Senior US Senator John McCain has advised President-elect Donald Trump against putting “faith” in Moscow’s desire to improve relations with Washington, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of “tyranny” and “murder.”
Speaking after the first phone conversation between Trump and Putin, McCain said Tuesday that the Russian head of state was not to be trusted.
“With the US presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” the Republican senator of Arizona said in a statement.
“We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”
The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said “resetting” ties with Moscow would be too costly for Washington.
McCain’s comments were aimed at preventing Trump from following one of his most important campaign pledges, which included cooperation with Russia to solve mutual differences between the two sides.
At least that was what the Republican president-elect discussed with Putin during their phone call on Monday, according to Moscow.
According to a statement released by the Kremlin, America’s 45th president discussed with his Russian counterpart the importance of “normalizing” ties between Moscow and Washington.
Both Putin and Trump had acknowledged “the extremely unsatisfactory state of Russian-US relations at present” and “declared the need for active joint work to normalize them.”
During the conversation, the Russian president also voiced his preparedness to “create a dialogue of partnership with the new administration on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs.”
McCain did not look favorably to the contents of the discussion, warning in his statement that outgoing President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce tensions with Russia did not work either.
“The Obama Administration’s last attempt at resetting relations with Russia culminated in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and military intervention in the Middle East,” the 2008 Republican presidential nominee alleged.
Long before Trump’s election on November 8, Putin had made it clear that his government was willing to work with the next US president regardless of the vote’s outcome.
Russian prosecutors have recognized the International Republican Institute NGO headed by US Senator John McCain as an undesirable organization, banning the group’s operations in the country and forbidding Russian organizations and citizens from cooperating with it.
“After studying the received files [describing the activities of the International Republican Institute], the Prosecutor General’s Office has made the decision to recognize it as an undesirable group on the territory of the Russian Federation,” reads an official statement from prosecutors, released on Thursday.
Another US organization, the Media Development Investment Fund, was also recognized as undesirable.
Prosecutors added that they had established that the work of the two groups posed a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and state security, but gave no further details.
The International Republican Institute was founded in 1983 with the declared goal of the promotion of democracy worldwide through helping political parties in foreign countries.
Since 1993 the institute has been headed by John McCain – a Republican senator for Arizona known for his numerous anti-Russian initiatives and statements.
In early 2015 Russia reportedly included McCain in the list of people subject to personal sanctions, including an entry ban and assets freeze, introduced in response to a similar measures imposed by the United States against Russian officials in 2014.
The Russian Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations came into force in late May 2015. The act requires the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to make an official list of undesirable foreign groups and outlaw their activities. Once a group is recognized as undesirable, all its assets in Russia must be frozen, its offices closed and the distribution of its information materials banned. If the ban is violated, both the personnel of the outlawed group and any Russian citizens who cooperate with it face heavy fines or even prison terms in the event of repeated or aggravated offenses.
About a month after the law came into force, Russia’s upper house released a list of foreign organizations it believed should come under the new restrictions. The list consisted of 12 entries, including such groups as the National Democratic Institute, the US National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Institute also known as the Soros Foundation.
Several of these groups have already been put on the list of undesirables, including the US National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, the US-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law (USRF), and the US National Democratic Institute – chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Although I admit that Donald Trump’s recent remarks that Obama Administration willfully created the Islamic State were a bit facile, it is an irrefutable fact that Obama Administration’s policy of nurturing the Syrian militants against the Assad regime from August 2011 to August 2014 created the ideal circumstances which led to the creation of not just Islamic State but myriads of other Syrian militant groups which are just as fanatical and bloodthirsty as Islamic State.
It should be remembered here that the Libyan and Syrian crises originally began in early 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings when peaceful protests against the Qaddafi and Assad regimes turned militant. Moreover, it should also be kept in mind that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which has a highly porous border with Syria, took place in December 2011.
Furthermore, the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, served as the United States’ Secretary of State from January 2009 to February 2013. Thus, for the initial year-and-a-half of the Syrian civil war, Hillary Clinton was serving as the Secretary of the State and the role that she played in toppling the regime in Libya and instigating the insurgency in Syria is not hidden from anybody’s eyes.
Additionally, it is also a known fact that the Clintons have cultivated close ties with the Zionist lobbies in Washington and the American support for the proxy war in Syria is specifically about ensuring Israel’s regional security as I shall explain in the ensuing paragraphs. However, it would be unfair to put the blame for the crisis in Syria squarely on the Democrats; the policy of nurturing militants against the regime has been pursued with bipartisan support. In fact, Senator John McCain, a Republican, played the same role in the Syrian civil war which Charlie Wilson played during the Soviet-Afghan war in the ‘80s. And Ambassador Robert Ford was the point man in the US embassy in Damascus.
More to the point, the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s report  of 2012 that presaged the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria was not overlooked it was deliberately suppressed; not just the report but that view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to the radical Islamists was forcefully stifled in Washington’s policy making circles under pressure from the Zionist lobbies.
The Obama Administration was fully aware of the consequences of its actions in Syria but it kept pursuing the policy of funding, training, arming and internationally legitimizing the so-called “Syrian Opposition” to weaken the Syrian regime and to neutralize the threat that its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, posed to Israel’s regional security; a fact which the Israeli defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war during the course of which Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Those were only unguided rockets but was it a wake-up call for Israel’s defense community as to what would happen if Iran passed guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel?
Notwithstanding, how can the US claim to fight a militant group which has been an obvious by-product  of US policy in Syria? Let’s settle on one issue first: there were two parties to the Syrian civil war initially, the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition; which party did the US support since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in early 2011 to June 2014 until Islamic State overran Mosul?
Obviously, the US supported the Syrian opposition; and what was the composition of the so-called “Syrian Opposition?” A small fraction of it was comprised of defected Syrian soldiers, which goes by the name of Free Syria Army, but a vast majority has been Sunni jihadists and armed tribesmen who were generously funded, trained and armed by the alliance of Western powers, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States.
Islamic State is nothing more than one of the numerous Syrian jihadist outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. The US-led war against Islamic State is limited only to Islamic State while all other Sunni Arab jihadist groups are enjoying complete impunity, and the so-called “coalition against Islamic State” also includes the main patrons of Sunni Arab jihadists like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan.
Regardless, many biased political commentators of the mainstream media deliberately try to muddle reality in order to link the emergence of Islamic State to the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the Bush Administration. Their motive behind this chicanery is to absolve the Obama Administration’s policy of supporting the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime since the beginning of the Syrian civil war until June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul and the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous policy of indiscriminate support to the Syrian opposition and declared a war against a faction of Syrian opposition: that is, the Islamic State.
Moreover, such spin-doctors also try to find the roots of Islamic State in al-Qaeda in Iraq; however, the insurgency in Iraq died down after the “surge” of American troops in 2007. Al-Qaeda in Iraq became a defunct organization after the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the subsequent surge of troops in Iraq. The re-eruption of insurgency in Iraq has been the spillover effect of nurturing militants in Syria against the Assad regime when Islamic State overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in January 2014 and subsequently captured Mosul in June 2014.
The borders between Syria and Iraq are highly porous and it’s impossible to contain the flow of militants and arms between the two countries. The Obama Administration’s policy of providing money, arms and training to the Syrian militants in the training camps located at the border regions of Turkey and Jordan was bound to backfire sooner or later.
Notwithstanding, in order to simplify the Syrian quagmire for the sake of readers, I would divide it into three separate and distinct zones of influence. Firstly, the northern and northwestern zone along the Syria-Turkey border, in and around Aleppo and Idlib, which is under the influence of Turkey and Qatar. Both of these countries share the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood and they provide money, training and arms to the Sunni Arab jihadist organizations like al-Tawhid Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham in the training camps located at the border regions of Turkey.
