The Obama administration, working through the Russian government, has secured an agreement from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to permit U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in parts of Syria, according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.
The reported agreement would clear away one of the chief obstacles to President Barack Obama’s plan to authorize U.S. warplanes to cross into Syria to attack Islamic State forces – the concern that entering Syrian territory might prompt anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian government’s missile batteries.
The usual protocol for the U.S. military – when operating in territory without a government’s permission – is to destroy the air defenses prior to conducting airstrikes so as to protect American pilots and aircraft, as was done with Libya in 2011. However, in other cases, U.S. intelligence agencies have arranged for secret permission from governments for such attacks, creating a public ambiguity usually for the benefit of the foreign leaders while gaining the necessary U.S. military assurances.
In essence, that appears to be what is happening behind the scenes in Syria despite the hostility between the Obama administration and the Assad government. Obama has called for the removal of Assad but the two leaders find themselves on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State terrorists who have battled Assad’s forces while also attacking the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and beheading two American journalists.
In a national address last week, Obama vowed to order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. So, in this case, Syria’s behind-the-scenes acquiescence also might provide some politically useful ambiguity for Obama as well as Assad.
Yet, this secret collaboration may go even further and include Syrian government assistance in the targeting of the U.S. attacks, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. That is another feature of U.S. military protocol in conducting air strikes – to have some on-the-ground help in pinpointing the attacks.
As part of its public pronouncements about the future Syrian attacks, the Obama administration sought $500 million to train “vetted” Syrian rebels to handle the targeting tasks inside Syria as well as to carry out military ground attacks. But that approach – while popular on Capitol Hill – could delay any U.S. airstrikes into Syria for months and could possibly negate Assad’s quiet acceptance of the U.S. attacks, since the U.S.-backed rebels share one key goal of the Islamic State, the overthrow of Assad’s relatively secular regime.
Just last month, Obama himself termed the strategy of arming supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels “a fantasy.” He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
Obama’s point would seem to apply at least as much to having the “moderate” rebels face down the ruthless Islamic State jihadists who engage in suicide bombings and slaughter their captives without mercy. But this “fantasy” of the “moderate” rebels has a big following in Congress and on the major U.S. op-ed pages, so Obama has included the $500 million in his war plan despite the risk it poses to Assad’s acquiescence to American air attacks.
Neocon Wish List
Without Assad’s consent, the U.S. airstrikes might require a much wider U.S. bombing campaign to first target Syrian government defenses, a development long sought by Official Washington’s influential neoconservatives who have kept “regime change” in Syria near the top of their international wish list.
For the past several years, the Israeli government also has sought the overthrow of Assad, even at the risk of Islamic extremists gaining power. The Israeli thinking had been that Assad, as an ally of Iran, represented a greater threat to Israel because his government was at the center of the so-called Shiite crescent reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut and southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah.
The thinking was that if Assad’s government could be pulled down, Iran and Hezbollah – two of Israel’s principal “enemies” – would be badly damaged. A year ago, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren articulated this geopolitical position in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
More recently, however, with the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front having seized Syrian territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – forcing the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers – the balance of Israeli interests may be tipping in favor of preferring Assad to having Islamic extremists possibly penetrating directly into Israeli territory.
Direct attacks on Israel would be a temptation to al-Nusra Front, which is competing for the allegiance of young jihadists with the Islamic State. While the Islamic State, known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, has captured the imaginations of many youthful extremists by declaring the creation of a “caliphate” with the goal of driving Western interests from the Middle East, al-Nusra could trump that appeal by actually going on the offensive against one of the jihadists’ principal targets, Israel.
Yet, despite Israel’s apparent rethinking of its priorities, America’s neocons appear focused still on their long-held strategy of using violent “regime change” in the Middle East to eliminate governments that have been major supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, i.e. Syria and Iran.
One reason why Obama may have opted for a secretive overture to the Assad regime, using intelligence channels with the Russians as the middlemen, is that otherwise the U.S. neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would have howled in protest.
The Russian Hand
Besides the tactical significance of U.S. intelligence agencies arranging Assad’s tacit acceptance of U.S. airstrikes over Syrian territory, the reported arrangement is also significant because of the role of Russian intelligence serving as the intermediary.
That suggests that despite the U.S.-Russian estrangement over the Ukraine crisis, the cooperation between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been extinguished; it has instead just gone further underground.
Last year, this growing behind-the-scenes collaboration between Obama and Putin represented a potential tectonic geopolitical shift in the Middle East. In the short term, their teamwork produced agreements that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria last September (by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal) and struck a tentative deal with Iran to constrain but not eliminate its nuclear program.
In the longer term, by working together to create political solutions to various Mideast crises, the Obama-Putin cooperation threatened to destroy the neocons’ preferred strategy of escalating U.S. military involvement in the region. There was the prospect, too, that the U.S.-Russian tag team might strong-arm Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
So, starting last September – almost immediately after Putin helped avert a U.S. air war against Syria – key neocons began taking aim at Ukraine as a potential sore point for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explaining how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.
“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.
By early 2014, American neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals were conspiring “to midwife” a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a phrase used by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in an intercepted phone conversation with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was busy handpicking leaders to replace Yanukovych.
A neocon holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, Nuland had been a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which prepared the blueprint for the neocon strategy of “regime change” starting with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The U.S.-backed coup ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and sparked a bloody civil war, leaving thousands dead, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But the Gershman-Nuland strategy also drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin, seeming to destroy the possibility that their peace-seeking collaboration would continue in the Middle East. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]
New Hope for ‘Regime Change’
The surprise success of Islamic State terrorists in striking deep inside Iraq during the summer revived neocon hopes that their “regime change” strategy in Syria might also be resurrected. By baiting Obama to react with military force not only in Iraq but across the border in Syria, neocons like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put the ouster of Assad back in play.
In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, McCain and Graham used vague language about resolving the Syrian civil war, but clearly implied that Assad must go. They wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda was a distortion at best – in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement – the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: a necessary step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.
That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran always meant to follow. The idea was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. But the neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.
