There is a lot more than meets the eye in the newly revealed Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence briefing of Sept. 5, 2002, which showed there was a lack of evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – just as President George W. Bush’s administration was launching its sales job for the Iraq War.
The briefing report and its quick demise amount to an indictment not only of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but also of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers, who is exposed once again as a Rumsfeld patsy who put politics ahead of his responsibility to American soldiers and to the nation as a whole.
In a Jan. 24 report at Politico entitled “What Donald Rumsfeld Knew We Didn’t Know About Iraq,” journalist John Walcott presents a wealth of detail about the JCS intelligence report of Sept. 5, 2002, offering additional corroboration that the Bush administration lied to the American people about the evidence of WMD in Iraq.
The JCS briefing noted, for example: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
Small wonder that the briefing report was dead on arrival in Rumsfeld’s in-box. After all, it proved that the intelligence evidence justifying war was, in Rumsfeldian terms, a “known unknown.” When he received it on Sept. 5 or 6, the Defense Secretary deep-sixed it – but not before sending it on Sept. 9 to Gen. Richard Myers (who he already knew had a copy) with a transparently disingenuous CYA note: “Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD. It is big. Thanks.”
Absent was any notation such as “I guess we should tell the White House to call off its pro-war sales campaign based on Iraq possessing WMD since we don’t got the goods.” Without such a direct instruction, Rumsfeld could be sure that Gen. Myers would not take the matter further.
Myers had already proven his “company man” mettle by scotching a legal inquiry that he had just authorized to provide the armed forces with guidance on permitted interrogation techniques. All that it took to ensure a hasty Myers retreat was a verbal slap-down from Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, as soon as Haynes got wind of the inquiry in November 2002. (More on that below.)
The more interesting story, in my view, is not that Rumsfeld was corrupt (yawn, yawn), but that so was his patsy, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the country’s top uniformed military officer at the time. Myers has sported a well-worn coat of blue Teflon up until now.
Even John Walcott, a member of the Knight-Ridder team that did the most responsible pre-Iraq-War reporting, lets the hapless Myers too easily off the hook in writing: “Myers, who knew as well as anyone the significance of the report, did not distribute it beyond his immediate military colleagues and civilian boss, which a former aide said was consistent with the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”
Principal Military Adviser to the President
That “former aide” is dead wrong on the last point, and this is key. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs works directly for two bosses: the President of the United States, whom he serves as the principal military adviser, and the Secretary of Defense. The JCS Chairman has the statutory authority – indeed, the duty – to seek direct access to the President to advise him in such circumstances, bearing on war or peace.
Indeed, in his 2009 memoir, Eyes on the Horizon, Gen. Myers himself writes, “I was legally obligated to provide the President my best military advice — not the best advice as approved by the Secretary of Defense.”
But in reality, Myers wouldn’t and he didn’t. And that – quite simply – is why Rumsfeld picked him and others like him for leading supporting roles in the Pentagon. And so the Iraq War came – and, with it, catastrophe for the Middle East (with related disorder now spreading into Europe).
Could Gen. Myers have headed off the war had he had the courage to assert his prerogative to go directly to President Bush and tell him the truth? Sad to say, with Bush onboard as an eager “war president” and with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld intimidating the timid Secretary of State Colin Powell and with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet fully compliant, it is not likely that Myers could have put the brakes on the rush to invade Iraq simply by appealing to the President.
After all, the JCS briefing coincided with the start of the big sales pitch for the Iraq War based on alarming claims about Iraq possessing WMD and possibly developing a nuclear bomb. As White House chief of staff Andrew Card explained the September timing of the ad campaign, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
Just three days after the date of the JCS intelligence report depicting the shallowness of the intelligence on the issue of WMD in Iraq, the White House, with the help of The New York Times and other “mainstream media,” launched a major propaganda offensive.
On Sept. 8, 2002, a New York Times front-pager – headlined “US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts” by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon – got the juggernaut rolling downhill to war. Their piece featured some aluminum tubes that they mistakenly thought could be used only for nuclear centrifuges (when they were actually for conventional artillery). Iraq’s provocative behavior, wrote the Times, has “brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.”
Or as NSC Advisor Rice summed it up on the Sunday talk shows later that day, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
But it was clear the fix was in even earlier. The British “Downing Street Minutes” of July 23, 2002, show that Tenet told his British counterpart, Richard Dearlove, that – as Dearlove described the message to Prime Minister Tony Blair – that “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
However, despite the obstacles, Richard Myers, like so many of us, took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. For many of us who wore the uniform and took “duty, honor, country” seriously, it is hard to give Myers a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to blame for the Iraq War.
No matter the odds against success, his duty was to go directly to the President and make the case. If he was rebuffed, he should have quit and gone public, in my view. (How long has it been since anyone of high rank has quit on principle?)
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs quitting over plans for an unnecessary war? Not even The New York Times and The Washington Post – as fully in the tank as they were for the Iraq War – would have been able to suppress that story in 2002. And, had Myers gone public he might have succeeded in injecting slippery grease under the rollout of Card’s “new product.”
Imagine what might have happened had Myers gone public at that point. It is all too easy to assume that Bush and Cheney would have gotten their war anyway. But who can tell for sure? Sometimes it takes just one senior official with integrity to spark a hemorrhage of honesty. However the outcome would have turned out at least Myers would been spared the pain of looking into the mirror every morning – and thinking back on what might have been.
A Modern Rumsfeld General
This was not the first time that Myers, who served as JCS chairman from 2001 to 2005, was derelict in duty by playing the toady. He had acquiesced in Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s approval of torture in February 2002, even before going along with a gross violation of international law – launching the attack on Iraq absent any imminent threat and without the required approval by the UN Security Council.
On torture, the seldom mentioned smoking gun was a two-page executive memorandum signed by George W. Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, in which the President declared that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Instead, they would be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva,” the memo said, using vague and permissive language that, in effect, opened the door to torture and other abuses. Gen. Myers was one of eight addressees.
On May 11, 2009 Myers was in Washington peddling his memoir Eyes on the Horizon and spoke at a Harvard Business School Alumni dinner. I seldom go to such affairs, but in this case I was glad I had paid my dues, for here was a unique opportunity to quiz Myers. I began by thanking him for acknowledging in his book “the Geneva Conventions were a fundamental part of our military culture.” Then I asked what he had done when he received Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002 memorandum unilaterally creating exceptions to Geneva.
“Just read my book,” Myers said. I told him I had, and cited a couple of sentences from my copy: “You write that you told a senior Pentagon official, Douglas Feith, ‘I feel very strongly about this. And if Rumsfeld doesn’t defend the Geneva Conventions, I’ll contradict him in front of the President.’ Did you?”
Myers claimed that he had fought the good fight before the President decided. But there was no tinge of regret. The sense the general left with us was this: if the President wanted to bend Geneva out of shape, what was a mere Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to do?
Pushing my luck, I noted that a Senate Armed Services Committee report, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody,” had been issued just two weeks earlier (on April 23, 2009). It found that Myers had abruptly aborted an in-depth legal review of interrogation techniques that all four armed services had urgently requested and that he authorized in the fall of 2002. They were eager to get an authoritative ruling on the lawfulness of various interrogation techniques – some of which were already being used at Guantanamo.
Accordingly, Myers’s legal counsel, Navy Captain Jane Dalton, had directed her staff to initiate a thorough legal and policy review of interrogation techniques. It had just gotten under way in November 2002 when Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, ordered Myers to stop the review.
Haynes “wanted to keep it much more close-hold,” Dalton told the Senate committee, so she ordered her staff to stop the legal analysis. She testified that this was the only time in her career that she had been asked to stop working on a request that came to her for review.
I asked Gen. Myers why he halted the in-depth legal review. “I stopped the broad review,” Myers replied, “but I asked Dalton to do her personal review and keep me advised.” When Senate committee members asked him about stopping the review, Myers could not remember.
On Nov. 27, 2002, shortly after Haynes told Myers to stop Dalton’s review despite persisting legal concerns in the military services – Haynes sent Rumsfeld a one-page memo recommending that he approve all but three of 18 techniques requested by the interrogators in Guantanamo.
