One of the most important tasks in the field of international security is to free the world from the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
Russia is constantly advocating for further limitations and reductions of nuclear weapons stockpiles, along with strengthening international regimes of arms control and non-proliferation. One of the examples in the field of nuclear disarmament is the Russia-US START treaty, which entered into force in 2011. Under this treaty, the sides committed themselves to limiting their nuclear arsenals by one-third compared to previous agreements.
Further dialogue on nuclear disarmament, held both bilaterally and internationally, could only be successful if the core principle of international security is observed – i.e. that the security of one country should not be strengthened at the expense of another. Unfortunately, what is happening now on the international scene is a far cry from what the international community was striving for. Among other things that affect global stability and deterrence, trust between Russia and the West is diminishing. Some of the critical Russian concerns are left unaddressed.
They include an unconditional resolve of our partners to build systems of ballistic missile defense throughout the world, primarily in Europe, along with reluctance to engage in serious dialogue on issues related to the Russian initiative on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, and an ongoing uncontrolled build-up of conventional weapons along with efforts to develop such systems that can deliver a precision-guided conventional weapons airstrike anywhere in the world within one hour, known as Prompt Global Strike. It is also worth mentioning that disparity in conventional weapons in Europe is increasing, something that consequently provokes an unnecessary arms race on the continent.
Further nuclear disarmament would be impossible without all countries with corresponding potential being involved in that process. It can’t exclusively rely on the efforts by Russia and the US. For that to happen, a greater importance should also be attached to the earliest ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some states, including the US, have still not ratified it, blocking its entry into force. Signing and ratifying the CTBT should become an imperative of contemporary international relations, for it will contribute to the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Global stability and nuclear deterrence remain the facts that we have to live with. Without trust and consensus, the current challenges in the field of nuclear disarmament are doomed to persist for a foreseeable future. Hopefully, the time will come, sooner rather than later, when nuclear disarmament issues are properly addressed based on respect and trust among nations.
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?
Reprieve | March 30, 2015
The UK government is refusing to guarantee that it will not misuse the intercepted lawyer-client communications of two rendition victims in their legal cases again the British government.
Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali, from Pakistan, are bringing legal action against the British government for its complicity in their torture and rendition. The men were captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces, before being rendered by the US to Bagram prison, Afghanistan. They endured a decade of secret US detention and torture in Bagram before their release last May without charge or trial.
The UK Government is refusing to agree to a request by the men to take “reasonable” steps not to “read, listen to or otherwise use” their communications with their lawyers. Those communications are confidential, and enjoy protected status under the longstanding principle of legal professional privilege (LPP).
The men’s request is the latest in a series of recent developments on the issue of government interception in legal cases. In recent weeks the UK has signed an undertaking not to read or listen to any legally-privileged material relating to another rendition victim, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj from Libya. That agreement, nearly identical to the one submitted by Mr Ali and Mr Rahmatullah, came after the government admitted in the course of Mr Belhaj’s case that UK intelligence agencies’ policies regarding the monitoring of lawyer-client conversations were unlawful.
The Ministry of Defence is claiming that a similar undertaking is not necessary in Mr Rahmatullah and Mr Ali’s case, saying that safeguards already exist. It has declined to say why its view differed in Mr Belhaj’s case, where the same policies that were conceded to be unlawful apply.
Kat Craig, Mr Rahmatullah’s lawyer and Legal Director at human rights organization Reprieve, said: “Not content with complicity in the torture, rendition and decade-long secret detention of Mr Rahmatullah and Mr Ali, the UK is now trying to prevent them from achieving justice. Why would any government otherwise refuse to implement safeguards, and which only serve to achieve a fair balance – and protect an age-old principle of our justice system? By preventing our clients from communicating privately with their legal team, and fairly and robustly seeking the justice they so sorely deserve, the UK government is holding itself above the law.”
The military intervention in Yemen by a US-backed coalition of Arab states will undoubtedly inflame the conflict both in Yemen, and throughout the region. It is likely to be a protracted war involving many actors, each of which is interested in furthering its own political and geopolitical agenda.
However, it is the international reaction to this new regional war which is of particular interest; specifically, the way in which the United States has reacted to this undeniable aggression by its Gulf allies. While Washington has gone to great lengths to paint Russia’s reunification with Crimea and its limited support for the anti-Kiev rebels of eastern Ukraine as “aggression,” it has allowed that same loaded term to be completely left out of the narrative about the new war in Yemen.
So it seems that, according to Washington, aggression is not defined by any objective indicators: use of military hardware, initiation of hostilities, etc. Rather, the United States defines aggression by the relationship of a given conflict to its own strategic interests. In Crimea and Ukraine, Russia is the aggressor because, in defending its own interests and those of Russian people, it has acted against the perceived geopolitical interests of the US. While in Yemen, the initiation by Saudi Arabia and other US-backed countries of an unprovoked war with the expressed goal of regime change, this is not aggression as it furthers Washington’s interests.
Language Versus Reality
On March 25, 2015 a coalition of Arab states initiated an aerial bombardment (as of writing there has yet to be a ground invasion, though it is expected) of Yemen for the purposes of dislodging the Houthi rebel government which had weeks before toppled the US and Saudi-backed puppet government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The war initiated by Saudi Arabia, along with its fellow Gulf monarchies and Egypt, was motivated purely by Saudi Arabia’s, and by extension the United States’, perceived interests.
Within hours of the commencement of the bombardment, reports from Yemen indicated that dozens, if not scores, of Yemenis had been killed in the airstrikes. Despite the immediate loss of life, to say nothing of the destruction of infrastructure, buildings, homes, and communities, the United States praised the operation as necessary for regional security. Indeed it has been confirmed that, while not providing direct military support in the form of troops or air support, the United States has been intimately involved in the operation.
Speaking directly on behalf of the White House and the Obama administration, the National Security Council spokesperson announced:
Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government… In support of GCC actions…President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support… the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition… can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.
So, in Washington’s own words, the aggressive military intervention into Yemen is both legitimate and supported by the US. Moreover, the US has openly acknowledged their direct participation in the campaign in the form of intelligence and logistical support. Exactly what is entailed in “intelligence” and “logistical support” is certainly open to interpretation. Undoubtedly, the US has its covert forces involved in the operation, likely on the ground in Yemen, to say nothing of its vast presence throughout the region.
In fact, it is universally recognized that the CIA has been intimately involved in Yemen for at least the last several years, with CIA Director Brennan having been integral in fostering the relationship. As the NY Times reported in 2012, the Obama administration’s approach in Yemen was “to employ small numbers of Special Operations troops, Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary teams and drones.” It should be further remembered that Hadi himself was handpicked by Washington in the wake of the fall of former President Saleh’s government, and that Hadi, described by the US as the “legitimate” president ran unopposed in a farcically described “democratic transition” sponsored by the US.
Taken in total then, it is objectively true that the United States has been involved militarily in Yemen since at least 2012, propping up their man in Sanaa in order to bolster their geopolitical and strategic position in the region, naturally under the aegis of “fighting terrorism.” So it stands to reason that the White House would refer to the Saudi aggression as legitimate, and praise it as such. It is equally true that the so called “legitimacy” of the military operation, and the Hadi government itself, is dependent on US interests, nothing less.
Now compare the language employed by the US vis-à-vis this war against Yemen, with the talking points endlessly repeated by all US officials, and nearly all media pundits, regarding Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. Everyone from Republican warmongers like John McCain, to State Department spokesperson (and unwitting comedic icon) Jen Psaki, have all described Moscow’s moves as “Russian aggression.” Indeed, it seems that phrase alone has become something of a mantra in Washington, and on the airwaves of its servile and compliant corporate media, framing the narrative as “clear and unmistakable aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity” and other such vacuous phrases.
But consider for a moment the objective facts. Russia’s direct military interests in Crimea, not to mention the safety and freedom of Russian-speakers, was under direct threat after the US-sponsored coup in Kiev toppled the corrupt, but democratically elected, government in February 2014. In response, Russia launched a limited military operation to secure Crimea and its interests. This is critical because this operation was carried out with no bloodshed, no airstrikes, and not a single shot fired. While this aspect may be forgotten amid the din of belligerent shouts and incredulousness from Washington, it must not be forgotten by keen political observers. In point of fact, Russia’s “aggression” in Crimea was entirely peaceful, and as is self-evident, entirely defensive.