Still, the neocons retained their vision even after Bush and Cheney departed. They also remained influential by holding onto key positions inside Official Washington – at think tanks, within major news outlets and even inside the Obama administration. They also built a crucial alliance with “liberal interventionists” who had Obama’s ear. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]
The neocons’ new hope arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But it was hard to envision expanding the war into Syria without ousting Assad.
Now, however, if the source’s account is correct regarding Assad’s quiet assent to U.S. airstrikes, Obama may have devised a way around the need to bomb Assad’s military, an maneuver that might again frustrate the neocons’ beloved goal of “regime change.”
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Let us be clear, if that is possible, about President Obama’s plan to deal with ISIS, the boogeyman of America’s own making. The president last week swore that he would “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, after having spent three years providing weapons and money to jihadists fighters, including ISIS, in hopes that they would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Syrian state of president Bashar Assad. So, the Americans set out to destroy one state, in Syria, whose government had never presented any danger to the U.S., and wind up creating another state, a caliphate astride the borders of Syria and Iraq, that openly declares its intention to do battle with the U.S.
Obama assures us that he is assembling a new coalition of the willing to join him in smashing ISIS. It turns out that every prospective member of the coalition was a co-conspirator with the United States in giving birth to ISIS – Britain and France and other Europeans, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates…ISIS has many, many fathers, all of whom now deny patrimony.
Obama appears to be leaving the natural gas-rich nation of Qatar out of his coalition, which doesn’t seem fair, since Qatar was a loyal ally of the United States and NATO just three years ago, when Obama was busy trying to degrade and destroy another state, Libya, which also posed no threat to the U.S. The emir of Qatar worked his gaseous little butt off for Obama, sending money and guns and mercenaries to help the Libyan jihadists that the U.S. wanted to install as the new government.
Once regime change had been accomplished in Libya, Qatar helped the Americans send hundreds of Libyan jihadists to Syria, to put that regime out of business. But, Libya never did get a new state, to replace the one that was destroyed in 2011. Instead, the country is wracked by civil war, that is also a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its friends and Qatar.
Wars Within Wars Within Regime Changes
It seems that Qatar backed the wrong side – the Muslim Brotherhood – after the regime change in Egypt in 2011. The Saudi Arabian royal family hates the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Brotherhood advocate elections, and kings don’t do elections. So, the Saudis bankrolled another regime change in Egypt, putting the military back in charge, and are now fighting a proxy war with Qatar in Libya. Which is why the Saudis blackballed Qatar from participating in Obama’s coalition of the willing against ISIS. (You do understand all this, right?)
Turkey, which is part of NATO, has been a wonderful father to ISIS, allowing the caliphate’s fighters free use of its long border with Syria and Iraq. In return, Turkey gets to buy the cheap oil from the fields that ISIS seized from Syria and Iraq, which makes the Turks somewhat reluctant to try to kill little baby ISIS.
It’s starting to look like Obama might have to take out the caliphate on his own, which is why the president’s top military advisor is talking about putting serious U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, and maybe in Syria. Meanwhile, Obama is putting together a new army of rebels to continue the job of degrading and destroying the Syrian state – unless, of course, these new fighters just take the money and guns and join ISIS, too.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
A senior European Union official has revealed that some EU member states have purchased oil from ISIL Takfiri militants despite their rhetoric against the group.
In a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana Hybas-kova said some European countries have purchased crude from the ISIL.
She, however, refused to disclose any names despite pressure by some Parliament members to do so.
The EU official also warned against any support by the West for separatist Kurdish groups who, she said, would destabilize the Middle East.
Earlier reports accused Turkey of buying and transporting oil from both the ISIL and Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. According to the reports, Western intelligence agencies could track ISIL oil shipments as they moved across Iraq and Turkey.
ISIL reportedly controls eleven oil fields in northern Iraq as well as Syria’s Raqqa province.
US intelligence officials estimate that the Takfiri militants earn more than USD 3 million a day from oil profit, theft, human trafficking and ransom. They say the militants sell oil and other products via established networks in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Turkey has denied reports of involvement in ISIL’s oil smuggling operations.
While the United States, United Kingdom and NATO are pushing for war with Russia, it behooves people and their governments around the world to take a clear stand for peace and against violence and war, no matter where it comes from. We are at a dangerous point in our history of the human family and it would be the greatest of tragedies for ourselves and our children if we simply allowed the war profiteers to take us into a third world war, resulting in the death of untold millions of people.
NATO’s decision at its summit in Wales (September 4-5) to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.
NATO is the leadership which has been causing the ongoing wars from the present conflict in the Ukraine, to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and others.
NATO’s latest move commits its 28 member states to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on the military, and to establish a series of three to five bases in Eastern Europe where equipment and supplies will be pre-positioned to help speed deployments, among other measures.
This decision by the United States/NATO to create a high readiness force with the alleged purpose of countering an alleged Russian threat reminds me of the war propaganda of lies, half-truths, insinuations and rumors to which we were all subjected in order to try to soften us all up for the Iraq war and subsequent horrific wars of terror which were carried out by NATO allied forces.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) observation team, NATO’s reports, including its satellite photos which show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside sovereign territory of Ukraine, were based on false evidence.
While NATO is busy announcing a counter-invasion to the non-existent Russian invasion of Ukraine, people in Ukraine are calling out for peace and negotiations, for political leadership which will bring them peace, not weapons and war.
This spearhead military force will be provided by allies in rotation and will involve also air, sea and special forces. We are also informed by a NATO spokesperson that this force will be trained to deal with unconventional actions, from the funding of separatist groups to the use of social media, intimidation and black propaganda.
No doubt the current Western media’s demonization of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people, by trying to inculcate fear and hatred of them, is part of the black propaganda campaign.
NATO’s latest proposals of 4,000 soldiers, and a separate force of 10,000 strong British-led joint expeditionary force also proposed, is a highly aggressive and totally irresponsible move by the United States, United Kingdom and NATO. It is breaches the 1997 agreement with Moscow under which NATO pledged not to base substantial numbers of soldiers in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis.
NATO should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact disintegrated but it was not and is now controlled by the United States for its own agenda. When speaking of NATO, one of President Bill Clinton’s officials said “America is NATO”. Today NATO, instead of being abolished, is re-inventing itself in re-arming and militarizing European states and justifying its new role by creating enemy images – be they Russians, IS (the Islamic State), and so on.
