The United States has called for trying Russia for committing war crimes in Syria. Secretary of state John Kerry said in Washington on Friday, “Russia and the (Syrian) regime owe the world more than an explanation… These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. And those who commit these would and should be held accountable… We also need to keep the pressure up on Russia with respect to the implementation of the Minsk agreement (on Ukraine). And we… make it clear publicly that if we cannot implement Minsk in the next months or arrive at a clear plan as to exactly how it is going to be implemented… then it will be absolutely necessary to roll over the sanctions (against Russia).”
To be sure, the sub-zero temperature in US-Russia relations has dipped by another ten degrees centigrade. Even in the height of Cold War, when the former Soviet Union used to be an ‘evil empire’, Washington had never sought that the Kremlin officials should be tried for war crimes. Nor had the Soviet Union.
Even after killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Libyan and Afghan civilians and the wanton destruction of those countries in the past decade or so, and even though the US is actively taking part in the war in Yemen, Moscow never demanded that George W. Bush or Barack Obama – or even Hillary Clinton – should be tried as war criminals.
What has come over Kerry? He sounds a frustrated man who’s lost his cool. He realizes that his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov outwitted him, whereas he’d thought he’s clever by half.
The US hoped to somehow preserve the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra in order to spearhead one more final push for ‘regime change’ in Syria – if not under the Obama presidency, at least under the next president. Indeed, Lavrov saw through Kerry’s ploy – ultimately, Kerry, a clever politician with some experience in diplomacy, couldn’t be a match for the immensely experienced career diplomat and intellectual in Lavrov. So, Lavrov played along with a poker face and entrapped ‘John’ in a peace agreement that Pentagon would never approve, which actually aimed at making mincemeat out of Nusra.
On the other hand, Kerry feels frustrated that President Barack Obama was not willing to open a parallel track of military intervention in Syria, which, he thought, would have given a much-needed swagger to his diplomatic track. Kerry belongs to the old school of power brokers in Washington, who subscribe to the notion that the Marines lead the way for diplomats. (He was a Marine himself once.)
But Kerry did not realise that the ground beneath the American feet had shifted in the Middle East. The US’ relations with Turkey as well as Saudi Arabia, the two key regional powers who fuelled Syrian conflict, are today embittered to the point that Washington is playing solo in the amphitheatre although the orchestra has walked out on the conductor. (Sabah )
What intrigues me is why Kerry wants only the Russian and Syrian leaders to be tried for war crimes. Why not Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as well, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps? But then, Kerry cannot utter that four-letter word – Iran – because the engagement with that country is supposed to be the finest legacy of Obama presidency. Yet, had it not been for the IRGC, which sacrificed so heavily in blood and treasure, the Syrian government could never have gained the upper hand in the fighting. (Times of Israel )
The third fascinating aspect of Kerry’s apocalyptic remark is that he seems to suggest that the US still intends to win the war in Syria. After all, it is a consistent trait of history that the winner dispatches the defeated to the war crimes tribunal – be it Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein.
Put differently, does Kerry mean that the US intends to defeat Russia in a war? Is it his prognosis that World War III is round the corner? Doesn’t he comprehend that the total annihilation of his own country in a nuclear showdown with Russia would make all this talk about war crimes irrelevant?
Kerry must be feeling frustrated that the Nobel went to the Columbian president! What a way to end a distinguished career in politics and diplomacy when there is no grand recognition for the good work done! Kerry leaves the stage of international diplomacy an embittered man.
Lavrov is unlikely to respond. What can he say, after all? Kerry overreached to reverse the tide of history and the result was fairly predictable. No matter his valiant attempts, he couldn’t erase the geopolitical reality that the US is a power in retreat. Not only in the Middle East, but also in Asia-Pacific.
The sight of a superpower walking into the sunset is never a pleasant sight. It was the case with Rome, Byzantines, Spain, Portugal, France, Britain. Look at the latest tiding from the South China Sea. (Wall Street Journal )
Secretary of State John Kerry has engaged in another rush to judgment blaming the Russians for an attack on a United Nations relief convoy in Syria before any thorough investigation could be conducted and thus prejudicing whatever might follow, as he did with the Syrian sarin case in 2013 and the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
Eager to go on the propaganda offensive – especially after a U.S. military airstrike last Saturday killed scores of Syrian soldiers who were battling the Islamic State in eastern Syria – Kerry pounced on an initial report that the attack on the convoy on Monday was an airstrike and then insisted that the Russians must have been responsible because one of their jets was supposedly in the area.
But the United Nations – and I’m told CIA analysts – have not ruled out the possibility that the convoy was instead hit by a surface-to-surface missile. On Friday, a source briefed by U.S. intelligence said one fear is that the jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham, which has fought alongside Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front but is deemed to be part of the “moderate” opposition, may have used a U.S.-supplied TOW missile in the attack.
Ahrar al-Sham, like some other jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, has objected to limited cease-fires arranged by the Russians and the Americans, which still allowed attacks on its ally, the recently rebranded Nusra Front. Ahrar al-Sham thus had a motive for destroying the aid convoy, an act which indeed has upended efforts to negotiate an end to the five-year-old conflict and led to bloody new attacks inside the embattled city of Aleppo on Friday.
Another possibility was that a Syrian government warplane was targeting a rebel artillery piece traveling alongside the convoy and struck the convoy by accident. But the assignment of blame required additional investigation, as other international officials acknowledged.
On Tuesday, a day before Kerry’s outburst, the U.N. revised its initial statement citing an airstrike, with Jens Laerke, a humanitarian affairs representative for the U.N., saying: “We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked.” He called the earlier reference to an airstrike a drafting error.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday, Kerry made his high-profile denunciation of the Russians at the U.N. Security Council, the same venue where Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 presented a false case against Iraq for possessing hidden stockpiles of WMD. In fiery comments, Kerry accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of living “in a parallel universe” in denying Russian responsibility.
“The eyewitnesses will tell you what happened,” Kerry said. “The place turned into hell and fighter jets were in the sky.”
Yet, the two points don’t necessarily connect. Just because there are jets in the sky doesn’t mean they fired the rocket that struck the convoy. They might have, but to determine that – and if so, who was flying the jet that fired the missile – requires more thorough study.
Kerry also sought to excuse the U.S. airstrike near Deir ez-Zor last Saturday that killed some 62 Syrian soldiers, saying: “We did it, a terrible accident. And within moments of it happening, we acknowledged it. … But I got to tell you, people running around with guns on the ground, from the air, is a very different thing from trucks in a convoy with big U.N. markings all over them.”
But what Kerry ignored was the fact that the United States has no legal authority to be conducting military operations inside Syria, attacks supposedly targeting the terrorist Islamic State but lacking the approval of the Syrian government. In other words, under international law, any such U.S. attacks are acts of aggression and thus war crimes.
