Over the weekend, Donald Trump sowed more chaos when he announced that he was pulling US troops out of northeastern Syria abandoning the Kurdish forces who helped defeat ISIS giving the green light to Turkey to attack the Kurds, whom the Turks consider terrorists. The decision came after a Sunday phone call Trump had with …
Tag: Middle East
Aug 02 2019
Why can’t they learn? In 1990, the United States sent troops into Saudi Arabia at the request of the royals who were panicked over bogus pictures of the Iraq army under the late Sadaam Hussein massing on their eastern border and the Iraqi invasion of tiny Kuwait. Scott Peterson reported for The Christian Science …
Nov 03 2014
I’ve got 3 articles for ya this morning from my weekend reading.
First up, an excellent speech on the Middle East that is right on target:
So many great paragraphs in it, but here’s a couple:
“U.S. policy should encourage the nations of the Middle East to develop effective political, economic, and military strategies to defend and advance their own interests, not rush to assume responsibility for doing this for them. Part of such a policy adjustment toward emphasizing the primary responsibility of the countries of the region for their own security would involve weighing the opinions of our partners in the region much more heavily in our decisions than they have in since 9/11. Had we listened to our Gulf Arab friends, we would not have invaded Iraq in 2003. Iraq would still be balancing Iran. It would not be in chaos and it would still have a border with Syria. The United States needs to return to respecting the views of regional powers about the appropriate response to regional threats, resisting the impulse to substitute military campaign plans made in Washington for strategies conceived by those with the greatest stake in their success.
The need for restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failure but catastrophic failure. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.”
Jun 19 2014
Ninety-eight years ago on May 20, 1916, the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and British Sir Mark Sykes with Russian agreement concluded negotiations that would define each country’s spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The Sykes-Picot agreement, combined with the Balfour Declaration that proposed separate Jewish and Palestinian states, has shaped the region and its politics for nearly 100 years.
With the current Iraqi government under siege from Sunni militants angered at their exclusion from the government and the maltreatment of the Sunni population, Sykes-Picot may now be in its death throws.
In the north the Kurds seized the oil rich city of Kirkuk which paves the way for them to break away from the Shia dominated government in Baghdad. In an surprise statement from an official member of the Turkey’s ruking party, Huseyin Celik said that the Kurds in Iraq have the right to self-determination.
The AKP 9Justice and Development Party) is the party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan under whom Ankara and Erbil have built strong economic and diplomatic relations.
In case Iraq gets partitioned, said Celik, “the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”
Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.” [..]
“Turkey has been supporting the Kurdistan Region till now and will continue this support,” said Celik.
Turkey and Kurdistan have signed a 50-year energy deal and Kurdish oil is exported via a pipeline that connects the autonomous region to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.
Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim and Sophia Jones further report
The Kurds have been effectively autonomous since 1991, when the U.S. established a no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Turkey, a strong U.S. ally, has long opposed the creation of an independent Kurdistan so that its own eastern region would not be swallowed into it. But Celik’s statement indicates that the country may be starting to view an autonomous Kurdistan as a viable option — a sort of bulwark against spreading extremism within a deeply unstable country. [..]
Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have recently forged a strong bond over oil, much to the chagrin of Iraq, which claims that Baghdad has sole authority over oil in Kurdistan. Turkey recently signed a 50-year energy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous government to export Kurdish oil to the north, and Kurdistan has increased its exports this week despite the insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. [..]
Considering the Turkish past opposition to an independent Kurdish state, this is an interesting reversal.
I suspect that Iraq’s creator, Gertrude Bell, is rolling over in her Baghdad grave.
Dec 10 2013
by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Book
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.
Full transcript can be read here
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.
Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition
Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel
Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books accusing the Obama Administration of cherry-picking intelligence to present its case that Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical weapons attack on August 21.
To be clear, Hersh does not say that Assad did not launch the attack. Nor does he say al-Nusra carried out the attack. Rather, he shows that:
At some unidentified time since the beginning of the Civil War, Assad had discovered and neutralized wiretaps on his inner circle, leaving US intelligence blind to discussions happening among his top aides
Sensors planted to detect any movement of Assad’s CW immediately had not been triggered by the August 21 attack
By June, some intelligence entity had concluded that an Iraqi member of al-Nusra had the capability to manufacture sarin in quantity
A lot of the story serves to establish that two days after the attack, the US had yet to respond to it, presumably because it did not have any intelligence Syria had launched the attack, in part because nothing had triggered the sensors that had worked in the past. To develop its intelligence on the attack days afterwards, the NSA performed key word searches on already-collected radio communications of lower level Syrian military figures.
Hersh On Obama’s Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons
Moon of Alabama
A month ago Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote about CIA analysts who threatened to resign over the Obama administration allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government:
With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.
Now Seymour Hersh writes about the case and finds that the CIA knew that Jabhat al-Nusra, a fundamentalist gang fighting the Syrian government, was capable of producing Sarin, the toxic chemical weapon that was used in a suburb of Damascus:
In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
[I]n recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.