On the other hand, the “legitimate” actions of the US, Saudi Arabia and its allies do not constitute aggression. Well, it is clear that the dozens (by now likely far more) of families who have lost fathers and sons, wives and daughters in the airstrikes would certainly call it aggression.
It should also be noted that, unlike in Crimea where the people were given the opportunity to decide their own fate democratically, the people of Yemen are being given no such opportunity. There has been a domestic insurgency for years in the wake of the civil wars and reunification of North and South Yemen, and whatever stability might have been provided by the new Houthi-led dispensation has now fallen by the wayside. Moreover, the notion that Yemen was a functioning country under Hadi would be like saying that France was a functioning country under the Vichy regime. The overthrow of Hadi opened the possibility for a truly independent nation to emerge. This Saudi Arabia and its allies simply could not abide, as it would set a dangerous precedent for its own domestic opposition which, quite correctly, sees the House of Saud as little more than a proxy of the US and Israel.
Consider also the rhetoric of “aggression” regarding Russia’s very limited support for the anti-Kiev rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. Listening to western media, one would think that Russian military had invaded en masse in those regions and was fighting a war against Kiev’s military. The reality is that, despite dozens of accusations and hundreds of news stories, there is still no evidence of any direct Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine. It is true that there are Russian volunteers and some Russian hardware, but these are hardly evidence of any invasion, let alone even military support of the scale that the US has just authorized sending to Kiev. Even a Russophobic perspective would have to admit, however reluctantly, that Russia’s presence in eastern Ukraine is minimal and indirect.
Now compare that to the outright bombardment using massive military capabilities being carried out by the Saudis and their allies in Yemen. In a matter of hours, this US-backed alliance has employed more military hardware, and wreaked more devastation, than Russia has in more than 12 months. The question of scale is critical. Russia quite correctly perceives a threat to its own borders and interests from the US-sponsored Kiev regime, and it has acted with a great degree of restraint. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which also perceives a Houthi-controlled Yemen as a threat to its borders and interests, has unleashed a massive military campaign to destroy the movement and effect its own regime change to reinstall Hadi.
It could not be clearer the level of hypocrisy from the US, its allies, and the compliant media. Russia is an “aggressor” while Saudi Arabia is a “defender.” Iran is sponsoring regime change in Yemen, while the US merely supported “democratic forces” in Ukraine. Assad must go, but Hadi must stay. Not to belabor the point, as it is obvious on its face, but legitimacy and illegitimacy is conferred by the US based on its interests, not international law or objective facts.
That this is well known in the non-Western world is undeniably true. However here in the US, and in the West more broadly, the narrative is shaped by those in power who seek to further their own agendas. They choose the words, and they dictate what is and is not acceptable. They are the Ministry of Truth, and the thought-criminals who question their narratives are dangerous subversives and propagandists. In truth however, those who question those narratives are the ones who have consistently been on the right side of history, from Vietnam to Iraq to Libya, Syria, and Yemen. And I, for one, am proud to count myself among them.
President al-Assad: The West has not changed policy, intervention in terrorists’ favor must stop for a solution to succeed
President al-Assad-interview with Russian media
Damascus – President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Russian media in which he hailed the Russian initiative for inter-Syrian dialogue as positive and denied any direct dialogue between Syria and the US, stressing that there has been no real change in the American or Western policies on Syria so far.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Question 1: Thank you, Mr. President. I am Gregory from TASS News Agency. What is your assessment of the next round of Syrian-Syrian talks scheduled to be held in Moscow next April, and who will represent Syrian in these talks? In your opinion, what is the essential factor to ensure the success of Syrian-Syrian dialogue?
President Assad: Our assessment of this new round of talks, and of the Russian initiative in general, is very positive, because the initiative is important; and I can say that it is necessary. As you know the West, or a number of Western countries, have tried, during the Syrian crisis, to push towards a military war in Syria and the region sometimes under the title of fighting terrorism, and at other times under the title of supporting people who rose for freedom, and other lies which have been circulating in Western media.
The Russian initiative was positive because it emphasized the political solution, and consequently preempted the attempts of warmongers in the West, particularly in the United States, France, and Britain, as they have done in the Ukraine. You know that warmongers have been pushing towards arming different parties in Ukraine in order to change regimes, first in Ukraine, then in Russia. That’s why the principle behind this initiative is good and important. We have always believed and have spoken publicly that every problem, however big, should have a political solution. This is in principle. However, its success depends very much on the substance genuinely reflecting the title which you have spoken about. The title is: a Syrian-Syrian dialogue. In order for this dialogue to succeed, it should be purely Syrian. In other words, there shouldn’t be any outside influence on the participants in this dialogue. The problem is that a number of the participants in the dialogue are supported by foreign Western and regional countries which influence their decisions. As you know, only a few days ago, one of these parties announced that they will not participate in the dialogue. They didn’t participate in the first round.
So, for this dialogue to succeed, the Syrian parties taking part in it should be independent and should express what the Syrian people, with all their political affiliations want. Then, the dialogue will succeed. That’s why the success of this initiative requires that other countries not interfere, as Moscow proposed in the first round; for the dialogue to be among the Syrians with the Russians facilitating the dialogue among the Syrians without imposing any ideas on them. If things happen this way, I believe this dialogue will achieve positive results for stability in Syria.
Question 2: Abu Taleb al-Buhayya from RTV Arabic. Mr. President, within the framework of the steps taken to achieve a political solution, there is an initiative proposed by the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura concerning a fighting freeze in Aleppo. After a number of meetings and trips, and there is information that some of de Mistura’s staff in Damascus went to Aleppo, but in the end, there were statements made by some outside opposition factions which rejected this initiative. Nevertheless, there are safe neighborhoods in Aleppo which have come in recent days under a fierce attack and mortar shelling on safe neighborhoods. In general terms, Mr. President, how do you see the prospects of this initiative proposed by de Mistura and is it going to succeed in the coming days?
President Assad: Since the first meeting with Mr. de Mistura, we supported his ideas. And when we agreed with him on the basic elements of the initiative, which he announced later, Mr. de Mistura’s team started working in Syria in order to implement this initiative. We continued our support and continued our discussions with him about the details of this initiative. In principle, the initiative is good because it deals with reality on the ground. It is similar to the reconciliation deals which have been achieved in Syria. The objective is to alleviate pressure and avert the dangers facing civilians specifically in the city of Aleppo, as a first stage for his mission. But de Mistura’s initiative depends on more than one party. Obviously, it depends on the Syrian state’s cooperation, as a major party to this initiative, including the state’s institutions. But, on the other hand, it depends on the response of the terrorists or the armed groups who operate in different neighborhoods in Aleppo.
Another problem is similar to that concerning the Syrian-Syrian dialogue. Some of these armed groups are controlled by other countries. In the city of Aleppo in particular, all the armed groups or terrorist forces are supported directly by Turkey. That’s why these forces, and from the beginning of de Mistura’s initiative, declared that they refuse to cooperate with him and rejected the initiative altogether. They confirmed their rejection of the initiative about a week ago, and enforced their rejection by shelling civilians in the city of Aleppo and a large number of martyrs fell as a result. De Mistura’s initiative is important in substance, and we believe that it is very realistic, and it has significant prospects of success if Turkey and the other countries supporting and funding the armed groups stop their interference. One of the most important factors of its success is that most Syrians want to get rid of the terrorists. Some of these terrorists will return to their normal lives or leave the neighborhoods in which civilians live, so that civilians can come back to these neighborhoods.
Question 3: Mr. President, on the political solution, the Syrian government took significant steps which have been applauded by Syria’s friends and allies concerning national reconciliation attempts. These attempts have been successful, from what we hear from the Syrian population, and from our coverage in Damascus and other Syrian governorates. In general, Mr. President, what is your vision for the prospects of these national reconciliation attempts, whether in Damascus Countryside or in other governorates, particularly that we have been informed that the Syrian government released, a few days ago, over 600 prisoners, in order to ensure the success of national reconciliation?