The mainstream U.S. news media, however, has little regard for international law, at least when the U.S. government is violating it, nor particular care for factual details. Despite the U.N.’s uncertainty about what struck the convoy, The New York Times continued to report the airstrike as a flat fact.
On Thursday, the Times wrote, “a convoy of trucks taking aid to the besieged of Aleppo was destroyed in a deadly airstrike.” Strangely, later in the article, the Times does note that “the United Nations has not confirmed what struck its trucks.”
A History of Prejudgment
Kerry also has a history of jumping ahead of a story and then going silent when further information is developed.
On Aug. 30, 2013, Kerry gave a thunderous speech virtually declaring war on Syria for supposedly launching a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, that killed hundreds of people. On Aug. 31, however, President Obama pulled the rug out from under Kerry by shelving plans for a retaliatory bombing campaign, in part, because U.S. and British intelligence analysts expressed doubts that the Syrian government was responsible.
Later, evidence built up supporting a counter thesis that the sarin attack was launched by Syrian rebels trying to draw the U.S. military into the conflict on their side. In other words, Kerry almost put the U.S. government in position of aiding Al Qaeda or the Islamic State overrunning Damascus under dubious if not false pretenses. [See Consortiunews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria Sarin Case.”]
But U.N. investigators have remained under intense pressure to give the U.S. government something so it can keep alive the theme of Syria’s government using chemical weapons, even after Syria agreed to surrender all its chemical weapons in 2013. The U.N. did so in late August in blaming the Syrian government for two thinly evidenced cases of jerry-rigged chlorine bombs, after brushing aside witness testimony that rebels were staging such attacks for propaganda purposes.
Regarding the sarin case, the U.S. government never formally recanted Kerry’s rush to judgment allowing the conventional wisdom inside Official Washington (and its compliant mainstream media) to remain that Obama failed to enforce his “red line” against use of chemical weapons.
Kerry was at it again just three days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, insisting that the U.S. government had radar and other conclusive evidence showing exactly where the missile was fired and making clear that Russian-backed rebels were responsible with the Russians also at fault for giving the rebels the anti-aircraft weapon.
However, after CIA and other Western intelligence analysts had more time to review what actually happened – and found that only Ukrainian government forces had anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of shooting down a plane at 33,000 feet – the U.S. government went silent, refusing to make public its evidence but keeping alive the impression that the Russians were at fault.
With the U.S. government keeping its key evidence secret, the Dutch-led investigations into the crash have floundered. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board could only put the likely missile firing position within a 320-square-kilometer area including land held by both the rebels and the government. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Ever Curiouser MH-17 Case.”]
On Sept. 28, a Dutch-led-but-Ukrainian-dominated Joint Investigation Committee (JIT) is scheduled to release a report that is supposed to finally say where the missile was fired, more than two years after the tragedy. Given the influence of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service over JIT, the likelihood is that the report will try to keep alive the impression that the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible.
A source who’s been following the investigation said the Dutch have resisted the outright falsification of the findings because many of the 298 victims were Dutch citizens and the victims’ families have been pressing for all sides – the United States, Ukraine and Russia – to supply whatever evidence they can. But the Western demands for propaganda to support the New Cold War with Russia are strong.
Syria has become another battlefield in that information war with tragic events being used as propaganda clubs by the various sides to beat one another, rather than moments for careful review of the evidence and assessment of accountability.
Part of this propaganda overload results from the U.S. government and various Western non-governmental organizations funding and training activists in the art of using social media for propaganda purposes. While these activists report on some real events, they also slant their coverage to advance their agenda of “regime change” in Syria.
The problem is compounded because the Western mainstream media has taken up Syrian “regime change” as a beloved cause rather than a topic for objective reporting. The New York Times and other major news outlets rely credulously on anti-government activists, such as the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, for information about what’s happening on the ground with statements from the Syrian or Russian governments treated with open disdain.
The larger tragedy of exploiting these human tragedies for propaganda purposes – whether the sarin attack, the MH-17 shoot-down or now the convoy bombing – is that these deaths of innocents become just excuses to inflict more deaths and ultimately to push the world closer to a new world war.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ruled out the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria, stressing that such a measure would merely complicate the ongoing crisis in the Arab country and strengthen foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants on the ground.
“A no-fly zone (in Syria) will benefit terrorists, who have everything except for military aircraft,” Rouhani said during a presser after his speech at the 71st United Nations General Assembly session in New York on Thursday.
“They have mortar shells, tanks, missiles and armored personnel carriers. They have cannons and artillery batteries but no warplanes. The creation of a no-fly zone is a not a right step. This is an ill-advised suggestion,” the Iranian president added.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded that Russia and the Syrian government halt anti-terror flights over the Syrian battle zones in order to “restore credibility” to the efforts aimed at resolving the Arab country’s years-long crisis.
The Iranian president noted that humanitarian disasters are unfolding in Syria as a portion of the country’s soil is under the control of terrorist groups like Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Syria’s al-Qaeda branch formerly known as al-Nusra Front).
“They kill people. They burn victims alive. The crimes we witness are unprecedented in history,” the Iranian president said.
The Iranian president further made a reference to the plight of millions of Syrians, who have been internally displaced and have not received the necessary foodstuff and medicine for months due to the foreign-backed militancy in their homeland.
He also listed the delivery of humanitarian aid, the fight against terrorism, the participation of various political groups and factions in the future Syrian government through a popular vote as the main requirements for real democracy to flourish in the crisis-hit Arab country.
‘Terrorism contagious virus’
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Iranian president highlighted the significance of combating terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, which he described as “plagued by instability and insecurity” that has “spread to other parts of the world too.”
“It has plagued Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. The terrorism virus is contagious,” Rouhani stated, adding, “The issue of terrorism must be tackled with unity and collaboration, and failure to do so will endanger all of us.”
Iran’s nuclear agreement
Broaching the subject of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, President Rouhani criticized the US government for the belated license to allow the sale of commercial airliners to Iran, stating that the green light must have been given right after the implementation of the agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on January 16.
Iran has had numerous negotiations with leading aerospace companies Boeing and Airbus before and after the implementation of the nuclear agreement, he added.
Rouhani stated that Tehran welcomes American traders, technicians, business owners plus company representatives, and is determined to expand banking ties with world countries.
The Iranian president further noted that the Islamic Republic expects the United States to stand firmly committed to its obligations under the JCPOA.
He stressed that the JCPOA is in the interest of the region and the world, and its significance remains intact even if the other side does not honor its commitments under the nuclear accord.