Secondly, the southern zone of influence along the Syria-Jordan border, in Daraa and Quneitra and as far away as Homs and Damascus. It is controlled by the Saudi-Jordanian camp and they provide money, weapons and training to the Salafist militant groups such as al-Nusra Front and the Southern Front of the so-called “moderate” Free Syria Army in Daraa and Quneitra, and Jaysh al-Islam in the suburbs of Damascus. Their military strategy is directed by a Military Operations Center (MOC) and training camps  located in the border regions of Jordan. Here let me clarify that this distinction is quite overlapping and heuristic at best, because al-Nusra’s jihadists have taken part in battles as far away as Idlib and Aleppo.
And finally, the eastern zone of influence along the Syria-Iraq border, in al-Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, which has been controlled by a relatively maverick Iraq-based jihadist outfit, the Islamic State. Thus, leaving the Mediterranean coast and Syria’s border with Lebanon, the Baathist and Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime has been surrounded from all three sides by the hostile Sunni forces: Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood in the north, Jordan and the Salafists of the Gulf Arab States in the south and the Sunni Arab-majority regions of Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in the east.
The recent downing of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter and the death of all 5 on board over Al Qaeda-held Idlib province in Syria, represents the unenviable full circle US rhetoric has made surrounding both the Syrian conflict, and the wider “War on Terror.”
It was the United States who first created and used Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s to down Russian aircraft and to fight Russian troops. After successfully pushing Russia out of Afghanistan and plunging it into a sociopolitical dark age, the US went on to claiming to be victimized by the monster they themselves created, perhaps most spectacularly on September 11, 2001. Today, the US finds itself back to now fully using Al Qaeda to fight a proxy war against Russia, this time in Syria.
Russian Helicopter Was on Humanitarian Mission Over Al Qaeda Territory
The Russian Mi-8 helicopter was conducting humanitarian operations. This is not according to only Russian or Syrian sources, but even opposition sources including UK-based anti-Syrian government proponent Rami Abdulrahman who refers to himself as the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (SOHR).
The New York Times in its article, “Russian Military Helicopter Is Shot Down in Syria, Killing 5,” would report that:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the Syrian government and tracks the conflict from Britain through contacts in Syria, said the helicopter had crashed near the village of Saraqib in Idlib Province.
The aircraft had recently delivered aid to two Shiite villages nearby that have long been surrounded by Sunni rebels, the group said.
Qatari-state media Al Jazeera, also an admittedly pro-militant voice amid the conflict, would admit that Idlib province, Syria, is held by Al Qaeda.
In its article, “Syria’s civil war: Russian chopper shot down in Idlib,” Al Jazeera would admit:
Idlib is held almost entirely by a powerful coalition of hardline rebel groups, including the former al-Nusra Front, now known as the Fateh al-Sham group after renouncing its status as al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
Despite Al Jazeera’s attempts to qualify Nusra Front as having “renounced” its Al Qaeda affiliations, it is still recognized by the US, Russia and Syria as a terrorist organization.
Justifying & Celebrating Al Qaeda’s Atrocity
In the immediate aftermath of the helicopter’s downing and now ongoing since, pro-militant pundits from both the public and Western policy centers, celebrated the incident.
Former director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, Salman Shaikh, repeatedly retweeted accusations that Russia’s Mi-8 was not in fact on a humanitarian mission, simply because empty rocket pods were found among the wreckage.
With SOHR insisting indeed the Russian helicopter was on a humanitarian mission, the empty rocket pods were most likely empty upon take off. So far, “experts,” including Atlantic Council’s “Digital Forensic Research Lab Senior Non-Resident Fellow” Eliot Higgins, previously an unemployed British social worker and blogger, have insinuated the Mi-8 was on a military mission, but have yet to provide any evidence.
This attempt to leverage supposed “experts” to justify the downing of a helicopter (and subsequent celebrations) engaged in humanitarian operations even in contradiction to media reports coming from both sides of the conflict, indicates just how far departed Western rhetoric has become from the principles it claims to uphold, particularly in regards to its involvement in the Syrian conflict and its backing of militant groups operating in Al Qaeda-held Idlib province.
US Aspired to Down Russian Aircraft in Syria
The downing of Russia’s Mi-8 over Idlib is not the first. Another Russian helicopter was shot down near Palmyra in early July.
Japan Times in its article, “U.S. missile brought down Russian helicopter in Syria: report,” would report:
Two Russian airmen killed in Syria on Friday were shot down with American weaponry, the Interfax news agency said Sunday, quoting a Russian military source.
It said insurgents from the Islamic State group hit the airmen’s Mi-25 assault helicopter with a U.S.-made TOW heavy anti-tank missile, a weapon that uses guidance from a ground station.
The possibility of terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) ending up with US missiles should be no surprise. It is a “coincidence” it appears many US policymakers wanted to unfold in Syria, if a no-fly zone implemented over Syria by the US directly was not a possibility.
One of those US policymakers is US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who would say in a 2015 interview on Fox News that:
I might do what we did in Afghanistan many years ago, to give those guys the ability to shoot down those planes. That equipment is available.
He would elaborate further by stating:
The Free Syrian Army, just like the Afghans shot down the Russian…
It should be noted that the “guys” Senator McCain is referring to in Afghanistan were Al Qaeda. With the downing of 2 Russian helicopters at the hands of IS and Al Qaeda respectively, it appears very much like Senator McCain has (one way or another) gotten his wish, with Al Qaeda once again serving as the armed intermediary between the US and Russia.
The end result is US foreign policy coming full circle, having created Al Qaeda to fight Russia in the 1980s, then using the terrorist organization as a pretext to extend military interventionism globally, to now once again cheering them on in Syria as they down Russian aircraft amid a struggle to restore peace and stability to both Syria and the wider region.
One wonders if this irony is lost on the American people, who have been asked to sacrifice so much in the name of fighting “terrorism,” only to have those who have done the asking to ally themselves with the very terrorists in a destructive proxy war in the distant lands of the Levant.
Soon there could be an influx of Syrian refugee families settled in America. They would be typically settled in a small city, let’s say like Flint, Michigan. The city authorities would receive help and a few special federal programs to assist in supplying the needs of these newcomers to USA. They would be given a house or an apartment, which would be subsidized under a county housing program which in turn is paid from federal money. They would be given free medical coverage under an existing county or state medical program, and they could visit the local medical centers free of charge. The county medical bills would be sent to a federal source for payment.
These new Syrian refugees are not your typical group, who we have seen on TV, walking through Europe in summer 2015. These newcomers to America are not from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan which the media has followed for years.
This is a special group with direct ties to the federal government of America. These are the fighters of the Free Syrian Army and their wives and children. To the Americans welcoming them into their communities, they would appear to be Syrian families who have suffered over 5 years of war and untold stories of loss and hardship. But, in reality these were the fighting men, the mercenaries of the US CIA program in Turkey and Syria. Some people labeled them “The John McCain’s Army”, in honor of the Republican Senator of Arizona, who was the FSA’s main supporter in Congress. Sen. McCain gave such passionate speeches in Congress; he was able to convince his fellow Senators of the need to send American military weapons, satellite imagery and technical training to these fighters. These men were paid large monthly paychecks, much more that the average income of uneducated laborers in Syria. In 2011 their monthly pay was $1,000. As the years went by, their salary was increased. The payroll was managed by an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who was playing a key role in the regime change program in Syria. The paychecks were issued in Turkey, payable in US dollars.
USA, UK, NATO, EU, Australia, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia each had instrumental roles in the international attack on Syria for the purpose of regime change. People questioned: how could democratic countries promote armed terrorism for the purpose of bringing democracy to Syria? Experts pondered how democracy could be achieved from the barrel of a gun. The Americans never wondered how monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar could bring democracy to Syria, when there has never been any freedom or democracy in either country.
