After slapping Donald Trump around for several months to make him surrender his hopes for a more cooperative relationship with Russia, the neocons and their liberal-interventionist allies are now telling the battered President what he must do next: escalate war in the Middle East and ratchet up tensions with nuclear-armed Russia.
Star neocon Robert Kagan spelled out Trump’s future assignments in a column on Sunday in The Washington Post, starting out by patting the chastened President on the head for his decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airstrip in Syria supposedly in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Syrian government (although no serious investigation was even conducted).
Trump earned widespread plaudits for his decisive action and his heart-on-the-sleeve humanitarianism as his voice filled with emotion citing the chemical-weapons deaths on April 4 of “small children and even beautiful little babies.” The U.S. media then helpfully played down reports from Syria that Trump’s April 6 retaliatory missile strike had killed about 15 people, including nine civilians, four of whom were children.
However, for Kagan, the missile strike was only a good start. An advocate for “regime change” in Syria and a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century which pushed for the Iraq War, Kagan praised Trump “for doing what the Obama administration refused to do,” i.e. involve the U.S. military directly in attacks on the Syrian government.
“But,” Kagan added, “Thursday’s action needs to be just the opening salvo in a broader campaign not only to protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the Bashar al-Assad regime but also to reverse the downward spiral of U.S. power and influence in the Middle East and throughout the world. A single missile strike unfortunately cannot undo the damage done by the Obama administration’s policies over the past six years.”
Kagan continued: “Trump was not wrong to blame the dire situation in Syria on President Barack Obama. The world would be a different place today if Obama had carried out his threat to attack Syria when Assad crossed the famous ‘red line’ in the summer of 2013. The bad agreement that then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry struck with Russia not only failed to get rid of Syria’s stock of chemical weapons and allowed the Assad regime to drop barrel bombs and employ widespread torture against civilian men, women and children. It also invited a full-scale Russian intervention in the fall of 2015, which saved the Assad regime from possible collapse.”
A Seasoned Propagandist
Kagan, who cut his teeth in the Reagan administration running a State Department propaganda shop on Central America, has never been particularly interested in nuance or truth, so he wouldn’t care that Obama pulled back from attacking Syria in summer 2013, in part, because his intelligence advisers told him they lacked proof that Assad was responsible for a mysterious sarin attack. (Since then, the evidence has indicated that the attack was likely a provocation by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate with help from Turkish intelligence.)
But groupthinks die hard – and pretty much every Important Person in Official Washington just knows that Assad did carry out that sarin attack, just like they all knew that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was hiding WMDs in 2003. So, it follows in a kind of twisted logical way that they would build off the fake history regarding the 2013 Syria-sarin case and apply it to the new groupthink that Assad has carried out this latest attack, too. Serious fact-finding investigations are not needed; everyone just “knows.”
But Kagan is already looking ahead. Having pocketed Trump’s capitulation last week on Syria, Kagan has shifted his sights onto the much juicier targets of Russia and Iran.
“Russia has … greatly expanded its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean,” Kagan wrote. “Obama and Kerry spent four years panting after this partnership, but Russia has been a partner the way the mafia is when it presses in on your sporting goods business. Thanks to Obama’s policies, Russia has increasingly supplanted the United States as a major power broker in the region. Even U.S. allies such as Turkey, Egypt and Israel look increasingly to Moscow as a significant regional player.
“Obama’s policies also made possible an unprecedented expansion of Iran’s power and influence. … If you add the devastating impact of massive Syrian refugee flows on European democracies, Obama’s policies have not only allowed the deaths of almost a half-million Syrians but also have significantly weakened America’s global position and the health and coherence of the West.”
Yes, all that was Obama’s fault for not invading Syria with a couple of hundred thousand U.S. troops because that’s what would have been required to achieve Kagan’s “regime change” goal in Syria. And there’s no reason to think that the Syrian invasion would have been any less bloody than the bloody Kagan-advocated invasion of Iraq. But Kagan and the neocons never take responsibility for their various bloodbaths. It’s always someone else’s fault.
And now Kagan is telling Trump that there is still much he must do to earn his way back into the good graces of the neocons.
Kagan continued, “Trump, of course, greatly exacerbated these problems during his campaign, with all the strong rhetoric aimed at allies. Now he has taken an important first step in repairing the damage, but this will not be the end of the story. America’s adversaries are not going to be convinced by one missile strike that the United States is back in the business of projecting power to defend its interests and the world order. …
“The testing of Trump’s resolve actually begins now. If the United States backs down in the face of these challenges, the missile strike, though a worthy action in itself, may end up reinforcing the world’s impression that the United States does not have the stomach for confrontation.”
And confrontation is surely what Kagan has in mind, adding:
“Instead of being a one-time event, the missile strike needs to be the opening move in a comprehensive political, diplomatic and military strategy to rebalance the situation in Syria in America’s favor. That means reviving some of those proposals that Obama rejected over the past four years: a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians, the grounding of the Syrian air force, and the effective arming and training of the moderate opposition, all aimed at an eventual political settlement that can bring the Syrian civil war, and therefore the Assad regime, to an end.
“The United States’ commitment to such a course will have to be clear enough to deter the Russians from attempting to disrupt it. This in turn will require moving sufficient military assets to the region so that neither Russia nor Iran will be tempted to escalate the conflict to a crisis, and to be sure that American forces will be ready if they do. …
“Let’s hope that the Trump administration is prepared for the next move. If it is, then there is a real chance of reversing the course of global retreat that Obama began. A strong U.S. response in Syria would make it clear to the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Kim Jong Un that the days of American passivity are over.”
On His Knees
To put this message in the crude terms that President Trump might understand, now that the neocons have forced him to his knees, they are demanding that he open his mouth. They will not be satisfied with anything short of a massive U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and a full-scale confrontation with Russia (and perhaps China).
