UK Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a political crisis after calling for support for airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, but failing to gain the support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who has now caused a major rift in the opposition.
Cameron told lawmakers in London Thursday that Britain should join a coalition of forces in airstrikes against ISIL in Syria. The country is already bombing ISIL in neighboring Iraq, but Cameron needs a mandate from parliament to extend the operations into Syria.
The issue is politically sensitive as Cameron lost a vote to launch airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013, with cost him political value. This time around — in a vote on bombing Assad’s enemies — he cannot afford to lose political face again.
However, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has indicated that it will vote against action in Syria and Cameron needs the support of the Labour opposition to confirm his policy. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — who has long been an anti-war campaigner — has written to his party lawmakers telling them he cannot support airstrikes in Syria.
The move has caused chaos within his party, with many members supporting airstrikes against ISIL. If Corbyn exercises his leadership right to demand all his lawmakers follow his lead — in what is known as a three-line whip — he stands to face a mass revolt in his party, which could force a leadership challenge, which would throw the party into chaos.
If — on the other hand — he allows his lawmakers a free vote, then he would remain leader of his party, and lawmakers would be allowed to vote whichever way they wish. Either way, Corbyn’s leadership will have been damaged.
Lesson Not Learned From Iraq
Cameron has other headaches too. Public opinion was strongly against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and there are many who believe the decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein was based on flawed intelligence, with some — including Corbyn — believing the invasion was illegal.
The Chilcot Inquiry into the reasons for going to war, and its aftermath, has yet to be published and there are many lawmakers who believe its findings will be critical of the invasion because it lacked any exit strategy for Iraq, which has been plunged into civil war ever since. Few want to repeat the mistakes in Syria and are calling for an exit strategy and a strong commitment to support a rebuilding of the country following any invasion to erase ISIL.
If Cameron fails to gain a parliamentary majority on a vote — due next week — over bombing in Syria, he will be politically damaged among his NATO allies, leaving him out in the cold on the global stage. He is also facing calls for the UK not to put itself further at risk than it already is from reprisal terrorist attacks.
Others believe bombing in Syria will play into the hands of ISIL. Jürgen Todenhöfer, the German politician and journalist who, in 2014, spent time with ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, wrote in the Guardian :
“A bombing strategy will above all hit Syria’s population. This will fill ISIL fighters with joy.”
With Corbyn’s party in disarray, the SNP set to vote against bombing and his political worth on the line, Cameron is facing a difficult time in the week ahead and can only hope public opinion in the wake of the Paris attacks on November 13 can save him.
The war drums are getting louder in the aftermath of ISIS attacks in Paris, as Western countries gear up to launch further airstrikes in Syria. But obscured in the fine print of countless resolutions and media headlines is this: the West has no legal basis for military intervention. Their strikes are illegal.
“It is always preferable in these circumstances to have the full backing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but I have to say what matters most of all is that any actions we would take would… be legal,” explained UK Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Commons last Wednesday.
Legal? No, there’s not a scrap of evidence that UK airstrikes would be lawful in their current incarnation.
Then just two days later, on Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2249, aimed at rallying the world behind the fairly obvious notion that ISIS is an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security.”
“It’s a call to action to member states that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures against (ISIS) and other terrorist groups,” British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.
The phrase “all necessary measures” was broadly interpreted – if not explicitly sanctioning the “use of force” in Syria, then as a wink to it.
Let’s examine the pertinent language of UNSCR 2249:
The resolution “calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter…on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq.”
Note that the resolution demands “compliance with international law, in particular with the UN Charter.” This is probably the most significant explainer to the “all necessary measures” phrase. Use of force is one of the most difficult things for the UNSC to sanction – it is a last resort measure, and a rare one. The lack of Chapter 7 language in the resolution pretty much means that ‘use of force’ is not on the menu unless states have other means to wrangle “compliance with international law.”
What you need to know about international law
It is important to understand that the United Nations was set up in the aftermath of World War 2 expressly to prevent war and to regulate and inhibit the use of force in settling disputes among its member states. This is the UN’s big function – to “maintain international peace and security,” as enshrined in the UN Charter’s very first article.
There are a lot of laws that seek to govern and prevent wars, but the Western nations looking to launch airstrikes in Syria have made things easy for us – they have cited the law that they believe justifies their military intervention: specifically, Article 51 of the UN Charter. It reads, in part:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
So doesn’t France, for instance, enjoy the inherent right to bomb ISIS targets in Syria as an act of self-defense – in order to prevent further attacks?
And don’t members of the US-led coalition, who cite the “collective self-defense” of Iraq (the Iraqi government has formally made this request), have the right to prevent further ISIS attacks from Syrian territory into Iraqi areas?
Well, no. Article 51, as conceived in the UN Charter, refers to attacks between territorial states, not with non-state actors like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Syria, after all, did not attack France or Iraq – or Turkey, Australia, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
Western leaders are employing two distinct strategies to obfuscate the lack of legal justification for intervention in Syria. The first is the use of propaganda to build narratives about Syria that support their legal argumentation. The second is a shrewd effort to cite legal “theory” as a means to ‘stretch’ existing law into a shape that supports their objectives.
The “Unwilling and Unable” Theory – the “Unable” argument
The unwilling and unable theory – as related to the Syria/ISIS situation – essentially argues that the Syrian state is both unwilling and unable to target the non-state actor based within its territory (ISIS, in this case) that poses a threat to another state.
