Obama Revises Disastrous ISIS, Syria Policies

 

The Obama administration last week ramped up military actions against Islamic State terrorists — and also sharply downgraded its failing campaign to overthrow Syria’s government and to demonize Russia’s.

President Obama greets Secretary of State John Kerry Dec. 16, 2015A key juncture occurred when Secretary of State John Kerry (shown a week ago with President Obama in the Oval Office) traveled to Moscow for meetings Dec. 15. Before the trip, Kerry, Obama and their staffers had been issuing their usual denunciations of Russia and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

By week’s end, the United States and Russia joined forces in a 15-0 UN Security Council vote Dec. 18 creating a peace process for Syria over the next 18 months.

A sense of the devastation is illustrated by an exclusive RT video report Dec. 23 drawing on drone viewpoints of the Damascus suburb of the Jobar neighborhood, once home to some 300,000 and now a virtually empty wasteland of destroyed buildings aside from holdout rebels hiding in an elaborate network of tunnels.

Meanwhile, President Obama chided Republicans in an NPR interview aired Monday, Dec. 21, for what he called a lack of realistic alternatives to his anti-ISIS policies, as reported here.

Important changes are occurring at a rapid clip, as indicated by a major new analysis by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that seemed outdated in part when it first became available electronically Dec. 21 or so, with a print date of Jan. 7, 2015 for publication by the London Review of Books. In the 6,831-word Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Hersh reported concerns by top Pentagon brass that Obama seemed unduly wedded to a "Cold War" view emphasizing Assad's ouster, trust in Turkey, and opposition to Russia instead of a priority focus on defeating ISIS.

Hersh's deep contacts within the intelligence and military communities lend authority to his arguments (and also support much of the analysis below) even if the Obama administration appears to have adjusted course rapidly in advance of the column's publication.

With this introduction, we sketch the remainder of this column beginning on the runover: 

  • Alleged U.S. Empire-Building, Complicity With Terror Groups
  • Turkey's Ambush, Russia's Escalation
  • Obama's Background, Current Crisis
  • New U.S. Pressure On Turkey
  • Neocon Pressure On Obama
  • The 2016 Presidential Candidates
  • Obama, not Clinton, Makes 'Hard Choices'
  • Appendix of Sources, Hotlinks

At the outset, it's useful to understand that the UN process is likely to prove unworkable because it does not require Assad’s resignation, as demanded by American war hawks and Islamic rebels who are backed by Turkish and Gulf State supporters.

Also, most GOP presidential contenders and Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton continued to call during presidential debates last week for Assad’s ouster and a U.S.-enforced no fly zone preventing Syria's government and Russia from flying over a zone protecting rebels (and arguably smuggling routes).

The UN plan also fails to specify which rebel groups are excluded as terrorists from the peace process. That confusion portends continuing stalemate during next year in a pattern that has doomed previous UN efforts to resolve the Syrian war.

Despite the dim outlook for a UN peace plan, it serves as a face-saver for Obama during the last year of his presidency. Obama can side-step the consequences of his years of covert warmongering in Syria, which has primarily advanced the empire-building agenda of special interests under the rhetoric of humanitarian and democratic values. Middle East Eye's Dr. Gareth Porter amplified the reasons in Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process.

Most importantly for the American public, the UN agreement could contain pressures from political demagogues risking another war. Warmongering is popular with candidates so they can win 2016 presidential support from special interests and low-information voters fooled into thinking ISIS can be eliminated by bombing. But ISIS is just one of the many scores of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq that readily swap arms and allegiances when pressure mounts.

Fortunately, Obama backed off from the brink of a fight with Russia that could have become extremely serious. The public may not know how serious for years because, as in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it's not in the interests of either Russia or the United States to discuss specifics.

Sergei Lavrov, John Kerry, Vladimir Putin 12-16-2015

Kerry met behind closed doors with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (shown at left in a photo from their meeting). They emerged with an agreement that omitted any mention of Assad's departure.

The most likely reasons for the U.S. shift?

The Obama administration is under increasing pressure to become more effective against ISIS following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, as Obama acknowledged in his Dec. 21 NPR interview. 

In contrast to a go-slow approach by the United States under Obama's anti-ISIS envoy John Allen, Russia began a bombing campaign Sept. 30 at Syria’s invitation. Since then, Russia has made hundreds of bombing runs providing devastating air cover for Syrian army advances regaining territory from rebels.

Russia also has been exposing fighter, arms, and oil smuggling connections between ISIS and allied forces. The major smuggling routes have been via Turkey, a NATO member whose President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increasingly focuses on supporting Islamist causes and suppressing dissent. Turkey has viciously targeted those in the media and ethnic Kurds whose compatriots in Syria are the main U.S. allies on the ground fighting ISIS.

Alleged U.S. Empire-Building, Complicity With Terror Groups

Turkey's genocide of an estimated 1.5 million predominately Christian Armenians beginning a century ago is one the many regional feuds relevant to the Syrian conflict but ignored by most Western news reports for fear of antagonizing Turkey, whose leadership is offended at reference to the deaths.The United States recruited Turkey into NATO more than five decades ago to help surround the Soviet Union, and has valued Turkey's long time rivalry with Russians ever since.

Most independent scholars describe the Armenian deaths as a "genocide" undertaken as Turkey geared up to fight with Germany in the first World War against Russians and Western allies, which included the United States. Many of the Armenians were women and children forced to march from Turkey into Syria's desert and left to die.

Fast forward: The unrest in Syria began in early 2011 with mass protests that were brutally suppressed by government authorities. 

In the summer of 2011, some government military commanders defected to fight against Assad, a British-educated medical doctor who succeeded his father as a secular (non-religious) strongman opponents classify as a dictator. He is from the minority Alawite sect of Islam, whereas his wife is from the majority Sunni population. Much of the pre-war Syrian population has been from minority religious or ethnic backgrounds, including Christians and Kurds, who chafed under Assad, as did many Sunnis. But many (including Sunnis) have witnessed much harsher treatment from ISIS and other rebels.

