AVAAZ, “White Helmets”, HRW, PHR, Amnesty & More
A massive campaign in support of foreign intervention against Syria is underway. The goal is to prepare the public for a “No Fly Zone” enforced by US and other military powers. This is how the invasion of Iraq began. This is how the public was prepared for the US/NATO air attack on Libya.
The results of western ‘regime change’ in Iraq and Libya have been disastrous. Both actions have dramatically reduced the security, health, education and living standards of the populations, created anarchy and mayhem, and resulted in the explosion of sectarianism and violence in the region. Now the Western/NATO/Israeli and Gulf powers, supported by major intervention-inclined humanitarian organizations, want to do the same in Syria. Is this positive or a repeat of past disasters?
Who are the Humanitarian Interventionists?
Major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the campaign include Avaaz, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), “White Helmets” also known as “Syria Civil Defence, “The Syria Campaign” , Amnesty International etc.. These campaigns are well funded and in accord with the efforts of John McCain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others who are explicit in wanting “regime change” in Syria. Turkey continues to press for the No Fly Zone as the US and Turkey launch another round of training “moderate rebels” at bases in Turkey.
Today March 30, 2015 Avaaz is ramping up its campaign trying to reach 1 million people signing a petition for a “Save Zone” in Syria.
“Life Saving” No Fly Zone?
Avaaz organizer John Tye explained the rationale for the Syria No Fly Zone petition in a lengthy letter. He argues that a No Fly Zone (NFZ) will “save lives” and help “stop the carnage”. In sharp contrast, here is what General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM when the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya was enforced, said on “Face the Nation”
“I worry sometimes that, when people say “impose a no-fly zone,” there is this almost antiseptic view that this is an easily accomplished military task. It’s extraordinarily difficult. Having overseen imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, a force that is vastly inferior in air forces and air defenses to that which exists in Syria, it’s a pretty high-risk operation… It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.”
Recent History of No Fly Zone
The most recent No Fly Zone was that imposed on Libya in March 2011. It was authorized by the UN Security Council after a wave of media reports claiming that Libya was using mercenaries, Libyan troops were engaging in widespread violence and Viagra fueled rape, and finally that the city of Benghazi (population 700,000) were facing massacre and possible ‘genocide’.
Alarming press reports were issued by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, etc.. Avaaz launched an online “Libya No-Fly Zone” petition. These groups rallied public opinion which contributed to the UN Security Council resolution granting USA and NATO right to take over Libyan airspace. That led to a bombing campaign of nearly 10,000 attack sorties over the next eight months, the murder of Qaddafi, deaths of about 30 thousand, downfall of the government and installation of the outside appointed National Transition Council.
Since then there has been an explosion of violence, racism, sectarianism, and chaos. Libyans have experienced a huge decline in security and standards of living. The No Fly Zone which was supposed to “prevent a massacre” has led to vastly greater violence and chaos in Libya and beyond. Fighters and weapons flooded from Libya to Turkey and into Syria, expenses paid by Qatar.
As for the early reports about mercenaries, rape, viagra and looming massacre ….. these have been exposed as false. The mercenaries were fighting on the side of the “rebels”. The massacres were those that followed the NATO destruction. The entire “viagra” story was a fraud.
The details are documented in Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa by Maximillian Forte and Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell. Forte devotes one entire chapter to detailing the false manipulation of public opinion by would-be humanitarian organizations.
Avaaz Ignore Results from Libya
Despite writing the long letter in response to specific questions including Libya, Avaaz organizer John Tye avoids any reference to their “Libya No Fly Zone” campaign and the aftermath. This is perhaps understandable but raises questions about sincerity and motivation. Are many members of the public being unwittingly duped into joining the campaign?
Part 2 of this article will examine: What is the evidence of war crimes in Syria? Are the humanitarian interventionists R2P (right to protect) or R4W (responsible for war)?
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement.
Sixteenth Anniversary of the War Against Yugoslavia: Surdulica
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) proclaims its “commitment to maintaining international peace and security.” Mainstream media rarely, if ever, look beyond Western self-justifications and bland assurances of moral superiority, and little thought is given to what NATO’s wars of aggression might look like to those on the receiving end.
During the first two weeks of August, 1999, I was a member of a delegation travelling throughout Yugoslavia, documenting NATO war crimes. One of our stops was at Surdulica, a small town which then had a population of about 13,000. We initially met with management of Zastava Pes, an automotive electrical parts factory that had at one time employed about 500 workers. In better days, annual exports from the plant amounted to $8 million. Western-imposed sanctions had stopped export contracts and prevented the import of materials, forcing a 70 percent reduction in the workforce and a decline in the local economy.
Staff at Zastava Pes told us that bombs and missiles had routinely rained down upon their town.
We were first taken to a sanatorium, located atop a heavily wooded hill overlooking the town. The sanatorium consisted of a Lung Disease Hospital, which also housed refugees, and a second building that served as a retirement home.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of May 31, 1999, NATO planes launched four missiles at the sanatorium complex, killing at least 19 people. It was not possible to ascertain the precise number of victims because numerous body parts could not be matched to the 19 bodies. Another 38 people were wounded. We were told that the force of the explosions had been so powerful that body parts were thrown as far as one kilometer away. Following the attack, body parts were hanging in the trees, and blood dripped from the branches. By the time of our visit, the area had largely been cleaned up, but we could still see torn clothing scattered high among the branches of the tall trees.
Although only one missile struck the nursing home, it caused enormous damage. We walked around to the back, on the building’s southwestern side. A section of the second floor had collapsed, and the entire side of the building was extensively damaged, with mounds of rubble at the base of the building. On the northeast side of the complex, the building that housed refugees and patients bore a gaping hole in its façade, from which a river of rubble had poured like blood from a wound. We clambered up the mound of rubble and made our way into the building. Debris littered the hallways and in several rooms we found scorched mattresses, clothes and damaged personal belongings jumbled together in disarray. Bricks and chunks of concrete were strewn among the rubble, and a loaf of bread rested against a child’s shirt. In another room, teenage magazines and a child’s textbook were mixed among the wreckage. In the center of the room was a child’s teddy bear.
Rear of nursing home in Surdulica. Photo: Gregory Elich.
According to the on-site investigation report of June 3, it took three days to dig the bodies from the rubble. The yard outside the Special Lung Hospital “was covered with parts of human bodies, torn heads, arms and hands as well as bodies partly covered with rubble material, dust, broken bricks” and debris from the building. “A torn-off head of a man, approximately 70-years-old, was found outdoors. North from this head, there was another body covered with debris and a torn arm.” Three bodies were a short distance away, including one with a partially damaged head. “Brain tissue…could be seen on some parts of the building ruins,” the report continued.
As refugees from Croatia, nineteen-year-old Milena Malobabich, her mother, and two brothers stayed in the sanatorium. The entire family was killed in the attack. During the air raid, panic-stricken, Milena ran from the building, clutching a notebook in which she had written poetry. The examiner of Milena’s body noted: “The brain tissue is completely missing, and there is only dust and sand in the cranial cavity.” Blood had flowed from behind the right ear. Milena’s ribs were crushed, and her abdomen and left leg were lacerated. Her notebook was found near her body; on one page she had written in large letters, “I love you, Dejane!” The brain that composed poetry and cherished a man named Dejane was scattered in pieces throughout the yard.
