Russia's Intervention into Syria has revealed long-running scandals in the regional foreign policy of the United States and its allies.
President Obama's reversal last week of his firm pledge to avoid deployment of ground troops in Syria is one of the most obvious short-run embarrassments.
But others abound that discredit in substantive, scandalous ways leaders of both U.S. political parties. Exposed also as devious and at best incompetent (and at worst rubber stamps for corrupt warmongers serving the most elite fraction of "the one percent") are the CIA and State Department, and allied leaders in NATO and nations neighboring Syria.
Among the reasons are that Russia's bold military actions caught allies napping despite the vast spending by U.S. taxpayers on intelligence.
Worse, the intervention exposed the essentially fraudulent nature of the long-running allied PR campaign to topple Syria's government. The campaign has been revealed as a cruel, greedy, and poorly-executed attempt at empire-building reliant on an ongoing propaganda extravaganza that disgraces the political institutions of all those nations that are complicit.
Looking ahead: reform, wise policy and public confidence can only come from credible assessment of what's been going wrong.
Update: A bipartisan group of 35 House members opposed to a war in Syria asked 'Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI) for a vote in Congress on whether the United States is authorized to use military force in Syria. A vote is required under the War Powers Act. But the House has ignored the law since the actions began in the summer of 2014. One of the letter-signers is U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (shown in an official photo), a senior Republican representing the North Carolina district that is home to Fort Bragg.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a second term Democrat from Hawaii with two military tours in the Middle East, has emerged as another compelling critic of U.S. policy. She is shown in both her official photo and one via Wikipedia of her as a second lieutenant in Hawaii's National Guard, where she is now a major.
She is not associated with all elements of the analysis above and below, but she has voiced important parts of it.
"CIA Must Stop Illegal, Counterproductive War to Overthrow Assad" was the headline of her CNN interview Oct. 21 with "Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer, a former Washington director of public relations for the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).
Blitzer used conventional PR talking points at times during the interview as he challenged her views.
Gabbard failed to concur with the wrongheaded conventional wisdom and thus showed remarkable independence for a federally elected politician.
Instead, she argued that the United States must stay out of counterproductive wars and focus on defeating the Islamist extremists who have declared war on America. A member of the House Armed Services Committee and a deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, she explained that the United States should stop focusing on trying to rid the Middle East of secular dictators and instead target the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) and not the government of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad.
Few of any prominence in the federal government dare say such things publicly, although the sentiments are not unusual in private conversations.
But the forceful Russian intervention against the Islamic State and Middle Eastern/Libyan migrant crisis have dramatized in a highly public way the failures of U.S.-led foreign policies in the region.
These developments are explored below as part of a series on foreign policy that began Oct. 13. The series grows from our core focus on the justice system, including political prosecutions of whistleblowers, and examination of failures in mainstream media that are supposed to cover such matters. The series has presented so far (in chronological order):
- U.S. v. Russia Proxy War In Syria Creates High Stakes For You
- NY Times Features Challenge To Obama Bin Laden Raid Story
- Memo Exposes Former British PM Tony Blair
- How Obama Leads Drone Strikes Killing Many Civilians
- Clinton's Benghazi Hearing
- Pardon Plea For Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower Wins Press Backing
- Madeleine Albright, Godmother To Foreign Policy Disasters
- Russian Attacks In Syria Expose U.S., Allied Debacle
The biggest development since our most recent column about Syria, noted above and published on Oct. 13, has been the fierce debates within the Obama administration about the best response to Russia's intervention. The administration now recognizes that its plan to train what Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been calling "Free Syrian Army" with $500 million appropriated by Congress has been a failure so far (even though only about $100 million was reportedly spent). The first contingent of 50 recruits was routed immediately after deployment this summer. Some of the recruits and their weapons went directly to jihadists and about ten percent of the recruits were killed.
A second issue for both the United States and its regional allies is how they can continue to try to overthrow Assad now that his government is being strengthened by Russian and Iranian assistance. Sputnik News, for example, reported Oct. 30 Russian bombers had destroyed 237 ISIS and Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, targets in Syria during the previous two days, and that Syria's army was launching a "nationwide" effort to rid the nation of radical Islamists, which recently had controlled more than half of the nation.
Complicating these matters are at least three other major developments.
First is the migrant/refugee crisis stemming from years of U.S.-led wars, particularly to overthrow dictators in Libya and Syria. Europe is being flooded with what is expected soon to be a million impoverished and mostly unvetted Muslims, alarming many local residents at their government's acquiescence to U.S., NATO, and European Union policies.
Second is the greatly increased turbulence in all of Syria's neighbors, many of them flooded with refugees and most (aside from Lebanon and Iraq) invested in the so-far unsuccessful overthrow of Assad. Turkey's strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (shown in a White House photo meeting President Obama Dec. 7, 2009) just presided over a major election victory for his party Nov. 1 but opposes not just Assad but also the stateless Kurdish minority that has emerged as the major U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS. Saudi Arabia, like Turkey, is a suspected covert supporter of ISIS and Al Qaeda, thereby complicating its much-touted alliance with the United States. Additionally, the Saudis are engaged with U.S. support of a murderous air campaign (and a potential war crime if a relevant body ever studied it) against large numbers of Yemenis, leaving that nation in destitution and Al Qaeda growing. Israel and Iraq are plagued by many deaths from internal strife.
Finally, the fatal crash of a Russian airliner departing Egypt serves as a reminder of the dangers of terrorism even when opponents have little success on the battlefield. An ISIS claimed responsibility responsibility for the 224 fatalities via a missile launched from the Sinai desert. Experts have ruled out such an attack, as well as pilot error for the midair breakup over Sinai. That leaves as a strong possibility some kind of bomb or other sabotage before take-off, and not necessarily by jihadists.