Let’s break this down further.
Ostensibly, Syria is ‘unable’ to sufficiently degrade or destroy ISIS because, as we can clearly see, ISIS controls a significant amount of territory within Syria’s borders that its national army has not been able to reclaim.
This made some sense – until September 30 when Russia entered the Syrian military theater and began to launch widespread airstrikes against terrorist targets inside Syria.
As a major global military power, Russia is clearly ‘able’ to thwart ISIS –certainly just as well as most of the Western NATO states participating in airstrikes already. Moreover, as Russia is operating there due to a direct Syrian government appeal for assistance, the Russian military role in Syria is perfectly legal.
This development struck a blow at the US-led coalition’s legal justification for strikes in Syria. Not that the coalition’s actions were ever legal – “unwilling and unable” is merely a theory and has no basis in customary international law.
About this new Russian role, Major Patrick Walsh, associate professor in the International and Operational Law Department at the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia, says:
“The United States and others who are acting in collective defense of Iraq and Turkey are in a precarious position. The international community is calling on Russia to stop attacking rebel groups and start attacking ISIS. But if Russia does, and if the Assad government commits to preventing ISIS from attacking Syria’s neighbors and delivers on that commitment, then the unwilling or unable theory for intervention in Syria would no longer apply. Nations would be unable to legally intervene inside Syria against ISIS without the Assad government’s consent.”
In recent weeks, the Russians have made ISIS the target of many of its airstrikes, and are day by day improving coordination efficiency with the ground troops and air force of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies -Iran, Hezbollah and other foreign groups who are also in Syria legally, at the invitation of the Syrian state.
Certainly, the balance of power on the ground in Syria has started to shift away from militants and terrorist groups since Russia launched its campaign seven weeks ago – much more than we have seen in a year of coalition strikes.
The “Unwilling and Unable” Theory – the “Unwilling” argument
Now for the ‘unwilling’ part of the theory. And this is where the role of Western governments in seeding ‘propaganda’ comes into play.
The US and its allies have been arguing for the past few years that the Syrian government is either in cahoots with ISIS, benefits from ISIS’ existence, or is a major recruiting magnet for the terror group.
Western media, in particular, has made a point of underplaying the SAA’s military confrontations with ISIS, often suggesting that the government actively avoids ISIS-controlled areas.
The net result of this narrative has been to convey the message that the Syrian government has been ‘unwilling’ to diminish the terror group’s base within the country.
But is this true?
ISIS was born from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in April, 2013 when the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a short-lived union of ISI and Syria’s Al-Qaeda branch, Jabhat al-Nusra. Armed militants in Syria have switched around their militia allegiances many times throughout this conflict, so it would be disingenuous to suggest the Syrian army has not fought each and every one of these groups at some point since early 2011.
If ISIS was viewed as a ‘neglected’ target at any juncture, it has been mainly because the terror group was focused on land grabs for its “Caliphate” in the largely barren north-east areas of the country – away from the congested urban centers and infrastructure hubs that have defined the SAA’s military priorities.
But ISIS has always remained a fixture in the SAA’s sights. The Syrian army has fought or targeted ISIS, specifically, in dozens of battlefields since the organization’s inception, and continues to do so. In Deir Hafer Plains, Mennagh, Kuweires, Tal Arn, al-Safira, Tal Hasel and the Aleppo Industrial District. In the suburbs and countryside of Damascus – most famously in Yarmouk this year – where the SAA and its allies thwarted ISIS’ advance into the capital city. In the Qalamun mountains, in Christian Qara and Faleeta. In Deir Ezzor, where ISIS would join forces with the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA): al-Husseiniyeh, Hatla, Sakr Island, al-Hamadiyah, al-Rashidiyah, al-Jubeileh, Sheikh Yasseen, Mohassan, al-Kanamat, al-Sina’a, al-Amal, al-Haweeqa, al-Ayyash, the Ghassan Aboud neighborhood, al-Tayyim Oil Fields and the Deir ez-Zor military airport. In Hasakah Province – Hasakah city itself, al-Qamishli, Regiment 121 and its environs, the Kawkab and Abdel-Aziz Mountains. In Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital in Syria, the SAA combatted ISIS in Division 17, Brigade 93 and Tabaqa Airbase. In Hama Province, the entire al-Salamiyah District – Ithriyah, Sheikh Hajar, Khanasser. In the province of Homs, the eastern countryside: Palmyra, Sukaneh, Quraytayn, Mahin, Sadad, Jubb al-Ahmar, the T-4 Airbase and the Iraqi border crossing. In Suweida, the northern countryside.
If anything, the Russian intervention has assisted the Syrian state in going on the offensive against ISIS and other like-minded terror groups. Before Russia moved in, the SAA was hunkering down in and around key strategic areas to protect these hubs. Today, Syria and its allies are hitting targets by land and air in the kinds of coordinated offensives we have not seen before.
The role of propaganda and carefully manipulated narratives should not be underestimated in laying the groundwork for foreign military intervention in Syria.
From “the dictator is killing his own people” to the “regime is using chemical weapons” to the need to establish “No Fly Zones” to safeguard “refugees fleeing Assad”… propaganda has been liberally used to build the justification for foreign military intervention.