MoA has maintained since the very first reports of the chemical weapon use that this attack was likely a false flag event. We also criticized allegations by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch about the origin of the rocket debris found after the attack. The new Hersh report now completely debunks those allegations.
New Yorker, Washington Post Passed On Seymour Hersh Syria Report
By Michael Calderon, Huffington Post
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused the Obama administration Sunday of having “cherry-picked intelligence” regarding the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria that served as evidence for an argument in favor of striking President Bashar Assad’s government. [..]
Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.
In an email, Hersh wrote that “there was little interest” for the story at The New Yorker.
A New Yorker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hersh then took the story to The Washington Post. The Post intended to publish it, as BuzzFeed first reported.
Hersh told HuffPost that he went to the Post because of the paper’s reporting on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Sep 13 2013
In his speech to the nation on the possible use of military force in Syria, President Barack Obama spent most of the fifteen minutes justifying his banging the drums for war. Describing the images of people dying from exposure to an chemical weapon and citing unconfirmed casualty numbers, was a repulsive ploy to appeal to the emotions of the American people. Bombing and killing more people for humanitarian reasons is an oxymoron.
The president’s speech was a confusing mixture of claims that the action was a matter of national security but a paragraph later stating the opposite as his reason to take the issue to congress. He also made the statement that the US was the “anchor of global security” and looked upon as the enforcer of international agreements but then says “America is not the world’s policeman.” He mentions the danger of al Qaeda gaining strength in the chaos but failed to mention that the US is arming the Syrian rebels many of whom are members of al Qaeda and even more extremist Islamic groups.
After this rambling garbled message, Pres. Obama finally got around to mentioning diplomacy as an option and the Assad government’s offer to surrender its chemical weapons to international control and finally asked congress to table the resolution for the use of force.
However, it seemed as if Mr. Obama was already throwing in the towel on diplomacy through the UN before a resolution is even on the table.
In today’s New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin writes an op-ed opposing an American strike against Syria. In his plea for caution, Mr. Putin said he felt the need to speak directly to the “American people and their political leaders” citing “insufficient communication between our societies.” He noted the strong opposition worldwide and the possible consequences from the potential strike.
A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Mr. Putin went on to argue that this fight is not about democracy stating that neither side is a champion for democratic rule and that arming the Syrian rebels is also arming US designated terrorist organizations, Al Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Calling this an internal conflict and ” one of the bloodiest in the world,” he didn’t mention that Russia was supplying the Syrian government with weapons and would continue to do so.
What have not heard from Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin, pundits or any world leaders is a plea for a cease fire. They all have bemoaned how difficult it will be to secure the stockpile of Syrian weapons during an armed conflict but no one has brokered the idea of a “white flag” while the process is taking place. Of course that would mean the rebels would have to present a unified front and there are few that believe that’s possible. Also no one is asking that the rebel forces surrender whatever chemical weapons they might have simply because the White House and the media is refusing to acknowledge even the idea that they might be in possession of them, as has been revealed by communications from Iran.
America is not a neutral actor in this conflict and neither is Russia. As Mr. Putin noted, “we must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.” Both sides need to own up to reality and stop banging the war drums. They need to learn to stop talking past each other and listen.
Sep 12 2013
In a rare interview, Syria’s President Bashir al-Assad sat down with PBS’ Charlie Rose on Sunday in Damascus, Syria.
In an exclusive interview secured by Charlie Rose of PBS, Assad said: “There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people.” [..]
Rose said Assad “suggested that there would be, among people that are aligned with him, some kind of retaliation if a strike was made”. Assad, however, “would not even talk about the nature of the response”.
Rose said: “He had a message to the American people that it had not been a good experience for them to get involved in the Middle East in wars and conflicts … that the results had not been good.”
The full interview will be aired on PBS at 9 p.m. EDT Monday. Here are some excerpts that were aired on CBS This Morning.
Sep 12 2013
There are at least two resolutions are being presented to the UN Security Council to have an international agency take control of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and their destruction.
American, British and French diplomats were meeting at the UN in New York on Tuesday night to draw up a resolution that would set deadlines for Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons backed by the threat of force.
However, a major standoff loomed as Russia made clear it would not abandon its Syrian ally. Instead the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow would push for a security council declaration on disarmament, which would have no binding authority and would not allow the use of force against the Assad regime.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, insisted the disarmament process would work “only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration”.
Russia proposes to work with the Assad regime and the UN secretariat to lay out a “workable, precise and concrete” disarmament plan with a timetable but no chapter 7 enforcement mechanism.
Syria has accepted the Russian proposal to place the chemical weapons it possesses under international control.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem earlier announced that Damascus had agreed to the Russian proposal because it would “remove the grounds for American aggression,” according to an Interfax report.
“We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Walid al-Moualem was quoted as telling the speaker of Russia’s lower house parliament house in Moscow.
It comes as France plans to submit a resolution to the U.N. Security Council calling for Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to be turned over to international control, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.
Fabius said that the resolution would threaten “extremely serious” consequences if Syria violates conditions on chemical weapons.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet ina closed door session today at 4 PM EDT.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is preparing to speak this evening to press his policy for the use of military force to a very skeptical American public. In the light of the latest developments, the speech is expected to take a different direction. It does appear from statements from the White House press office that military intervention will still be an integral part of his policy towards Syria.