President Assad: We started the national reconciliation endeavors over a year ago, or maybe two years ago. It is a parallel track to the political solution. As I said, every problem has a political solution. But the political solution is usually long, and might be slow, and there might be obstacles which hinder the process or push it towards failure, although this failure might be temporary. But every day innocent people die in Syria, and we cannot wait for the political solution to materialize in order to protect people’s lives. So, we have to move on other tracks. Of course, there is the track of fighting terrorists and eliminating them. But there has been a third track which consists of national reconciliation attempts. They include returning people to their neighborhoods, and for armed men leaving these neighborhoods, or remaining without their weapons in order for them to return to their normal lives.
In this case, the state offers amnesty to those and brings them back to their normal lives. Part of this process is releasing a number of prisoners. So, this is part of national reconciliation. What happened yesterday is part of this endeavor which has proved so far that it is the most important track. The truth is that national reconciliation in Syria has achieved great results, and led to the improvement of security conditions for many Syrian people in different parts of the country. So, what happened yesterday comes within this framework, and we will continue this policy which has proved successful until progress is achieved on the political track which we hope will be achieved in this consultative meeting in Moscow next April.
Question 4: Yevgeny Reshetnev from Russia 24. In the context of the civil war and armed conflict, some politicians made statements to the effect that your days as president were numbered, and some expected that you will no longer be there in a few months’ time. But you have stood fast for a long time, and here we are sitting and talking with you. There are European politicians who say that the peaceful political solution in Syria will be without President Bashar al-Assad. In your opinion, how will it be possible to establish peace in Syria and to achieve reconciliation among the Syrians?
President Assad: The statements we have been hearing since the beginning of the crisis reflect the Western mentality, which is colonialist by nature. The West does not accept partners. If they don’t like a certain state, they try to change it, or replace its president. When they use this reasoning, they do not see the people. As far as they’re concerned, there is no people. They don’t like the president, so they replace him. But when they made these statements, they based them on wrong assumptions. This way of thinking might have suited the past, but is not fit for this age. Today, people do not accept for their future or destiny or rulers to be decided by the outside world.
The same thing is happening now in Ukraine. And this is what they aim for in Russia. They don’t like President Putin, so they demonize him. The same applies everywhere. However, I would like to stress that what determines these things in the end is the Syrian people. All the statements made by Western countries or their allies in the region about this issue did not concern us in the least. We do not care if they say the president will fall or remain in power, nor do we care whether they say that the president is legitimate or illegitimate. We derive our legitimacy from the people, and if there is any reason for the state’s steadfastness in Syria, it is popular support. We shouldn’t waste our time with European statements, because they are prepared to make statements which contradict each other from day to day.
The Syrian crisis can be solved. It’s not impossible. If the Syrians sit and talk to each other, we will achieve results. We talked about national reconciliation, which is the most difficult thing: when two parties which used to carry guns and fight each other sit down and talk. This is much more difficult than sitting with those who are involved in political action. In the first case there is blood, there is killing; nevertheless, we succeeded in this endeavor. We succeeded when we conducted these reconciliation attempts without foreign interference.
I say that for the Syrians to succeed, foreign intervention should stop. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some European countries should stop arming the terrorists. This was actually acknowledged publically by the French and by the British. They said they have been sending weapons to the terrorists. They should stop funding the terrorists, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Then, the political solution will be easy, and reconciliation with the armed groups will be easy, because the Syrian society supports reconciliation now and supports all these solutions. The Syrian society has not disintegrated as they expected. What is happening in Syria is not a civil war; in a civil war there should be lines separating the parties, either on ethnic, religious, or sectarian grounds. This doesn’t exist in Syria. People still live with each other, but most people escape from the areas in which the terrorists operate to the safe areas controlled by the state. This is what we believe to be the foundation for reaching this solution. This is in addition to initiatives made by our friends like the consultative meeting which will be held in Moscow next month.
Question 5: Mr. President, in every state, in general, a pretext can be found to create sectarian or ethnic conflict, and Syria and the Ukraine are examples of that. How can we stop this?
President Assad: If you have in the beginning a sectarian problem which creates a division in society, it will be easy for other countries to manipulate this division and lead to unrest. You know that this is one of the things which some foreign countries have tried to manipulate, even in Russia, by supporting extremist groups which are conducting terrorist acts. Their objective is not to kill some innocent people. They rather aim at creating a division in Russian society which leads to weakening the country and the state and maybe dividing Russia itself. This is what they had in mind for Russia and this is what they had in mind for Syria. This is why I think there are many similarities.
So it has to be based on the state’s performance before the crisis: preserving the unity of the homeland, religious freedom, freedom of belief. No group in any country should feel they are forbidden to exercise their religious rituals and hold their beliefs. This is the case in Syria; and this is one of the most important factors behind the steadfastness of Syrian society in facing this attack.
Nevertheless, the titles used at the beginning of the Syrian crisis by foreign media or by the terrorists called for dividing Syria, particularly along sectarian lines. Some people in Syria believed this propaganda in the beginning. But through the dialogue we conducted in the state, and by using different forms of awareness raising, particularly through the religious establishment, we were able to overcome this. People discovered quickly that this has nothing to do with sects or religions. They concluded that the problem is a form of terrorism supported by foreign countries. Here we succeeded and were able to overcome this very dangerous problem which you have suggested in your question.
Question 6: Mohammad Maarouf from Sputnik news agency. In the beginning, Mr. President, allow me on behalf of my colleagues at Sputnik news agency and Rossiya Segodnya to thank Your Excellency for availing us of this opportunity to meet you. Mr. President, you indicated previously that had you accepted what was offered to you before the crisis, you would have been the most favored and most democratic president in the region. Could you please explain to us what you were offered at the time, and what is required by the West of Syria, for the West to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?
President Assad: Let me go back to the Western mentality, which I described as colonialist. The West does not accept partners. It only wants satellite states. The United States does not even accept partners in the West. It wants Europe to follow the United States. They didn’t accept Russia, although it was a superpower. They didn’t accept it as a partner. Russian officials talk all the time about partnership with the West, and talk positively about the West. In return, the West does not accept Russia as a great power and as a partner on a global level. So, how could they accept a smaller state like Syria which could say no to them? When anything contradicts Syrian interests, we say no. And this is something they do not accept in the West. They asked us for a number of things in the past.
They used to put pressure on us to abandon our rights in our land occupied by Israel. They wanted us not to support the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine which defends the rights of the Palestinian people. At a later stage, a few years before the crisis, they put pressure on Syria to distance itself from Iran. In another case, some of them wanted to use Syria’s relationship with Iran to influence the nuclear file. We have never been a part of this issue, but they wanted us to convince Iran to take steps against its national interests. We refused to do that. There were other similar things.
That’s why they wanted in the end to make the Syrian state a satellite state which implements Western agendas in this region. We refused. Had we done these things, we would have become, as I said, a good, moderate, and democratic state. Now, they describe our state as being anti-democratic, while they have the best relations with the Saudi state which has nothing to do with democracy or elections and deprives women of their rights, in addition to many other things well known to the world. This is Western hypocrisy.
Question 7: So, what does the West require of Syria today in order to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?
President Assad: Simply, to be a puppet. And I’m not convinced that the West has a political solution. They do not want a political solution. When I say the West, I mean a number of countries like the United States, France, and Britain. The other countries play a secondary role. For them, the political solution is changing the state, bringing the state down and replacing it with a client state, exactly like what happened in Ukraine. As far as they are concerned, what happened in Ukraine was a political solution. But, had the former president, who was elected by the people, remained, they would have said that this president is bad, dictatorial, and kills his people. It is the same propaganda. So, the West is not interested in a political solution. They want war, and they want to change states everywhere in the world.
Question 8: Mr. President, you are confirming that there were no American under-the-table requests from you?
President Assad: No, there has been nothing under the table.
Question 9: Konstantin Volkov from Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Mr. President, a few days ago, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said in an interview with CNN television, I believe, that he is prepared to negotiate with the Syrian authorities. But other officials at the State Department contradicted these statements. Concerning U.S attempts to initiate negotiations with you, have there been any such attempts, and if so, what does Washington want?
