props in staged events:

What we do know for certain, however, is that the area under attack was under the control of the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (“Army of Islam”), a terrorist faction that is responsible for committing many atrocities including the execution and torture of prisoners and the alleged use of chemical weapons. It is also known that Jaish al-Islam – a group that is well known for using hostages as human shields – held literally thousands captive in its basement prisons:

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters.

Furthermore, the targeted area where the alleged attack took place was literally on the brink of recapture by government forces:

An agreement has been reached to release all prisoners held by Syrian rebels controlling the eastern Ghouta city of Douma in return for the fighters’ leaving the city, Syrian state television reported on Sunday, citing an official source.

According to the agreement, Jaish al-Islam fighters will leave Douma for the northern city of Jarablus, near the borders with Turkey, within 48 hours, the source added.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which control the city. 5

Indeed, almost immediately after the video footage had been released the area was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces who entered the site without protective gear. And though reports that the Red Crescent likewise confirmed it found no evidence of chemical weapons were later retracted, as Antiwar.com points out:

That the Red Crescent operates a hospital in a city supposedly inundated with wounded and didn’t get a single patient with confirmed exposure, however, is very noteworthy. 6

A detailed overview of the sources which first broke the news of this alleged attack was put together by independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

She comments:

So to be clear, we’re being asked by these people to believe that Bashar al-Assad launched a “mass casualty chemical attack”, the thing which would provoke the wrath of the US war machine, just as Trump was seeking a withdrawal from Syria and just as Assad was approaching victory in Douma. We are being asked to ignore the fact that the area is crawling with actual, literal terrorists, to ignore the western empire’s extensive history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military aggression, to ignore the extremely suspicious western funding and terrorist ties of the White Helmets who are circulating these photos and information, and to ignore the fact that Syria has been a target of imperialist regime change for many years. We are being asked to ignore all that and believe instead that Assad spontaneously began acting against his own self-interest so that he could kill children for no discernible reason.

It says so much about the power of western media psyops that this has a strong chance of being believed. 7

Click here to read the full article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects”.

*

On Tuesday 10th, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was afforded a live interview with BBC Radio Scotland. Here’s what he told presenter Gary Robertson:

Gary Robertson: There’s a lot of tough talk on both sides here. I wonder where you think it will lead us.

Peter Ford: Well I greatly fear it will lead us to the edge of Armageddon. It’s time to take a deep breath and consider where we’ve got ourselves into as a result mainly of hysteria and distortion.

The worst case is that Trump does launch off with some very unwise multiple attacks on Syria. And given that Russian forces are deeply embedded with Syrian forces – in particular air defence – it’s highly likely that scores of Russian soldiers will be killed. If anyone thinks that Russia will take that just lying down I think they need to think again. Russian planes in the last twelve hours have been buzzing UD destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Please – I think everybody needs to take a deep breath before something truly horrible occurs affecting the security of us all including in this country. We have forces in Syria. The government don’t like to talk about this, but one was sadly killed two days ago revealing the extent of our existing military involvement in Syria. So at the very least our own forces would be exposed to grave danger.

GR: Indeed it’s not just the UD President though who’s appalled by what they’ve seen in terms of these pictures coming from Douma. We’ve had condemnation from President Macron, likewise from Prime Minister Theresa May too. If it isn’t the sort of military action that you’ve just outlined there, what should be the response to this use of chemical weapons if it’s proved.

PF: The correct response is obviously – and I think a child could see this – to get inspectors on to the alleged site of the alleged offences. And in fact in the last few hours Russia has offered to provide military escorts for inspectors from the recognised body in this field: the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare.

GR: And if it’s proved then what – because, of course, we know that Assad has form on this. We’ve had investigations previously and there has been fairly conclusive proof that chemical agents have been used.

PF: I don’t think that Assad is in the least worried that the inspectors would find out his guilt because he’s probably not guilty at least on this occasion. I mean we have to engage our brains as well as our emotions here. Not be stampeded by those videos which are described as being unverified but which by dint of being repeated over and over and over again come to acquire a spurious credibility.