Techniques like stress positions, nudity, exploitation of phobias (like fear of dogs), deprivation of light, and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval. On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld signed Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note referring to the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
A Different JCS Chairman
Other JCS chairmen have not been as compliant as Myers was. For instance, a decade after Myers acceded to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq, JSC Chairman Martin Dempsey smelled a rat when Secretary of State John Kerry – along with neocons, liberal hawks and the mainstream media – rushed toward full-scale war on Syria by pinning the blame on President Bashar al-Assad for the fatal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
Comparisons can be invidious, but Dempsey is bright, principled, and no one’s patsy. It did not take him long to realize that another “regime change” scheme was in play with plans to get the U.S. directly involved in a shooting war with Syria. As more intelligence came in, the sarin attack increasingly looked like a false-flag attack carried out by radical jihadists to draw the U.S. military in on their side.
This new war could have started by syllogism: (a) get President Barack Obama to draw a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria; (b) stage a chemical attack that would be quickly blamed on Assad for violating the red line; and (c) mousetrapping Obama into making good on his threat of “enormous consequences.”
That Obama pulled back at the last minute was a shock to those who felt sure they had found a way to destroy the Syrian army and clear the way for Assad’s violent removal – even if the result would have been a likely victory for Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State. After all, neocon/liberal-hawk thinking has long favored “regime change” whatever the consequences, as the wars in Iraq and Libya have demonstrated.
But Gen. Dempsey became a fly in the regime-changers’ ointment. In contrast to Myers, Dempsey apparently saw the need to go directly to the President to head off another unnecessary war. The evidence suggests that this is precisely what he did and that he probably bypassed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the process since time was of the essence.
Dempsey had already told Congress that a major attack on Syria should require congressional authorization and he was aware that the “evidence” adduced to implicate the Syrian government was shaky at best. Besides, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, British intelligence told the JCS that they had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the Aug. 21 attack and it did not match the sarin known to be in Syrian army stocks.
Actually, it is no secret that Dempsey helped change President Obama’s mind between when Kerry spoke on the afternoon of Aug. 30, accusing Damascus of responsibility and all but promising an imminent U.S. attack on Syria, and when Obama announced less than a day later that he would not attack but rather would seek authorization from Congress.
On the early afternoon of Aug. 31, Obama was unusually explicit in citing Dempsey as indicating why there was no need to rush into another war. Obama said, “the [JCS] Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive: it will be effective tomorrow, next week, or one month from now.”
The failure to stampede Obama and the U.S. military into a bombing campaign against Syria was a major defeat for those who wanted another shot at a Mideast “regime change,” primarily the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies who still hold sway inside the State Department as well as Washington’s top think tanks and the mainstream U.S. news media – not to mention the Israelis, Saudis, Turks and others who insist that “Assad must go.”
Not surprisingly, on Sept. 1, 2013, as the plans to bomb, bomb, bomb Syria were shoved into a drawer at the Pentagon, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in high dudgeon – particularly at Dempsey’s audacity in putting the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
(By happenstance, I was given a personal window into the widespread distress over the outbreak of peace, when I found myself sharing a “green room” with some of the most senior neocons at CNN’s main studio in Washington. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing ministry of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the Sixties and then for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed his support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, a conflict that has killed over 2,400 civilians. As justification, the secretary reiterated false claims that Riyadh is battling al-Qaeda.
Over the weekend, the White House stated its concern over the rising civilian death toll in the Yemen conflict.
“We are deeply concerned about recent reports of escalating violence in Yemen and resulting deaths of civilians…” White House National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said in statement on Saturday.
But while the Obama administration is ostensibly worried about the amount of violence, it also fully supports the Saudi campaign that is creating the chaos. One day after the release of Price’s statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated his full support for Riyadh’s actions.
“Let me assure everybody that the relationship between the United States and the GCC nations ([Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council) is one that is built on mutual interest, on mutual defense and I think there is no doubt whatsoever in the minds of the countries that make up the GCC that the United States will stand with them against any external threat,” Kerry told reporters.
Kerry claimed that the war was necessary since it is partially aimed at targeting “al-Qaeda operatives.” Those motivations are highly suspect, however, given that Riyadh failed to go after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during the first nine months of fighting.
In April, the Saudi government also looked the other way as AQAP seized the port city of al Mukalla. By gaining control of the central bank, the terrorist group gained over $17 billion from the city’s capture.
In addition, Kerry cited the need to combat Iranian “interference.”
“The United States remains concerned about some of the activities that Iran is engaged in other countries,” he told reporters.
Riyadh has provided little evidence to suggest that Tehran is providing any assistance to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Riyadh’s intervention began last March, and the Saudi naval blockade of Yemen has left approximately 1 million people internally displaced, and as many as 20 million people in need of food, water, and medical supplies.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 2,400 Yemeni civilians have been killed by coalition bombing. Most airstrikes have utilized cluster munitions sold by the United States. Worth an estimated $1.2 billion, this could partially explain Kerry’s support, but it also implicates Washington in Yemen’s civilian deaths.
“We should be culpable for the crime of killing civilians as well, as we produce and sell the weapons when we know the use they will be put to,” retired US Army Major Todd Pierce told Sputnik.
“Our indivisibility with our ‘allies’ inculpates us in their crimes…”
The father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die in the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry cited in claiming precise knowledge of where the suspected anti-aircraft missile was fired.
One of the mysteries of the MH-17 case has become why the United States – after asserting that it possessed information implicating ethnic Russian rebels and the Russian government – has failed to make the data public or apparently even share it with Dutch investigators who are leading the inquiry into how the plane was shot down and who was responsible.
Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Malaysia.
In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman, Quinn’s father, noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
Yet, where the missile launch occurred has remained a mystery in the MH-17 investigation. Last October, when the Dutch Safety Board issued its final report on the crash, it could only place the launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area in eastern Ukraine, covering territory then controlled by both Ukrainian and rebel forces. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile).
Meanwhile, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.
In the days immediately after the shoot-down, Kerry and other senior U.S. officials pointed the finger of blame at ethnic Russian rebels who were resisting a military offensive by the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. The Russian government was faulted for supposedly giving the rebels a powerful Buk anti-aircraft system capable of downing a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet.
But – in more than 18 months since the tragedy – the U.S. government has never made public its alleged evidence, while Russia has denied supplying the rebels a Buk system and the rebels have asserted that they did not possess functioning Buk missiles.
An Anguished Father
Thomas Schansman, who lives in The Netherlands, wrote to Kerry, noting that “celebrating Christmas and New Year without my son Quinn Schansman, was difficult for my family and myself” and then pressing the Secretary of State to release U.S. information about the case.
“It is my understanding, that neither the Dutch government nor the Dutch Safety Board [DSB] have officially received the radar information from the US that you referred to. It is not included in the [DSB] report and it is not in the public domain,” Schansman wrote.
“On behalf of the bereaved parents and to assist in the pursuit of justice, I would like to request that the United States provides the DSB with the radar data you referred to at the press conference and all other available and relevant information (like satellite data and infrared satellite data) that is in your government’s possession.
“I would be most grateful if the United States either directly or through NATO would publicly hand over to the Dutch Safety Board radar and satellite data of the minutes before and after the crash. … This would enable the DSB to reopen the investigation and include a chapter with this information, which is essential for a successful criminal prosecution. I count on the support of the government of the United States to find and prosecute those responsible for my son and your citizen’s death.”
Kerry has yet to reply although a U.S. consular official, Pamela J. Hack, sent Schansman a letter dated Jan. 14, expressing condolences for his son’s death and saying “We expect that you will receive a separate response … from Washington.”
A Rush to Judgment
In the days after the shoot-down, Kerry took the lead in accusing the ethnic Russian rebels (and implicitly their supporters in Moscow) of shooting down MH-17. Just three days after the tragedy, Kerry made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to leave little doubt that the rebels and Russians were at fault.
After mentioning information gleaned from “social media,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
Two days later, on July 22, 2014, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a “Government Assessment,” also citing “social media” seeming to implicate the rebels. Then, this white paper listed military equipment allegedly supplied by Russia to the rebels. But the list did not include a Buk missile battery or other high-powered anti-aircraft missiles.
The DNI also had U.S. intelligence analysts brief a few select mainstream reporters, but the analysts conveyed much less conviction than their superiors may have wished, indicating that there was still great uncertainty about who was responsible.
The Los Angeles Times article said: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [the designation for a Russian-made anti-aircraft Buk missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”
The analysts’ uncertainty meshed somewhat with what I had been told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts shortly after the shoot-down about what they had seen in high-resolution satellite photos, which they said showed what looked like Ukrainian military personnel manning the battery believed to have fired the missile.