President Assad: As for the American statements, or statements made by American officials, I think the world has become used to American officials saying something today, and saying the opposite the next day. We see this happening all the time. But there is another phenomenon which is for one official to say something and another official, in the same administration, saying the exact opposite. This is an expression of conflicts inside the American administration and also within the lobby groups working in the United States. These lobbies have different perceptions of different issues. We can say that the most important conflict today for Syria and Ukraine is between two camps: one which wants war and direct military intervention in Syria and Iraq. They might also talk about sending armies to Ukraine, through NATO, or sending arms to the subversive party within Ukraine. There is another camp which opposes intervention because it learned the lessons of previous wars.
As you know, from the Vietnam war to the Iraq war, the United States has never succeeded in any war. It succeeded in one thing, which is destroying the country. But in the end, it always came out defeated after having destroyed the country. But it seems that these groups are still in the minority. In any case, and despite these statements, so far we haven’t seen any real change in American policies and it seems that the hardliners still define the direction of American policies in most parts of the world. As far as we in Syria are concerned, the policy is still going on. There is no direct dialogue between us and the Americans. There are ideas sent through third parties but they do not constitute a serious dialogue and we cannot take them seriously. We have to wait until we see a change in the American policy on the ground. Then we can say that there is a policy shift and clear demands. So far, the U.S. demands are what I described earlier concerning their wish to bring down the Syrian state and replace it with a client state which does their bidding.
Question 10: I am from Rossiya Segodnya. My question will be on the same subject and the same context. There are certain ideas which are being discussed in the West these days like having a peacekeeping force or a military force deployed on Syrian territories to fight ISIS. A number of ‘hawks’ in the U.S., whom you talked about suggested this. This might be just an idea, but today we see that there are airstrikes against ISIS. What is your opinion and assessment of the effectiveness of these airstrikes? And I would like to point out that these airstrikes may not only target ISIS, but positions of the Syrian Arab Army. Thank you.
President Assad: When you follow media reports on daily or weekly basis, you see that the rate of the airstrikes conducted by what they call a coalition against terrorism is sometimes less than ten strikes a day or a little more, in Syria or in Iraq, or in both Syria and Iraq. We are talking about a coalition which includes 60 countries, some of which are rich and advanced. On the other hand, the Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison to this coalition, conducts in a single day many times the number of the airstrikes conducted by a coalition which includes 60 countries.
Although you are not a military man, it is self evident that this doesn’t make sense. This shows the lack of seriousness. Maybe some of these countries do not want ISIS to grow larger than it has become in Syria and Iraq, but at the same time they don’t want to get rid of ISIS completely. They want to retain this terrorist force to be used as a threat to blackmail different countries. That’s why we say simply that there is no serious effort to fight terrorism, and what is being achieved by the Syrian forces on the ground equals in one day what is being achieved by these states in weeks. Once again, this shows that these countries are not serious, not only militarily, but politically speaking. An anti-terrorist coalition cannot consist of countries which are themselves supporters of terrorism. So, there is a political side and a military side, and the two are linked to each other. The result is the same: ISIS still exists. It is struck in one place but expands in another.
Question 11: I would like to check again about the positions of the Syrian Arab Army. Have they incurred any damage? And also about the peacekeeping force or a military presence in the area on your territories.
President Assad: No. No positions of the Syrian Army have been bombarded. What has been bombarded is infrastructure belonging to the Syrian people, and the results have been bad for us as a people and a state. But, as to deploying peacekeeping forces, such forces are usually deployed between warring states. So, when they talk about deploying peacekeeping forces in the fight against ISIS, this means that they recognize ISIS as a state, which is unacceptable and dangerous, particularly that terrorists, whether ISIS or al-Nusra, are terrorist organizations linked to al-Qaeda. These organizations infiltrate communities. Most of the communities and the areas are against these extremist and terrorist ideas. So, there is no state on the other side in order to deploy peacekeeping forces between two parties. This doesn’t make sense.
Question 12: Igor Lutzman from Sputnik radio. Mr. President, when I talked to the Press Secretary of the President of the Chechen Republic, Alvi Karimov, he said that Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov shares your interpretation of the Quran, the basics of Islam, culture, and traditions. He tells young people that terrorists do not belong to any race or any religion. He warns Chechens that if they turn into terrorists and join the ranks of ISIS or other terrorist organizations, they will never be allowed to go back to the Chechen Republic. Can you please tell us how you deal with young people and how you explain to them that Islam is a religion of peace, as Mr. Kadyrov does?
President Assad: What is being done from a systematic perspective is correct and accurate. The problem is ideological in the first place. Some states deal with terrorism as if it were a gang operating somewhere and should be eliminated. This is a final solution. However, the real solution for terrorism is an intellectual and ideological one, and consequently the involvement of those responsible directly is essential and I support it.
Of course, this is not the first time we confront this ideology. We started confronting it since the early 1960s through our confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood who were the real predecessors of al-Qaeda in the Muslim world. The apex of these confrontations happened in the 1980s. At that time, we conducted an educational campaign and fought the Muslim Brotherhood ideologically by promoting the true Islam. But today, the situation is different, because in those days there was no internet, no social media, and no satellite TV stations. It was easy to control the cultural aspect of the problem. What we face today and what you face in your country, and most Muslim countries and the other countries which have Muslim communities, is the problem of extremist satellite TV stations which promote Wahhabi ideology and are funded by Wahhabi institutions and the Saudi state, which is allied to the Wahhabi establishment.
The same applies to the social media on the internet. That’s why the danger we are facing now is tremendous and that’s why we in Syria focused first of all on religious institutions which have played an important role by developing religious curricula and produced religious leaders who promote the real Islamic thought which is moderate and enlightened. We worked on satellite TV stations and established one which promotes moderate Islam and addresses not only the Muslim public but Muslim scholars as well. Religious leaders in Syria have also conducted different activities in the mosques and in their classes by communicating with people and explaining the reality of what is happening.
Terrorism has nothing to do with religion. Whether we call it Islamic terrorism or give it any other name, it has nothing to do with religion. Terrorism is terrorism wherever it is; and Islam is a peaceful religion like any other heavenly religion. But unfortunately, we see many cases in Syria where some children or young people shift very quickly from a state of moderation to a state of extremism and terrorism. The reason is that moderate religion hasn’t been enshrined in the families and the communities in which these young people live. That’s why I believe this work is essential anywhere there is a Muslim community because they are targeted by Wahhabism and Wahhabi institutions.
Question 13: Fedor Ivanitsa from Izvestia newspaper. Mr. President, I would like to ask you about Syrian-Russian relations. Despite the difficult situation and the conflict in Syria, the supply and maintenance site for the Russian navy in Tartous is still functioning. Is there any idea to turn this site in the future into a full-fledged Russian naval military base? Have you received such a proposal, and if so are you studying it, and have there been new military contracts signed between Moscow and Damascus during the crisis?
President Assad: Concerning Russian presence in different parts of the world, including the Eastern Mediterranean and the Tartous port, it is necessary to create a sort of balance which the world lost after the disintegration of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. Part of this existence, as you said, is in Tartous port. As far as we are concerned, the stronger this presence is in our region, the better it is for the region’s stability, because the Russian role is important for the stability of the world.
Of course, in this context I can say that we certainly welcome any expansion of the Russian presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and specifically on the Syrian shores and in Syrian ports for the same objectives I mentioned. But this of course depends on Russian political and military plans for the deployment of their forces in different regions and different seas and their plans for the expansion of these forces. If the Russian leadership intends to expand Russian presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Syria, we certainly welcome such expansion.
As to contracts and military cooperation between Syria and Russia, as you know, it is quite old and has been going on for more than six decades, and nothing will change, as far as this cooperation is concerned, in this crisis. There were Russian contracts with Syria signed before the crisis and which started to be implemented after the beginning of the crisis. There are also other new contracts on weapons and military cooperation signed during the crisis and their implementation is ongoing. The nature of these contracts has of course changed given the nature of the battles conducted by the Syrian armed forces in facing the terrorists. But in essence the nature of these relations has not changed and has continued as before.