In the Vietnam War, the American government used a local tribe to fight for USA. They were a close-knit mountain tribe called Hmong. They were trained and given weapons. They were sent on specific missions to kill both North Vietnamese troops, and also others. It was a highly secret covert program. Those Hmongs fighting had made a specific deal with the US federal government. That in the event of failure on the US side in the war, they would be evacuated to USA and would be safely placed into new lives with full benefits to care for them. I am sure there were sleepless nights among them, wondering who will win the war, and would the Americans fulfill their promises to them. In the end, the US government stood by their word and evacuated the Hmong people, in the thousands, to Fresno, California. There, they were put into free houses and apartments; all paid by the Fresno county Section 8 program. Section 8 was a program designed to help the poorest people, typically with young children. Fresno county government offices then billed the US federal government offices to cover the free housing for the Hmong ‘refugees’. They were given free medical coverage at Valley Medical Center, which is the Fresno county funded hospital. Each was given a Medi-Cal card, which entitled them to free medical. The Medi-Cal program was a California State funded program to cover the poorest Californians.
They were given coverage on the Food Stamp program, which gave free foods to the Hmongs, through the existing welfare program.
History is about to repeat itself, as the Syrian Arab Army with their allies inside Syria have taken strategic areas in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Palmyra, Homs, Deir Ez Zor and many other locations, and the US sponsored ‘rebels’ appear to be facing defeat on the battlefields. The FSA spokesman has already predicted defeat.
When and if this happens in the coming days or weeks, the FSA will pull back into Turkey and the US agents, who are headquartered in Adana, will coordinate the safe and swift removal of the FSA and their wives and children. They will be put on chartered planes from the Adana airport to arrive finally at their new home, which could be Flint, Michigan.
Flint is a troubled community. It has severe water problems as well as economic problems. The Flint city and county officials could be more than happy to have special federal money coming their way, which would be tied to the “Syrian Refugee” settlement. The local churches, mosques and various charities would all rally around their newcomers. The American people are well known for their generous and welcoming nature. Everyone in USA can trace their ancestry back to newcomers at some point in time. America is a melting-pot and they are proud of that heritage.
At first glance, these Syrian refugees may appear to be war-weary and looking for a new life of security and peace. It might take years for some incident to happen, where their military training and terrorist background could re-surface. Their American neighbors will not be aware that the Free Syrian Army was founded on the principals of Radical Islam. The founders of the FSA were all fighting for the purpose of regime change in Syria, in order to establish Sharia law, and to transform the secular government of Syria into an Islamic State. The FSA fighters were all strictly Sunni Muslims, even though Syria is made up of 18 different sects, and millions of Christians, but the FSA were an exclusive ‘one-sect-militia’.
The American CIA plan of attack on Syria was formulated in 2006, and the wheels put into motion. The Radical Islamic political ideology was keeping pace with the CIA regime change plan. The Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated every major city in USA and UK, and had portrayed themselves as legitimate political persons, who just happened to be Muslims. Knowing that the US and UK protect religious rights; they found safe haven and grew stronger and stronger. The CIA decided to formulate the FSA, and describe it as “Freedom Fighters” to the western audiences, through the network of mainstream media. Political propaganda machines went to work through CNN, BBC, France24 and Al Jazeera as they cranked out story after story of Syrian ‘regime’ atrocities, while never mentioning the FSA war crimes and atrocities. Knowing that most Americans never check the details of news report independently, they could fabricate stories and use fabricated videos to change the hearts and minds of western viewers into believing that the “John McCain’s Army” were freedom fighters, akin to the founding fathers of America.
There are already hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Germany, and scattered through various European countries. The Europeans are fearful that terrorists could be hiding among the mainly normal refugees. They are fearful of future terrorist attacks which could be committed by the very refugees they welcomed in and housed, clothed and fed.
Welcoming in hundreds of past terrorists, such as the FSA, could have disastrous results in USA. When you ask the people of Aleppo: “Who made you leave your homes?” they answered, “The FSA.” When you ask the Christians in Homs: “Who destroyed your churches and killed the Priests?” they answered, “The FSA.” When you ask the 16 year old Christian girl near Homs: “Who captured you and gang raped you for 6 months in 2012?” she answered, “The FSA.”
Given the facts and past history of the Free Syrian Army, would you want them living next door to your family?
Reports that US and British aircraft carrying arms to ISIS have been shot down by Iraqi forces have been met with shock and denial in western countries. Few in the Middle East doubt that Washington is playing a ‘double game’ with its proxy armies in Syria, but some key myths remain important amongs the significantly more ignorant western audiences.
A central myth is that Washington now arms ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, to both overthrow the Syrian Government and supposedly defeat the ‘extremist rebels’. This claim became more important in 2014, when the rationale of US aggression against Syria shifted from ‘humanitarian intervention’ to a renewal of Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
A distinct controversy is whether the al Qaeda styled groups (especially Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS) have been generated as a sort of organic reaction to the repeated US interventions, or whether they are actually paid agents of Washington.
Certainly, prominent ISIS leaders were held in US prisons. ISIS leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) is said to have been held for between one and two years at Camp Bucca in Iraq. In 2006, as al-Baghdadi and others were released, the Bush administration announced its plan for a ‘New Middle East’, a plan which would employ sectarian violence as part of a process of ‘creative destruction’ in the region.
According to Seymour Hersh’s 2007 article, ‘The Redirection’, the US would make use of ‘moderate Sunni states’, not least the Saudis, to ‘contain’ the Shia gains in Iraq brought about by the 2003 US invasion. These ‘moderate Sunni’ forces would carry out clandestine operations to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, key enemies of Israel. This brought the Saudis and Israel closer, as both fear Iran.
While there have been claims that the ISIS ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi is a CIA or Mossad trained agent, these have not yet been well backed up. There are certainly grounds for suspicion, but independent evidence is important, in the context of a supposed US ‘war’ against ISIS . So what is the broader evidence on Washington’s covert links with ISIS?
Not least are the admissions by senior US officials that key allies support the extremist group. In September 2014 General Martin Dempsey, head of the US military, told a Congressional hearing ‘I know major Arab allies who fund [ ISIS ]‘. Senator Lindsey Graham, of Armed Services Committee, responded with a justification, ‘They fund them because the Free Syrian Army couldn’t fight [Syrian President] Assad, they were trying to beat Assad’.
The next month, US Vice President Joe Biden went a step further, explaining that Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia ‘were so determined to take down Assad … they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad … [including] al Nusra and al Qaeda and extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world … [and then] this outfit called ISIL’. Biden’s admissions sought to exempt the US from this operation, as though Washington were innocent of sustained operations carried out by its key allies. That is simply not credible.
Washington’s relationship with the Saudis, as a divisive sectarian force in the region, in particular against Arab nationalism, goes back to the 1950s, when Winston Churchill introduced the Saudi King to President Eisenhower. At that time Washington wanted to set up the Saudi King as a rival to President Nasser of Egypt. More recently, British General Jonathan Shaw has acknowledged the contribution of Saudi Arabia’s extremist ideology: ‘This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education. Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money’, Shaw said.
Other evidence undermines western attempts to maintain a distinction between the ‘moderate rebels’, now openly armed and trained by the US, and the extremist groups Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS. While there has indeed been some rivalry (emphasised by the London-based, Muslim Brotherhood-aligned, Syrian Observatory of Human Rights), the absence of real ideological difference is best shown by the cooperation and mergers of groups.
As ISIS came from Iraq in 2013, its Syrian bases have generally remained in the far eastern part of Syria. However Jabhat al Nusra (the official al Qaeda branch in Syria, from which ISIS split) has collaborated with Syrian Islamist groups in western Syria for several years. The genocidal slogan of the Syrian Islamists, ‘Christians to Beirut and Alawis to the Grave’, reported many times in 2011 from the Farouk Brigade, sat well with the al Qaeda groups. Farouk (once the largest ‘Free Syrian Army’ group) indeed killed and ethnically cleansed many Christians and Alawis.
Long term cooperation between these ‘moderate rebels’ and the foreign-led Jabhat al-Nusra has been seen around Daraa in the south, in Homs-Idlib, along the Turkish border and in and around Aleppo. The words Jabhat al Nusra actually mean ‘support front’, that is, support for the Syrian Islamists. Back in December 2012, as Jabhat al Nusra was banned in various countries, 29 of these groups reciprocated the solidarity in their declaration: ‘We are all Jabhat al-Nusra’.
