Tag Archives: Patrick Cockburn

more lies, more war: plus ça change…

Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:

Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1

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The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2

As reported by the Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.

Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).

Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”

Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.

In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3

Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.

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I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.

International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.

To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.

Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!

And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.

It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.

ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.

Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate  habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.

For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.

Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.

The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”.  Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.

Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.

When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.

It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.

Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.

And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.

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Additional:

In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:

Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

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Update:

On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:

Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’  Here’s what Kerry said:

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”

There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”

The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?

No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?

Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:

Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:

“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”

Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:

“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”

In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….

Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a  ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:

It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.

Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.

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1

Read more here: http://nsnbc.me/2013/06/16/dumas-top-british-officials-confessed-to-syria-war-plans-two-years-before-arab-spring/  

2 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

3 From an article entitled “Chancellor George Osborne says UK has ‘got its mojo back’ with air strikes” written by Iain Macwhirter, published in Herald Scotland on December 8, 2015. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14129765.Osborne__UK_has__got_its_mojo_back__with_air_strikes/

4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:

When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Further proof is available from the White House archives: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030324-4.html

5 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.

Cockburn writes:

Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-lies-damn-lies-and-reports-of-battlefield-atrocities-2299701.html

Sadly, al-Jazeera was not the only news outlet presenting similarly unsubstantiated rumours as truth. You can read a further analysis here: http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/08/26/lies-war-and-empire-nato%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Chumanitarian-imperialism%E2%80%9D-in-libya/ 

7 In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:

Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.

http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-146-2012/?searchterm=noam%20chomsky

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray, Iraq, John Pilger, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Saudi Arabia, Syria

Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

 

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

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Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

*

1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/ 

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan

Oh, what a lovely war…! Gaza, ISIS and Ukraine

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.

An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.

The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.

So says Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen, writing an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Not enough war! – at first glance Cowen’s argument might appear not just shocking, but plainly nonsensical (or “counterintuitive” as Cowen puts it), although that’s mainly because ordinary folk (such as you and I) are in the habit of forgetting how war is extremely good business – if only for those in the business of war. What Cowen’s article reveals above all, therefore, is a cold calculating detachment that has always been secretly preferred by those moving within select circles. A moral relativism that has come to dominate in our degenerate age of coldly calculating neo-liberal orthodoxy. Cowen is unabashed in telling it like it (i.e., as he wishes to find it), because the vision of a better, saner alternative has been totally abandoned by his type.

He writes:

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.1

Reading Cowen’s case for war causes me to remember Orson Welles’ famous speech in The Third Man:

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

It reminds me too of the less celebrated scene that leads into Orson Welles’ most famous soliloquy. When high over postwar Vienna, gently rocking in a cabin on that famous old Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (played by Welles), who is racketeering in penicillin, justifies his actions to his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), saying that he really shouldn’t worry so much about what happens to ‘the dots’:

Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

*

Gaza

The Gaza Strip is tiny. Twenty-five miles long and less than ten miles wide, yet home to nearly two million Palestinians. Unsurprisingly then, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It also happens to be one of the poorest.

Since 2007, Gaza has been blockaded on all sides. And with its air space tightly restricted and regularly patrolled by Israeli fighter jets and drones it is not so much a reservation for Palestinians, the majority of whom are forced to live in refugee camps composed of concrete shacks and open sewers, but also their de facto internment camp. For Gaza as a whole might better be thought of as the world’s largest prison:

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

So begins Noam Chomsky in an article he entitled “Impressions of Gaza” published in late 2012. Chomsky continues:

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy.2

The Gaza War, as Operation Cast Lead is also known, cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians at least 900 of whom were civilians. Over 4,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 residents displaced. On the Israeli side, ten soldiers were killed (four due to friendly fire) and three civilians also lost their lives. These figures alone show how this previous “Gaza War” was actually no war at all, but a one-sided, single-minded slaughter.

Then, in 2012, there was Operation Pillar of Cloud (sometimes translated, presumably to heighten the absurdity, as Operation Pillar of Defense). A blitzkrieg of aerial bombardment that ended with more than a hundred Palestinian civilians dead. Pillar of Defense – hardly. Pillar of something most definitely… and yet another tissue of lies.

And now, less than two years on, we are in the midst of another massacre being carried out under the even more risibly named Operation Protective Edge. To date more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed (a number that grows by the hour), the majority of whom are again civilians, and predominately women and children.

For what happens every few years is simply this: the Israeli generals, at the behest of their government, make the decision to “mow the lawn”. Meanwhile, the official pretext remains, that the escalating spiral of violence is solely the fault of Hamas and that hostilities will end only once the firing of Hamas rockets on Israel is stopped. The fact is, of course, that Israeli hostilities are never-ending. That those hostilities will end once Gaza is no longer a prison camp, which is a decision only Israel can make. Meanwhile, the regular collective punishment of the Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas can neither be morally nor legally sanctioned, and from a strategic point of view it is inexpedient in the extreme – presuming that the long-term aim really is to bring an end to the cycles of violence. For whilst clearly in violation of international law, this current outrage is not just extremely damaging to Israel’s international reputation, but also, and inevitably, it is bolstering support for Hamas, and just as their influence was beginning to wane. We must conclude therefore that those in charge of Israel are either remarkably stupid, or that they are more intent on keeping the conflict going, as well as keeping Gaza under siege, rather than seeking any offers of lasting peace.

*

After writing this, I came across an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, Head of the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies, and published in the Jerusalem Post. In the piece, Sherman unflinchingly calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip. He writes:

Mowing the lawn’ won’t cut it

The reluctance to face unpalatable realities has spawned new terminology to paper over intellectual surrender, and mask unwillingness to accept the need for regrettably harsh but essential policies.

First, we were told that since there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, we should adopt an approach of “conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution.”

Now we have a new term in the professional jargon to convey a similar perspective: “mowing the grass.” This is the name for an approach that entails a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable.