Question 14: Mr. President, I have another question. I would like to touch on the disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria during the crisis. We watch on the news, and we ourselves write about this, that ethnic and religious minorities in Syria have been targeted or been subject to violations by the terrorist organization. Does the Syrian government have plans to move these minorities to other areas, to provide a new environment for these displaced people where they can live? There are larger numbers of people belonging to minorities running away from ISIS. What is the number of those who became displaced in and outside Syria fleeing from ISIS and other organizations?
President Assad: As for the first part of the question, as I said earlier, the terrorists and the propaganda which helped them used divisive, sectarian, and ethnic language. The objective was to push components of the Syrian society to emigrate and to realize the terrorist plan in making Syria an non-diverse country. Whenever there’s no diversity, there is always extremism.
In fact, the terrorists have not attacked minorities. They attack everybody in Syria, and the minorities have not been singled out in themselves, but this language has been necessary for them to create divisions within Syrian society. Now, if we do this, i.e. protect what are called minorities, it means that we are doing what the terrorists want. The Syrian state must be a state for all Syrian citizens, taking care of all, and defending all. This is what the Syrian Arab Army should do. That’s why I believe there should be only one plan which is protecting the homeland and protecting the Syrian people. When you protect the people, it is no longer important whether there are minorities or majorities in the Syrian people, because the people are one unit and all of them are targeted.
On the number of the displaced, there are no accurate statistics, and the figure changes every day. There are many people who leave certain areas and move to other areas where they have relatives. These people are not registered as displaced people. Of course the number inside and outside Syria is several millions, but it is greatly exaggerated in foreign media to be used to justify military intervention under a humanitarian slogan. What’s more important is that the Syrian state is providing care to all those who do not have a home. There are shelters for these displaced people, they are provided with medical care, food, and education for their children. Of course these things cannot be at the same level that they were used to in their lives before, but this is a temporary stage until their areas are freed from terrorists and they’re returned to their areas.
Question 15: Mr. President, how do you see Syrian-Arab relations when there are indications of closer Syrian-Egyptian relations and general coordination between Syria and Iraq? What is your position towards the Arab Summit being held without Syria’s participation?
President Assad: Arab Summits, at least since I attended the first one, have not achieved anything in the Arab world. This has to do with inter-Arab relations, because the Arab League consists of Arab states, some of which implement the Western agenda and hinder any progress in the work of the Arab League. Other countries do not play any role. They are neutral. A small number of these countries try to play a role. For example, when there was a vote in the Arab League to ask the Security Council to facilitate or conduct military action in Libya, Syria was the only country which objected. This was before the crisis, and was one of the reasons which made other Arab countries, which are in the Western sphere of influence, start an incitement campaign against Syria and push the problems, or the crisis, in this direction from the very beginning. That’s why inter-Arab relations are now subject to the desires of inter-Western relations. They are not independent. They are non-existent on the inter-Arab level and equally non-existent on the Syrian-Arab level.
As to our relation with Egypt, Egypt suffered from the same terrorism from which Syria suffered, but in a different way. It suffered from the attempts of Arab countries to interfere and fund terrorist forces, but of course to a much lesser degree than what happened in Syria. But there is a great degree of awareness in Egypt in general, on the level of the Egyptian state and people, of what happened in Syria recently. There is a relation but in a very limited framework between the two states, practically on the level of the security services. But we do not talk about real relations or about having closer ties unless there is a direct meeting between the concerned political institutions in the two countries. This hasn’t happened so far, and we hope to see a closer Syrian-Egyptian relation soon because of the importance of Syrian-Egyptian relations for the Arab condition in general. Relations with Iraq are good of course, and we coordinate with Iraq because we have the same terrorist arena.
Question 16: Mr. President, in a number of reports for RT, we said that after things settled down in Damascus, this year will be a year of great changes. After a number of foreign parliamentary and political delegations visited Syria, what is your reading of the near future, politically and militarily, particularly after your meetings with these delegations?
President Assad: The delegations which visited Syria recently, some publicly and others secretly, express two things: first, they show the lack of credibility of the media campaign in the West towards what is happening in the region. Repeating the same lies for four years cannot continue because it is no longer convincing. Realities on the ground are changing, and there are things which we in Syria used to say from the beginning of the crisis which have proved to Western people to be true.
When we used to talk about the spread of terrorism, they used to say there was no terrorism. The delegations which visit Syria include journalists, civil society organizations, and parliamentarians. They wanted to come to Syria in order to know what is going on. On the other hand, there is something related to the states. More than one Western official we met told us that Western officials climbed the tree and are no longer capable of coming down. We have to help them come down through these meetings. They have lied a great deal to us for four years, and now they are saying the exact opposite. It won’t be possible for these politicians to say the opposite and say the truth, because they will end politically. That’s why they send delegations, and when the delegations return, they attack them, saying that they were private visits and have nothing to do with the state.
Despite the fact that these delegations include parliamentarians, but they include people who represent the executive authority, whether in the intelligence services, the ministries of defense, or the like. This shows that the Western countries still persist in their lies but they want a way out and do not know how to get out of the dilemma they have got themselves into.
Question 17: Once again, Mr. President, it’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The Syrian crisis has been going on for four years. I believe it has been a difficult experience for you as a leader of this state in order to help the state itself survive. Could you please tell me about this new experience you have acquired during this difficult period. What are the things you concluded concerning foreign relations, for instance? What are the principles you adopt in leading the state?
President Assad: It is self evident that the role of any state is to work for the interests of the people and the interests of the country. It is only normal that its role should be to act in order to achieve these interests. The conflict for the past decades, including this crisis, is actually linked to what is happening in Ukraine, first because Syria and Ukraine concern Russia, and second because the objective is clear: weakening Russia. The objective is to create client states. When the task of the state or the official is to work for the interests of the people, it is self evident that this should be the guiding principle in managing domestic and foreign policies. This requires continued dialogue between officials and the population, all the officials and all the population. It’s normal to have different viewpoints in every country, but ultimately there should be one general line which identifies the public policy of the state. In that case, even if there were mistakes, and even if there was some deviation, the people will support you in such crises because your intentions are good and because you do not implement the policies of other countries. You implement the policies of this people, a little better, a little worse, this is the nature of things.
This is why I say that what we have succeeded in doing during these four years is that we haven’t paid attention to the Western campaign, haven’t cared about Western statements. We have cared a great deal about what the different sections of the Syrian people think, particularly when there was an intellectual polarization in Syria, between those who support the state, those who oppose it, and those in the middle.
Many people now support the state after they discovered the truth, not because they support the state politically – they might have great differences with the state in terms of political, economic, cultural, and foreign policies – but they are convinced that this is a patriotic state which acts in the best interest of the people, and that if they want to change these policies, it should happen through constitutional and legal ways. This is what we have succeeded in doing, and this is what has protected our country. Had we gone in any other direction, we would have failed from the early months of the crisis, and what they proposed in terms of the state and the president would fall, would have been true, because they believed that we would move away from people and follow our own way, and this is what we haven’t done.
Question 18: With your permission, I have another question from Russia 24 TV channel. You talked about foreign attempts to change regimes in a number of countries, and there are moves and acts on the part of Western or foreign intelligence agencies to overthrow certain regimes. Did they try something like this with you before the crisis?
President Assad: Of course, and for decades. At least these attempts have not stopped for the past five decades. They used to have two trends: sometimes changing the state, and when these attempts fail, and they always do, they used to move in another direction which is weakening the state from within, and sometimes from the outside, through sanctions, in the same way they are behaving towards Russia now.
The sanctions against Russia aim at weakening Russia from the inside. We also have been subject to sanctions for decades, like Cuba, and they also failed. There have been other attempts through people inside the country, people who belong in their minds and aspirations to the West, not to the country. They admire the West and have an inferiority complex towards it, and that’s why they implement its agendas.
There was another method used through the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. The organization was created in Egypt at the beginning of the last century with British support, not Egyptian support. The British created it in order to make it one of the tools used to destroy Egypt when Britain needs it. Of course, the organization spread to other Arab countries, including Syria. These methods will not stop as long as the West continues to think in a colonialist manner, and as long as there are states which speak the national language and do not accept foreign intervention. These countries include Russia, Syria, Iran, and many other countries in the world. They will continue to try, and I think they will not stop, because that is the logic of history: there are countries which want to dominate and control other countries, if not through war, then through the economy, and if not through the economy, then through creating problems and blackmail.