We have to ask ourselves what are the sources of the information on which we’re in this stampede to war. They are twofold – and I’m sorry but the media are falling down on the job of investigating this – the sources are the Syrian American Medical Society, which is a pro-Islamist propaganda outfit based in the United States…

GR: So are you saying these pictures are being staged? Are you saying that people haven’t died?

PF: Yes, yes, in all probability the incidents have been staged. Come on, we know how easy it is to fake images for the internet. Look at the images – anybody could stage those. And then the second source is supposed to be the so-called first responders. Who are the first responders? In this case they are the White Helmets, which is another pro-Islamist jihadi propaganda outfit.

GR: This is an awful lot of effort to discredit Assad isn’t it?

PF: Please let me finish this important point. The witnesses to these terrible events are people who themselves were involved in beheadings: literally picking up the body parts. And we choose to give credence to testimony from these alleged first responders.

GR then interrupts before PF is allowed to continue.

You don’t allow. The BBC does not allow questions of important details to be addressed.

GR: We have a short period of time. I’m trying to probe what you’re saying. The point surely is that Assad’s reputation is already dented. What would be in the interest of these people to stage these events?

PF: Is that not obvious? A child can see that the intention was to produce the hysteria and now the military action that we are on the point of taking, risking our own safety. What the jihadis have done is jerk our leash.

And frankly for one I think it’s pretty disgusting that we are allowing ourselves to have our own leash jerked by these Islamist fanatics. This is what’s going on and ask yourself how has it profited Assad?

Please engage with your brain. Answer the question: how has Assad benefitted from all this mayhem? In fact it’s rebounded against him. Why would he do such a thing when he was already winning [and] the battle for Eastern Ghouta was virtually over? Why would he choose this moment to do the one thing that was guaranteed to pluck defeat for him from the jaws of victory?

*

On Wednesday 11th, erstwhile political opponents Peter Hitchens and George Galloway discussed the build up to war in Syria and the potential repercussions:

*

So just why did Trump, Macron and May launch a barrage of cruise missiles towards Damascus at a cost of multiple millions that might otherwise have been usefully invested in our terribly underfunded public services at home? The corporate media which has been screaming for “a response” wants us to believe that it is because these leaders care so much about the people of Syria and especially the children. Opinion polls in Britain, however, reveal that only a minority are quite so easily deceived.

If Trump and May really wanted to perform a grand humanitarian gesture then they would have been far better served in ending support to the Saudi regime’s murderous assault and blockade of Yemen that is now causing widespread famine and the most terrible outbreak of cholera. Instead they recently welcomed the Crown Prince in extended visits before signing new contracts for arms sales. Alternatively, they might have sanctioned Netanyahu’s government, forcing it to bring a halt to the massacre taking place on the border with Gaza where more than a thousand of peaceful protesters have been wounded and dozens more killed by the live ammunition of Israeli snipers. But instead of taking the moral high ground they chose predictably to bomb an already war-torn country to the sole benefit of western defence contractors and the arms industry, and for furthering shared Anglo-American-Saudi-Israeli geopolitical interests.

The corporate media do not want you to worry about the geopolitical context. They want you to overlook the fact that when the very same western powers carried out the illegal “shock and awe” campaign to oust Saddam they shamelessly led the propaganda offensive. That they also cheered on Nato as it provided air cover for terrorist militia that quickly swarmed across Libya. And obviously they hope everyone forgets about Wesley Clark’s infamous statement of Pentagon plans to bring about regime change in “seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Yesterday’s fireworks over Damascus achieved nothing at all for peace, but did transfer a little more wealth from the public purse (the poor) into the hands of the arms manufacturers and other defence contractors (the rich). It also left people across the entire world a little less safe than before.

*

Additional: the return of John Bolton

Until now Trump has proved himself to be the great blusterer and for this we ought to be grateful. Yes, he talked tough to North Korea, but instead of following through with his threats he eventually gave way to Kim Jong Un and agreed to negotiate instead. Thus, the coming war with China was back on ice and all who care about the already perilous state of world affairs could breathe a small sigh of relief. Likewise, having unleashed a nearly atomic-sized explosion, the so-called MOAB (“Mother of all Bombs”), on the villagers and goatherds of Afghanistan, with this vile experiment completed, Trump returned to overseeing his country’s conventional and everyday devastation by drones. And again, following last year’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, Trump instantly launched a tremendous barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase. Then, having publicly beaten his chest to the satisfaction of the corporate media, he left the US military to continue its pursuit of regime change by less overt means. Under Trump, in other words, it has been business as usual regarding the “war on terror”, occasionally interspersed by a few more exceptional and shocking instances of long-distance slaughtering. However, all this happened before John Bolton returned to the White House again.