‘Iranian Armed Forces not seeking adventurism’
Rouhani stressed that the Iranian Armed Forces have long been present in the Persian Gulf, and they are duty-bound to defend the country’s territory and airspace, and to secure its interests in the high seas.
He pointed out that the Iranian forces are not seeking adventurism, military confrontations or the escalation of tensions, questioning the presence of US forces in the Persian Gulf when Washington is not militarily involved in a war in the Middle East.
The Iranian president added that the American forces in the region must obey international regulations, highlighting that tensions would not benefit anyone at the current tense situation in the Middle East.
Saudi ‘miscalculation’ in Yemen
“Saudi Arabia is making a miscalculation” over its aggression against Yemen. About two years of bombardment of Yemen has had no achievement for them, and has been devastating for the people of Yemen,” the Iranian president said.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni women and children are being slaughtered on a daily basis, while the country’s entire infrastructure has been destroyed, he added.
The Iranian president further noted that Saudi Arabia does not have unlimited authority over the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, and that the Riyadh regime must discharge its responsibility regarding the annual Hajj rituals.
‘Not important who wins US election’
Rouhani went on to say that it does not concern Iran who wins the forthcoming presidential election in the United States, stressing that the Islamic Republic attaches great significance to “its own national interests.”
“The next US administration will receive a proper response from Iran should it respect the Islamic Republic’s national interests and reduce tensions. But if it seeks to heighten tensions, new conditions will be created for the two countries,” the Iranian president added.
An American Original: John Kerry – From His Remarkable Recent Commencement Address At Northwestern University To The Remarkable Career That Made It Possible
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | May 9, 2016
John Kerry is, besides many other unpleasant things, a rather ridiculous man, and he has managed to prove that proposition time and time again.
He used his recent commencement address at Northwestern University to attack Donald Trump. It is difficult to understand why young graduates at one of America’s better universities would want to hear political boiler plate from a key member of a failed and dying administration, rather than the usual vaguely inspiring stuff about the future, but that is what the graduating class got for their student fees.
I suppose, as so often is the case in America, the empty prestige of having someone with a big job speak, even when they have nothing to say, mattered. After all, Hillary Clinton has collected countless millions doing exactly the same thing for audiences at investment banker and defense contractor banquets in recent years.
Well, the part of Trump on which Kerry focused was his proposal for a wall with Mexico.
I don’t like walls myself, and it is my belief that even if elected Trump, for many reasons, will not succeed in emulating the Emperor Hadrian. Still, you might expect from the point of view of a Secretary of State, supposedly gazing upon the world’s countries with an impartial, god-like eye, that if it is okay for Israel to keep building walls, and it has several new ones underway right now, all built on other people’s property, why can’t others? The reasoning in both cases, and in all other cases such as those in Kerry’s contemporary Europe where new walls of various forms are frantically being built, is the same: we need to stop unwanted people crossing the border.
Can anyone even imagine Kerry – this man who, once not long ago, reminisced over Champagne toasts about some distant relative or another of his who was allegedly part-Jewish (truly, has grovelling by a Secretary of State reached such levels before? I would have expected his entire audience either to choke or throw up) – ever saying a single word to Israel about its walls, walls which go far beyond serving Israel’s border fears to literally chopping up and destroying the land which supports millions of other people? It would be as though Trump were demanding a series of walls inside Mexico to balkanize the entire country and then set about building them himself with America’s armed forces. Now that would be utterly ridiculous, not to say criminal, but Israel’s doing just that is never called ridiculous or criminal, and it certainly is never questioned by Kerry.
And then, as though in an effort to reclaim the stature of his address from just political campaign boiler plate, Kerry’s rhetoric drifted off to the subject of a future borderless world.
Now that is an old idea that appeals greatly to me, but I know very well that Kerry is being dishonest here. The world in fact, not all that long ago, pretty much was borderless. It was precisely the rise of the modern nation state in the 19th century which killed off that amiable concept requiring no passports or visa or permissions for moving about. Of course, we are talking about precisely the kind of modern nation state which Kerry has lovingly served in expanding its power and influence over others for his entire adult life.
Kerry’s dishonesty extends into what he even means by a “borderless world.” Now, I have always believed the Apostle Paul in emphasizing deeds rather than words, so If we are to judge by Kerry’s actual acts and those of predecessor Secretaries of State such as Hillary Clinton or Madeleine Albright or Henry Kissinger, and not by the State Department’s regularly-broadcast, doubtful advertising claims, John Kerry’s concept of a “borderless world’ is one in which the United States runs everyone’s affairs, rendering the borders of individual countries meaningless.
Now, that is a concept which very much does not appeal to me, nor does it appeal, I suspect, to a great many of the world’s seven billion people and their governments.
Just recently, this dishonest and generally unpleasant man has put an ultimatum to the government of Syria, making threats that if he doesn’t see what he wants by the beginning of August, there will be serious consequences. That certainly sounds to me like a Mafia Don speaking, demanding payment of protection money from some business, or else.
John Kerry has no business telling the government of Syria to do anything, much less to dissolve itself. It is, and has been, a reasonably popular government, one which receives the support of a majority of Syrians in polls and elections. Among other reasons for its popularity is President Assad’s defence of religious minorities. Syria’s citizens form an elaborate quilt of various religions, and they know their rights to worship as they please are protected in a region of the world where that is not common. Some of Mr. Kerry’s closest working associates in the region cannot say the same thing, and indeed they include associates who are quite violent towards people of differing faiths.
The proxy forces which Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, have supported for five years in tearing Syria apart consist literally of various gangs of intolerant extremists and cut-throats. Boy, when it comes to double-speak, John Kerry is your man.
By what right does he do this? None, except that might makes right. America has supported terror in Syria, supplying weapons, platoons of cut-throats, and training while supporting the thugs of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in their logistics of destruction, all while pretending in State Department advertisement after advertisement that it opposes terror. And we’ve only just learned that Hillary Clinton supported the transfer of supplies of deadly Sarin nerve gas from Gadhafi’s stockpiles in wrecked Libya (another stunning State Department achievement) through a secret pipeline (read: Turkey) to the cut-throats in Syria where it was promptly used to kill civilians in the hope of blaming Assad and creating a casus belli for the United States (or, as Obama put it in his elliptical language, responding to Assad crossing a red line).
But John Kerry still hasn’t got what he wants in Syria, so now we have a new threat. Why is Kerry so determined to topple the government of Syria? Because Assad is an independent-minded leader, one who does not immediately say “yes, sir,” to every whim of Washington’s, and if there is anything which recent history teaches us, it is that the outfit Kerry serves has no tolerance for the independent-minded. So as to emphasize the point, Washington has left behind a trail of death and destruction in the region – perhaps a million dead and millions made refugees – all of it aimed at getting rid of inconvenient independent leaders.