Its “rationale” – for want of a better term – was recently articulated by Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, as: “The use of force, not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather [as a] long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”

Sadly, what we have seen is that far from “debilitating the enemy capabilities,” because said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.

It is an open question just how many more rounds of “mowing” the residents of southern Israel will endure before losing confidence that the government will provide adequate protection and choose to evacuate the area.

No, periodically mowing the lawn is not a policy that can endure for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.3

Click here to read Martin Sherman’s full article.

*

ISIS

Where did ISIS come from?” a friend asked a few months ago. Well, although they first spread their obscene wings in the war on Syria, I reminded him, and in common with all factions within al-Qaeda, you can actually trace their ugly origins right back to Saudi Arabia. Then there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was al-Baghdadi who officially founded the group he called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – now translated, for reasons unknown to me, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or ISIS) – during April last year. Back then, ISIS were closely affiliated with another al-Qaeda faction known as Jabhat al-Nusra but soon afterwards bloody factional infighting caused a rift and a formal separation from the rest of al-Qaeda.4

More recently again, in fact just a month ago, al-Baghdadi called on other Muslims to rush to the aid of his pan-Islamic caliphate, now simply called ‘Islamic State’, whose caliph is, somewhat unsurprisingly, al-Baghdadi himself.5 At the time indeed the news was full of it – constantly repeating those promotional videos for ISIS. There is a growing concern that British Muslims may be attracted to the Jihadist cause by these glossy new commercials, we kept hearing… like a commercial.

Aside from having generous sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and fingers have been pointed toward Saudi Prince Adbul Rahman al-Faisal in particular6 – many in the ranks of this latest batch of Islamists were also more directly assisted with training courtesy of the British, French and US across the border in Jordan. This is denied, of course, since officially we only trained “ the moderates”. But then prior to the well-advertised emergence of ISIS, western powers had become remarkably candid in their disinterest when it came to making careful distinctions between the various “rebel forces”. Any enemy of Assad was a friend of ours.

And, in reality, the moderates in the Syrian conflict had been rather quickly squeezed out (as I pointed out in a number of previous articles), so that when groups like al-Nusra and then ISIS moved in to spearhead the continuing offensive, the West had knowingly continued to back them (I refer the reader again to previous posts and recommend following the “al-Nusra” tag).

Not that this feckless approach to foreign policy is particularly novel. Al-Qaeda was always an American formulation, having been purpose-built to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since which time, its growth has been encouraged less directly thanks to power vacuums which followed in the wake of attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria. Added to which, weapons and forces from Libya were more deliberately transported into Syria as Seymour Hersh, amongst others, has since exposed. So, and to answer my friend’s question more fully, ISIS is to a very great extent our own monster. For it is western foreign policy that has allowed ISIS to establish itself, and without continued support from the Gulf States – our allies – ISIS might now be rather promptly eradicated.

If the aim is to stop al-Qaeda in their tracks (or at least their latest branch, ISIS), then it would be very much more profitable to pull the whole operation out by its roots – roots that lie fully exposed in Saudi Arabia. So instead of drone attacks or air strikes on Iraq (and in the likely future Syria), why aren’t we sending our ultimatum to the Saudis?

*

Ukraine

The conflict over Palestine goes back some seventy years to the very formation of Israel, and whilst the rise of al-Qaeda across wide expanses of Iraq and Syria can easily be traced to the illegal Iraq War that was ignited by Bush and Blair more than a decade ago (and which has never properly ended), the immediate origins of today’s escalating “crisis” in Ukraine take us back just a few months.

Divisions between East and West regions, pro- and anti-Russia, that had been festering but were mostly dormant found a new expression. What was then widely presented as a grassroots pro-European uprising in fact turning out to be nothing other than a EU-inflamed and US-coordinated colour revolution ending in a bloody coup. Not a glorious liberation from oligarchy, but simply the replacement of one oligarchical coterie with another, more western-oriented oligarchical coterie. Worse, for this new clique were openly affiliated with leading members of the extreme right. The fascist party Svoboda now linked arms with the even more odious Right Sector as both sought a share of power; grabbing the chance of appointing one another into office.

Embedded below is an uncharacteristically candid BBC report about who really seized power in Kiev. It was broadcast in February on Newsnight:

Has the subsequent election (which was not even recognised as legitimate in many Eastern regions) of chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko as President of Ukraine helped to reign in the extremists? Well, this is the situation as it currently stands: three members of the cabinet including Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych are Svoboda representatives, whilst the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, more recently announced the complete dissolution of the Communist Party faction in the Verkhovna Rada. The banning of political parties is one measure of how far Ukraine is from functioning like a democratic state. Another being the monthly fist fights that take place inside the Rada.

This was April:

And this happened just a few weeks ago:

There is also President Poroshenko himself. The following is taken from a Guardian report published on Sunday July 13th , little more than one month after he had assumed office:

Over the weekend there was an escalation of both military action and rhetoric in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian jets carried out air strikes against separatist positions. On Friday, 23 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an attack using Grad missiles.

“For every soldier’s life, the militants will pay with dozens and hundreds of their own,” said Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, after Friday’s attack.7 [bold emphasis added]

Hardly the voice of reconciliation. And lastly, a more recent report, this time from BBC news, which delves into who exactly is fighting on the pro-government side of the conflict:

Mikael Skillt is a Swedish sniper, with seven years’ experience in the Swedish Army and the Swedish National Guard. He is currently fighting with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer armed group in eastern Ukraine. He is known to be dangerous to the rebels: reportedly there is a bounty of nearly $7,000 (£4,090; 5,150 euros) on his head. […]

As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi. […]

Mr Skillt believes races should not mix. He says the Jews are not white and should not mix with white people. His next project is to go fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because he believes Mr Assad is standing up to “international Zionism”.

Leaving Mr Skillt’s sordid opinions to one side, what are the thoughts of his comrades in arms?