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 8, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 9

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Aside: Incidentally, although al-Qaeda and Iraq were both separately accused of perpetrating the post-9/11 anthrax attacks it was later discovered that the strain originated from a US defence lab. After wrongly suspecting bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill who was afterwards awarded damages of $5.82 million, the FBI turned attention to senior bioweapons scientist Bruce Edwards Ivins. No formal charges were ever filed against him and no direct evidence has been uncovered but while under investigation Ivins apparently committed suicide.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 10

Click hear to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 11

Bolton’s admirers say he is a foreign policy realist akin to Kissinger and so different to the bona fide neo-cons who refrain from dropping American bombs unless in the service of spreading human rights and democracy. And if you think I’m joking then read this extract taken from an article published by the Henry Jackson Society:

For Bolton, the liberation of Iraq was coincidently about universal moral concerns, usually a ruinous basis for any state’s foreign policy (look at Somalia, he says). Fundamentally, Saddam was destroyed because he posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security – a risk that could be lessened. The democratisation of his one, long-time fiefdom is undertaken because the odds of a democracy threatening U.S. security are far less. The enfranchisement of women across the Middle East may well be a happy consequence of his removal but it is not an issue that keeps Bolton awake at night. William Kristol, on the other hand, a far more eager intervener, wants us to believe that women’s rights are basic to America’s global mission. For sure, Kristol likes Bolton, but this does not make Bolton a neocon. 12

So according to the Henry Jackson Society, the preeminent British neo-con foreign policy think tank, Bolton correctly foresaw that Saddam “posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security.” Again, who actually believes this nonsense? And who beyond the corridors of the neo-con/humanitarian-bomber establishment has swallowed any of the lies of such hypocrites as Kristol or Blair? Aside from associates of HJS, scarcely anyone believed the cant that set the stage for the downfall of Saddam even though the media did its utmost to manufacture public consent by uncritically repeating the lies long before Bush and Blair took us to war anyway.

Today another war is looming and Bolton has the ear of Trump. Trump who blusters and tries to look tough in vain attempts to prove to a disconnected audience that the US Commander-in-Chief is in control and knows what he’s doing. He is neither. On foreign policy as on domestic issues, he is quite obviously clueless and in the thrall of the corporate elite, and now with Bolton behind him, the chickenhawk neo-cons are ruling the roost.

*

1 From an article entitled “The Chemical-Weapons Attack In Syria: Is There a Place for Skepticism?” written by James Carden, published in The Nation on April 19, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-is-there-a-place-for-skepticism/ 

2 From an article entitled “’Evidence’ of Syria chemical weapons use not up to U.N. standard” written by Anthony Deutsch, published in Reuters on April 26, 2013. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemical-weapons/evidence-of-syria-chemical-weapons-use-not-up-to-u-n-standard-idUSBRE93P0UG20130426

3 https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Fact_Finding_Mission/s-1510-2017_e_.pdf

4 From an article entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says” written by Robert Burns, published by AP News on February 2, 2018. https://apnews.com/bd533182b7f244a4b771c73a0b601ec5

5

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters. Five prisoners were released on Wednesday, after earlier departures by Jaish al-Islam fighters.