This sort of belligerence is what the neocons and liberal hawks had expected from Hillary Clinton, whom Kagan had endorsed. Some sources claim that a President Hillary Clinton planned to appoint Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, as Secretary of State.
As Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs under Obama, Nuland oversaw the U.S.-backed putsch that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, replacing him with a fiercely anti-Russian regime, the move that touched off civil war in Ukraine and sparked the New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. [For more on Kagan clan, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]
Clinton’s defeat was a stunning setback but the neocons never give up. They are both well-organized and well-funded, dominating Official Washington’s think tanks and media outlets, sharing some power with their junior partners, the liberal interventionists, who differ mostly in the rationales cited for invading other countries. (The neocons mostly talk about global power and democracy promotion, while the liberal hawks emphasize “human rights.”)
In dealing with the narcissistic and insecure Trump, the neocons and liberal hawks conducted what amounted to a clever psychological operation. They rallied mainstream media personalities and Democrats horrified at Trump’s victory. In particular, Democrats and their angry base were looking for any reason to hold out hope for Trump’s impeachment. Hyping alleged Russian “meddling” in the election became the argument of choice.
Night after night, MSNBC and other networks competed in their Russia-bashing to boost ratings among Trump-hating Democrats. Meanwhile, Democratic politicians, such as Rep. Adam Schiff of California, saw the Russia-gate hearings as a ticket to national glory. And professional Democratic strategists could evade their responsibility for running a dismal presidential campaign by shifting the blame to the Russians.
However, besides creating a convenient excuse for Clinton’s defeat, the anti-Russian hysteria blocked Trump and his team from any move that they might try to make regarding avoidance of a costly and dangerous New Cold War. The Russia-hating frenzy reached such extremes that it paralyzed the formulation of any coherent Trump foreign policy.
Now, with the neocons regaining influence on the National Security Council via NSC adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus, the neocon holding action against the New Détente has shifted into an offensive to expand the hot war in Syria and intensify the Cold War with Russia. As Kagan recognized, Trump’s hasty decision to fire off missiles was a key turning point in the reassertion of neocon/liberal-hawk dominance over U.S. foreign policy.
It’s also suddenly clear how thoroughly liberal Democrats were taken for a ride on the war train by getting them to blame Russia for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The liberals (and even many progressives) hated Trump so much that they let themselves be used in the service of neocon/liberal-hawk endless war policies. Now, it may be too late to turn the train around.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
The neocon Washington Post is a virtual CIA house organ. Its reporting and opinions reflect Langley’s diabolical agenda.
Extremist Robert Kagan co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) – now called the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), its sinister agenda unchanged, promoting endless wars of aggression for unchallenged US global dominance.
In a WaPo opinion piece, he called for more aggression on Syria as part of US “military strategy to rebalance the situation in (the country) in America’s favor.”
He urged establishing a no-fly zone, grounding Syria’s air force, arming anti-government terrorists more than already, and ousting Assad – a virtual declaration of war on Russia if these policies are instituted.
Kagan: “The United States’ commitment to such a course will have to be clear enough to deter the Russians from attempting to disrupt it.”
“This in turn will require moving sufficient military assets to the region so that neither Russia nor Iran will be tempted to escalate the conflict to a crisis, and to be sure that American forces will be ready if they do.”
His worldview reflects madness. He urged escalated war on Syria to show Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang “that the days of American passivity are over.”
He called Trump’s Friday aggression “a critical first step,” an “opening salvo in a broader campaign” to oust Assad and reassert “US power and influence in the Middle East and throughout the world.”
“A single missile strike” only matters if followed by escalated war, he maintains.
He lied claiming “thousands of Russian forces operate throughout Syria, not (against ISIS), against the civilian population and the US-backed moderate opposition.”
“… Russia has increasingly supplanted the United States as a major power broker in the region.”
Fact: All anti-government forces are US-supported terrorists. No moderates exist.
Fact: Limited numbers of Russian personnel are in Syria, mostly related to its anti-terrorist military operations – greatly helping, not harming civilians.
Fact: America and Israel remain the dominant regional powers. Russia has cooperative relations with various Middle East nations.
Kagan is part of Washington’s lunatic fringe. His wife, Victoria Nuland, orchestrated regime change in Ukraine, replacing democratic governance with illegitimate Nazi putschists.
WaPo editors called Trump’s aggression “right as a matter of morality.”
They urged him to assert US leadership forcefully – wanting greater aggression than already.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at email@example.com. His new book is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
The headline of a New York Times article published April 6, “C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed,” misleadingly implies not only that there was an effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump win the American presidential election but that it is a settled fact that the CIA was in possession of hard evidence to that effect. The text of the piece does nothing to substantiate either claim. There is not one mention in the 33 paragraphs that follow about the purported evidence. As has been true for months, no evidence of any actual Russian actions is presented – only unfounded assertions that such evidence exists. But the allegations have been repeated over and over so many times over the course of so many months that they have become established fact, as saying something often enough apparently makes it true.
Eric Lichtblau, the reporter whose byline appears on the piece, received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on illegal and unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of Americans inside the United States by intelligence agencies during the George W. Bush administration. One would expect a journalist with such a history to be extra skeptical of government sources, but that is not the case. Lichtblau appears not to have done any due diligence at all. The article does little more than transcribe anonymous rumors, turning the New York Times into a conduit for intelligence officials to disseminate their narrative to the public.
The Times’ reports on Bush’s illegal spying campaign, first released in December 2005, are often presented as an example of the mainstream media practicing its intended role as the Fourth Estate in American society by acting in the public interest to hold government accountable for overreach and abuse. In reality, the warrantless spying story fits perfectly within the propaganda model of media developed by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. The propaganda model recognizes that media organizations will – with varying degrees of frequency – produce critical coverage of government actions. But their criticisms are framed as examples of rogue actors or misguided policies that are part of a political system that is fundamentally benevolent, despite mistakes and abuses that represent exceptions to the rule.