Not all of Mr Skillt’s views are widely shared in the Azov Battalion, which is about 300-strong in total.

He says his comrades do not discuss politics much, though some of them may be “national socialists” and may wear swastikas. On the other hand, “there is even one liberal, though I don’t know how he got there”, he adds, with a smile in his voice.8

So much for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, an already latest benighted region suffering from an extreme economic crisis, and now deeply fractured by a terrible civil war from which, the UN reports, a hundred thousand refugees have already fled9, and where another thousand civilians have so far lost their lives.10

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For months, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating intense pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold-war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that have risen to the level of war crimes.11

So writes Stephen Cohen, who is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, in an article published by The Nation magazine on June 30th. A few weeks later, on July 18th, Cohen appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the ramifications of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the loss of all 298 lives on board. Asked: “what do you think we should understand about what has taken place?”; Cohen began:

The horror of it all, to quote Conrad, watching your reports on Gaza, knowing what I know but what’s not being reported in the mainstream media about what’s been going on in eastern Ukraine cities—these cities have been pounded by Kiev—and now this. “Emeritus,” as you call me, means old. I’ve seen this before. One function of cold war is innocent victims. The people who died, nearly 300, from many countries, are the first victims, nonresidential victims, of the new Cold War. This crash, this shootdown, will make everything worse, no matter who did it.

There are several theoretical possibilities. I am not a conspiracy buff, but we know in the history of the Cold War, there are provocations, people who want to make things worse. So, in Moscow, and not only in Moscow, there are theories that somebody wanted this to happen. I just can’t believe anybody would do it, but you can’t rule anything out.

The other possibility is, because the Ukrainian government itself has a capability to shoot down planes. By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons.

Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—that they had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.

There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them, possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, “Did anybody have a motive?” and the Russians certainly had no motive here. This is horrible for Putin and for the Russian position.

That’s what we know so far. Maybe we’ll know more. We may never know who did this.

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

Most of the news media went into a rapid and sustained feeding frenzy after the downing of flight MH17, but the question of whether or not it was the Russian separatists who shoot down the plane using “Putin’s Missile” remains hanging. One very laudable exception to the rule was tenacious Associated Press reporter Matt Lee. Here is Lee questioning US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, about the lack of evidence being presented. His main question: is there anything besides those uploads on social media? Her flustered answer can be summed up succinctly as no:

In defending the inherent flimsiness of the US position, which is that it’s suddenly common sense to trust in social media, Marie Harf told Lee that the State Department does have other evidence which proves the separatists were responsible, though she intimates that it is too sensitive to be released. But then the same US State Department made identical claims a mere twelve months ago, and had they been believed, we might have been rushed to launch air attacks against Damascus. As it turned out, however, the White House was lying and deliberately exaggerating the evidence they really held about the sarin attack on Ghouta. Contrary to what Marie Harf asserts, therefore, it is common sense to presume that the State Department would be prepared to deliberately lie again.

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s subsequent disclosure of the US evidence relating to the gas attack on Ghouta.

As the civil war in Ukraine worsens, we have been constantly reminded that this is Putin’s war. Just as the cause of the tragedy of MH17 was “Putin’s missile!” Not that Putin organised the overthrow of an elected government in Kiev, nor that Putin ordered a missile strike against a passenger plane, nor even that Putin’s “separatist” forces are deliberately shelling homes in Eastern Ukraine – the shelling of homes, as in Gaza, is the work of government forces. Putin is not presumed guilty on any of these counts even by his most vehement opponents, but he is found guilty on the grounds that he is covertly backing the anti-Kiev rebels (as we might alternatively call them), and arming them. Guilty, in other words, of doing what the West have done and are very likely still doing in Syria.

I take no pleasure in defending Putin, who is rightly vilified on so many other counts, but the facts remain and should speak for themselves. And it is Russia, not Putin, that we should be talking about in any case. For Russia has her own interests, and so long as Nato continues its encirclement, whoever holds office in the Kremlin will be held to account for protecting those interests. But we are being encouraged to obsess over Putin. What was once Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Bin Laden… is now Putin, Putin, Putin!

Meanwhile, the facts surrounding the crash of MH17 are still unclear. Not only do we not know which army fired the missile, but, with absolute certainty, we still do not know whether it was a missile that brought down the plane. Until a full and independent forensic investigation can establish the truth of what happened, we will continue remain in the dark.

Click here to read an article by Jason Ditz, writing for antiwar.com [July 22nd], which outlines the flimsiness of the evidence thus far presented by the US State Department.

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Final thoughts

I was exploring the byways of the web recently, scrolling across old territory and keeping a careful eye out for neglected news stories and offbeat opinions, when I came across a Guardian article from a decade ago that firmly arrested my attention. The article began as follows:

Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected Anglo-American claims that Saddam Hussein already possesses weapons of mass destruction and told Tony Blair that the best way to resolve the conflict of evidence is not war, but the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

With a tense Mr Blair alongside him at his dacha near Moscow, the Russian president took the unusual step of citing this week’s sceptical CIA report on the Iraqi military threat to assert: “Fears are one thing, hard facts are another”.

Times were rather different then, of course – as the closing statement in the same article reminds us:

Mr Blair called Mr Putin “a critical partner for ourselves and the whole of the western world.”

And times were different in another way too:

In his remarks Mr Blair, very much the bridge between the hawks in Washington and wider global scepticism, again said that “conflict is not inevitable” but that the international community must give a “strong and clear signal” to Baghdad to comply with its demands.12

Conflict was indeed not inevitable, but it happened anyway. And as the leakedBush-Blair memo later revealed, only months after meeting with Putin, Blair had been scheming with Bush on plans to launch their invasion – including a discussion of ways they might provoke Saddam Hussein into a confrontation. In the finish, however, no provocation was needed; barefaced lies would be enough.

