Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Once More into the Big Muddy

September 25, 2014

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Earlier this month, Andy Borowitz wrote an article with the title “Growing Pressure on Obama to Do Something Stupid”. This title is (partly) meant in jest, but it has proven to be prescient. Obama has finally done something that he has long resisted doing: he has bombed Syria. Why? Salim Lone, in The Guardian, writes: “Obama’s resistance to launching a war has for months made him the target of a sustained barrage of criticism, of a vehemence suffered by no other US president in the last 40 years.” Lone is probably referring to Jimmy Carter here. He was harshly criticized for not going to war with Iran over the hostage “crisis”. I would go back further, to Harry Truman, whom Republicans and much of the news media accused of “losing” China. These accusations may have contributed to Truman’s later reckless behavior during the Korean War, when he allowed Gen. MacArthur to exceed the UN mandate and invade North Korea – which led to a horrific war with China.

Over the past year or more, Obama has been under intense criticism from the media. They accuse him of being “soft” on Putin. (Do these people really want the president to start World War III?) As Lone points out:

    To get a sense of the pro-war shift in the US political landscape, recall how Bush’s infinitely more contentious 2003 war was preceded by a national debate. [Not much of a debate, actually.] Merely a media-amplified campaign for stepped-up military intervention has preceded Obama’s war. Even within his party, there has been little support, with senior figures like Hillary Clinton pouring scorn on his reticence.

Such discredited figures as Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham – all of whom helped to create the current crisis in Iraq and Syria – are being exhibited on news shows as “experts” on what we should do now. We shouldn’t consider this surprising, considering that most of the people in the news media supported the invasion of Iraq.

Once again into the Big Muddy.

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Tunnel Vision on ISIS

September 13, 2014

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

There is a certain type of argument that I’ve been hearing on the Left lately, a good example of which can be found in an article by John V. Walsh at Dissident Voice, entitled Syria Next on Hit List (ISIS is a side issue at best). In it, he writes about President Obama’s recent speech:

    The rationales that Obama is peddling make no sense. If the barbarity of beheading were the actual trigger of this latest onslaught on the Middle East, then the U.S. would not be sending our “moderate” trainees to Saudi Arabia where beheading is a well respected national past time – far more popular than allowing women to drive automobiles.

But the beheadings aren’t the only trigger. ISIS has carried out mass killings of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims. These have received extensive coverage in the US media. Walsh must surely know this, yet he never mentions this. The point about beheadings in Saudi Arabia is basically true, but it’s not really pertinent to the situation in Syria. Walsh goes on:

    And ISIS remains a mysterious entity, springing up out of nowhere and carrying arms that are supplied by American and Saudi agencies. In Iran as was reported in the NYT yesterday on the front page, the great majority of “the street” believes it is an American/Israeli/Saudi creation.

Since Walsh apparently reads the New York Times, he must surely know that ISIS captured US weapons when the US-trained Iraqi army fled Mosul. Another important detail that he neglects to mention. And in what possible sense can “the street” in Iran be considered a reliable source on the relationship between the US and ISIS?

    Syria, of course, was on the list of targets that General Wesley Clarke [sic] revealed to us that there was a hit list in the Middle East and North Africa of seven countries, “starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” And miraculously the schedule has been modified only slightly perhaps because Assad has put up such fierce resistance.

Walsh has no idea what he is talking about here. The “hit list” he refers to was drawn up by neoconservatives in the Bush Administration before the invasion of Iraq. They expected to accomplish all of their goals within five years. (You can see how well that worked out.) It’s doubtful whether this list still has any influence over US foreign policy. Obama has had five years in which to attack Syria. Last year’s Sarin gas attack gave him a perfect excuse to do so, yet instead he eagerly accepted an offer by Russia to negotiate a deal with Assad.

Walsh ends with this rhetorical flourish:

    The dream of the U.S. Empire to dominate the Eurasian land mass is being implemented: Damascus, Tehran, Moscow and finally Beijing unless nuclear war breaks out first. Obama and the rest of the imperial elite are flirting with Armageddon.

Uh, yeah. Look, I have strong reservations about what the president is proposing to do in Syria and Iraq. We need to have a serious national discussion about this. Unfortunately, we have too many people like Walsh, who just want to idly spin conspiracy theories.

Chicken Little Comes to CounterPunch

May 15, 2014

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John Pilger

The May 14th edition of CounterPunch has an article by John Pilger with the ominous title of A World War is Beckoning. Pilger begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions:

    Why do we ­tolerate the threat of ­another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?