After the collapse of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ groups, cooperation between al Nusra and the newer US and Saudi backed groups (Dawud, the Islamic Front, the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Harakat Hazm) helped draw attention to Israel’s support for al Nusra, around the occupied Golan Heights. Since 2013 there have been many reports of ‘rebel’ fighters, including those from al Nusra, being treated in Israeli hospitals. Prime Minister Netanyahu even publicised his visit to wounded ‘rebels’ in early 2014. That led to a public ‘thank you’ from a Turkey-based ‘rebel’ leader, Mohammed Badie (February 2014).
The UN peacekeeping force based in the occupied Golan has reported its observations of Israel’s Defence Forces ‘interacting with’ al Nusra fighters at the border. At the same time, Israeli arms have been found with the extremist groups, in both Syria and Iraq. In November 2014 members of the Druze minority in the Golan protested against Israel’s hospital support for al Nusra and ISIS fighters. This in turn led to questions by the Israeli media, as to whether ‘ Israel does, in fact, hospitalize members of al-Nusra and Daesh [ISIS]‘. A military spokesman’s reply was hardly a denial: ‘In the past two years the Israel Defence Forces have been engaged in humanitarian, life-saving aid to wounded Syrians, irrespective of their identity.’
The artificial distinction between ‘rebel’ and ‘extremist’ groups is mocked by multiple reports of large scale defections and transfer of weapons. In July 2014 one thousand armed men in the Dawud Brigade defected to ISIS in Raqqa. In November defections to Jabhat al Nusra from the Syrian Revolutionary Front were reported. In December, Adib Al-Shishakli, representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council of the exile ‘ Syrian National Coalition’, said ‘opposition fighters’ were ‘increasingly joining’ ISIS ‘for financial reasons’. In that same month, ‘rebels’ in the Israel-backed Golan area were reported as defecting to ISIS, which had by this time began to establish a presence in Syria’s far south. Then, in early 2015, three thousand ‘moderate rebels’ from the US-backed ‘Harakat Hazzm’ collapsed into Jabhat al Nusra, taking a large stock of US arms including anti-tank weapons with them.
ISIS already had US weapons by other means, in both Iraq and Syria , as reported in July, September and October 2014. At that time a ‘non aggression pact’ was reported in the southern area of Hajar al-Aswad between ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, as both recognised a common enemy in Syria: ‘the Nussayri regime’, a sectarian way of referring to supposedly apostate Muslims. Some reported ISIS had bought weapons from the ‘rebels’.
In December 2014 there were western media reports of the US covert supply of heavy weapons to ‘Syrian rebels’ from Libya, and of Jabhat al-Nusra getting anti-tank weapons which had been supplied to Harakat Hazm. Video posted by al-Nusra showed these weapons being used to take over the Syrian military bases, Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh, in Idlib province.
With ‘major Arab allies’ backing ISIS and substantial collaboration between US-armed ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS, it is not such a logical stretch to suppose that the US and ‘coalition’ flights to ISIS areas (supposedly to ‘degrade’ the extremists) might have become covert supply lines. That is precisely what senior Iraqi sources began saying, in late 2014 and early 2015.
For example, as reported by both Iraqi and Iranian media, Iraqi MP Majid al-Ghraoui said in January that ‘an American aircraft dropped a load of weapons and equipment to the ISIS group militants at the area of al-Dour in the province of Salahuddin’. Photos were published of ISIS retrieving the weapons. The US admitted the seizure but said this was a ‘mistake’. In February Iraqi MP Hakem al-Zameli said the Iraqi army had shot down two British planes which were carrying weapons to ISIS in al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published of the wrecked planes. ‘We have discovered weapons made in the US , European countries and Israel from the areas liberated from ISIL’s control in Al-Baqdadi region’, al-Zameli said.
The Al-Ahad news website quoted Head of Al-Anbar Provincial Council Khalaf Tarmouz saying that a US plane supplied the ISIL terrorist organization with arms and ammunition in Salahuddin province. Also in February an Iraqi militia called Al-Hashad Al-Shabi said they had shot down a US Army helicopter carrying weapons for the ISIL in the western parts of Al-Baqdadi region in Al-Anbar province. Again, photos were published. After that, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces were reported as having arrested ‘four foreigners who were employed as military advisors to the ISIL fighters’, three of whom were American and Israeli. So far the western media has avoided these stories altogether; they are very damaging to the broader western narrative.
In Libya, a key US collaborator in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government has announced himself the newly declared head of the ‘Islamic State’ in North Africa. Abdel Hakim Belhaj was held in US prisons for several years, then ‘rendered’ to Gaddafi’s Libya, where he was wanted for terrorist acts. As former head of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, then the Tripoli-based ‘Libyan Dawn’ group, Belhaj has been defended by Washington and praised by US Congressmen John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
Some image softening of the al Qaeda groups is underway. Jabhat al-Nusra is reported to be considering cutting ties to al Qaeda, to help sponsor Qatar boost their funding. Washington’s Foreign Affairs magazine even published a survey claiming that ISIS fighters were ‘surprisingly supportive of democracy’. After all the well published massacres that lacks credibility.
The Syrian Army is gradually reclaiming Aleppo, despite the hostile supply lines from Turkey, and southern Syria, in face of support for the sectarian groups from Jordan and Israel. The border with Lebanon is largely under Syrian Army and Hezbollah control. In the east, the Syrian Army and its local allies control most of Hasaka and Deir e-Zour, with a final campaign against Raqqa yet to come. The NATO-GCC attempt to overthrow the Syrian Government has failed.
Yet violent destabilisation persists. Evidence of the covert relationship between Washington and ISIS is substantial and helps explain what Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad calls Washington’s ‘cosmetic war’ on ISIS. The extremist group is a foothold Washington keeps in the region, weakening both Syria and Iraq . Their ‘war’ on ISIS is ineffective. Studies by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgent database show that ISIS attacks and killings in Iraq increased strongly after US air attacks began. The main on the ground fighting has been carried out by the Syrian Army and, more recently, the Iraqi armed forces with Iranian backing.
All this has been reported perversely in the western media. The same channels that celebrate the ISIS killing of Syrian soldiers also claim the Syrian Army is ‘not fighting ISIS’. This alleged ‘unwillingness’ was part of the justification for US bombing inside Syria. While it is certainly the case that Syrian priorities have remained in the heavily populated west, local media reports make it clear that, since at least the beginning of 2014, the Syrian Arab Army has been the major force engaged with ISIS in Hasaka, Raqqa and Deir eZour. A March 2015 Reuters report does concede that the Syrian Army recently killed two ISIS commanders (including Deeb Hedjian al-Otaibi) along with 24 fighters, at Hamadi Omar.
Closer cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is anathema to Israel, the Saudis and Washington, yet it is happening. This is not a sectarian divide but rather based on some clear mutual interests, not least putting an end to sectarian (takfiri) terrorism.
It was only logical that, in the Iraqi military’s recent offensive on ISIS-held Tikrit, the Iranian military emerged as Iraq’s main partner. Washington has been sidelined, causing consternation in the US media. General Qasem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force is a leading player in the Tikrit operation. A decade after Washington’s ‘creative destruction’ plans, designed to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq, an article in Foreign Policy magazine complains that Iran’s influence is ‘at its highest point in almost four centuries’.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya (2006) Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a ‘New Middle East’
Seymour Hersh (2007) The Redirection
Al Akhbar (2011) Syria: What Kind of Revolution?
The New Yorker (2013) Syrian Opposition Groups Stop Pretending
RT (2014) Anyone but US! Biden blames allies for ISIS rise
Iraqi News (2015) American aircraft dropped weapons to ISIS, says MP
Washington Post (2015) Syrian rebel group that got U.S. aid dissolves
David Kenner (2015) For God and Country, and Iran, Foreign Policy
Reuters (2015) Syrian air strike kills two Islamic State commanders
Copyright © Prof. Tim Anderson, Global Research, 2015
The US is to send some 10,000 troops to Iraq to provide support for a 90,000-strong force from the Gulf states, a leading Iraqi opposition MP has warned. The politician said the plan was announced to the Iraqi government during a visit by US Senator John McCain.