We next visited a residential neighborhood that was completely wiped out by NATO missiles. As we had seen in other towns, a remarkable reconstruction effort was underway. Responsibility for national reconstruction was assigned to the Directorate for National Recovery, which was formed just ten days into the war. An energetic program was soon launched, and destroyed neighborhoods were cleared of debris and construction of new homes began even as NATO continued its attacks.
By the time of our visit, every trace of rubble had been removed from this neighborhood, and the earth smoothed over. A bulldozer and grader were parked nearby, and construction of two new homes had begun. Surviving residents approached and talked to us, showing us photographs they had taken in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. The level of destruction shown in the photographs was appalling, a jumbled riot of debris where several homes once stood.
We visited a second neighborhood obliterated by NATO missiles. Here too, reconstruction was underway. Smashed automobiles and partially roofless homes bordering the area were the only physical reminders of the tragedy.
In the first neighborhood, a man named Dragan told us that the homes were hit as a result of errant missiles. “They were trying to hit the water supply plant nearby, with two missiles.” Another survivor, Zoran Savich told us that sirens sounded every day, and the town was bombed on multiple occasions. Four months had passed since his neighborhood had been hit, but Dragan’s son was still so terrified that he fled into the basement every time he heard the sound of an airplane overhead. Quite a long distance away was another of NATO’s targets, an army barracks that was abandoned during the war. I climbed atop a large mound of dirt to view the barracks from afar, and saw that it too was damaged. NATO sprayed its bombs and missiles liberally around Surdulica. The destruction of an empty barracks was of doubtful military utility. The targeting of a water supply plant was cruel, but there were no words to adequately characterize the destruction of entire neighborhoods, as we had repeatedly witnessed in our travels. By the end of the war, NATO had destroyed about fifty homes in Surdulica and damaged around 600 more.
One of the bombed homes belonged to Radica Rastich. In a deposition, her neighbor Borica Novkovich recalled, “The sound was like a huge blow on the head. Everything turned over and rolled down the hill. Radica was screaming, screaming, when we came to help her. She was taken from the house all twisted and bent over. She was shaking and shaking; her hands were pressed tight over her ears.” Another survivor, Perica Jovanovich, stated, “I’ll never forget the strange voice of the bomb. When the plane is flying and drops the bomb the noise changes. It’s awful. It’s like the static on the radio but so loud, and then there is this awful crash and pressure and everything moves and boils up.”
It was a clear day on April 27 when the first neighborhood was bombed. On Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj Street, children were happily playing outside when NATO warplanes made their approach. Hearing the wail of air raid sirens, the children ran into the home of Aleksandar Milich, where they took refuge in the strongest basement in the neighborhood. It was not long before two NATO missiles sailed into that very house. The sound of the blast was deafening, and smoke and dust filled the air. Every home in the area was destroyed, and survivors were screaming as they struggled to escape from under the rubble.
Stojanche Petkovich reported that after hearing the first explosion, he rushed into the Milich home. He was in the upper cellar and about to descend into the lower cellar when the next missile hit the house, hurling him against a wall. “I covered my mouth with my hand to prevent the dust to enter, because there was a cloud of smoke and dust in there. When I recovered a bit after the second explosion, I called out to those from the second basement, but no one answered me. I could see that the ceiling in that part of the basement had collapsed.” Moments later, Petkovich heard blocks falling and looked up to see “the ceiling above my head coming down on me. The concrete ceiling was now down, pinning my right lower leg. I was watching the other end of the ceiling also coming down on me, and I saw the iron bars in it stretching. Then everything stopped.” It took two hours to pull Petkovich out, the lone survivor from the Milich home. Blood was spattered all around where the cellar had once been, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. Every victim was decapitated and dismembered. “Bits of them were all over the road,” one man was reported as saying. “We found the head of a child in a garden and many limbs in the mud.”
When 65-year-old Vojislav Milich heard the air raid sirens that day, he ran to his home. He was about 100 meters away when he saw the two missiles exploding on his home. “When the smoke vanished, I saw just ruins of my house. It had been razed to the ground, completely torn down. I presumed that all of the members of my family and all of the people from the neighborhood got killed, which unfortunately proved to be true.”
The morning after the attack, I read the news on a Yugoslav internet site. There was a photograph of the back of an ambulance, its doors thrown open. Inside were piled chunks of shapeless human flesh, still smoking – remains of the eleven victims, the youngest of whom was only four years old.
Four hours after the attack, the British Ministry of Defense announced that it had been a good day for NATO.
Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and the Advisory Board of the Korea Policy Institute. He is a columnist for Voice of the People, and one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language.
WE ALL KNOW about of the fog of war, but the current coverage and commentary on the crisis in Ukraine arguably takes wartime disinformation to new levels.
Richard Sakwa’s new book is a rare and precious exception. It is clear and measured and carefully researched and it shows that the story we are told in the west about events inside Ukraine is deeply flawed.
More generally, it exposes the idea that Russia is the aggressor and the West the protector of Ukraine’s democratic will as a travesty of the truth. In short, Sakwa’s analysis is diametrically opposed to what passes for an explanation of the Ukraine crisis in the mainstream.
One of the book’s great strengths is that it sees the crisis as a product of two connected processes, one domestic, one geopolitical.
Far from being a straightforward expression of popular will, Sakwa details how the government that emerged from the Maidan protests in February 2014 represented the victory of a minority hardline anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism.
But this minority could come to dominate, he argues, because of the context provided by an aggressive, US-led, Western foreign policy designed to assert Western control over Eastern Europe and, at least in its more hawkish versions, de-stabilise Russia.
The push to the east
Nato and the EU have been pushing steadily eastwards ever since the end of the Cold War, despite verbal assurances from a series of Western leaders that this would not happen.
Twelve countries have joined Nato in the region since 1991. Georgia and Ukraine were promised membership at the Nato Summit in Bucharest in 2008, despite repeated warnings from the Russian government that taking Nato to the Russian border would cause a security crisis of the first order. It was only the intercession of Germany and France that forced the US to put these plans on hold.
The push to the east continued in the form, amongst others, of a plan to get Ukraine to sign up to an ‘Association Agreement’ with the EU. It was this agreement, due to be signed in November 2013, which sparked the crisis. To grasp its significance it is important to understand just how closely tied Nato and the EU have become, especially since the Lisbon Treaty signed by EU members in 2007.
Article 4 in the proposed Association Agreement committed the signatories to ‘gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever deeper involvement in the European Security area’ (p.76). As Sakwa puts it, “it is pure hypocrisy to argue that the EU is little more than an extended trading bloc: after Lisbon, it was institutionally a core part of the Atlantic security community, and had thus become geopolitical”. (p.255)
All parties involved must have known that this document, if signed, would have caused existential anxiety in Moscow. Defenders of the West’s drive to the east justify it as the reflection of the will of the people concerned.
This is disingenuous. As Western leaders themselves have publicly admitted, a campaign to buy Ukrainain hearts and minds has been running for decades. In 2013, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, publicly boasted of the fact that the US had invested $5 billion in ‘democracy promotion’ since 1991, a huge sum by USAID’s standards (p.86). It has since been revealed that the EU too spent 496 million on front groups in Ukraine between 2004 and 2013 (p.90).
And there was nothing democratic about the process. Discussions about the Association Agreement in fact took place behind the backs of the Ukrainian people and the text of the agreement was not available in Ukraine till the last moment (p.74). It actually contained very little in the way of assistance to Ukraine’s economy, and its centrepiece was a radical liberalisation of EU-Ukraine trade, a direct threat to the traditional economic relations between Ukraine and Russia.