This overarching worldview is evidenced by Lichtblau’s deference to the fact-free rumors spread by anonymous intelligence officials. Having reported first hand about the CIA’s flagrant disregard for the constitution, Lichtblau would logically be expected to reflexively question the motives of Agency officials when they feed him information off the record. Instead, he takes for granted that they are being honest.
“The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought,” Lichtblau writes.
This logical fallacy assumes that if members of the CIA told something to Congress, then it must be true. Alternatively, the briefings could indicate that intelligence officials stirred up wild fantasies about foreign interference in the elections as a way of themselves intervening in the election much earlier in the campaign than previously thought.
A journalist wouldn’t take his sources at face value unless he internalized the belief that they had benevolent motives and were only interested in ensuring the public learned the truth. It doesn’t even occur to him that they might have their own agenda, and were manipulating him by leaking information selectively to advance that agenda. Naturally, these are the motives of foreign intelligence agents – like the Russians – but not ours. Because U.S. intelligence agents are different, naturally; they have only noble motives.
This type of thinking requires a special penchant for ignoring and apologizing for the CIA’s long history of misdeeds, from playing an indispensable role in overthrowing the elected governments of Guatemala, Iran and Chile; to meddling in the elections of more than 30 sovereign nations; organizing and operating death squads and torture chambers in South Vietnam; creating and sponsoring a terrorist army led by former security officials from the ousted military dictatorship in Nicaragua, looking the other way as the terrorists obtained funding for weapons by flooding the streets of Los Angeles and other American cities with crack cocaine.
Even leaving aside the CIA’s history from more than a few decades ago, during the last 15 years alone the CIA has carried out illegal programs of kidnapping, torture and assassination. The CIA even went as far as hacking into the computers of Senate investigators – who nominally oversee them – while they were investigating the crimes. This was widely reported and even acknowledged by the Agency themselves.
When describing Trump’s assertion that he was wiretapped by Obama, Lichtblau notes that Trump made the claim “with no evidence.” One has to wonder why, then, he chooses to report completely unsubstantiated assertions from the CIA without qualifying them with the same caveat.
One could speculate that the CIA, in the absence of any real evidence of any Russian activities relating to the U.S. election, is using Lichtblau and the Times to launder their unfounded rumors. Instead of producing evidence, officials merely assert (off the record, of course, without explanation of why they refuse to attach their names to their assertions) that they have evidence. The press accepts these claims at face value without questioning their veracity, and gives them credibility by printing them as if there could be no doubt they are true.
In this way, intelligence officials are able to create a narrative stamped by the paper of record as historical fact based on nothing more than their own word. When government officials can shape the political discourse by substituting their own alternate reality for objective facts, there is no way a democracy can function. The media serve merely as an extension of government while simultaneously providing the facade of independence and oversight.
The picture that corporate media paints of the world would indeed be much different if journalists demonstrated the same skepticism toward their own government that they do without fail towards official enemies. And it would be much more difficult for the government to carry out their perilous game of demonizing foreign adversaries and leading the public towards a reckless, needless and possibly apocalyptic military confrontation based on grievances that have been manufactured out of whole cloth.
Hezbollah on Sunday has condemned the awful crimes committed by terrorist ISIL group which targeted churches in Egypt’s Tanta and Alexandria, killing and injuring dozens of innocent civilians.
In a statement released by the party’s Media Relations office, Hezbollah offered condolences to victims’ families, calling for uniting efforts to confront terrorism in the region.
“This continuous and escalating killing carried out by criminal gangs in the name of religion is one of the greatest catastrophes our Ummah (nation) has been witnessing,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah pointed out that such crimes were planned for by major powers and regional countries which have been offering different kinds of support to terrorists, in a bid to sow discord between the region’s peoples who have lived together for centuries.
Furthermore, the Lebanese resistance party stressed that targeting faithful people in churches during Palm Sunday is a savage act which indicates that these groups have no humanity.
This crime “comes as a part of a big scheme to displace Christians from Sinai and other areas across Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, paving the way for sectarian and ethnic federalization in favor of the Zionist enemy,” Hezbollah warned.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah voiced support for Egypt and its people, urging all sides to realize the seriousness of the “great conspiracy targeting our Ummah,” and to unite efforts in confronting terrorists along with their regional and international sponsors.
On December 22 last year the government of Syria regained control of the city of Aleppo that had been occupied by brutal rebel forces since 2012. As reported by the BBC, «The predominantly Sunni Muslim opposition is made of several rebel groups, many of whom have received financial aid from key opponents of President Assad, including the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey».
Following defeat of the US-supported insurgents, «Under a deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, convoys of buses and cars have shuttled thousands of civilians and fighters out of Aleppo’s last rebel-held pocket toward opposition areas outside the city», and peace was restored, much to the frustration and annoyance of some Western governments. The Los Angeles Times noted that «a series of victory celebrations were held in Aleppo following the government forces’ victory, attended by large crowds. For the first time since the civil war began, Christmas was celebrated in Aleppo, with a tree lighting ceremony».
When the rebels controlled the city there was persecution and slaughter of Christians, with the BBC recording that «in areas seized by the jihadist group Islamic State, Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death. In the Syrian province of Hassakeh in February 2015, hundreds of Christians are feared to have been kidnapped by the militants. Senior Christian clerics have also been kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Suspicion for the abductions has fallen on the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate». You might imagine that the Christian West would have welcomed the freedom restored to Syrian Christians by the Syrian government, but there was hardly a word about this aspect of victory over the Muslim fanatics.