In an interdependent, interconnected world, struggling to build fraternity, economic cooperation and human security, there is no place for the Cold War policies of killing and threats to kill and policies of exceptionalism and superiority. The world has changed. People do not want to be divided and they want to see an end to violence, militarism and war.
The old consciousness is dysfunctional and a new consciousness based on an ethic of non-killing and respect and cooperation is spreading. It is time for NATO to recognize that its violent policies are counterproductive. The Ukraine crisis, groups such as the Islamic State, etc., will not be solved with guns, but with justice and through dialogue.
Above all, the world needs hope. It needs inspirational political leadership and this could be given if President Barack Obama and President Putin sat down together to solve the Ukraine conflict through dialogue and negotiation and in a non-violent way.
We live in dangerous times, but all things are possible, all things are changing … and peace is possible.
In his address to the nation outlining his strategy to defeat ISIS last week, President Obama made three important points regarding Syria:
1) He would not hesitate to bomb ISIS on Syrian territory even without permission from Syria, a UN resolution, or Congressional authorization.
2) He would not coordinate his attacks on Syrian territory with the Syrian government because, as the State Department claimed, that government has no legitimacy.
And, most importantly:
3) He vowed to increase US support for the “moderate” rebels in Syria, which have been fighting, with US backing, to overthrow the Syrian government for three years.
Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.
This, certainly not by accident, creates the false impression that ISIS and the Assad government in Syria are on the same side and that only the “moderate” rebels in Syria can defeat both ISIS and Assad.
In fact, the “moderates” supported by the US have long fought alongside al-Qaeda affiliates and, later, ISIS fighters. And Assad has been engaged in an all-out battle against ISIS for years.
The fantasy of Obama’s plan to fund, arm, and train the “moderates” in Syria to be the leading edge in the US war on ISIS was completely laid bare just days after his speech, as the Syrian “moderates” signed a non-aggression pact with ISIS at a meeting just outside Damascus.
They agreed they would not fight each other until they defeat the Assad government, which, strangely enough, is the US goal as well.
There’s nothing like a war and the bombing of a foreign bogeyman to unite Americans. Since President Barack Obama made his nationwide announcement last week of open-ended war to destroy the militant ISIS network in Iraq and Syria – a terror network covertly set up by the US in the first place – the polls show a majority of American public now supporting the call for all-out air strikes.
And American politicians on both sides of Congress are also united in their support for the president’s burnished war effort. House Republican leader John Boehner has opposed Obama on all manners of domestic policies, but when it comes to going on a foreign blitzkrieg, well, that’s a “compelling case.”
Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to finalize on how much budget cuts to slash ordinary American citizens with, but they sure can close ranks on drumming up an extra $500 million to pour more weapons into war-torn Syria. It must be the “smell of napalm in the morning” that stimulates their erogenous zones.
Beyond the US, however, the newly formed “international coalition” for the American-led fight against ISIS, also known as IS or ISIL, is far from united. Indeed, early signs are that Anti-Terror Team USA is self-imploding from its own internal contradictions and dubious criminal nature.
Earlier this week, on the day before Obama’s 9/11 reminder speech for expanding the fraudulent war on terror, his secretary of state John Kerry was scouring the Middle East soliciting allies to bomb extremists in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday, Kerry was telling CNN that such a coalition would involve “40 participating nations.”
After tours of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Kerry was able to dragoon just 10 Arab states into joining the US bombing manifest.
‘Arab States Give Tepid Support To US Fight Against ISIS,’ reported the New York Times on September 12. These states include Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf medieval oil sheikhdoms of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman, plus Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. That’s hardly a constellation of legal probity and virtue; more like a rogue’s gallery of serial human rights violators.
A joint communiqué signed in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah stated a “shared commitment to stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism”. But the NYT noted: “The underlying tone was one of reluctance.” Even two of the signatories, Egypt and Jordan, expressed uneasy reservations about US plans to bomb ISIS into oblivion, despite signing up to the communiqué.
The Magnificent Ten in Jeddah vowed to: end financing of extremist groups; prevent the flow of weapons to such groups; halt the supply of fighters; curb the spread of extremist ideology; and increase humanitarian aid to Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia also promised to set up training camps for “moderate rebels” who would allegedly counteract the extremist ISIS network.
That chore list sounds rather more like a confession of past crimes that some of these US allies have been up to over the past three years: financing, arming, manning and promoting ISIS and its ilk to create a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and Iraq. As for Wahhabi head-chopping Saudi Arabia setting up training camps to counteract its very own Wahhabi-sponsored head-chopping extremists in ISIS that’s just a risible joke.
Kerry tried to put a brave face on his dysfunctional regional posse. “Arab nations play a critical role, indeed a leading role,” he said in Jeddah, with a bravado that belied the fact that this proposed bombing campaign against ISIS is a US-led operation to give itself a license to bomb Syria for its long-held regime-change objective; the only critical role that these Arab puppets have is to give the covert campaign a veneer of Arab consent so that it doesn’t look like American imperialism on another criminal, murderous rampage – which it is.
NATO member Turkey, although non-Arab, dealt a blow from the outset to the US coalition by refusing to sign up. The Ankara government said it would not allow American warplanes to use its territory for air strikes against ISIS either in Iraq or Syria. Turkey has nearly 50 of its citizens currently held in captivity by the extremist groups in Syria and said that its “hands were tied.”
Ankara has also been a covert arms supplier of ISIS and other extremists, such as Jabhat al Nusra, along with the US and other NATO members, in a bid to oust the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad since mid-March 2011. That regime-change plan in Syria has failed miserably, with Assad winning overwhelmingly a presidential election last June, thus disproving the Western propaganda campaign of a popular revolution rising up against a tyrant.
Where the covert Western-backed terrorist campaign has failed on the ground, now Washington wants to add air power under the guise of “destroying” the ISIS terror network – a network that it in fact has spawned for the purpose of regime change in Syria. What are the bets that any US-led bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria will soon morph into US air strikes on Assad government forces, which is the main target for Washington, not its CIA-sponsored mercenaries in ISIS?
