The Western media have proved for all to see that the Western media comprises either a collection of ignorant and incompetent fools or a brothel that sells war for money.
The Western media fell in step with Washington and blamed the downed Malaysian airliner on Russia. No evidence was provided. In its place the media used constant repetition. Washington withheld the evidence that proved that Kiev was responsible. The media’s purpose was not to tell the truth, but to demonize Russia.
Now we have the media story of the armored Russian column that allegedly crossed into Ukraine and was destroyed by Ukraine’s rag-tag forces that ISIS would eliminate in a few minutes. British reporters fabricated this story or were handed it by a CIA operative working to build a war narrative. The disreputable BBC hyped the story without investigating.
The German media, including Die Welt, blared the story throughout Germany without concern at the absence of any evidence. Reuters news agency, also with no investigation, spread the story. Readers tell me that CNN has been broadcasting the fake story 24/7. Although I cannot stand to watch it, I suspect Fox “news” has also been riding this lame horse hard. Readers tell me that my former newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, which has fallen so low as to be unreadable, also spread the false story. I hope they are wrong. One hates to see the complete despoliation of one’s former habitat.
The media story is preposterous for a number of reasons that should be obvious to a normal person.
The first reason is that the Russian government has made it completely clear that its purpose is to de-escalate the situation. When other former Russian territories that are part of present day Ukraine followed Crimea, voted their independence and requested reunification with Russia, President Putin refused.
To underline his de-escalation, President Putin asked the Russian Duma to rescind his authority to intervene militarily in Ukraine in behalf of the former Russian provinces. As the Russian government, unlike Washington or EU governments, stresses legality and the rule of law, Russian military forces would not be sent into Ukraine prior to the Duma renewing Putin’s authority so to do.
The second reason the story is obviously false is that if the Russian government decides to invade Ukraine, Russia would not send in one small armored group unprotected by air cover or other forces. If Russia invades Ukraine, it will be with a force capable of rolling up the rag-tag Ukrainian forces, most of which are semi-private militias organized by nazis. The “war” would last a few hours, after which Ukraine would be in Russia’s hands where it resided for hundreds of years prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Washington’s successful efforts in 1991 to take advantage of Russian weakness to break apart the constituent provinces of Russia herself.
The third reason that the story is obviously false is that not a single Western news organization hyping the story has presented a shred of evidence in its behalf.
What we witness in this fabricated story is the total lack of integrity in the entirety of the Western media.
A story totally devoid of any evidence to support it has been broadcast world wide. The White House has issued a statement saying that it cannot confirm the story, but nevertheless the White House continues to issue accusations against Russia for which the White House can supply no evidence. Consequently, Western repetition of bald-faced lies has become truth for huge numbers of peoples. As I have emphasized in my columns, these Western lies are dangerous, because they provoke war.
The same group in Washington and the same Western “media” are telling the same kind of lies that were used to justify Washington’s wars in Iraq (weapons of mass destruction), Afghanistan (Taliban = al-Qaeda), Syria (use of chemical weapons), Libya (an assortment of ridiculous charges), and the ongoing US military murders in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
The city upon the hill, the light unto the world, the home of the exceptional, indispensable people is the home of Satan’s lies where truth is prohibited and war is the end game.
Earlier this week we posted Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill’s interview with Sadiq Al Timimi on the current conflict in Iraq, in historical, local, and international contexts. Given the mounting ex post facto justifications for another round of heightened US military intervention in Iraq, already well underway and with no defined limit in either the scope of possible actions to be undertaken, or a temporal limit for such interventionism, we opted to counter some of the dogma and myth-making that has been so effortlessly produced by those with ample practice—and interest—in justifying the further militarization and Americanization of Iraqi affairs.
More US intervention is the last thing that is needed in Iraq. The current phase of conflict (the rapid advance of the Islamic State forces, also referred to as either ISIS or ISIL) is in many ways the direct outcome of US and other international intervention in Iraq over the past quarter century at least (and the failed campaign to back the armed overthrow of the government of Syria). The effective partitioning of Iraq to separate the Kurdish zone is one consequence of the illegal no-fly zone instituted and enforced by the US and UK throughout the 1990s. The gradual and then drastic destruction of the Iraqi state, via international sanctions and then with the invasion and occupation that started in March, 2003, deliberately and intentionally created disorder. This was a grand act of vandalism, designed to terminate a unified, secular state that had been forced to oppose US interests. Arming and training sectarian militias as part of the “surge” and General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy, opened the door to atrocious ethnic cleansing that has not ceased since it began under US tutelage. An unstable government in Baghdad, and inter-ethnic violence, is precisely what American victory looks like. If after Iran, and after Russia, the US chose to renew its military intervention, it is not because it feels threatened by disorder—it is only threatened by the disorder that it cannot efficiently manage to its own ends.
Otherwise, there is no special “humanitarian crisis” in Iraq other than the one which the US and other western powers have been deliberately implementing since 1990. The greatest humanitarian crisis suffered by Iraq thus far has been the unprovoked naked aggression of the US against Iraq, committing a crime of the first order of importance under international law with the 2003 invasion. The subsequent commission of numerous war crimes by the US military, and atrocities against civilans, including torture, mass detentions, and the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, are all crimes for which the US remains to answer. Some sporadic air drops of water and food cannot erase that, and by the US government’s own acknowledgment, confirmed by facts on the ground, current US military intervention is no solution to Iraqi problems. It is, however, an open door to even greater intervention over the long term. Meanwhile, US plans for a political solution are inconclusive, inadequate, and generally poorly conceived.
As we see, the US is only bombing ISIS when it gets too near to US business interests in Kurdistan—which is not to say that the US should do something otherwise. Otherwise ISIS can do as they like, as they have in Syria with the support of Turkey, a member of NATO, and US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with US funding and equipment itself. Further US intervention can only further delegitimize the Iraqi state and army. For all its many faults, the Iraqi state has been developing an independent foreign policy over the last few years, having refused to become part of the US lynching of Syria, and building up economic relations with China, Iran and Russia. Now the US has clearly backed, if not engineered, a constitutional coup against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, adding further instability at a time of great political vulnerability. Iraq is well capable of dealing with ISIS—indeed, when left alone, it was almost most capable of dealing with such extremist movements. Even the Ba’ath Party, in the person of Izzat al-Douri, has declared ISIS a criminal element and condemned their sectarian atrocities, so ISIS has no real future in Iraq, and they certainly do not present an existential threat.
If Iraq looks like a “safe haven” for extremism now, it is as a direct result of US intervention. More US and western intervention will not solve the problems that such intervention caused in the first place, nor are the results we are witnessing innocently accidental and unforeseen consequences.
The US’ aims in Iraq have never been, and still are not, about saving poor civilians in Iraq.