On the other hand, immediately before the rebels were defeated the leaders of the West were vociferously critical of operations to take the city, with reports that «Theresa May has joined Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and the leaders of France, Canada and Italy to jointly condemn Russia over its role in the humanitarian disaster ‘taking place before our very eyes’ in Aleppo». There was saturation media cover of the joint statement that «The urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire to allow the United Nations to get humanitarian assistance to people in eastern Aleppo. Only a political settlement can bring peace for people in Syria».
If the situation had not been so appalling this would have excited derisive laughter because much of the West, along with the freedom-loving kingdom of Saudi Arabia (which forbids the practice of Christianity) and the near-autocracy of Turkey, are the very countries that advocated rebellion in Syria rather than advocating a «political settlement». They all urged the violent overthrow of Syria’s President Assad, with Saudi Arabia declaring that he «cannot be part of a solution to the conflict and must hand over power to a transitional administration or be removed by force». Turkey’s Erdogan, himself intent on establishing a dictatorship, proclaimed that his armed forces intervened in Syria «to bring justice. We are there to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror». And the hypocrites of the West cheered them on.
The US and the European Union announced that «President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country». They were all determined that Syria’s President be brutally deposed by the vicious anti-Christian rebels who were murdering civilians and laying waste to Aleppo.
Then in 2017 the governments in Washington, London and some other capitals which championed rebellion in Syria and condemned Russian airstrikes in support of the government suddenly changed their tune about aspects of the conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told reporters on March 29 that «You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out». No doubt President Assad has views on this, but it is a welcome development — if indeed it is official US policy, as one never knows which way the tweet might blow in Trumpland, nowadays — and it would have been even more welcome had there been a similar change of mind about accepting responsibility for the massacres in Mosul by US airstrikes.
The Iraqi city of Mosul came under control of Islamic State barbarians in 2014, since which time they behaved much as their soulmates in Aleppo, murdering opponents, destroying ancient buildings, and persecuting those whose religion differed from their own warped interpretation of Islam. Last year it was decided to retake the city, and Iraqi forces launched a series of operations supported by a «coalition» of countries, some of which assisted the US in mounting hundreds of airstrikes on the city and its environs. Many of the rockets, bombs and missiles caused the deaths of countless civilians, but it was only on March 17 that the western media had to take notice, after a particularly hideous attack killed some 200 civilians in a Mosul suburb.
Then the damage control experts swept into action. Not to alleviate the slaughter and destruction on the ground, of course, but to control the media as best they could.
US Central Command was forced to admit that «the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties». Most western media then carried reports heavily slanted towards blaming Islamic State for the slaughter.
The commander of «Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve», US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, admitted to reporters that «our initial assessment… shows we did strike in that area, there were multiple strikes in that area, so is it possible that we did that? Yes, I think it is possible. Because we struck in that area, I think there’s a fair chance that we did it». But then he altered his tone and said that «We know ISIS were fighting from that position in that building… So that’s my initial impression, the enemy had a hand in this…» This line was followed by the media, with, for example, the Washington Post commenting that Russian airstrikes had killed civilians and then, almost as an afterthought, that «Confusion still surrounds the [Mosul] incident: Iraqi military authorities are saying the casualties were caused by booby traps the Islamic State had planted in the house, or by a suicide car bomb that detonated nearby. There’s no question that the jihadists are using civilians as shields, forcing them to stay in homes that are used as firing positions».
To give it its due, the Post ended by saying that it is «vital that US authorities determine as quickly as possible whether an American or coalition bomb [note the clever use of the singular «bomb»] caused the civilian deaths, and, if so, accept responsibility», but we can be confident that Pentagon inquiries will not result in anyone accepting responsibility for this or any other atrocity, as indicated by The New York Times reporting on March 30 of the hardening official line that «ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack».
The Mosul airstrikes and many others killed over a thousand Iraqi civilians in March, and you might imagine that western leaders would be at least mildly disapproving of this horrible butchery, but there hasn’t been a word from any of them.
Remember that Barack Obama, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Justin Trudeau and Matteo Renzi were eloquent about the Aleppo airstrikes and lamented emotionally that «the images of dying children are heart-breaking». But they don’t say a word about the hideous slaughter in Mosul. It’s just a collateral massacre. What a bunch of hypocrites.
The reverberations of the US missile attack in Syria on Thursday are inexorably felt in the geopolitical arena. A series of developments through the weekend signals that the Syrian conflict is entering a new phase. The most consequential development was a phone conversation Sunday afternoon between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, at the latter’s initiative, to discuss the emergent situation in Syria and in the region.
Earlier in the day, Rouhani also had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to assure him of full Iranian support. On a parallel track, the Iranian and Syrian military chiefs also confabulated on Sunday. Prior to that on Saturday, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and the Russian Chief of General Staff General Valeri Gerasimov discussed the Syrian situation. They vowed to continue their military cooperation in support of Assad “until the total defeat of the terrorists and those that support them” (according to the Iranian news agency.)
Again, on Saturday the chiefs of the Iranian and Russian national security councils, Admiral Ali Shamkhai and Nikolai Patrushev held a phone conversation to discuss Syria. Shamkhani hinted at intelligence available with Tehran that the chemical attack in Idlib on April 4 was executed “by a third party in order to create a pretext for carrying out a (US) military attack on Syria.”
Broadly, Moscow and Tehran have voiced identical demands that an independent investigation must be conducted on the chemical attack in Idlib to establish the culpability. Both have strongly condemned the US missile attack as an act of “aggression” and a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
The text of today’s Kremlin statement is reproduced below:
- On the initiative of the Iranian party a phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani was held. … [The presidents] exchanged their views of the situation in Syria.