The source who spoke to me several times after receiving additional briefings about advances in the investigation said that as the U.S. analysts gained more insights into the MH-17 shoot-down from technical and other sources, they came to believe the attack was carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military with ties to a hard-line Ukrainian oligarch. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]
Creating a Pariah
But, officially, the U.S. government never retracted or refined its initial claims. It simply went silent, leaving in place the widespread belief that the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible for the atrocity and that the Russian government had been highly irresponsible in supplying a powerful Buk system to the rebels.
That Western conventional wisdom convinced the European Union to join the U.S. government in imposing economic sanctions on Russia and treating President Vladimir Putin as an international pariah.
As the U.S. government clammed up and hid the evidence that it claimed to possess, it became clear that U.S. intelligence agencies lacked evidence to support Kerry’s initial rush to judgment blaming the rebels and the Russians.
Despite intensive overhead surveillance of eastern Ukraine in summer 2014, U.S. and other Western intelligence services could find no proof that Russia had ever given a Buk system to the rebels or introduced one into the area. Satellite intelligence – reviewed both before and after the shoot-down – only detected Ukrainian miltary Buk missile systems in the conflict zone.
One could infer this finding from the fact that the DNI on July 22, 2014, did not allege that Buks were among the weapons systems that Russia had provided. If Russian-supplied Buks had been spotted – and the batteries of four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks are hard to miss – their presence surely would have been noted.
But one doesn’t need to infer this lack of evidence. It was spelled out in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report from last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). Dutch intelligence, which as part of NATO would have access to sensitive overhead surveillance and other relevant data, reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine – capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet – belonged to the Ukrainian government.
MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”
But the intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capacity, having only short-range anti-aircraft missiles and a few inoperable Buk missiles that had been captured from a Ukrainian military base. “During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational,” MIVD said. “Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”
In other words, it is fair to say – based on the affirmative comments from the Dutch MIVD and the omissions from the U.S. “Government Assessment” – that the Western powers had no evidence that the ethnic Russian rebels or their Russian allies had operational Buk missiles in eastern Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government did have several batteries of such missiles.
It also would have made sense that Ukraine would be moving additional anti-aircraft systems close to the border because of a feared Russian invasion as the Ukrainian military pressed its “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russians fighters, who were resisting the U.S.-backed coup of Feb. 22, 2014, which had ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east.
According to the Dutch Safety Board report, a Ukrainian warplane had been shot down by a suspected air-to-air missile (presumably from a Russian fighter) on July 16, 2014, meaning that Ukrainian defenses were probably on high alert. The Russian military also claimed that Ukraine had activated a radar system that is used to guide Buk missiles.
I was told by the intelligence source that U.S. analysts looked seriously at the possibility that the intended target was President Putin’s official plane returning from a state visit to South America. His aircraft and MH-17 had similar red-white-and-blue markings, but Putin took a more northerly route and arrived safely in Moscow.
Other possible scenarios were that a poorly trained and undisciplined Ukrainian squad mistook MH-17 for a Russian plane that had penetrated Ukrainian airspace or that the attack was willful provocation designed to be blamed on the Russians.
Whoever the culprits and whatever their motive, one point that should not have remained in doubt was where the missile launch occurred. Kerry said repeatedly in the days after the tragedy that U.S. intelligence had detected the launch and knew where it came from.
So, why did the Dutch Safety Board have to scratch its head about the missile coming from somewhere in a 320-square-kilometer area, with the Russian manufacturer placing the launch site about 20 kilometers further west? With the firing location a key point in dispute, why would the U.S. government withhold from a NATO ally (and investigators into a major airline disaster) the launch point for the missile?
Presumably, if the Obama administration had solid evidence showing that the launch came from rebel territory, which was Kerry’s insinuation, U.S. officials would have been only too happy to provide the data. That data also could be the only precise radar evidence available. Ukraine claimed that its principal radar systems were down at the time of the attack, and the Russians — while they asserted that their radar screens showed another plane closing on MH-17 — did not save the raw data.
Thomas Schansman noted in his letter to Kerry: “the DSB [Dutch Safety Board] stated that it did not receive the (raw) primary radar data from any State. …. The UN Security Council Resolution 2166 explicit[ly] requested Member States to provide any requested assistance and cooperate fully with the investigation. The (raw) primary radar data is crucial for determining cause, and for identifying and prosecuting those responsible for this heinous act.”
Despite the strange evidentiary gaps and the U.S. failure to present the proof that it claims to possess, the West’s “conventional wisdom” remains that either the ethnic Russian rebels or the Russians themselves shot down MH-17 and have sought to cover up their guilt. Some of this certainty comes from the simpleminded game of repeating that Buk missiles are “Russian-made,” which is true but irrelevant to the issue of who fired the missiles, since the Ukrainian military possesses Russian-made Buks.
Despite the lack of U.S. cooperation in the investigation – and the failure of Western intelligence to detect Russians or ethnic Russian rebels with a Buk battery in eastern Ukraine – the Dutch criminal prosecutors who are working closely with the Ukrainian government say they are taking seriously allegations by bloggers at a British Web site called Bellingcat who have identified Russian soldiers assigned to a Buk missile battery as prime suspects in the shoot-down.
So, the possibility remains that this Dutch-led investigation – in coordination with the Ukrainian government – will indict some Russian soldiers even as the U.S. government withholds its data that could resolve such key questions as where the fateful missile was fired.
An indictment of Russian soldiers would make for more useful anti-Putin propaganda and would be sure to produce another chorus of denunciations against Moscow from the mainstream Western media. But such a development might do little to resolve the mystery of who really shot down MH-17, killing Quinn Schansman and 297 other people aboard MH-17.
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).
No other country, with the exception of maybe China, gets as much of a look in as Russia does from the Washington Post’s editorial board.
It’s hardly strange that the newspaper would focus some of its attention on Russia, an increasingly influential global player, but it does seem to have a bit of a bee in its bonnet about the old enemy.
Reading the Post’s editorials on matters of global affairs is like an exercise in understanding the very worst imaginable interpretation of American exceptionalism — and the latest dispatch on Syria is a perfect example. The headline reads: “A UN resolution on Syria is shattered – and Russia is to blame.”
The UN resolution referred to by the Post stated that all parties must “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects” as well as “any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.” Leaving aside the laughable notion that the US itself would adhere to such a resolution and “immediately cease” anything whatsoever, let’s take a look at what concerned the Post.
Two days after the resolution was passed, the editorial says, Russia carried out strikes in the northern Syrian provincial capital of Idlib “killing scores of civilians”. It is not for this writer to judge the authenticity of that claim or to question the word of the Post’s reporter in Beirut — and it would be ludicrous to claim Russia’s strikes have killed not one civilian, but it is at least worth noting that one of the newspaper’s original sources for the story was The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an ‘organization’ run out of a home in Coventry by one man who hasn’t visited Syria in 15 years, has received “small subsidies” from the European Union, and whose reports are at best, unreliable. Nevertheless, SOHR has become one of the single-most important “sources” of information on Syria in the Western press.
The Post continues on, unabashed. Secretary of State John Kerry, they chide, should be embarrassed by “this outrage” which “shattered” the UN resolution. They say this without so much of a hint of irony as the US continues to wage its illegal bombing campaign in the country they purport to care so very deeply about. They always care, you see. The more they care, the more bombs they want to drop.
And in the Post’s world, the UN is important and should be respected. Unless you’re the United States, in which case, go ahead and do whatever you want. Ever the pen-wielding champions for the spreading of good old freedom and democracy, they are always there, on the frontlines, cheering on America’s wars. It’s awfully easy to be in favor of ‘humanitarian’ military interventions when you comfort yourself with the knowledge that it’s okay, because you’re the good guys — always. But still, the board likes to be outraged (!) — and it needs to get its outrage fix from somewhere.
At least they’re consistent
Enter Russia. You have to at least hand it to the Post for its consistency. Russia and Putin continue to be the scapegoats for all seasons. There is nothing Moscow can’t be blamed for and nothing it can do right. If the Kremlin produced a cure for cancer tomorrow, the Post would re-imagine it as a sinister plot devised by Putin to put Western oncologists out of jobs.
In early October, the board warned Obama: Don’t green light Mr. Putin’s Syria project. That piece argued that the “moderate” opposition to Assad — which in the real world includes Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Al Nusra, should be given more US anti-tank missiles and that Putin should be given “red lines”.