In the end, for a mixture of reasons, President Yanokovich didn’t sign up to the deal. But the pressure to sign helped to polarise the debate in Ukraine. The meaning of the agreement was an open secret in Washington. In the words of Carl Gershman from the National Endowment for Democracy, while Ukraine was ‘the biggest prize’, there was, beyond that, an opportunity to put Putin ‘on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself’. (p.75)
This concerted Western strategy to surround and weaken Russia had a profound impact on the internal politics of Ukraine. Sakwa explains well the complex history that links Ukraine and Russia, a history that can’t be reduced to simple formulas of colonial dependency. The long, indigenous tradition of seeing Ukraine as part of greater Russian union has resulted in Russian being the dominant language in most of the country despite ethnic Russians being a relatively small minority. (p.8)
For all the mixed motivations behind the Maidan protests, it was a hardline anti-Russian strand that came to dominate, first in the protests themselves and subsequently in the regime that emerged out of the forced removal of the Yanukovich government.
Western policy in general gave ballast to a hardline nationalist tradition in the country that saw Russia – and the Russian minorities within the country – as the enemies of Ukrainian nationalism.
This tradition centred on the historic figure of Stepan Bandera who collaborated with the German Nazis in atrocities against Jews, Poles and Russians in Ukraine during WW2. His followers formed SS divisions which were responsible for the deaths of up to half a million people. (pp16-17). A giant poster of Bandera hung by the side of the stage in the Maidan, and many leaders of the regime that came out of the Maidan saw him as part of their tradition.
The West was minutely involved in this process. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland visited Ukraine three times in the first few weeks of the Maidan protests (p.86). The famous February leaked phone call between her and the US ambassador in Ukraine in which Nuland said ‘fuck the EU’, showed the extent to which the US was pulling the strings and in which direction.
In the call Nuland judges that the relatively moderate nationalist Vitaly Klitschko, who had the backing of Germany and the EU, should be kept out of office and that Arseniey Yatsenhuk – ‘Yats’ she calls him – a man who turned out to be a hardline chauvinist, should be the key player. Yatsenyuk indeed became the acting Prime Minister in the new government.
The result, in Sakwa’s words, was that, ‘what had begun as a movement in support of ‘European values’ now became a struggle to assert a monist representation of Ukrainian nationhood. The amorphous liberal rhetoric gave way to a much harsher agenda of integrated nationhood, and the euphoria promoted a rash of ill-considered policies’ (p.94).
As President Yanukovich was impeached and the new government was installed, armed insurgents strutted around the debating chamber. Yatsenyuk’s government was a mixture of recycled oligarchs and hard-line nationalists and fascists. It contained only two ministers from the entire south and east of the country, the areas with closest ties to Russia.
Five cabinet positions out of 21 were taken by the far right Svoboda Party, despite the fact they had only received 8% of the seats in Parliament. The minister of justice and the deputy Prime Minister came from the Russophobic Svobada party and its founder, a man with a long record of ultra nationalist activism, Andriy Parubiy, became head of the NSDC security agency.
One of the new government’s first acts was to vote to rescind a law guaranteeing the right to instate a second official language where there were significant minorities. Although the change in the law was blocked, the vote was correctly interpreted as an attack on Russian minorities across the country.
It was followed by the outlawing of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the establishment of a ‘special service’ to root out fifth columnists in the armed forces (p.137). A wave of physical assaults on Russians duly followed.
In Odessa, pro-Russian activists were driven from an encampment into a trade union building which was then torched, killing a minimum of 48, many hundreds according to locals. The massacre was hailed by one of the Maidan leaders, Dmytro Yarosh, as ‘another bright day in our national history’ (p.98).
This series of events made a civil war virtually inevitable. Uprisings in the east of the country were motivated by political resentments, opposition to neoliberal policies and other economic grievances against Kiev, but most of all by a sense of the need for self defence. Unlike the largely middle-class movement in Kiev, the anti-Maidan movement in the Donbass region was ‘lower-class, anti-oligarchic (and Russian nationalist)’ (p.149). It was not mainly separatist. A poll by the Pew Research Center in May 2014 found that 70 per cent of eastern Ukrainians wanted to keep the country intact, including 58 per cent of Russian speakers (p.149).
The view from the East
Sakwa carefully analyses Russia’s behaviour during the crisis. His conclusions are a frontal challenge to the West’s narrative that the crisis in the Ukraine was precipitated by Russian aggression. As he shows, this is the opposite of the truth.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, successive governments embraced a Western orientation, even making tentative moves to join Nato. In contrast to the stereotype that has been so carefully constructed, in his first term, Putin, and his successor Medvedev, sought engagement and accommodation with the West and tried to establish structured relationships with Nato and the EU. This approach faltered according to Sakwa, because of repeated rebuffs from the West:
“Continued conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the inability to establish genuine relations with the EU and disappointment following Russia’s positive demarche in its attempt to reboot relations with the US after 9/11 all combined to sour Putin’s new realist project” p.31
Over the last decade and a half, the Russian foreign policy establishment has become more and more alarmed by the unilateralism of US foreign policy, particularly over the invasion of Iraq and the attack on Libya. The non-negotiated push eastwards by Nato and the EU could of course only be perceived as hostile.
Even in these circumstances, however, for Sakwa, Putin’s central concern was to maintain the status quo in Ukraine, and try and ensure a friendly or at least neutral buffer state based on a stable settlement within the multi-ethnic Ukrainian state.
The forced, Western-backed removal of the Yanukovich government created an immediate crisis for the Russian government. Putin reacted by running a popular poll and an armed operation to secure the secession of the Crimean region to the USSR. Given the level of hostility and the mobilisations against Russian minorities, this can have surprised no-one. The Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, and it contains Sevastopol, Russia’s only major warm-water naval base. The idea that the Russian ruling class was going to stand aside and allow this area to be taken by a pro-Nato and anti-Russian government was obvious fantasy.
But if Putin’s long-term plan had been to invade, partition or even to destabilise the rest of Ukraine, he would have taken the opportunity presented by the virtual collapse of the Ukrainian government in February last year and the anti-Kiev uprisings in the east of the country which developed as a result.
His response was in fact was very different. Sakwa argues that despite the hoopla in the Western media, with the exception of the special case in Crimea, there is little evidence of significant military intervention by Russia in the months after the crisis of February, at least until August.
Putin supported the rebels to try and gain some leverage, but when it came to military assistance the rebels in the east were denouncing Putin for not delivering it. In Sakwa’s words, “Russia used proxies in the Donbas to achieve its goals within Ukraine, but this was not an attempted ‘land-grab’ or even a challenge to the international system” (p.182).
On 24 June in fact, the Russian Federation Council revoked a ruling which had previously allowed Russian military involvement in Ukraine ‘in order to normalise and regulate the situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine’ in the run up to tripartite talks involving the new Prime Minister Poroshenko (p.162). But Poroshenko had been the continuity candidate. On taking office, he had issued a statement calling for ‘a united, single Ukraine’ and characterising insurgents in the south-east as ‘terrorists’ (p.161).
Sakwa, along with most other sane commentators, is far from idealising the authoritarian and sometimes aggressive Russian regime. He criticises its human rights record and its institutions of governance. If anything his instincts are with a reformed integrationist ‘wider European project’, which, given the behaviour of the actually-existing Western institutions, seems a bit of a forlorn hope.