Turkey is mindful of blowback terrorism if it were to publicly join in US-led air strikes against ISIS. All of the Arab bombing coalition are no doubt mindful of the same treacherous contradiction, hence their reported reluctance to sign up to the scheme, as the New York Times noted.
Meanwhile, Russia, Syria and Iran immediately warned of the legal consequences of Obama’s bombing strategy. The Iraqi government has approved, so that gives Washington a claim on legality for continuing its strikes against ISIS in the north of that country. But not so the Syrian government.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that without the consent of the Syrian government in Damascus or a UN Security Council mandate, any US-led air strikes on ISIS inside Syrian territory would amount to “a gross violation of international law”. The Syrian authorities added that any such US intervention would be “an act of aggression on a sovereign country.”
Obama claims that he has “executive war powers” to bomb and kill whomever he wants, under the fascistic post-9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). But this White House Murder Inc. policy is increasingly threadbare and morally abhorrent. All the more so because Washington is exhorting the European Union to slap tougher economic sanctions on Russia for allegedly intervening militarily in Ukraine – which Moscow adamantly says it is not and moreover points out that there is no evidence of.
The dubious legality, not to mention logistical viability, of Washington’s latest bomb-first-ask-questions-later proposals to defeat the Frankenstein monster of its own creation in Iraq and Syria is cause for pause among even America’s pathetic European lackeys.
The French are balking at the prospect of bombing its former Syrian colony. French President Francois Hollande said: “France is ready to act, but once the political accord is there and in respect of international law.” That’s French diplomacy-speak for: “Don’t count on us being caught complicit in American war crimes.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was even more categorical in spurning the US-led coalition. Speaking in Berlin the day after Obama’s bravura televised speech to his nation, Germany’s top diplomat said of possible air strikes: “To be quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so.”
Britain’s Foreign Minister Philip Hammond also ruled out British involvement in US-led air strikes inside Syria. Hammond said his government supported the US-led coalition – placating the megalomaniac Yanks – but he told Reuters : “Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any air strikes in Syria. We have already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won’t be revisiting that position.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to quickly snub Hammond later on Friday when he said that “nothing was being ruled out” as far as British warplanes are concerned in possible Syria operations with the Americans.
Nevertheless, despite Cameron’s obviously compensatory bluster, it seems clear that the US-led campaign to “destroy ISIS” is already running out of commitment, even among Washington’s most dutiful, pathetically servile allies; and no wonder, too. This US-led anti-terror bombing coalition is such a barrel of volatile lies, unstable contradictions and inflammatory expediency it is bound to implode before it even starts to roll.
Official Washington’s ever-influential neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” allies see President Barack Obama’s decision to extend U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists into Syria as a new chance to achieve the long-treasured neocon goal of “regime change” in Damascus.
On the surface, Obama’s extraordinary plan to ignore Syrian sovereignty and attack across the border has been viewed as a unilateral U.S. action to strike at the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but it could easily evolve into a renewed effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government, ironically one of ISIS’s principal goals.
ISIS began as part of the Sunni resistance to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq which had elevated Iraq’s Shiite majority to power. Then known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” the terrorist group stoked a sectarian war by slaughtering Shiites and bombing their mosques.
Changing its name to ISIS, the group shifted to Syria where it joined with U.S.-backed rebels seeking to overthrow Assad’s regime which was dominated by Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam. Then, this summer, ISIS returned to Iraq where it routed Iraqi government forces in a series of battles and conducted public executions, including beheading two U.S. journalists.
In his national address Wednesday, Obama said he will order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus has denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. Thus, the argument will surely soon be heard in Washington that Assad’s government must be removed as a military prerequisite so the attacks on ISIS can proceed. Otherwise, there could be a threat to U.S. aircraft from Syria’s air defenses.
That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran to follow. The goal was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. The neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at the idea of extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.
But the neocons never gave up on their vision. They simply kept at it, clinging to key positions inside Official Washington and recruiting “liberal interventionists” to the “regime change” cause. The neocons remained focused on Syria and Iran with hopes of getting U.S. bombing campaigns going against both countries. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]
The neocons’ new hope has now arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But “regime change” in Damascus has remained a top neocon priority.
In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham avoided the “r-c” phrase couching their words about Syria’s civil war in the vague language of resolving the conflict, but clearly meaning that Assad must go.
The hawkish pair wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda is a distortion at best – in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement – the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: an initial step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.
The neocons are also back to their old sleight-of-hand conflating the terrorists fighting the Assad government with the Assad government. In the op-ed, McCain and Graham cite Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson supposedly calling “Syria ‘a matter of homeland security’” – when he actually said in the linked speech from last February:
“We are very focused on foreign fighters heading to Syria. Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict. At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission.”
In other words, “Syria” was not the problem cited by Johnson but rather the “foreign fighters heading to Syria” and the possibility that they might “return to their home countries with an extremist mission.” The distinction is important, but McCain and Graham want to blur the threat to confuse Americans into seeing “Syria” as the problem, not the extremists.
A similar approach was taken by Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, one of the Obama administration’s top liberal war hawks. On Sept. 4, she sought to conflate recent allegations that Assad may not have surrendered all his chemical weapons with the possibility that any remaining weapons might fall into the hands of ISIS terrorists.
“Certainly if there are chemical weapons left in Syria, there will be a risk” that they could end up in the hands of ISIS, Power said. “And we can only imagine what a group like that would do if in possession of such a weapon.”
If any of these rhetorical tactics are ringing a bell, it’s because they are reminiscent of how the neocons frightened the American people into supporting the Iraq War in 2002-03. Back then, Bush administration officials blended unsubstantiated claims about Iraq’s WMDs with the prospect of them being shared with al-Qaeda.
In both cases – Iraq then and Syria now – the existence of those dangerous chemical weapons was in serious doubt and, even if they did exist, the two governments – of Saddam Hussein then and Bashar al-Assad now – were hostile to the Sunni fundamentalists in al-Qaeda and now its spinoff, ISIS.