Rebels built an armed movement under expatriate leaders at the outset. The rebellion has been augmented with covert CIA. Saudi, Qatari and Turkish support and what has been estimated as some 70,000 foreign jihadists from 100 nations, including veterans from previous Middle Eastern wars whose citizenship in European nations enabling easy travel has raised special concern there because of the migrant crisis.

Yet after all the devastation of nearly five years, or perhaps because of the destruction creating millions of refugees and at least 250,000 deaths, Assad remains in power. He retains significant strength as a leader even among Sunnis, Christians and others not part of his Alawite faith, given the apparent alternatives of war and a harsh Islamic regime in what had been a non-religious state. Indeed, one commentator has cited a recent independent poll by a British company for a column headlined, Assad is more popular in Syria than Obama and Hillary are in the United States.

In contrast to the corporate-controlled media, alternative media outlets have long been reporting that U.S-led NATO and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council of Saudi Peninsula oil-rich monarchies (shown on the map at right) have long been coddling ISIS with only occasional heavy damage. Allied forces helped Kurds destroy ISIS forces near the Turkish border town of Kobani while Turks prevented Kurdish reinforcements or aid.

Those allegations that allies in effect support terrorists as part of a sinister strategy to overthrow Assad for various reasons are beyond our scope today. But the allegations appear in the international media, most notably those emanating from Russia and Iran. They have been reported in such unlikely outlets as the hawkish Washington Post after Iraq’s prime minister claimed that rogue allied forces have supported ISIS.

More generally, retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to GOP Secretary of State Colin Powell and veteran of more than a thousand combat missions in Vietnam, recently denounced Obama’s continuation of the Bush’s administration’s disastrous and deceptive war policies in the Middle East in a long interview with Telesur’s Abby Martin.

The disillusioned Wilkerson shared his reflections in the interview below, entitled, Bush Military Official: The Empire's Ship is Sinking.

 

In October, the U.S. replaced the former general John Allen following more than a year as Obama’s anti-ISIS commander. Defense One reported on his track record in largely neutral terms that inevitably showed a lack John R. Allen CNAS photoof accomplishment: Allen Quits ISIS War Envoy Job, One Year After Calling for Group’s Destruction.

The reason was undoubtedly his juggling act whereby important U.S. and allied interests (including Turkey and Saudi-Arabia) clearly want Assad's removal even more than destruction of Islamic jihadists. Allen, shown below at right, is a former colleague and ideological ally of former CIA Director David Petraeus, a neoconservative hero shown below at left who has been advocating a U.S. alliance with Syria’s Al Qaeda factions (which at times work with ISIS) to overthrow Assad.

David PetraeusEven so, the Obama team’s talking points until a week ago placed at least as great a priority on removing Assad than on thwarting ISIS.

Turkey's Ambush, Russia's Escalation

Turkey responded to the Assad government's recent resurgence with Russian and Iranian help by shooting down a Russian bomber Nov. 24 at the Turkish-Syrian border in an apparent ambush highly unlikely as a Persion Gulf GCC Statesresponse to a momentary incursion, according to experts.

Russia used the provocation to increase its military presence in Syria and via ship-fired missiles offshore. Some have rained down on rebels from waters near the Syrian-Turkish border. Others traveled hundreds of miles from vessels in the Caspian Sea, at top right on the adjoining map.

In Syria itself, Russia installed advanced S-400 antiaircraft systems in a deployment long opposed by Israel because of what one Israeli newspaper called the system's "game-changing" capabilities against opposing aircraft.

As one indication of military change, Turkey has reportedly stopped its overflights of Syrian territory in contested northwestern Syria for fear that Russian would shoot down planes violating Syrian airspace.

Russia’s public relations promotion of its successes against what it and Syria call “terrorists” (including what the West calls "The Free Syrian Army") has created domestic U.S. political pressure for the U.S.-led coalition to increase greatly its military actions against ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State and Daesh).

Obama's Background, Current Crisis

John Kerry Sergei LavrovRight now, Obama and his colleagues like Kerry (shown in another meeting with his Russian counterpart Lavrov) have to deal with the practical choices involved in letting ISIS flourish and attempting via a NATO-enforced no fly zone to stop Russia from bombing what it and Syria describe as Al Qaeda and other terrorists among rebel ranks in Syria.

The Justice Integrity Project has been reporting here for years that Obama’s political career, like that of nearly all other leading candidates from both parties, was enabled by America’s power structure, which establishes largely hidden loyalties and controls over candidates across the political spectrum early in their careers. That way, the establishment (some call it Wall Street, or the Military Industrial Complex) retains power on its key issues (including Middle East policy) no matter which party voters select. Those themes are amplified our in our 2013 book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters.

Obama reached the presidency in part because he and complicit media have carefully hidden his family's ties to the foreign policy establishment, including the intelligence, banking, and foundation sectors. Putin and Washington insiders know this background but not the American public dependent on controlled mass media.

Especially helpful in exposing Obama’s true biography during the 2008 campaign and immediately afterwards were alternative commentators Webster Tarpley and Wayne Madsen, with important contributions later by Paul Street, Jerome Corsi, and Anthony Codevilla. Among other U.S.-based investigative commentators in the alternative media exposing deep flaws in the Obama administration’s Syrian rhetoric and track record more recently have been Paul Craig Roberts, Seymour Hersh, Jeffrey Steinberg, Gareth Porter, Joe Lauria, Michael Springmann, Michael Collins, and several others who publish often via OpEdNews, TerraList, Infowars, Zero Hedge, and Consortium News.

In September 2013, the Justice Integrity Project reported in Why Puppet Masters Need Presidents and a previous column that a top White House military advisor persuaded Obama at the last minute to seek congressional approval before attacking Assad in reprisal for the sarin gas attack in Damascus. Obama failed to secure that congressional approval amid suspicions among Washington insiders, as elsewhere, that the sarin deaths were a false flag atrocity undertaken by Assad’s opponents to draw the United States into a major escalation in Syria to help Islamists.

Last week, a Turkish member of parliament was accused of treason after giving a broadcast interview alleging his country’s government smuggled European-supplied sarin into Syria before the attack, which killed 1,300 persons, most of them children. Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge compiled details in a Dec. 17 report Treason! Lawmaker Discovers It's Bad Idea To Accuse Erdogan Of Supplying Sarin Gas To ISIS.