Journalists: Thank you, Mr. President.
President Assad: Thank you very much for visiting us in these circumstances, and I hope that this discussion has been useful to you and to your Russian audiences. When we talk to the Russians, we know that they know exactly what is happening in Syria, because what is happening in Syria and Russia is similar. And of course there are historical relations and Syrian-Russian families. I hope to see again you under different circumstances. Thank you.
Charlie Rose interview with the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad | 26 Mar 2015 | Damascus
The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became very uneasy when the Yemenese or Yemenite movement of the Houthi or Ansarallah (meaning the supporters of God in Arabic) gained control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa/Sana, in September 2014. The US-supported Yemenite President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi was humiliatingly forced to share power with the Houthis and the coalition of northern Yemenese tribes that had helped them enter Sana. Al-Hadi declared that negotiations for a Yemeni national unity government would take place and his allies the US and Saudi Arabia tried to use a new national dialogue and mediated talks to co-opt and pacify the Houthis.
The truth has been turned on its head about the war in Yemen. The war and ousting of President Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi in Yemen are not the results of «Houthi coup» in Yemen. It is the opposite. Al-Hadi was ousted, because with Saudi and US support he tried to backtrack on the power sharing agreements he had made and return Yemen to authoritarian rule. The ousting of President Al-Hadi by the Houthis and their political allies was an unexpected reaction to the takeover Al-Hadi was planning with Washington and the House of Saudi.
The Houthis and their allies represent a diverse cross-section of Yemeni society and the majority of Yemenites. The Houthi movement’s domestic alliance against Al-Hadi includes Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims alike. The US and House of Saud never thought that the Houthis would assert themselves by removing Al-Hadi from power, but this reaction had been a decade in the making. With the House of Saud, Al-Hadi had been involved in the persecution of the Houthis and the manipulation of tribal politics in Yemen even before he became president. When he became Yemeni president he dragged his feet and was working against the implement the arrangements that had been arranged through consensus and negotiations in Yemen’s National Dialogue, which convened after Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his powers in 2011.
Coup or Counter-Coup: What Happened in Yemen?
At first, when they took over Sana in late-2014, the Houthis rejected Al-Hadi’s proposals and his new offers for a formal power sharing agreement, calling him a morally bankrupt figure that had actually been reneging on previous promises of sharing political power. At that point, President Al-Hadi’s pandering to Washington and the House of Saud had made him deeply unpopular in Yemen with the majority of the population. Two months later, on November 8, President Al-Hadi’s own party, the Yemenite General People’s Congress, would eject Al-Hadi as its leader too.
The Houthis eventually detained President Al-Hadi and seized the presidential palace and other Yemeni government buildings on January 20. With popular support, a little over two weeks later, the Houthis formally formed a Yemeni transitional government on February 6. Al-Hadi was forced to resign. The Houthis declared that Al-Hadi, the US, and Saudi Arabia were planning on devastating Yemen on February 26.
Al-Hadi’s resignation was a setback for US foreign policy. It resulted in a military and operational retreat for the CIA and the Pentagon, which were forced to remove US military personnel and intelligence operatives from Yemen. The Los Angeles Times reported on March 25, citing US officials, that the Houthis had got their hands on numerous secret documents when they seized the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was working closely with the CIA, that compromised Washington’s operations in Yemen.
Al-Hadi fled the Yemeni capital Sana to Aden on February 21 and declared it the temporary capital of Yemen on March 7. The US, France, Turkey, and their Western European allies closed their embassies. Soon afterwards, in what was probably a coordinated move with the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all relocated the embassies to Aden from Sana. Al-Hadi rescinded his letter of resignation as president and declared that he was forming a government-in-exile.
The Houthis and their political allies refused to fall into line with the demands of the US and Saudi Arabia, which were being articulated through Al-Hadi in Aden and by an increasingly hysteric Riyadh. As a result, Al-Hadi’s foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, called for Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikdoms to militarily intervene to prevent the Houthis from getting control of Yemen’s airspace on March 23. Yaseen told the Saudi mouthpiece Al-Sharg Al-Awsa that a bombing campaign was needed and that a no-fly zone had to be imposed over Yemen.
The Houthis realized that a military struggle was going to begin. This is why the Houthis and their allies in the Yemenite military rushed to control as many Yemeni military airfields and airbases, such as Al-Anad, as quickly as possible. They rushed to neutralize Al-Hadi and entered Aden on March 25.
By the time the Houthis and their allies entered Aden, Al-Hadi had fled the Yemeni port city. Al-Hadi would resurface in Saudi Arabia when the House of Saud started attacking Yemen on March 26. From Saudi Arabia, Abd-Rabbuh Manṣour Al-Hadi would then fly to Egypt for a meeting of the Arab League to legitimize the war on Yemen.
Yemen and the Changing Strategic Equation in the Middle East
The Houthi takeover of Sana took place in the same timeframe as a series of success or regional victories for Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and the Resistance Bloc that they and other local actors form collectively. In Syria, the Syrian government managed to entrench its position while in Iraq the ISIL/ISIS/Daesh movement was being pushed back by Iraq with the noticeable help of Iran and local Iraqi militias allied to Tehran.
The strategic equation in the Middle East began to shift as it became clear that Iran was becoming central to its security architecture and stability. The House of Saud and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to whimper and complain that Iran was in control of four regional capitals—Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Sana – and that something had to be done to stop Iranian expansion. As a result of the new strategic equation, the Israelis and the House of Saud became perfectly strategically aligned with the objective of neutralizing Iran and its regional allies. «When the Israelis and Arabs are on the same page, people should pay attention», Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer told Fox News about the alignment of Israel and Saudi Arabia on March 5.
The Israeli and Saudi fear mongering has not worked. According to Gallup poll, only 9% of US citizens viewed Iran as the greatest enemy of the US at the time that Netanyahu arrived in Washington to speak against a deal between the US and Iran.
The Geo-Strategic Objectives of the US and Saudis Behind the War in Yemen
While the House of Saudi has long considered Yemen a subordinate province of some sort and as a part of Riyadh’s sphere of influence, the US wants to make sure that it could control the Bab Al-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands. The Bab Al-Mandeb it is an important strategic chokepoint for international maritime trade and energy shipments that connects the Persian Gulf via the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea. It is just as important as the Suez Canal for the maritime shipping lanes and trade between Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Israel was also concerned, because control of Yemen could cut off Israel’s access to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and prevent its submarines from easily deploying to the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran. This is why control of Yemen was actually one of Netanyahu’s talking points on Capitol Hill when he spoke to the US Congress about Iran on March 3 in what the New York Times of all publications billed as «Mr. Netanyahu’s Unconvincing Speech to Congress» on March 4.
Saudi Arabia was visibly afraid that Yemen could become formally aligned to Iran and that the events there could result in new rebellions in the Arabian Peninsula against the House of Saud. The US was just as much concerned about this too, but was also thinking in terms of global rivalries. Preventing Iran, Russia, or China from having a strategic foothold in Yemen, as a means of preventing other powers from overlooking the Gulf of Aden and positioning themselves at the Bab Al-Mandeb, was a major US concern.
Added to the geopolitical importance of Yemen in overseeing strategic maritime corridors is its military’s missile arsenal. Yemen’s missiles could hit any ships in the Gulf of Aden or Bab Al-Mandeb. In this regard, the Saudi attack on Yemen’s strategic missile depots serves both US and Israeli interests. The aim is not only to prevent them from being used to retaliate against exertions of Saudi military force, but to also prevent them from being available to a Yemeni government aligned to either Iran, Russia, or China.
In a public position that totally contradicts Riyadh’s Syria policy, the Saudis threatened to take military action if the Houthis and their political allies did not negotiate with Al-Hadi. As a result of the Saudi threats, protests erupted across Yemen against the House of Saud on March 25. Thus, the wheels were set in motion for another Middle Eastern war as the US, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait began to prepare to reinstall Al-Hadi.