Yet, this effort to confuse the American public – by manipulating their lack of knowledge about the power relationships in the Middle East – might work once more, by putting “black hats” on both Assad and ISIS and blurring the fact that they are bitter enemies.
In the weeks ahead, Assad also will surely be portrayed as obstructing the U.S. attacks on ISIS. He likely will be blamed for a lack of cooperation with the airstrikes even though it was the Obama administration that refused to coordinate with Assad’s government.
ISIL or ISIS?
Among anti-neocon “realists” inside the U.S. intelligence community, the concern about how these airstrikes into Syria might lead to dangerous mission creep is so great that I’m told that some senior analysts are even suspicious of President Obama’s repeated use of the acronym “ISIL” – for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – instead of the more common “ISIS,” referring only to Iraq and Syria.
The concern is that “the Levant” suggests a larger area including all “Mediterranean lands east of Italy,” that theoretically could include everything from Turkey to Palestine and Jordan to parts of Egypt. One source said inclusion of the phrase “ISIL,” instead of “ISIS,” in any “use of force” resolution could be significant by creating a possibility of a much wider war.
In his speech to the nation on Wednesday, Obama continued to use the acronym “ISIL” but his references to U.S. military operations were limited to Iraq and Syria.
The most controversial part of Obama’s speech was his open declaration to conduct cross-border attacks into Syria in clear violation of international law. He also vowed to increase military support for rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad government.
Obama declared that “we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition” and he requested additional resources from Congress. He added: “We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all,” a further suggestion that “regime change” is again in play.
Exactly what Obama thinks he can get from the Syrian opposition is a mystery, since he himself stated in an interview just last month that the notion that arming the supposedly “moderate” rebels would have made a difference in Syria has “always been a fantasy.”
He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
Nevertheless, Obama has now trotted out that old “fantasy” in connection with his plan to extend the war against ISIS into Syria. Obama also knows that many of the previous Syrian “moderates” who received U.S. weapons later unveiled themselves to be Islamists who repudiated the U.S.-backed opposition and allied themselves with al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda.”]
Given that record – and Obama’s knowledge of it – what is one to make of the deceptive formulation that he presented to the American people on Wednesday night?
One explanation could be that Obama plans a more direct – albeit secretive – U.S. role in removing Assad and putting a new regime into power in Damascus. Or Obama might be simply pandering to the neocons and liberal hawks who would have gone berserk if he had acknowledged the obvious, that the smart play is to work quietly with Assad to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra Front.
The other smart play might be for Obama to resume his behind-the-scenes cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin who helped engineer Syria’s agreement to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal last year and who could presumably broker a quiet agreement between Obama and Assad to allow the U.S. airstrikes now.
Though the U.S. neocons and “liberal interventionists” exploited the Ukraine crisis to drive a wedge between the two leaders, Obama might want to reconsider that estrangement and accept the help of Russia – as well as Iran – in achieving a goal that they all agree on: defeating ISIS and other Sunni terrorist groups. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]
Yet, in Wednesday’s speech, Obama seemed to go out of his way to insult Putin by decrying “Russian aggression” in Ukraine where the U.S. government has accused Moscow of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty by crossing the border into eastern Ukraine and aiding ethnic Russian rebels. Obama claimed that Washington’s own intervention in Ukraine was “in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny.”
Yet the realities in Kiev, whose government is backed by the U.S., and in Damascus, whose government is despised by Washington, have eerie parallels. In Syria, Assad, a longtime dictator, won a recent election that was truncated by civil strife. In Ukraine, the current government was established by a February coup d’etat that overthrew an elected president and is now headed by a president elected by only a portion of the population, excluding much of the rebellious east.
Yet, in one country – Ukraine – the United States says outside intervention even by a neighbor to protect a population under military assault is illegal “aggression,” while in the other country – Syria – it is entirely okay for the United States to send its military halfway around the world, cross Syria’s borders to carry out bombing raids while also arming militants to overthrow the internationally recognized government.
Typically, neither Obama nor the U.S. mainstream press made note of the hypocrisy. But the bigger question now is will the neocons hijack Obama’s bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria to achieve one of their most beloved goals, regime change in Damascus.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Obama’s ISIS speech would have provoked outrage if Bush gave it. Now, however, Democrats and Republicans are united over foreign war to such an extent that a prolonged military campaign without congressional approval barely raises an eyebrow. So one year after an attack on Syria was rejected by the American public bombs will be dropping after all.
More surprising than the bi-partisan escalation of Middle East war is the complete absence of strategy. Obama’s speech ignored the fundamental causes of ISIS’ rise, while putting forth a military strategy of pure fantasy. The only guarantee of Obama’s war strategy is the unnecessary prolonging of the Syrian conflict and the further growth of Islamic extremism. It’s as if President Obama hasn’t figured out the ABC’s of terrorism: the more you bomb, the more extremists you create. It isn’t rocket science.
The 13-year “war on terror” has fundamentally failed, creating an exponential growth in Islamic extremism, now sprawling across the very epicenter of the Middle East where its presence before was miniscule.
The president’s speech ignored how his strategy to fight the secular Syrian government — funding, training, and arming the Syrian rebels — has directly contributed to creating giant militias of Islamic extremists, filled with money and jihadists from Obama’s Gulf state allies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. If not for the U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, the conflict would have ended long ago, and ISIS would have remained marginal.
But instead of admitting that this failed approach helped create ISIS, Obama has doubled down on his ludicrous plan to further arm and finance the “moderate” opposition in Syria. The New York Times discussed the holes in Obama’s strategy:
“… Mr. Obama is still wrestling with a series of challenges, including how to train and equip a viable ground force to fight ISIS inside Syria, how to intervene without aiding President Bashar al-Assad, and how to enlist potentially reluctant partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”
None of these issues are to be resolved, only compounded. Of course President Assad will benefit if Obama attacks his enemy ISIS, in the same way that ISIS has been benefitting the last two years from the U.S.-backed proxy war against President Assad.