Article 2 of the UN Charter states, in part:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”
It’s hard to see how Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has not been systematically violated throughout the nearly five years of this conflict, by the very states that make up the US-led coalition. The US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and other nations have poured weapons, funds, troops and assistance into undermining a UN member state at every turn.
“Legitimacy” is the essential foundation upon which governance rests. Vilify a sitting government, shut down multiple embassies, isolate a regime in international forums, and you can destroy the fragile veneer of legitimacy of a king, president or prime minister.
But efforts to delegitimize the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have also served to lay the groundwork for coalition airstrikes in Syria.
If Assad is viewed to lack “legitimacy,” the coalition creates the impression that there is no real government from which it can gain the necessary authority to launch its airstrikes.
This mere ‘impression’ provided the pretext for Washington to announce it was sending 50 Special Forces troops into Syria, as though the US wasn’t violating every tenet of international law in doing so. “It’s okay – there’s no real government there,” we are convinced.
Media reports repeatedly highlight the ‘percentages’ of territory outside the grasp of Syrian government forces – this too serves a purpose. One of the essentials of a state is that it consists of territory over which it governs.
If only 50 percent of Syria is under government control, the argument goes, “then surely we can just walk into the other ‘ungoverned’ parts” – as when US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and US Senator John McCain just strolled illegally across the border of the sovereign Syrian state.
Sweep aside these ‘impressions’ and bury them well. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is viewed by the United Nations as the only legitimate government in Syria. Every official UN interaction with the state is directed at this government. The Syrian seat at the UN is occupied by Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, a representative of Assad’s government. It doesn’t matter how many Syrian embassies in how many capitals are shut down – or how many governments-in-exile are established. The UN only recognizes one.
As one UN official told me in private: “Control of surface territory doesn’t count. The government of Kuwait when its entire territory was occupied by Iraq – and it was in exile – was still the legitimate government of Kuwait. The Syrian government could have 10 percent of its surface left – the decision of the UN Security Council is all that matters from the perspective of international law, even if other governments recognize a new Syrian government.”
Countdown to more illegal airstrikes?
If there was any lingering doubt about the illegality of coalition activities in Syria, the Syrian government put these to rest in September, in two letters to the UNSC that denounced foreign airstrikes as unlawful:
“If any State invokes the excuse of counter-terrorism in order to be present on Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian Government whether on the country’s land or in its airspace or territorial waters, its action shall be considered a violation of Syrian sovereignty.”
Yet still, upon the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2249 last Friday, US Deputy Representative to the United Nations Michele Sison insisted that “in accordance with the UN Charter and its recognition of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense,” the US would use “necessary and proportionate military action” in Syria.
The website for the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) promptly pointed out the obvious:
“The resolution is worded so as to suggest there is Security Council support for the use of force against IS. However, though the resolution, and the unanimity with which it was adopted, might confer a degree of legitimacy on actions against IS, the resolution does not actually authorize any actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force against IS either in Syria or in Iraq.”
On Thursday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron plans to unveil his new “comprehensive strategy” to tackle ISIS, which we are told will include launching airstrikes in Syria.
We already know the legal pretext he will spin – “unwilling and unable,” Article 51, UN Charter, individual and collective self-defense, and so forth.
But if Cameron’s September 7 comments at the House of Commons are any indication, he will use the following logic to argue that the UK has no other choice than to resort to ‘use of force’ in Syria. In response to questions about two illegal drone attacks targeting British nationals in Syria, the prime minister emphasized:
“These people were in a part of Syria where there was no government, no one to work with, and no other way of addressing this threat… When we are dealing with people in ISIL-dominated Syria—there is no government, there are no troops on the ground—there is no other way of dealing with them than the route that we took.”
But Cameron does have another route available to him – and it is the only ‘legal’ option for military involvement in Syria.
If the UK’s intention is solely to degrade and destroy ISIS, then it must request authorization from the Syrian government to participate in a coordinated military campaign that could help speed up the task.
If Western (and allied Arab) leaders can’t stomach dealing with the Assad government on this issue, then by all means work through an intermediary – like the Russians – who can coordinate and authorize military operations on behalf of their Syrian ally.
The Syrian government has said on multiple occasions that it welcomes sincere international efforts to fight terrorism inside its territory. But these efforts must come under the direction of a central legal authority that can lead a broad campaign on the ground and in the air.
The West argues that, unlike in Iraq, it seeks to maintain the institutions of the Syrian state if Assad were to step down. The SAA is one of these ‘institutions’ – why not coordinate with it now?
But after seven weeks of Russian airstrikes coordinated with extensive ground troops (which the coalition lacks), none of these scenarios may even be warranted. ISIS and other extremist groups have lost ground in recent weeks, and if this trend continues, coalition states should fall back and focus on other key ISIS-busting activities referenced in UNSCR 2249 – squeezing terror financing, locking down key borders, sharing intelligence…”all necessary measures” to destroy this group.
If the ‘international community’ wants to return ‘peace and stability’ to the Syrian state, it seems prudent to point out that its very first course of action should be to stop breaking international law in Syria.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani
President Barack Obama – always sensitive to neocon criticism that he’s “weak” – continues to edge the world closer to a nuclear confrontation with Russia as he talks tough and tolerates more provocations against Moscow, now including Turkey’s intentional shoot-down of a Russian warplane along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Rather than rebuke Turkey, a NATO member, for its reckless behavior – or express sympathy to the Russians – Obama instead asserted that “Turkey, like every country, has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.”