But what Sakwa’s book does so well is to ask us to go beyond rhetoric and generalities and examine the actual dynamics of the particular situation in its national and international dimensions.
Most importantly, he argues, we can’t begin to understand the Ukrainian catastrophe unless we completely reject the dominant, not to say consensual, Western account of what is happening. This is a crisis created by the West, but by threatening Russia’s core interests, it contains the possibility of a catastrophic confrontation; ‘the US has sought to create a regime in its own image, while Russia has sought to prevent the creation of one hostile to its perceived interests’ he argues (p.255).
We in the West have a responsibility to do everything possible to force our leaders back from the brink.
Richard Sakwa: History returns with a vengeance in Ukraine
Jonathan Steele: Who is really responsible for the crisis in Ukraine boiling over?
Demonstrators march in the Czech capital of Prague in protest against a US military convoy passing through the country on March 28, 2015
Hundreds of demonstrators have staged an anti-NATO rally in the Czech capital of Prague to protest a planned parade by a US military convoy through the East European republic.
The protesters held the rally on Saturday on the eve of a parade by roughly 120 US military vehicles that are to enter the country as part of the Western military alliance’s “Operation Dragon Ride” parading through six NATO member states in Europe.
“This definitely won’t contribute to peace in Europe because the situation is very, very dangerous and very tense. We’re of the opinion that steps like this definitely don’t help,” said Lubomir Ledl, a protest organizer and lawyer from Prague.
Demonstrators waved the Czech national flag and carried placards reading “Tanks? No Thanks!” and “Stop US Army.”
The anti-war protesters were met by a group of pro-NATO demonstrators. Minor clashes broke out between the two groups.
The US military convoy passes through Estonia as part of drills in Eastern Europe on March 21, 2015
The convoy, consisting mostly of armored personnel carriers, began the parade on March 21 in Estonia and passed through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, before entering the Czech Republic on Sunday.
The convoy will stay in the country until April 1 when the vehicles will cross into neighboring Germany to return to a military base in the city of Vilseck.
According to Lieutenant colonel Craig Childs, a spokesman for the US Army in Europe (USAREUR), the military march is aimed at testing “unit maintenance and leadership capabilities while simultaneously providing a highly visible demonstration of US commitment to its NATO allies and demonstrating NATO’s ability to move military forces freely across allied borders in close cooperation.”
Throughout the march, security forces from the six European governments have offered to escort the convoy to fend off opposition as the US military convoy crosses the countries filled with people protesting the move.
The convoy comes as NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe amid deteriorating ties with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
In 2014, NATO forces held some 200 military exercises, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such drills would continue.
In addition, the defense ministers of NATO’s 28 member states agreed on February 5 to establish six new command and control posts in the Eastern European nations of Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned NATO’s exercises and military buildup toward its borders. Russia has also repeatedly accused the US of fueling unrest throughout the world by interfering in other countries and pursuing global hegemony and its expansionist policy.
Russia ended on March 21 nationwide military exercises in the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, the Arctic and the Far East.
More than 80,000 Russian troops with over 10,000 military vehicles, 65 warships, 16 support vessels, 15 submarines and 200 jet fighters and helicopter gunships took part in the maneuvers.
In the same week that The Economist lauded Ukraine’s “commitment to European values,” Kiev’s current regime kicked out Euronews. Who do they think they are kidding?
Ah, The Economist. Without question, it’s is the best informed news magazine in the world… except on subjects I know something about. Take Ukraine for instance, throughout the country’s current crisis, The Economist has been weaving a web of fantasy to its readers. The narrative has continuously blamed Russia for all Ukraine’s misfortunes while painting its post-Maidan oligarchic rulers as being somewhere near God’s right hand.
After wholeheartedly backing last year’s coup, the windy weekly has been unwilling to admit the severity of Kiev’s economic malaise. Instead, it has maintained the pretence that throwing money at its pro-NATO regime will solve all its problems. Anybody who knows the first thing about Ukraine acknowledges that the lion’s share of the dough would be pilfered.
The problem is that a great number of the Western world’s most powerful people take The Economist seriously. The magazine appears both authoritative and credible, and never misses a chance to emphasize its own importance. However, this is “lipstick on a pig” territory. On subjects I’m reasonably informed about (Ireland, Europe, Britain, the ex-USSR for example), The Economist is more often wrong than right. Viewed through that prism, I’m extremely skeptical of the rag’s accuracy on topics I know little of.
In 2005, The Economist announced that Ireland had the highest quality of life in the world. I clearly remember reading the edition in downtown Dublin and that my first thought concerned the quality of the drugs the magazine’s editors were taking. Oddly, I’d penned a column a week earlier for the Ireland On Sunday newspaper predicting a deep recession for my homeland, which was rapidly losing its industrial base as credit-fuelled property madness raged.
Two years later, Ireland’s economy collapsed and a half decade of misery began. Incidentally, the periodical currently lists Melbourne as the best place to reside on earth. If you are in Melbourne right now, given The Economist’s track record, it’s probably best to emigrate before the inevitable happens.
Russia’s strong, determined President
Guided by its pro-interventionist and pro-neo liberal principles, the weekly doesn’t restrict itself to making a dog’s dinner of fiscal forecasts. Indeed, it frequently enters the realm of geopolitics to tackle countries and governments that don’t conform to its worldview. Russia is a case in point. In the 90’s, when Russia was on its knees, The Economist couldn’t get enough of the place. In fact, it broadly welcomed Vladimir Putin’s election in 2000, calling him a “strong, determined man.” By 2002 it trumpeted that “relations between Russia and the West have (sic) rarely been better.”
Now, the same Vladimir Putin is The Economist’s public enemy Number 1 and Russia the re-incarnation of Hitler’s Germany. Moscow’s crime? Standing up for itself and rejecting the Western liberal consensus. Essentially, refusing to pauperize the country to suit a bunch of ideologues in London.
In order to wage its anti-Russia campaign, The Economist pretends to care about Ukraine. The London-based magazine is far from alone in this. Last weekend, it hailed Kiev’s commitment to European values.
“European values like free speech and a commitment to truth remain potent,” it boldly declared. The reason I keep writing ‘it’ is because the article was unsigned, written under the pseudonym ‘Charlemagne.’ The Economist’s journalists don’t sign their work, which is probably for the best considering the kind of rubbish they pen.
The Menace of cliques
The diatribe quotes a scaremongering report written by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, two activists connected to the shadowy UAE-backed Legatum Institute. Legatum’s Director of Communications is the former Catholic Herald editor, Cristina Odone, who just happens to be married to Edward Lucas, a senior Editor at The Economist. Mr. Lucas has previously advocated the use of Brezhnev-era KGB methods against RT.
Repeating the canard of “lavishly financed Russian media,” The Economist claims that “cash-strapped, fractious Europe will always struggle.” This is pure hokum. Only last month, Germany increased the budget of its Deutsche Welle news agency to $332 million. Meanwhile, BBC’s World Service has $406 million to splurge in 2015, and that’s just for radio/web. Additionally, France 24 spends around $130 million annually. By what stretch of the imagination is European media financially struggling here?
Snooze and you lose Euronews
Nevertheless, in the same week that The Economist was promoting Ukraine’s adherence to “European values,” Kiev revoked the license for the Ukrainian version of Euronews, suddenly claiming the current arrangement was “disadvantageous”. Now, I can’t think of a less offensive outlet. Euronews is so bland, so insipid that you could leave it on at an Israeli-Palestinian arm wrestling extravaganza and nobody would object.