Today marks a moment precisely a hundred years since the western world first went mad for war. The centenary of the start of that “war to end all wars”. Which didn’t happen: the wars go on. The blood-drenched mud of the trenches providing fertile ground for the rotten fruit of fascism to grow upon. The interwar period turning out to be just a lull before the still greater storm of carnage which was the Second World War – the bloodiest war that the world has ever known. Since when, with a Cold War promptly established against our former ally Russia, conflicts have constantly flared up in places far and wide. For sadly, no other century in history can compete with this last one when it comes to war.

It appears that pressure is rising again, with the many on-going regional wars worsening and spreading, and so one wonders with horrible trepidation where all this might be leading. Especially now that we are giving a “strong and clear signal” not to Baghdad but to Moscow. For what is the West’s real objective when it comes to tightening sanctions on Russia? Is the aim simply to pressure Putin with the hope of unseating him (an unlikely outcome given his current popularity), or will this eventually lead to a full-blown economic war. Sanctions in the past have opened the way for military conflict, so does war against Russia remain unimaginable… well yes, for the sane it does!

But there are also those who dream along the lines of Tyler Cowen. They view war as an opportunity, more than a threat, because they know that war is good for business. “Victims?” says Harry Lime, “Don’t be melodramatic.” Lime is a villain, but he knows the score.

War is a Racket is a pamphlet that was written by America’s most highly decorated soldier, General Smedley Butler. In it Butler explains, in painstaking detail, who actually won the First World War. The major corporations and financiers were its only real victors, he tells us, pointing out how the same can be said for all of the many other wars he helped to fight in. And so, as today we solemnly remember the sacrifice of the millions who laid down their lives a century ago, let this be the lasting lesson we take from that war. “War is a racket. It always has been.” Lest we forget.

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Update:

Israel’s month-long assault has so far left at least 1,865 Palestinians dead. As Israel pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip under the 72-hour ceasefire, Democracy Now! spoke with Jewish author, historian and political activist Norman Finkelstein, to discuss the events of the last month, and what in light of the new ceasefire, the likely outcome of talks will be. He began:

Well, the first thing is to have clarity about why there is a ceasefire. The last time I was on the program, I mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, he basically operates under two constraints: the international constraint—namely, there are limits to the kinds of death and destruction he can inflict on Gaza—and then there’s the domestic constraint, which is Israeli society doesn’t tolerate a large number of combatant deaths.

He launched the ground invasion for reasons which—no point in going into now—and inflicted massive death and destruction on Gaza, where the main enabler was, of course, President Obama. Each day he came out, he or one of his spokespersons, and said, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Each time he said that, it was the green light to Israel that it can continue with its terror bombing of Gaza. That went on for day after day after day, schools, mosques, hospitals targeted. But then you reached a limit. The limit was when Israel started to target the U.N. shelters—targeted one shelter, there was outrage; targeted a second shelter, there was outrage. And now the pressure began to build up in the United Nations. This is a United Nations—these are U.N. shelters. And the pressure began to build up. It reached a boiling point with the third shelter. And then Ban Ki-moon, the comatose secretary-general of the United Nations and a U.S. puppet, even he was finally forced to say something, saying these are criminal acts. Obama was now cornered. He was looking ridiculous in the world. It was a scandal. Even the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was now calling it a criminal act. So finally Obama, the State Department said “unacceptable,” “deplorable.” And frankly, it’s exactly what happened in 1999 in Timor: The limits had been reached, Clinton said to the Indonesian army, “Time to end the massacre.” And exactly happened now: Obama signaled to Netanyahu the terror bombing has to stop. So, Obama—excuse me, Netanyahu had reached the limit of international tolerance, which basically means the United States.

The youtube clip embedded above is a slightly truncated version of the original. Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Tuesday’s [Aug 5th] Democracy Now! also interviewed Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security at MIT and a leading missile expert, who believes there is no convincing evidence that Israel’s much-vaunted missile interception system Iron Dome is effective. This has not stopped President Obama signing a bill on Monday which grants an additional $225 million in emergency funding for Israel to replenish its arsenal of interceptor missiles for Iron Dome. American “foreign aid” that will be transferred directly into the pockets of one of America’s largest weapons companies, Raytheon. Postol doesn’t describe this as a racket, but if the Iron Dome is really as unreliable as he claims, then what else can such an enormous transfer of money from public to private hands be called…?

Click here to read the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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To hear more about the rise of ISIS, I also recommend the following Democracy Now! interview with Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, speaking on August 13:

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1 From an article entitled “The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth” written by Tyler Cowen, published by The New York Times on June 13, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/upshot/the-lack-of-major-wars-may-be-hurting-economic-growth.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

3 From an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, published in The Jerusalem Post on July 24, 2014. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Into-the-fray-Why-Gaza-must-go-368862

7 From an article entitled “Ukraine’s shelling could have irreversible consequences, says Russia” written by Shaun Walker, published by the Guardian on July 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/ukrainian-shell-russian-border-town-donetsk

8 From an article entitled “Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden” written by Dina Newman, published by BBC news on July 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28329329

9 “Since the start of 2014, approximately 110,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Russia – with only 9,600 requesting asylum – while more than 700 others went to Poland, Belarus, Czech Republic and Romania.”

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48159#.U96_7qOg6Uk

11 From an article entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities” written by Stephen F. Cohen, originally published in The Nation magazine on June 30, 2014 (revised on July 7 and July 17). http://www.thenation.com/article/180466/silence-american-hawks-about-kievs-atrocities#

12 From an article entitled “Putin demands proof over Iraqi weapons” written by Michael White, published in the Guardian on October 12, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/oct/12/russia.politics

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Iraq, Israel, Noam Chomsky, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine

Syria’s ‘red line’ was always a green light for the military-industrial complex

Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly for capture and bringing to justice of Osama Bin Laden, our western war machine has been grinding along in a very high gear. Smoking out new enemies (almost all of whom were former allies) and claiming fresh justifications for expanding in new directions; this first spate of twenty-first century wars has left a thick trail of blood across Asia and North Africa. War in Iraq. War in Yemen and Pakistan (by means of drones as well as more conventional weaponry). War in Libya. And now the drums are beating still more loudly again. More loudly than they have been at any time in the two years since our “military intervention” in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi.