This intolerance by Washington of independent-mindedness is strongly supported – supported is actually much too feeble a word, demanded being more apt, and demanded regularly over heated phone lines – by the government of America’s colony in the region, the same government to whom Kerry fears even saying so much as a word about its many walls criss-crossing other people’s land.
Quite a disgusting business I think which somehow manages to be converted by our press into “foreign policy,” just as one of its authors, John Kerry, manages to be converted into a “diplomat.’
Kerry was a rich boy who, after graduating university, started his political ascent by spending four months in Vietnam, busying himself with shooting peasants in the back from an armored speedboat racing up and down rivers. He wanted to gain some war “creds” for an anticipated political career. Apart from his killings in Vietnam, he made such a muck of things, leaving behind colleagues who had only contempt for his false heroics and self-promotion. Then our man Kerry, having returned home and seeing how badly the Vietnam War was regarded by people, decided to add some new “creds” to his resume, anti-war ones. So, no matter how the political winds turned in the future, John-boy was covered. He appeared with some anti-war demonstrators, once throwing his filthily-earned medals into a bin, from which they were later quietly retrieved for him.
As to Kerry’s actual attitude towards America’s dirty colonial wars, we have the testimony of his whole career in the Senate, as a Presidential candidate, and finally as Secretary of State, faithfully serving and supporting them.
Kerry’s campaign, in running for President in 2004, was so unbelievably dreary and empty of all meaning, that the American people actually re-elected the most disliked president in the country’s history, George Bush. That feat stands as a remarkable testimonial to John Kerry’s talents.
The only big thing Kerry seems ever to have done that was genuinely successful was marrying the woman who inherited the Heinz Ketchup and Pickle Fortune. That made him wealthy beyond his dreams, perhaps planting in his brain fanciful thoughts of an ambitious young George Washington marrying the widow, Martha Custis, said to have been the wealthiest woman in the American colonies.
When John Kerry says anything on any topic, his listeners would be wise to consider the source, for even though he walks around in the appointed robes of America’s Secretary of State, he is pretty much a life-long, ambitious, and dishonest failure.
US Secretary of State John Kerry wants to draw “absolute” lines across Syria to create the Western “areas of influence” there. Such an approach resembles nothing so much as neo-colonialism, experts say.
The idea to create spheres of influence in Syria voiced recently by US Secretary of State John Kerry clearly indicates that Washington continues to pursue its Plan B in Syria.
In his interview with The New York Times editorial board Kerry narrated that the White House proposed to draw clear lines in Syria to the Kremlin.
“We’ve even proposed drawing a line, an absolute line, and saying, ‘You don’t go over there, we don’t go over here, and anything in between is fair game.’ And they are considering that, and I think we will get there in the next week or so,” Kerry told the editorial board.
However, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, such an approach is oversimplified.
“This approach is slightly simplistic. The principal goal is to fight against terrorism [in Syria],” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference on Monday, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
It should be noted that Kerry’s ‘offer’ followed the Saudi-backed High Negotiations’ Committee (HNC) decision to suspend its participation in the Geneva talks on April 21.
On that day most HNC members left Geneva in protest against the ongoing violence in Syria which they blindly blame on Damascus.
The HNC is well-known for its anti-Assad stance. However, by no means the entity represents the Syrian opposition as a whole. The HNC brought together Saudi-backed rebels in Syria, including notorious Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam groups which actually share the same Islamist ideology as Daesh and al-Qaeda’s affiliate al-Nusra Front.
A day after the HNC demarche Lavrov called attention to the fact that besides the HNC there are also the Moscow and Cairo groups, Hmeymim group and the group of independent opposition members which express their willingness to continue the dialogue with Damascus over the situation in Syria.”Some people have already left [the Syrian opposition’s] High Negotiations Committee [HNC]. They disagreed that radicals ruled the committee, including Jaysh al-Islam leaders. This fact confirms that we were right while proposing to include it in the list of terrorist groups… This group, as well as Ahrar ash-Sham are actively proving in action that they fully support those anti-humane, brutal approaches used by Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra [al-Nusra Front],” the Russian Foreign Minister underscored.
According to Elena Suponina, President of the Center for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, John Kerry’s offer to divide Syria into spheres of influence with Russia means that Washington now regards Moscow as an equal player in the Middle East.
In her Op-Ed for RIA Novosti Suponina recalls, that four years ago the Obama administration did not even bother to take Russia’s interests in the region into consideration.
However, in general, the White House continues to demonstrate a double-standard approach toward Syria and other regional players, according to the expert.
“It looks as if the colonial epoch and the times of re-division of the world by global powers have returned” Suponina writes, calling attention to the fact that Western policy-makers (most notably John Kerry himself) have repeatedly claimed that it is highly inappropriate to behave “in 19th-century fashion” in the 21st century.
And now Kerry proposes to draw “absolute lines” across the Middle Eastern region, she remarks, warning that Syria is “only the beginning.”
Kerry’s “fair game” in Syria will most likely prompt more destruction and devastation. Is Washington ready to take responsibility for chaos in the region?
On the other hand, Kerry’s proposal looks rather controversial since it was Russia, not the US that was invited to Syria by the legitimate Syrian government.
In his interview with Radio Sputnik political scientist Alexander Kamkin echoed Suponina’s stance.”Genuine peace still looks a way off and it looks like the Western nations still hope to implement the Libyan scenario in Syria… They use the war with Daesh as just a means of building large coalitions, but if you look at the previous such campaigns you will see that our American ‘partners’ rarely practice what they preach,” Kamkin told Radio Sputnik.
Hans-Christof Von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, expressed his concerns regarding the fact that Washington continues to conduct a “series of experiments” in Syria.
“The Americans are never short of experiment, never short of trying something new… It is jumping from one laboratory test to another, and in the meantime the country continues to go further towards a destroyed nation,” Sponeck told Russia Today.
Interestingly enough, it seems that there is no concordance in Washington regarding what to do next in Syria.
US President Barack Obama said Sunday that he does not support the idea of creating so-called “safe” or “buffer” zones in Syria as it would need Washington’s deeper military involvement in the region.
At the same time, Obama has signaled that 250 US Special Operation Forces troops will be soon deployed in the war-torn country.
What surprised me most about the Iraq War wasn’t how wrong the expectation of happy Iraqis showering American troops with flowers was or even how badly the war would turn out – all that was predictable and indeed was predicted. But what I didn’t expect was that the U.S. government would ever admit that there were no WMD stockpiles.
I assumed that the U.S. government would do what it usually does: continue the lie to protect its “credibility.” Because that is what “credibility” has become, powerful institutions and people maintaining the aura of being right even when they’re completely wrong.