In November, after the Paris attacks, sensing that things were moving in Putin’s favor, and that an international anti-ISIS coalition might be in the making, they jumped in to ensure no one thought that was a good idea with a piece headlined: Teaming up with Russia in Syria could be a dangerous.
And of course, when Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border after claiming that it had violated Turkish airspace, the Post did its bit to make sure no one was left with the wrong impression about who exactly was responsible for the incident: Russian “provocations” and “dangerous behavior of Vladimir Putin’s regime.” Reading that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was Russia recklessly shooting planes out of the sky. One wonders would the Post’s reaction have been the same if an American warplane had been shot down in Syria? It’s certainly unlikely (to say the least) that the Post would be calling the US’s illegal flights over the war-torn country “provocations” and demanding accountability.
Occasionally, the newspaper likes to dabble in wishful thinking. Not the editorial board, but an opinion piece published by the Post in late November asked: Is Syria the beginning of the end of Putinism?
It’s our world. Everyone else just lives in it.
The Post’s penchant for US exceptionalism extends far beyond Syria. Here, they lament, Obama just “doesn’t understand” Putin’s “Eurasian ambitions”. Apparently it’s not worth noting that Russia is in fact a massive Eurasian country, unlike say, the US.
And God forbid any other countries might think they could act independently of Washington in any arena. Obama was “right to order a sail-by” in the South China Sea because “failure to respond” to the “aggression” of other countries is always the greatest sin. Meanwhile, Iran “steps up its aggression” in the Middle East. The list goes on and the Washington Post’s editorial board fails, time and again, to see the irony.
That’s the kind of world the Post’s editors live in: Black and white. Good and evil. We’re always right, you’re always wrong. Do what we say, not as we do. The destruction this kind of thinking leaves in its wake is always someone else’s problem to solve.
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist and media analyst. She has lived in the US and Germany and is currently based in Moscow. She previously worked as a digital desk reporter for the Sunday Business Post in Dublin. She studied political reporting at the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism in Washington, DC and also has a degree in business and German. She focuses on US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias.
In January, the Syrian government will – ostensibly – sit across the negotiating table from ‘the Syrian opposition’ to decide on the structure and make-up of a transitional government that promises to end the 5-year Syrian conflict.
The ‘Syrian opposition,’ we are told by US Secretary of State John Kerry, will be selected by ‘Syrians’ and will therefore be ‘representative.’
“This is not about imposing anything on anyone,” Kerry remarked about the Vienna process, convened to broker a Syrian peace – which was negotiated by 20 countries, but without the involvement of Syrians.
“I want to be clear: the Syrian people will be the validators of this whole effort,” says Kerry again – lest we forget. This is just before he instructs us that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot hold any long-term position in Syria: “Asking the opposition to trust Assad or to accept Assad’s leadership is simply not a reasonable request, and it is literally therefore a non-starter,” explains Kerry from his non-Syrian perspective.
Incidentally, Kerry now also calls any Syrian demand for Assad to leave before the political transition “a non-starting position.” It appears that to be part of this ‘Syrian solution,’ you must first agree with Kerry’s many nuanced positions on Syria.
But back to the ‘Syrian opposition’ – those able negotiators who will represent the ‘Syrian people’ come January.
This is where it gets really confusing. The 20 non-Syrian countries participating in the Vienna process will ultimately decide 1. which Syrians will speak for the opposition at future talks, and 2. which Syrians will instead be labelled ‘terrorists’ to be slaughtered on the battlefield.
To whittle down the ‘Syrian opposition’ to a few dozen individuals that are ‘representative’ of Syrians, several meetings were held to fight it out – mostly in foreign countries.
The Saudis shrewdly tried to grab front-runner advantage for their favorite Syrians by hosting a highly-publicized meeting in Riyadh that cobbled together a 34-member opposition ‘turnkey solution.’
But several countries balked at some of the Riyadh-cooked opposition, which consists of groups or individuals they think should be on the ‘terrorist’ list instead of the negotiating table.
Others on the Saudi shortlist don’t appear to be ‘representative’ of anybody, let alone the ‘Syrian people.’ They include several former heads of the now widely-discredited Syrian National Coalition (SNC), once viewed by Syria’s foes as the country’s ‘legitimate’ government-in-exile.
These Riyadh-backed luminaries include ex-SNC President George Sabra, who gained his Syrian ‘legitimacy’ in 2012 from a whopping 28 votes cast by 41 Syrians – in Qatar.
They also include Khaled Khoja, who squeaked through as president of the now-rebranded ‘National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces’ with 56 votes out of 109 cast – in Turkey.
They also include the likes of Saudi-based Ahmad Jarba, who won his second term at the helm of the National Council in 2014 with 65 votes – also cast in Turkey. Jarba beat his only rival Riad Hijab by 13 whole votes. Hijab turned the tables on Jarba in Riyadh last week, however, when 34 Syrians chose him instead to represent them at peace talks in Vienna.
Hijab, of course, is best known as the highest-ranking official to defect from the Syrian government during this crisis. He was prime minister of the country at the time – and I was in Damascus sitting in a roadside café when the news of his defection first broke. It created quite a stir in the café: Half of the Syrian customers were asking “who is the prime minister?” while the other half were asking “who is Riad Hijab?”
Representative of the Syrian people? Not so much.
There are two lists being drawn up per the agreement reached in Vienna: the first list is to decide the ‘Syrian opposition’ negotiators. Since 22 million Syrians will not be voting for their own representatives, this list will basically be ‘manufactured’ by a handful of influential foreign states via some frenzied horse-trading.
The second list created by the Vienna-20 will determine which Syrian opposition militias are to be designated as ‘terrorist’ organizations. It is understood that those who make this list will not be participating in any ceasefires. It is also understood that the groups on this list will be mowed down by the Syrian army, its allies and foreign coalition airstrikes – unless they flee back across the Turkish border, of course.
For years, Washington has insisted there are armed ‘moderate’ groups in Syria, but have gone to great lengths to avoid naming these ‘moderates.’ Why? Because if moderates were named and identified, the US would have to be very, very certain that no past, present or future ‘atrocity video’ would surface to prove otherwise. And the US could not guarantee this with any of the groups they have armed, trained or financed in Syria over the past five years.
The twenty countries involved in Vienna talks have already agreed that ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise) are on this list. The big question now is who else makes the cut. And in everyone’s sights first and foremost is Ahrar al Sham, a Turkish, Qatari and Saudi-funded extremist group whose backbone is a mix of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.
Earlier last summer, when I queried the US State Department about how they viewed Ahrar, I was told: “The US has neither worked with nor provided any assistance to Ahrar al-Sham. The US supports moderate Syrian opposition groups.”
Put it this way, if Ahrar were ‘moderates,’ they would have already received direct US assistance, so desperate has Washington been to find Syrian fighters to do their bidding. And influential Americans have worked overtime to whitewash Ahrar – to distance it from Al Qaeda and other extremists, even though Ahrar’s closest primary ground force ally is none other than Jabhat al Nusra.
This strange western-Turkish-GCC determination to mainstream radical Salafist militants was seen again in Riyadh in December, when Ahrar reps were invited to join the opposition deliberations. The group is reported to have signed on to the final Riyadh declaration, but this was later hotly disputed by its leadership inside Syria. Either way, Ahrar is never going to be comfortable with Vienna’s terms today – to do so will be to turn its guns on its comrades in Nusra tomorrow, and to renounce many of its core beliefs.
The Ahrar challenge is mirrored by many of the hundreds of militias fighting inside Syria right now. These are mostly Sunni Islamist fighters, who over the course of this conflict have become overtly sectarian, violent and intolerant. Are they terrorists? The Syrian state says yes, and so do its allies Iran and Russia.
And this leads us to why they are right.
Armed and foreign-backed
Whatever this Syrian crisis has been, a ‘revolution’ it is not. No revolution, borne from the heart of a genuinely popular insurrection, is financed, armed and trained by the enemies of a state. What has transpired in Syria for the past five years is a long-planned foreign conspiracy – in coordination with a small sliver of its nationals – to create regime-change on the back of the narratives of the ‘Arab Spring.’