The airplane crash (following a number of attacks in recent years in Russia by suspected radical Muslims) is precisely the kind of threat that Russia has cited as its reason to defeat radical Islamists by whatever name in Syria, at the invitation of its longtime ally the secular (that is, non-religious) government of Assad.
We now explore the Obama administration's internal debates on responding to Russia's intervention, which consists mostly of air strikes begun Sept. 30 against anti-Assad forces in the western parts of Syria, not the ISIS strongholds to the east near Iraq. Russia maintains that the radicals it has first attacked are nearly indistinguishable from Islamic State and that it's approach is most effective. U.S. allies protest, ineffectually so far, that Russia's approach is hurting genuine homegrown opponents of Assad and civilians.
What should the United States do?
Hawks lean to more arms shipments, troop deployments and imposition of a Syrian "No Fly Zone," which is an act of war. Hillary Clinton made the difficult argument on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show Oct. 23 that forbidding Russia from flights in a newly created U.S. zone would not lead to a dangerous confrontations.
Obama, to his credit, understands that enforcing such a zone can start shooting that could spiral out of control.
Furthermore, the United States is on thin legal ground. Russia entered the fray at the invitation of Syria’s government, Russia's longtime ally. By contrast, the United States has scant legal basis for any involvement under international law, aside from a vague congressional authorization in 2001 and acquiescence by U.S. allies.
Strategically, the United States also risks losing support for its policies even in many NATO nations. Most see the tragic and chaotic flight into Europe of vast numbers of Syrian refugees as a result of U.S.-devised policies.
Obama's reaction has been relatively restrained, which is both wise and bold, especially considering the pressures that war-mongers put upon him as they call him timid and indecisive for not being more militaristic. The deployment of 50 special forces personnel was announced as assigning them to logistics duties in support of Kurdish attacks on Islamic State targets, seeming a relatively safe position.
But any such deployment faces blowback these days from the U.S. public, the enemy and even "allies." Obama has now gone back on his promise never to deploy ground troops in Syria. that follows retreat also of his assurances in Iraq and Afghanistan and comes in the context of a long history of special forces "advisors" and CIA personnel engaging in combat in war theaters extending over time from Vietnam to Syria itself.
Furthermore, the distinction between ISIS and other radical jihadists is far from clear in Syria, where more than a hundred radical rebels groups are reputed to exist. Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell's recent memoir The Great War of Our Time illustrates the fuzzy distinctions. "Although there is a deep rift between the leadership of ISIS and Al Qa'ida it is important to note that ISIS is effectively Al Qa'ida," he wrote on Page 307. The difference is a squabble over leadership, "not vision," he wrote. Morell is shown at right in a JIP photo at the National Press Club during a book lecture May 18.
Importantly (and ironically) Morell himself is reported to have been involved in high-level U.S. leadership disputes leading to his resignation in 2013 along with White House National Security Advisor Thomas Donilan and continuing today.
Former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen published a source-based column in 2013 asserting that Obama squeezed out Morell and Donilon because of their reluctance to pursue hawkish options favored by Donilon's replacement, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, Rice's successor as UN Ambassador.
We published the adjoining photo of Obama, Power (at center), Donilon and Rice previously in our column on propaganda techniques used to justify war, Madeleine Albright, Godmother To Foreign Policy Disaster Today. But the photo takes on additional meaning if the happy faces mask difficult disputes at that time between them over war policies.
This fall, former CIA Director David Petraeus called for the United States to ally with Al Qaeda (an alternative spelling of Morell's of the same group) in order to overthrow Assad. Petraeus was deeply complicit in the Benghazi operations and public relations announcements before Obama forced his resignation just after reelection in November 2012.
The Petraeus comment seems baffling on its face, given that the U.S. wars in the Middle East beginning in 2001 are ostensibly to fight the Al Qaeda perpetrators of 9/11.
Yet Petraeus is pursuing a deeper logic of geo-politics shared by fellow neocons and their allied "neo-liberals" who dominate policy positions in the White House, State and Defense Departments, and intelligence agencies, whether under Republican or Democratic administrations.
Thus, Obama has staffed his Defense Department and CIA with many Republicans, including Petraeus, and Democrats tend to be neo-liberals recruited from the Petraeus-inspired Center for a New American Security and similar centers of either outright militarism or its Soros-funded variant of humanitarian and "Open Society" human rights organizations that justify regime change, demonstrations and bombing to purge anti-democratic and inhuman leaders. The targeted "regimes" never seem to be "allies" of the United States however, no matter how many floggings, beheadings and trumped up imprisonments occur.
That philosophy is that the United States should select allies, battles and public relations techniques according to criteria best known to elite specialists for reasons. This might explain also why Gen. John Allen, a longtime Petraeus ally (shown in a file photo), was selected in the fall of 2014 to serve as special U.S. commander against ISIS. He seemingly accomplished very little before his resignation effective Nov. 1 this fall.
After scant allied military action for a year against ISIS troops that at least occasionally traverse the desert in trucks, Russia's intervention caught the United States intelligence community sleeping and put the nation into a tough trap.
Instead of predicting Russia's intervention that began Sept. 30, the CIA was conducting a secret war against Syria's government for four years, it has been revealed in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the NSA has been working with allied Western intelligence agencies on a massive surveillance program (some NSA whistleblowers say the goal has been to record all electronic communications of everyone on earth). Critics persuasively say the NSA should have been prioritizing the most important and dangerous foreign intelligence, which surely must include communications via social media and otherwise from the Islamic State jihadists and murderers.