Putting aside the questions of morality and legality for a moment, and merely judging the various attacks and invasions by outcomes alone, and what do we find? Afghanistan torn to pieces and in a state of perpetual tension, Iraq, the same if not worse, Libya, little better. Assessing this endless policy of war then, and in terms purely of expediency, we have to judge that it has been an abject failure. A political failure, that is, in terms of bringing order and stability – the vital foundations to stated aims of genuine and lasting “freedom and democracy” – to any of the chosen victim nations, as well as an horrific failure for the millions unlucky enough to be visited by its terrifying wings of death and destruction. Aggressive and continual warfare does not bring peace and harmony, but then who ever said it does?

Of course, what war does reliably produce, aside from the immediate and inevitable chaos and carnage, is a tremendous opportunity for making money. New contracts for oil and gas reserves, contracts for reconstruction of the very infrastructure so artfully destroyed, not to mention the huge rolling contracts for those directly invested in maintaining the war machine itself. Profiteering from war being for the most part what war is all about.

But the conflict in Syria is markedly different, some will argue. The country being already in the grip of a terrible civil war with many thousands displaced, seriously wounded or having already lost their lives in the conflict. Still there is no end in sight and only a more fully committed western intervention can save lives and ultimately rescue a failing state. On top of which, this is a war against an oppressive regime (which it is – not that this mattered at all when Assad was in favour) and so we are compelled to take sides and back the opposition forces. The argument is a familiar one…

Prior to the aerial assaults on Libya – the establishment of the so-called “no-fly zone” which quickly opened the way for a more fiercely aggressive campaign, ending with the deliberate bombardment of the civilian population in Sirte – we heard the same justifications. Just as we heard those justifications when it came to expanding the war in Iraq once the primary excuse of Saddam’s WMDs was shown to be a lie. The warmongers certainly know how to pull our strings and each time they do so we are in the habit of forgetting about the previous lies and deceptions.

Almost exactly one year ago, on August 20th 2012, speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, President Obama said:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus […]

We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.

It is a significant statement for two reasons. Only the second time mainstream attention had been diverted towards Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal – at this time there had still been no evidence whatsoever of any use of chemical weapons by either side in the conflict – as well as the first mention of that “red line” which the Syrian government were forbidden to cross. Of course use of chemical weapons against a civilian population is already a war crime under international law, but Obama is actually saying something altogether more ambiguous.

What he says, to reiterate, is that if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized” then this is a “red line for us”. His emphasis is not at all on which side is doing the moving around or the wielding.

In saying this, of course, he has presented the military-industrial complex with their hope of yet another green light, establishing an important pretext for escalating US involvement towards full-blown war in Syria. As the Washington Post reported:

The president’s remarks represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. In July, he warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

On Monday, an administration official said that Obama did not intend to flag any change in policy in his latest remarks and that the appetite for military intervention remains low.

But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.1

Click here to read the full Washington Post article.

Just short of a year later, on May 16th 2012, the BBC news reported that “US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence”:

President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.

However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. […]

“Our militaries are constantly sharing information. We have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside Syria,” he said.

“Those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as [that of] our allies and friends and neighbours.”

However, he added that “more specific information” was needed.2

Click here to read the full article on the BBC news website.

Possibly in response to Obama, and just a few days later on May 19th, Patrick Cockburn wrote an article for The Independent entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons”. Drawing an inevitable but nevertheless important comparison between the on-going claims and counter claims of Syrian WMDs with “the fiasco over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” he wrote that:

Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s.

It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated.

Cockburn further adding:

Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight.3

About two weeks prior to all of this, on May 6th, the BBC had also reported that Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of a UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria gave a statement on Swiss TV claiming there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebel forces had used the nerve agent sarin:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

“According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

The article went on the add:

Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.4

Click here to read the full article.

Her statement was controversial, of course, and the same UN commission then quickly issued a press release saying it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

Click here to read the UN press release also from May 6th.

And then on June 14th, CNN reported on a rather less equivocal statement made by the White House:

Syria has crossed a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels, a move that is prompting the United States to increase the “scale and scope” of its support for the opposition, the White House said Thursday.

The acknowledgment is the first time President Barack Obama’s administration has definitively said what it has long suspected – that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.

The evidence according to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was sufficient to justify an “increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council)” and even if, as the same article further admitted:

… many of the rebel fighters are militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies, the same stripe of militants America has battled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They include an group called the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that the United States says has links to al Qaeda.5

Meanwhile, at the end of July, the Assad government finally allowed access to international UN chemical weapons inspectors:

Syria has agreed to allow UN investigators to visit three sites where chemical weapons have allegedly been used, the UN has said.

The inspectors will go “as soon as possible”, a statement from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said.

They are expected to investigate three locations of suspected use, including one in Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo.6

Then a week ago [Sunday 18th] that team arrived in Syria:

The 20-member team of UN weapons inspectors and public health specialists checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus on Sunday, but declined to speak to reporters on their arrival.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press news agency that Syria will “fully cooperate” with the team.7

Just days later, on Wednesday [August 21st], and almost a year to the day after President Obama had first laid down the US “red line”, there was a chemical attack that could no longer be disputed. With images so terribly shocking because they were irrefutably real. Hundreds at least, and more likely thousands, of bodies of adults and children killed by poisoned gas.