New U.S. Pressure On Turkey

Whatever changed White House policy a week ago is not yet clearly known, except by the results.

Expert speculation centers on the likelihood that Russia outlined in the meetings evidence of Turkish and other allied duplicity regarding allied smuggling to support ISIS, as well as Russia's resolve not to allow allies to shoot down another Russian plane in such circumstances.

It’s likely also that Russia explained its military capabilities in the region and its intention to use the firepower in compliance with international law, which generally holds that an existing government of Syria normally has the sole right to invite allies to use military force within its borders.

Independent journalist Pepe Escobar (shown below right in a file photo) cited confidential NATO sources for his column “You Want War? Russia is Ready for War.

Escobar outlined a likely summary of Russian talking points Dec. 15. He suggested that Russia emphasized its advanced armaments that can enforce what is shaping up as a Russia-supervised no fly zone over significant parts of Syria if necessary, or even initiate nuclear war if Russia's forces are attacked. As an excerpt from his column:

The Pentagon is very much aware of the tremendous heavy metal Russia may unleash if provoked to the limit by someone like Erdogan.

Pepe EscobarLet's roll out an abridged list. Russia can use the mighty SS-18 -- which NATO code names "Satan"; each "Satan" carries 10 warheads, with a yield of 750 to 1000 kilotons each, enough to destroy an area the size of New York State. The Topol M ICBM is the world's fastest missile at 21 Mach (16,000 miles an hour); against it, there's no defense. Launched from Moscow, it hits New York City in 18 minutes, and L.A. in 22.8 minutes.

Russia’s military arsenal would not be news to U.S. officials, of course. But the Russian presentation in Moscow was presumably backed also by reasons why Russia would not back off. Presumably, Russia also indicated it could use satellite and other intelligence in a public relations battle to show allied perfidy in allowing jihadist smuggling sustaining ISIS, among other disclosures that could hurt Obama and America generally in U.S. and world opinion.

Our information from an informed confidential source is that Putin made similar remarks to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to Moscow in September. Israel for years has been making unilateral bombing runs into Syria to punish Assad’s government over what Israel regards as transgressions, such as Syrian acquisition of advanced weapons or Syria’s battlefield shelling against rebels at the Israeli border allegedly violating Israel's rights (although Syria's government tends to blame rebels for stray bullets).

At the September meeting, Putin reportedly informed Israel of Russia’s intentions but did so quietly so that Israel could save face, including occasional operations as in the past. Thus, Israel used air-to-ground missiles without interference from Russians to kill Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar along with at least eight others Dec. 19 in a residential building in Damascus. It is not known whether Israel received special clearance from Russia for the hit.

Whatever the case on that, it seems likely that Russian-U.S. discussions focused heavily on negotiations regarding mutual expectations for military operations in ways that protect leaders from domestic criticism.

This scenario might seem implausible or even offensive to Westerners led to believe military hegemony is nearly automatic except when undermined by weak political leaders.

But Russians and those in the West who read diverse sources are well aware of the West’s long history of encouraging Muslim groups to destabilize Russia, including via terrorism. Former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, author of more than a dozen books, reported Dec. 5 CIA sought Muslim invasion of USSR in 1952, which cited a declassified CIA memo revealing a plan to energize Afghan Muslims against the Soviet Union.

“This revelation," Madsen wrote, "means that the current attempt by anti-Russian U.S. official and quasi-official intelligence policy makers -- including former Jimmy Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, hedge fund tycoon George Soros, and CIA director John Brennan -- to bring about a radical Muslim destabilization of the Russian Federation is nothing new."

Many other such plots are documented, which helps explain a likely Russian belief by both its leaders and many citizens that jihadist terrorists (including large numbers from Chechnya) should be confronted in Syria rather than in terrorist attacks within Russia, as sometimes occur.

Many Americans understandably feel the same way about fighting ISIS overseas instead of domestically. Hence the rationale for common cause announced last week to focus jointly on attacking ISIS, thereby quietly reducing U.S.-Russian tensions.

The importance of the U.S. turnaround last week is reflected by several developments that reflect recent American unhappiness with Turkey and its Islamist leader Erdoğan, who appears intent on reversing the non-religious administration of the nation's leader Attaturk nearly a century ago.

Last week's U.S. actions contrast sharply with NATO’s prompt support just last month of Turkey after it shot down the Russian bomber that crashed in Syria. Turkmen rebels (ethnic Turks living in Syria) then killed the helpless parachuting Russian pilot. Such a shooting is normally regarded as a war crime under international law. The Turkmen also killed a Russian soldier attempting a helicopter rescue of the plane's downed navigator.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image/DCMA)In recent days, the United States has pulled a dozen F-15 fighters out of Turkey, as reported in U.S. pulls F-15 fighter jets from Turkey, and browbeat a reluctant Turkey into withdrawing hundreds of troops that Turkey's leaders had sent into Iraq over the outraged objection of Iraq’s prime minister.

Some suspect the troops were sent to protect smuggling routes from Iraq into Turkey to advance Erdogan's pro-Islamist agenda. A graphic at left by Iran's Press TV portrays Erdogan at center, surrounded by an ISIS figure at left and Putin at right.

Turkey initially refused the U.S. demand, including from Vice President Joe Biden, but grudgingly agreed to withdraw its troops late Dec. 19.

Neocon Pressure On Obama

The Washington Post editorial board, one of the nation's most persistent and influential advocates of U.S. interventions in the Middle East, blasted the Obama administration in an editorial published in its Dec. 18 print edition, On regime change in Syria, the White House capitulates to Russia.

The editorial and Post's "news" reports tend be heavily slanted in the same manner, as in a report in the Dec. 21 print edition that relies for its Syria reporting on a London-based Assad opponent repeatedly quoted by the Post as "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights."

The Post editorial in particular showed the keen interest in last week's developments by the neoconservative / neoliberal alliance that dominates American foreign policy for both parties and at the White House, Congress, the military/intelligence/diplomatic departments, and the mainstream media.