President Truman warned before his death that he created the CIA to provide intelligence for the president and not to engage in what Truman called (in a private 1964 letter to a Look Magazine editor) "strange adventures around the world."
We can now see rather clearly that these intelligence agencies botched their core missions regarding because of their penchant for grandiose operations secret from the American public.
So, Obama and the country have few viable options, especially because much of the U.S. public is confused about the situation. Many years of U.S. government propaganda and threats against leakers keep accurate reporting to a minimum. In an unprecedented way, the Obama administration has repeatedly sought to imprison on spy charges those U.S. officials from the intelligence community who dare talk to news reporters, as documented earlier in this series in Pardon Plea For Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower Wins Press Backing.
Yet there are many brave and patriotic individuals within the military and intelligence communities disturbed by policies hurting the country. They therefore still take risks to help the public by sharing information. From that, and standard research materials such as documents, articles and books, we are able to assemble with reasonable confidence a timeline of major events in Syria and their implications.
For decades, U.S. policy has been to overthrow Syria's Assad family as part of an overall plan to eliminate certain secular dictators in the Middle East and North Africa. Some of those rules have been allied with the Soviet Union or Russia but some of those targeted, such as Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, have also worked on occasion with the United States. Assad is shown in a file photo with his Western-educated wife, Asma Assad, who is of Sunni Muslim background in contrast to her husband's Shia-related Alawite sect.
In 1996, neoconservatives (including Jeb Bush) published their Project for a New American Century manifesto calling for Hussein's overthrow, among other goals. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 provided a rationale to launch wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, with related military actions in other Muslim nations.
Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark (shown in an official photo at right) has stated that he was astonished to learn in the fall of 2001 that the Defense Department was planning wars against seven nations at that time, including Syria, nearly all of which came to pass, at least in terms of internal disruptions or allied bombing against suspected terrorist targets.
In 2011, Syria was among the Middle Eastern and North African governments attacked by "Arab Spring" protesters demanding civic reforms. Assad, a Western-educated medical doctor and son of a dictator who had ruled autocratically for some four decades, brutally crushed the rebellion, which developed into the armed rebellion still destroying the country.
From the start, Western governments and their media have portrayed the protests in Syria as legitimate expressions oppressed residents so cruelly treated that the civilized world should support Assad's removal. Western news media routinely tilt the stories against the Syria government by such methods as suggesting that most fatalities are caused by the government or by quoting the one-man UK-based, anti-Assad propaganda mill, "the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights," as if it were a neutral source of information.
Rare is the Western report that explores such obvious story angles as: how land-locked ISIS and Al Qaeda regions are able receive supplies and sell oil without the complicity of U.S. allies, or why Syria's government is not entitled to repel a rebellion fueled by tens of thousands of non-Syrian jihadists coming into the country from as far away as Australia. Closer to home, one might reasonably wonder (but almost never read or see in Western media) why the West's advanced surveillance technology cannot track ISIS armadas of Toyota trucks cruising across deserts or a vigorous social media propaganda campaign.
Over the years, and especially since the Russians have started bombing rebels with massive raids far exceeding those of the United States, Western audiences have gradually learned a much more complex story.
Part of it involves crass religious, political, and territorial ambitions of most of Syria's neighboring nations. They have worked in a little reported de facto alliance to prevent Shia-oriented governments from extending through Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea.
A financial motive looms also in the desire of Persian Gulf oil and gas monarchies for a pipeline access to Europe. This could provide an alternative to Russian domination of that market.
Several other such motives have been reported with widely varying degrees of documentation. Among them are a reputed desire by some Israeli leaders to destabilize Israel's main neighbor to the east even though Syria has not in recent years shown any significant military threat to Israel, and by Turkey to extend its Muslim traditions south under Erdogan, who is repositioning his nation from a secular state to Islamist state and thus in opposition to its neighbor to the south. Although most Western reporting underscores Alawite-Sunni rivalries a more detached reflection would indicate that Syria's government could not have resisted rebels aided by so many neighbors and NATO unless it could draw on support from Sunnis, Christians, Kurds and others who make up the vast bulk of the population.
Four dramatic developments have riveted public attention in the West on Syria, even though most in the public give scant attention to foreign relations.
- In the United States, Republicans have made a major partisan issue out of the murder of four Americans at a Benghazi temporary consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Republicans have blamed in succession President Obama and UN Ambassador Susan Rice during the 2012 election season and more recently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not preventing the death and for allegedly misinforming the public for political reasons about the true circumstances. However, the focus on Benghazi has had the side-effect of raising scrutiny regarding CIA and State Department activities in Benghazi pertaining to illicit smuggling of arms and jihadist fighters to Syria to overthrow Assad.
- In August 2013, the U.S. and its allies cited the sarin gas deaths of more than a thousand people, many of them children, to argue that Assad's forces were responsible and therefore the government should be overthrown. The often-repeated claim of government complicity has not been proven, and indeed has been rebutted by critics, including Seymour Hersh in The Red Line and the Rat Line, who suggested responsibility for the deaths was murky at best and that military action would be "disastrous."
- In recent weeks, mainstream media have reported in scattered fashion the CIA has been waging a covert war for four years against Assad. Such a secret war would be, of course, quite different than the standard accounts that purely local opponents have been fighting Assad while the U.S. debates use of various forms of "non-lethal" aid.
- Finally, Turkey has encouraged the mass migrations of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees through Greece and the Balkans to northern Europe, creating a crisis in confidence in Western policies compounded by parallel migrations by sea from Libya. Germany, one of the staunchest U.S. allies in foreign affairs, has welcome refugees so far. The United Kingdom has not, and the United States has agreed to take just 10,000 over the next year. The visible human suffering and economic hardship for hosts and refugees alike is provoking a backlash against U.S.-led military interventions that have been marketed to the world as pro-democratic and pro-humantarian, as we reported in Madeleine Albright, Godmother To Foreign Policy Disaster Today.