While a private company, Euronews has received significant funding from Brussels over the years and is widely perceived, rightly or wrongly, as EU TV. The Ukraine edition was previously owned by an Egyptian, Naguib Sawiris, but reports suggest that it’s now controlled by Dymtro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch and rival of fellow-billionaire, Petro Poroshenko. Some use the label ‘pro-Russian’ to describe Firtash, but I find that Ukraine’s ultra-rich are usually just pro-themselves.
The Ukrainian President has his own TV network, Channel 5, and apparently objected to competition from Firtash, who he evidently sees as a threat. So, it looks like he used his political power to muffle the voice of Euronews. “European values,” how are you?
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish writer and commentator focusing on Russia and its hinterlands and international geo-politics. Follow him on Facebook
Britain has sent military personnel to Ukraine to help its army fight against pro-Russian militias in the country’s volatile east.
British media reports say the 35 military trainers are based in Mykolaiv, in the south of the country and they are expected to be there for the next two months.
Last month, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon announced plans to send up to 75 troops and military staff to the war-torn country. That’s under a deal Prime Minister David Cameron signed with the Ukrainian leadership.
“The UK is committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s aggression”, an MoD spokeswoman said.
It is the first time a Western nation has conducted a long-term military training program in Ukraine since its war against pro-Russian militias that began last year. A London-based analyst says the UK’s policy will aggravate the situation further.
“I think the situation is very fragile and certainly the civilians will suffer the most. Everything has got to be done in order to support them, but the solution is not going to be and is not a military solution and I think there’s got to be a diplomatic solution”, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told Press TV.
The UK has already supplied Kiev with non-lethal aid including first aid kits, sleeping bags and night-vision goggles. However, the latest move has angered Russia.
“The deployment would not relax tensions in the conflict zone”, Dmitry Pveskov, press secretary to the Russian president has been quoted as saying.
Pveskov said that the presence of foreign instructors in Ukraine cannot facilitate the settlement of the conflict there.
The United States has already said it is also planning to send a battalion to train three Ukrainian battalions.
“I think it (arming and training Ukrainian troops) probably gives them an excuse and every chance to be used”, Smith concluded.
The fighting that broke out in eastern Ukraine claimed over 6,000 lives but clashes have reduced since a ceasefire was declared.
The deal that was orchestrated by Germany, France and Russia and signed by pro-Russian militias and Kiev in Minsk, Belarus, came into effect on February 15.
Under the deal, warring sides have already pulled back their heavy weapons from the frontline. However, sporadic shelling continues with two sides blaming each other for incidents.
The West has, for long, accused Russia of having a hand in the crisis in eastern Ukraine that followed after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich.
Moscow calls Yanukovich’s ouster an “armed plot by the West with Americans as the true puppeteers”.
“The US helped armed groups in western Ukraine, in Poland and to some extent in Lithuania”, President Vladimir Putin labeled the accusation in a recent interview.
Russia’s reunification of the Black Sea peninsular region of Crimea on March 17, last year was a turning point in its relations with the West.
The move sparked angry reactions from the US and the European Union, with both imposing “punitive measures,” against Russian and Crimean officials.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO also expanded its military presence in Eastern Europe. In 2014, the western military alliance held some 200 war games. NATO also formed command and control units in a number of east European countries.
In a tit-for-tat move, Russia has also conducted a number military drills in the regions. Earlier this week, the Defense Ministry reported a maneuver ranging from the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean and involving tens of thousands of troops.
Reports say Russia is also planning to station state-of-the art missiles in its westernmost Baltic enclave amid bitter tensions with the West over Ukraine. The Kremlin has also said that it will not hesitate to deploy nuclear-capable missiles in Crimea.
Where I live (the Netherlands), if you were to call NATO the world’s most dangerous institution, a consensus would quickly form to conclude that you must have lost your marbles. Yet, without NATO we would not have a Ukraine crisis, and no speculations about the possibility of war with Russia. Taking nuclear war seriously as a policy option should be listed in psychology handbooks as indicative of complete insanity or lethal ignorance. This has not stopped newspaper editors from speculating about it in their headlines, as they fill in the blanks of what a number top officials on both sides of the Atlantic have recently been half-saying or implying. With no NATO they would not have had occasion or reason to do so. Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko recently said: “Everybody is afraid of fighting with a nuclear state. We are not anymore”. Political insanity can exist independently of NATO, but the least one can say is that it has become a facilitator of that insanity.
It would therefore be a momentous development for what is still called ‘the West’ if last week’s Der Spiegel signals a relevant German awakening. The weekly magazine published a hard hitting article in which the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Breedlove, is accused of undermining Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy. The military head of NATO, with his exaggerations and untruths about Russian troop movements, spouts “dangerous propaganda” according to officials in Merkel’s Chancellery, as quoted by the magazine. In other words, he can no longer be trusted.
Lies coming out of Washington that portray Putin as the grand aggressor are nothing new; for about a year they have formed a constant stream, from the lips of the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and in a milder form from the President himself. As a result the idea of Russian aggression has become close to an article of faith in Northern Europe’s mainstream media. But by singling out Breedlove, the German finger-pointing is directed at NATO, and Obama and Co may draw their own conclusions from it.
An assortment of conflicts have gone into the Ukraine crisis, but the two that now appear to have become fundamental to it play themselves out far away from that tragic country. One is centered in Washington where an out-of-his-depth president must decide whether to become realistic or give in further to right-wing forces that want to give the Kiev regime the weapons needed to continue its war in Eastern Ukraine. The second conflict is an incipient one about NATO – meaning European subservience to the United States – begun by Angela Merkel’s and Francois Hollande’s recently formed Peace Party, of which their mission to the Kremlin, Merkel’s joint press conference with Obama and the above mentioned German reporting are early signs.
Until now Obama has given as good as free rein to the liberal hawks and neocons in his own government. The War Party. A prominent member of that group, Victoria Nuland, who played a central role in helping to organize the coup d’état in Kiev last year, is eager to give Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the means to survive the onslaughts of supernationalists in his own environment and to subdue, finally, the anti-regime troops in South East Ukraine. Nuland works closely with Breedlove, and both have expressed themselves in denigrating terms about European recalcitrance in the face of what they want to accomplish.
Should Obama choose to become realistic, it would require measures to show the world his re-established political control over the State Department, and other institutions where neocons and “responsibility to protect” liberals have nestled. These have been writing America’s foreign policy basics since George W. Bush. It would also have to be accompanied by a genuine change of position vis-à-vis Putin. Obama must be aware that if, instead, he chooses to continue siding with the War Party, he runs the risk of demonstrating to all and sundry NATO’s impotence as military instrument of ‘The West’. The fighting forces of Donetsk and Lubansk wage an existential battle, and have all along been superior to the demoralized and apparently disorganized Kiev military. American intervention could only be effective if the proposed ‘lethal weapons’ have the capacity to turn the Ukraine war into a theatre of full military escalation, with tactical nuclear weapons an ultimate option.