Further exposing these issues is the highly regarded Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn, who predicted Obama’s foolish speech with precision:
“So far it looks as if Mr. Obama will dodge the main problem facing his campaign against Isis. He will not want to carry out a U-turn in U.S. policy by allying himself with President Assad, though the Damascus government is the main armed opposition to Isis in Syria. He will instead step up a pretense that there is a potent “moderate” armed opposition in Syria, capable of fighting both Isis and the Syrian government at once. Unfortunately, this force scarcely exists in any strength and the most important rebel movements opposed to Isis are themselves jihadis such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic Front. Their violent sectarianism is not very different to that of Isis.”
Later in the article Cockburn explains that the negligible moderate force is dominated by the CIA.
Obama dared not say explicitly that his plan to fight ISIS included a plan to fight the Syrian government, but that’s exactly what he implied by continuing to arm, fund, and train a “moderate” Syrian opposition that is fighting both ISIS and Assad.
Obama’s bombing campaign against ISIS can thus rapidly transition into a regime change bombing of the Syrian Government, as happened in the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign in Libya that began as “humanitarian intervention” and veered into regime change after the first bomb dropped.
Before he announced the expansion of the war Obama claimed legal authorization to bomb without Congressional approval. The U.S. House Judiciary Chair issued a different opinion. And Democrats, too, had a different opinion when Bush was in office.
But now many congressmen from both parties would like Obama to act without Congress, since midterm elections are nearing and no congressman wants to be on record voting for war, since Americans are fed up with it. Better to skip democracy and have the president declare war unilaterally, war weary voters be damned.
Lastly, Obama failed to mention that perpetual war is the new normal for the U.S. government, no matter which party is elected. By not addressing any of the above-mentioned issues, a serious analysis was shelved in favor of the Bush Jr. circular logic that can be used to rationalize war forever, creating new generations of Islamic extremists that will justify permanent war. There can be only one real solution: remove the U.S. military from the Middle East.
Shamus Cooke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Obama took to the airwaves yesterday, oh so coincidentally, on the eve of September 11, to roll out his latest “smart war.” And it comes, oh so coincidentally, just before Congressional midterms when every member of Congress fears like the plague to be painted as a dove, just as happened in 2002 before Bush II took us to war.
Whatever role ISIS plays in this, Syria is certainly the target. It is telling that when it comes to money, Obama is asking Congress only for funding to train the Syrian “moderate rebels” in that bastion of Sunni moderation, Saudi Arabia.
The rationales that Obama is peddling make no sense. If the barbarity of beheading were the actual trigger of this latest onslaught on the Middle East, then the U.S. would not be sending our “moderate” trainees to Saudi Arabia where beheading is a well respected national past time – far more popular than allowing women to drive automobiles.
And if the barbarity that has motivated Obama were the wanton taking of American life, then we would be training Jewish “moderates” to overthrow the Apartheid State of Israel. For let us remember that the IDF bulldozed the American Rachel Corrie into the ground when she stood in the way of the destruction of Palestinian housing. And it was Israel that killed the American citizen living in Turkey, Furkan Dogan, who was on the Mavi Marmara in the Gaza Flotilla. And it was Israel that tried to blow the USS Liberty out of the water killing 34 American sailors and wounding 171.
No, it is not the beheadings nor the loss of American life that move Obama. Syria is now to be bombed. That is an act of war. In fact, arming rebels to overthrow a government is an act of war but there will be no declaration of war – just a vote to supply the funds for the mythical “moderate” rebels.
We are told that only ISIS leaders will be targeted in Syria. But Syria has not approved bombing its territory so it does not believe that story. And let us suppose that U.S. planes are overhead when Assad’s forces are attacking “moderate” rebels that the U.S. is arming and training. Is it credible that there will be no bombing of the Syrian forces?
And ISIS remains a mysterious entity, springing up out of nowhere and carrying arms that are supplied by American and Saudi agencies. In Iran, as was reported in the NYT yesterday on the front page, the great majority of “the street” believes it is an American/Israeli/Saudi creation. It may be true that ISIS has got out of control and that Saudi Arabia now fears it, but that could also be another fiction. All we know for sure is that Syria and Iraq are to be bombed again. And also that ISIS emerged only after our invasion, bombing and continuing presence in Iraq.
Syria, of course, was on the list of targets that General Wesley Clarke revealed to us stating that there was a hit list in the Middle East and North Africa of seven countries, “starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” And miraculously the schedule has been modified only slightly perhaps because Assad has put up such fierce resistance.
And other lies are in the air. Obama tells us that there will be not “boots on the ground,” but he also admits that he has sent over a thousand additional troops to Iraq. Are they barefoot? In fact, the lies will only grow more intense and be repeated more frequently in the days to come as the war propaganda machine swings into ever higher gear.
As far as the election of 2008 goes, Obama promised peace, and Hillary war. But so far Obama has been in perfect synch with his hawkish adversary who has been especially keen to assault Syria. The election debate was a sham.
So we may expect Syria to be targeted and Iran next. But Iran is supported by Russia already under attack in its West via Ukraine. Can Russia allow Iran to be the next target? Can Iran allow Syria to fall to the U.S. Empire? It is quite clear where this is going. The dream of the U.S. Empire to dominate the Eurasian land mass is being implemented: Damascus, Tehran, Moscow and finally Beijing unless nuclear war breaks out first. Obama and the rest of the imperial elite are flirting with Armageddon.
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.
E M E R G E N C Y P R O T E S T
NO to another war!
FRI ►SEPT 12 5 – 6 pm
Times Square 43rd St & 7th Ave International Action Center IACenter.org 212-633-6646
Regional International Action Center
Emergency Response Protest on 9/11:
Say No to U.S. War in the Middle East
Stop Obama’s New War on IRAQ & SYRIA:
On the eve of 9/11 President Obama announced a new U.S. war of aggression. Emergency response actions are urgently needed.
Obama lied last night just like Bush and Colin Powell lied in 2003 and Lyndon Johnson did in 1964. He told us how terrible ISIS is, how barbaric. He will announce a new “Coalition of the Willing”. He is using the Big Lie to launch another war.
But ISIS is not the “reason” the U.S. is going to war. ISIS is the PRETEXT. It is the latest of a string of pretexts from the Maine in 1898 to Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 to “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003, pretexts/lies to maintain an empire.