This bipartisan alliance, as Wilkerson among others has inferred, has long guided Obama and his appointees such as Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton into warlike policies in the Middle East and stringent surveillance policies over the world’s population.

The major media are integral parts of the Wall Street and military-intelligence complex establishment, often via parent companies and affiliates that profit from huge government war and other national security contracts. The Washington Post's modern founder Eugene Meyer, for example, was Federal Reserve Board chairman and later the first president of the World Bank. The current owner, Amazon.com Founder Jeffrey Bezos, won a $600 million computing contract for Amazon.com from the CIA that far exceeds his $250 million purchase price for the Post itself.

Although this editor does not know what precisely was said at the secret meeting Dec. 15 between the American and Russian delegations we can assume that the leadership of the Washington Post is reasonably well-informed via its high-level ties, even if its published output is cherry-picked for advocacy purposes. Post columnist Robert Kagan, for examples, is a leading neoconservative operative whose wife, Victoria Nuland, accompanied Kerry to the Moscow meetings as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. She is a former State Department spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton and aide to GOP Vice President Dick Cheney. 

The 2016 Presidential Candidates

This wrap-up of last week’s events concludes with a summary of 2016 presidential candidate comments during the Republican and Democratic debates.

During the GOP debate the evening of Dec. 15, no GOP candidate referenced the momentous announcement by Kerry, Putin and Lavrov. Instead, virtually all of them proceeded as if Obama simply had to pull a trigger to eliminate bad-guy terrorists but is too weak to do so. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was alone in raising principled and strategic objections, although front-runner Donald Trump and surgeon Ben Carson raised some concerns also about whether war spending in the Middle East should be a top priority for the nation's taxpayers. Trump then pivoted to warmonger mode, advocating bombing women and children to teach a lesson to those in regions controlled by ISIS.

ISIS members marching in Raqqa, January 2014Not every candidate addressed every key issue, but most advocated Syrian regime-change, no fly zones and massive bombing of “ISIS” areas with scant distinction between warriors, truck drivers, and other civilians, much less between the scores of relevant “rebel” groups and the allegations that ISIS and many others are being improperly and secretly supported by U.S. allies.

It is easy to understand that the public might share a frustration with U.S. policy when photos abound of ISIS atrocities and parades, such as the adjoining photo of their June 2014 seizure of Raqqa in the arid eastern part of Syria. Raqqa is in the vicinity also of what some allege would be a route for potential energy pipelines that could stretch from the Sunni Persian Gulf states through Turkey, thereby reaching Europe and providing a cheap alternative to Russian-supplied energy. Such a pipeline is beyond the scope of today's already long column, but illustrates the kinds of ambitious goals that interest "special interests" in the Middle East. 

During the GOP debates, most candidates argued for maximum U.S. firepower with no apparent reference to international law regarding wars of aggression and other war crimes. Virtually none addressed any practical difficulties, such how to shoot down Russian planes irrespective of the now-deployed S-400 anti-aircraft systems

As a sample of news coverage, the generally pro-war Washington Post headlined the discussion, GOP candidates challenge Russia’s role in war in Syria. Historian and Tax Wall Street Party founder Webster Tarpley wrote a column entitled, GOP Debates: A Grotesque Parade Of Warmongers Ready To Start World War Three Over Trifles With Appalling Nonchalance.

In similarly revealing exchanges during the Democratic presidential debate on Saturday evening, Dec. 19, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept insisting that she had been right to advocate regime change in Libya and Syria.

Democratic Debate 12-19-15Clinton, shown with her rivals on either side at the debate moderated by ABC News in New Hampshire, argued also that the UN plan provides a viable framework for removing Assad and for imposing a no fly zone on Russia and Syria without risk that their forces would retaliate against U.S. personnel.

She and her foreign policy advisors (including one firm that also advises two leading GOP contenders) surely know the military and other practical difficulties. But she apparently thinks Americans are so patriotic and heavily propagandized that they cannot imagine the potential carnage on American forces from newly installed Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.

Most remarkably, Clinton repeated to a Democratic audience the clearly deceptive hawkish disinformation theme: “Assad has killed by last count something like 250,000 Syrians.”

Hers was a propaganda point designed to fan war fever among Americans. As she well knows, she was ascribing the entire estimated death total in Syria to Assad, its elected president with a popularity in Syria reportedly at least as great as her or Obama’s in the United States.

Her death total thus included loss of the Syrian government’s own troops fighting an estimated 70,000 fighters from more than 100 nations in a rebellion supported also by years of covert CIA assistance, al Qaeda and now ISIS.

Obama Makes 'Hard Choices'

Obama, in contrast to the presidential candidates scrambling for special interest support, last week adjusted policy to adapt to changing circumstances.

By kow-towing to hawks through much of his presidency, Obama ultimately had to face – as his demagogic, would-be successors do not as yet – the awesome responsibilities of doubling down on policies that could lead to massive war for highly dubious causes.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton's 2014 memoir Hard Choices makes clear that she used her post as Secretary of State to help implement regime change in Syria, including a arms supply to rebels, ostensibly for that country's own good. In a book section surrounding Page 462, she recalls how she and then-CIA Director David Petraeus argued unsuccessfully at the White House in favor of the position sought also by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey that the United States should more heavily arm rebels. Her account is highly selective. Most notably, it obscures how much smuggling of arms and jihadist fighters the CIA, State Department and related agencies were actually helping funnel into Syria secretly, including via the Libyan transit point of Benghazi. But that's another story, which the mainstream media suppresses and we, like others in the alternative media, have previously been reporting for years.

To be clear, the current issue is not destroying ISIS, which the U.S., Russia and their allies could easily do if they could also shut down ISIS support by its covert supporters. The real issue is the regime change in Syria that has been a covert objective of powerful interests in the West for more than three decades, according to declassified documents and other sources..

Other U.S. thought-leaders  (including nearly the entirety of the corporate-controlled and hawkish media) can call Obama weak at this stage.

But sometimes it takes a strength to care more about the future than personal insults or the pressures of the special interests.