The conservative history and political commentator Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan administration assistant Treasury secretary, is among the critics describing Russia's intervention into Syria as a debacle of historic proportions brought on by warmongers of both major U.S. political parties and vassal states in Europe unwilling stand up for their own citizens.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on September 28 at the 70th anniversary of the United Nations changed the balance of power in the world," Roberts wrote in his column The Fall Of The Unipower. "He denounced the heartless criminality of Washington’s destruction of the lives of millions of peoples on the basis of nothing other than Washington’s own arrogance. He denounced the illegality of Washington’s assaults on the sovereignty of other peoples, and declared that Russia can no longer tolerate this state of affairs in the world."
A similar view favorably cited by Roberts came in commentary from F. William Engdahl, a strategic risk consultant and best-selling author on oil and geo-politics. In Putin is Defeating More than ISIS in Syria, Engdahl wrote on Oct. 15 that "the Russian president goes to the heart of the matter. He lays bare the true activities of the Obama Administration in Syria and the Middle East in arming and training “moderate” Islamist terrorists to attack Washington’s bête noire, Syria’s duly-elected and recently re-elected President, Bashar al Assad."
Those are strong and unfamiliar words, even to our regular audience here. Instead, we close on more familiar territory. On the right, longtime Republican former Texas Congressman Ron Paul wrote last month: I Wish Nobody Was Bombing Syria.
"The U.S. regime change policy for Syria has been a catastrophe," he said. "More than 200,000 killed and an entire country reduced to rubble at least partly because President Obama decided that 'Assad has lost his legitimacy.' How is it that the president of a country 6,000 miles away has the authority to decide whether another leader belongs in office or not?"
Later in the month, CNN host Wolf Blitzer interviewed the two-term congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, veteran of two military duty tours in Iraq. She probably would dispute some of the more extremely language of Roberts and Engdahl, but even so her words are almost nothing like the standard fare for years on cable news regarding Syria as noted above and as shown below in her own words.
War In Syria and Afghanistan: Selected Columns
President Barack Obama meets with senior Defense Department, national security advisors and military leadership regarding the campaign against ISIL, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., July 6, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The Week, Obama's catastrophic Syria folly, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Nov. 3, 2015. President Obama has broken lots of promises on foreign policy. And now, contrary to promises made in years past, the president is sending (a very limited number of) ground troops to support and advise rebel groups in Syria. The president's approach to the Middle East is hardly one of shirking cowardice, as his opponents often cast it. Instead, it is one of dangerous, thoughtless intervention. This broken promise — this increased intervention in Syria — is the most stupid and potentially ruinous foreign policy decision of Obama's presidency.
By sending special forces in this open way, Obama is involving America ever more deeply in the outcome of a civil war, where America's supposed allies — rebels who we are assured are "moderate" — have almost no chance of winning. It is a civil war in which Russia has involved itself on the side of an ally who can win: Syria's longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad. Obama has announced no other goal in this conflict beyond providing assistance to people we like. The New York Times also reported that Americans were sent not to win a conflict, but to bolster diplomatic efforts. How can this possibly be the rationale for risking American blood, treasure, and honor? If U.S. forces are not there to help win the war, then they are there only to prolong it — an immoral act that will exacerbate the refugee crisis already putting intolerable pressure on European political settlements.
German Economic News, In Paris Tragedy, It’s Necessary to Know Who’s Pulling the Strings, Staff report translated by David Norris, Nov. 17, 2015. Putin demands a real investigation, but the Western establishment has already decided how to use the massacre. The attacks on Paris could lead to a massive military operation of NATO in Syria. Russia’s president Putin has consequently asked the question as to who is pulling the strings. The question is related to the Russian military successes in Syria – and with the efforts of the US neocons and intelligence agencies to seize the opportunity to extend the war in Syria as quickly as possible. What do we actually know? Basically, we know very little. We should note: As unprepared for the attacks as the French security services were, they were quick with ready answers on the day.
Antiwar.com, Proxy War: US, Russia Send Arms to Syrian Factions Meant to Target One Another, Jason Ditz, Nov. 6, 2015. Aid in Protracted Ground War Increasingly Involves Anti-Aircraft Missiles. As both Russia and the US escalate their respective wars in Syria, both nominally targeting ISIS primarily, they are each making much of their arms shipments to their allies in the nation, insisting those new influxes of arms will shift the long-stalled civil war in their favor. Yet increasingly in both cases, those arms shipments are including not only some ammunition and small arms useful for the drawn-out ground war, but anti-aircraft weapons which are of primary utility in targeting one another’s airplanes, adding to the evidence that the US and Russia are steaming headlong into a full-scale proxy war against one another in Syria.
London Review of Books, Too Weak, Too Strong, Patrick Cockburn, Nov. 3, 2015. Patrick Cockburn reports regularly from the Middle East. He is the author of "The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution," among other books. The military balance of power in Syria and Iraq is changing. The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army, which earlier in the year looked fought out and was on the retreat.
The drama of Russian military action, while provoking a wave of Cold War rhetoric from Western leaders and the media, has taken attention away from an equally significant development in the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been the failure over the last year of the US air campaign – which began in Iraq in August 2014 before being extended to Syria – to weaken Islamic State and other al-Qaida-type groups. By October the US-led coalition had carried out 7,323 air strikes, the great majority of them by the US air force, which made 3231 strikes in Iraq and 2487 in Syria. But the campaign has demonstrably failed to contain IS, which in May captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria. The US failure is political as much as military: it needs partners on the ground who are fighting IS, but its choice is limited because those actually engaged in combat with the Sunni jihadis are largely Shia. As a result the US can only use its air force in support of the Kurds.