Uh, maybe because there is no threat of another world war in our name? I suspect that isn’t the answer that Pilger wants to hear. Later on, he writes:

    For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is ­threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Pilger needs to get a grip. Placing mild economic sanctions on Russia is not “threatening to take the world to war”.

    Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s ­historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed.

There is evidence that the US has meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that the US “masterminded the coup in February”. And he offers no evidence for his amazing claim that US planned to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea. This would have been an act of war, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do.

This is an example of the Chicken Little argument that has become popular among the Left in recent years. For the past three years some on the Left have been screaming that Obama wants to go to war with Syria, yet said war has failed to materialize. We need to try to understand what the people in power are actually trying to do, rather than just assume that they have the most evil intentions imaginable.

There is a good deal that the Obama administration can be criticized for in this situation. And too many people in the media have given Obama a pass on this. (Even worse, some of them have urged the president to “get tough” with Putin.) There needs to be a congressional investigation of the role that the State Department and the CIA have played in the recent events in Ukraine. I’m afraid, however, that this will probably never happen. (Because, you know, Benghazi is far more important.)

Obama’s Speech on Syria

September 11, 2013

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The speech that President Obama just gave on Syria was a depressing example of the empty rhetoric and hypocritical moral posturing that make up the political discourse in this country. He begins by saying:

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

Images of people killed by conventional bombs are every bit as sickening as the images described here. So what is it that makes chemical warfare a “crime against humanity”? It’s not until the middle of the next paragraph that Obama tries to give an answer to that question:

    Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant…

Conventional weapons can also kill on a mass scale, and they also do not distinguish between soldier and infant. The idea that chemical weapons are more inhumane than other weapons has no basis in fact. If there is anything peculiarly destructive about chemical weapons, it is the fact that some chemicals, such as Agent Orange, can linger in the environment and do long-term damage. (Although I’m guessing that Obama doesn’t consider Agent Orange to be a chemical weapon.)

Obama cites two examples from history of the use of chemical weapons:

    In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

Obama conveniently neglects to mention that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds and Iranians, back when he was still a U.S. ally. The president at that time was Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama has expressed great admiration. (I think it worth noting here that during World War I, more people were killed by artillery and machine guns than by deadly gas.)

The President goes on to say:

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. [Uh, you mean like Saddam Hussein?] But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

    Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.

This is a sophisticated reformulation of the “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” argument that was wildly popular back when G.W. Bush was in the White House. First of all, our troops already face the prospect of chemical warfare, which is why they are trained in the use of gas masks. I think it a fair guess that many governments – dictatorships or otherwise – possess chemical weapons of one kind or another, regardless of any treaties. As for terrorists getting a hold of chemical weapons, that is a real possibility, I’m afraid, but it would be naïve to think that bombing Syria is going to prevent any possibility of that happening.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon [which is not against international law], or to take a more peaceful path.

So, this is really about Iran? Obama thinks that if he kills a bunch of Syrians, this will convince the Iranians that they shouldn’t build any nuclear weapons? Might not the Iranians draw the exact opposite conclusion? They might decide they need nuclear weapons so the U.S. won’t attack them the way it did Syria.

The President’s speech ends on an optimistic note. He tells us he has decided to postpone asking Congress to authorize the use of force, so he can pursue a proposal by Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons so they can be destroyed. It appears that Putin has saved Obama from the humiliation of Congress voting down the authorization. Bullshit can only get you so far in this world. Obama has once again benefited from dumb luck.

Paul Craig Roberts

September 7, 2013

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Paul Craig Roberts is a former Reagan Administration official who, during the past decade or so, has reinvented himself as a populist, an outspoken critic of the banksters whose interests he once faithfully served. Roberts is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

The September 6-8 edition of CounterPunch has an article by Roberts entitled Will Congress Now Save Obama’s Face By Selling Out Democracy and the Syrian People?. In it, Roberts writes:

    The presstitute media and the House and Senate “leaders” who report to the military/security complex and to the Israel Lobby keep talking about Assad’s “own people,” but Assad’s own people support him. Polls of Syrians show that Assad has more support from the Syrian people than every head of every Western country has from their citizens. Cameron’s, Hollande’s, Merkel’s and Obama’s poll numbers are dismal compared to the Syrian peoples’ support for Assad.

I clicked on the link that Roberts provides with this paragraph. It took me to a website called World Tribune.com. The editor of the site, Robert Morton, is a former editor of the right-wing Washington Times. The site lists Breitbart.com, which smeared ACORN and Shirley Sherrod, as a “content partner”. It featured an article titled “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds”. It says:

    The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

    The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.