And the finger of blame was very easy to point, with bellicose French foreign minister Laurent Fabius characteristically quick out of the blocks:

France’s foreign minister has said a “reaction with force” could be needed if Syria is proved to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

Laurent Fabius’s comments come a day after Syrian activists said hundreds of people died in such attacks in the Ghouta area of the capital, Damascus.8

And not to be outdone, William Hague, who says he doesn’t need verification from any UN inspectors because he is quite certain Assad was behind the chemical attack, was promptly rattling the British sabre:

“I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria,” said Mr Hague.

“I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”9

Hague’s position is seemingly the straightforward one. That with all of the victims trapped inside rebel controlled Eastern Ghouta, it is self-evident that the attack must have been launched by government forces. For why would the rebels attack their own people?

We might speculate on this in a moment, but first let’s ask a related but different question – and this is a hard question to ask because it is a question that is inevitably cold and calculated. However, the question itself is simple enough; it is cui bono? Just who is likely to gain the most from this atrocity?

For it is well known that the rebel forces have been in retreat, and so why would Assad or anyone else in his regime authorise attacks of this kind given that they are fully aware of the very serious repercussions? By crossing Obama’s “red line”, Assad is, presuming that he called for the attack, in all likelihood opening the door for an all-out Nato intervention. So aside from being an horrific war-crime, for which he may very well be made personally accountable at a later date, permitting such a massacre would also be tantamount to committing strategic suicide.

So what then of the rebel forces? Certainly they have much to gain strategically from orchestrating such an attack (assuming they had the means to do so). With the help of direct military assistance from western forces they might reverse their recent losses and finally oust Assad. But are they really callous enough to attack their own people to achieve such ends?

The sorry and for many unpalatable truth is that the Syrian civil war now involves a great many factions and that within those factions comprising the so-called “rebels” there are many fighters who are undoubtedly this callous. Foreign fighters who have crossed the border from war-torn Iraq or else flown in from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even parts of Europe, and who are openly pro-al Qaeda. They did not arrive with the objective of securing “freedom and democracy” for Syria but in efforts to impose a hardline Islamist regime of their own design. Bands of terrorist death squads who are known to behead their enemies and eat their hearts. Now does it seem plausible that a gang of such thugs, provided with the means to do so, might poison the innocent victims of Ghouta?

Here is Patrick Cockburn writing on Wednesday [August 21st] in the immediate aftermath of the chemical attacks :

Like the Iraqi opposition to Saddam, who provided most of the evidence of WMDs, the Syrian opposition has every incentive to show the Syrian government deploying chemical weapons in order to trigger foreign intervention. Although the US has gone cold on armed involvement in Syria, President Obama did say a year ago that President Bashar al-Assad’s use of such weapons was “a red line”. The implication is that the US would respond militarily, though just how has never been spelt out.

But the obvious fact that for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons would be much against their own interests does not prove it did not happen. Governments and armies do stupid things. But it is difficult to imagine any compelling reason why they should do so since they have plenty of other means of killing people in Eastern Ghouta, such as heavy artillery or small arms, which they regularly use. Every day, Damascus resounds to the sound of outgoing artillery fire aimed at rebel strongholds.

And Cockburn reminds us:

In June, the US said it has conclusive evidence for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and would therefore give aid to the rebels. The US action was most likely precipitated by the government’s loss of the town of al-Qusayr and a fear that the Damascus government might be starting to dominate the battlefield. Chemical-weapons experts expected the US to go out of its way to prove its conclusions were correct by being open about the origin of tested materials and the means by which they reached laboratories in the US. They also wanted details of the laboratory testing but little of this was produced.10

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

There is a lurking danger whenever it comes to talking of “humanitarian intervention” and meaning war, because, and at the very least, it is an approach that deliberately places ends above and wholly beyond means. So just when will the peace dividends become redeemable in places like Iraq and Libya? And how much more war must it take before we can finally straighten Syria out?

Unlike William Hague, I certainly believe that we should wait for the expert verdict of the UN inspectors. If they find that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack on Ghouta then under international law those responsible (whoever they are) must be brought to justice. Air strikes are another matter entirely, however, since even if Assad and his cronies are deposed in such a fashion, then how do the Syrian people benefit from victory by a pro-al-Qaeda opposition intent on holy war? The lessons of Iraq and Libya have obviously not been learned, but then the military-industrial complex has no desire for learning that war doesn’t pay – to the victors, the spoils: this is the only thing they’ve ever needed to understand.

And how can anyone still believe Obama (or his supporters) when he calls for another “humanitarian intervention” in one place whilst in another he is bombing families and children with drone attacks? Rather, it is the justification to be used when that other justification of WMDs doesn’t wash. A fig leaf that has consistently been used to disguise the greater ambition which was first publicly laid out by the notorious neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century: the urgent call for neo-imperialist hegemony and “full spectrum dominance”. This has always been the real post-9/11 agenda, and even if the principal actors have changed that agenda has not.

So if we do see an American-led or Nato attack against Syria then the dangers are obvious enough. With Syria being the close ally both of Iran and Russia, the onward march towards the unthinkable, a full-blown world war, might become unstoppable. For reasons of simple expediency therefore it is very unwise to attack Syria, but then neither should we attack Syria for any purported reason of “humanitarianism”. Enough of war altogether – if we really want peace in the Middle East as elsewhere then we have to begin with negotiations.

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Update:

On Tuesday [Aug 27th], Russia Today spoke with Hans Blix, who headed the UN’s weapon inspection team to Iraq before and during the 2003 US -led invasion. He told them:

I think that the public opinion and the media in the west will be pressuring their governments to do something. They say that this is such a horrible thing that there must be punishment, there must be action. You cannot sit with your hands just folded. So the public say that, you know, we call for police – we call for a world police – but the question is who is the world police? Is it the United States? Is it Nato? It should be the security council.

And after an intervention, which could take place – I don’t exclude that it’s going to happen – what will they do? Will it just have been a punch on the nose and then telling the belligerents in Syria that they go back and continue [to] fight the war?