Jerusalem Post, What’s Syrian about the Syrian war? Hakim Khatib, Nov. 2, 2015. After five years of the Syrian civil war, four conflicting parties can be identified on the ground: the Assad regime, Islamic State, rebel groups and the Kurds. Each of these conflicting parties has regional and international backers, who ironically do not agree with each other about who they are fighting for or against. The Syrian regime is backed by Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias. Islamic State (IS) is backed by the flood of global jihadists from all over the world. Rebel groups are backed by Gulf States, Turkey, Jordan and the US. The Kurds are supported by the US. The war has been waged in Syria, it’s true, leading to over 50 percent of Syria’s population being displaced, over 220,000 killed and many more wounded or imprisoned. According to Amnesty International, more than 12.8 million Syrians are in “urgent need of humanitarian assistance.” In addition to this humanitarian catastrophe, most of Syria’s infrastructure has been destroyed.
By 2014, foreign jihadists fighting in Syria were estimated to number between 10,000 and 12,000, with more than 3,000 coming from Western countries. Accompanied by constant calls from mainly non-Syrian, Sunni clergymen for “material and moral” support for the Syrian rebels, thousands of foreign fighters flood into Syria for jihad every year. Not a single Syrian citizen has been left unaffected by the crisis; Syria is the site of a bloody war with no prospect of reconciliation in sight. So what is Syrian about the Syrian war? Perhaps, it is only the humanitarian catastrophe.
New York Times, New U.S.-Backed Alliance to Counter ISIS in Syria Falters, Ben Hubbard, Nov. 2, 2015. Weeks after the Obama administration canceled a failed Pentagon program to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State, American officials announced a new effort to equip newly named ground forces in Syria to fight the jihadists. But 10 days of interviews and front-line visits across northern Syria with many of the forces in the alliance made clear that so far it exists in name only, and that the political and logistical challenges it faces are daunting.
Beyond the early logistical factors, the new alliance faces what is perhaps a more serious challenge in the long term: Though it is intended to begin clawing back territory from the Islamic State in mostly Arab areas, nearly all of the group’s fighting power comes from ethnic Kurdish militias. That demographic reality is likely to further alarm Turkey, a vital American ally that considers Kurdish autonomy near its southern border a security threat. It also limits the forces’ ability to strike the jihadists in predominantly Arab communities — Kurdish fighters have less motivation to fight for those areas, and could deeply anger residents by doing so.
BBC, Commons committee warns David Cameron against Syria vote, Staff report, Nov. 3, 2015. An influential Commons committee has urged David Cameron not to press ahead with a vote on UK air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. The Foreign Affairs Committee -- which has a Conservative majority -- said the prime minister should instead focus on efforts to end Syria's civil war. It also raised concerns about the legal basis for any UK action. Downing Street has strongly denied reports Mr Cameron has abandoned plans for a vote altogether. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there had to be a political solution and he did not believe that "more bombing is going to help in this."
CNN, Caged and in danger: Syrian soldiers become human shields for rebels, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ed Payne, Nov. 3, 2015. Rebels are caging captured Syrian soldiers and others loyal to the regime and using them as human shields to fend off government attacks, Human Rights Watch and a Syrian opposition group reported. Videos posted to social media over the weekend show trucks transporting cages filled with up to eight men or women, the opposition Shaam News Network reported. "Rebels ... have distributed 100 cages, with each cage containing approximately seven people and the plan is afoot to produce 1,000 cages to distribute ... in different parts of Douma city, particularly in public places and markets that have been attacked in the past by the regime and Russian air-force," text in one of the videos says, according to the opposition network.
Washington Post, Russian official says airliner broke up in midair over Sinai, Erin Cunningham, Nov. 1, 2015. It was too early to tell what caused the plane to break apart and crash, killing all 224 aboard, the official said. Egyptians, meanwhile, are examining the two flight data recorders for clues to the cause of the crash.
The Intercept, U.S. to Send Special Operations Forces to Syria, Nick Turse, Oct. 30, 2015. President Obama has authorized the deployment of a small contingent of elite U.S. troops to northern Syria as part of the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL. While portrayed by the administration as an intensification of the current strategy and enhancing “efforts that are already working,” the deployment of forces represents a clear escalation of the conflict for the president who has previously said, “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”
Washington Post, Obama to send small Special Operations force to Syria, Greg Jaffe, Oct. 30, 2015. The mission will involve less than 50 Special Operations advisers who will be working with resistance forces in northern Syria, but will not be engaging in direct combat, administration officials said. The move, which was recommended late last week by the president’s national security team, represents a significant escalation of the American role in Syria. It also reflects growing dissatisfaction with the halting progress against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The troops main focus will be advising Syria Arab and Kurdish forces who are expected to mount a military offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in the region in the near future. The push against Raqqa, if it yields results, would mark a major victory for the forces battling the Islamic State.
Antiwar.com, 35 House War Opponents Push for Vote on ISIS War, Jason Ditz, Nov. 6, 2015. New Letter Cites Syria Deployment as a 'Significant Escalation.' A bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives have issued an open letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI), calling for a vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS, citing “deepening entanglement” in the conflict by President Obama. Under the War Powers Act, the president must seek Congressional approval for any overseas military operation within 60 days. The launching of the war against ISIS in summer of 2014 put that vote in the middle of a mid-term election, and most Congressional leaders on both sides simply chose to ignore the law. Over a year later, the president made only one token effort to get an AUMF through, and that died when the White House openly bragged they made the wording so vague it would allow them to do basically anything they wanted. Without an authorization the war should’ve ended, instead it escalated.