During a meeting in Baghdad on November 27, McCain told Prime Minister Haider Abadi and a number of senior Iraqi cabinet and military officials that the decision was ‘non-negotiable’, claimed Hanan Fatlawi, the head of the opposition Irada Movement.
“A hundred thousand foreign troops, including 90,000 from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Jordan, and 10,000 troops from America will be deployed in western regions of Iraq,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
She added that the Iraqi prime minister protested the plan, but was told that “the decision has already been taken.”
McCain and fellow hawk Senator Lindsey Graham have both been calling for a tripling in the current number of US troops deployed in Iraq to 10,000, and also advocate sending an equal number of troops to Syria to fight against the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Americans would prop up a 90,000-strong international ground force provided by Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“The region is ready to fight. The region hates ISIL – they are coming for Sunni Arab nations. Turkey hates ISIL. The entire region wants Assad gone. So there is an opportunity here with some American leadership to do two things: to hit ISIL before we get hit at home and to push Assad out,” Graham argued during the joint visit to Baghdad in November.
“Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey – they have regional armies and they would go into the fight if we put [the removal of] Assad on the table. Most of the fight will be done by the region. They will pay for this war,” he added.
The US currently has about 3,600 troops in Iraq, including 100 special operations troops deployed last month to take part in combat missions involving hostage rescue and the assassination of IS leaders. The White House is reluctant to commit a large ground force, citing the cost in human lives and money and the possible political ramifications of what will be portrayed by America’s opponents as yet another Western invasion of the Arab world.
The McCain-Graham plan also poses the risk of direct confrontation between the proposed coalition force and Russia and Iraq, which are both militarily assisting the Assad government and may not stay out of the fight – something which the hawkish duo have not factored into their plan.
This is especially true after Turkey’s downing of a Russian bomber plane on the Turkish-Syrian border, which Moscow considered a stab in the back and which sent relations with Ankara to a low not seen for decades.
Baghdad has its own concerns about a Turkish presence on its territory after Ankara sent troops into western Iraq and refused to withdraw them, despite Iraqi protests. Ankara claimed the incursion was made under a 2014 invitation from Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi.
Rand Paul’s temporary stopping of the Patriot Act’s bulk metadata collection has spurred a predictable assault from both the mainstream left and the mainstream right. Two particular examples show the strange political mating that can take place when interests align. First, on Sunday night, John McCain grumbled on the Senate floor that Rand Paul was letting the world burn to score political points. Then, on Monday, Salon published an article arguing that the collection of big data is a net positive for people of color and that Paul’s attack on the NSA is a function of his white privilege.
At this point, it appears John McCain has no idea what the hell he’s talking about from day to day. We all saw the writing on the wall when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. He hasn’t been getting better. This is an old, confused, angry man whose answer to every problem is war and/or authoritarian domestic policies.
As for Salon, whether or not Rand Paul’s opposition is a function of white privilege is irrelevant in this case. The fact that he’s a Senator in the first place is a function of white privilege. Opposing the authoritarian horror show that is the Patriot Act is important enough that this really doesn’t matter. Same thing with the dismissive argument from the mainstream left that Paul is insincere in opposing the Patriot Act. It just doesn’t matter. What’s important is that he’s opposing it.
The alliance between Salon and McCain against Rand Paul is an interesting coming together of political foes. Essentially, their loathing of Paul overcomes their loathing of each other. For McCain, making common cause with a liberal online magazine that spent the entirety of the 2008 Presidential election cycle savaging him must be an odd feeling. And for Salon, allying with the man who gave us the Palins must be similarly odd.
But it makes sense when you think about it.
Salon’s attacks on Rand Paul are at least in large part due to the possibility he may be the opponent to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Add to that the fact that President Obama wants the Patriot Act and data collection renewed and editor in chief Joan Walsh’s particular antipathy to Paul, and you have a perfect storm of political hay making.
And as for McCain, who has no possibility of ever entertaining another run at the presidency, the only thing he has left is his waning influence on a Republican Party that is moving further and further away from his neocon ideology. To McCain, Rand Paul is the most visible representative of this wing taking over his Grand Old Party.
This has produced the odd political bedfellows of Salon and John McCain. Both despise Rand Paul for their own reasons. And both apparently support the collection of bulk data, albeit in distinct variances of enthusiasm. I’m hesitant to assign the blame for Salon taking this position on the fact that it is President Obama asking for the draconian policy, but there’s no denying that when it was George W Bush asking for political support for the Patriot Act, the general mood at the site was different.
As far as McCain goes, he’s a senile crank who hasn’t met a war he doesn’t love or a civil liberty he doesn’t want to take away from the general public in the name of “security” in the last decade and a half.
Until the inevitable reauthorization of the bulk collection of the phone records of the American people, we can expect more of these attacks on Rand Paul from the representatives of the Democratic and Republican party establishments. On the one hand, the bulk collection of metadata is an anti-Constitutional atrocity. On the other hand, it will be nice for people to see the “rare” bipartisanship of the security state’s apologists on the right and the further right joining together against the junior Senator from Kentucky.
Several senior US and French officials, including US Senator John McCain, entered Syria illegally – without proper visas – on separate occasions, thus violating the country’s sovereignty, Syria said in a complaint submitted to the United Nations.
The list of officials also included former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former US diplomat Peter Galbraith, according to a letter dated December 30 cited by Reuters and AFP.
In the letter, Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council to put additional pressure on governments to implement “the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally.”
“Such actions are a blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and of the resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria,” Ja’afari said.
The letter included complaints from “certain journalists and prominent figures” entering Syria illegally, pointing out McCain’s visit to the country in June 2013, as well as Kouchner’s visit in November 2014 and Galbraith’s in December 2014, along with other US political and military leaders.
Former Kuwaiti politician Walid Tabtabai is also mentioned as making an illegal visit in September 2013.
At the time, McCain’s spokesperson only confirmed that the former Republican presidential candidate visited Syria in May 2013 to meet with Syrian rebels.
McCain responded to the complaint by downplaying the accusations, and in turn accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of the “massacre” of his own people.
“It is a sad but unsurprising truth that the Assad regime is less concerned with its massacre of more than 200,000 men, women and children than it is my visit with those brave Syrians fighting for their freedom and dignity,” McCain’s statement said. “The fact that the international community has done virtually nothing to bring down this terrible regime despite its atrocities is a stain on our collective moral conscience.”
According to earlier media reports, McCain crossed into Syria in May 2013 from Turkey with General Salem Idris, who was in charge of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, and stayed there for several hours before returning.
During the visit, the senator met with leaders of Free Syrian Army units in Turkey and Syria.
McCain’s visit created a media storm, especially after a picture surfaced of him posing with allegedly IslamicState-linked jihadists (formerly ISIS/ISIL).
The original claim came from Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who accused McCain of unknowingly meeting with Islamic State fighters.
Among the Senator’s other controversial visits was a trip to Ukraine in December 2013 amid mass anti-government protests. During the visit, McCain met with Ukrainian opposition leaders in the country’s capital of Kiev, voicing his support for the protests, adding that he saw Ukraine’s future with Europe.
Also, back in 2011, McCain visited Benghazi to meet the Libyan rebels, calling them “my heroes.” McCain boldly stated that the fall of the ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would inspire people all over world – including in Russia – which raised eyebrows globally.
“We believe very strongly that the people of Libya today are inspiring the people in Tehran, in Damascus, and even in Beijing and Moscow,” said McCain.
McCain’s travel tendencies landed him on Russia’s black list in March, part of Russia’s retaliation against US-led sanctions. The list bans the Senator along with other individuals from traveling to Russia as well as freezes any of his assets there.