By The Numbers
Gaza: Indiscriminate Israeli War Crimes against Civilians
Number of Gazans killed by Israel: 1,943 (with 80 percent civilian casualties including 437 children and 243 women)
Number of Gazans wounded by Israel: 9,886
Number of Houses Destroyed: 5,622; Damaged: at least 36,700
Number of Mosques Destroyed: 64; Damaged: 152
Number of Schools or Educational Facilities Destroyed or Damaged: 189
Number of Hospitals or Medical Facilities Destroyed or Damaged: 24
Number of Structures Destroyed including the only Electric Power Plant: More than 1500
Egypt: A Brutal Military Coup To Halt Democracy and Silence Political Dissent
Number of people killed by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to January 31, 2014: at least 3248 (including 299 students with 289 males and 10 females (table 5 at the bottom); at least 80 died while in custody)
Number of people injured by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to February 28, 2014: 18,535 (including at least 1400 students)
Number of people arrested by the coup regime from July 3, 2013 to May 31, 2014: 41,163 (By April 2014 only 9,220 have been tried with about 1,260 receiving death sentences in mass trials)
Syria: a Bloody Civil War Fueled by Sectarianism and Foreign Interference
Number of Syrian Refugees and Displaced Persons according to the UN by end of July 2014: 2,951,423 (three fourths of which are women and children)
American Military Aid to Israel: Aiding and Abetting Israeli War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
Israel GDP per capita: $38,700 (more than Japan)
Gaza GDP per capita: less than $2,000 (164 in the world; less than half of West Bank)
Annual U.S. military aid to Israel: $3.6 Billion ($3.1B in direct military aid and $504 million in subsidies to Israeli military industries)
Daily U.S. military aid to Israel: $10 million
All Time Aid US Aid to Israel: $125 Billion ($160B when adjusted to inflation)
Amount of weapons and munitions US sent to Israel since its 2012 war on Gaza: $276 million not including exports of military transport equipment and high technologies
Amount of stockpile of ammunition the US military stores in Israel for that country’s use (called War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel): $1 Billion
Amount of rocket launchers, guided missiles, bombs, grenades and munitions of war US sent to Israel between January and May 2014: $37 million
Congressional Vote to give Israel $225 million in emergency military aid in early August 2014: House of Representatives: 395 to 8; Senate: 100 to 0.
The eight courageous dissenters in the House (four Democrats and four Republicans) are: Keith Ellison (D-MN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Justin Amash (R-MI), Walter Jones (R-NC), Tom Massie (R-KY), and Mark Sanford (R-SC).
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at email@example.com.
Secretary of State Kerry has earned an unenviable reputation for bombastic exaggeration at times when diplomatic caution is needed, a pattern that he has demonstrated again in rushing to judgment over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The last time a major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. In a speech on Aug. 30, 2013, he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “we know” that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Just a few days later it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. There was instead a great deal of uncertainty within the U.S. intelligence community. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground by refusing to say “we know.”
Indeed, the dog-not-barking moment in the Syria-sarin case was the absence of U.S. intelligence officials sitting behind Kerry when he testified about his supposed knowledge to the U.S. Congress. Unlike the tableau in 2003 when CIA Director George Tenet positioned himself behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to give silent endorsement to Powell’s false allegations about Iraqi WMD to the United Nations Security Council, Kerry had no such support when he made his case against Syria’s government, although the clueless U.S. mainstream news media failed to notice this significant absence.
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this lack of consensus among our former colleagues in a Memorandum for the President on Sept. 6. Determined to avoid a redux of the fraudulent intelligence performance on Iraqi WMD, our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy” – again. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director John Brennan could give Kerry the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best the Obama administration could cook up was something called a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence and shorn of the normal dissents that intelligence analysts file with traditional estimates.
The reason for this internal intelligence community resistance was that, from the start, it made little sense that Assad would have launched a sarin attack right outside Damascus just as UN inspectors were unpacking at their Damascus hotel, having arrived in Syria to examine another chemical incident that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Further, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had sarin and that they may well have been the ones who released it on Aug. 21 in a scheme to push Obama across his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and induce the U.S. military to join the civil war on the rebel side.
At the time, the rebels were increasingly desperate. They had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer. The Turks, who had been aiding the rebels, also were growing convinced that only open U.S. military involvement could avert a looming defeat. So they set out, with apparent support of hawks in the U.S. State Department, to mousetrap President Obama into “retaliating” against Syria for crossing the “red line.”
Kerry’s performance on Aug. 30 – with all his “we knows” – was a clarion call for attacking Syria and might have prevailed, were it not for the fact that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone in Official Washington by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately as expected, but rather would go to Congress for authorization.
How close the world came to another U.S. war was underscored by the fact that after Obama’s decision, France, which had been eager to attack, had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on the tarmac. Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
On Sept. 1, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey’s intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his Sept. 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they, too, were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria included a transparent attempt to play down the effectiveness of al-Qaeda affiliates in gaining control of the armed opposition to Assad.
Kerry’s testimony drew a highly unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said, “He [Kerry] is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad.”
But Kerry continued to dissemble. Still arguing for war on Syria, Kerry was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively, in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”
However, such a plan was already afoot, being pushed by Putin’s diplomats. Later that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. Cutting out Kerry, Obama had cut a deal directly with Putin. All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.
So this is the backdrop against which to give credence, or not, to Kerry’s stacking up the evidence against Russia for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday over Ukraine.
Dear Kenneth Roth,
While we welcome your stated commitment to Human Rights Watch’s independence and credibility, we are dismayed by your rejection of our common-sense suggestion for strengthening them: bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members—or, at a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government.
Before addressing your letter’s objections to the three instances of HRW’s advocacy that suggest a conflict of interest, we would like to reiterate that they were “limited to only recent history,” and that other cases could have been raised as well. One obvious example of HRW’s failure to appropriately criticize U.S. crimes occurred after the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Haiti. The U.S. government essentially kidnapped Haiti’s president; thousands of people were killed under the ensuing coup regime; and deposed officials of the constitutional government were jailed.
In the face of what were likely the worst human rights abuses of any country in the Western hemisphere at the time, HRW barely lifted a finger. HRW never hosted a press conference criticizing the coup or post-coup atrocities. In contrast to HRW’s appeals to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter for Venezuela and Cuba, HRW never publicly invoked the Charter in the case of Haiti, even as Articles 20 and 21 afforded multilateral measures “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime.” HRW never placed an op-ed about the overthrow in a prominent newspaper. (In 2004 The New York Times alone published at least five HRW opinion pieces and four HRW letters on other subjects.) It is reasonable for outside observers to question whether this lack of response from HRW to such large-scale human rights violations had anything to do with U.S. foreign-policy priorities.
The very existence of such questions regarding HRW’s advocacy should be reason enough to impose sharp restrictions on HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government. Given the impact of global perceptions on HRW’s ability to carry out its work, simply the appearance of impropriety can impede HRW’s effectiveness. Closing HRW’s revolving door would be an important first step to allaying or preempting concerns that HRW’s priorities are compromised.