The mandate [for the UN inspectors] is to establish whether chemical weapons have been used or not. And the way they go about that is that they go to sites and they may take samples of dust and of water and they will have to analyse that and send it to independent laboratories – to laboratories. They cannot just accept samples given to them from some rebels or from some side. That will not tell them who committed the attack, but at least it will be able to tell them that yes, chemicals were used.

We see it in the main as a contest between rebels and the government in Syria, but of course the intervention is [already] there – it is in large measure a wrestling match between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And on that wrestling match, the US is on the side of Saudi Arabia, because they would like to isolate Iran.

Certainly Saudi Arabia is not in Syria to work for human rights. It is there because they want to weaken Iran. That’s the main purpose.

Yes, I think you’re right in saying that Iran and the US and Russia ought to get together and to try to sort out and to get a solution for Syria – it might even make it less difficult to solve the nuclear problem concerning Iran.

1 From an article entitled “Obama issues Syria a ‘red line’ warning on chemical weapons” written by James Ball, published by the Washington Post on August 20, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-issues-syria-red-line-warning-on-chemical-weapons/2012/08/20/ba5d26ec-eaf7-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html#no_link1

2 From an article entitled “US has seem Syria chemical weapons, says Obama” published by BBC news on May 16, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372

3 From an article entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on May 19, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-has-no-reason-to-use-chemical-weapons-8622335.html

4 From an article entitled “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’” published by BBC news on May 6, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188

5 From an article entitled “White House: Syria crosses ‘red ine’ with use of chemical weapons on its people” written by Barbara Starr, Jessica Yellin and Chelsea J. Carter, published by CNN on June 14, 2013. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/13/politics/syria-us-chemical-weapons

6 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit Syrian sites” published by BBC news on July 31, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23524536

7 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Syria” published by BBC news on August 18, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23747375

8 From an article entitled “Syria ‘chemical’ attack: France says force may be needed” published by BBC news on August 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23795088

9 From an article entitled “William Hague believes Assad behind chemical attack” published by BBC news on August 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23812398

10 From an article entitled “The evidence of chemical attack seems compelling – but remember – there’s a propaganda war on” written by Patrick Cockburn published in The Independent on August 21, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-evidence-of-chemical-attack-seems-compelling–but-remember–theres-a-propaganda-war-on-8778918.html

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London protest on Saturday 15th: Stop Western Intervention in Syria

The following message was received from Stop the War Coalition calling for a demonstration against the further expansion of the on-going neo-imperialist wars with military intervention in Syria.

Protest: Stop Western Intervention in Syria

US Embassy Grosvenor Square London W1A 2LQ
Saturday 15 June 2013 1pm


A poll in the Observer on Sunday
showed that majority opinion in Britain is against any kind of military intervention in Syria. Only 24% of the UK public is in favour of sending arms to Syria. It also showed that 72% believe after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain should give up its addiction to foreign military intervention.

The poll shows ordinary people displaying a level of good sense sorely lacking in Western government circles.

The British and French governments are pushing to increase the arming of the Syrian opposition by ending the arms embargo. The White House has said in the past few days that its top priority in Syria is to impose regime change. All this is likely to harden the opposition against negotiations, and to prolong and spread a war which is already destabilising Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

The West’s concern is not democracy but control of the wider region. They are risking a conflagration. Stop the War has called a protest at the US embassy in London as the G8 leaders gather in Northern Ireland.


Jeremy Corbyn MP and Stop the War officers delivering the Syria statement to Number 10.

Take action:

  • Join our protest at the US Embassy on 15th June. We are the majority but they will only listen to us if we mobilise!
  • Share the event with your Facebook contacts.

Read more on Syria:

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Update:

Here is an excellent analysis of the current Syrian situation as outlined by former British Ambassador Craig Murray:

Quite simply I do not believe the US, UK and French government’s assertion that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels “multiple times in small quantities”.  Why on earth would they do that?  The claim that “up to 150 people have died” spread over a number of incidents makes no sense at all.  In a civil war when tens of thousands of people have died, where all sides have been guilty of massacres of scores at a time, I cannot conceive of any motive for killing a dozen or so at any one time with the odd chemical shell.  It makes no military sense – chemical weapons are designed for use against population centres and massed armies.  They are not precision weapons for deployment against small groups.

Why on earth would the Assad regime use a tiny amount of chemical weapons against tiny groups of rebels, knowing the West would use it as an excuse to start bombing?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  Cui bono?

The Russians have described the evidence as fabricated, and on this one I am with the Russians.

It is of course no coincidence that this humanitarian motive to start bombing Syria  arises just as the tide of war turned against the rebels, and the government forces are about to move on Aleppo.  I suspect now we will see massive NATO force intervention, with huge air to ground destruction of the government forces all over the country to “defend” Aleppo, just as we saw hundreds of thousands killed and whole cities destroyed in Libya to “defend” Benghazi.  Whose people showed their gratitude by murdering the US Ambassador.

It is a further fascinating coincidence that this coordinated western switch of policy happens immediately after the Bilderberg conference.  An analysis of which of the corporate interests there stand to gain in Syria might be a fascinating exercise.

There were two main reasons the tide of war turned against the rebels.  Firstly, Hizbollah’s decision to enter the war on a large scale was provoked by the Israeli Air Force’s massive attack around Damascus, a fact the mainstream media has managed to hide completely.  Secondly, at Turkish urging, the rebel forces had diverted much of their energies to attacking the Syrian kurds.  This opens the interesting question of what the American client Kurds of Iraq will make of their patron sponsoring the massacre of their brethren in Syria.

Finally, chemical weapons are a terrible thing and their use should be  condemned unreservedly.  But where was all this Western outrage and activity when the Israelis were pouring down white phosphorous and kicking and maiming thousands of women and children in Gaza?

Click here to read the same post on Craig Murray’s website.

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mission accomplished in Libya?