The American people got a nasty taste of the danger that can come with false narrative when they were suckered into the Iraq War based on bogus claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction that he planned to share with al-Qaeda.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict along with hundreds thousands of Iraqis. The war’s total financial cost probably exceeded $1 trillion, a vast sum that siphoned off America’s economic vitality and forced cutbacks in everything from education to road repair. Plus, the war ended up creating an Iraqi base for al-Qaeda terrorists that had not existed before.
But perhaps an even more dangerous problem coming out of the Iraq War was that almost no one in Official Washington who pushed the false narrative – whether in politics or in the press – was held accountable in any meaningful way. Many of the same pols and pundits remain in place today, pushing similar false narratives on new crises, from Ukraine to Syria to Iran.
Those false narratives – and their cumulative effect on policy-making – now represent a clear and present danger to the Republic and, indeed, to the world. The United States, after all, is the preeminent superpower with unprecedented means for delivering death and destruction. But almost nothing is being done to address this enduring American crisis of deception.
Today, Official Washington is marching in lockstep just as it did in 2002-03 when it enforced the misguided consensus on Iraq’s WMD. The latest case is Ukraine where Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of committing “aggression” to expand Russian territory at the expense of noble ”democratic” reformers in Kiev.
Not only is this the dominant storyline in the U.S. media; it is virtually the only narrative permitted in the mainstream press. But the real narrative is that the United States and the European Union provoked this crisis by trying to take Ukraine out of its traditional sphere of influence, Russia, and put it in to a new association with the EU.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ukraine joining with the EU or staying with Russia (or a combination of the two) – depending on the will of the people and their elected representatives – this latest U.S./EU plan was motivated, at least in part, by hostility toward Russia.
That attitude was expressed in a Sept. 26, 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post by Carl Gershman, the neoconservative president of the National Endowment for Democracy, which doles out more than $100 million in U.S. funds a year to help organize “activists,” support “journalists” and finance programs that can be used to destabilize targeted governments.
Gershman, whose job amounts to being a neocon paymaster, expressed antagonism toward Russia in the op-ed and identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” the capture of which could ultimately lead to the ouster of Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
The NED, which was founded in 1983 to do in relative openness what the CIA had long done in secret, listed 65 projects that it was financing in Ukraine, using U.S. taxpayers’ money. In other words, Gershman’s op-ed reflected U.S. policy – at least inside the State Department’s still-neocon-dominated bureaucracy – which viewed the EU’s snatching of Ukraine from Russia’s embrace as a way to weaken Russia and hurt Putin.
Later, as the Ukrainian crisis unfolded, another neocon, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, reminded Ukrainian businessmen that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations,” implying that the U.S. expected something for all this money.
You might wonder why the American taxpayers should spend $5 billion on the “European aspirations” of Ukraine when there are so many needs at home, but a more relevant question may be: Why is the United States spending that much money to stir up trouble on Russia’s border? The Cold War is over but the hostility continues.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates described this thinking in his memoir, Duty, explaining the view of President George H.W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”
As Vice President, Cheney and the neocons around him pursued a similar strategy during George W. Bush’s presidency, expanding NATO aggressively to the east and backing anti-Russian regimes in the region including the hardline Georgian government, which provoked a military confrontation with Moscow in 2008.
Since President Barack Obama never took full control of his foreign policy apparatus – leaving the Bush Family apparatchik Gates at Defense and naming neocon-leaning Democrat Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – the bureaucratic momentum toward confronting Russia continued. Indeed, the elevation of operatives like Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, gave new impetus to the anti-Russian strategy.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who got his “dream job” last year with the considerable help of his neocon chum Sen. John McCain, has acted as a kind of sock puppet for this neocon-dominated State Department bureaucracy.
Either because he is overly focused on his legacy-building initiative of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal or because he has long since sold out his anti-war philosophy from the Vietnam War era, Kerry has repeatedly taken the side of the hawks: on Syria, Iran and now Ukraine.
On Syria and Iran, it was largely the behind-the-scenes cooperation between Obama and Putin that tamped down those crises last year and opened a pathway for diplomacy – much to the chagrin of the neocons who favored heightened confrontations, U.S. military strikes and “regime change.” Thus, it became a neocon priority to divide Obama from Putin. Ukraine became the wedge.
The Ukrainian crisis took a decisive turn on Nov. 21, 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych rebuffed a deal offered by the EU and the International Monetary Fund because it would have imposed harsh austerity on the already suffering Ukrainian people. Yanukovych opted instead for a more generous aid package of $15 billion from Russia, with few strings attached.
But Yanukovych’s turning away from the EU infuriated the U.S. State Department as well as pro-European demonstrators who filled the Maidan square in Kiev. The protests reflected the more anti-Russian attitudes of western Ukraine, where Kiev is located, but not the more pro-Russian feelings of eastern and southern Ukraine, Yanukovych’s strongholds that accounted for his electoral victory in 2010.
Though the Maidan protests involved hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians simply eager for a better life and a less corrupt government, some of the most militant factions came from far-right parties, like Svoboda, and even neo-Nazi militias from the Right Sektor. When protesters seized City Hall, Nazi symbols and a Confederate battle flag were put on display.
As the protests grew angrier, U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain, openly sided with the demonstrators despite banners honoring Stepan Bandera, a World War II-era fascist whose paramilitary forces collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of Poles and Jews. Nuland passed out cookies and McCain stood shoulder to shoulder with right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. [For more on the role of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, watch this report from the BBC.]
On Feb. 20, the violence intensified as mysterious snipers fired on both protesters and police. As police fought back, neo-Nazi militias hurled Molotov cocktails. More than 80 people were killed including more than a dozen police officers, but the U.S. press blamed the Yanukovych government for the violence, portraying the demonstrators as innocent victims.
Official Washington’s narrative was set. Yanukovych, who had been something of a hero when he was moving toward the EU agreement in the early fall, became a villain after he decided that the IMF’s demands were too severe and especially after he accepted the deal from Putin. The Russian president was undergoing his own demonization in the U.S. news media, including an extraordinary denunciation by NBC at the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
In the U.S. media’s black-and-white scenario, the “pro-democracy” demonstrators in the Maidan were the good guys who were fired upon by the bad-guy police. The New York Times even stopped reporting that some of those killed were police, instead presenting the more pleasing but phony narrative that “more than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February.”
To this day, the identity of the snipers who touched off the conflagration remains in serious doubt. I was told at the time that some U.S. intelligence analysts believed the shooters were associated with the far-right opposition groups, not with the Yanukovych government.
That analysis gained support when a phone call surfaced between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Paet reported on a conversation that he had with a doctor in Kiev who said the sniper fire that killed protesters was the same that killed police officers.
As reported by the UK Guardian, “During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.”
Paet said, “What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.
“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. … So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”
Ashton replied: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.”
Though this exchange does not prove that the opposition used snipers to provoke the violence, it is relevant information that could have altered how Americans viewed the worsening crisis in Ukraine. However, except for an on-the-scene report from CNN with the same doctor, the Paet-Ashton phone call disappeared into the U.S. media’s black hole reserved for information that doesn’t fit with a preferred narrative.
Black Hats/White Hats
So, with giant black hats glued onto Yanukovych and Putin and white hats on the protesters, the inspiring but false U.S. narrative played out in heroic fashion, with only passing reference to the efforts by Yanukovych to make concessions and satisfy the protesters’ demands.
On Feb. 21, Yanukovych tried to defuse the violence by signing an agreement with three European countries in which he accepted reduced powers, moved up elections so he could be voted out of office, and pulled back the police. That last step, however, opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias to seize government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.
Then, on Feb. 22, under the watchful eye of these modern-day storm troopers, a rump parliament – in violation of constitutional procedures – voted to impeach Yanukovych, who reemerged in Russia to denounce the actions as a coup.
Despite this highly irregular process, the U.S. government – following the lead of the State Department bureaucracy – immediately recognized the new leadership as Ukraine’s “legitimate” government. Putin later appealed to Obama in support of the Feb. 21 agreement but was told the ouster of Yanukovych and the installation of the U.S.-backed government were a fait accompli.