Concrete evidence of a revolving-door phenomenon between HRW and the U.S. government renders crucially incomplete your admission that “it is true that some served in the US government before or after their involvement with Human Rights Watch.” We provided examples of those who served in the U.S. government both before and after their involvement with HRW, a norm widely recognized to generate perverse incentives and undermine an institution’s reputation for independence.
For instance, you may disagree with our view that a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency—one of the world’s greatest institutional human rights violators over the past half-century—has no standing to advise on human rights issues for your organization. Surely you must concede, however, that a conflict of interest was raised when Miguel Díaz, the ex-CIA analyst in question, exploited the eight years of experience and relationships he accumulated within HRW’s advisory committee for his subsequent role as the U.S. State Department’s “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”
Your colleague, HRW Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody, seemed to misunderstand the nature of our proposal, arguing in a June 11 debate on Democracy Now! that “Miguel Díaz never worked at Human Rights Watch,” and that the organization is “a big tent—we’ve got people on the right; we’ve got people on the left.” In fact, our letter suggested prohibitions or cooling-off periods for “any associate,” including advisory-committee members like Díaz. Secondly, our proposals would not impact political diversity; rather, they would make it more difficult for those previously employed by human rights-abusing organizations like the CIA from adversely influencing HRW’s priorities or damaging HRW’s reputation.
It is important to further clarify our request, as Brody made two mutually irreconcilable claims: that “there is no revolving door,” and that “this revolving-door policy, if we implemented it, would have changed one person at Human Rights Watch.” Both statements are untrue. A cooling-off period, which all HRW associates would accept, would have prevented both Díaz and former HRW Washington director Tom Malinowski from almost immediately entering the U.S. State Department (Malinowski is now Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and would have also applied to Nik Steinberg, a senior researcher in HRW’s Americas division as of May 2014.
Just one week after you received our May 12 letter, Mr. Steinberg announced that he was leaving HRW to take a position with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, which he described as an “extraordinary opportunity.” This is disturbing from a human rights perspective, because Ms. Power’s July 17, 2013 confirmation hearing was riddled with provocative comments, including her evidence-free claim of an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” her promise to “never apologize for America,” and her commitment to “work tirelessly to defend” Israel. After assuming her post, she advocated in favor of a U.S. strike against Syria in 2013, defending it as “legitimate” while tacitly acknowledging its illegality. She later declared that the United States has “nothing to apologize for” in Afghanistan, despite its record of numerous atrocities. Most recently, Ms. Power engaged in a coordinated media event with Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Brody once referred to as a war criminal.
HRW’s proximity to Ms. Power damages HRW’s stated independence in light of her declarations that “the United States is the greatest country on Earth,” “the leader in human rights,” and “the leader in human dignity.” Shortly after leaving HRW, Malinowski similarly lauded the “bipartisan consensus for America’s defense of liberty around the world” and the “exceptional” nature of the United States at his own September 24, 2013 confirmation hearing.
Mr. Roth, we are deeply worried that Mr. Steinberg’s announced transition to Ms. Power’s office—a week after your receipt of our letter—is just one of many more revolving-door episodes that will continue to create perverse incentive structures within the organization. How can we expect HRW associates to be completely unafraid to hold human rights violators in the U.S. government accountable for their offenses and crimes when they are hoping to work for some of these very same functionaries immediately upon leaving HRW? That is the question that you must answer, Mr. Roth, in light of the transitions of Malinowski, Díaz and Steinberg to the U.S. State Department.
If you nevertheless object to prohibiting the involvement of U.S. foreign-policy officials at HRW or instituting cooling-off periods for them, we suggest, in parallel, an even narrower proposal: bar the participation at HRW of those who bear a direct responsibility for violating international humanitarian law. Javier Solana, currently a member of HRW’s board of directors, served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General during its 1999 military campaign in Yugoslavia. NATO’s use of cluster munitions and its bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia led HRW itself to conclude that the organization “committed violations of international humanitarian law.”
Solana is therefore a poor choice for HRW’s board of directors. His removal from your board would signal HRW’s good-faith effort to bolster its independence and credibility as an advocate for human rights. When Mr. Brody was asked on Democracy Now! to respond to the argument that “those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization,” Mr. Brody said, “I would agree with that.” We hope you concur with your colleague.
We will now address in turn your responses to the three cases of problematic HRW advocacy mentioned in our letter:
First, you objected to our concerns over the 2009 statements made by Tom Malinowski as HRW’s Washington director to the LA Times. He contended that “under limited circumstances” there was a “legitimate place” for renditions. You argue that our letter “mistakenly claims he was supporting unlawful CIA renditions,” and that “Malinowski was certainly not endorsing the CIA’s illegal rendition program, which entailed transferring individuals without due process protections to countries where they faced torture.” You further define renditions as simply “the transfer of a person in custody from one jurisdiction to another, which is legal under certain circumstances,” and cite extraditions as a legitimate form of rendition.
We appreciate your attempt to clarify Malinowski’s statement, which at the time provoked public consternation from law professors specializing in constitutional law and international law, such as Darren Hutchinson and Kenneth Anderson. This reaction arose because the LA Times article in question focused exclusively on CIA renditions and President Barack Obama’s executive order, which preserved them through a redefinition that allowed the transfer of suspects on a “short-term, transitory basis.” All CIA renditions, whether long- or short-term, whether they lead to torture or not, deny suspects the right to legal proceedings in which they can challenge their transfer from the country in question. Unlike commonplace extraditions, CIA renditions—extraordinary or otherwise—do not guarantee the detainees’ right to legal counsel or access to the court system of the country where they are seized.
In our previous letter to you, we cited Obama’s “preservation of renditions” as a serious human rights concern, and hyperlinked to a widely cited Open Society Justice Initiative report from 2013 which observed that Obama’s 2009 “executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition,” and that “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition.” In light of this and the fact that the LA Times solely focused on an executive order pertaining to CIA renditions, Malinowski’s comment on their “legitimate place” was troubling and remains so, especially given his now-senior position within the Obama administration. Controversy around the practice persists, as exemplified by the headline of a 2013 Washington Post news article: “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns.”
Malinowski’s subsequent statement to the LA Times was perhaps even more dubious, for additional reasons. As HRW’s Washington director, he paraphrased the Obama administration’s claim that designing an alternative to “people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time,” without questioning whether a gradual approach to ending such abuses was justifiable or even legal. For an organization that operates under the principle that human rights are absolute rights, not rights to be traded away for expediency or other political goals—which is the only way that a credible human rights organization can or should operate—such a statement should be deeply alarming. In fact, the Obama administration did proceed to “take some time,” sustaining the use of such “foreign dungeons” for years—likely up to the present day.