The US military’s ‘unconventional warfare’ manual contains the blueprint for exactly this kind of regime-change operation:
But this is not the first time this trick has been tried in Syria. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood launched a similar operation from inside Hama and tried to replicate it nationwide. They failed and were wiped out by Bashar al Assad’s father, Hafez, who was not constrained by the threat of today’s foreign “humanitarian intervention” and “Responsibility To Protect” (R2P) doctrines.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in their now-declassified 1982 report on Hama called the Muslim Brotherhood’s actions “terrorism,” and rightly so.
You cannot pick up arms against a central government, impose your will with weapons on population centers, blow up police stations, public transportation, bread factories, pipelines, waterworks, target your national army, human-shield yourself in mosques and schools, assassinate public and private figures – and imagine yourself anything but a terrorist. You are not fighting an occupation, where your right to self-defense is enshrined in law. You are fighting your state, and your state has an internationally-mandated legal duty to protect its nationals – from you.
Furthermore, no state would shelter you from lawful consequence if you were doing all these things at the behest of, and with material support from, an enemy state.
Syria’s largest militant opposition groups are – one and all – financed, armed, trained, supported by the United States, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, France and a smattering of other states and nationals.
None of these groups belong at a negotiating table across from the Syrian government – for one, they do not represent ‘Syrians,’ they represent foreign interests.
Can Washington name a single of its own anti-government, US-based, armed militias that it would term “moderate?” If an enemy state was financing and arming a group of American citizens, what would the consequence be if this group burned vehicles, killed police officers, set banks ablaze?
Moderate or extremist, secular or Islamist, why should Syria’s foreign-backed armed groups sit at the table in Vienna? And, for that matter, why should Syria’s foreign-backed unarmed politicos represent ‘Syrians’ at talks either?
Foreign states that spent five years ignoring the many non-violent Syrian dissidents based in Syria who have spent decades in opposition – in order to manufacture a thoroughly unrepresentative, subservient, malleable and repressive ‘Syrian opposition’ that will serve their interests – should not be rewarded for their deeds in Vienna.
None of their hand-picked ‘Syrian opposition’ will do – these mini-tyrants, warlords and militants will just prolong Syria’s tragedy indefinitely.
Think of Vienna as a stage. Right now, several western powers are seeking a political solution in Vienna as an exit from the Syrian theater – because it has become too costly. The extremism of ISIS, terror threats on the home front, a flood of migrants and refugees, and the promise of indefinite chaos in the Middle East has created a new-found bargaining spirit in the west. For the west, Assad, the Russians and Iranians suddenly look like worthy partners today – able, potentially, to help negotiate a face-saving exit from the Syrian quagmire. It is no coincidence that the US pushed through a nuclear deal with Iran this year – or that Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are co-chairing the Vienna talks.
But in the east – in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar – Vienna represents potential defeat unless Assad goes. These states either believe they are facing down existential threats, or at best, political humiliations from which they are unlikely to recover.
This brings another level of complexity to the Vienna stage. Allies in east and west find themselves with vastly diverging interests. All are still looking to stack their hands with cards which can improve their fortunes at the table, but their militants in the Syrian field have been losing ground since Russian jets took to Syria’s skies. Their own anti-terror Coalition is being outed and shamed for its complicity with the very terrorists it purports to fight. And they still, five years on, cannot construct a cohesive ‘Syrian opposition.’
Vienna is unlikely to ever see a genuine Syrian political solution. But it could still act as a springboard for some new thinking. Think ‘terror’ first. Disarm militants, halt weapons transfers, shut down borders, besiege them in their strongholds, cut off their financing, sanction their supporters.
Many of these components were in last week’s UN Security Council Resolution 2254, co-sponsored by Syria, in a new twist. An important start.
Cooperate with the Syrian state; coordinate airstrikes, ground battles; share intelligence. This stage may yet arrive.
Finally, acknowledge the reforms that the state tried to implement in the first few months of the Syrian crisis – Syria shut down its military court at the same time that Jordan was establishing a new security court. Why was one derided and the other lauded? Provide the time and space – reconciliation takes time – for Syrians to gear up for new elections under international observation.
If a ‘Syrian opposition’ is the desired outcome, this can only come organically from inside Syria, when Syrians are no longer under the threat of violent conflict.
The alternative, of course, is this Syrian opposition circus that is gearing up for a fall in Vienna. You can pay these clowns through the nose, but you will never get a performance out of them.
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
One reason why Official Washington continues to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” is that he supposedly “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013, but the truth of that allegation has never been established and is in growing doubt, U.S. intelligence veterans point out.
MEMORANDUM FOR: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013
In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.
Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as “homemade” and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.
Neither of you responded directly to our appeal to make such evidence available to the public, although, Mr. Lavrov, you came close to doing so. In a speechat the UN on Sept. 26, 2013, you made reference to the views we presented in our VIPS Memorandum, Is Syria a Trap?, sent to President Obama three weeks earlier.
Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the “open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon,” in which we expressed similar doubt.
Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of “Intelligence Assessment” customarily used to back up such claims.
We believe that this odd lack of a formal “Intelligence Assessment” is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as was done to “justify” the attack on Iraq.
Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21.”
This principled dissent from these analysts apparently led the White House to create a new art form, a “Government Assessment,” to convey claims that the government in Damascus was behind the sarin attack. It was equally odd that the newly minted genre of report offered not one item of verifiable evidence.
(We note that you used this new art form “Government (not Intelligence) Assessment” a second time – again apparently to circumvent intelligence analysts’ objections. On July 22, 2014, just five days after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, after the media asked you to come up with evidence supporting the charges you leveled against “pro-Russian separatists” on the July 20 Sunday talk shows, you came up with the second, of only two, “Government Assessment.” Like the one on the chemical attack in Syria, the assessment provided meager fare when it comes to verifiable evidence.)
Claims and Counterclaims
Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, President Obama asserted: “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the [Syrian] regime carried out this attack [at Ghouta].”
Mr. Lavrov, that same day you publicly complained that U.S. officials kept claiming “’the Syrian regime,’ as they call it, is guilty of the use of chemical weapons, without providing comprehensive proof.” Two days later you told the U.N. General Assembly you had given Mr. Kerry “the latest compilation of evidence, which was an analysis of publicly available information.” You also told the Washington Post, “This evidence is not something revolutionary. It’s available on the Internet.”
On the Internet? Mr. Kerry, if your staff avoided calling your attention to Internet reports about Turkish complicity in the sarin attack of Aug. 21, 2013, because they lacked confirmation, we believe you can now consider them largely confirmed.
Addressing fellow members of parliament on Dec. 10, 2015, Turkish MP Eren Erdem from the Republican People’s Party (a reasonably responsible opposition group) confronted the Turkish government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem referred to official reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.
In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.
The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.” Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.
According to Erdem, the 13 suspects arrested in raids carried out against the plotters were released just a week after they were indicted, and the case was closed — shut down by higher authority. Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.
Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.”
In our Sept. 6, 2013 Memorandum for the President, we reported that coordination meetings had taken place just weeks before the sarin attack at a Turkish military garrison in Antakya – just 15 miles from the Syrian border with Syria and 55 miles from its largest city, Aleppo.
In Antakya, senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials were said to be coordinating plans with Western-sponsored rebels, who were told to expect an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development.” This, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria, and rebel commanders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Assad government.
A year before, the New York Times reported that the Antakya area had become a “magnet for foreign jihadis, who are flocking into Turkey to fight holy war in Syria.” The Times quoted a Syrian opposition member based in Antakya, saying the Turkish police were patrolling this border area “with their eyes closed.”
And, Mr. Lavrov, while the account given by Eren Erdem before the Turkish Parliament puts his charges on the official record, a simple Google search including “Antakya” shows that you were correct in stating the Internet contains a wealth of contemporaneous detail supporting Erdem’s disclosures.
Mr. Kerry, while in Moscow on Dec. 15, you said to a Russian interviewer that Syrian President Assad “has gassed his people – I mean, gas hasn’t been used in warfare formally for years – for – and gas is outlawed, but Assad used it.”
Three days later The Washington Post dutifully repeated the charge about Assad’s supposed killing “his own people with chemical weapons.” U.S. media have made this the conventional wisdom. The American people are not fully informed. There has been no mainstream media reporting on Turkish MP Erdem’s disclosures.
We ask you again, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, to set the record straight on this important issue. The two of you have demonstrated an ability to work together on important matters – the Iran nuclear deal, for example – and have acknowledged a shared interest in defeating ISIS, which clearly is not Turkish President Erdogan’s highest priority. Indeed, his aims are at cross-purposes to those wishing to tamp down the violence in Syria.