From a report entitled “Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma in return for releasing prisoners published by Reuters on April 8, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-negotiati/jaish-al-islam-to-leave-douma-in-return-for-releasing-prisoners-idUKKBN1HF09Z

6 From an updated article originally entitled “Red Crescent Says No Evidence of Chemical Attack in Syria’s Douma” written by Jason Ditz, published by Antiwar.com on April 9, 2018. https://news.antiwar.com/2018/04/09/red-crescent-says-no-evidence-of-chemical-attack-in-syrias-douma/

7 From an article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects” written and published by Caitlin Johnstone on April 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/new-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-being-reported-by-all-the-usual-suspects-bb52e9a4f982

8

“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

9 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

10 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

11 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

12 From an article entitled “John Bolton is not a neocon” written Tim Lynch and published by the Henry Jackson Society on July 20, 2005. http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2005/07/20/john-bolton-is-not-a-neocon/

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Israel, Syria, USA

making out like bandits: the endless profits of an endless war

Last Monday [Dec 10th] was an extremely interesting day for news stories. For one thing, it was the day when the New York Times disclosed the altogether astonishing decision made by US federal authorities not to indict British bank HSBC for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act:

HSBC’s actions stand out among the foreign banks caught up in the investigation, according to several law enforcement officials with knowledge of the inquiry. Unlike those of institutions that have previously settled, HSBC’s activities are said to have gone beyond claims that the bank flouted United States sanctions to transfer money on behalf of nations like Iran. Prosecutors also found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups.1

High crime indeed, and please keep in mind the last part: “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”. Could that mean al-Qaeda…?

HSBC was thrust into the spotlight in July after a Congressional committee outlined how the bank, between 2001 and 2010, “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks.” The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a subsequent hearing at which the bank’s compliance chief resigned amid mounting concerns that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity. For example, an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda, according to the Congressional report.

The message is that bankers have become entirely immune to prosecution for almost any kinds of racket imaginable. No prosecution because, as the New York Times reports, of “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system”, which is plainly ludicrous. Put simply, “too big to fail” has now slipped to become – and inevitably so, when you think about it – “too big to jail”:

Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities.

Apparently the biggest settlement in history, but chickenfeed to HSBC nonetheless. The same article also going on to explain how:

Given the extent of the evidence against HSBC, some prosecutors saw the charge as a healthy compromise between a settlement and a harsher money-laundering indictment. While the charge would most likely tarnish the bank’s reputation, some officials argued that it would not set off a series of devastating consequences.

A money-laundering indictment, or a guilty plea over such charges, would essentially be a death sentence for the bank. Such actions could cut off the bank from certain investors like pension funds and ultimately cost it its charter to operate in the United States, officials said.

So, excuses in hand, the federal authorities have chosen put aside the law and apply something they euphemistically call a “deferred prosecution agreement” – a glossy title for what is really nothing more or less than a ‘get out of jail free’ card.2

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

You can also read and hear more about “deferred prosecution agreements” courtesy of William K Black in this previous article.

On Thursday, Democracy Now! invited Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of “Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.” Now you might be wondering how on earth an editor of Rolling Stone magazine became a serious fraud investigator, but seeing how others apparently better qualified and positioned were failing in that vital task, Taibbi eventually decided to jump in. He has since turned himself into one of leading experts on the current banking crisis (and its related scandals). And this is what Taibbi has to say regarding the latest cover-up:

Here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message, not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail.

It is unusual to see a news discussion in which all of the participants are at such a loss in trying to comprehend what they are describing, but here Taibbi and the others appear almost lost for words. Between all the raised eyebrows and the quizzical smiles, Taibbi put it this way:

[And] what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?”

What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

On the very same day, Monday 10th, the New York Times was also running an editorial piece entitled simply “Al Qaeda in Syria”. An article that begins:

The presence of rebel fighters in Syria that were trained and supported by Al Qaeda poses a serious problem for the United States and Western allies. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has become one of the most effective forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.3

Not that news of al-Qaeda rebel fighters in Syria can really be called news at all any more – this latest development involving the Iraqi group known as Jabhat al Nusra having already surfaced in a report from McClatchy that was published a week prior to the more prominent New York Times version of events:

When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics.

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.4

Click here to read the full report from McClatchy.

The steady assent of al-Qaeda amongst the Syrian rebels is a story that has slowly been leaking out for many, many months. It emerged in the Guardian back in late July, and as long ago as August, the BBC had also put together their own news report to show how one group of Syrian insurgents were forcing prisoners to become unwilling suicide bombers – a story that was quickly removed by the BBC – but one that you can find embedded below from youtube:

The video footage in the report was actually shot by New York Times reporters (NYT again) who had spent five days following a group known as the Lions of Tawhid. And you can read an accompanying New York Times article published August 20th here.