Numerous eye-witness testimonies led to articles by Der Spiegel in 2009 and the BBC in 2010 that reported on torture conducted under Obama’s presidency at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where detainees have had no right to habeas corpus. A 2011 Nation investigative piece detailed the conditions of an underground “secret prison” in Somalia used by the CIA, which serves as a destination for U.S.-assisted renditions. U.S. officials are said to conduct joint “debriefings,” or interrogations, at the site. The report’s author, Jeremy Scahill, found that the prisoners were unable to be seen by the Red Cross, and “they are not ever presented with charges.”
We note with interest that none of the HRW reports on rendition that you listed and hyperlinked to in your letter refer to torture, CIA renditions, or long-term detention without due process that have occurred under the Obama administration. While we welcome HRW’s call for criminal investigations regarding Bush-era human rights abuses, it appears that HRW has not advocated for criminal investigations into any of these Obama-era abuses. In fact, two HRW researchers have publicly fretted over the U.S. handover of the Bagram base to the Afghan government due to concerns over Afghanistan’s use of torture, without ever mentioning Obama-era, U.S.-directed torture at the same base. There may be some legitimate reason for HRW’s very different positions regarding the two administrations, but combined with the existence of HRW’s revolving door, they reinforce a reasonable suspicion that Malinowski’s inappropriate comments in 2009 as an HRW employee were influenced by his intention to serve in the Obama administration, and that HRW’s decidedly more muted position today on Obama’s policies is perhaps related to its ties to the administration.
Your second point pertains to our argument that in light of HRW’s 2012 letter to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela questioning the country’s suitability as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, HRW had reason to write a similar letter to President Obama expressing reservations over the U.S. position in the same council. In our previous letter to you, we cited the U.S. record of human rights abuses that include a secret, global assassination program and the illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay. You have countered by avoiding a discussion of comparative abuses between the two countries, and have instead argued that for HRW, a “central concern on council membership is whether a government takes the council and its special procedures seriously,” and that Venezuela, unlike the United States, does not.
However, under no objective standard was this a “central concern” of the 2012 letter to Chávez signed by your colleagues José Miguel Vivanco and Peggy Hicks that we originally cited. After asserting in their introduction that “Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards” in “promoting and protecting human rights,” Vivanco and Hicks outlined specific “policies and practices of [the Chávez] administration” and argued for their reversal. Their letter then dedicated the next 10 paragraphs to arguing that Venezuela has failed in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom and civil society. Before concluding their letter, Vivanco and Hicks devoted only one paragraph to “cooperation with the Human Rights Council.”
Given the broad scope of the content and priorities of HRW’s letter to Chávez, HRW simply has no tenable justification for its continued support of the U.S. presence on the UN Human Rights Council. Aside from its far grimmer human rights record than Venezuela, “[t]he United States is the only country to vote against all the Council’s resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” admits HRW. “The US rejection of any resolution focusing on Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel [sic] exposes its double standards.” HRW’s own finding, coupled with the U.S. role in blocking the implementation of the Council’s recommendations of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during the Gaza attack of 2008-09, certainly weakens your letter’s claim that “on balance, the United States has played a constructive role at the Human Rights Council.”
It is not too late for HRW to demonstrate its independence from the U.S. government by writing a letter to President Obama outlining the most egregious U.S. human rights violations that should be reversed in order for the country to serve as a credible member of the UN Human Rights Council. HRW’s letter could demand an end to the Obama’s extrajudicial “kill list,” an authoritarian U.S. policy for which a Venezuelan analogue is nonexistent and inconceivable, and the letter could also condemn U.S. intransigence within the Council, particularly toward Palestinian human rights.
Our third and final example questioned HRW’s lack of opposition to Obama’s consideration of a missile strike on Syria in 2013—a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the unilateral “threat or use of force” in international affairs. We appreciate your clarification of HRW’s mandate, “which is to monitor governments’ adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.” We would urge HRW to consider expanding its purview to adopt the UN Charter as a foundation for its legal determinations due to the inevitable human rights violations that occur as a result of a war of aggression, considered the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
We express our concern, however, that HRW’s stated neutrality on matters of war and peace is compromised by your public statements of questionable judgment. At the height of intense pressure for a U.S. bombing campaign on Syria in late August of 2013, you all but advocated military intervention on social media, while maintaining plausible deniability in the context of a climate of warmongering. A sampling of your tweets include:
* To justify #Syria inaction, top US general trots out age-old ethnic animosities line. Heard that B4? Bosnia. Rwanda. trib.al/qSzrz1N
* Top general suggests US is more interested in a geopolitical partner in #Syria than saving civilians from slaughter. trib.al/WElNRGM
* It took chemical attack to convince Obama/Kerry that Assad isn’t interested in negotiated solution!? No more excuses. trib.al/viu2scd
* If the appalling slaughter in #Syria won’t get Obama to act, maybe ridicule will: trib.al/gp7HDo1
* If Obama decides to strike #Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians? trib.al/hl6QhA1
Such behavior is unbecoming for the head of a major human rights organization and runs counter to the spirit of HRW’s official neutrality toward the impending intervention in Syria. We encourage you to demonstrate greater tact and responsibility in light of the near-inevitability that U.S. missile strikes would have led to violations of international humanitarian law, including the killing, maiming, and displacement of many innocent civilians—as shown by the U.S. bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, and of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent years of war.
HRW’s official abstention from endorsing or opposing wars also appeared to be broken by Tom Malinowski’s March 27, 2011 article in The New Republic on NATO’s Libya intervention. The piece was originally titled “Why Isn’t Obama Getting Credit For Stopping An Atrocity?” and contended that “NATO acted more quickly [than in Bosnia] to stop atrocities in Kosovo.” In the case of Kosovo, “we could see and feel the difference Clinton and NATO had made.” Malinowski then celebrated NATO’s intervention in Libya as “the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history” for which “we should be grateful.”
As Washington director for HRW at the time of the article, Malinowski offered no disclosure of his previous responsibilities in foreign-policy speech-writing as the Senior Director of the White House’s National Security Council during Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Nor did his sanitized portrayal of those actions include his own organization’s inconvenient conclusion that “NATO committed violations of international humanitarian law.” Malinowski’s piece also omitted the clearly unconstitutional nature of Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Furthermore, he excluded evidence that the NATO coalition quickly had moved away from the scope of the civilian-protection mandate provided in UN Resolution 1973 and toward the aim of regime change, which conformed with Obama’s comments weeks prior that “it’s time for Qaddafi to go.”
More egregiously, the following year—months after your organization’s report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examined eight NATO strikes that killed 72 civilians—Malinowski offered unalloyed praise for the NATO intervention. He argued that “Barack Obama’s administration made its most unequivocal stand on behalf of an Arab Spring uprising” in Libya, where the destabilizing consequences of the administration’s support in arming rebel forces continue to be felt. Completely ignoring the issue of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO (confirmed by HRW itself), Malinowski claimed in this October 2, 2012 Foreign Policy article that “recent events have reinforced, not weakened, the rationale for supporting political change in the Arab world.”