It was another one of Obama’s breathtaking moments of hypocrisy, since he has repeatedly violated the territorial integrity of various countries, including in Syria where he has authorized bombing without the government’s permission and has armed rebels fighting to overthrow Syria’s secular regime.
Obama’s comment on Turkey’s right to shoot down planes — made during a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday — was jarring, too, because there was no suggestion that even if the SU-24 jetfighter had strayed briefly into Turkish territory, which the Russians deny, that it was threatening Turkish targets.
Russian President Vladimir Putin angrily called the Turkish attack a “stab in the back delivered by the accomplices of terrorists.” He warned of “serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations.”
Further provoking the Russians, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels then killed the Russian pilot riddling his body with bullets as he and the navigator parachuted from the doomed plane and were floating toward the ground. (Update: On Wednesday, the Russian defense minister said the navigator was alive and was rescued by Syrian and Russian special forces.)
Another Russian soldier was killed when a U.S.-supplied TOW missile brought down a Russian helicopter on a search-and-rescue mission, according to reports.
But Obama, during the news conference, seemed more interested in demonstrating his disdain for Putin, referring to him at one point by his last name only, without the usual use of a courtesy title, and demeaning the size of Putin’s coalition in helping Syria battle the jihadist rebels.
“We’ve got a coalition of 65 countries who have been active in pushing back against ISIL for quite some time,” Obama said, citing the involvement of countries around the world. “Russia right now is a coalition of two, Iran and Russia, supporting [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad.”
However, there have been doubts about the seriousness of Obama’s coalition, which includes Sunni countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have been covertly supporting some of the jihadist elements, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its ally, Ahrar al-Sham.
Syrian rebels, including jihadists fighting with Ahrar al-Sham, have received hundreds of U.S. TOW anti-tank missiles, apparently through Sunni regional powers with what I’ve been told was Obama’s direct approval. The jihadists have celebrated their use of TOWs to kill tank crews of the Syrian army. Yet Obama talks about every country’s right to defend its territory.
Obama and the U.S. mainstream media also have pretended that the only terrorists that need to be fought in Syria are those belonging to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh), but Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its ally, Ahrar al-Sham, which was founded in part by Al Qaeda veterans, make up the bulk of the Turkish-and-Saudi-backed Army of Conquest which was gaining ground – with the help of those American TOW missiles – until Russia intervened with air power at the request of Syrian President Assad in late September.
The SU-24 Shoot-down
As for the circumstances surrounding the Turkish shoot-down of the Russian SU-24, Turkey claimed to have radioed ten warnings over five minutes to the Russian pilots but without getting a response. However, the New York Times reported that a diplomat who attended a NATO meeting in which Turkey laid out its account said “the Russian SU-24 plane was over the Hatay region of Turkey for about 17 seconds when it was struck.”
How those two contradictory time frames matched up was not explained. However, if the 17-second time frame is correct, it appears that Turkey intended to shoot down a Russian plane – whether over its territory or not – to send a message that it would not permit Russia to continue attacking Turkish-backed rebels in Syria.
After shooting down the plane, Turkey sought an emergency NATO meeting to support its attack. Though some NATO members reportedly consider Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a loose cannon, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared that the allies “stand in solidarity with Turkey.”
Further increasing the prospect of a dangerous escalation, NATO has been conducting large-scale military exercises near the Russian border in response to the Ukraine crisis.
Erdogan’s government also appears to have dabbled in dangerous provocations before, including the alleged role of Turkish intelligence in helping jihadist rebels stage a lethal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, with the goal of blaming Assad’s military and tricking Obama into launching punitive airstrikes that would have helped clear the way for a jihadist victory.
Obama only pulled back at the last minute amid doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts about who was responsible for the sarin attack. Later evidence pointed to a jihadist provocation with possible Turkish assistance, but the Obama administration has never formally retracted its allegations blaming Assad’s forces.
One motive for Erdogan to go along with the sarin “false flag” attack in 2013 would have been that his two-year campaign to overthrow the Assad government was sputtering, a situation similar to today with the Russian military intervention hammering jihadist positions and putting the Syrian army back on the offensive.
By shooting down a Russian plane and then rushing to NATO with demands for retaliation against Russia, Erdogan is arguably playing a similar game, trying to push the United States and European countries into a direct confrontation with Russia while also sabotaging Syrian peace talks in Vienna – all the better to advance his goal of violently ousting Assad from power.
The Neocon Agenda
Escalating tensions with Russia also plays into the hands of America’s neoconservatives who have viewed past cooperation between Putin and Obama as a threat to the neocon agenda of “regime change,” which began in Iraq in 2003 and was supposed to continue into Syria and Iran with the goal of removing governments deemed hostile to Israel.
After the sarin gas attack in 2013, the prospect for the U.S. bombing Syria and paving the way for Assad’s military defeat looked bright, but Putin and Obama cooperated to defuse the sarin gas crisis. The two teamed up again to advance negotiations to constrain Iran’s nuclear program – an impediment to neocon hopes for bombing Iran, too.
However, in late 2013 and early 2014, that promising Putin-Obama collaboration was blasted apart in Ukraine with American neocons playing key roles, including National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman, Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.