There is even a national security argument to be made: If the U.S. government must justify its actions to the American people and the world with propaganda themes, it can’t simply admit that previous ones were lies because then it would lose all “credibility.” The next time, the public might not be as open to the propaganda. The people might catch on.
And that would present a problem to the U.S. government, which feels it needs the approval or at least the confused acquiescence of the American people and to a lesser extent the world before charging off to war or starting some expensive confrontation with a foreign power.
So, in a sick kind of way, it makes more sense to stick with the lie and rely on a corrupted mainstream media to hold the line. Anyone who dares challenge the falsehoods then can be discredited or marginalized.
That’s why I was surprised when the U.S. government admitted that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq and no active nuclear-weapons program, either. I was expecting that President George W. Bush’s team would assemble some buckets of chemicals found at Baghdad swimming pools – pile them up in front of a credulous media – and announce, “we got here just in time!”
After all, the U.S. government rarely corrects its misstatements and outright lies, no matter how significant they may be. For instance, there’s never been a formal admission that the Gulf of Tonkin claims, which launched the Vietnam War, were false.
On a smaller scale, I encountered something similar when I was covering the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Reagan administration massively exaggerated the discovery of some useless World War I era rifles in a musty-smelling warehouse to claim that the little Caribbean island was about to be transformed into the hub of terrorism for the Western Hemisphere.
As absurd as the claim was, it worked well enough amid a well-staged propaganda campaign complete with American students kissing the tarmac when they returned to the United States and members of Congress waving around some Grenada government contracts — in Russian.
Dig in the Heels
We are now seeing similar dig-in-the-heels strategies regarding Syria and Ukraine. Though I’m told that U.S. intelligence knows that the Obama administration’s propaganda is no longer operative on the 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus and the 2014 shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the storylines won’t be retracted or corrected.
To do so – to say that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces weren’t responsible for the sarin attack and that the Russians weren’t behind the MH-17 catastrophe – would destroy the propaganda narratives that have been useful in justifying the shipment of arms to Syrian rebels and the launching of a new Cold War against Moscow.
If the American people and the world public were informed that they had been misled on such sensitive topics – and that the real guilty parties might include people getting American support – that could devastate U.S. government “credibility” and disrupt future plans.
Therefore, mounting evidence that Assad didn’t cross President Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013, must be brushed aside or forgotten.
In a classic show of cognitive dissonance, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Obama that U.S. intelligence had no “slam dunk” evidence of Assad’s guilt. But Goldberg then continued his long article on Obama’s foreign policy as if Clapper’s warning never happened and as if Assad were indeed guilty.
Since then, major American columnists writing about Goldberg’s article have simply ignored the Clapper revelation, which tended to confirm earlier reporting at some independent Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, and by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who traced the sarin to a likely operation by Islamic radicals aided by Turkish intelligence. But those Assad-didn’t-do-it reports were almost universally ignored, except for the occasional ridicule.
The problem for the columnists – and for the rest of Official Washington’s insider community – was that Everyone Who Mattered had already declared as flat fact that Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” with the sarin attack. So what would happen to their “credibility” if they admitted that they were wrong again, since many also had been famously wrong about Iraq’s WMD?
Plus, who could force these Important People to face up to their own misfeasance and malfeasance? Does anyone expect that Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought war against Syria in retaliation for the sarin attack, will retract what he claimed repeatedly that “we know” about Assad’s guilt? What would that do to Kerry’s “credibility”?
Kerry also was on the front lines pointing the finger of blame at Russia for the MH-17 shoot-down on July 17, 2014. He rushed off to the Sunday TV shows just three days after the tragedy over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people and made the case that Moscow and the ethnic Russian rebels were to blame.
A source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in that same time frame was telling me that it was already clear to them that an element of the Ukrainian military was responsible. But hanging the slaughter of all those innocents around Russian President Vladimir Putin’s neck was just too tempting – and served U.S. propaganda needs to get Europe to join in economic sanctions against Russia and to let the U.S. government rev up a new and costly Cold War.
But those U.S. propaganda desires have put the Dutch in a difficult spot, since they are leading the investigation into the crash which departed from Amsterdam and carried many Dutch citizens en route to Kuala Lumpur. Part of the Dutch problem is that Dutch intelligence has confirmed that the only Buk or other anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine capable of hitting a commercial airliner at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian military.
Recently, the Obama administration also had to decide how to respond to a letter from Thomas Schansman, the father of the only U.S. citizen killed in the crash, Quinn Schansman. In a letter dated Jan. 5, 2016, Schansman asked Secretary Kerry to release the radar and other evidence that he claimed to have in summer 2014 that supposedly showed where the missile was fired, a basic fact that the Dutch investigation has yet to nail down.
One of the many anomalies of the MH-17 case was Kerry’s assertion within three days of the crash that the U.S. government had precise information about the launch but then has left Dutch investigators struggling to figure out that detail for nearly two years.
On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “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.”
At a news conference on Aug. 12, 2014, Kerry made similar claims: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this airplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
As the months wore on – passing the first anniversary of the crash and then after last October’s inconclusive report by the Dutch Safety Board – Thomas Schansman finally reached out to Kerry directly with his Jan. 5 letter. More weeks and months passed before Schansman received Kerry’s reply on March 24, although the letter was curiously dated March 7.
The letter offered no new information as Kerry stuck to the old story. Recently, I was told that a possible explanation for the delay in the letter’s delivery was that a discussion was underway inside the Obama administration about whether to finally come clean about MH-17 even if that would clear Russia and the ethnic Russian rebels and shift the blame onto a rogue or poorly disciplined unit of the Ukrainian military.
But the decision was made to stand pat, the source said, explaining that otherwise “the narrative would be reversed,” throwing the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government on the defensive and negating some of the propaganda advantages gained against Russia.
Plus, if the U.S. government admitted that it had played such a cynical propaganda game, which also smacks of obstruction of justice by giving the actual culprits nearly two years to make their escape and cover their tracks, there would be a loss of “credibility” in Washington.
Apparently, it made more geopolitical sense to keep the heat on Russia and then to lean on the Dutch authorities to fit their investigative findings around the needs of the NATO alliance. That is, after all, how the U.S. government usually operates. It’s also why I was so surprised that the truth finally was told about Iraq not possessing the WMD.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The United States and its regional allies have prepared plans to supply more-powerful weapons to militants fighting the Syrian government, amid concerns that a landmark ceasefire is threatening to fall apart.
US officials said the so-called Plan B is aimed at providing vetted “moderate” militant units with weapons system that would enable them to launch attacks against Syrian government aircraft and artillery positions, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
US-backed militants carried out a series of attacks in central and southern Syria on Monday even as the Damascus government was observing a ceasefire and holding talks with opposition groups to end the years-long conflict.