 

Editor's Note: An appendix of sources is below, arranged by subtopic in reverse chronological order

 
Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
 

 

U.S.-Russian-United Nations Agreement On Syria

London Review of Books (LRB), Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Seymour M. Hersh (shown in file photo), Dec. 21, 2015 (print publication dated Jan. 7, 2016) (6,831 words). Barack Obama’s repeated Seymour Hershinsistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

"Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’"

Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan. Dempsey and his associates remain mystified by Obama’s continued public defence of Erdoğan, given the American intelligence community’s strong case against him – and the evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,’ the president told Erdoğan’s intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House (as I reported in the LRB of 17 April 2014). The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington’s leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey’s support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?

Previous Hersh columns on Syria for London Review of BooksThe Red Line and the Rat Line and Whose Sarin??

Reuters via Huffington Post, Obama Chides Republicans For Lack Of Alternatives On ISIS, Julia Edwards, Dec. 21, 2015. "When you ask them, 'well, what would you do instead?' they don't have an answer."  President Obama said his administration is open to some "legitimate criticism" for failing to adequately explain its strategy to counter Islamic State, though he chided Republican presidential candidates for criticizing his policy without offering an alternative. In a Dec. 17 interview aired on NPR public radio at 5 a.m. ET Monday, Obama attributed his low approval ratings for how he has handled terrorism to the saturation of Islamic State attacks in the media after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Washington Post, U.N. Security Council approves plan for Syrian peace process, Karen DeYoung, Dec. 19, 2015. But the resolution avoids details and papers over key differences among nations backing various combatants. The U.N. ­Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process that is designed to end Syria’s civil war and to allow the international community to focus its attention more fully on defeating the Islamic State. The resolution gave Security Council backing to a process that begins with negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents to establish a transitional government that will write a new constitution and hold elections, all within 18 months.

The resolution instructs U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to guide the government and opposition groups toward talks to begin as early as next month. Among the pitfalls he will have to navigate are the opposition’s insistence that no talks can be held with [Syrian President Barshar al-Assad’s] participation and Russia’s demand that Assad be included. The two sides and their international supporters also disagree about which opposition groups can take part in the negotiations, with Russia seeking to ban as “terrorists” Islamist forces who are among the strongest and most numerous opposition fighters.

Zero Hedge, Turkey Blasts "Breakthrough" UN Resolution On Syria: "It Lacks Perspective. Assad Must Go!" Tyler Durden, Dec. 19, 2015. Well, for anyone who thought Turkey might be set to bow to Flag of Turkeyinternational pressure by moving its troops north and thus back towards the Turkey-Iraq border, think again. Because on Saturday, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu was out with a series of declarations that seem to suggest Turkey is going full-belligerent-retard as Erdogan scrambles to preserve the “Assad must go” narrative on the way to securing whatever Ankara’s interests are in both Iraq and Syria.

First, Davutoglu said that the provision of training to the Peshmerga and Mosul militiamen is “in line with a request from Iraq authorities and as such, the mission in Iraq will continue “until Mosul is freed” from ISIS. Next, Davutoglu claims that the Islamic State attacks on Turkish positions in Bashiqa prove Turkey “is right.” Davutoglu then slammed a UN Security Council resolution agreed in New York on Friday. Diplomats adopted a resolution which purports to draw a road map for ending the war in Syria. For Turkey, the absence of a decision on Assad's future is maddening. The Security Council resolution "lacks realistic perspective," Davutoglu said on Saturday, before adding that the "Syria crisis can only be solved if Bashar al-Assad leaves power."

Consider that, and consider the fact that, as we reported yesterday, Ankara is now establishing a military base in Qatar in order that the two countries might work more closely on tackling "common enemies."

What we're beginning to see here is the formation of three alliances in the Mid-East: 1) Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq; 2) Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; 3) Britain, France, and Germany. The first alliance is pro-Assad, anti-terror. The second is anti-Assad, pro-Sunni extremist. The third is anti-Assad (although less vehemently so). Note that we've left the US out. Why? Because Washington is now stuck. The US wants desperately to maintain coordination with Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha, but between stepped-up media coverage of Saudi Arabia's role in underwriting extremism (via the promotion of Wahhabism) and heightened scrutiny on Erdogan's role in financing terrorists, the position is becoming increasingly untenable. But aligning solely with the UK, France, and Germany entails adopting a more conciliatory approach to Assad. The US is now thoroughly confused as to what to do next.

Washington Post, U.N. Security Council approves plan for Syrian peace process, Karen DeYoung, Dec. 19, 2015. But the resolution avoids details and papers over key differences among nations backing various combatants. The U.N. ­Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process that is designed to end Syria’s civil war and to allow the international community to focus its attention more fully on defeating the Islamic State. The resolution gave Security Council backing to a process that begins with negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents to establish a transitional government that will write a new constitution and hold elections, all within 18 months.

The resolution instructs U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to guide the government and opposition groups toward talks to begin as early as next month. Among the pitfalls he will have to navigate are the opposition’s insistence that no talks can be held with [Syrian President Barshar al-Assad’s] participation and Russia’s demand that Assad be included. The two sides and their international supporters also disagree about which opposition groups can take part in the negotiations, with Russia seeking to ban as “terrorists” Islamist forces who are among the strongest and most numerous opposition fighters.

Atlantic, Obama's Final Press Conference of 2015, Marina Koren, Dec. 18, 2015 (Transcript). President Obama spoke to reporters in the briefing room for just over an hour, starting with a list of his administration’s wins from this year: a national unemployment rate below 6 percent, the Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage and Obamacare, the climate-change deal, and no end-of-year government shutdown. But the specter of foreign terrorist organizations and their growing reach looms large over the nation as it inches toward the new year, and the president has spent the last several weeks attempting to assuage a public whose fears of an attack have reached post-9/11 levels.

"You told the nation there’s no specific or credible threat of a similar attack, but how is it really possible to know?” one reporter asked Obama. “Aren’t similar plots going to be just as hard to detect beforehand?”

“You’re absolutely right,” replied Obama, who travels later Friday to California, where he’ll meet privately Friday with the families of the San Bernardino shooting, whose perpetrators were allegedly inspired by the Islamic State. He noted the difficulty of screening for self-radicalized individuals in the U.S.