In the Senate, the vote on the resolution that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week was rescheduled for Wednesday. That vote, as well, may not happen as a group of senators craft a new resolution tailored to the recent Russian proposal.
All of this is unlikely to stop the fighting or even guarantee that chemical weapons won’t be used against the Syrian civilian population since no one knows who is in possession of these weapons. What we do know is that this is a small step to use diplomacy to back away from increased hostilities.
Sep 10 2013
Has Russia thrown a monkey-wrench into the US plan to bomb Syria? At a press conference in London, Secretary of State John Kerry, perhaps facetiously, suggested that if Syrian President Bashir al-Assad turned over Syria’s chemical weapons in a week, he could avoid having the a US missile strike. Sec. Kerry added that he had no expectation that the Syrian leader would comply.
Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.” He immediately dismissed the possibility that Mr. Assad would or could comply, saying: “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”
A seemingly offhand suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avert an American attack by relinquishing all of its chemical weapons received a widespread, almost immediate welcome from Syria, Russia, the United Nations, a key American ally and even some Republicans on Monday as a possible way to avoid a major international military showdown in the Syria crisis. [..]
However, in Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who was meeting with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said in response that Russia would join any effort to put Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international control and ultimately destroy them.
Mr. Lavrov appeared at a previously unscheduled briefing only hours after Mr. Kerry made his statement in London, seizing on it as a possible compromise.
Meanwhile, back on planer Washington, the White House is ramping up for an the attack by marching out National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisting that Assad must be punished because somehow he is a threat to national security. Of course she offered no proof that it was the Assad government that used the CW and completely ignored the Russian/Syrian offer to put whatever chemical weapons are in the governments possession under international control.
A saner minded Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she would “welcome” the offer.
“I believe that Russia can be most effective in encouraging the Syrian president to stop any use of chemical weapons and place all his chemical munitions, as well as storage facilities, under United Nations control until they can be destroyed,” Feinstein said in a statement Monday afternoon.
It would be nice to hear the same from the White House.
Sep 09 2013
In a very carefully worded statement to the press after her meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the decision to carry out an attack on Syria hinged on three point. She welcomed the suggestion that was made by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia to place whatever chemical weapons Syria has under international control. The suggestion was also welcomed by Syria’s Walid Muallem
Sep 07 2013
President Barack Obama concluded his meetings at the G-20 in Moscow where he sought support for bombing Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashir al-Assad. Unable to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pres. Obama took his lobbying to the G-20 dinner.
Syria divides deepen during Putin’s G20 dinner
by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian
Leaders fail to reach agreement over military action as UN called on to fulfil its obligations while Russia maintains position
The majority of leaders at a summit dinner on Thursday evening in Peterhof, near Saint Petersburg, were not in favour of any punitive action unless it was agreed by the UN security council, although strong calls for the UN to live up to its responsibilities were made by the Americans, the Turkish, Canadians, French and British. [..]
During the dinner, Putin told Barack Obama and François Hollande that the chances of reviving peace talks soon after a punitive bombing strike would be minimal.
The Russian leader won the support of the Chinese, a long-term ally of Putin on Syria, but backing also came from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, Argentina, Brazil and several European leaders, including Angela Merkel. One German diplomat said “Putin did not need to toughen his tone at the dinner. There were enough sceptics.”
At his press conference after the closing of the summit, Pres. Obama would not say if he would strike it congress did not give him the authorization. Two of the more conservative Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), have drafted a resolution in a move to appeal to those senators who are reluctant to either approve strikes or reject the use of force outright. The resolution, assuming that it was Assad who ordered the use of chemical weapons, would give President Bashar Assad’s regime a 45-day window to avoid a strike if it signs a chemical weapons ban.
President Obama’s major opposition lies in the House, where, if the vote on the Senate resolution were held today, it would fail.
Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) who is adamantly opposed to attacking Syria, appeared Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan González to discuss the US roll as the world’s police force and his website, DontAttackSyria.com, which is gathering signatures for a petition calling on Congress to deny permission to attack Syria
Transcript can be read here
“I am very disturbed by this general idea that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it,” Grayson says. “The president has criticized that mindset, and now he has adopted it. It’s simply not our responsibility to act alone and punish this.”
Secretary of State John Kerry keeps repeating that drooping a few Tomahowk missiles on Syria is not a war. I suggest that Sec. Kerry not try to sell that to the Syrian civilians.
Sep 06 2013
As you listen to the talking heads and browse through the news articles about the Syrian civil war, the is one crisis that is barely mentioned, the over two million refugees that the war has created, half of them are children. Men, women ans children are flooding neighboring Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon and rapidly spreading into Europe. Sweden has announced that it will give citizenship to all Syrian refugees. Sweden! The UN has warned that the crisis is reaching unprecedented numbers and warned that the world faces its greatest threat to peace since the Vietnam war.
The resident of Oxfam America, Raymond Offenheiser joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Naereem Shaikh to for a discussion of the global failure to address this crisis
Trancript can be read here