One of the letter-signers is U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (shown in an official photo), a senior Republican representing the North Carolina district that is home to Fort Bragg. The new letter particularly draws attention to the recent White House announcement of ground troops being deployed to Syria, something previous AUMF attempts explicitly ruled out, saying this is a “significant escalation” of the war and proof that Congress needs to at some point vote on the matter.
Antiwar.com, Obama Puts US Boots in Syria – Where is Congress? Daniel McAdams, Oct. 31, 2015. “I will not put US boots on the ground in Syria.” That was President Obama’s unequivocal statement to the American people just two years ago when he first planned to bomb Syria. He has repeated the statement several times, as he has also repeated his promise that he “will not pursue a long air campaign” in Syria and Iraq. Obama lied. And he lied again. And he lied again yesterday, when it was announced that he was putting US boots on the ground in Syria. This move encapsulates neocon-occupied Washington’s response to foreign policy failure: if an intervention is failing, escalate.
Washington Times, Obama ignores generals’ advice on troop levels for unprecedented sixth time, Rowan Scarborough, Oct. 15, 2015. In the end, President Obama was forced to listen to his generals — not his political instincts — on Afghanistan troop levels, and he decided to split the difference. Mr. Obama is keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond his presidency, about half the strength recommended by his top general in-country. It marks the sixth time he has rejected the advice of a ground commander on the force size in the long Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Military experts call that streak unprecedented for a commander in chief.
Wayne Madsen Report, CIA number two resigns hours before Obama announces decision to arm Syrian rebels, Wayne Madsen, June 14, 2013 (Subscription required). CIA deputy director Michael Morell resigned from his post just hours before the Obama White House through deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes (shown in an official photo) announced that the Obama administration had decided to provide weapons to the Syrian Free Army and its allied groups. Obama's pretext for arming the Al Qaeda-linked guerrillas is that U.S. intelligence concluded, after months of saying there was insufficient proof, that Syria used chemical weapons to kill Syrian civilians. The Russian government says it doesn't believe Obama's claims, especially after Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous lie to the UN Security Council about Iraqi anthrax was used to justify America's invasion of Iraq.
Among the top allied group of the Syrian Free Army is the Jabhat al Nusra Front, whose leader, Abou Mohamad al-Joulani, recently pledged total allegiance to Al Qaeda's leader and Osama Bin Laden's replacement, Ayman al Zawahri. USA Today quoted Tamer Mouhieddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army as follows, "The rebels in Syria have one common enemy — Bashar Assad — and they will collaborate with any faction allowing them to topple his regime." The Al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front is leading the efforts against the Assad government in Aleppo, according to Mouhieddine. Syria's government responded to Obama's announcement by calling claims that it used chemical weapons "full of lies."
WMR's intelligence sources say Morell has steadfastly argued that there was insufficient proof of claims, mostly emanating from Syrian rebel sources and Israel, that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons, including sarin gas, on civilians. One of Rhodes's sources for his claims of Syrian use of chemical weapons was, as stated in the White House statement, "social media outlets from Syrian opposition groups and other media sources." Some U.S. intelligence sources are mocking Rhodes's contention by calling Obama's decision America's first "war based on Twitter."
Strategic Implications of Russia's Campaign Against Islamic Terrorists, Rebels
Institute for Political Economy, The Fall Of The Unipower, Paul Craig Roberts, Oct. 17, 2015. (The conservative scholar Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, shown in a file photo) has been assistant Treasury secretary during the Reagan administration, associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, and a research scholar at universities and think tanks.)
The distinguished William Engdahl, in a superb statement here, has expressed the view I gave you that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on September 28 at the 70th anniversary of the United Nations changed the balance of power in the world.
It is clear that the neoconservatives are not sufficiently realistic to accept this change in the power balance and will resist it to the point of war. Until Putin’s speech, the world was intimidated by the Washington Bully. Resistance to Washington brought swift retribution. In the Middle East and Africa, it brought economic sanctions and military invasions that destroyed entire countries.
Other countries felt powerless in the face of the arrogant hegemonic Unipower, which from time to time replied to noncompliance with threats, such as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage delivered to Pakistan, to bomb non-compliant countries “back to the stone age.” President Putin of Russia brought all that to end on September 28. Putin denounced Washington’s threat to the sovereignty -- and thereby the freedom -- of peoples and countries. He denounced the heartless criminality of Washington’s destruction of the lives of millions of peoples on the basis of nothing other than Washington’s own arrogance. He denounced the illegality of Washington’s assaults on the sovereignty of other peoples, and declared that Russia can no longer tolerate this state of affairs in the world.
Two days later, he took over the war in Syria and began exterminating the Washington-financed and equipped Islamic State. Cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea hit ISIL targets with pinpoint accuracy and showed Washington’s EU vassals that Washington’s ABM system could not protect them if Europe permitted Washington to force Europe into conflict with Russia. Putin’s declaration of multi-polarity was seconded by the President of China, who said in his understated, mild way that every country must participate in shaping the future and not just follow the leadership of one.
The remaining danger is the crazed American neoconservatives. I know many of them. They are completely insane ideologues. This inhuman filth has controlled the foreign policy of every U.S. government since Clinton’s second term. They are a danger to all life on earth. Look at the destruction they have wreaked in the former Yugoslavia, in Ukraine, in Georgia and South Ossetia, in Africa, in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The American people were too brainwashed by lies and by political impotence to do anything about it, and Washington’s vassals in Europe, UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan had to pretend that this policy of international murder was “bringing freedom and democracy.” The neoconservatives must be removed from power, arrested, and put on international trial for their horrendous war crimes before they defend their hegemony with Armageddon.