The rump parliament in Kiev also accused Yanukovych of mass murder in connection with the shootings in the Maidan — an accusation that got widespread play in the U.S. media – although curiously the new regime also decided not to pursue an investigation into the identity of the mysterious snipers, a point that drew no U.S. media interest.
And, a new law was passed in line with the desires of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists to eliminate Russian as one of the country’s official languages. New government leaders also were dispatched to the Russian-ethnic regions to take charge, moves that, in turn, prompted resistance from Russian-ethnic citizens in the east and south.
It was in this context – and with appeals from Yanukovych and ethnic Russians for help – that Putin got permission from the Duma to intervene militarily if necessary. Russian troops, already stationed in bases in Crimea, moved to block the Kiev regime from asserting its authority in that strategic Black Sea peninsula.
Amidst this political chaos, the Crimean parliament voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, putting the question to a popular vote on March 16. Not surprisingly, given the failed Ukrainian state, its inability to pay for basic services, and Crimea’s historic ties to Russia, Crimean voters approved the switch overwhelmingly. Exit polls showed about a 93 percent majority, just three points less than the official results.
Russia then moved to formally reclaim Crimea, which had been part of Russia dating back to the 1700s, while also massing troops along the borders of eastern Ukraine, presumably as a warning to the Kiev regime not to crush popular resistance to the anti-Yanukovych coup.
A Divergent Narrative
So, the factual narrative suggests that the Ukrainian crisis was stoked by elements of the U.S. government, both in the State Department and in Congress, encouraging and exploiting popular resentments in western Ukraine. The goal was to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and put it into the EU’s gravitational pull.
When Yanukovych balked at IMF’s demands, a process of “regime change” was put in motion with the U.S. and EU even turning their backs on the Feb. 21 agreement in which Yanukovych made a series of concessions negotiated by European countries. The deal was cast aside in a matter of hours with no attempt by the West to uphold its terms.
Meanwhile, Putin, who was tied up with the Sochi Olympics and obsessed over fears that it would be targeted by Islamist terrorists, appears to have been caught off-guard by the events in Ukraine. He then reacted to the alarming developments on Russia’s border, including the emergence of neo-Nazis as prominent figures in the coup regime in Kiev.
In other words, a logical – and indeed realistic – way to see the Ukraine-Crimea crisis is that Putin was largely responding to events that were outside his control. And that is important to understand, because that would mean that Putin was not the aggressor spoiling for a fight.
If there was premeditation, it was coming from the West and particularly from the neocons who remain highly influential in Official Washington. The neocons also had motive to go after Putin, since he helped Obama use diplomacy to quiet down dangerous crises with Syria and Iran while the neocons were pushing for more confrontation and U.S. military strikes.
But how did the U.S. news media present the Ukraine story to the American people?
First, there was the simplistic and misleading depiction of the pro-EU demonstrations as “democratic” when they mostly reflected the discontent of the pro-European population of western Ukraine, not the views of the more pro-Russian Ukrainians in the east and south who had pushed Yanukovych to victory in the 2010 election. Last time I checked, “democracy” referred to rule by the majority, not mob rule.
Then, despite the newsworthiness of the neo-Nazi role in the protests, the U.S. news media blacked-out these brown shirts because that ugly reality undercut the pleasing good-guys-vs.-bad-guys storyline. Then, when the snipers opened fire on protesters and policemen, the U.S. news media jumped to the conclusion that the killers were working for Yanukovych because that, too, fit with the desired narrative.
The violent overthrow of the democratically elected Yanukovych was hailed as an expression of “democracy,” again with the crucial role of the neo-Nazi militias largely airbrushed from the picture. The unanimous and near unanimous parliamentary votes that followed – as storm troopers patrolled the halls of government buildings – were further cited as evidence of “democracy” and “reform.”
The anger and fear of Ukrainians in the east and south were dismissed as Russian “propaganda” and Crimea’s move to extract itself from this political chaos was denounced as Russian “aggression.” U.S. news outlets casually denounced Putin as a “thug.” Washington Post columnist George F. Will called Putin “Stalin’s spawn.”
Former Secretary of State Clinton cited the Crimea situation to compare Putin to Hitler and to suggest that Putin was intent on recreating the old Soviet empire, though Crimea is only 10,000 square miles, about one-tenth of one percent the size of the old Soviet Union.
And, it wasn’t just that some or nearly all mainstream U.S. news organizations adopted this one-sided and misguided narrative. It was a consensus throughout all major U.S. news outlets. With a uniformity that one would normally associate with a totalitarian state, no competing narrative was permitted in the Big Media, regardless of the actual facts.
Whenever any of the more complex reality was included in a story, it was presented as Russian claims that were then followed by argumentative challenges. Yet, when U.S. officials made preposterous remarks about how uncivilized it was to violate another country’s sovereignty, the hypocrisy of their points went uncontested.
For instance, Secretary of State Kerry denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring, “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” But you had to look on the Internet to find any writer who dared note Kerry’s breathtaking double standard, since he voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist.
This cognitive dissonance pervaded the U.S. press and the political debate over Ukraine and Crimea. The long history of U.S. interventions in foreign countries – almost always in violation of international law – was forgotten, except for the rare occasion when some Russian “claim” about American hypocrisy was cited and then swatted down. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy.”]
Having worked many years in the mainstream U.S. news media, I fully understand how this process works and why it happens. Amid the patriotic chest-thumping that usually accompanies a U.S. military operation or American righteous outrage over some other nation’s actions, it is dangerous for your career to go against the flag-waving.
But it’s always been my view that such self-censorship is faux patriotism, as much as the happy story-lines are false narratives. Even if many Americans don’t want the truth, it is still the job of journalists to give them the truth. Otherwise, the U.S. democratic process is distorted and made dangerous.
Propaganda leads to bad policies as politicians – even when they know better – start parroting the errant conventional wisdom. We’ve seen this now with President Obama who – more than anyone – realizes the value of Putin’s cooperation on Syria and Iran but now must join in denouncing the Russian president and demanding sanctions.
Obama also surely knows that Yanukovych’s ouster violated both Ukraine’s constitution and principles of democracy, but he pretends otherwise. And, he knows that Crimea’s secession reflected the will of the people, but he must insist that their vote was illegitimate.
At a March 25 news conference in the Netherlands, Obama toed the line of the hypocritical false narrative. He declared, “we have said consistently throughout this process is that it is up to the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about how they organize themselves and who they interact with.” He then added that the Crimean referendum was “sloppily organized over the course of two weeks” and thus a sham.
If Obama were telling the truth, he would have noted that Yanukovych – for all his faults – was democratically elected in a process that was deemed fair by international observers. Obama would have acknowledged that Yanukovych agreed on Feb. 21 to a process that would have allowed for an orderly and legal process for his replacement.
Obama would have admitted, too, that the violent coup and the actions of the rump parliament in Kiev were both illegal and, indeed, “sloppily organized” – and that the U.S. government acted hastily in recognizing this coup regime. But double standards seem to be the only standards these days in Official Washington.
What is perhaps tragic about Obama is that he does know better. He is not a stupid man. But he doesn’t dare go against the grain for fear of being denounced as “naïve” about Putin or “weak” in not facing down “Russian aggression.” So, he reads the lines that have been, in effect, dictated by neocons within his own administration.
I’m told that Obama, like Putin, was caught off-guard by the Ukraine crisis. But Obama’s unwillingness or inability to recast the false narrative left him with no political choice but to join in the Putin-bashing. That, in turn, means that Putin won’t be there to help Obama navigate around future U.S. war plans that the neocons have in mind for Syria and Iran.
Indeed, neutralizing the Obama-Putin relationship may have been the chief reason why the neocons were so eager to stoke the Ukrainian fires — and it shows how false narratives can get people killed.
An Israeli military contractor, whose surveillance technology is used along Israel’s apartheid wall constructed in the Palestinian West Bank, has been chosen by the United States to provide similar services on the southern border with Mexico, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.