After the shoot-down of Russia’s bomber on Nov. 24, President Vladimir Putin put Russian forces in position to retaliate the next time, and told top defense officials, “Any targets threatening our [military] group or land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed.” We believe that warning should be taken seriously. What matters, though, is what Erdogan believes.
There is a good chance Erdogan will be dismissive of Putin’s warning, as long as the Turkish president believes he can depend on NATO always to react in the supportive way it did after the shoot-down.
One concrete way to disabuse him of the notion that he has carte blanche to create incidents that could put not only Turkey, but also the U.S., on the verge of armed conflict with Russia, would be for the U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister to coordinate a statement on what we believe was a classic false-flag chemical attack on Aug. 21, 2013, facilitated by the Turks and aimed at mousetrapping President Obama into a major attack on Syria.
One of our colleagues, a seasoned analyst of Turkish affairs, put it this way: “Erdogan is even more dangerous if he thinks that he now has NATO license to bait Russia — as he did with the shoot-down. I don’t think NATO is willing to give him that broader license, but he is a loose cannon.”
FOR THE STEERING GROUP, VETERAN INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS FOR SANITY
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer
Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)
Scott Ritter, former Maj., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned)
Theoretically, it would be a great story for the American press: an autocrat so obsessed with overthrowing the leader of a neighboring country that he authorizes his intelligence services to collaborate with terrorists in staging a lethal sarin attack to be blamed on his enemy and thus trick major powers to launch punishing bombing raids against the enemy’s military.
And, after that scheme failed to achieve the desired intervention, the autocrat continues to have his intelligence services aid terrorists inside the neighboring country by providing weapons and safe transit for truck convoys carrying the terrorists’ oil to market. The story gets juicier because the autocrat’s son allegedly shares in the oil profits.
To make the story even more compelling, an opposition leader braves the wrath of the autocrat by seeking to expose these intelligence schemes, including the cover-up of key evidence. The autocrat’s government then seeks to prosecute the critic for “treason.”
But the problem with this story, as far as the American government and press are concerned, is that the autocratic leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in charge of Turkey, a NATO ally and his hated neighbor is the much demonized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Major U.S. news outlets and political leaders also bought into the sarin deception and simply can’t afford to admit that they once again misled the American people on a matter of war.
The Official Story of the sarin attack – as presented by Secretary of State John Kerry, Human Rights Watch and other “respectable” sources – firmly laid the blame for the Aug. 21, 2013 atrocity killing hundreds of civilians outside Damascus on Assad. That became a powerful “group think” across Official Washington.
Though a few independent media outlets, including Consortium News, challenged the rush to judgment and noted the lack of evidence regarding Assad’s guilt, those doubts were brushed aside. (In an article on Aug. 30, 2013, I described the administration’s “Government Assessment” blaming Assad as a “dodgy dossier,” which offered not a single piece of verifiable proof.)
However, as with the “certainty” about Iraq’s WMD a decade earlier, Every Important Person shared the Assad-did-it “group think.” That meant — as far as Official Washington was concerned — that Assad had crossed President Barack Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons. A massive U.S. retaliatory bombing strike was considered just days away.
But Obama – at the last minute – veered away from launching those military attacks, with Official Washington concluding that Obama had shown “weakness” by not following through. What was virtually unreported was that U.S. intelligence analysts had doubts about Assad’s guilt and suspected a trap being laid by extremists.
Despite those internal questions, the U.S. government and the compliant mainstream media publicly continued to push the Assad-did-it propaganda line. In a formal address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, Obama declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
Later, a senior State Department official tried to steer me toward the Assad-is-guilty assessment of a British blogger then known as Moses Brown, a pseudonym for Eliot Higgins, who now runs an outfit called Bellingcat which follows an effective business model by reinforcing whatever the U.S. propaganda machine is churning out on a topic, except having greater credibility by posing as a “citizen blogger.” [For more on Higgins, see Consortiumnews.com’s “‘MH-17 Case: ‘Old Journalism’ vs. ‘New’.”]
The supposedly conclusive proof against Assad came in a “vector analysis” developed by Human Rights Watch and The New York Times – tracing the flight paths of two rockets back to a Syrian military base northwest of Damascus. But that analysis collapsed when it became clear that only one of the rockets carried sarin and its range was less than one-third the distance between the army base and the point of impact. That meant the rocket carrying the sarin appeared to have originated in rebel territory.
But the “group think” was resistant to all empirical evidence. It was so powerful that even when the Turkish plot was uncovered by legendary investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, his usual publication, The New Yorker, refused to print it. Rebuffed in the United States – the land of freedom of the press – Hersh had to take the story to the London Review of Books to get it out in April 2014. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?”]
The Easier Route
It remained easier for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other premier news outlets to simply ignore the compelling tale of possible Turkish complicity in a serious war crime. After all, what would the American people think if – after the mainstream media had failed to protect the country against the lies that led to the disastrous Iraq War – the same star news sources had done something similar on Syria by failing to ask tough questions?
It’s also now obvious that if Obama had ordered a retaliatory bombing campaign against Assad in 2013, the likely winners would have been the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which would have had the path cleared for their conquest of Damascus, creating a humanitarian catastrophe even worse than the current one.
To confess to such incompetence or dishonesty clearly had a big down-side. So, the “smart” play was to simply let the old Assad-did-it narrative sit there as something that could still be cited obliquely from time to time under the phrase “Assad gassed his own people” and thus continue to justify the slogan: “Assad must go!”
But that imperative – not to admit another major mistake – means that the major U.S. news media also must ignore the courageous statements from Eren Erdem, a deputy of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who has publicly accused the Erdogan government of blocking an investigation into Turkey’s role in procuring the sarin allegedly delivered to Al Qaeda-connected terrorists for use inside Syria.
In statements before parliament and to journalists, Erdem cited a derailed indictment that was begun by the General Prosecutor’s Office in the southern Turkish city of Adana, with the criminal case number 2013/120.
Erdem said the prosecutor’s office, using technical surveillance, discovered that an Al Qaeda jihadist named Hayyam Kasap acquired the sarin.
At the press conference, Erdem said, “Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism.”
Erdem said the released operatives were allowed to cross the border into Syria and the criminal investigation was halted.
Another CHP deputy, Ali Şeker, added that the Turkish government misled the public by claiming Russia provided the sarin and that “Assad killed his people with sarin and that requires a U.S. military intervention in Syria.”
Erdem’s disclosures, which he repeated in a recent interview with RT, the Russian network, prompted the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation into Erdem for treason. Erdem defended himself, saying the government’s actions regarding the sarin case besmirched Turkey’s international reputation. He added that he also has been receiving death threats.
“The paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths is sharing my address [on Twitter] and plans a raid [on my house]. I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country’s prestige,” Erdem said.
ISIS Oil Smuggling
Meanwhile, President Erdogan faces growing allegations that he tolerated the Islamic State’s lucrative smuggling of oil from wells in Syria through border crossings in Turkey. Those oil convoys were bombed only last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin essentially shamed President Obama into taking action against this important source of Islamic State revenues.
Though Obama began his bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in summer 2014, the illicit oil smuggling was spared interdiction for over a year as the U.S. government sought cooperation from Erdogan, who recently acknowledged that the Islamic State and other jihadist groups are using nearly 100 kilometers of Turkey’s border to bring in recruits and supplies.
Earlier this month, Obama said he has had “repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” adding that “there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL [Islamic State] shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”
Russian officials expressed shock that the Islamic State was allowed to continue operating an industrial-style delivery system involving hundreds of trucks carrying oil into Turkey. Moscow also accused Erdogan’s 34-year-old son, Bilal Erdogan, of profiting off the Islamic State’s oil trade, an allegation that he denied.
The Russians say Bilal Erdogan is one of three partners in the BMZ Group, a Turkish oil and shipping company that has purchased oil from the Islamic State. The Malta Independent reported that BMZ purchased two oil tanker ships from the Malta-based Oil Transportation & Shipping Services Co Ltd, which is owned by Azerbaijani billionaire Mubariz Mansimov.
Another three oil tankers purchased by BMZ were acquired from Palmali Shipping and Transportation Agency, which is also owned by Mansimov and which shares the same Istanbul address with Oil Transportation & Shipping Services, which is owned by Mansimov’s Palmali Group, along with dozens of other companies set up in Malta.