The neocons targeted the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych, recognizing how sensitive Ukraine was to Russia. The Feb. 22, 2014 coup, which was spearheaded by neo-Nazis and other extreme Ukrainian nationalists, established a fiercely anti-Russian regime in Kiev and provoked what quickly took on the look of a new Cold War.
When the heavily ethnic Russian population of Crimea, which had voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych, reacted to the coup by voting 96 percent to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the neocon-dominated U.S. mainstream media pronounced the referendum a “sham” and the secession a Russian “invasion.” Cold War hysteria followed.
However, in the nearly two years since the Ukraine coup, it has become increasingly clear that the new regime in Kiev is not the shining light that the neocons and the mainstream media pretended it was. It appears to be as corrupt as the old one, if not more so. Plus, living standards of average Ukrainians have plunged.
The recent flooding of Europe with Syrian refugees over the summer and this month’s Paris terror attacks by Islamic State jihadists also have forced European officials to take events in Syria more seriously, prompting a growing interest in a renewed cooperation with Russia’s Putin.
That did not sit well with ultranationalist Ukrainians angered at the reduced interest in the Ukraine crisis. These activists have forced their dispute with Russia back into the newspapers by destroying power lines supplying electricity to Crimea, throwing much of the peninsula into darkness. Their goal seems to be to ratchet up tensions again between Russia and the West.
Now, Turkey’s shoot-down of the SU-24 and the deliberate murder of the two Russian pilots (Update: Russia says one airman saved.) have driven another wedge between NATO countries and Russia, especially if President Obama and other NATO leaders continue taking Turkey’s side in the incident.
But the larger question – indeed the existential question – is whether Obama will continue bowing to neocon demands for tough talk against Putin even if doing so risks pushing tensions to a level that could spill over into a nuclear confrontation.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The problem with America’s “anti-ISIS coalition” is not a matter of poor planning or a lack of resources. It is not a matter of lacking leadership or military might. The problem with America’s “anti-ISIS coalition” is that it never existed in the first place. There is no US-led war on ISIS, and what’s worse, it appears that the US, through all of its allies, from across the Persian Gulf to Eastern Europe and even within Washington itself, are involved in feeding ISIS, not fighting it.
Going from Syria itself, outward according to geographical proximity, we can trace ISIS’ support all the way back to Washington itself. And as we do, efforts like the “talks” in Vienna, and all the non-solutions proposed by the US and its allies, appear ever more absurd while the US itself is revealed not as a stabilizing force in a chaotic world, but rather the very source of that chaos.
Within Syria itself, it is no secret that the US CIA is arming, training, funding and equipping militant groups, groups the US now claims Russia is bombing instead of “ISIS.” However, upon reading carefully any report out of newspapers in the US or its allies it becomes clear that these “rebels” always seem to be within arms reach of listed terrorist organizations, including Jabhat al Nusra.
Al Nusra is literally Al Qaeda in Syria. Not only that, it is the terrorist organization from which ISIS allegedly split from. And while the US has tried to add in a layer of extra plausible deniability to its story by claiming Nusra and ISIS are at odds with one another, the fact is Nusra and ISIS still fight together on the same battlefield toward the same objectives.
And while we’ll get to who is propping up these two terrorist groups beyond Syria’s borders, it should be noted that the US and European media itself has reported a steady flow of weapons and fighters out from its own backed “rebel” groups and into the ranks of Nusra and ISIS.
Articles like Reuters’ “U.S.-trained Syrian rebels gave equipment to Nusra: U.S. military” give at least one explanation as to where ISIS is getting all of its brand new Toyota trucks from:
Syrian rebels trained by the United States gave some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday, the latest blow to a troubled U.S. effort to train local partners to fight Islamic State militants.
The rebels surrendered six pick-up trucks and some ammunition, or about one-quarter of their issued equipment, to a suspected Nusra intermediary on Sept. 21-22 in exchange for safe passage, said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, in a statement.
Before this, defections of up to 3,000 so-called “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) “rebels” had been reported, even by the London Guardian which claimed in its article “Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra” that:
Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala’a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. FSA fighters in the Banias area were threatening to leave because they did not have the firepower to stop the massacre in Bayda, he said. Advertisement
The FSA’s Ahrar al-Shimal brigade joined al-Nusra en masse while the Sufiyan al-Thawri brigade in Idlib lost 65 of its fighters to al-Nusra a few months ago for lack of weapons. According to one estimate the FSA has lost a quarter of all its fighters.
Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA’s al-Tawhid Lions brigade.
Taken together, it is clear to anyone that even at face value the US strategy of arming “moderate rebels” is a complete failure and that to continue proposing such a failed strategy is basically an admission that (in fact) the US seeks to put weapons and trained fighters directly into the ranks of Al Nusra and other hardcore terrorist groups. Of course, in reality, that was the plan all along. So even before our journey leaves Syria, we see how the US is feeding, not fighting terrorism, completely and intentionally.
And of course, before many of the fighters even reach the battlefield in Syria, they have spent time training, arming up and staging in Turkey and Jordan. There has been a lot of talk in Washington, London and Brussels about establishing safe havens in Syria itself for this army of rebel-terrorists, but in reality, Turkey and Jordan have served this purpose since the war began in 2011. All the US and its allies want to do now is extend these safe havens deeper into Syrian territory.