- Both parties pointed out the inadmissibility of US aggressive actions against the sovereign state in violation of the international law. Putin and Rouhani called for holding an objective, impartial investigation of all circumstances of the incident involving chemical weapons in the Syrian province of Idlib on April 4.
- Particular importance was paid to the key aspects of the bilateral cooperation in the sphere of counterterrorism, a readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East was expressed.
- The Leaders also noted the importance to continue close cooperation on political and diplomatic settlement of the armed conflict in Syria.
The statement hints at an intensification of the Russian-Iranian military operations in Syria. The intention could be to accelerate the liberation of areas still under the control of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates. Importantly, Idlib province bordering Turkey is one such priority area. The extremist groups ensconced in Idlib still enjoy the backing of Turkey, and some of them used to be the CIA’s proxy groups.
Secondly, it is more than likely that discussions have taken place as to how to counter any future US attacks in Syria. Iranian media linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reported today on a statement by the so-called Syria-Iran-Russia Joint Operations Room, which coordinates the military strategies in Syria. The statement warned that any future US aggression will be “given a lethal response”. It said, “We will respond to any aggression powerfully, as Russia and Iran would never allow the US to dominate the world.”
Significantly, the latest Iranian statements have referred to strategic cooperation among Iran, Syria, Russia and the “resistance front”. Today’s Kremlin statement pointedly touched on a mutual Russian-Iranian “readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East.” Taken together, Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria may assume new dimensions as a coordinated regional strategy.
Turkey is, in principle, uniquely placed to call for an independent investigation into the chemical attack in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib on April 4. Idlib borders Turkey and it is well-known that extremist groups (Al-Qaeda affiliates) controlling the province have enjoyed covert support from Turkish intelligence, which has trained them, equipped them and guided them in the past in a joint enterprise with the CIA and the US’ Gulf Arab allies.
Yet, curiously, President Recep Erdogan shies away from demanding an independent inquiry. Instead, he insists, “We have the radar information and we have the forensic reports. Some say Syria does not have chemical weapons. Of course it does. It’s clear which planes dropped it.” Erdogan wants to close the file and move on. He lost no time to extend enthusiastic support for the US missile attack in Syria on April 6 and is beseeching President Donald Trump to revive the “regime change” agenda in Syria. Why such bizarre behavior?
Erdogan’s proactivism in real time has only one explanation – the chemical attack in Idlib was in reality planned with the knowledge of Turkish intelligence. Erdogan has everything to lose if this truth comes out.
Turkey stood to gain by precipitating a situation in Syria that would willy-nilly lead to some form of American intervention. (Indeed, CIA input was the basis of Trump’s decision to order the missile attack in Syria, which of course has severely impacted US-Russia relations.) On the other hand, the Idlib attack was just what suited Trump too to generate a new conversation in Washington that took the heat off him over his alleged links to Russia.
All three protagonists gained out of this cynical game – Erdogan, the “cold warriors” in the CIA and the Russophobes in the Washington establishment, and the beleagured American president himself.
But Erdogan stands most to gain. He overnight hyped up the Syrian situation to burnish his image as the tallest Sunni Islamist leader in Muslim Middle East – Idlib is a Sunni province – just a week ahead of the crucial Turkish referendum on April 16 that votes on the creation of a presidency with executive powers.
Two, Erdogan has brought about a discord between US and Russia, which creates space for Turkey to carry on with its military operations in northern Syria and consolidate its occupation of large tracts of Syrian territory.
Three, Russia and Iran may come under pressure to postpone the planned military offensive on Idlib to liberate the region from al-Qaeda. (Idlib is the only Syrian province remaining still under the control of extremist groups.)
And, four, Erdogan’s persistent demand for creation of “safe zones” inside territory as well as “no-fly zone” – both of which would boost a permanent Turkish military presence inside Syria – has gained a fresh lease of life. Indeed, that would also be the kiss of death for Kurdish ambitions to create an autonomous homeland (“Rojava”) in northern Syria.
Suffice it to say, Turkey’s territorial ambitions over Syria (to reclaim Ottoman territories which it lost in the 1922 settlement) took a leap forward this past week.
An international investigation will help uncover Turkey’s role in the chemical attacks in Idlib. However, alas, the CIA is unlikely to let that happen because what happened in Idlib also happens to be a back-to-back enterprise with Turkish intelligence. Erdogan and the folks in Langley are swimming in the very same river of blood. So long as such cynical games continue, the prospects of Syrian settlement will remain bleak.
Turkish policies threaten regional security in the Middle East as well as Europe. By Erdogan’s reckoning, Europe is inhabited by Nazis, and the Middle East’s future lies with political Islam. Sadly enough, Turkey has once again become the “sick man of Europe”.
Read a chilling Reuters report, here, detailing that the suicide bomber involved in the recent subway terrorist attack in St Petersburg had travelled to Turkey and Syria.
It seems Donald Trump was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If he had not responded to the recent chemical attacks in Syria-whether they were at the behest of Assad or not-he would have been considered as callous, insensitive, and completely at line with the public bogeyman image most of the media enjoys perpetuating.
Then there was the option which he has taken, to fight back, which now paints him as a neo-con warmonger, happy to kowtow to the whims of the Saudis and Wahabists that seeks to encircle the strategic geopolitical land, air and sea mass surrounding Syria and to heighten the game of brinkmanship with Iran that it is set upon.
The move has also put to bed (though probably not for some) the assertion that Trump is Putin’s comrade in arms.
But is Trump striking the right enemy, or just the one Saudi Arabia gleefully wants him to? The investigation team, led by Swedish scientist Dr. Åke Sellström, concludes in particular that the environmental, chemical and medical samples collected [in 2013] provide “clear and convincing evidence” that surface-to-surface rockets containing the chemical weapons including nerve agent Sarin, were used. We know for a fact that it is the rebels (the head chopping moderates) who are using surface to surface rockets, not necessarily just the government.