A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia went into effect on February 27 across Syria. The truce agreement does not apply to Daesh and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. A new round of discussions is to resume between the two sides in Geneva this week.
Concern has been growing that the recent uptick in violence is putting intense strain on the fragile truce.
US Secretary of State John Kerry floated the idea of a “Plan B” for the first time late in February, stressing that partitioning of Syria was on the table if the ceasefire collapsed.
The preparations for the “Plan B” were discussed at a secret gathering of intelligence chiefs in the Middle East before the ceasefire went into effect and in exchanges between intelligence services, the Journal said.
During those sessions, the CIA gave assurances to allies that they would be given approval to expand arms shipments to Syria’s “moderate” militants.
Coalition members reportedly agreed to the outlines of the plan, but the White House must approve the list of proposed weapons systems before they can be sent to Syria.
“The agreement is to up the ante, if needed,” a senior US official said.
The plan for introducing more sophisticated weapons into the Syrian battlefield is perceived as being part of a broader behind-the-scenes effort by the US to counter its adversaries in the conflict.
US officials have privately warned their Russian counterparts that the armed opposition will persist in Syria and that a return to full-scale fighting could put further strain on Russian pilots there, according to the Journal.
In addition, Pentagon officials said in recent weeks that the White House was looking to “greatly increase” the number of special forces deployed in Syria. The US military also said that it had resumed training new units of militants operating in the country.
The discussions for a possible escalation of the proxy war in Syria have been fueled to a large extent by a relatively successful Russian campaign in the country.
Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry will not offer any apologies to the people of Hiroshima over the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city, a senior US official says.
Kerry arrived in Hiroshima on Sunday and is reportedly arranging for a trip by President Barack Obama as the first US president to visit the city, as part of his trip to Japan for a G7 summit in late May.
“If you are asking whether the secretary of state came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no,” a senior US official told reporters Sunday, on condition of anonymity.
“If you are asking whether the secretary and I think all Americans and all Japanese are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen, the answer is yes,” he noted.
Kerry and a number of other foreign ministers are slated to visit Peace Memorial Park as well as a museum dedicated to the obliteration of the city by an American atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.
The bombing killed nearly 140,000 people and was shortly followed by another US atomic bombing on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 70,000 people three days later.
Kerry was visiting the memorial to “recognize the huge loss of life” during the war, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
“It is also an acknowledgement that since the end of World War II that the United States and Japan have become the closest of friends and strong allies,” he added.
Attending the two-day G7 gathering was also on Kerry’s agenda, where he will be discussing with other leaders “urgent international political and security concerns and to speak with one, clear voice on concrete actions needed.”
Diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan will also partake in the G7 meeting.
Kerry’s trip to Japan comes after a visit to Afghanistan where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday.
Secretary of State John Kerry has rebuffed a request from the father of the only American citizen killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for Kerry to disclose the radar and other data that he cited in 2014 in claiming to know the precise location of the missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner over eastern Ukraine killing 298 people.
In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas Schansman, the father of American-Dutch citizen Quinn Schansman, asked Kerry to turn over that data to aid the investigation seeking to identify who was responsible for shooting down the plane on July 17, 2014. In a letter dated March 7, 2016, but just delivered to Thomas Schansman on Thursday, Kerry expressed his condolences and repeated his claim to know where the missile launch originated, but did not provide new details.
Kerry wrote, “The assessment I provided to the media three days following the shoot down remains unchanged, and is corroborated by the findings of the Dutch Safety Board [DSB]. Flight 17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.”
But Kerry’s assertion is not entirely correct. Despite Kerry’s claim on July 20, 2014 – three days after the shoot-down – to know the location of the missile launch, the Dutch Safety Board reported last October that it could only place the likely launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area that included territory under both government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile).
Why the U.S. government has dragged its heels about supplying the evidence that Kerry claimed to possess just days after the tragedy has become a secondary mystery to the allegations and counter-allegations about whodunit. That Kerry would not even elaborate on that information in response to the father of the lone American victim is even more striking.
In an email to me with Kerry’s letter attached, Thomas Schansman wrote, “the message is clear: no answer on my request to hand over satellite and/or radar data to DSB or public.”
Plus, Kerry’s credibility has come under a darkening cloud because of recent disclosures undermining his repeated claims on Aug. 30, 2013, that “we know” that Syrian government forces were responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. Despite Kerry’s assertions of certainty in that case, he presented no verifiable evidence and it has since been confirmed that the U.S. intelligence community lacked “slam dunk” proof.
Nearly a year after his “we know” performance regarding the Syria-sarin case, Kerry staged a reprise expressing similar certainty about the MH-17 case – again dumping the blame on the target of an intensive U.S. propaganda campaign, this time Russia, which was backing the rebels in eastern Ukraine. Kerry again failed to supply supporting evidence.
Cracks in the Story
Also, some of Kerry’s MH-17 assertions have shown cracks as more information has become available. For instance, despite Kerry’s putting the blame on the ethnic Russian rebels and their supporters in Moscow, Western intelligence now says the only functioning Buk anti-aircraft missiles in the area were under the control of the Ukrainian military.
According to Dutch intelligence – and implicitly corroborated by U.S. intelligence – Ukraine’s Buk batteries were the only anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of hitting a commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet. That information was contained in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD).
MIVD made its 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.”
MIVD 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.”
U.S. intelligence, which had eastern Ukraine under intensive overhead surveillance in summer 2014, implicitly corroborated MIVD’s conclusion in a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014. It listed weapons systems that Russia had provided the rebels but made no mention of a Buk missile battery.
In other words, based on satellite imagery and other intelligence reviewed both before and after the shoot-down, 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. If Russia had provided a Buk battery – four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks – it would have been hard to miss.
There was also logic to support the notion that a Ukrainian team may have been responsible for the MH-17 shoot-down. At the time, the Ukrainian military was mounting an offensive against the rebels, who had resisted a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had strong support among Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority in the east.
As the Ukrainian offensive claimed territory that the rebels had held, the Ukrainian military moved several Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries toward the front, presumably out of concern that Russia might directly intervene to save the rebels from annihilation. Plus, on July 16, 2014, a Ukrainian warplane was shot down apparently by an air-to-air missile believed fired by a Russian jet, giving reason for the Ukrainian anti-aircraft batteries to be on edge the next day, looking for Russian aircraft possibly intruding into Ukraine’s airspace.
But this evidence – that the only operational Buk batteries were under control of the Ukrainian military – did not fit the U.S. propaganda needs of blaming Russia and the rebels. Any indication that the post-coup Ukrainian government was responsible would instead put the U.S.-backed Kiev regime in a negative light.
So, it makes sense in a “strategic communications” kind of way for Kerry and other U.S. officials to leave the conventional wisdom – blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 298 deaths – in place for as long as possible. Kerry told Thomas Schansman that he and the other families of victims should expect a long wait before the perpetrators are brought to justice.