Elbit Systems announced on Sunday that the US Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had awarded its subsidiary a $145 million contract to deploy border surveillance technology in southern Arizona, Reuters reported.
But according to Bloomberg analyst Brian Friel, quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the one-year contract could expand to a broader $1 billion deal if the US Congress passes stringent immigration legislation.
Elbit Systems is set to install watch towers along the border with sensors for spotting, tracking, and classifying data, along with command and control centers.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona hailed the deal as a “step in the right direction.”
“Arizonans have been waiting more than a decade for the Department of Homeland Security to place the needed technology along our border to support the Border Patrol and fully secure our southern border,” he said in a statement.
“If this technology is developed, integrated and fielded correctly, these Integrated Fixed Towers in southern Arizona, coupled with the tremendous work of the Border Patrol, will give our agents the ability to detect, evaluate, and respond to all illegal entries crossing our border.”
A government contractor said the choice of an Israeli firm was justified by of its “advanced” experience in maintaining separation barriers.
“It is odd to go offshore for this work, but in extraordinary circumstances, one really wants to employ the best,” Haaretz quoted Mark Amtower, a partner at Amtower & Co, as saying.
Elbit Systems is one of the primary military suppliers of the Israel’s occupation forces. Its Hermes 450 attack drone has been used extensively in the besieged Gaza Strip, as well as in Lebanon during the 2006 war.
The company is also responsible for surveillance technology along the apartheid wall erected by Israel within the West Bank. Only 15 percent of the separation barrier is built along the so-called 1949 Green Line, which is recognized by the international community as the border of Israel proper, UN figures show, with most of it jutting into the occupied West Bank.
The 440-kilometer long barrier is considered illegal under international law.
Among its many international contracts, Elbit contributed in 2013 to a $40 million expansive Internet surveillance program for the Nigerian government.
Elbit Systems has officially pledged on its website to “contribute to the enhancement of quality of life and the environment of the communities in which we live and work.”
But this contribution mainly consists of supporting Israeli occupation forces through the “Adopt a Combat Unit” program.
Elbit is targeted by the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for “directly contribut[ing] to violations of international humanitarian law.”
The Stop the Wall campaign has called Elbit a “symbol” which“thrives on and fuels war, repression and control in Palestine and around the globe.”
“Elbit offers its experience in ghettoizing and killing Palestinians to repress other people,” the campaign wrote of the company’s international projects.
“Because Elbit Systems is knowingly participating in and aiding Israeli war crimes and Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, investors in and partners of the security firm are, by extension, accessories to Israel’s many violations of international law and human rights standards.”
With the predictable failure of the Syrian peace conference, the call for the Obama administration to wage a humanitarian war to save civilians in Syria is once again being championed by some elements of the mainstream media in the U.S. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, since certain powerful voices in the U.S. corporate media have long been in lock-step with some of the most hawkish elements in the Obama administration regarding the use of force in Syria.
A sober, clear-eyed analysis of the logic of the decisions by the Obama administration suggest that the failure of the peace conference was a programmed outcome. The inescapable conclusion as to why the conference was even held, therefore, is that administration hawks saw the failure of the conference as a valuable public relations weapon to move public opinion in favor of more direct military involvement.
Before I am accused of being overly cynical or even conspiratorial, a review of the decisions made in the days and weeks leading up to the conference provides more than adequate evidence to support this contention.
If the Obama administration had been even remotely committed to brokering some kind of diplomatic solution, would it have insisted that all of the parties to the talks be bound by the terms of the Geneva communiqué that called for “regime change” in the form of a transitional government? Would the administration have excluded Iran or been committed to pretending that the “legitimate opposition” was represented by the Syrian National Coalition, a motley crew of slavish opportunist exiles who everyone knows have no real connection to the political and military situation on the ground?
The propaganda value of the talks seems to be the only plausible explanation for why the administration would engineer the elaborate charade in Geneva. The decision to hold the talks knowing that they were going to lead to failure is where the real cynicism lies.
As I have argued since the beginning of this manufactured conflict, peace and particularly the humanity of the Syrian people are the last things on the minds of U.S. policy-makers. The often-invoked concerns for the starving people of Homs and all of the other innocents in this brutal conflict continue to be no more than a crude subterfuge to allow the administration to pursue its broader regional geostrategic objective – the elimination of the Syrian state.
That is why the Islamic fundamentalist groups that U.S. intelligence services helped to arm, train and deploy with destructive efficiency (without much real concern if they were affiliated with al-Qaeda) have targeted all of the institutions of the Syrian state – schools, hospitals, government agencies, electrical stations, water and sanitation facilities, food distribution networks – as part of their strategy. Generalized mayhem, reducing the population to dependence on their networks and territorial dismemberment have all moved the administration toward realization of its strategic objective. But because of the successes of the Syrian armed forces and the uncertainties generated as a result of internal conflicts breaking out among Islamist forces in the country, Washington decision-makers want to make sure that the Syrian government is not able to retake or re-consolidate its influence in contested zones. This can only be assured as a result of more direct military intervention on the part of the U.S. and its allies.
So the next act in this macabre play is now centering on the very real sufferings of the Syrian people. The administration’s man at the U.N., Lakhor Brahimi, set this direction in motion by skillfully moving the peace talks toward the issue of humanitarian concerns. No longer needing the chemical weapons excuse, the administration along with its coterie of collaborationist human rights organizations and media apologists, are now demanding U.N. access to the areas where the Syrian governmental forces have hemmed in the armed groups.
Taking a page from its Libyan playbook on how to manipulate the public to support war, the Obama administration had a draft U.N. Security Council resolution circulated that placed the full blame on the Syrian government for the humanitarian situation in the country.
The language in the resolution was seen as so one-sided and belligerent by some U.N. members that it had no chance of being supported, which of course was the real objective. Orchestrated by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, the resolution appeared aimed at invoking a veto in the Security Council that would set the stage for another illegal NATO-led military assault on the Syrian armed forces. Instead, a resolution was passed over the weekend that some characterized as more balanced because it called on “all sides” to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians and condemned acts of terror. But all of the delegations understand that this compromise resolution is primarily targeting the Syrian government.
This concern for the humanity of the Syrians is comical if it was not so deadly serious. Sen. John McCain – the same Vietnam-era war criminal who was silent on the uprising of the people in Bahrain, the slaughter of innocent civilians in the various military assaults by Israel in Gaza and who supported the illegal war against Iraq that resulted in the deaths of over a million Iraqi’s – loudly condemned the Obama administration for not doing more for people suffering in Syria.
McCain as well as the hawks in the Obama administration and in the media know that they have a powerful weapon with the imperial and racist notion of the U.S. government’s “responsibility to protect.” The New York Times, Washington Post and a number of other major newspapers are now on record suggesting that the “use of force” by the Obama administration to end the starvation of innocents trapped in besieged cities is morally justified.
No one can deny the reality of tens of thousands of innocents suffering from the savage brutality of war. And who can disagree with relieving the sufferings of innocent civilians trapped in the middle of warring factions? U.S. decision-makers are well aware that most polling data suggest that when issues of humanitarian concerns are introduced, public support for more direct involvement in Syria shifts from a majority that is opposed to a slight majority that would support it.
So the U.S. public has been saturated over the last two weeks with stories about the trapped civilians, the cruel al-Assad government opposing humanitarian access and the innocent American administration that only wants to help the suffering Syrian people. The sad part of all of this is that with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement in shambles, suffering from a combination of institutional weakness, marginalization and the effects of the “liberal virus” that has confused and disarmed U.S. radicals, the administration may very well be successful in maneuvering the public into supporting more direct military involvement.
The consequence of all of this for the people of Syria will be more violent destruction, brutality and displacement. But I am sure that the pro-imperialist and pro-war Democrats in the Obama administration have concluded that for the Syrian people, freedom – as they define it – is “worth the price” in death and destruction. And they will not see any irony in this.
Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist and organizer. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C.