The newly revealed split in transatlantic purposes may finally decide NATO’s future. As an institution that began living a life of its own with purposes and actions entirely different from, and at odds with, the original purposes for which it was created, NATO has had a much more fateful influence on political Europe than is routinely understood. Set up in 1949 to reassure a demoralized and war devastated Europe that it would help prevent a new war, the European member countries normally do not question the official reason that it exists to protect them. But there has not been a single instance since the demise of the Soviet Union to confirm such a function. It has, instead, forced governments to lie to their populations (we are threatened from behind the Hindu Kush and Saddam Hussein can make mushroom clouds), poisoning the air in which reasoned geopolitical discussion ought to have taken place. It has, moreover, created risks from blowback activity as member countries participated in wars that were none of NATO’s business.
But NATO’s worst consequence is what it has done to Europe’s prospects to pull itself out of its current muddle and become a political entity recognizable as such by the rest of the world. It has prevented the European Union from developing a defense policy, and consequently a foreign policy worthy of the term. Since the demise of its original reason for existence, it has caused Europe to slip ever further into a relationship vis-à-vis the United States best compared to medieval vassalage. That sad fact could hardly have been more blatantly obvious when in 2014 it succumbed to Washington’s pressure to join punitive economic sanctions against Putin’s Russia, to its own significant economic detriment, and for reasons justified solely by American propaganda.
The ease with which European Union heads of government fell in line behind misguided American efforts in the demonization of Putin reveals an even deeper problem. Since the end of the Cold War NATO has kept European politicians in a kind of geopolitical kindergarten, encouraging a comic book style vision of world affairs scripted in Washington with bad guys threatening the West and its ‘values’.
Some of this is of course well-understood in parts of the highest ruling circles of the European Union. Hence the recent suggestion made by EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper, that Europe requires its own army to amount to anything on the world stage, and also to impress Russia with what Europe stands for. Juncker is well-known as an enthusiast for a federal Europe.
One of the reasons to wake the European Union up to the fact that is a political entity, and to encourage its development in the direction of a federal superstructure, is that by projecting its own power it could create a much needed counterbalance to the tragic American extremism in world affairs. It would force a militarist United States to stop legitimizing its aggression with references and appeals to putative ‘Western values’.
The European Union missed a chance to establish itself squarely on the world stage when Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder did not clarify why they denied George W. Bush a UN Security Council resolution for his invasion of Iraq. They failed to explain to their own public and to the wider world that Europe continues to uphold the UN Charter as the basis of what we have in the way of fledgling international law. Instead, from that moment onward the world saw an open European display of utter subservience to a tragically out-of-control Washington in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The much bandied about ‘Western values’ do not now include earlier principles connected with international law, desirable world order, sovereignty or diplomacy. Those have been eclipsed by Atlanticism, which is a peculiar European secular faith. It holds that the United States, while perhaps flawed, is still an indispensable savior, and without its leadership there cannot be good world order. Hence we must all do what Washington demands.
Since Atlanticism is worshipped most intensely by NATO, we may think of this institution as the Church of this faith. Its texts are slogans about liberty, ‘shared values’, human rights and the need to spread democracy. It has of course derived strength from historical experience and also from deserved gratitude. A weak lingering fear that without American supervision European quarrels could turn nasty – an original additional reason for wanting to have it around – may still enter into it as well. But its resilience is probably most of all due to an utter dearth of imagination among the technocrats and ideologically crippled men and women that form majorities among Europe’s ruling elites.
“Like no other institution, NATO embodies Atlantic cohesion, something that remains essential for any Western effort to promote a degree of international order. NATO links Europe to the world’s most powerful country and uniquely ties the United States to a common procedure of consultation and cooperation. … European governments, therefore, are crazy not to support NATO. To watch it wither is at best frivolous, at worst dangerous”, so said the well-known NATO advocate Christoph Bertram when in 2004 misgivings about George W. Bush were creating European doubts about its value. The crucial point he and other true believers have missed is that already for some time now genuine consultation is no longer part of the deal and, more importantly, that at the center of their faith is a country addicted to enemies.
An enemy that others can agree on offers a simple, rudimentary, way of measuring the goodness, badness and seriousness of fellow citizens. Especially for American politicians being ‘tough’ on baddies has become an almost indispensable means to demonstrate their political bona fides. When obvious solutions for substantial political problems affecting everyday life are too controversial, politicians tend to take firm stands on matters that brook no disagreement, like crime or familiar enemies. For a long time one of the worst things that could befall an American candidate for high office was to be called “soft on communism”. President Lyndon Johnson against his own better judgment did not end the Vietnam War because he anticipated massive political attacks from Republican ranks for having caved in to it. Today Obama’s detractors in the Republican Party have the Ukraine crisis as a welcome opportunity to ‘prove’ their repeated claim that he is a weak president, who cannot stand up to the challenges supposedly thrown down by Vladimir Putin. As a result the ‘liberal hawks’ in Obama’s own administration have a field day in pushing anti-Russian hysteria.
The mandatory enemy has determined much geopolitical reality since the end of the Cold War. Living with one prompts standard behaviour that, in the way of all regular behaviour, itself becomes an institution, which does not simply go away when the enemy vanishes. So after the demise of the Soviet Union there was a sudden desperate need to promote countries to enemy position. Since 2001 the “soft on terrorism” accusation has partially substituted for the political use of the putative communist threat; and before the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan a fabrication of ‘rogue states’ or ‘failed states’ was introduced to keep all manner of Cold War institutions going.
When leading Vietnam War official Robert McNamara testified before Congress that with the Soviet Union gone America’s defense budget could be cut in half, the Pentagon and assorted military-related institutions suffered from a collective panic attack. Their answer was a report compiled by Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who obligingly created new threats, dictating that in future the United States must be able to fight two wars simultaneously against new enemies. China is held in reserve, radical Islamists are currently serving, and Putin’s Russia has now been added as a huge new but still familiar fake monster to join the list. With NATO membership the Europeans get America’s enemies as a bonus.
The one genuine threat to NATO, the fact that it is obsolete, has remained mostly hidden. It has been searching for causes that would keep it relevant, hence the involvement of member states in Afghanistan and Iraq and Mali and Libya. Hence its expansion, through absorbing the former Warsaw pact countries; a bureaucracy that increases in size gains new relevance. Ten years after the Berlin Wall came down it sought relevance by changing from a defensive into an offensive alliance, promptly violating the UN Charter, through its war in Kosovo.
To do away with NATO in one fell swoop, desirable as it may be, is obviously not going to work in the immediate future. But it could be allowed gradually to wither away, as it was doing before the Pentagon dragged it into Afghanistan.
A bureaucracy is not easily killed once it becomes redundant. Complicating matters in this case is that behind its appeals to ‘common values’, the alliance is an outgrowth of the U.S. military-industrial complex, adding to its military procurements, jobs, astronomical profits, and highly remunerated official positions.
But there is something more to NATO than this and all the already mentioned other reasons, something less tangible and hence easily overlooked. Its withering will not make the Atlanticist faith go away. That faith, together with NATO are links to political certainty of a kind. They are an extension of a spiritual handrail that existed throughout the Cold War, one helping to counter radical doubt. The post-World-War-II international order that developed in the shadow of United States-Soviet rivalry came, for all its defects, closer to a relatively stable society of states than anything seen in global relations since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, and with it we could be certain that we knew what was politically good and bad.
Suddenly that was gone, and we had a post-Cold-War world throwing up massive uncertainties that, as imagined by a generation of concerned Europeans, have eaten into the fabric of moral and political life of the West. One could hardly expect the Cold War generation right away to throw overboard an Atlanticism that had been a political life sustaining faith. Decades later, clinging to that faith and as members of NATO, you get a modicum of certainty along with the American enemies that accompany it.