ISIS is barbaric? It is the Pentagon that is barbaric. What are more barbaric than U.S. bombs in Syria and Iraq? U.S. drones wipe out whole wedding parties from Pakistan to Yemen, slaughtering men, women and yes, children.
It was U.S. war and occupation that killed more than a million Iraqis and destroyed that country. It was U.S. arms that fed Syria’s civil war, killing hundreds of thousands and half-destroying that country. Now Obama wants to destroy the other half.
ISIS grew from the poison of U.S. wars, arms and the cynical policy of inflaming sectarian divisions. Stop the Pentagon from waging war on the people and the people there will take care of ISIS. Continuing to wage war will arouse a billion people against the U.S. and its war machine.
The Bush “War on Terror” militarized every police force in the U.S. targeting people of color. The prison population soared. It globalized invasive surveillance and locked thousands in secret detention and solitary confinement. Now Obama promises a new “war on terror” reaching years into the future. We say NO!”
From Central America to Syria
President Obama plans to increase funding and training of “moderate rebels” in Syria while escalating air strike operations against ISIS in Iraq and into Syria. From Central America in the 80s to Syria today, the US has supported proxy armies in violation of international law.
Syria: Civil War or War of Aggression?
The conflict in Syria has caused staggering destruction and bloodshed.The death toll is approaching 200,000 out of total population of 22 million. Somewhere between 70 and 100 thousand of the dead are Syrian soldiers and militia. The conflict has pitted the Syrian government supported by a majority of the population (documented here and here) against domestic and international fighters, many on salary and actively supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, USA, France and Britain.
While Syria’s President is of Alawi religious background, the Defense Minister is Sunni Muslim and the Foreign Minister is Christian. The majority of soldiers are Sunni. In fact it is a secular country where it’s considered impolite to ask one’s religion. With changes in the Constitution the country is no longer a one party state although the socialist Baath Party is still dominant. Higher education and healthcare are free. While any Syrian can start his or her own business with modest restrictions and taxes, foreign corporations investing in Syria are limited to 49% ownership. Thus the country is not under the thumb of Wall Street or the International Monetary Fund, and you do not see Burger King/Pizza Hut/Bank of America or Bank of London in downtown Damascus. The country has lots of economic and social challenges but compared to other countries in the Arab world is a bastion of secularism and independence from Western domination.
The international opponents are not hidden. They are the active members of the “Friends of Syria” openly dedicated to overthrowing the Damascus government. Some of their plans and actions are public information. After one conference it was publicly recorded that US would provide communications and non-lethal equipment while Saudi Arabia and Qatar would supply and fund the weapons and arms. Meanwhile Turkey has provided logistical support and the base of operations of the external arm and rebel command. At the conferences these foreign powers have also taken it on themselves to decide who is the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. The assertion that the US has not supported the rebels is false. As just one piece of evidence: during the winter 2012/2013 three thousand TONS of weapons were delivered to the rebels.
An Earlier War of Aggression: USA vs Nicaragua
During the 1980’s the US funded, trained and supplied weapons to the Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Nicaragua took the situation to the World Court, claiming the US was in violation of international law which prohibits countries from financing military forces to attack another country. On June 27, 1986 the International Court at the Hague issued its legal ruling:
Decision of the International Court at the Hague
Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the “contra” forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.
By “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying” the military rebel groups waging war against the Damascus government, the US and “friends” are committing the same crime that the USA did in the 1980’s.
The Negroponte Connection
There is an additional connection between Central America and Syria: the creation and management of the “Contra” rebels was overseen by the US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte. In addition. he managed US policy supportive of the military dictatorships which used death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Ambassador Negroponte later went to Baghdad where he was US Ambassador and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004-2005, when death squads and sectarian bloodshed in Iraq began. His deputy in Baghdad was Robert S. Ford. Mr Ford went on to be US Ambassador to Syria in the period leading up to the outbreak of violence in March 2011. Later in 2011, US Ambassador Ford was expelled from Syria because he was considered an instigator of violence and protest. Ambassador Ford had publicly encouraged the protests and was suspected of much more. Since his expulsion from Syria and up until earlier this year, Robert S. Ford has been the lead American in charge of managing US policy of ‘regime change’ in Syria.
Ignoring the Most Serious Crimes
The violation of Syrian sovereignty should have been exposed and publicly criticized by international justice organizations and United Nations’ officials. Unfortunately the major rights organizations are guided by liberal interventionists and the United Nations has become dominated by US and Western interests. For example Human Rights Watch is significantly funded by liberal billionaire George Soros while Executive Director Roth is a member of the 1% club with annual compensation of nearly half a million dollars ($477K in 2011). That might not matter except that Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been good at documenting specific violations and transgressions but does not distinguish between major and minor violations of international law and ignores or minimizes the most extreme violations of international law by powerful countries. For example, 9 months after the US invasion of Iraq HRW reported that it was “not a humanitarian invasion” and explained why it did not support or oppose the invasion. More recently HRW does not distinguish between Israeli violations in maintaining the prison of Gaza and periodically massacring thousands of Palestinians versus the Palestinian response of random rockets which are largely harmless. They have prominently focused on war crimes of the Syrian “regime”, but ignored the fact that many of the rebels are mercenaries supplied with weapons and paid by foreign governments. HRW soft pedals the violations of the major abusers and comes down hard on the victims. They ignore the “supreme crime” of initiating war by the US and “friends” while vigorously denouncing the transgressions of the Assad government. By not differentiating between crimes, and favoring the powerful, they effectively use international law as another tool of the powerful.
Meanwhile the United Nations has come under the dominance of the United States. For example the head political authority (Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs) is the former US Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman. When you see UN reports and statements on situations, consider the source. Another real world example of what this means: In Syrian refugee camps run by the United Nations Syrian youth are recruited to join the rebels while UN officials pretend not to see.
Violating Air Space of Sovereign Syria
Under international agreement “Every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace above its territory.” President Obama is proposing to ignore the international agreement and to send military jets into Syrian airspace without authorization. The pretext is to attack ISIS but it’s likely this would simply be the foot in the door with attacks on Syrian soldiers to eventually follow. The rationale for NATO entering Libyan air space was to create a “no fly zone” to prevent a humanitarian crisis. But the emergency justifications turned out to be a fraud and the “no fly zone” quickly turned into devastating bombing attacks on the Libyan government.