Advocacy divorced from HRW’s own empirical findings, unconditionally applauding U.S.-NATO military actions in Libya and endorsing their suitability elsewhere, is a predictable outcome for a former Clinton official who became HRW’s chief lobbyist in Washington, and who may have aspired to a position in the Obama administration as he wrote such statements. However, such advocacy is unhelpful to HRW’s stated concerns over NATO’s airstrikes and its failure “to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”
We are heartened, Mr. Roth, by your expressed willingness to “speak out, as we have done” in Kosovo and elsewhere. But HRW’s track record for holding NATO accountable for its violations of international humanitarian law is wholly inadequate. Javier Solana initiated a war in violation of the UN Charter in 1999 and presided over the deliberate NATO bombing of a Serbian television station, a war crime that killed 16 civilians including a make-up artist, a cameraman, an editor, and a program director.
In your May 1999 letter to Solana, which mentioned that bombing, you urged that “these issues be scrutinized promptly and rigorously,” and that “disciplinary or criminal investigations be launched.” NATO implemented none of your suggestions and has held no one to account for that atrocity or for any other crime in Yugoslavia. And yet Solana was awarded a position on HRW’s board in 2011. It is hard to escape the conclusion that HRW’s admonishments of NATO’s behavior are toothless, and that Solana’s subsequent leadership role at HRW signals to former and future NATO leaders who violate international law that they should be undeterred by HRW’s objections and inquiries.
Finally, you responded to our emphasis on HRW’s ties to the United States by mentioning the involvement of former government officials of Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and other countries at HRW. But our focus is HRW’s ties to the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government, which, unlike the foreign-policy arms of many of the governments you cite, are continuously engaged in massive human rights abuses. This is a consequence of the status of the United States as the world’s sole military superpower, which frequently violates international law with impunity, and, as in the case of its invasion of Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a recent poll showed, the rest of the globe sees the United States as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by a wide margin, so HRW’s unabashed closeness to that government is understandably viewed as an extremely political decision.
One of us would be delighted to meet with you whenever convenient at your New York offices to discuss these matters further and to personally deliver a petition signed by over 15,500 people so far, along with their individual comments in support of the following demand:
The credibility of a global human-rights organization depends on its independence. Human Rights Watch has done important, critical work, but it can do better. It should implement at least a five-year “cooling-off” period before and after its associates move between HRW and the U.S. government’s foreign-policy divisions. Human Rights Watch associates should concentrate on protecting human rights. They should not have conflicts of interest with past or future careers in branches of the U.S. government that may themselves be involved in human-rights violations.
We eagerly await your reply, and believe that HRW’s implementation of cooling-off periods for its associates and its removal of Solana from its board of directors will represent valuable first steps toward greater independence. Thank you for engaging with us on issues that we believe are essential to the pursuit of human rights throughout the world.
Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1977)
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1980)
Richard Falk – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (2008-14)
Hans von Sponeck – United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)
Keane Bhatt – activist, writer
The United States moved Thursday to blacklist a group of companies it claimed covertly helped Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement acquire components for surveillance drones.
The US Treasury placed sanctions on Beirut-based Stars Group Holding, which it said purchased electronics and other technology via offices in China and Dubai to support Hezbollah’s military operations.
That included the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Treasury claimed were used against rebels in Syria and for surveillance of Israeli sites.
The material bought by Stars Group included engines, communications, electronics, and navigation equipment acquired from suppliers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
It named for sanctions the company, its subsidiaries, its owner, executives Kamel Amhaz and Issam Amhaz, and two Stars Group managers, Ayman Ibrahim and Ali Zeaiter.
The sanctions place a freeze on any of their assets under US jurisdiction and ban Americans from any business with them.
Damascus – Today, a civilization that used to lead the world and for centuries was the beacon of learning, tolerance and trade, and that still protects our global cultural heritage is damaged—and only the Syrian people can rebuild it for all of us. We need to help them.
Last month, halfheartedly and without unanimity among its 28 member states, the European Union levied yet more sanctions on Syrian officials. Passed under pressure from the usual suspects (the US, France, Britain, and the international Zionist lobby), the EU measure targets 12 government ministers, none of whom wields or holds police authority of any type. Not a single one of these individuals has any capacity or wherewithal—or even any interest—in committing “serious human rights violations,” as the measure accuses them of having carried out.
It is a charge that amounts to defamation of character and which the EU made without offering a scintilla of evidence. Widely seen as EU frustration over failed western policy in Syria, the action is also thought to have been motivated by a sense that the EU ought to keep itself relevant by… well… doing something, given that there is a deep split within its ranks over military aid to Syrian rebels. Coming three weeks after the Syrian presidential election (generally viewed as a significant victory for the Assad government), the measure puts the officials under an EU travel ban and asset freeze, and it also raises to 191 the number of Syrian government employees, along with 53 companies, now being targeted by EU sanctions.
The impact of EU and western sanctions on the Syrian economy has been severe—this is well known. Heavy fighting has damaged or destroyed economic infrastructure, significantly impeding normal access to sources of income for average Syrians. In addition, internal distribution and supply networks have been disrupted if not destroyed; currency depreciation has devastated purchasing power; and the heavy US, EU and Arab League sanctions have hampered imports and exports. Even the import of items not subject to the sanctions has been restricted by the sanctions on financial transactions, while tourism revenue, for example, has all but disappeared.
The EU’s ill-considered action simply adds to the multitude of woes faced by Syrian citizens, woes which have forced many of them to leave their country and become refugees. The ministers targeted tend to be technocrats, specialists in their field of work; they are not major government policy makers. Some are involved in humanitarian work, and some of them are ministers whose efforts in this regard have made them quite popular with Syrian people, both at home and abroad. One of these is Kinda al-Shammat, who heads Syria’s Ministry of Social Affairs.
Ms. Shammat works closely with the U.N. and other aid agencies operating on the ground in Syria, her efforts facilitating the delivery of assistance to millions of internally displaced Syrians. The UN has hundreds of aid workers working with the Syrian government through her. She has never been involved in “serious human rights violations,” but she is a well-known human rights advocate. Ms. Shammat holds a PhD in Private Law from the University of Damascus, where she teaches, and she has also worked with the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, the General Union of Syrian Women, and the UN Development Fund. In the latter capacity she served as a legal expert in family affairs and violence against women, and in 2012 she was also a member of the committee that amended the Syrian constitution.
Ms. Shammat first came to this observer’s attention for her continued dedication to getting aid to Palestinian refugees trapped inside Yarmouk camp during the current crisis. She survived an assassination attempt by rebels opposed to her views on women rights, and some suggest that she became a target for al-Qaeda types last year when Damascus University banned the wearing of total full face veils. It was a decision she openly welcomed at the time, saying that it was in line with the Syrian belief in moderation.
“We in Syria have never gone to the extreme left or the extreme right,” she told Al-Arabiya TV.