Listen to why retired French, German, Dutch, British and American top defense officials, in a book prepared for a 2008 NATO conference, advocated a military response not to physical threats but to foreign ideas that question Western supremacy and power. These NATO thinkers spoke explicitly in terms of a “restoration of its certainties” as a condition for the security of the West. China has the temerity to compete with Western interests in Africa, and Iran wants to wipe out Israel. The foreign ideas to be fought are irrational and aimed at defeating Western values. Implicitly claiming a moral monopoly of the use of violence for the United States and NATO, those former NATO generals came out in favor of using nuclear weapons, if need be, to stop other countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. In the words of Germany’s former chief of Defense, “we cannot survive … confronted with people who do not share our values, who unfortunately are in the majority in terms of numbers, and who are extremely hungry for success”. The massive Western propaganda of last year, demonizing Putin, from the putsch in Kiev onward, breathes the same spirit.
Neocons and liberal hawks deal in certainties. They have uncovered existential threats to Western values coming from terrorists and Islamists. The anomalous fantasy of the ‘war on terrorism’, which cannot exist and is the biggest lie of the twenty-first century, nevertheless brings the certainty of valiant defenders of Western values.
But Chancellor Merkel received her political education on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It would appear that her view of the situation has come rather close to that of Putin as expressed in his 2007 Munich Security Conference speech:
“I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security. And we must proceed by searching for a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue … The United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way … And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this — no one feels safe.”
Germany’s foreign minister, the formidable Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits the United States this week to talk with high officials. Writing in the New York Times of 11 March, he came with what can be read as an appeal to realism and formerly held principles – albeit with a sop to prevailing opinion about Russian aggression.
The potential of a heightened conflict between Washington and a Chancellor Merkel, if she has the courage, the intelligence, and the inclination fully to open her eyes to Europe’s interests, lays bare the all-important question whether the United States is still capable of re-engaging in diplomacy. This is something it abandoned after the end of the Cold War, along with the very principle of respecting the sovereignty of countries that do not do its bidding. As of now, the United States simply will not accept sharing the globe with any other power that has significant political influence in its own part of the world.
This particular superpower psychosis is a first in history.
Merkel, and some other top European officials must by now have concluded that there is urgency in the matter, quite aside from avoiding the further provocation of Moscow by arming Poroshenko. Waiting in the wings is Hillary Clinton who, by all relevant commentary and impressions of her past actions and opinions will be an even worse war president than Obama has been, if she makes it to the White House.
Reports that US and British aircraft carrying arms to the Islamic State group – better known as 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 amongst 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-Qaida-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- Qaida 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-Qaida 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-Qaida 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 advisers 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-Qaida-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-Qaida groups is underway. Jabhat al-Nusra is reported to be considering cutting ties to al-Qaida, 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 destabilization 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
Who are you?” the late Muammar Gaddafi once rhetorically asked in a famous speech of his towards the end of his reign; (rightly) questioning the legitimacy of those seeking to over-throw his government at the time, calling them extremists, foreign agents, rats and drug-addicts. He was laughed at, unfairly caricatured, ridiculed and incessantly demonized; a distasteful parody video poking fun at the late Libyan leader even went viral on social media; evidently the maker of the video, an Israeli, thought the Libyan colloquial Arabic word “Zenga” (which means an Alleyway) sounded funny enough that he extracted it from one of Gaddafi’s speeches, looped it on top of a hip-hop backing track and voila… he got himself a hit video which was widely (and shamefully) circulated with a “revolutionary” zeal in the Arab world. We shared, we laughed, he died.
But the bloody joke is on all of us; Gaddafi knew what he was talking about; right from the get-go, he accused the so-called Libyan rebels of being influenced by Al-Qaeda ideology and Ben Laden’s school of thought; no one had taken his word for it of course, not even a little bit. I mean why should we have? After all, wasn’t he a vile, sex-centric dictator hell-bent on massacring half of the Libyan population while subjecting the other half to manic raping sprees with the aid of his trusted army of Viagra-gobbling, sub-Saharan mercenaries? At least that’s what we got from the visual cancer that is Al Jazeera channel and its even more acrid Saudi counterpart Al-Arabiya in their heavily skewed coverage of NATO’s vicious conquest of Libya. Plus Gaddafi did dress funny; why would anyone trust a haggard, weird-looking despot dressed in colorful rags when you have well-groomed Zionists like Bernard Henry Levy, John McCain and Hillary Clinton at your side, smiling and flashing the victory sign in group photo-ops, right?
Gaddafi called them drug-addicted, Islamic fundamentalists; we know them as ISIS… it doesn’t seem much of a joke now, does it? And ISIS is what had been in store for us all along; the “revolutionary” lynching and sodomization of Muammar Gaddafi amid manic chants of “Allahu Akbar”, lauded by many at the time as some sort of a warped triumph of the good of popular will (read: NATO-sponsored mob rule) over the evil of dictatorship (sovereign state), was nothing but a gory precursor for the future of the country and the region; mass lynching of entire populations in Libya, Syria and Iraq and the breakup of key Arab states into feuding mini-statelets. The gruesome video of Colonel Gaddafi’s murder, which puts to shame the majority of ISIS videos in terms of unhinged brutality and gore, did not invoke the merest of condemnations back then, on the contrary; everyone seemed perfectly fine with the grotesque end of the Libyan “tyrant”… except that it was only the beginning of a new and unprecedented reign of terror courtesy of NATO’s foot-soldiers and GCC-backed Islamic insurgents.
The rapid proliferation of trigger-happy terrorist groups and Jihadi factions drenched in petrodollars in Libya was not some sort of an intelligence failure on the part of western governments or a mere by-product of the power vacuum left by a slain Gaddafi; it was a deliberate, calculated policy sought after and implemented by NATO and its allies in the Gulf under the cringe-inducing moniker “Friends of Libya” (currently known as the International Coalition against ISIS) to turn the north-African country into the world’s largest ungovernable dumpster of weapons, al-Qaida militants and illegal oil trading.
So it is safe to say that UNSC resolution 1973, which practically gave free rein for NATO to bomb Libya into smithereens, has finally borne fruit… and it’s rotten to its nucleus, you can call the latest gruesome murder of 21 Egyptian fishermen and workers by the Libyan branch of the Islamic State exhibit “A”, not to mention of course the myriad of daily killings, bombings and mini-civil wars that are now dotting the entire country which, ever since the West engineered its coup-d’etat against the Gaddafi government, have become synonymous with the bleak landscape of lawlessness and death that is “Libya” today. And the gift of NATO liberation is sure to keep on giving for years of instability and chaos to come.
In an interview with the western media misinformation collective that is the BBC, ABC and the Sunday Times in February 2011; the late Muammar Gaddafi told his condescending interviewers; “have you seen the Al Qaeda operatives? Have you heard all these Jihadi broadcasts? It is Al Qaeda that is controlling the cities of Al Baida and Darnah, former Guantanamo inmates and extremists unleashed by America to terrorize the Libyan people…”. Darnah is now the main stronghold for ISIS in Libya.
In a bizarre coincidence (or some sort of cosmic irony); the date on which ISIS chose to release its video of the beheading of Egyptian captives, thereby officially declaring its presence in the war-torn country with three oil fields under its control, (appropriately) marked the 4th anniversary of the start of the so-called Libyan revolution on February 15th, 2011; a more apt “tribute” to commemorate the Western instigated regime-change debacle in Libya could not have been made.