“This is a different kind of challenge than the sort that we had with an organization like al-Qaeda that involved highly trained operatives who are working as cells or as a network,” Obama said.

The president reiterated his belief the United States will defeat the Islamic State, which it has been bombing for more than 18 months in Iraq and Syria. Obama dodged a question about whether he believes the presidency of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will outlast his own, saying, “I think that Assad is going to have to leave the country to stop the bloodletting or for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way.”

Washington Post, On regime change in Syria, the White House capitulates to Russia, Editorial board, Dec. 17, 2015. Russian planes are still bombing Western-backed forces in Syria every day and targeting hospitals, bakeries and humanitarian corridors. Moscow is still insisting that blood-drenched dictator Bashar al-Assad remain in power indefinitely while trying to exclude opposition groups from proposed peace negotiations by claiming they are terrorists.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State John F. Kerry insisted Tuesday after meeting with Vladi­mir Putin that the Russian ruler and the Obama administration see Syria “in fundamentally the same way.” Unfortunately, that increasingly appears to be the case — and not because Mr. Putin has altered his position.

For four years, President Obama demanded the departure of Mr. Assad, who has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people with chemical weapons, “barrel bombs,” torture and other hideous acts. Yet in its zeal to come to terms with Mr. Putin, the Obama administration has been slowly retreating from that position. On Tuesday in Moscow, Mr. Kerry took another big step backward: “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” he said. He added that a demand by a broad opposition front that Mr. Assad step down immediately was a “non-starting position” — because the United States already agreed that Mr. Assad could stay at least for the first few months of a “transition process.”

Mr. Kerry’s rhetorical capitulation was coupled with the observation that the administration doesn’t “believe that Assad himself has the ability to be able to lead the future Syria.” But he now agrees with Mr. Putin that the country’s future leadership must be left to Syrians to work out. That’s a likely recipe for an impasse — especially as Mr. Assad is still saying he won’t even negotiate with any opponents who are armed or backed by foreign governments. At the same time, the administration’s forswearing of “regime change” sends a message to Mr. Putin and his Iranian allies: The power structure in Damascus that has granted Russia a naval base and served as a conduit for Iranian weapons to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon can remain.

Mr. Kerry says he is trying to forge a political process that will lead to a cease-fire and eventually a political deal. The next step will be a meeting Friday in New York in which governments in the International Syria Support Group are to discuss which opposition forces will be included and which banished as terrorists. If a cease-fire could be reached — including an end to Russian and Syrian government bombing — that would be a valuable achievement, even if the political talks go nowhere. The result could be coexistence of government- and rebel-controlled zones in Syria, and a concentration of local and international firepower against the part of the country controlled by the Islamic State.

For now, however, even that looks like a long shot. Not only does the Assad regime have a record of blatantly disregarding U.N.-sponsored cease-fires, but also Russia manifestly does not see Syria as the West does, as its vicious and apparently deliberate strikes on civilian targets far from Islamic State territory show. Mr. Kerry said that he had raised those attacks with Mr. Putin, who graciously “took that under advisement.” If and when the Russian bombings cease, there will be more reason to share in Mr. Kerry’s sunny view that Russian and American views on Syria are converging.

BBC, Syria war: UN Security Council unanimously backs peace plan, staff report, Dec. 18, 2015. The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution outlining a peace process in Syria. The 15-member council reached rare agreement on the issue in a session in New York on Friday. The resolution endorses talks between the Syrian government and opposition in early January, as well as a ceasefire. The Syrian war, which is heading towards its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions more, the UN says. However, disagreements remain over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

AP via Yahoo, Assad can stay, for now: Kerry accepts Russian stance, Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper, Dec. 15, 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia's long-standing demand John Kerrythat President Bashar Assad's future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria's civil war. "The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change," Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced. Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won't be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict. But after a day of discussions with Assad's key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is "not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad." Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which "Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria."

Kerry's declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group's growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority. President Barack Obama first called on Assad to leave power in the summer of 2011, with "Assad must go" being a consistent rallying cry. Later, American officials allowed that he wouldn't have to resign on "Day One" of a transition. Now, no one can say when Assad might step down.

More On Seymour Hersh Report

Editor's Note: The Hersh column indirectly raises two media-related points worth mentioning here even though Hersh did not in his Sept. 22 interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman:

First, government officials alerted by an a major reporter's questions often adjust their actions to "get out front" of a story and reduce its impact. That may have happened in this case. Second, Hersh's column continues a pattern whereby his major recent investigations on Syria have been published since 2013 by the London Review of Books instead of the New Yorker Magazine, his primary market for more than three decades. Hersh does not complain about the process. But he rest of us can duly note that this is a topic so sensitive that one of the America's leading investigative reporters over several generations cannot get his work published in a major U.S. publication. The impact on public debate and understanding is considerable, especially because many other writers will read the tea leaves and avoid the topic, or worse take gratuitous shots at his work.

RT, Seymour Hersh on conflicting interests in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2015 (14 min. video). Journalist Seymour Hersh's new report on contradictions between President Obama and the US military regarding rebels in Syria was a bombshell. Hersh spoke with RT about the US military's view of Syria's Bashar Assad and Obama's relationship with Turkey. Writing for the London Review of Books, Hersh reported that, in a classified document from Summer 2013, the highest echelons of the US military establishment outlined their opposition to the Obama administration’s strategy of arming so-called "moderate" rebels to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. From 2013 to September 2015, in an effort to truly counter extremists in Syria, US military leaders fed US intelligence to Russia, Germany, and Israel, which then sent it to Assad, he reported.

The removal of Assad from power would be a gift to fundamentalist extremists, the military report said, as US defense officials compared a potential Assad ouster to ill-advised US eliminations of secular leaders Moammar Gaddaffi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Turkey – which the Obama administration has held close as an ally – is "a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy," Hersh wrote of the 2013 military report.