“The rotting bodies of 30 men, almost all black and many handcuffed, slaughtered as they lay on stretchers and even in an ambulance in central Tripoli, are an ominous foretaste of what might be Libya’s future. The incoming regime makes pious statements about taking no revenge on pro-Gaddafi forces, but this stops short of protecting those who can be labelled mercenaries. Any Libyan with a black skin accused of fighting for the old regime may have a poor chance of survival.”1

So began Patrick Cockburn’s report from Tripoli three weeks ago. His article for the Independent on Sunday continues:

The killing of so-called mercenaries in Tripoli is a case in point. Since February, the insurgents, often supported by foreign powers, claimed that the battle was between Gaddafi and his family on the one side and the Libyan people on the other. Their explanation for the large pro-Gaddafi forces was that they were all mercenaries, mostly from black Africa, whose only motive was money. In the early days of the conflict, some captured Gaddafi soldiers were shown off at press conferences as mercenaries. Amnesty International investigators discovered that all had subsequently been quietly freed since they were, in fact, undocumented labourers from Chad, Mali and West Africa. But the effect of this propaganda has been to put in danger many African migrants and dark-coloured Libyans.

On the same day, Middle East political analyst Dan Glazebrook spoke to Russia Today about the hidden Western agenda behind the humanitarian facade of NATO’s involvement in Libya:

Then, last Thursday [September 15th], Glazebrook spoke again on Russia Today, discussing the role that the Islamist factions within the rebels are playing with regards to disuniting Africa:

In the midst of this, former US Congressman and civil rights activist Walter Fauntroy, who had been a close associate and friend of Martin Luther King, returned unexpectedly from a peace mission to Libya. It transpires that he had gone into hiding, having witnessed what he describes as horrifying events; his sudden disappearance sparking rumours of his death.

Back home in America he gave an interview to the Afro in which he explained his decision to go into hiding, having witnessed French and Danish troops beheading and maiming civilians and rebels “to show them who was in control”:

“‘What the hell’ I’m thinking to myself. I’m getting out of here. So I went in hiding.”

“The truth about all this will come out later.” Fauntroy said.2

Click here to read the original article.

1 From an article entitled, “Rebels wreak revenge on dictator’s men” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by the Independent on Sunday on August 28, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/rebels-wreak-revenge-on-dictators-men-2345261.html

2 From an article entitled, “Walter Fauntroy, Feared Dead in Libya, Returns Home – Guess Who He Saw Doing the Killing: It wasn’t the Libyans”, written by Valencia Mohammed, published in the Baltimore Afro-American, on September 7, 2011. http://afro.com/sections/news/national/story.htm?storyid=72369

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my enemy’s enemy — an update

“On Wednesday [July 27th], British Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the Libyan rebels’ “increasing legitimacy, competence, and success”.

“On Thursday [July 28th], with impeccable timing, it transpired that those rebels might have murdered their top military commander.”

This is how the BBC News reported on the demise of General Abdel Fatah Younes. In the same article, Shashank Joshi, an Associate Fellow at UK defence think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), goes on to speculate on what such factional infighting within the ranks of the National Transitional Council (NTC) will mean for success of the NATO campaign against Gaddafi and the future of Libya after Gaddafi:

“These latent divisions [within the NTC] were well known. They underpinned the British and American decisions to refrain from directly arming the opposition. But as deeply embarrassed as the rebels’ international backers will be at these episodes, they see no alternative but to work through the NTC, having invested so much in the removal of Gaddafi, and absent any other viable partners.

“The concern that emerges most sharply from this incident is not so much that the NTC will splinter before Tripoli falls, but that it might do so after.

“If it struggles to represent the full spectrum of political forces in a transition period, in the face of armed factions demanding political sway, Gen Younes’ killing might not be the last political assassination amongst the self-described Free Libya Forces.”

There is no deeper scrutiny in Joshi’s analysis, of motives of “the self-described Free Libya Forces”. He presents only a strategic appraisal of what the assassination of Younes means given the “irony” that, as he puts it:

“…Gen Younes’ death threatens to unpick the NTC’s credibility and cohesion at exactly the moment of its latest diplomatic triumph – fresh endorsement from Britain, the last major rebel ally to recognise the opposition as Libya’s legitimate representatives.”1

Patrick Cockburn, however, writing in last Thursday’s [August 11th] Independent, sees “irony” from a different perspective:

“A ludicrous aspect of the whole affair is that at the very moment the rebel leaders are at each other’s throats, they are being recognised by country after country as the legitimate government of Libya. This week TNC diplomats took over the Libyan embassies in London and Washington and are about to do so in Ottawa. In a masterpiece of mistiming, Britain recognised the rebel government on the day when some of its members were shooting their own commander-in-chief and burning his body.”

His article, entitled “Libya’s ragtag rebels are dubious allies”, also goes on to question more broadly the “woefully misleading” mainstream coverage of the war in Libya:

“The foreign media had its failings in Iraq, was worse in Afghanistan but has reached its nadir in covering the war in Libya. Reporting has become largely militarised. Much of it is colourful stuff from the frontline about the dashes backwards and forwards of rebel militiamen. It takes courage to report this and reporters naturally empathise with the young men with whom they are sharing a trench. Their coverage tends to be wholly in favour of the rebels and in opposition to Gaddafi.

“When Abdel Fatah Younes was murdered almost nobody in the foreign media had an explanation as to how or why it had happened. The rebel leadership, previously portrayed as a heroic band of brothers, turned out to be split by murderous rivalries and vendettas.”2

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

See also an earlier post on Libya’s rebel forces: my enemy’s enemy

1 From a BBC News article entitled “Libya conflict: Younes death betrays rebel divisions”, by Shashank Joshi, associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, published on Saturday 30th July. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14350915

2 Taken from the Independent commentators: “Patrick Cockburn: Libya’s ragtag rebels are dubious allies”, published on Thursday 11th August. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-libyas-ragtag-rebels-are-dubious-allies-2335453.html

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