Kinda al-Shammat is surely one of the last officials, in Syria or anywhere else, who would warrant EU sanctions against her, and it is deeply egregious that she should be targeted, along with her colleagues, without any proof of wrongdoing. Most of the other ministers added to the sanctions list also have stellar records of public service; they would doubtless be applauded by the people, and probably, under different circumstances, would even be esteemed and well received in all 28 EU member states as well. These include Finance Minister Ismael Ismael, Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Khodr Orfali, Oil Minister Suleiman Al Abbas, Industry Minister Kamal Eddin Tu’ma, Labor Minister Hassan Hijazi, and Minister of Tourism, Bishr Riad Yaziji. None of these individuals has ever been accused of any conduct that could be construed as anything other than humanitarian. Of these it is perhaps Yaziji who most embodies the “new breed” of Syrian officials.
Yaziji was appointed as Minister of Tourism on 8/22/13, and he appears beholden to no person or thing other than his own vision of restoring Syria’s vital tourist industry. Born in Aleppo in 1972, Yaziji is a businessman, and he is currently the youngest member of the Assad Cabinet. With a Bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering from Aleppo University (1995), he is possessed with distinctively Kennedyesque good looks, voices progressive ideas, and exerts a charm and charisma that instantly connects with ordinary citizens and foreigners alike. Not affiliated with the Baath Party, Yaziji is an independent and was elected as such to the People’s Assembly, or the Syrian parliament. This observer has closely followed his work, both in the media and from direct personal experience.
Prior to the conflict, tourism brought in more than $8 billion annually, and as one admirer of Yaziji, who also works in government, put it, “The Tourism Ministry is working to reconnect to the world the way we Syrians used to reach out.” The official added:
“Syria’s treasures, from the cradle of civilization that we are, fundamentally belong to all of humanity, and please accept our promise—that we will do our best to repair all damage to the antiquities and will welcome assistance, as we shall welcome every visitor again, before long, enshallah (God willing).”
Minister Yaziji appears to thrive on the broad scope and depth of his work, which in fact includes visiting Syrian archaeological sites and drawing international focus on the need to protect and restore humanity’s collective cultural heritage, of which the people of Syria are the custodians. He also spends his time participating in youth festivals, visiting wounded citizens in hospitals, and recently attended a “Loyalty to Syria” gathering, where he stressed the importance of NGOs in conveying the reality of events in Syria to the global public. At that gathering he also discussed the unparalleled richness of the country’s historical and religious monuments, and spoke of “boosting the social values and developing national capacity to serve the best interest of Syria.”
This new generation of Syrian officials is dedicated to ameliorating the country’s humanitarian crisis as well as preserving our global heritage. They have been indefatigable in their around-the- clock projects, and they need to be encouraged, not hindered. In an interview with Reuters on 6/28/14, Yaziji said the sanctions will not interfere with his work—and he also said he has never been involved with any “human rights violations” of any sort. Some have pointed to the curious timing of this latest round of sanctions, so soon after the presidential election, and have suggested that in reality it is a form of collective punishment of the Syrian people—for daring to vote the wrong way, or in a way disapproved of by the EU and the rest of the West.
The EU has spoken piously of “Cultural Heritage—our debt to the past, our promise to the future,” and claims that it seeks to “promote culture as a catalyst for creativity,” but its actions last month belie this. If it truly seeks to implement its claimed humanitarian values, the EU should work to open the paths of these Syrian officials, not close them. At the very least it should desist from layering more “show sanctions” upon those in Syria who are striving to salvage their country. Yaziji and Shammat are Syrian patriots whose invaluable work the EU should be encouraging rather than hindering with politically motivated sanctions and silly, gratuitous defamations of character.
Few in the Syrian Arab Republic these days question the urgency and enormity of the task of reconstructing their ancient country from war-caused destruction, the fall-out from a conflict already more than half as long as World War I and approaching two-thirds as long as World War II. For this ten-millennium civilization, emergency measures are needed to protect its thousands of priceless archaeological treasures, both from the ravages of war as well as plunder and illegal excavation wrought by thieves. The Syrian government has given high priority to the preservation of cultural heritage, a policy that presumably not many in the EU would openly disagree with. Yet the EU’s ill-considered sanctions are harming multi-faceted restoration efforts—by intimidating members of the international public who want to help and by attempting to isolate Syrian officials whose full schedules these days are consumed by humanitarian undertakings as well as projects aimed at restoring cultural heritage sites and preserving our link to the past. And by the way, some of these sites they are working to protect are included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. These include the Ancient City of Aleppo , the Ancient City of Bosra , Ancient City of Damascus , Ancient Villages of Northern Syria , Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and the Site of Palmyra .
Syria and her hardworking public servants will survive these gratuitous political sanctions, but the sanctions likely will remain an indelible stain on the EU and its claimed humanitarian principles for a long time to come.
ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) increased its grip on “Wilayat al-Raqqa”, the capital of the Islamic State. It is setting the foundation of its rule through courts, resolving disputes between civilians, and social committees serving the “Muslims” inside the borders of the province. This is in addition to using an iron fist policy against anyone daring to “destabilize the security of the Islamic State.”
The bus trip from Beirut to the city al-Raqqa is around 12 hours. Three years ago, it barely took half the time. Young Syrian workers are looking forward to seeing their families.
Mohammed Abdullah, who has a degree in economics, works as an accountant in one of Beirut’s suburbs. This is his first visit in two years. He knew about the situation in the area from communicating with family and friends, as well as from the social media.
Mohammed described his trip to his hometown to Al-Akhbar, after being absent for two years: “ISIS elements welcomed us at the first checkpoint. The Saudi dialect was strongly present. They made sure there were no soldiers among the travelers and that women wore the niqab.”
Only a short distance separates the Syrian army and National Defense Forces checkpoint, on one hand, and the former al-Nusra Front position, currently occupied by ISIS. However, all communication is cut off as soon as a person crosses into the governorate’s administrative borders.
“Inside the city, the signs of destruction are obvious on some government buildings and homes,” Mohammed added.
Cars in the district run on manually refined crude oil derivatives. Nobody remembers the last time regular fuel arrived from the port at Tartous.
Mohammed said he was worried about telling the taxi driver his home address. “Shall I say, take me to Martyr Bassel al-Assad highway? And if I said take me to Colonel Hussein Harmoush Street, renamed by the Free Syrian Army, would he know it?
The taxi driver noticed the young man’s confusion and asked several questions about Mohammed’s route. “What’s wrong? You could have said you wanted to go to Bassel street. No worries. Get in. I will take you there,” the driver replied.
FSA brigades and civil society activists tried to change street names in Raqqa. Tal Abyad Street, the city’s most popular, was renamed after martyr Ali al-Babinsi. However, people keep using the old name. In any case, very few people know its official name in city records, which is al-Qunaytirah Road.
Martyr Basel al-Assad Street was turned into Colonel Hussein Harmoush Street and al-Jalaa or “Clock” Roundabout became Freedom Square. “Mr. President Square” is now Martyrs’ Square, but people on both sides call it after the nearby fire station.