Clearly, this was no systematic poll, but simply a collection of opinions from various unidentified “activists and independent organizations”.

In the next paragraph, Roberts writes:

    Just as there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” but the facts did not stop the Bush regime from telling its lies that resulted in massive deaths and destruction of Iraqis, deaths and destruction that continue as I write, Assad has not used chemical weapons “against his own people.” All of the evidence points to a false flag event that Obama could seize upon to launch America’s 7th war in 12 years.

I googled the words “Gouta false flag event”, and all I found were articles based on an article on the Mint Press News site titled “EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack”. However, the article never uses the term “false flag event”. Instead, one of the authors interviewed some Syrians who claimed that what actually happened was that some rebel soldiers accidentally set off some chemical weapons. If the gassing was accidental, it was not a “false flag event”. The article ends with a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”

Roberts accuses the government and the media of making false claims about Syria, yet he makes false claims himself. This crank is not worth our time.

Conspiracy-mongering and the Syrian Revolt

September 6, 2013

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Ellen Brown

Experience has taught me to be wary of conspiracy theories, but many of my comrades on the Left can’t get enough of the damn things. Even when it’s quite plain what is going on, they must look for a hidden agenda, or a grand, over-arching scheme outlined in a Goldmann Sachs memo.

CounterPunch and AlterNet have both posted an article by Ellen Brown, in which she writes:

    In his August 22nd article, Greg Palast posted a screenshot of a 1997 memo from Timothy Geithner, then Assistant Secretary of International Affairs under Robert Rubin, to Larry Summers, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner referred in the memo to the “end-game of WTO financial services negotiations” and urged Summers to touch base with the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase Manhattan Bank, for whom private phone numbers were provided.

    The game then in play was the deregulation of banks so that they could gamble in the lucrative new field of derivatives. To pull this off required, first, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act that imposed a firewall between investment banking and depository banking in order to protect depositors’ funds from bank gambling. But the plan required more than just deregulating US banks. Banking controls had to be eliminated globally so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws.

Brown then goes on to tell how the U.S. pressured countries around the world to loosen their banking regulations. Most eventually gave in, but there were some hold-outs, one of which happened to be Syria. Brown’s article implies that this is what is behind Obama’s recent call for an intervention in Syria. I don’t buy it. I’m expected to believe that Obama waited two and a half years for Assad to gas his own people* so he could finally carry out Timothy Geither’s master plan? If Syria were that important to Obama, he would have found (or invented) some excuse for intervention before now. The fact that Geithner wrote something in a memo sixteen years ago doesn’t mean that must be the reason why the government is doing something right now. (*I know there are some who claim that a rebel group did the gassing, but in these situations the burden of proof is always on the conspiracy theorists. Unless I see some hard evidence indicating otherwise, I’m going to assume it was Assad who did it.)

Brown also writes:

    These seven countries were named by U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.) in a 2007 “Democracy Now” interview as the new “rogue states” being targeted for take down after September 11, 2001. He said that about 10 days after 9-11, he was told by a general that the decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. Later, the same general said they planned to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

Again, this doesn’t prove anything. Just because somebody said something to Wesley Clark in 2001, it doesn’t necessarily follow that that is the reason why Obama is doing something today.

There are valid arguments that can be made against what Obama is proposing to do. We don’t need to confuse matters by putting forth dubious conspiracy theories.

Syria and the Art of Moral Imperialism

August 28, 2013

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The conflict in Syria has been going on for over two years now, and President Obama has been doing everything he can to stay out of it, but now there is talk in the media of an attack, possibly this week. Confronted by growing evidence that the Assad government has used poison gas against civilians, President Obama now has to make good on all his talk about red lines. (Barry Crimmins recently said, “If we’re prepared to use force on people who commit chemical warfare, when do we attack Monsanto?”) He is reportedly studying different options that have been presented to him by the military. However, a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, has said, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change.” So what are Obama’s aims then? My guess is that he is going to carry out a one-off attack, similar to Clinton’s missile strike in Khartoum or Reagan’s bombing of Libya. Obama can then say that the U.S. has shown zero tolerance towards the use of chemical weapons, to the applause of his supporters. The attack will increase tensions with Russia and with Iran, but it will be a small price to pay so that the U.S. can maintain its facade of moral high-mindedness.