Near Eastern Outlook Journal, Putin is Defeating More than ISIS in Syria, William F. Eghdahl, Oct. 15, 2015. Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, a little more than a year ago, in July 2014 were the focus of attention in Europe and North America, accused, without a shred of forensic evidence, of shooting down an unarmed civilian Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine. Today the picture is changing, and profoundly. It is Washington that is on the defensive, exposed for the criminal actions it has been doing in Syria and across the Middle East, including creating the recent asylum crisis in Germany and large parts of the EU.
Oriental Review, Strategic implications of the Russian cruise missiles’ launch, Vladimir Kozin, Oct. 13, 2015. Vladimir Kozin is Head of Advisers’ Group at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Russian Federation. Last week, the biggest event that took place in Syria as part of Operation Hmeymim was the use by the Russian Navy’s Caspian Flotilla of 26 seaborne land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) that hit 11 Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra military targets inside Syria, which were located about 1,500 km. away from the missile launch site: A massive blow using Kalibr-NK LACMs was struck from the southwestern Caspian Sea. The objects of the attack were factories producing shells and explosives; command posts; ammunition, weapon, and fuel depots; and terrorist training camps in the Syrian Governorates of Raqqa, Aleppo, and Idlib. The cruise missiles, with a Circular Error Probable of about three meters, hit every one of their targets that had been set two days earlier.
Kalibr-NK missiles are extremely difficult to detect: when maneuvering, an LACM flies at high speed in stealth mode, meaning that it emits no signals that would allow it to be tracked by radar.
What are the military and political implications of the launch?
This was the first time that Russia’s armed forces had deployed this type of weapon in an actual combat situation – not during exercises – at targets that were so far away.
The second important point is that every one of the 26 missiles that were launched struck their intended targets, none deviated from their previously calculated trajectory, not one experienced a technical glitch, and none fell to earth while still on its approach to the object of the attack. (CNN’s incorrect report about four missiles crashing in Iran has been discredited, not only by Russian and Iranian sources, but also by State Department and Pentagon speakers). Some targets were dealt a double blow. Thanks to a successful Caspian Operation, the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces have added an entirely new and quite significant element to their air-combat capabilities in Syria. The most important feature of an LACM is that it strikes instantly and with unparalleled accuracy.
NPR, We Ask Experts: Has The Situation In Syria Become A Proxy War? Eyder Peralta, Oct. 17, 2015. During a recent news conference, President Obama said he would not allow the current conflict in Syria to devolve into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. "That would be bad strategy on our part," he said. "This is a battle between Russia, Iran and [Syrian President Bashar Assad] against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people." His comment came as Russia stepped up its military operations in the country with a bombing campaign that U.S. officials say has targeted CIA-backed rebels. That made us wonder: Is the situation in Syria already a proxy war, which is generally defined as a conflict between two countries that is fought on third-party soil? We took the question to three experts in the field, and they gave us three different answers.
Middle East Eye, The sham Syrian peace conference, Gareth Porter, Nov. 6, 2015. It is clear that the international conference on Syria that held its first meeting in Vienna on October 30 is a sham conference that is not capable of delivering any peace negotiations, and that the Obama administration knew that perfectly well from the start. Now the price of Obama’s fateful political-diplomatic strategy is a sham peace conference that misleads the rest of the world about the lack of any realistic solution to the war.
Politico, Brzezinski: Obama should retaliate if Russia doesn't stop attacking U.S. assets, Staff report quoting former Carter and Obama national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (shown in a file photo) from a Financial Times column, Oct. 5, 2015. "In these rapidly unfolding circumstances the U.S. has only one real option if it is to protect its wider stakes in the region: to convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military actions that directly affect American assets....The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland....They could be 'disarmed' if they persist in provoking the US....But, better still, Russia might be persuaded to act with the U.S. in seeking a wider accommodation to a regional problem that transcends the interests of a single state....China would doubtless prefer to stay on the sidelines. It might calculate that it will then be in a better position to pick up the pieces. But the regional chaos could easily spread northeastward, eventually engulfing central and northeastern Asia. Both Russia and then China could be adversely affected. But American interests and America’s friends — not to mention regional stability — would also suffer. It is time, therefore, for strategic boldness.”
New York Times, Kremlin Says Russian ‘Volunteer’ Forces Will Fight in Syria, Andrew E. Kramer, Helene Cooper and Ceylan Ygeinsu, Oct. 5, 2015. Russia signaled deepening intervention Monday in the Syria war, strongly hinting that its “volunteer” ground forces would soon be fighting there, as NATO officials warned the Kremlin after a Russian warplane invaded Turkey’s airspace. Russia called the air incursion an innocent mistake because of foul weather, a claim that the Americans rejected. The unfolding developments reflected a dangerous new superpower entanglement in the war. The addition of Russia ground forces to the assaults already underway by Russian warplanes particularly threatens to undermine Turkey’s Syria policy, which aims for the establishment of a “safe zone” along the Turkish border where some Syrian refugees could return in the future.RT, Russian Air Force destroys 20 ISIS tanks, 3 rocket systems in Homs province: Defense Ministry, Staff report, Oct. 5, 2015. The Russian Air Force carried out fifteen sorties striking ten Islamic State targets on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense has reported. An estimated 20 tanks were destroyed in the Tadmur district of Homs province, the report says. Artillery positions were also struck, with three rocket systems and a munitions warehouse destroyed.