Civil society activists had also painted some of the city’s statues with the colors of the “revolutionary flag.” However, ISIS removed the “flag of infidels” and raised its banners everywhere.
At night, Raqqa’s residents like to walk around the quiet streets or sit at cafes. There is no armed presence or news about thefts or violations. Cigarettes and alcohol are smuggled into the city and sold at double their price.
Alaa Jubran, a resident of Raqqa who was there on a recent visit, told Al-Akhbar, “Street vendors do not occupy the city’s sidewalks anymore. ISIS established a popular market in the city center. It was equipped to include the vendors and traveling salesmen, banning them from using the streets.”
ISIS transferred the busy Friday market next to Raqqa’s old wall, a historical site, and moved moved market day to Thursday so it would not distract people from attending Friday prayers in the mosque.
It also created a consumer protection office and imposed monthly payments on commercial establishments, in return for sanitation, electricity, water, and phone services. At a later stage, this will be extended to civilians to ensure the continuity of services.
Two signs in particular are hanging in shop windows. “Sisters, please do not remove the niqab inside the shop,” said one. The other announced that “work stops 10 minutes before prayers.” Prayer rooms were established in public venues and streets become almost empty before prayer times, save for ISIS’ patrols.
However, Mohammed could not hide his admiration of ISIS’ policies inside the province, although they have been keeping his brother in custody for months. He praised its gunmen, “who returned what they could of items stolen from public buildings by FSA fighters.”
The Islamist Traffic Police is on every street and market, wearing the same uniform, conducting traffic, and issuing tickets. Inside official buildings and facilities, the staff is committed to serving the citizens. Emergency vehicles of the water and electricity departments are rushing to fix problems all the time.
On the other hand, the recently created Islamic Services Authority supervises state institutions. The Accounts Bureau monitors the markets, sales operations, applying sharia, and holding violators accountable.
The official weekend is now on Thursday and Friday. Residents of Raqqa are trying to cope with the new realities. “They became weary of the state of instability they passed through in the preceding nine months. They were always afraid of sudden clashes between the brigades. But now there is only one ruler,” Mohammed explained.
“The situation in Raqqa is not perfect, but it is much better today,” Alaa added. “People lost hope in the FSA, whose fighters fled after stealing city property and seizing archaeological artifacts, bank holdings, and cotton and wheat crops.”
“Civilians only want to live in peace, regardless of the ruler, ISIS, the Syrian regime, or al-Nusra Front. People demand to be allowed to return to the quiet life they had in their city,” he concluded.
The White House on Thursday asked Congress for half-a-billion dollars in aid to go towards opposition fighters in Syria at war with the regime of recently re-elected President Bashar Al-Assad.
In a report sent to lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday, the White House requested $500 million in aid to “help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control and facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”
The Associated Press reported that the multimillion dollar request makes up just a fraction of a larger, $65.8 billion overseas operations request sent to Congress that, if approved, would fund a number of Pentagon and State Department programs, as well as $1 billion in assistance to nations adjacent to Syria.
This latest request by the administration for aid comes merely weeks after the president outlined his foreign policy objectives during a speech last month at the West Point Military Academy graduation ceremony.
“As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people,” Obama said. “And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”
“So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.”
At the time, Obama added that he would “work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.” Now only weeks later, he appears to have taken the first steps to securing such funding.
Since nearly the start of the Syrian civil war more than three years ago, hawkish Republicans in Congress have urged the White House to take action against Assad, with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) going as far as to travel abroad to meet with rebel fighters overseas. Others have condemned any response from Washington altogether, though, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who this week attributed the arming of fighters in Iraq as the impetus for a “jihadist wonderland” there created on Uncle Sam’s watch and dime.
According to the AP’s Julie Pace, White House officials said the Obama administration would work with members of Congress and regional player to come to terms with what sort of training and assistance in particular would be provided to opposition fighters by the US.
“One potential option,” Pace wrote, “would be to base US personnel in Jordan and conduct the training exercise there.”
Also last month, the Pentagon deployed more than 6,000 Marines to Jordan to conduct drills alongside military officials there.
The United States is considering whether to bomb ISIS, a jihadist Frankenstein of Washington’s own making, whose breathtaking offensive in northern Iraq threatens the survival of the Shiite-dominated regime. Many on the Left surmise that U.S. intelligence is the evil genius behind the ISIS-led Sunni seizure of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and a string of population centers stretching towards Baghdad, as well as the Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk, the oil center on the edge of de-facto autonomous Kurdistan. However, such an assessment posits the U.S. and its European, Turkish, Israeli and monarchist Arab allies as masters of the universe, fully in charge, when in reality, they operate from a position of profound political and moral weakness in the region – which has led to dependence on jihadists. And, the jihadists know it.
It is true that the U.S. has been the great enabler of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), its al Qaida-inspired rival Jabhat al-Nusra, and the smaller Islamist outfits that have been arrayed against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the last three years. (As even the New York Times admits, all of the significant armed opposition in Syria consider themselves Islamist warriors of one kind or another.) But, too often, western leftists assume the jihadists are merely wind-me-up robots that can be pointed at designated targets, and then turned on or off or put on hold at the CIA’s whim, as if they have no ideology and agency of their own, but exist for the convenience of Empire.
In the real world, the U.S. can only point armed takfiris in directions they already want to go: at secular opponents like Muammar Gaddafi or a Shiite-dominated (Alawite) government in Damascus (and, in decades gone by, at atheistic Soviets in Afghanistan). But, when the means are available and the time is right, by their reckoning, they will pursue their own objectives, such as establishing a caliphate in Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria and waging endless war against Shiites wherever they find them – which is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s reason for being. To assume, as some do, that the ISIS-led blitzkrieg in northern Iraq is part of a grand U.S. plan, is to dismiss jihadists as a genuine indigenous presence in the region, as well as to minimize country-wide Sunni grievances against the Shiite regime, which has called forth a kind of Sunni united front against Baghdad.
It also assumes the U.S. has decided it has no further use for a viable Iraqi state, with or without already semi-independent Kurdistan, and that Washington would rather create conditions that would risk further solidifying Shiite Iraq’s ties to Iran, thus creating an even larger oil giant outside the sphere of U.S. hegemony. It assumes that the U.S. would purposely create a situation in which it might be compelled to deal with Iran as an equal player in a zone of great economic and political importance – a prospect that looms, as we write.
There is no question that the United States, like the European colonizers, has often pursued a general strategy to break up states (whose boundaries they often imposed, in the first place), so as to better manipulate them, and that this was an active option for Washington in Iraq in the early years of occupation. However, this does not mean that miniaturizing states is the holy grail of imperialism, under all circumstances. The truth is, the U.S. got as good a deal as it could have expected in Iraq, under circumstances of defeat– which is why George Bush agreed to the principle of total withdrawal by the end of 2011. The U.S. hung on to influence in Iraq, through the corrupt and sectarian al-Maliki government, by the skin of its teeth. (Remember that there was significant Shiite sentiment to cut all ties to Washington, in the person and militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, who launched two uprisings and called for a common front with Sunnis against the American occupiers.) U.S. policymakers are not the brightest people in the world, but rolling the dice in Iraq – where ‘craps’ could leave the U.S. in a far worse position – is simply not worth the risk at this time.