But before that, a steady stream of supplies, weapons and fighters have been pouring over the border, provided by the Persian Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular) and with the explicit complicity of the Turkish government.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle videotaped hundreds of trucks pouring over the Turkish border, bound for ISIS in Syria as part of its story, “ISIS and Turkey’s porous borders” (video here). It was not a scene one would describe as “smuggling” behind the back of Turkish authorities, but rather a scene reminiscent of the Iraq War where fleets of trucks openly supported the full-scale invasion of Iraq by America’s military.
Turkey’s borders aren’t merely porous, they are wide open, with the Turkish government itself clearly involved in filling up the fleets of supply trucks bound for ISIS on a daily basis.
In recent days, as Russia has begun decimating fleets of these trucks, and in particular, oil tankers that, instead of bringing supplies into Syria, are stealing oil for export beyond Syria’s borders, there has been talk about just who this oil is being sold to. Turkey’s name comes up yet again.
Business Insider in its article “Here’s How ISIS Keeps Selling So Much Oil Even While Being Bombed And Banned By The West” reveals:
Most of the oil is bought by local traders and covers the domestic needs of rebel-held areas in northern Syria. But some low-quality crude has been smuggled to Turkey where prices of over $350 a barrel, three times the local rate, have nurtured a lucrative cross-border trade.
And if some readers don’t find the argument that ISIS sustains itself from within Turkish territory entirely convincing, perhaps a direct admission from the US State Department itself might help. Its Voice of America media network recently reported in an article titled “US, Turkey Poised for Joint Anti-ISIS Operation, Despite Differences” that:
Some have even suspected the Turkish government of cooperating with IS, making allegations that range from weapons transfers to logistical support to financial assistance and the provision of medical services. The Cumhuriyet daily this week published stories that alleged Turkish Intelligence was working hand-in-hand with IS. A former IS spy chief told the paper that during the siege of the Syrian city of Kobani last year, Turkish Intelligence served McDonald’s hamburgers to IS fighters brought in from Turkey.
Some analysts say the pending border operation could help silence some of the criticism.
That the US is still working openly with Turkey despite increasing evidence that Turkey itself is sustaining ISIS in Syria, indicates that the US itself is also interested in perpetuating the terrorist group’s activities for as long as possible/plausible.Eastern Europe
Those nations in Eastern Europe who have either joined NATO or now aspire to, also appear to be directly involved. The large torrent of weapons needed to sustain ISIS’ terrorism within Syria cannot, as a matter of managing public perception, appear to be coming entirely from US arsenals themselves (though hundreds of TOW missile systems and M16s do regularly show up in the hands of Nusra, ISIS and other terrorists organizations). Instead, Soviet bloc weapons are needed and to get them, the US has tapped NATO members like Croatia and aspiring NATO member Ukraine to help arm its ISIS legions.
In 2013 it was revealed by the New York Times in their article Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A. that:
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.
Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.
One wonders how many of these weapons “coincidentally” ended up in Nusra or ISIS’ hands.
More recently, the NATO-installed junta in Ukraine has been implicated not in supplying weapons to ISIS by proxy, but supplying them to ISIS much more directly after a high-profile bust was made in Kuwait implicating Kiev.
International Business Times reported in its article “Ukraine Weapons To ISIS? Kiev Denies Charge After Islamic State Terrorists Caught In Kuwait” that:
The Ukrainian military has denied knowledge of how its weapons made it into the hands of Islamic State group terrorists. Lebanese citizen Osama Khayat, who was arrested this week in Kuwait with other suspects, said he purchased arms in Ukraine that were meant to be delivered to the militant group in Syria via smuggling routes in Turkey.
Perhaps readers notice a pattern. Washington is using its vast global network and allies to arm and fund terrorists in Syria, supported by massive logistical networks flowing through Turkey and to a lesser extent, Jordan. Everyone from America’s allies in Kiev and Zagreb, to Riyad and Doha, to Ankara and Amman are involved which goes far in explaining just how ISIS got so powerful, and why it still remains so powerful despite its widening war on what appears to be the entire world.
The United States
And all of this brings us back to Washington itself. Surely Washington notices that each and every single one of its allies is involved in feeding, not fighting ISIS. When each and every one of its allies from Kiev to Ankara are involved in arming and supplying ISIS, Washington not only knows, it is likely orchestrating it all to begin with.
And proving this is not a matter of deduction or mere implications. Proving this requires simply for one to read a 2012 Department of Intelligence Agency (DIA) report (.pdf) which openly admitted:
If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
If, at this point, one is unclear on just who these “supporting powers to the opposition” are, the DIA report itself reveals it is the West, NATO (including Turkey) and its allies in the Persian Gulf.
This Salafist (Islamic) principality (state), or ISIS for short, was not an indirect consequence of US foreign policy, it was (and still very much is) a concerted conspiracy involving multiple states spanning North America, Europe, and the Middle East. It could not exist otherwise.
While Russia attempts to reach westward to piece together an inclusive coalition to finally put an end to ISIS, it is clear that it does so in vain. Washington, Brussels and their regional allies in the Middle East have no intention of putting an end to ISIS. Even today, this very moment, the US and its allies are doing everything within their power to ensure the survival of their terrorist armies inside of Syria for as long as possible before any ceasefire is agreed to. And even if a peace settlement of some sort is struck, all it will do is buy Syria time. No matter how much damage Russia and its genuine coalition consisting of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon deal ISIS within Syria, the networks that fed it from Turkey, Jordan, the Persian Gulf, Eastern Europe and Washington itself remain intact.