At this time, both the BBC and the New York Times were still avoiding any mention of al-Qaeda, or for that matter circumventing words like Islamist or Jihadist that might be used to describe some of the rebels, and so instead the writer, C.J. Chivers, makes what with hindsight appears to be a few hints at the kind of force they might be dealing with: mentions of thick beards and repeated quotes from the rebels saying “God is Great” or along the lines of “we will kneel only for God.” Reading down the New York Times article, you will also find a parallel account of the story of the unwitting ‘suicide’ bomber who features in the (subsequently censored) BBC news clip:

The rebels lacked the heavy weapons to take the checkpoint in a head-on fight. So several of them would dress as civilians, move the truck bomb near the checkpoint and set it off. This would be the signal for an assault over the ground.

There was one problem. The Lions of Tawhid said they did not believe in using their fighters as suicide bombers.

Two fighters poured fuel into the truck’s gas tank while Mr. Meldaoun, the nurse, snipped branches from shrubs and stacked them on the bomb, hiding it from view.

The real plan was beginning to emerge. It involved the prisoner, Abu Hilal. The assurances that he would be released had been a deception. The fighters intended to put him behind the wheel of the truck bomb near the checkpoint and tell him to drive forward in a prisoner exchange.

[…]

“We told Abu Hilal, ‘Go, drive that way, your father is waiting for you there, don’t do any bad things in the future,’” Hakim said. “And he was so happy, and he drove.”

Abu Hilal stopped the truck at the checkpoint. Abdul Hakim Yasin pushed the button on the remote detonator, ready for the flash and thunderclap of more than 650 pounds of explosives. It would be the signal for his fighters to move forward and mop up.

Nothing happened.

He pushed the button again.

The truck did not explode.5

If the bomb had detonated this would have been a much more terrible atrocity, although obviously even this failed attempt was a war crime. And the embedded New York Times reporters might have highlighted the barbaric nature of this incident (as the BBC report had done), but instead the main body of the article devotes itself to presenting the rebels as a band of ordinary guys caught in the crossfire. Portrayed as romantic heroes, here is how the same article ends:

But as the rockets struck, the Tawhid fighters were barely distracted. They were waiting for the government soldiers nearby to show themselves, certain that night by night their foes were growing weaker, and their uprising was gaining strength.

After each explosion, Mr. Yasin, an accountant leading a life and a role delivered to him by war, keyed his two-way radio, and checked on his men. All around him they crouched in the smoky darkness, weapons ready, waiting for orders or for more action against a government they consider already dead.

It reads more like pulp fiction than serious journalism. But the point I wish to make is that mainstream stories about Islamist terrorists in Syria were just beginning to trickle out around this time. Indeed, in the New York Times blog of the following day [Aug 21st], David D. Kirkpatrick actually wrote the following:

Reports from Western officials, militant Islamist Web sites [sic], neighboring countries and, to a limited extent, inside the Syrian opposition indicate that Al Qaeda and homegrown militants are joining the fight and competing for influence. And that poses a vexing question for American policy makers and politicians. So far, all sides of the debate in Washington have called for supporting the insurgency, and the only question is how much. The Obama administration talks of diplomacy and economic sanctions, while some Republicans push to provide weapons to the insurgents. Is the United States acting side by side with Al Qaeda?6

Kirkpatrick is then very quick to answer his own question:

The short answer is no. A group as numerically tiny as Al Qaeda could never by itself steer a movement as large as the Syrian revolt. And even if Al Qaeda or other anti-Western militants are seeking to exploit or direct the Syrian uprising — why wouldn’t they? — that merely makes them rivals to the West for influence over the course of the revolt.

The difference three months later is that Kirkpatrick’s snap judgment is entirely overturned. Not only are al-Qaeda more or less running the Syrian revolt, but we also know that the American government is well aware of the fact. Obama himself now trying to explain the case for supporting the rebels, as he did on ABC news on Tuesday:

Obama expressed caution today about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.

“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”

The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.7

Click here to read the full ABC news report and to watch the interview with Obama.