Then there is the applause meted out by the British government in the wake of these strikes. The British people were misled regarding WMD’s in Iraq and the value of bombing Libya. After those terrible events, there should be a very high level of proof before we become involved in foreign military interventions. Where is the irrefutable proof that chemical weapons were used?
It makes no sense for Assad to use WMD when his forces are clearly winning. With the backing of Russia and Iran, Assad has no need for WMD and gains nothing from their use. However fabricating a chemical attack is of propaganda value to ISIS and other opposition forces.
Trump’s attack will certainly not help innocent Syrian civilians but does enable him to demonstrate his power to both Russia and China. Yet at the same time Trump is doing exactly what Trump said he would do and would even be bullied to do in the wake of moral justifications to act.
Supporters on the right-wing have criticised Trump for the missile strike. There is outrage and confusion. Trump has gone against his campaign pledge not to meddle in Syria. This presidency was elected on an isolationist platform.
66% of voters (2,500 votes cast) on the Alex Jones website are against the missile strike. These are the most vehement, hardcore, gun-toting Trump supporters.
All sides of the political spectrum are having to adjust to this abrupt change in Trump’s foreign policy, and a breach of his election campaign pledge. Just two months into his presidency, Trump’s supporters are beginning to think that Trump is not their man, that he has become the Swamp. A bit late for buyer’s remorse, perhaps.
The attack was reckless only in how it was as the result of a snap judgement, behaving outside international rules and laws. An attack that militarily achieves nothing but only a temporary restrain of Assad from using the alleged “chemical weapons”. For that matter, obviously the threats of the past did not work and this attack (by the way, well communicated in advance to avoid hurting Putin) will be of short effect too. The showing of disrespect to international bodies and alliances weakens any concerted pressure developed countries could make to settle political agreements between the factions and contain the barbarism.
The criminal intent, actions and disastrous results in the Iraq adventure that the US and UK started in 2003 is well known and one can only conclude that global takfiri terrorism was and is profiting massively, as well as the global military industry from this geopolitical piracy.
Believing or stating ‘the west’ has noble intentions and defends humanitarian values is denying all the evidence of the contrary and yet Trump was made to act by a public that demanded blood in the wake of the pictures that emerged.
In this case the bombing by the US of Syrian government targets is an act of war based on propaganda and prejudiced interpretations. The consequences of this kind of behaviour, mostly bringing tactical and strategic profit to global extremists and terrorists, is well known.
The lessons of the past are not learned, ignored, or simply overruled by the same old insane logic that caused Afghanistan to become the birthplace of Al Qaeda and Iraq the birthplace of ISIS and Libya a permanent base of lawlessness and global terrorism.
The near future in the middle east is uncertain. Apart from the measures that Russia and its allies will take, the sectarian divisions will only rage and so well will increased radicalisation. Trump has to be more open about his foreign policy to be able to walk with the least risk in the quagmire of the region and to justify himself to the main religious factions in the Middle East.
The problem we have here are the war scavengers who have supported Hillary Clinton, who said she would bomb all of Syria yesterday. Trump is naive in foreign policy, but a genius in diversion and marketing himself, who saw an opportunity to divert attention from his failures, and move his polls back up. Any military action by the US gets the cheerleaders to come out of their hibernation. That is exactly what is going on now. Trump’s regime has broken both international law and US domestic law/constitution by attacking another country without provocation. There is no authority for him to bomb the Syrian government, but Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are both supportive of Trump.
The corporate owned, government dictated US media are devotedly supporting the nonsense as well, with little attention being paid to how this single act is jeopardizing, US national security, and prolonging misery of the Syrian people.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions against eight Russian companies in connection with the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).
In particular, the sanctions have been imposed against the 150th Aircraft Repair Plant, Aviaexport, Bazalt, Kolomna Design Bureau of Machine-Building, Rosoboronexport, Ulyanovsk Higher Aviation Academy of Civil Aviation, Ural Training Center for Civil Aviation, and the Zhukovskiy and Gagarin Academy.
Commenting on the move, a representative of the US State Department told Sputnik that the decision was made during the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“These determinations to sanction this group of individuals and entities were made by the State Department on January 17, 2017 […] and subsequently reviewed by the incoming administration prior to transmission to Congress,” the official said.
He noted that the sanctions decisions were then delivered to Congress on March 21 as part of a report related to violations of the INKSNA.
According to Vladimir Batyuk, a senior expert at the Institute for American and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the new sanctions against Russian companies were a consensual decision.
“Taking into account the statement by the State Department official, probably, he wanted to say that the sanctions were not a voluntary decision, but the result of a bipartisan consensus,” Batyuk told Radio Sputnik.
According to the analyst, this is an example of the Trump administration continuing the policy of its predecessors.
“The decision was made by the Obama administration and implemented by the Trump administration. Then it was delivered to Congress, and after that the sanctions came into force,” he pointed out.
According to Batyuk, for the new US presidential administration, foreign policy issues are of secondary importance and this is why they could serve as a bargaining chip.
“The Trump administration has faced serious resistance from the establishment. On the one hand, it is trying to counter this resistance. But on the other hand, it’s trying to reach a compromise on matters of secondary importance,” Batyuk said.
He elaborated that for the Trump administration, high priority problems include domestic policy, the US economy, social issues, energy and healthcare.
“Meanwhile, foreign policy is of secondary importance, including anti-Russian sanctions. Possibly, the new sanctions were part of some kind of a deal,” he suggested.
Commenting on the new sanctions, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that they aren’t in the security interests of the US and disagree with Washington’s statements about fighting terrorism being a top priority.