One hopes that these networks can be diminished through the principles of multipolarism within the time being bought for Syria through the blood, sacrifice and efforts of Syrian soldiers and Russian airmen.
Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged “faster” and broader American military and political intervention in Syria to fight against Daesh (ISIL).
“The key is to destroy Daesh rapidly in Syria and in Iraq,” Kerry told reporters on Monday. “The president would like to see us go faster.”
Prior to the Daesh attacks in Paris that killed 132 people, President Barack Obama had taken notable steps towards a military escalation in Syria by sending 50 Special Operations forces to Syria, Kerry said.
However, he did not outline any post-Paris additions to those policies.
Kerry made the comments after meeting Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the UAE’s Abu Dhabi.
The top US diplomat ruled out the notion of a no-fly zone in Syria, recently reiterated by his predecessor Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying it was “not a new idea.”
He also hinted at possible cooperation with Russia against Daesh, providing that Russia stops supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He said that new cooperation “has to be done in a way that manages the passions and the disappointment” of US-backed militants fighting Assad.
The US is escalating its involvement in Syria amid Russia’s intensifying campaign in the country to assist Assad in fighting against ISIL terrorists.
Daesh terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now have parts of Syria and Iraq under control.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is determined to end its reliance on Russian technology for space travel, paying billions of dollars to Boeing and SpaceX to come up with an alternative to Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
The organization, which risks losing its reputation for reliability over a series of failed launches, is hiring Boeing and the private aerospace manufacturer and commercial space transport company, SpaceX, to carry out manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS), the ABC News reported Monday.
Boeing received a $4.2 billion order for sending a crewed flight to space in May, and SpaceX was assigned a $2.4 billion order this Friday.
“It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from US companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan,” NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders said in a statement.
NASA expects to blast off its first commercial crew mission in late 2017.
If successful, the new plan will put an end to NASA’s long-standing reliance on Russian technology for such purposes.
This will also allow NASA to save money as it has been paying more than $70 million per astronaut to the Russian Federal Space Agency to reserve seats on board the three-seated Soyuz spacecraft.
However, it is not yet clear if the new alternatives boast the same reliability as Russians’ space technology, since this will be the first time that a private company will take on the task.
SpaceX is developing a capsule design for the mission known as the Crew Dragon, or Dragon V2, which is based on the company’s Dragon cargo capsules.
The commercial company has been already working with NASA on cargo resupply missions to the ISS.
SpaceX uses its own Falcon 9 launch vehicles to deliver the capsule. Despite having an impressive streak of 18 successful launches, the Falcon 9 received much criticism after disintegrating mid-air in July, destroying a 5200 lbs (2359kg) cargo which included a cutting-edge docking port for the space station, a new spacesuit and hours of research.
The incident marked NASA’s third launch failure in 8 months.
Boeing’s spacecraft is under development in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace. It is also a capsule design, known as the Starliner.
Interestingly enough, the Starliner is designed to be launched by multiple vehicles, with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 among them.
NASA’s own manned vehicle, the Space Shuttle Program, met its end in 2011, after several unfortunate missions that killed all of the astronauts on-board.
Thousands of American military personnel are expected to arrive in the Mariana Islands over the next several years, as part of the US strategic “pivot” to East Asia. Many will come from Okinawa, Japan, where many local residents want US bases closed.
Military facilities in Guam, the archipelago’s largest island and a US possession since 1898, have been reinforced and updated in anticipation of almost 5,000 Marines, as well as new aircraft, submarines and patrol boats. The infrastructure upgrades will “elevate the tiny Pacific island into a maritime strategic hub, a key element laid out by the Pentagon in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy,” according to the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
“We have two 11,000-foot concrete runways, both rebuilt within the last 10 years,” Steven Wolborsky, director of plans, program and readiness at the Andersen Air Force Base told Stars and Stripes, adding that roughly 19 million pounds of explosives are now stored across the facility’s 4,400 acres.
“We have enough parking for more than 155 aircraft, with a robust in-ground refueling infrastructure,” Wolborsky added. “We have the largest capacity of jet fuel in the Air Force at 66 million gallons ‒ coupled with an equal amount down south with the Navy.”
The construction has been driven primarily by the plan to move thousands of Marines to Guam from Okinawa, Captain Alfred Anderson, the base commander, said. The redeployment is expected by 2023 or so.
More than a third of the estimated $8.7 billion cost of building the new facilities for the Marines is being funded by Japan, according to McClatchy reporter Adam Ashton. The Japanese residents of Okinawa have complained for years about the impact of US military presence, ranging from drugs, alcoholism, and sexual abuse to environmental damage.
Originally the Pentagon envisioned a shift of 8,600 Marines and some 9,000 dependents from Okinawa, raising alarm among some residents of Guam that their island, with an area of only 212 square miles (549 km sq.) and a population of 160,000, would be overwhelmed.
Pressure from the activists representing the native Chamorro people, organized in a group called We Are Guahan, compelled the Pentagon to trim that number down to 4,800. Two thirds of that number would be there on rotation, without their families, reducing the pressure on the island even further.
The activists are not resting on their laurels, however, and are pressing on against the Pentagon’s plans to install firing ranges on the islands of Tinian and Pagan. The new facilities are supposed to integrate with the US Navy’s underwater training range in the nearby Mariana Trench.