But did the situation in Syria really transform so rapidly and if so, how so…? I will leave the answers for others to fill in and move to the next part of Kirkpatrick’s rather remarkable article, as he candidly admits what many will have suspected all along:

The West, for its part, is eager to deprive Iran of its principal regional ally, the Assad government.

Yes, and lest we forget, this whole decade of war has consistently had as its long term objective some kind of military offensive against Iran. Meanwhile, and with regards to the developing crisis in Syria, these latest admissions make “Al Qaeda in Syria”, a more officially sanctioned story. With the ugly truth no longer plausibly deniable, the new hope of the American administration being that the press and the public won’t begin asking too many difficult but obvious questions. Questions like why does the US increasingly appear to be in cahoots with al-Qaeda – again?

So playing this whole story down has necessarily become the fall-back approach, and the New York Times helps the cause by reporting this latest episode (on Monday) with the same impartial tone as many of its earlier reports about the role and rise of the Syrian jihadists. Explaining to its readers that these al-Qaeda forces might “hijack the revolution”. And that “there are no easy answers.” And anyway, “[al-Qaeda’s] skilled fighters have been so effective.” Such a dilemma for any hawk…

The fear is that the group could hijack the revolution and emerge as the dominant force in Syria after Mr. Assad is ousted from power. […]

There are no easy answers, and no one believes that Washington, or any external power, can dictate the outcome. But President Obama still needs to provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.

These repeated statements are a measure of how dumb they actually think most of us are. After all, American administrations have spent more than half a trillion dollars8 fighting off al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in a war that is well into its twelfth year. Yet we discover that the current administration are simultaneously backing a different group of resistance fighters, whilst fully aware that these other rebels are thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda – and not just any old al-Qaeda, but a group that has established a foothold in another of the old war haunts, neighbouring Iraq. Asking us to believe that all of this has happened almost without them noticing truly beggars belief!

Mr. Obama has blacklisted the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, which would make it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with it. It makes sense to isolate the group and try to dry up its resources, but the designation by itself isn’t sufficient. American officials have to make a case directly to the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

Which means that as the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan grinds on and on into bloody stalemate, and through its horrors, helps in recruiting fresh militants ready to take up AK47s and plant IEDs against the imperialist infidels, there will be American officials “making a case” to favoured client states in the Middle East in efforts to persuade them not to supply “the weapons and other assistance” to this self-same enemy in a different place and under another name. Assistance that presumably includes all of that “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”, laundered, so we now learn, by one of the world’s leading banks. A criminal enterprise that, in view of the laughable excuse for not seeking prosecution – remember those “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system” – seems more than likely to continue. Such open corruption and such flagrant lies.

When Obama first came into office in 2008, the war in Afghanistan was already thought by many to be unwinnable. Obama might very easily (given the weight of public opinion) have begun the process of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Instead of this, however, Obama brought in more troops and then covertly expanded operations across the border into Pakistan. This expansion being made possible thanks to a change in tactics; more specifically, by the use of secret and illegal drone strikes. Attacks that are officially unauthorised by the Pakistan government and illegal according to the United Nations.

The death toll from these cowardly and, by any proper understanding of the word, ‘terrorist’ drone strikes against the people of Pakistan is already estimated to be around 3000, of which, it is officially acknowledged9 that many hundreds are innocent civilians – deaths and injuries that the US continues to disregard as “collateral damage”.

All of which brings me to the third of the three reports from Monday 10th: a somewhat mixed but nonetheless worthwhile BBC Panorama investigation into “The Secret Drone War”. Reporter Jane Corbin interviewing members of families who have become victims of the drone attacks in Waziristan, a region inside Pakistan that the programme makers describe as “one of the most dangerous places in the world”.

Corbin also speaks with former cricketer and politician Imran Khan, who has helped to organise a mass anti-drone protest march across half the country, as well as to Medea Benjamin of CodePink and lawyer Clive Stafford Smith; just two of the many human rights activists who had joined in the march. And in the latter part of the programme, Corbin questions the use of so-called “signature strikes”: indiscriminate assassination where no named target has been located, but an attack is still launched against anyone unfortunate enough to be deemed involved in “an activity that looks suspicious”.