“This step isn’t consistent with the statements we’ve heard from Washington on the priority of the fight against terrorism, including the [announcement that the US would build] a nest on Syrian territory. On the contrary, it completely contradicts this line and undermines the perspectives of building a broad multilateral cooperation aimed at destroying the IS [Daesh],” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
The United States has threatened Russia and Iran with tougher sanctions over their support for Syria, saying nothing “is off the table” in this regard.
“We’re calling [Russia and Iran] out,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in an interview broadcast on CNN on Sunday.
“But I don’t think anything is off the table at this point. I think what you’re going to see is strong leadership. You’re going to continue to see the United States act when we need to act,” she added.
The comments were made after US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would look into stepping up sanctions on Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two countries are already under various types of US sanctions.
Washington has alleged that the government of President Assad is responsible for the last week’s suspected chemical attack in Idlib province which killed more than 80 people.
Moscow and Damascus have denied that the Syrian government had anything to do with the attack. The Russian Defense Ministry said the US had no proof of chemical weapons at al-Shayrat airbase, where it fired 59 Tomahawk missiles, killing several people and reportedly destroying a number of Syrian aircraft.
Iran has condemned both the alleged chemical attack and the US missile strike on Syria, saying Washington’s illegal action will embolden terrorist groups in the Middle East region.
‘US has evidence that Assad was behind attack’
In her interview with CNN, Haley insisted that the US administration has evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical attack
“What we’ve seen is, you know, in our meetings this week, we were told of the evidence,” she said. “We saw the evidence. The President saw the evidence. All of that is naturally classified. And I’m sure when they can declassify that, they will.”
On Sunday, Haley once again threatened Syria with further military action, saying President Donald Trump could order more strikes if necessary. She issued a similar threat hours after the April 7 missile strike.
“I was trying to give warning and notice to the members of the Security Council and the international community that (Trump) won’t stop here,” she said, adding. “If he needs to do more, he will do more.”
‘US strike intended to send message to Russia’
In a separate interview NBC News on Sunday, Haley said the US missile attack in Syria was intended to send a message to the Russian government.
“The entire administration was in agreement that this was something that had to be done. This was something that needed to tell Assad, ‘Enough is enough,'” she said.
“And this is something to let Russia know, ‘You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people.'”
She went on to say that the United States will not allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have Assad’s back anymore.”
Tillerson asks Russia to drop support for Assad
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is set to visit Moscow this week, on Sunday demanded that Moscow stop supporting the Assad government.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson told ABC News.
The United States and its allies have repeatedly used chemical weapons as a pretext to pressure the Syrian government, despite the fact that Damascus volunteered to destroy its chemical stockpile in 2014 following a poisonous attack outside the capital. The deal was brokered by the US and Russia in 2013.
Tillerson accused Moscow of failing to enforce the 2013 agreement meant to get Syria rid of its chemical arsenal.
“I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said.
“Both by the Syrian government and by Russia as the guarantor to play the role in Syria of securing chemical weapons, destroying the chemical weapons and continuing to monitor that situation,” he added.
‘Russia also responsible for April 4 chemical incident’
The top US diplomat said the April 4 chemical incident happened because of Russia’s failure “to achieve its commitment to the international community.”
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad,” he added, “because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility.”
The allegations of chemical arms use are still made against Syria even as the dismantling of the country’s entire stockpile of chemical weapons as well as relevant production facilities was supervised by the United Nations.
Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian troops, some of which have been verified by UN officials, but the attacks have often been ignored by Western governments.
In December 2015, a cousin of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi said that chemical weapons used in Ghouta which were blamed on the Syrian government were in fact stolen from Libya and later smuggled into Syria via Turkey.
In an interview with Sputnik, Russian political analyst Alexey Zudin expressed doubt over the G7 countries’ willingness to agree with the UK Foreign Secretary’s latest demand to inflame the sanction war with Russia.
The interview came after The Times reported that during the upcoming G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will urge the G7 member states to tighten sanctions against Russia following the latest developments in Syria.
The newspaper said that “Britain is pushing western nations to impose new sanctions on Russia if it fails to cut ties with President Assad as the conflict over Syria escalates.”
According to The Times, the document was prepared ahead of the G7′ ministerial meeting which kicks off in Lucca, Italy, later on Monday. The newspaper said that Johnson wants the G7 to issue a joint statement after an alleged chemical attack in Syria, according to which Russia should stop supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and withdraw its troops from Syria.
In case of Moscow’s refusal, new sanctions will follow in addition to those already slapped on Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine, according to The Times.
Alexey Zudin, of the Moscow-based Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies think tank, said that this move, initiated by Washington and London, is unlikely to be supported by other G7 countries.
“It is unlikely G7 members will agree to this, at least for now. It seems that the absence of proof [pertaining to the Syria chemical attack] has not put off the main initiator, the US, and its closest ally Britain, which is not the case with other G7 countries who are hardly likely to support the American position,” Zudin said referring to “clear collaboration between Washington and London on the issue.”
According to him, this move is timed to coincide with the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow, which begins on April 11.
“It would be pointless for Tillerson to start his visit with a direct threat to his Russian colleagues, about the US preparing a new package of anti-Russian sanctions, which is why this role was delegated to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson,” Zudin concluded.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow is not aware of any possible new US sanctions against Russia over Syria, as neither President Donald Trump or his administration have made any statements.
“Not knowing what is at issue, and we really do not know what is at issue, it is difficult to talk about any reaction,” Peskov told reporters.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that Trump and members of his team “have started to have” conversations related to imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran in connection to their support for Damascus.
“Yes, there was a statement by the US ambassador, but we have not heard about any statements to this effect from President Trump or his representatives,” Peskov said.
Last Thursday night, at least five people were killed and seven others injured after the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Homs.