The Saudi March to War in Yemen and a New Front against Iran
For all the talk about Saudi Arabia as a regional power, it is too weak to confront Iran alone. The House of Saud’s strategy has been to erect or reinforce a regional alliance system for a drawn confrontation with Iran and the Resistance Bloc. In this regard Saudi Arabia needs Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan —a misnamed so-called «Sunni» alliance or axis — to help it confront Iran and its regional allies.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s military, would visit Morocco to talk about a collective military response to Yemen by the Arab petro-sheikhdoms, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt on March 17. On March 21, Mohammed bin Zayed met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to discuss a military response to Yemen. This was while Al-Hadi was calling for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to help him by militarily intervening in Yemen. The meetings were followed by talk about a new regional security pact for the Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Out of the GCC’s five members, the Sultanate of Oman stayed away. Oman refused to join the war on Yemen. Muscat has friendly relations with Tehran. Moreover, the Omanis are weary of the Saudi and GCC project to use sectarianism to ignite confrontation with Iran and its allies. The majority of Omanis are neither Sunni Muslims nor Shiite Muslims; they are Ibadi Muslims, and they fear the fanning of sectarian sedition by the House of Saud and the other Arab petro-sheikdoms.
Saudi propagandists went into over drive falsely claiming that the war was a response to Iranian encroachment on the borders of Saudi Arabia. Turkey would announce its support for the war in Yemen. On the day the war was launched, Turkey’s Erdogan claimed that Iran was trying to dominate the region and that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC were getting annoyed.
During these events, Egypt’s Sisi stated that the security of Cairo and the security of Saudi Arabia and the Arab petro-sheikhdoms are one. In fact, Egypt said that it would not get involved in a war in Yemen on March 25, but the next day Cairo joined Saudi Arabia in Riyadh’s attack on Yemen by sending its jets and ships to Yemen.
In the same vein, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif released a statement on March 26 that any threat to Saudi Arabia would «evoke a strong response» from Pakistan. The message was tacitly directed towards Iran.
The US and Israeli Roles in the War in Yemen
On March 27, it was announced in Yemen that Israel was helping Saudi Arabia attack the Arab country. «This is the first time that the Zionists [Israelis] are conducting a joint operation in collaborations with Arabs,» Hassan Zayd, the head of Yemen’s Al-Haq Party, wrote on the internet to point out the convergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Israeli-Saudi alliance over Yemen, however, is not new. The Israelis helped the House of Saud during the North Yemen Civil War that started in 1962 by providing Saudi Arabia with weapons to help the royalists against the republicans in North Yemen.
The US is also involved and leading from behind or a distance. While it works to strike a deal with Iran, it also wants to maintain an alliance against Tehran using the Saudis. The Pentagon would provide what it called «intelligence and logistical support» to the House of Saud. Make no mistakes about it: the war on Yemen is also Washington’s war. The GCC has been unleashed on Yemen by the US.
There has long been talk about the formation of a pan-Arab military force, but proposals for creating it were renewed on March 9 by the rubberstamp Arab League. The proposals for a united Arab military serve US, Israeli, and Saudi interests. Talk about a pan-Arab military has been motivated by their preparations to attack Yemen to return Al-Hadi and to regionally confront Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Resistance Bloc.
(To be continued)
“Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.”
Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent nation of the Congo, was born July 2, 1925 in Onalua in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. With just a primary education, Lumumba emerged to become one of Africa’s most vocal critics of colonialism. Early in life, he developed interests in grassroots union activities and joined the Postal Union. As secretary-general of the union, Lumumba began publishing essays critical of Belgian colonial rule, and advocating independence and a unified centralized Congo. His writings appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties to a national constituency.
In 1955, Lumumba became regional leader of the Circle of Stanleyville and joined the Belgian Liberal Party. In 1956, he was arrested and charged with embezzling union funds and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Released after twelve months, Lumumba became sales director of a brewery in Leopoldville. To solidify his political base, in 1957 Lumumba helped found a broad-based organization that appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties—Movement National Congolais (MNC). The following year, he represented the MNC at the Pan-African conference in Accra, Ghana.
His relentless attacks on Belgian rule soon fractured the MNC, resulting in leadership split in July 1959. Undaunted, Lumumba insisted on complete dismantling of Belgian rule. In October 1959, he was arrested for allegedly inciting anti-colonial riots and sentenced to six months. Shortly thereafter, the Belgian government summoned a conference in Brussels to discuss the future of the Congo. Confronted by MNC threat of boycott, the government released Lumumba. At Brussels, Lumumba boldly condemned Belgian rule and advocated immediate independence. Convinced of the imminence of Congolese freedom, Belgium set aside June 30, 1960 as Independence Day.
The Movement National Congolais won the majority in the general election held in May, 1960, and Lumumba became Prime Minister of the Congo, with his political rival Joseph Kasavubu as President. Lumumba’s scathing denunciation of colonialism ruffled feathers not only in Belgium but also in the United States and Great Britain. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief and marred in crises. It began with the army revolt and secession in Katanga and Southern Kasai.
When the United Nations ignored his repeated appeals for intervention, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union. This move only strengthened western opposition to his regime. Using the crises as an excuse, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Though reinstated by the National Assembly, Lumumba was subsequently overthrown by Col. Joseph (later Sese Seko) Mobutu, and placed under house arrest. He made the fateful attempt to escape to Stanleyville where his supporter had gained control. He was apprehended by secessionist rebels and assassinated on January 18, 1961.
This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed. Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.
For 130 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.
When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
In Congo, Lumumba’s assassination is rightly viewed as the country’s original sin. Coming less than seven months after independence (on 30 June, 1960), it was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and material prosperity.
The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. Since Lumumba’s physical elimination had removed what the west saw as the major threat to their interests in the Congo, internationally-led efforts were undertaken to restore the authority of the moderate and pro-western regime in Kinshasa over the entire country. These resulted in ending the Lumumbist regime in Kisangani in August 1961, the secession of South Kasai in September 1962, and the Katanga secession in January 1963.
Lumumba became a martyr and symbol of Congolese and African freedom. He is remembered today as one of only a handful of African leaders truly dedicated to national unity and genuine independence. In February 2002, responding to a Belgian Commission’s Report that implicated Belgium in Lumumba’s death, the Belgian government acknowledged “moral responsibility” and officially apologized. Lumumba remains an inspiration to African politicians. Several of the major political parties in the 2006 Presidential election in the Congo invoked Lumumba’s legacy.
Tallahassee, Fla. – The U.S prison industrial complex is spiraling out of control as the prison crisis in America grows to pandemic proportions. While accounting for slightly less than 5 percent of the total global population, the U.S. incarcerates roughly 25 percent of people imprisoned worldwide.
Startling statistics from a nation that proclaims to be “the home of the free.”
The Prison Policy Initiative reports:
The U.S. incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations, the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.
Nearly all of the countries with relatively high incarceration rates share the experience of recent large-scale internal conflict. But the United States, which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn’t had a civil war in nearly a century and a half, tops the list.
If we compare the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states and territories with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.
Now, what we are learning is that the United States is not just imprisoning people at an outrageous pace, but that men and women are dying in these prisons at all-time highs, often at the hands of guards, in the most awful and brutal ways imaginable. The state of Florida, it appears, is ground zero for the deaths of prisoners, and the crisis is so deeply corrupt and out of hand that it needs immediate national intervention.
Florida, in 2014, recorded an all-time high of 346 inmate deaths inside of their prisons. Although the prison population has remained relatively steady the past five years, the death toll of prisoners reached an all-time high for the state in 2014.
Hundreds of these deaths inside of prison walls, from 2014 and previous years, are now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice due to the suspicious and systemic nature of the deaths, almost all at the hands of law enforcement officers.
This past September, thirty two law enforcement officials, including prison guards and officers, were fired across the state due to dozens of cases of negligence, abuse, corruption, and death, according to Reuters.
Simply losing ones job over allegations of poisoning, gassing, and beating inmates to death is not justice. These rogue law enforcers need to have an example made out of them. They should not only lose their jobs but they should be indicted, convicted of murder and given the maximum penalty allowed.
These agents of the state, given a great responsibility, have shown themselves to willingly prey upon the most vulnerable in our society and must be held accountable for their actions for justice to be served.
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.
If two major newspapers in, say, Russia published major articles openly advocating the unprovoked bombing of a country, say, Israel, the U.S. government and news media would be aflame with denunciations about “aggression,” “criminality,” “madness,” and “behavior not fitting the Twenty-first Century.”