Click here to watch the Panorama episode “The Secret Drone War” which is available until Tuesday 10th December 2013.

It is now more than a decade since the then-US Under Secretary of State and prominent neo-con, John Bolton, (someone more recently spotted endorsing Mitt Romney during the presidential race) made an announcement in a speech that was entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to the effect that:

… three nations [Cuba, Libya and Syria] could be grouped with other so-called “rogue states” – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – in actively attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.10

Of those original six nations making up Bolton’s extended “Axis of Evil”, two, Iraq and Libya, have since been subjected to American-led campaigns resulting in regime change; one under Bush and one under Obama. Certainly, Obama’s less sustained “kinetic action” against Libya was to some extent sanctioned by the UN Security Council, in contrast to Bush’s entirely illegal “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. But there are many similarities.

After the bombardment and with the old despotic rulers gone, oil contracts and reconstruction deals were quickly approved by the newly appointed representatives of the two countries. Both countries were then otherwise abandoned to the chaos that the war had brought, and, as a direct consequence of the war, both are now teeming with jihadi forces. Syria, which was another country on Bolton’s wish list, is now suffering from a similar influx of jihadists, whilst waiting its turn for yet another Nato “intervention”. Is all of this mere coincidence?

Of course, we don’t hear so much about the “war on terror” these days, even as it continues unabated in the Af-Pak conflict; and absolutely nothing at all about that loose-fitting alliance called the “Axis of Evil”. Instead, we have been hearing more again about “weapons of mass destruction”. Periodic reminders of the nuclear threat from Iran, and most recently, new rumours of chemical weapons about to be used in Syria. Rumours that rhyme with yellowcake uranium and those mobile chemical warfare laboratories of George W. Bush and Colin Powell’s vivid imaginations.

We see then that under Obama the methods have changed in some respects, but that the general trajectory remains unaltered. American foreign policy still following a course that was publicly outlined by the Project for the New American Century (or PNAC) as far back as 2000. Certainly the talk is less bellicose and more guarded, but the war profiteering goes on and even the list of target nations has remained significantly unaltered.

The battle over Libya was justified as humanitarian, and any full-scale intervention in Syria will most likely be presented the same way (unless, that is, the WMD card comes into play), and yet in other ways the cloak of humanitarianism has since been dropped altogether. So we learn, for instance, from “a despicable article in Military Times” that the US military has recently declared that children have become legitimate targets on the battlefield, at least when it comes to operations in Afghanistan. The following coming from an article published on Dec 4th in The Nation magazine and frankly entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”:

When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.

It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”

But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.

Shockingly, the [Military Times] article quotes a senior officer saying that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:

“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”11

Click here to read the full article by Robert Dreyfuss.

I began writing this article because within these three different reports from last Monday there is a common thread. On one level that thread is simply al-Qaeda – bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, covertly supported in Libya and Syria, and all whilst the US government turns its blind eye to any financial assistance provided by banks like HSBC. All of which, for different reasons, makes a nonsense of the on-going “war on terror”. It makes no sense, that is, until one considers the underlying geo-strategy combined with the enormous profits to be made from all these wars. It makes no sense, in other words, unless you look at who the winners are – the private contractors alongside the global financiers. Because these wars are all very lucrative.

To understand just how profitable, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “Iraq for Sale” that was made by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Greenwald in 2006. It is embedded below:

You might also be interested in reading an extended pamphlet called “War is a Racket” (available online) that was written by Major General Smedley D. Butler and first published as long ago as 1935.

Butler, who was the most highly decorated soldier in American history, takes the case of war profiteering during WWI, and in a few short chapters he lays out the evidence with countless, very detailed examples. His research and considerable military experience leading him to the conclusion that, as he states in the very first paragraph:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are recognised in dollars and the losses in lives.”