But even long before ISIS became the buzzword, the acrid nature of a “revolutionary” Libya showed in full, sickening splendor almost instantly right after the old regime fell, everything the late Gaddafi was falsely accused of doing was literally perfected to a chilling degree by the so-called rebels; massacres, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, car-bombings, mass arrests, torture, theft of oil and national resources… the whole lot. In 2013; two British pro-Palestine activists, on their way to Gaza with an aid convoy, got to experience first-hand the rotten fruits of the Libyan chapter of the so-called Arab Spring when they were abducted by a motely crew of Libyan revolutionaries-turned-warlords in the city of Benghazi and gang raped in front of their father.
Proponents of Humanitarian Interventions must be patting themselves on the back these days; now that Libya has completed its democratic makeover from a country with the highest standard of living in Africa under Gaddafi’s rule into a textbook definition of a failed state; a godless wasteland of religious fanaticism, internal bloodletting and wholesale head-chopping, in fact Libya became so “democratic” that there are now two parliaments and two (warring) governments; each with its own (criminal) army and supported with money and caches of weapons from competing foreign powers, not to mention the myriad of secessionist movements and militias which the illegal coup against Gaddafi has spawned all over the country while free health care, education and electricity, which the Libyans took for granted under Gaddafi’s regime, are all now but relics of the past; that’s the “Odyssey Dawn” the Libyans were promised; a sanitized version of Iraq sans the public outrage, neatly re-packaged in a “responsibility to protect” caveat and delivered via aerial bombing campaigns where even the West’s overzealous Gulf Co-conspirators Club (GCC), driven by nothing beyond petty personal vendettas against Gaddafi, got to test the lethality of its rusted, American-made military aircrafts alongside NATO on the people of Tripoli and Sirte.
This is what Gaddafi had predicted right from the get-go and then some; the ephemeral euphoria of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions was just too potent and too exhilarating for us to read the fine print; was it a conspiracy or a true revolutionary spirit gone awry? It doesn’t really matter now that ISIS has become the true legacy of Tahrir Square; “they will turn Libya into another Afghanistan, another Somalia, another Iraq… your women won’t be allowed out, they will transform Libya into an Islamic Emirate and America will bomb the country under the pretext of fighting terrorism”, the late Libyan leader had said in a televised speech on February 22nd, 2011, and more prophetic words were never spoken.
America’s “clean war” Libyan prototype proved to be such a success that it was replicated with a wanton abandon in Syria; Paul Bremer’s “Blackwater” death squads of old, which reigned terror all over Iraq, are back… with an Islamic twist; bearded, clad in black and explosives from head to toe and mounting convoys of Toyota Land Cruiser trucks with an ever-expanding, seemingly borderless Islamic Caliphate (that somehow leaves the Zionist regime unencumbered in its occupation of Palestine) set in their sights.
Everyday the Arab World is awakened to a new-videotaped atrocity; steeped in gore and maniacal terror courtesy of ISIS (or IS or ISIL), and countless of other “youtubeless”, albeit more heinous crimes courtesy of America’s very own ever-grinding, one-sided drone warfare; the entire region seesaws between machete beheadings and hellfire missile incinerations. Death from above… as well as below; the War on Terror rears its ugly head once again; to bring in line those nasty terrorists that the West itself funded and sponsored in the name of democracy to destabilize “unsavory” regimes; an unrelenting Groundhog Day that starts with the Responsibility to Protect and ends with the War on Terror, with thousands of innocent lives, typically chalked up to collateral damage, crushed in the process.
This is exactly what Gaddafi foresaw; a Libya mired in utter chaos, civil conflict and western diktats; a breeding ground for Jihadi fundamentalism and extremists… too bad we just laughed his warnings off to an Israeli-made parody tune.
Ahmad Barqawi, freelance columnist and writer.
Norway has started massive military exercises, involving 5,000 servicemen, in the northern parts of the country near the border with Russia, the largest such drills in nearly 50 years.
The country’s military launched drills dubbed “Joint Viking” on Monday in the northern regions of Lakselv and Alta in the Finnmark County, which border Russia’s Murmansk region.
The exercises will include the Norwegian army, navy, air force and civil defense troops (Heimevernet).
Aleksander Jankov, a spokesman for the Norwegian Armed Forces, said 400 military vehicles and all types of weapons will be used in the drills, which are the largest to take place in the region since 1967.
According to Norwegian media, the massive exercise is to show that Norway has the ability to defend Finnmark.
Prior to the kickoff army spokesman Vegar Gystad said, “If we’re to have a credible defense that can defend the entire country, we also have to train in the entire country.”
The war games come amid tensions between the West and Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Norway, a member of the Western military alliance NATO, suspended all military cooperation with Russia after the Black Sea Peninsula Crimea voted to break away from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation in March, 2014.
Meanwhile, NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe amid the crisis in Ukraine and has held numerous war games over the past year. In 2014, NATO forces held some 200 military exercises, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such drills would continue.
In addition, the defense ministers of NATO’s 28 member states agreed on February 5 to establish six new command and control posts in the Eastern European nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned NATO’s exercises and military buildup toward its borders.
October 26, 2014
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah lists these five reasons why the US-led ‘coalition’ against ISIS is a fraud.
1) The United States is the “mother of terrorism”
2) The US supports Israeli state terrorism against Palestine and Lebanon
3) The US helped cultivate ISIS and other terrorist groups that have besieged Syria
4) The US is not in a moral position to lead an anti-terrorism campaign, considering its own terrorism and support of terrorism
5) The US-led coalition aims to protect US interests at the expense of the interests of the region’s peoples
H/T – Brandon Martinez
President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker has called for the creation of a European Union army, amid tension with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
“Such an army would help us to build a common foreign and security policy, as well as jointly assume the responsibilities of Europe in the world,” said Juncker in an interview with German weekly Welt am Sonntag published on Sunday.
Juncker added that the formation of a European armed forces would signal to Moscow the political and economic union is “serious about upholding the values of the European Union.”
“A common European army would show the world that there will by no means be war once more amongst EU nations,” said Juncker.
According to the EC chief, an EU army could be used to “react credibly” to dangers facing one of the 28-member states or any of the bloc’s neighboring countries.
The German weekly reported that Juncker has backing in the German legislature, including chairman of Germany’s foreign affairs committee Norbert Rottgen, who said it is time to put such a proposal in action.
“The Europeans spend enormous sums of money for the military combined, much more than Russia,” said Rottgen, adding, “But our military capabilities remain an insufficient security policy as long as we maintain small national armies, which make and buy many parts of the same thing on a smaller scale.”
Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is set to present the findings of a report titled, More Union in European Defense. The report calls for a new European protection method, which would have “a political and military ability to autonomously conduct intervention operations beyond the EU’s borders.” The report also calls for the establishment of a military EU headquarters in the bloc’s de facto capital, Brussels.
According to the report, a common security policy would bring savings to the bloc’s member states, which altogether spends €190 billion annually to maintain 28 national armies, consisting of roughly 1.5 million service personnel.
The proposals to extend EU’s military capabilities come amid tensions between European countries and the US over the Ukrainian crisis. The Western governments accuse Russia of destabilizing Ukraine, an allegation which Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Meanwhile, NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe amid the crisis in Ukraine and has held numerous war games over the past year. In 2014, NATO forces held some 200 military exercises, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such drills would continue.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned NATO’s exercises and military buildup toward its borders.