But when the newspapers are American – the New York Times and the Washington Post – and the target country is Iran, no one in the U.S. government and media bats an eye. These inflammatory articles – these incitements to murder and violation of international law – are considered just normal discussion in the Land of Exceptionalism.
On Thursday, the New York Times printed an op-ed that urged the bombing of Iran as an alternative to reaching a diplomatic agreement that would sharply curtail Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it was used only for peaceful purposes. The Post published a similar “we-must-bomb-Iran” op-ed two weeks ago.
The Times’ article by John Bolton, a neocon scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, was entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” It followed the Post’s op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, formerly at AEI and now a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. [For more on that piece, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Admits Plan to Bomb Iran.”]
Both articles called on the United States to mount a sustained bombing campaign against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities and to promote “regime change” in Tehran. Ironically, these “scholars” rationalized their calls for unprovoked aggression against Iran under the theory that Iran is an aggressive state, although Iran has not invaded another country for centuries.
Bolton, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, based his call for war on the possibility that if Iran did develop a nuclear bomb – which Iran denies seeking and which the U.S. intelligence community agrees Iran is not building – such a hypothetical event could touch off an arms race in the Middle East.
Curiously, Bolton acknowledged that Israel already has developed an undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal outside international controls, but he didn’t call for bombing Israel. He wrote blithely that “Ironically perhaps, Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”
How Bolton manages to read the minds of Israel’s neighbors who have been at the receiving end of Israeli invasions and other cross-border attacks is not explained. Nor does he address the possibility that Israel’s possession of some 200 nuclear bombs might be at the back of the minds of Iran’s leaders if they do press ahead for a nuclear weapon.
Nor does Bolton explain his assumption that if Iran were to build one or two bombs that it would use them aggressively, rather than hold them as a deterrent. He simply asserts: “Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions.”
Pulling Back on Refinement
But is that correct? In its refinement of uranium, Iran has not progressed toward the level required for a nuclear weapon since its 2013 interim agreement with the global powers known as “the p-5 plus one” – for the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Instead, Iran has dialed back the level of refinement to below 5 percent (what’s needed for generating electricity) from its earlier level of 20 percent (needed for medical research) — compared with the 90-plus percent purity to build a nuclear weapon.
In other words, rather than challenging the “red line” of uranium refinement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew during a United Nations speech in 2012, the Iranians have gone in the opposite direction – and they have agreed to continue those constraints if a permanent agreement is reached with the p-5-plus-1.
However, instead of supporting such an agreement, American neocons – echoing Israeli hardliners – are demanding war, followed by U.S. subversion of Iran’s government through the financing of an internal opposition for a coup or a “colored revolution.”
Bolton wrote: “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
But one should remember that neocon schemes – drawn up at their think tanks and laid out on op-ed pages – don’t always unfold as planned. Since the 1990s, the neocons have maintained a list of countries considered troublesome for Israel and thus targeted for “regime change,” including Iraq, Syria and Iran. In 2003, the neocons got their chance to invade Iraq, but the easy victory that they predicted didn’t exactly pan out.
Still, the neocons never revise their hit list. They just keep coming up with more plans that, in total, have thrown much of the Middle East, northern Africa and now Ukraine into bloodshed and chaos. In effect, the neocons have joined Israel in its de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia for a Sunni sectarian conflict against the Shiites and their allies. Much like the Saudis, Israeli officials rant against the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]
Since Iran is considered the most powerful Shiite nation and is allied with Syria, which is governed by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, both countries have remained in the neocons’ crosshairs. But the neocons don’t actually pull the trigger themselves. Their main role is to provide the emotional and political arguments to get the American people to hand over their tax money and their children to fight these wars.
The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the U.S. decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
The New York Times’ star neocon columnist Thomas L. Friedman ventured to the edge of madness as he floated the idea of the U.S. arming the head-chopping Islamic State, writing this month: “Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS?”
I realize the New York Times and Washington Post are protected by the First Amendment and can theoretically publish whatever they want. But the truth is that the newspapers are extremely restrictive in what they print. Their op-ed pages are not just free-for-alls for all sorts of opinions.
For instance, neither newspaper would publish a story that urged the United States to launch a bombing campaign to destroy Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal as a step toward creating a nuclear-free Middle East. That would be considered outside responsible thought and reasonable debate.
However, when it comes to advocating a bombing campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, the two newspapers are quite happy to publish such advocacy. The Times doesn’t even blush when one of its most celebrated columnists mulls over the idea of sending weapons to the terrorists in ISIS – all presumably because Israel has identified “the Shiite crescent” as its current chief enemy and the Islamic State is on the other side.
But beyond the hypocrisy and, arguably, the criminality of these propaganda pieces, there is also the neocon record of miscalculation. Remember how the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end with Iraqis tossing rose petals at the American soldiers instead of planting “improvised explosive devices” – and how the new Iraq was to become a model pluralistic democracy?
Well, why does one assume that the same geniuses who were so wrong about Iraq will end up being right about Iran? What if the bombing and the subversion don’t lead to nirvana in Iran? Isn’t it just as likely, if not more so, that Iran would react to this aggression by deciding that it needed nuclear bombs to deter further aggression and to protect its sovereignty and its people?
In other words, might the scheming by Bolton and Muravchik — as published by the New York Times and the Washington Post — produce exactly the result that they say they want to prevent? But don’t worry. If the neocons’ new schemes don’t pan out, they’ll just come up with more.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.
A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.
According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.
While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.
So far, the abuse cases documented in last month’s report have been met with impunity, as Colombian prosecutors’ hands are tied by U.S.-Colombian agreements giving the U.S. security forces in Colombia immunity. (Many such instances have been reported previously to be met with similar impunity.) Similarly, in the “sex party” case, some of the 10 DEA agents that admitted to participating received between two and 10 days of suspension but no further discipline. William Brownfield, currently Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was U.S. Ambassador to Colombia at the time, with oversight of the DEA.
Commenting on the IG report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service.’’ However, this isn’t the first time U.S. security forces in Colombia have been linked to such abuses, and the problem is not confined to these “bad apples.” They may take the blame for this particular case, but this is ultimately a systemic problem that must not be covered up.
Sex-crimes and gender-based violence are far from the only abuses perpetrated during the U.S.-led “War on Drugs,” of which Plan Colombia is a part, and represent deeper problems endemic to the U.S.’ heightened military presence in the region. While supporters of Plan Colombia tout its dedication to upholding transparency and security, reports of human rights violations committed by U.S.-trained-and-funded personnel continue to surface. Amnesty International has called the initiative a “failure in every respect,” and several reports show that extrajudicial killings have in fact increased since Plan Colombia went into effect in 2000. In a congressional briefing with CEPR last year, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, Alberto Yepes, noted that between 2000 and 2010 there were 5,763 documented “false positive” extrajudicial civilian killings. This was over the same time period that the U.S. gave $6 billion in military assistance, supplying military advisors and training Colombian troops.
Amid such incriminating evidence of abuses by U.S. personnel and testimony of its flawed training programs, it seems clear that U.S. military and drug war “assistance” should be scaled back– or at the very least reassessed. These revelations should worry policy makers, considering perceptions of such actions condition how U.S. agents are received by other governments. The U.S. has been kicked out of Bolivia for using DEA agents to spy, and DEA agents are under investigation for an incident in which four Afro-indigenous civilians in Honduras were shot and killed from a helicopter, including a 14-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Something is wrong with this picture.
However, not only does the State Department insist that Plan Colombia is a success, but Vice President Joseph Biden’s recently announced foreign assistance plan hopes to export the Plan Colombia model to Central America. As my colleague Alex Main has noted, proposed military assistance to Colombia under the Biden plan would remain at the same levels as in FY 2014, while funding for International Narcotics Control Law Enforcement assistance to Central America would more than double, from $100 million to $205 million. Such an increase seems to ignore the human rights implications foreshadowed by its model.
If the State Department hopes to avoid future sex party scandals and prevent its military from committing any more sex and abuse crimes, it should reevaluate its militarized approach to the drug war and the endemic impunity that this fosters.