US President Donald Trump said the attack was a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib province on Tuesday, which Washington blames on the Syrian government.
Syrian President Assad argued that his government has no chemical weapons left, and never used the stockpile Syria used to maintain.His government handed over this stockpile, which included precursors to the nerve gases sarin and VX as well as hydrogen fluoride, to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a global chemical weapons watchdog, in 2013 amid international pressure.
All of the weapons were then destroyed by the OPCW, which completed this task in January 2016.
Right from the opening pages of Eirik Vold’s “Hugo Chavez: The Bolivarian Revolution from Up Close” there was no doubt that the book was going to be very lively and readable, but I had a concern. Would the author make himself the hero of his own book? Was this going to be really heavy on what it felt like (to him) to be in Venezuela while Chavez was in office, but very light on analysis? Fortunately not. He provides a fair and very insightful assessment of the Chavez years.
Vold is from Norway. His book was translated from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett. Vold lived mainly in Venezuela during Chavez’s time in office which was from 1999 until his death in 2013. Vold arrived in Venezuela for the first time fours months after Chavez had been briefly overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup in 2002. Out of journalistic curiosity, and practical necessity, Vold established enduring friendships with people who loathed Chavez and others who adored him.
Vold’s friend Omaira, a middle-aged working mom from the Caracas slum known as the 23 de Enero, illustrates better than graphs of economic data ever could the immense gamble the poor took on Chavez. The early years of the Chavez presidency made life harder, not easier for Omaira. Vold’s book allows readers to appreciate how excruciatingly long those years must have felt, but Omaira blamed the opposition and trusted Chavez to eventually deliver. She was right on both counts. The combination of the 2002 coup and management-led sabotage did immense damage to the economy. But after those efforts to force him from office were defeated, Chavez rewarded millions of people like Omaira who had stuck by him through those battles. By 2004, Omaira and her daughter were able to continue their long interrupted education thanks to government support (through a program named Mission Ribas).“Omaira was almost offended,” Vold writes “when I admitted that I had not heard of all the social reforms and all the things that had happened in her barrio over the past few months. ‘Maybe you are watching too much opposition TV’ she commented.”
Wildly dishonest Venezuelan (and international) media, NGOs and pollsters are prominent in Vold’s book. Constantly lying in front of millions of Venezuelans like Omaira – whom the elite had long grown accustomed to ignoring – was not a wise opposition strategy considering the poverty rate was 50 percent when Chavez first took office and rose to 60 percent by the end of the infamous “oil strike” in 2003. One reason Chavez expanded state media was to inform the poor of what was now available to them: “How do poor, pregnant women make use of the new birth centers if they do not know where they are or that their services are free? And what if they believed in the media’s claims that the Cuban doctors were killers?” asked Vold.
He describes various changes in Omaira’s barrio that had taken place by 2006 that a journalist from a rich country, if willing to venture out of wealthy neighborhoods, would miss even if political bias were not a problem. Vold did the work and built the long-term relationships that enabled him to grasp why Chavez was beloved by millions who were effectively marginalized before he transformed Venezuelan politics.
Vold’s friend Antonio, a businessman from East Caracas, had a completely different perspective. Much of Antonio’s hatred was fueled by consuming opposition media and talking to friends and neighbors who did the same. Vold’s first friendships and experiences in Venezuela were in East Caracas. His opinion, in the midst of the chaos and violence during the “oil strike” taking place when he had very recently arrived, was that Chavez should resign to prevent some kind of civil war from breaking out.
Vold quickly broke out of the East Caracas bubble. However, Vold believes that one of Antonio’s accounts of corruption within Chavista ranks rang true, about being offered overpriced contracts in exchange for money under the table. Vold argues that Chavista opponents, particularly the private media, were caught lying and exaggerating so often that it actually helped corrupt officials evade accountability.
Vold is blunt in addressing what he sees as the failures of the Chavez years: violent crime increased mainly because the judiciary was never effectively reformed and poor planning and execution of infrastructure projects was a factor, but he ridicules the western establishment’s assessment of the Chavez years: “Presumably Venezuela is the only country in the world where turning a falling GDP into growth, and reducing inflation and unemployment by half, is considered an economic catastrophe by media and experts.”
He discussed an incident that shows how much more broad the Western imperial establishment is than is often understood. WikiLeaks exposed the activity of Statoil, “a legitimate child of Norway’s own oil nationalization,” in Venezuela where it conspired with U.S. diplomats and others to try to organize an illegal secret boycott of Venezuelan oil. Vold remarked that “many millions spent on marketing the ‘kinder’ Statoil brand went up in smoke on the day the WikiLeaks documents were released.”
In discussing U.S. support for efforts to topple Chavez by any means, it is much to Vold’s credit that he explains the numerous similarities with U.S. attacks against Aristide’s government in Haiti during the early 2000s. Aristide was eventually kidnapped by U.S. troops in February 2004, but the groundwork was laid through economic sanctions and through the funding of the opposition through USAID and NED (the National Endowment for Democracy).
Of course, the economic depression Venezuela is going through today is eagerly blamed on Chavez by the same outfits that lied about and distorted his years in office relentlessly. Vold’s book would have been even better with a chapter devoted to assessing that claim: that the Chavez years made the present crisis inevitable and that the only answer is to discard Chavismo. The root causes of the present crisis, as most effectively explained by UNASUR’s special economic team, are technical though there is certainly a political component – including a component of domestic and international sabotage. Would Chavez have had the political capital to make the required adjustments? I wish Vold had addressed that question.
I can only hope that Vold is correct in concluding that as long as “the echo of ‘Hurricane Hugo’ continues to resound through the hillsides of Caracas and the villages and the barrios in the rest of Venezuela, never again will the majority quietly accept being forced into degradation.”