While Guam is an unincorporated US territory, Pagan and Tinian belong to the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth, a US possession with the same status as Puerto Rico.
The island of Pagan is uninhabited at the moment, although the island’s inhabitants still make claims to the land after they were forced to evacuate due to volcanic eruptions in 1981. Tinian has an area of 39 square miles (101 km sq.) and just over 3,000 residents. US Marines seized the island from a Japanese garrison after a weeklong battle in July 1944. A year later, the massive airbase built on the island was used to launch the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Joining the residents in opposition to the Marine firing range plan is Alter City Group, a Chinese company based in Macau that wanted to invest $500 million to build a casino complex on Tinian. The firing range would “significantly alter the island as we know it in dramatically irreparable ways,” and impose burdens on the island both “significant and unsustainable,” the ACG said in a statement, as quoted by McClatchy.
Some political and business leaders in Guam, however, fear the military may drop its plans altogether if the Marines are barred from using Tinian and Pagan for live-fire exercises. They have established the Guam-US Security Alliance to push for the military buildup.
“This is so big that people are going to have to learn to get along,” John Thomas Brown, director of the Alliance, told McClatchy. “It can be done. It should be done. Time is wasting.”
Most of Guam’s income comes from Japanese tourism, followed by US military spending.
South Korea conducted artillery exercises on Monday near a disputed Yellow Sea border with North Korea, despite Pyongyang’s promise to retaliate for the drill, media reported.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, live-fire artillery drills were conducted near the front-line islands of the inter-Korean maritime border.
On the eve of the artillery exercises Pyongyang warned Seoul that it would retaliate if South Korea dropped shells in North Korean territorial waters.
Current artillery drills coincide with the 5th anniversary of North Korea’s attack on South Korean front-line Yeonpyeong Island that left two soldiers and two civilians dead. Pyongyang announced at the time that it had been provoked by similar live-fire drills in the area.
The United Nations named the Yeonpyeong exchange one of the most serious incidents since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The two countries, still legally at war since that time, have only an armistice in place following the collapse of peace treaty negotiations.
GlobalResearchTV | June 25, 2015
Last week the US House dealt a blow to President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrians fleeing their war-torn homeland. On a vote of 289-137, including 47 Democrats, the House voted to require the FBI to closely vet any applicant from Syria and to guarantee that none of them pose a threat to the US. Effectively this will shut down the program.
The House legislation was brought to the Floor after last week’s attacks in Paris that left more than 120 people dead, and for which ISIS claimed responsibility. With the year-long US bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, there is a good deal of concern that among those 10,000 to be settled here there might be some who wish to do us harm. Even though it looks as though the Paris attackers were all EU citizens, polling in the US shows record opposition to allowing Syrian refugees entry.
I agree that we must be very careful about who is permitted to enter the United States, but I object to the president’s plan for a very different reason. I think it is a sign of Washington’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy that US citizens are being forced to pay for those fleeing Washington’s foreign policy.
For the past ten years the US government has been planning and executing a regime change operation against the Syrian government. It is this policy that has produced the chaos in Syria, including the rise of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the country. After a decade of US destabilization efforts, we are now told that Syria is totally destabilized and we therefore must take in thousands of Syrians fleeing the destabilization that Washington caused.
Has there ever been a more foolish and wrong-headed foreign policy than this?
The American people have been forced to pay untold millions for a ten-year CIA and Pentagon program to undermine and overthrow the Syrian government, and now we are supposed to pay millions more to provide welfare for the refugees Obama created.
Who should pay for the millions fleeing the chaos that Washington helped create? How about the military-industrial complex, which makes a killing promoting killing? How about the Beltway neocon think-tanks that continue to churn out pro-war propaganda while receiving huge grants from defense contractors? How about President Obama’s national security advisors, who push him into one regime change disaster after another? How about Hillary Clinton, who came up with the bright idea that “Assad must go”? How about President Obama himself, a president elected to end wars, but who has ended up starting more wars than his predecessor? It’s time those who start the wars start paying for the disasters they create. Then perhaps we might have some relief from an interventionist foreign policy that is destroying our financial and national security.
If Obama wants to take in refugees from the chaos in Syria, there are probably plenty of vacant rooms in the White House.
Leader of UK opposition Labour Party Jermey Corbyn has once against warned against British military action in Syria, saying that negotiated settlement is the best way to resolve the crisis in the Arab country.
“The experience of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya has convinced many of our own people that the elite’s enthusiasm for endless military interventions has only multiplied the threats to us – while leaving death and destabilisation in their wake… It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for Isis to thrive and spread its murderous rule,” Corbyn said in a speech to Labour activists in Bristol.
He also slammed Britain’s involvement in “a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East,” saying such intervention has made the UK less secure from attack.
Corbyn also pointed to the recent terror attacks in Paris and said there should be a “negotiated settlement” rather than military action to tackle the crisis in the country.
His comments have already sparked a backlash from Labour Party MPs.
Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a long-standing opponent to the Western wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Meanwhile, a London-based political commentator says any possible UK intervention in Syria will increase the number of refugees and deepen the crisis in the Arab country.
Chris Bambery says such an intervention will simply strengthen the ISIL.
“Any further Western intervention will only add to the chaos which Western intervention has [already] caused and the beneficiary of that chaos is ISIS. ISIS wants the Western intervention,” Chris Bambery told Press TV.