The Russians further assert that Turkey’s shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 bomber along the Syrian-Turkish border on Nov. 24 – which led to the murder of the pilot, by Turkish-backed rebels, as he parachuted to the ground and to the death of a Russian marine on a rescue operation – was motivated by Erdogan’s fury over the destruction of his son’s Islamic State oil operation.
Erdogan has denied that charge, claiming the shoot-down was simply a case of defending Turkish territory, although, according to the Turkish account, the Russian plane strayed over a slice of Turkish territory for only 17 seconds. The Russians dispute even that, calling the attack a premeditated ambush.
President Obama and the mainstream U.S. press sided with Turkey, displaying almost relish at the deaths of Russians in Syria and also showing no sympathy for the Russian victims of an earlier terrorist bombing of a tourist flight over Sinai in Egypt. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims.”]
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman expressed the prevailing attitude of Official Washington by ridiculing anyone who had praised Putin’s military intervention in Syria or who thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.
“Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.”
The smug contempt that the mainstream U.S. media routinely shows toward anything involving Russia or Putin may help explain the cavalier disinterest in NATO member Turkey’s reckless behavior. Though Turkey’s willful shoot-down of a Russian plane that was not threatening Turkey could have precipitated a nuclear showdown between Russia and NATO, criticism of Erdogan was muted at most.
Similarly, neither the Obama administration nor the mainstream media wants to address the overwhelming evidence that Turkey – along with other U.S. “allies” such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have been aiding and abetting Sunni jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda and Islamic State, for years. Instead, Official Washington plays along with the fiction that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others are getting serious about combating terrorism.
The contrary reality is occasionally blurted out by a U.S. official or revealed when a U.S. intelligence report gets leaked or declassified. For instance, in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in a confidential diplomatic memo, disclosed by Wikileaks, that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
According to a Defense Intelligence Agency report from August 2012, “AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq, which later morphed into the Islamic State] supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. … AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”
The DIA report added, “The salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. … The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition.”
The DIA analysts already understood the risks that AQI presented both to Syria and Iraq. The report included a stark warning about the expansion of AQI, which was changing into the Islamic State. The brutal armed movement was seeing its ranks swelled by the arrival of global jihadists rallying to the black banner of Sunni militancy, intolerant of both Westerners and “heretics” from Shiite and other non-Sunni branches of Islam.
The goal was to establish a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria” where Islamic State’s caliphate is now located, and that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition” – i.e. the West, Gulf states, and Turkey – “want in order to isolate the Syrian regime,” the DIA report said.
In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at Harvard’s Kennedy School that “the Saudis, the emirates, etc. … were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war … [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda.”
Despite these occasional bursts of honesty, the U.S. government and the mainstream media have put their goal of having another “regime change” – this time in Syria – and their contempt for Putin ahead of any meaningful cooperation toward defeating the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
This ordering of priorities further means there is no practical reason to revisit who was responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack. If Assad’s government was innocent and Ergogan’s government shared in the guilt, that would present a problem for NATO, which would have to decide if Turkey had crossed a “red line” and deserved being expelled from the military alliance.
But perhaps even more so, an admission that the U.S. government and the U.S. news media had rushed to another incorrect judgment in the Middle East – and that another war policy was driven by propaganda rather than facts – could destroy what trust the American people have left in those institutions. On a personal level, it might mean that the pundits and the politicians who were wrong about Iraq’s WMD would have to acknowledge that they had learned nothing from that disaster.
It might even renew calls for some of them – the likes of The New York Times’ Friedman and The Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt – to finally be held accountable for consistently misinforming and misleading the American people.
So, at least for now — from a perspective of self-interest — it makes more sense for the Obama administration and major news outlets to ignore the developing story of a NATO ally’s ties to terrorism, including an alleged connection to a grave war crime, the sarin attack outside Damascus.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Veteran Meteorologist Says John Kerry’s Claim Climate-Change Drought Is Causing Refugees Is Completely False
Veteran meteorologist Joe Bastardi at his latest Weatherbell Analytics Saturday Summary explains why US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that the refugee crisis is caused by climate-change-driven drought is total nonsense and is easily disproved.
Secretary Kerry would like to have the public believe that the refugee crisis from Syria and Africa is due to man-made climate drought in the region – and not his abject foreign policy debacle.
Chart shows Nigeria has been too wet. Source Weatherbell.
At the 2:34 mark Joe shows a precipitation chart for western Africa which clearly depicts how rainfall has in fact been above average over the past 15 years, and thus drought cannot be cited as a reason for the Boko Haram terror group. Bastardi says:
There’s no drought here. And so you cannot blame drought in Nigeria for the rise of Boko Haram.”
The above chart’s blue shows that it’s been too wet in Nigeria, and not too dry. Indeed there are number of scientific papers showing that the Sahara region has been getting greener over the past 30 years.
In the Middle East Bastardi shows that the drought has hit part of Turkey, but that most of Syria has had normal precipitation, and explains that “drought” is the normal climate condition there. At the 4:20 mark the Weatherbell meteorologist puts up a precipitation chart for the Middle East for the last five years:
The chart above shows more wet (blue) than dry (yellow/green) with Syria being completely normal. Joe shakes his head at how anyone could even make the claim that Kerry does:
What’s really interesting about all this is, this is just so easy to disprove. […] So I don’t understand why that was said.”
Most readers here do understand why. The falsehood was said because US foreign policy has been a total catastrophe in that region, and now Kerry is desperate for any excuse. And he couldn’t have picked a lamer one. In real life any company or employee blaming poor performance on climate change would be immediately shown the door. This is a blatant unwillingness to accept any responsibility.
The nonsense of climate change leading to terrorism excuse is so clear on so many fronts that it’s a wonder than anyone with even a few points of IQ would take it seriously.
During his Senate years, no congressional member was more one-sidedly pro-Israeli than John Kerry. It shows in his current capacity, blaming Palestinian victims for Netanyahu’s high crimes.
It’s hard believing his latest scheme, concocted in cahoots with Israeli officials, their absurd way to restore calm in East Jerusalem – supposedly to show Israel won’t change its holy site status, a smokescreen showing nothing.
The proposed idea calls for installing round-the-clock security cameras on what Arabs call al-Haram al-Sarif, the Noble Sanctuary – what Jews call the Temple Mount. Longtime Israeli collaborator Mahmoud Abbas approved. So did Jordanian King Abdullah, both part of the problem, not the solution.
Israel will maintain full control over recorded footage, revealing or concealing whatever it wishes – easily able to produce fake footage to show what it wants, claiming it’s legitimate.
This scheme fools no one. Over the weekend, Kerry sounded buffoon-like, saying: “I am pleased that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to upholding the unchanged status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, both in word and in practice.”
He absurdly called installing cameras “a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site. Netanyahu “reaffirmed” nothing, not now, earlier or ahead. Kerry’s remarks were willful deception.
Netanyahu and Abbas “expressed their strong commitment to ending violence and restoring calm as soon as possible,” he added – code language for wanting Palestinians to continue agreeing to be treated like dogs, leaving the deplorable status quo unchanged, victimizing an entire population, letting Israel continue stomping on it at its discretion.
PA Prime Minister Riyad al-Maliki blasted the camera-installing scheme, saying: “We are falling into the same trap once again. Netanyahu cannot be trusted. Who will monitor the screens of these cameras?”
“Who will record the movements of those worshipers wishing to enter? How will these cameras be employed, and will the recordings later be used to arrest young men and worshipers under the pretext of incitement?”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “(t)his is a despicable attempt by Netanyahu, with American collusion, to entrench the Zionist control of Al-Aqsa Mosque by granting the occupation the right to authorize and prohibit Muslims to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
He called Kerry’s statement “pathetic” – an attempt “to beautify the Zionist Judaizing project and rescue Netanyahu from the crisis he is in as a result of his racist, extremist policy.”
Maliki failed to explain the issue for Palestinians goes way beyond assuring the sanctity of Islam’s third holiest site. Longstanding occupation harshness is the root cause of justifiable popular anger – led by a new generation of youths, wanting fundamental freedoms everyone deserves.
The only way to stop daily violence and persecution in Palestine is by ending occupation and effectively challenging US imperial lawlessness.
Washington arms and funds Israel’s killing machine. Without its support, real change is possible. With it, longstanding state terrorism persists, Palestinians blamed for Israeli high crimes, on their own with no outside help against a ruthless occupier.