We have come a long way since the giddy days following the invasion of Iraq, when there was delirious talk about the prospect of U.S. troops marching through the streets of Damascus and Teheran. I argued in an earlier post that the U.S. empire is not in decline, and I still hold that view. What has happened is that the Iraq War and its aftermath has taught the U.S. ruling class to take a more realistic view of what it can and cannot do, as well as to take a more realistic view of the internal politics of other countries. (Contrast Gen. Dempsey’s sober assessment of the Syrian opposition with the neoconservatives’ love affair with the convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi.) In that respect, it can be argued that the U.S. empire is actually in better shape today than it was under George W. Bush.

Dr. Ismail Salami and the “Clash of Cultures”

September 26, 2012


Ismail Salami, Shakespearean scholar, author of children’s books, spouter of gibberish.

Dissident Voice has recently posted this cracking good article by Ismail Salami, entitled West Braces for Clash of Cultures. (No one I know is bracing for a clash of cultures, but then maybe I just don’t move through the right social circles.) The article begins:

    With the publication of the profane pictures of the holy Prophet of Islam in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the West seems to be consciously moving in a direction where chaos will dominate the international arena and a clash of cultures will inevitably run deeper for an indefinite period of time.

A literary agent once said to me, “You’ve got to grab the reader by the throat and lift him out of his chair.” Dr. Salami (I’m trying hard not to go for the obvious joke here) has clearly accomplished this with this extraordinary paragraph/run-on sentence. But what exactly does it mean? In the first half, he seems to suggest that Charlie Hebdo is published by somebody named “the West”. In the second half, he seems to be saying that a “clash of cultures” will “run deeper” (like a submarine?).

Clearly, Salami is a master of the Nietzschean aphoristic syle. However, he can be shockingly blunt when he puts his mind to it:

    There are abortive attempts by western analysts to interpret the two baneful incidents in the light of freedom of expression and thereby explain away the emotional hurt of the Muslim world.

That’s right, 1.6 billion Muslims will not be able to sleep tonight because of some cartoons in an obscure left-wing newspaper in France. If you believe that, I’ve got some property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

    However, to an intellectually trained mind, this seems more than just an insult to Islam and the Muslims.

Of course, those of us without intellectually trained minds just have no idea what the fuck is going on, do we? (By the way, someone needs to explain to Dr. Salami that “intellectually trained mind” is redundant.)

    The calculated move of the French magazine [sic] in publishing the insulting cartoons immediately after the blasphemous film indicates a united front forming against Islam in the West.

Damn right. As soon as the right-wing Christian producers of Innocence of Muslims had finished filming, they immediately called up their left-wing atheist comrades in France and said, “It’s your turn, bros!” Tag team style.

    On the one hand, the move can be seen as an attempt to help escalate the crisis in the Middle East region and on the other hand to plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.

“… plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.” This may not be worthy of Shakespeare, but it’s almost worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.

    Should we naively believe that the anti-Islam film which has caused much uproar and intellectual chagrin in the Muslim world is the work of a Coptic Christian Egyptian fraudster, a small-time porn director and a bunch of extremists who harbor deep hatred against Islam?

Uh… yes? Is this some sort of trick question?

    This is a good question and it deserves an answer.

As my Aunt Bea used to say, “Every good question deserves an answer.”

    Still, the answer seems to be found in the incident which followed the film i.e. the publication of the blasphemous cartoons.

Uh… what?

    Seen from an analytical point of view, the entire scenario apparently tilts the scale in favor of the Zionists who capitalize on a large-scale fracas between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. In fact, they are the ones who will catch the bigger fish in these trouble waters.

Bigger than whose fish?

    Amidst this craftily authored plan [yeah it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?], Israel has commenced a series of war games in Golan Heights, the biggest the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has conducted in the six years since the second Lebanon war on Hezbollah in 2006. Military sources say the war game looks like a real war with tens of thousands of soldiers and senior officers, including the artillery and the air force taking part. Israeli officials have announced that the situation in Syria is precariously volatile and that the country is in possession of a huge arsenal of chemical weapons which they fear might fall into the hands of wrong people stockpile if President Bashar Assad is ousted. This is the excuse which they use to justify their military show-off. In point of fact, Israel is readying itself to wage a military encounter in the region by using the anti-Islam scenario.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but the last two sentences seem to contradict each other. If Israel can use an alleged chemical weapons stockpile as an excuse to intervene in Syria, why would they need to use “the anti-Islam scenario” (whatever that is)? (By the way, the Israelis have never needed an excuse to do anything.)

One can clearly see why the editors of Dissident Voice thought this article was worth posting. What better way to understand what is currently happening in the Muslim world than by reading gibberish?

I feel inspired to write my own article for Dissident Voice. It will be a learned dissertation on why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Watch for it.