Ron Paul Institute, I Wish Nobody Was Bombing Syria, Ron Paul, Oct. 5, 2015. The U.S. regime change policy for Syria has been a catastrophe. More than 200,000 killed and an entire country reduced to rubble at least partly because President Obama decided that “Assad has lost his legitimacy.” How is it that the president of a country 6,000 miles away has the authority to decide whether another leader belongs in office or not?
The neocon solution to this failure to overthrow Assad and “degrade and destroy” ISIS is to increase the bombing and lead a ground invasion of Syria. The confusing policy of fighting Assad and also fighting his enemies does not seem to bother the neocons. They want us to forget all about their recent failures in Libya and Iraq and to try the same failed strategy one more time.
But something dramatic happened last week. Russian president Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations criticizing the US policy of partnering with one set of extremists – al-Qaeda and its allies – to attack both ISIS and Assad. Shortly after Putin’s UN speech, he requested and was granted authority from the Russian parliament to use force in Syria in response to the Syrian government’s request for assistance against the rebels.
It may be tempting to cheer Russian military action in Syria, as it seems ISIS is finally suffering some considerable losses. But I cannot cheer the bombs, whether they are Russian bombs or US bombs or French or British bombs. I wish Congress respected our Constitution enough to demand that the president seek a declaration of war before attacking a foreign country. I wish President Bush and his neocon advisors had never decided to overthrow the Syrian government. I wish President Obama had fired the neocons who led him from one foolish intervention to another. I wish the US media was more than just a propaganda arm of the US government.
Washington Post, Top NATO general: Russians starting to build air defense bubble over Syria, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Sept. 29, 2015. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove (shown in an official photo) believes that Russia’s new presence in Syria is the first piece an intricate layer of defensive systems designed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region. While Russia’s stated goal in moving into Syria is to fight the Islamic State, NATO’s top commander believes Russia’s new presence includes the first pieces of an intricate layer of defensive systems deployed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region. “As we see the very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Breedlove to an audience at the German Marshall Fund Monday.
The Washington Post, These new satellite images show how Russia is expanding its military presence in Syria, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Sept. 22, 2015. Russia is continuing to expand its military presence in Syria according to new satellite images released Tuesday. The images, distributed by IHS Janes, a defense analysis organization, show that Russia is placing equipment at two facilities north of a newly-established Russian airbase in Latakia. One new facility, located outside the small town of Al-Sanobar, shows Russian activity in the form of newly-arrived vehicles, tents while the other, at the Istamo weapons storage complex, shows signs of freshly paved surfaces.
Turkey's Election Nov. 1
Turkey Election Results Nov. 1, 2015 Anadolu Agency
BBC, Turkey election: Ruling AKP regains majority, Staff report, Nov. 1, 2015. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a critical parliamentary election, regaining the majority it lost in June. With almost all ballots counted, state-run Anadolu Agency said AKP had won 49.4% of the vote, with the main opposition CHP on 25.4%. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the result was a "victory for our democracy and our people." The pro-Kurdish HDP crossed the 10% threshold needed to claim seats. The nationalist MHP will also take seats in Ankara. Polls had indicated the AKP would received only between 40-43% of the vote, in line with how it fared in June when it lost its majority for the first time in 13 years.
Attempts to form a coalition government after the June election failed. With almost all of the results counted, the AKP is set to win substantially more than the 276 seats needed to win a majority, allowing it to form a government on its own. However, it will fall just short of the amount of seats needed to call a referendum on changing the constitution and increasing the powers of the president, AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP's opponents had said the vote was a chance to curb what it sees as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Mr. Erdogan.
National Press Club, Club calls on Turkish government to protect press freedom, John Hughes, Nov. 2, 2015. The National Press Club is deeply concerned the Oct. 28 raid on the Koza-Ipek media group in Ankara is politically motivated and is another sign of the deteriorating press freedom in Turkey. An Ankara court recently ordered the seizure of the company's assets as part of an ongoing investigation that accuses it of financing terrorism and promoting terrorism propaganda.
“This isn't the first time the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [shown above in a file photo] has clamped down on news media in the country,” said NPC President John Hughes. “We are deeply concerned this pattern shows a continued disregard for a free and independent press that are cornerstones of democracy and a civil society.” The Koza-Ipek media group is linked to Fethullah Gulen, a political rival of Erdogan. After Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in June in a general election the government called for a snap election set for Nov. 1. Since then however, the Intercept reports at least 40 journalists have been detained. That's a sixfold increase compared to last year in a country where press freedom has already been a concern for international observers.
OpEdNews, Erdogan Gang Heist: Election Fraud in Turkey, Michael Collins, Nov. 2, 2015. The Erdogan gang, also known as the AK Party (AKP), stole the snap elections held in Turkey on Nov. 1. This was a make-or-break election for Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Any outcome other than single party rule by the AKP threatened Erdogan with prosecution for well-documented financial crimes and support for terrorists in Syria. Against the record of recent elections and against public opinion polling results, AKP increased it vote share over the June elections just enough to assure an absolute majority in parliament. The would-be Sultan was saved, at least for now. The implications for Turkey are profound. The lessons learned about the decline of the rulers and elites in Europe and the United States are of great interest as well.
To believe that Erdogan's AKP won the election, you need to believe the following: AKP party support increased 16% above the public opinion poll predictions and 20% over the June general election total. The two-week period to the election when public polling is legally banned should have held the AKP at its high point of 42% or degraded its support somewhat. A clear majority of Turkish citizens oppose Turkey's support for Syrian rebels, including ISIS. Two public events were bombed killing nearly 200 HDP (Kurdish party) demonstrators. Both of these bombings were linked to ISIS, the worst of the Syrian rebel factions supported by the Erdogan gang. How can a party gain 20% in two weeks when its policies, support for Syrian rebels, came home in the form of terrorist bombings?