Kerry, Netanyahu, Abbas, and Abdullah changed the subject, ignored the fundamental issue vital to address equitably to change the destructive dynamic on the ground.
Courageous, justifiable Palestinian resistance won’t end until long abused people are free from repressive occupation.
The only solution is revolutionary change, justice for a long-suffering population too intolerable to accept any longer.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III”.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has summoned military attaches of NATO countries and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, asking the officials to clarify their countries’ allegations that Russian airstrikes in Syria have hit civilian targets.
“Today we invited military attaches from the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the NATO bloc to ask them to give official validation to their statements, or make a rebuttal,” Defense Ministry deputy head Anatoly Antonov said on Tuesday.
It particularly touches upon Western media’s “outrageous accusations” that the Russian Air Force has allegedly bombed hospitals in Syria, the military official said.
Information attacks on Moscow’s anti-terror efforts in the region have intensified recently, Antonov said, adding that the Russian military is “blamed not only for conducting airstrikes on the ‘moderate opposition,’ but also on civilian buildings, such as hospitals, mosques and schools.”
The MoD official stressed that such blame is put upon Russia not only by the media, but also officials and politicians from a number of Western states, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and the UK’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.
Allegations will be considered “stove-piping” should Russia not receive proof in the next following days, Antonov said, adding that the Defense Ministry “closely monitors and analyzes such statements.”
The MoD deputy head once again called on foreign military officials to join efforts in fighting Islamic State, saying that a wider international coalition should be immediately formed to defeat terrorists in the region.
“We are still waiting… for cooperation in defining concrete targets to be bombed in order to annihilate ISIS bases, or [providing] coordinates of facilities that should not be targeted by the Russian Air Force,” Antonov said.
Reports of a field hospital in northwestern Syria destroyed by Russian airstrikes, killing civilians, emerged last week, based on information provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Russian Foreign Ministry has disputed the media reports, having questioned the credentials of the source, which is based in Britain, has no direct access to the ground in Syria, and is run by one man.
US to reduce aid to the Palestinian Authority
The United States is the “proxy” for Israeli interests in the Middle East and “blindly supports” the regime’s position in the region, says an American political scientist.
In a phone interview with Press TV, Wilmer Leon pointed to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday in the Jordanian capital of Amman, saying “anything is really going to come out of this.”
“I don’t really see anything substantive or long term coming out of these meetings,” he said, because “the United States has failed to do anything substantive in order to get Israel to honestly negotiate.”
He also noted that Kerry first held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “took Netanyahu’s position to Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas, instead of meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas first and taking the Palestinian positions to the Israelis.”
On Thursday, Kerry held talks with Netanyahu in Berlin and called for an immediate end to “all incitement” and “violence” against the Palestinians.
“For all intents and purposes, the United States is the proxy for the Israeli interests and until the United States decides to become an unbiased real arbiter actually working for peace in the region, instead of continuing to blindly support the Israeli position, I don’t see how anything is going to happen,” Leon added.
In supporting the regime’s positions, the US State Department said it will reduce its annual aid to the Palestinian Authority from $370 million to $290 at the end of September.
The 22-percent cut for the 2015 fiscal year came after US Congress sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, telling him that the US funds were contingent on tamping down “incitement.”
The latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian clashes began when Tel Aviv restricted the entry of some Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque on August 26.
The surge in tensions, triggered by Israeli raids on the al-Aqsa Mosque in East al-Quds (East Jerusalem), as well as increasing violence by Israeli settlers, has seen some 54 Palestinians killed and hundreds more injured since October 1. Eight Israelis have also died in the same time period.
You have to hand it to Russia. In recent weeks, one move after another by Moscow over the Syrian crisis could be accompanied by the audible word “check”, leaving Washington and its minions grappling with disorientation about how to respond to the Russian moves.
At the heart of the West’s disorientation what is being exposed is its glaring criminal deceptions over Syria.
This week, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zahkarova probed the Western rationale towards Syria with this incisive proposition.
She said that if Washington insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stand down, then the United States government should henceforth remove its signature from the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. The same logical ultimatum applies to Britain and France.
That communiqué, signed three years ago by international governments, as well as the United Nations, European Union and Arab League, clearly states that “the political future of Syria must be determined by the Syrian people themselves”.
The binding document had followed lengthy negotiations between Russia, China and the Western powers, and it was signed in Geneva in the summer of 2012 under the auspices of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Hillary Clinton was the US Secretary of State at the time.
Nowhere in the Geneva accord is it mentioned that Syria’s Assad should relinquish power.
It merely endorses a political process of dialogue among Syrian parties, the outcome of which is to be mandated by the Syrian people. In fact, two years after the communiqué was signed the Syrian people voted by a huge majority to re-elect Assad as the country’s leader.
Yet Western powers continue to assert that Assad “has to go”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel this week appeared to break the Western ranks when she said that Bashar al-Assad must be part of the political negotiations to solve the Syrian conflict.
Nevertheless, Washington, Britain and France remain implacable in their insistence that the Syrian president has to stand down. In other words, these Western powers are unilaterally demanding regime change in spite of the fact that they signed up to the Geneva Communiqué, which makes no such stipulation. With typical unreasonable arrogance, Washington and its allies appoint themselves to over-ride the sovereign right of the Syrian nation.
Last week, while in London, Clinton’s successor John Kerry repeated the American demand that “Assad must go”. Speaking alongside his British counterpart Philip Hammond, Kerry said he was open to talks with Russia on the Syrian crisis, but that the bottom-line for Washington and London was that the Syrian leader had to vacate office.
“We’re prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?” said Kerry.
The New York Times elucidated further Washington’s intentions. It reported: “[American] officials indicated that the larger goal was to draw the Russians into a political process that would ultimately replace Syria’s government of President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally of the Kremlin.”
Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesman, has subsequently nailed that Western lie on Syria. If Washington insists on Assad’s removal, then the US government should repudiate the Geneva Communiqué. “Otherwise,” said Zakharova, “the US is deceiving everybody.” Check!
This follows the move earlier this month when Russia placed its support full square behind the Assad government. Moscow has delivered military aid to Damascus in line with legal bilateral agreements.
Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that the Syrian government is the primary offensive force against the terrorist networks tearing Syria apart.
Therefore, if Washington and its Western allies claim to be fighting against terrorism in Syria, then they should have no objection to Russia’s support for the government in Damascus. Check!
Again, the Russian move deftly exposes another Western deception.
Since Moscow beefed up its military support for Syria, Washington, London and Paris have been reeling from their own contradictions. The West says it is alarmed that Moscow is “shoring up the Assad regime”.
But if these powers were genuinely in the business of “degrading and defeating” the so-called Islamic State and other jihadist terror groups, then why should they be alarmed by Russia supporting the principal force – the Syrian government – in the battle against the terrorists?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out that the West’s logic is “upside-down”. He has also commented that the West’s “anti-terror” coalition bombing Syria and Iraq does not appear to be genuine in its ostensible aims. After a year of US-led air strikes on Syria and Iraq, the terror groups seem to be stronger than ever.
Clearly, the West’s “anti-terror” strategy is ineffective, suggesting that the real aim of the West is to further weaken the Syrian state.
Scrabbling around to find some cover for its naked upside-down logic, Washington, London and Paris are now saying that they fear that Russia’s military intervention in Syria “may lead to an escalation of the conflict” or to a clash with the US-led coalition.
John Kerry and his Western counterparts have even resorted to this oxymoron. Kerry said the “root cause” of the refugee crisis assailing Europe is the “conflict in Syria” and that is, in his view, further “rationale” for the removal of President Assad. How convoluted can you get?
The four-year-old conflict in Syria is so obviously the driver for millions of Syrian refugees. But the “root cause” that Kerry so deceptively misplaces is the criminal covert war of regime change that Washington has launched on that country, along with the collusion of Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Arab dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
That US-led regime-change war has involved unleashing thousands of terrorist mercenaries on Syria. It’s a well-worn American strategy played time and again in different parts of world down through the decades. Ukraine and Yemen are two other current case studies of Washington’s covert state-sponsored terrorism. Fiendishly, Western propaganda in the form of “Western news journalism” helps to mask what should be transparent criminality committed by Washington and its so-called allies and clients.
Deciphering the West’s lies and deceptions is not always an easy task.
But thanks to Russia’s logical policy, the West’s lies in Syria are at last being nailed. We might even say “Checkmated!”