In the letter to Thomas Schansman, Secretary Kerry wrote, “As a father myself, I can only begin to imagine the pain and loss you have endured with your son’s tragic passing. My heart goes out to you and your family.”
Kerry then added, “This investigative work is not easy, and bringing those responsible to justice will not be a quick process. However, Quinn, your family, and the families of all the others who died that day deserve such justice, and we will continue to do everything possible to achieve it.”
But the “everything” doesn’t apparently include releasing the data that Kerry claimed to have just days after the crash.
On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “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.”
In the letter asking Kerry to release that data, Thomas Schansman noted Kerry’s similar comments to a news 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 point of mystery to the Dutch-led investigation. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board put the missile launch in a 320-square-kilometer area. 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 DSB’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.
Earlier this month, Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team, told the families of the victims that the inquiry had yet to pin down the missile launch site, saying “In the second half of the year we expect exact results.” In other words, on the second anniversary of the shoot-down, the investigators looking into the MH-17 shoot-down still might not know what Kerry claimed to know three days afterwards.
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.
A crucial problem in news media coverage of the Syrian civil war has been how to characterize the relationship between the so-called “moderate” opposition forces armed by the CIA, on one hand, and the Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra Front (and its close ally Ahrar al Sham), on the other.
But it is a politically sensitive issue for U.S. policy, which seeks to overthrow Syria’s government without seeming to make common cause with the movement responsible for 9/11, and the system of news production has worked effectively to prevent the news media from reporting it fully and accurately.
The Obama administration has long portrayed the opposition groups it has been arming with anti-tank weapons as independent of Nusra Front. In reality, the administration has been relying on the close cooperation of these “moderate” groups with Nusra Front to put pressure on the Syrian government.
The United States and its allies – especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey – want the civil war to end with the dissolution of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by U.S. rivals like Russia and Iran.
Reflecting the fact that Nusra Front was created by Al Qaeda and has confirmed its loyalty to it, the administration designated Nusra as a terrorist organization in 2013. But the U.S. has carried out very few airstrikes against it since then, in contrast to the other offspring of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh), which has been the subject of intense air attacks from the U.S. and its European allies.
The U.S. has remained silent about Nusra Front’s leading role in the military effort against Assad, concealing the fact that Nusra’s success in northwest Syria has been a key element in Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic strategy for Syria.
When Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government began last September, targeting not only ISIS but also the Nusra Front and U.S.-supported groups allied with them against the Assad regime, the Obama administration immediately argued that Russian airstrikes were targeting “moderate” groups rather than ISIS, and insisted that those strikes had to stop.
The willingness of the news media to go beyond the official line and report the truth on the ground in Syria was thus put to the test. It had been well-documented that those “moderate” groups had been thoroughly integrated into the military campaigns directed by Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham in the main battlefront of the war in northwestern Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
For example, a dispatch from Aleppo last May in Al Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab), a daily newspaper financed by the Qatari royal family, revealed that every one of at least ten “moderate” factions in the province supported by the CIA had joined the Nusra-run province command Fateh Halab (Conquest of Aleppo). Formally the command was run by Ahrar al Sham, and Nusra Front was excluded from it.
But as Al Araby’s reporter explained, that exclusion “means that the operation has a better chance of receiving regional and international support.” That was an indirect way of saying that Nusra’s supposed exclusion was a device aimed at facilitating the Obama administration’s approval of sending more TOW missiles to the “moderates” in the province, because the White House could not support groups working directly with a terrorist organization.
A further implication was that Nusra Front was allowing “moderate” groups to obtain those weapons from the United States and its Saudi and Turkish allies, because those groups were viewed as too weak to operate independently of the Salafist-jihadist forces — and because some of those arms would be shared with Nusra Front and Ahrar.
After Nusra Front was formally identified as a terrorist organization for the purposes of a Syrian ceasefire and negotiations, it virtually went underground in areas close to the Turkish border.
A journalist who lives in northern Aleppo province told Al Monitor that Nusra Front had stopped flying its own flag and was concealing its troops under those of Ahrar al Sham, which had been accepted by the United States as a participant in the talks. That maneuver was aimed at supporting the argument that “moderate” groups and not Al Qaeda were being targeted by Russian airstrikes.
But a review of the coverage of the targeting of Russian airstrikes and the role of U.S.-supported armed groups in the war during the first few weeks in the three most influential U.S. newspapers with the most resources for reporting accurately on the issue—the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal – reveals a pattern of stories that tilted strongly in the direction desired by the Obama administration, either ignoring the subordination of the “moderate” groups to Nusra Front entirely or giving it only the slightest mention.
In an Oct. 1, 2015 article, Washington Post Beirut correspondent Liz Sly wrote that the Russian airstrikes were being “conducted against one of the few areas in the country where moderate rebels still have a foothold and from which the Islamic State was ejected more than a year and a half ago.”
To her credit, Sly did report, “Some of the towns struck are strongholds of recently formed coalition Jaish al Fateh,” which she said included Nusra Front and “an assortment of Islamist and moderate factions.” What was missing, however, was the fact that Jaish al Fateh was not merely a “coalition” but a military command structure, meaning that a much tighter relationship existed between the U.S.-supported “moderates” and the Al Qaeda franchise.
Sly referred specifically to one strike that hit a training camp in the outskirts of a town in Idlib province belonging to Suquor al-Jabal, which had been armed by the CIA.
But readers could not evaluate that statement without the crucial fact, reported in the regional press, that Suquor al-Jabal was one of the many CIA-supported organizations that had joined the Fateh Halab (“Conquest of Aleppo”), the military command center in Aleppo ostensibly run by Ahrar al Sham, Nusra Front’s closest ally, but in fact under firm Nusra control. The report thus conveyed the false impression that the CIA-supported rebel group was still independent of Nusra Front.
An article by New York Times Beirut correspondent Anne Barnard (co-authored by the Times stringer in Syria Karam Shoumali — Oct. 13, 2015) appeared to veer off in the direction of treating the U.S.-supported opposition groups as part of a new U.S./Russian proxy war, thus drawing attention away from the issue of whether the Obama administration support for “moderate” groups was actually contributing to the political-military power of Al Qaeda in Syria.
Under the headline “US Weaponry Is Turning Syria Into Proxy War With Russia,” it reported that armed opposition groups had just received large shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles that had to be approved by the United States. Quoting the confident statements of rebel commanders about the effectiveness of the missiles and the high morale of rebel troops, the story suggested that arming the “moderates” was a way for the United States to make them the primary force on one side of a war pitting the United States against Russia in Syria.