Democracy Now! Seymour Hersh's Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad, Amy Goodman, Dec. 22, 2015. A new report by the Pulitzer-winning veteran journalist Seymour HershSeymour Hersh (shown in a photo) says the Joint Chiefs of Staff has [sic] indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups. Hersh reports the Joint Chiefs sent intelligence via Russia, Germany and Israel on the understanding it would be transmitted to help Assad push back Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State.

Hersh: Well, it began, actually, as I wrote, with a very serious, extensive assessment of our policy, that was completed by June — let’s say by middle of 2013, two-and-a-half years ago. It was a study done by the Joint Chiefs and the Defense Intelligence Agency that came to three sort of conclusions, that may seem obvious now but were pretty interesting then.

One is that they said Assad must stay, at least through — through the resolution of the war, because, as we saw in Libya, once you get rid of a leader, like Gaddafi — same, you can argue, in Iraq with the demise of Saddam Hussein — chaos ensues.

Shadowproof, Vox’s Max Fisher is Wrong About Seymour Hersh, Explained, Kevin Gosztola, Dec. 21, 2015. Seymour Hersh (novecentino on Flickr) Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a report on how the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff deviated from President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria by sharing military intelligence indirectly with Bashar al-Assad’s government. It also indicated the Joint Chiefs dissented against Obama’s “insistence that ‘moderate’ rebel groups” could defeat Assad because they were all primarily extremists.

Well over twenty-four hours later, there are zero establishment media outlets that have run follow-ups or coverage of Hersh’s reporting. Only “Democracy Now!” had Hersh on their December 22 show and asked him about what he uncovered. Instead, a critique produced by Max Fisher and published at Vox has given U.S. journalists the justification to dismiss all of the major claims and issues raised in Hersh’s report. Fisher, who is Vox’s resident Seymour Hersh critic, outlines in an op-ed or “explainer” why he believes Hersh’s report is nothing but a “bizarre conspiracy theory.” His representation of the claims in the report is entirely overwrought.

Vox, Seymour Hersh's bizarre new conspiracy theory about the US and Syria, explained, Max Fisher, Dec. 21, 2015. The investigative journalist says Pentagon leaders conducted a secret alliance with Assad and Putin to undermine Obama. Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist famous for uncovering the 1968 My Lai massacre and the mid-2000s Abu Ghraib scandal, says there's another scandal afoot, and it's bigger than anything he's previously reported. Perhaps even bigger than his story from this May alleging that the US staged its mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

In a lengthy London Review of Books piece, Hersh says that the top leaders of the Pentagon deliberately subverted American policy toward Syria, sabotaging US efforts to aid Syrian rebels and even sending US intelligence to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. From fall 2013 to September 2015, he says, US military leaders effectively conducted a secret alliance with Assad and with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they saw as their best allies in fighting ISIS.

 

Other ISIS, Syria-Related News Coverage

Claims of British, Turkish, Saudi, U.S., Other NATO-GCC Support for ISIS or 2013 Sarin Gas Attack

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image/DCMA)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image via DCMA)

Sputnik via RT, Captured ISIS fighter says 'trained in Turkey,' Staff report, Dec 28, 2015. Turkey is training Islamic State terrorists in a camp disguised as a training ground for the Free Syrian Army, a 20-year-old jihadist captured by the Kurdish YPG told Sputnik. The prisoner said Ankara’s help to the “moderate” Syrian opposition is not as innocent as portrayed. Captured by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters in Northern Syria in November, Abdurrahman Abdulhadi, a Syrian national-turned Daesh (Islamic State) fighter, says he was trained in Turkey before receiving his first assignment with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“In August 2014, I was training in the Turkish town of Adana with one of ISIL’s Emirs,” Abdulhadi said, adding his month-long training was completed with 60 other fighters in a camp “not far from the airport.”

The captured IS soldier said military training was conducted by two officers and one of them only “spoke Turkish, so another one had to translate for him.” “Once a week we had shooting classes where we were taught to use Kalashnikovs, machine guns and other arms,” the 20 year-old said. “We were trained in Turkey because ISIL's command thought it was safer here than in Syria because of the bombardments there.”

While the camp was officially declared to be one of the training grounds for the Free Syrian Army, the YPG prisoner says, “all sixty of those who were there were ISIL members.”

“These were Syrian citizens, many of whom arrived in Turkey in search for a job initially, but later joined Daesh,” he explained. “Weapons were brought to us in civilian cars, not in military ones because fighter jets might have bombed them. ISIL is now mostly using civilian vehicles. I’ve heard they put vegetables on top of boxes with ammunition, so that war planes do not spot them.”

Huffington Post, The Cost of Turkey's Self-Interest, Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi, Dec. 28, 2015. Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi is a researcher at the Near Eastern Department of UC Berkeley. Turkey's assistance to the Islamic State goes beyond providing open borders for ISIS militants. By the end of 2015, Turkey is expected to host as many as nearly 2 million Syrian refugees. Recently, Turkey was accused of being one of the main sources of financial backing for the Islamic State, as well as of providing the majority of the group's training and weaponry. The Islamic State, for its part, has been making a profit smuggling oil across the border into Turkey. ISIS makes between $1-2 million a day from oil revenues, and Reyhanli, one border village, made a profit of more than $800 million in oil sales over the course of 16 months. Residents near the Syrian border reported witnessing Turkish ambulances going into combat zones during clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State. These ambulances would evacuate ISIS casualties and would treat them in Turkish hospitals.

Consortium News, Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), Dec. 22, 2015. One reason why Official Washington continues to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” is that he supposedly “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013, but the truth of that allegation has never been established and is in growing doubt, U.S. intelligence veterans point out. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 30, 2013, claims to have proof that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, but that evidence failed to materialize or was later discredited.

Guardian, Now the truth emerges: how the US fueled the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Seumas Milne, Dec. 16, 2015. The sectarian terror group won’t be defeated by the western states that incubated it in the first place. The war on terror, that campaign without end launched 14 years ago by George Bush, is tying itself up in ever more grotesque contortions. On Monday the trial in London of a Swedish man, Bherlin Gildo, accused of terrorism in Syria, collapsed after it became clear British intelligence had been arming the same rebel groups the defendant was charged with supporting.