On another occasion12, Butler summarised his own part in that racket with these words:

“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. ”

Tragically, that same old war racket is now reaching a new apogee. So is there any appropriate and useful response to this never-ending carnage and human misery? Butler saw only one lasting solution:

“A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”

Ending the war profiteering won’t happen overnight, but it is definitely an objective we might practically and realistically aim for. It would mean reversing the last twelve years of American foreign policy, but this is not impossible. It will require America and the rest of the world to make genuine international attempts to stall this insane war machine once and for all. The journalists could even help to set the ball rolling by reporting promptly and honestly as the battles continue to rage. Later, the courts must bring to justice all of the criminals who were complicit. No more deferred prosecution agreements for anyone. If all of this requires little short of a revolution, then what’s the alternative? Doing nothing means only that this war racket will keep on growing unopposed, when already we find its shadow over everything.

*

In the meantime, and if you are an American citizen, you might like to add your name to a “We the People” petition to the White House that calls for a cease to “all funding and support for al-Qaeda terrorists and extremist rebels in Syria”:

Hillary Clinton has admitted that Al-Qaeda is supporting the Syrian rebels, who are backed by the Obama administration with $200 million dollars in aid. According to McClatchy Newspapers one of these groups, Al Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, is now conducting “the heaviest frontline fighting” in Syria and has been responsible for terrorist attacks. Impartial observers such as Dr. Jacques Beres say the majority of rebels in Syria are foreign extremists whose goal is to impose Sharia law. These rebels have also been filmed burning U.S. flags and chanting anti-American slogans. Funding terrorists is a crime under the National Defense Authorization Act. Such activity has had disastrous consequences in the past, such as 9/11. We demand all support direct or indirect to cease immediately.

To locate the petition click here.

1 From an article entitled “HSBC to Pay $1.92 Billion to Settle Charges of Money Laundering”, written by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, published by the New York Times on December 10, 2012. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/hsbc-said-to-near-1-9-billion-settlement-over-money-laundering/

2 Ibid.

“The HSBC deal includes a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Justice Department. The deferred prosecution agreement, a notch below a criminal indictment, requires the bank to forfeit more than $1.2 billion and pay about $700 million in fines, according to the officials briefed on the matter. The case, officials say, will claim violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and Trading with the Enemy Act.

“As part of the deal, one of the officials briefed on the matter said, HSBC must also strengthen its internal controls and stay out of trouble for the next five years. If the bank again runs afoul of the federal rules, the Justice Department can resume its case and file a criminal indictment. An independent auditor will also monitor the bank’s progress to strengthen its internal controls, and will make regular assessments on the firm’s progress.”

3 From a New York Times Editorial entitled “Al Qaeda in Syria” published on December 10, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/opinion/al-qaeda-in-syria.html?_r=0

4 From an article entitled “Al Qaida-linked group Syria rebels once denied now key to anti-Assad victories”, written by David Enders, published by McClatchy Newspapers on December 2, 2012. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/12/02/176123/al-qaida-linked-group-syria-rebels.html

5 From an article entitled “Life With Syria’s Rebels in a Cold and Cunning War”, written by C. J. Chivers, published by the New York Times on August 20, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-coalesce-into-a-fighting-force.html?pagewanted=all

6 From an article entitled “Concerns About Al Qaeda in Syria Underscore Questions about Rebels”, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, published by the New York Times on August 21, 2012. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/concerns-about-al-qaeda-in-syria-underscore-questions-about-rebels/?ref=middleeast

7 From a report entitled “Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition Group”, written by Devin Dwyer and Dana Hughes, published by ABC news on December 11, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/exclusive-president-obama-recognizes-syrian-opposition-group/story?id=17936599#.UMyZ_qywbZP

8 You can find a detailed breakdown of the costs of recent US military interventions at this site courtesy of the National Priorities Project : http://costofwar.com/about/counters/

9 A full official breakdown can be found here: http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones

10 From a BBC news report entitled “US expands ‘axis of evil’” published May 6, 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1971852.stm

The report continues as follows:

“[Bolton] also warned that the US would take action.

“America is determined to prevent the next wave of terror,” he said, referring to the 11 September attacks in Washington and New York that killed up to 3,000 people.

“States that sponsor terror and pursue WMD (weapons of mass destruction) must stop. States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort, but those that do not can expect to become our targets,” he said.”

11 From an article entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”, written by Robert Dreyfuss, published in The Nation magazine on December 4, 2012. http://www.thenation.com/blog/171582/us-military-approves-bombing-children#

12 From Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935. You can find the quote attributed here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler

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