ISIS does not recognize the Iraqi Syrian border but obviously there is an internationally recognized border, regardless whether it is recognized by a terrorist organization such as ISIS. Another legal fig leaf for the violation of Syrian sovereignty is that since ISIS has murdered American citizens in Syria, the US can intervene to attack the perpetrators. Again, this is without legal basis. Will Obama cook up a legal “justification” as the Bush Administration did to justify torture, rendition, etc etc?
Selective Use of American Deaths
In the past weeks the media have given extensive sensational coverage about the deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Their beheading murders are being used to justify US military escalation and violations of international law. Ironically, both writers documented how unpopular the “moderate rebels” are and Steven Sotloff was reportedly sold to ISIS by one of the “moderate rebels” favored by President Obama. Unknown to most Americans many journalists have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
In sharp contrast, there was relatively little media attention when Americans were murdered in Central America by “our” rebel Contras and “our” Salvadoran dictatorship. Benjamin Linder was a young American engineer who went to Sandinista Nicaragua to help with development in rural areas. He was murdered by the US funded Contras. What was the reaction? Very little. In El Salvador four American nuns who were critical of the military dictatorship were murdered. The US reaction? Jeanne Kirkpatrick , US Ambassador to the UN, did not even express remorse let alone anger or outrage. Instead she remarked that “they were not just nuns”.
From Central America in the 1980’s to Syria and the Middle East today there is a consistency in US policy. Governments which challenge US domination are demonized. Surrogate armies to overthrow them are sometimes created. Bloodshed and mayhem follows. Individual American deaths are ignored or sensationalized depending on whether it benefits US policy. International law is ignored or used as another weapon against the victim.
It’s time for a realistic look at the Syrian government and rebels, including ISIS. It’s time to demand that the US start respecting instead of trampling on international law.
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of a powerful movement in Iraq, said on Wednesday during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Iraq should not cooperate with “occupiers.”
“We wish for Iraq to cooperate with the neighboring countries and its allies, but not with the occupiers,” said Sadr, whose opinions hold sway over tens of thousands of militants.
Kerry, who arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday in a bid to build a coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, met Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider Abadi and said he was impressed by the premier’s plans to rebuild the Iraqi military and push broad political reforms.
Speaking in front of reporters, Kerry told Abadi he was “encouraged” by the premier’s plans for the “reconstituting” of the military and “your commitment to broad reforms that are necessary in Iraq to bring every segment of Iraqi society to the table.”
Abadi called for the international community to help Iraq fight ISIS, urging them “to act immediately to stop the spread of this cancer.”
“Of course our role is to defend our country, but the international community is responsible for protecting Iraq and protecting Iraqis and the whole region,” Abadi said at the close of his meeting with Kerry.
Abadi said there was “a role for the international community, for the United Nations” in tackling the threat of ISIS in neighboring Syria.
During Kerry’s visit, three car bombs exploded in a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing 19 people and wounding at least 52 others, officials said.
They said a suicide car bombing followed by a car bomb struck near a police checkpoint in a crowded area of eastern Baghdad.
Kerry due in Saudi Arabia “to battle extremism”
Kerry will meet with ministers from 10 Arab States and Turkey in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to hold talks on joint action against ISIS.
The talks coincide with an address from President Barack Obama at the White House, where he will outline the US’ strategy to confront ISIS and address criticism that he has been slow to respond to a wave of atrocities that has shocked the world.
Britain also announced on Tuesday that it will ship $2.6 million (two million euros) worth of weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq, to help roll back the militants’ lightning advances.
Kerry’s arrival in the region on Wednesday comes as Washington hailed the formation of the new government in Baghdad.
Iraq’s campaign to claw back territory it lost in the north and west of Baghdad in June, and US efforts to engage neighboring governments in the fightback, have been complicated by regional politics.
Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf Arab states have had deeply strained relations with the government in Baghdad, with each side blaming the other for the jihadists’ gains.
But their foreign ministers will be among those attending Thursday’s talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah, along with top diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq itself.
They will address “terrorism in the region, extremist organizations behind it and means of fighting them,” Saudi state media said.
The Arab League, which has stopped short of explicitly backing ongoing US air strikes against ISIS, also drummed up regional support for the fight.
Ahead of his visit, Kerry vowed to build “the broadest possible coalition of partners around the globe to confront, degrade and ultimately defeat (ISIS).”
“Almost every single country has a role to play in eliminating the (ISIS) threat and the evil that it represents,” he said.
Notably absent from Jeddah will be Russia, the Syrian government – which has not been consulted over possible US airstrikes on its soil – and Iran.
ISIS has taken advantage of the conflict to seize a big chunk of northeastern Syria in fighting with government forces, rival rebel groups and Kurdish militia.
Damascus views itself as a bulwark against the militants, but Washington has ruled out any cooperation.
Washington launched airstrikes against jihadists in Iraq on August 8.
Obama is prepared to authorize air strikes in Syria against ISIS, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported late Tuesday.
An opinion poll published on Tuesday suggested Americans are hawkish towards ISIS, with nearly three-quarters favoring ongoing airstrikes against the group in Iraq while 65 percent would approve extending operations into Syria.
But critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.
On Monday, a study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military issue arms and weapons supplied to the so-called moderate rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.
The report said the jihadists disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”
It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013.”
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that more strikes had been carried out over the previous two days near western Iraq’s massive Haditha dam as part of operations against ISIS forces.
After months of wrangling, Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi finally formed a government on Monday that Washington said had “the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities.”
Kerry described the new government as a “major milestone” after the divisive rule of Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.
Iran – alongside the United States, the key outside power in Iraq – said it hoped the change of government in Baghdad would help turn the tide against ISIS.
“I hope that during your new mandate, complete calm will return to your country,” President Hassan Rouhani said.
In reality, the new government does not constitute quite the sea-change hailed by Washington, as the divisive Maliki becomes one of three vice presidents.
In other developments, French President Francois Hollande will visit Iraq on Friday ahead of hosting a conference in Paris on security in the country next Monday, his office said.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)