Near the end of the story, however, Barnard effectively undermined that “proxy war” theme by citing the admission by commanders of U.S.-supported brigades of their “uncomfortable marriage of necessity” with the Al Qaeda franchise, “because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front.”
Referring to the capture of Idlib the previous spring by the opposition coalition, Barnard recalled that the TOW missiles had “played a major role in the insurgent advances that eventually endangered Mr. Assad’s rule.” But, she added:
“While that would seem like a welcome development for United States policy makers, in practice it presented another quandary, given that the Nusra Front was among the groups benefiting from the enhanced firepower.”
Unfortunately, Barnard’s point that U.S.-supported groups were deeply embedded in an Al Qaeda-controlled military structure was buried at the end of a long piece, and thus easily missed. The headline and lead ensured that, for the vast majority of readers, that point would be lost in the larger thrust of the article.
The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous approached the problem from a different angle but with the same result. He wrote a story on Oct. 5 reflecting what he said was anger on the part of U.S. officials that the Russians were deliberately targeting opposition groups that the CIA had supported.
Entous reported that U.S. officials believed the Syrian government wanted those groups targeted because of their possession of TOW missiles, which had been the key factor in the opposition’s capture of Idlib earlier in the year. But nowhere in the article was the role of CIA-supported groups within military command structures dominated by Nusra Front even acknowledged.
Still another angle on the problem was adopted in an Oct. 12 article by Journal Beirut correspondent Raja Abdulrahim, who described the Russian air offensive as having spurred U.S.-backed rebels and the Nusra Front to form a “more united front against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Adbulrahim thus acknowledged the close military collaboration with Nusra Front, but blamed it all on the Russian offensive.
And the story ignored the fact that those same opposition groups had already joined military command arrangements in Idlib and Aleppo earlier in 2015, in anticipation of victories across northeast Syria.
The image in the media of the U.S.-supported armed opposition as operating independently from Nusra Front, and as victims of Russian attacks, persisted into early 2016. But in February, the first cracks in that image appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times.
Reporting on the negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a partial ceasefire that began on Feb. 12, Washington Post associate editor and senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung wrote on Feb. 19 that an unresolved problem was how to decide which organizations were to be considered “terrorist groups” in the ceasefire agreement.
In that context, DeYoung wrote, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic.”
It was the first time any major news outlet had reported that U.S.-supported armed opposition and Nusra Front front troops were “intermingled” on the ground. And in the very next sentence DeYoung dropped what should have been a political bombshell: She reported that Kerry had proposed in the Munich negotiations to “leave Jabhat al Nusra off limits to bombing, as part of a ceasefire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”
At the same time, Kerry was publicly demanding in a speech at the Munich conference that Russia halt its attacks on “legitimate opposition groups” as a condition for a ceasefire. Kerry’s negotiating position reflected the fact that CIA groups were certain to be hit in strikes on areas controlled by Nusra Front, as well as the reality that Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham were central to the success of the U.S.-backed military effort against Assad.
In the end, however, Lavrov rejected the proposal to protect Nusra Front targets from Russian airstrikes, and Kerry dropped that demand, allowing the joint U.S./Russian announcement of the partial ceasefire on Feb. 22.
Up to that point, maps of the Syrian war in the Post and Times had identified zones of control only for “rebels” without showing where Nusra Front forces were in control. But on the same day as the announcement, the New York Times published an “updated” map, accompanied by text stating that Nusra Front “is embedded in the area of Aleppo and northwest toward the Turkish border.”
At the State Department briefing the next day, reporters grilled spokesman Mark Toner on whether U.S.-supported rebel forces were “commingled” with Nusra Front forces in Aleppo and northward. After a very long exchange on the subject, Toner said, “Yes, I believe there is some commingling of these groups.” And he went on to say, speaking on behalf of the International Syria Support Group, which comprises all the countries involved in the Syrian peace negotiations, including the U.S. and Russia:
“We, the ISSG, have been very clear in saying that Al Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] are not part of any kind of cease-fire or any kind of negotiated cessation of hostilities. So if you hang out with the wrong folks, then you make that decision. … You choose who hang out with, and that sends a signal.”
Although I pointed out the significance of the statement (Truthout, Feb. 24, 2016), no major news outlet saw fit to report that remarkable acknowledgement by the State Department spokesperson. Nevertheless, the State Department had clearly alerted the Washington Post and the New York Times to the fact that the relationships between the CIA-supported groups and Nusra Front were much closer than it had ever admitted in the past.
Kerry evidently calculated that the pretense that the “moderate” armed groups were independent of Al Nusra front would open him to a political attack from Republicans and the media if they were hit by Russian airstrikes. So it was no longer useful politically to try to obscure that reality from the media.
In fact, the State Department now seemed interested in inducing as many of those armed groups as possible to separate themselves more clearly from the Nusra Front.
The twists and turns in the three major newspapers’ coverage of the issue of relations between U.S.-supported opposition groups and Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria thus show how major news sources slighted or steered clear of the fact that U.S.-client armed groups were closely intertwined with a branch of Al Qaeda — until they were prompted by signals from U.S. officials to revise their line and provide a more honest portrayal of Syria’s armed opposition.
Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist and historian on US national security policy, is the winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014.
Dutch MPs have held a parliamentary debate on the ongoing investigation into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. The discussion focused on radar data and satellite imagery that US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the United States possessed and which it called strong evidence.
“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,” Kerry said in a July 2014 interview.
Question 1. Why did not the US provide this information to the Dutch investigators?
The Dutch MPs and members of the Dutch Safety Board insisted that they had seen no evidence of what John Kerry described as “irrefutable proof.”
Question 2. Why is the investigation taking so long?
The parliamentarians also complained about the investigation into the MH17 disaster taking too long and obvious attempts to keep the public in the dark about its progress.
Question 3. Why haven’t the key documents related to the investigation been made available to the Dutch MPs?
Some important documents related to the probe have been classified indefinitely, which means that they will be kept under wraps for good.
The reason probably being that if these documents were released, they would compromise the method of how this intelligence was collected.
If the US has either secret ground based radar in Ukraine or satellites with unknown capabilities, they will not want to disclose their collection abilities to the public.
Question 4. What is being done to prevent such tragedies ever happening again?
The lawmakers also wanted to know what was being done to rule out such tragedies in future again and make sure that civilian aircraft never fly over war zones.
When asked during a daily briefing in Washington whether the US had provided Dutch investigators with the data that Secretary Kerry said the US had, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “I believe we have collaborated with the Dutch in their investigation. To what level of detail, I just don’t know.”
RT correspondent Gayane Chichakyan asked whether the Americans had shared vital radar information with the Dutch.
“I know we’ve collaborated with them; I just don’t know to what level we’ve shared information with them. I’d have to look into that,” Mark Toner said.