Indeed, the ISIS offensive, in which all the jihadist savageries of Syria (and Libya before it) are replayed in yet another theater of U.S.-subsidized war, presents such grave contradictions for U.S. policy in Syria as to hasten its collapse on that front.
How can the U.S. bomb ISIS jihadists in Iraq and not bomb them in Syria (along with al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and all the other takfiris, now that the Free Syrian Army mirage has vanished)?
As a superpower, the U.S. always has options (“all options are on the table”), but that doesn’t mean any of them are good – and it certainly does not mean that every desperate option that Washington avails itself of is part of the grand plan. The U.S. has relied on jihadists in the region, especially since the so-called Arab Spring, not because it wanted to, but because they were the only foot soldiers available to reassert Euro-American and Gulf potentates’ power. Without the jihadists, the imperialists could only bomb Gaddafi and sanction Assad – but on behalf of whom? An armed “opposition” had to be created on the ground, which only the Salafists could effectively provide. The wholesale unleashing of the jihadist dogs of war was a sign of profound imperial weakness in the Arab world, where the U.S. is hated with a kinetic intensity and the monarchs shiver at the thought of what their own people would like to do to them – and what the jihadists will do to them, if the young warriors are not exported and kept busy.
Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with Pakistan, spent billions to create an international jihadist network that had not previously existed, to bedevil the Soviets in Afghanistan. The U.S. did not invent Salafists, Wahhabism and takfiris; they are indigenous to various Muslim cultures. However, their incorporation into the imperialist armory gave this most reactionary brand of Islamic fundamentalism a global presence, capability and vision. It behaves like a form of nationalism – much like the old, secular Arab nationalism of the Fifties and Sixties, only from the Muslim Right. No respecter of borders, it seeks to unite, protect and wage war on behalf of, the “Ummah” – the “community” or “nation” of believers. As a nationalist-like current, it is inherently incompatible with U.S.-led imperialism, and will also inevitably turn on the paymasters in the obscenely corrupt Gulf monarchies. (The half a billion dollars ISIS seized from Mosul banks will surely hasten the process.)
The jihadists cannot be controlled by their imperial enablers – as the U.S. ambassador to Libya learned, in his last moments – not reliably, in the short term, and not at all in the long term. The contradictions of the relationship are now acute, the unraveling has begun, and the U.S. has no substitute for the services the jihadists provided to Empire.
So, yes, the ISIS-led offensive in Iraq is a horrific crisis for the peoples of the region, another descent into Hell. But it is also a crisis for U.S. imperialism, whose options diminish by the day.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
The Soaring Profits of the Military – Industrial Complex And the Soaring Costs of Military Casualties
The launch of two major wars by the US government had two major beneficiaries, one domestic and one foreign. The three major weapons manufacturers, Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOG) and Raytheon (RTN) have delivered record-shattering returns to investors, CEOs and investment banks during the past decade and a half.
The Israeli regime has expanded its territory and increased its power and influence in the Middle East. Israel’s territorial dispossession of Palestinians, was aided and abetted by the US invasion and destruction of the Palestinian’s Iraqi allies. Washington destroyed Iraq’s armed forces and fragmented its society and state.
The cost in US physical and mental casualties runs in the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who at one time served in the war zones. The financial costs run in the trillions of dollars and counting. Both the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel power configuration continue to wield a major role in keeping Washington on a wartime footing.
For the weapons manufactures there are no peaceful economic activities that can yield a comparable return – hence the need to continue to pressure for new wars to sustain weapons spending. For the pro-Israel power configuration, peace agreements would put an end to land grabs, reduce or curtail new weapons transfers and undermine pretexts to sanction or bomb countries (like Iran) opposing Tel Aviv’s vision of “Greater Israel”.
Yet the political and financial costs of almost a decade and a half of warfare weigh heavily on the US Treasury and electorate. The wars themselves were dismal failures if not outright defeats. New conflicts have emerged in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine in which the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel lobbies hope to capitalize for profits and power.
Yet the cumulative costs of past and continuing wars hangs over the launch of new costly military interventions. Political discontent among the US public with past wars also weighs heavily against new wars for profits and Israel.
The power and influence of the military-industrial complex in promoting serial wars is evident in the extraordinary rates of return over the past fifty years. Stocks in military-industries have risen 27,699% versus 6,777% for the broad market according to a recent study by Morgan Stanley (cited in Barron’s, 6/9/14, p. 19). Over the past three years, Raytheon has returned 124%, Northrup Grumman 114% and Lockheed Martin 149%.
The Obama regime talks of reducing the military budget and makes a show of doing so via the annual appropriation bill, and then, uses emergency supplemental funds to pay war costs… which actually increases military spending and fattens the profits for the military-industrial complex.
War profits have soared because of multiple military interventions in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. The lobbyists for the industry use their influence over Congressional and Pentagon decision-makers to join forces with the pro-Israel lobby to pressure for greater direct US military involvement in Syria, Iraq and Iran. The growing ties between Israeli and US military industries reinforce their political leverage in Washington by working with liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives. They criticize Obama for not bombing Syria and for withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan. They call for sending troops to Iraq and the Ukraine. Obama argues that proxy wars do not require heavy US military expenditures. Responding to Wall Street pressure to reduce the budget deficit the Obama regime argues that retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary to reduce US financial and military losses. But withdrawal also reduces profits for the weapons makers and angers Israel and its supporters in Congress.
The Fight over the Military Budget: Veterans versus the Complex and the Lobby
In the face of rising pressure to reduce the deficit and cut the military budget, the military-industrial complex and its Zionist accomplices are heavily engaged in retaining their share of the military budget, by reducing the amount allocated for the medical programs of active and retired soldiers. Disability costs are soaring and will continue for decades. The cost of health care is expected to double to 15% of the defense budget in five years and according to the financial press “that is bad news for defense stocks” (Barron’s, 6/9/14, p. 19).
In response the military-industries are pressing to close Veterans Administration hospitals and reduce benefits, claiming fraud, incompetence and inferior service. The same corporate warlords and lobbyists who pressed the Government to send American soldiers to wars, in which they lost lives, limbs and mental health, are now in the forefront of the fight to reduce spending on their recovery and health. Economists point out that the less the percentage of the military budget spent on veteran’s health, the greater the share allocated for missiles, warships and war planes. The long term costs for VA medical and disability spending resulting from the Afghan and Iraq wars are at present $900 billion and rising.
The corporate warlords are pressuring Congress to increase co-pays, enrollment fees and deductibles for veterans enrolled in public health plans.
The fight is on over Pentagon expenditures: for soldiers health or weapons programs that fatten the profits of the military industrial complex.