The prosecution abandoned the case, apparently to avoid embarrassing the intelligence services. The defense argued that going ahead with the trial would have been an “affront to justice” when there was plenty of evidence the British state was itself providing “extensive support” to the armed Syrian opposition.

Infowars, Obama Concedes to Putin After NATO’s Support of ISIS Exposed, Kit Daniels, Dec. 16, 2015. White House stops demanding Assad's removal after news reports reveal West backing ISIS. The Obama administration is no longer publicly asking for “regime change” in Syria after multiple news reports revealed how NATO and its allies have spent years supporting Islamic jihadists to try and topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he accepted Russia’s request that the U.S. let the Syrian people decide Assad’s political fate.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters on Tuesday after meeting President Vladimir Putin. This is a huge concession from the Obama administration considering the president spent the past several years stating “Assad must go.” But why this sudden shift in public policy? Well, Czech President Milos Zeman recently stated that Turkey is friendly to the Islamic State, and there’s truth to that. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi said nearly the exact same thing.

A major scandal erupted in Turkey last year when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was caught shipping arms to ISIS, then attempted to cover it up by ordering a media blackout. Not long after, the Obama administration signed an agreement with Turkey to openly train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels, but virtually all of the rebels fighting Assad in Syria have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State since at least 2013.

 

Commentaries On Military Actions, Capabilities In Syria

Business Insider, Turkey may finally be 'accepting the inevitable' in Syria, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 29, 2015. A Kurdish militia with ties to an organization waging an insurgency in Turkey's southeast region violated Turkey's "red line" in Syria over the weekend by crossing the Euphrates River during an anti-ISIS operation. The operation to take back Tishrin Dam from ISIS was staged by the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG — the military arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

It served as a huge blow to ISIS. But ISIS was not the only loser. The operation was also a major affront to Turkey, which declared the Euphrates a "red line" for Kurdish territorial expansion over the summer. Indeed, Turkey struck the YPG twice in October after it defied Ankara's warning not to cross the river. So far, however, the Turks' response to the weekend incident has been relatively muted. 

Business Insider, The epicenter of the Syrian war is shifting — and it could mean 'a near total defeat' for Turkey's Syria policy, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 16, 2015. Russian airstrikes across northern Syria have been steadily shifting the epicenter of the war toward a corridor north of Aleppo, through which Turkey smuggles aid and supplies to the rebel groups it supports. A stepped-up Russian bombing campaign in the Bayirbucak region of northwest Syria, near the strategically important city of Azaz, has primarily targeted the Turkey-backed Turkmen rebels and civilians — and the Turkish aid convoys that supply them.

As a result, Turkey's policy in Syria of bolstering rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime — and establishing a "safe zone" for displaced Syrians that might hinder the regime's efforts to take Aleppo — is quickly unraveling. Another important component of Turkey's strategy in Syria is also at risk of collapse as a result of Russia's campaign in the north — namely, restricting the movements of the Kurdish YPG, with whom Turkey has clashed, along the Turkish-Syrian border.

AP via New York Times, Wounded Fighters, Civilians Evacuated From Syria, Albert Aji and Suzan Fraser, Dec. 28, 2015. Hundreds of people from opposite sides in Syria's civil war were evacuated from contested areas on Monday under a U.N.-backed truce, with one group headed to Turkey and another en route to areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad. One group, with more than 100 rebels and family members, crossed from Syria into Lebanon in buses and ambulances, and then took off from Beirut airport for Turkey, a main ally of fighters battling to overthrow Assad. The other group, residents of two insurgent-besieged Shiite villages in northern Syria, was evacuated first to Turkey in similar vehicles before departing for Beirut from Hatay airport. The truce deal reached in September, which provides for the transfer of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians and fighters, is one of a number of ground-level deals to end fighting in parts of Syria. Earlier this month, scores of fighters and their families began leaving a rebel-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs after several years of combat.

RT, Intel spots 12,000 oil tankers & trucks on Turkey-Iraq border: General Staff, Kevin Owen, Dec. 25, 2015. Russian intelligence has spotted up to 12,000 tankers and trucks on the Turkish-Iraqi border, the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces has reported. “The [aerial] imagery was made in the vicinity of Zakho (a city in Iraqi Kurdistan), there were 11,775 tankers and trucks on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy told journalists on Friday. The Russian Air Force in Syria has destroyed about 2,000 tankers used by the Islamists for oil transportation. In the last week, Russian warplanes eliminated 17 convoys of oil tankers and a number of installations used by terrorists for oil extraction and processing.


Reuters, Top Syrian rebel leader killed in air strike in Damascus suburb, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 25, 2015. A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group's headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army said on Friday. The death of Zahran Alloush, 44, head of Jaysh al Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta, the rebels said. Defense experts say the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control over the rest of the area. The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.

U.S. Department of Defense, Coalition Forces Continue Attacks on ISIL Targets in Syria, Iraq, Staff report, Dec. 25, 2015. U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today. Officials reported details of the latest strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports. Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 strikes in Syria.

 

RT, Apocalyptic scenes of Damascus suburb obliterated by violent clashes, Murad Gazdiev, Dec. 23, 2015 (12:28 min. video illustrated with exclusive drone photos above). The Jobar neighborhood of Damascus is the epicenter of some of the fiercest fighting in Syria with Islamist rebels refusing to give up their only stronghold. Once densely populated, the area has now been completely obliterated. Before the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, the neighborhood was home to some 300,000 residents, most of whom were Sunni Muslims. The suburb contained a number of ancient landmarks, most notably the Green Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world. It also contained the Grand Jobar Mosque in addition to the tomb of the Prophet Elijah. Jobar also housed ancient baths that were built during Ottoman times.

McClatchy, What really happened to the U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria? Roy Gutman, Dec. 21, 2015. Participants’ descriptions suggest trainees and trainers never agreed on mission. There were arguments and walkouts over goals, escorts, food supplies, expenses. Fifty-four U.S.-trained Syrian fighters arrived at the Bab al Salama crossing in Syria in mid-July 2015 in a convoy of pickup trucks after completing a two-month training course in Turkey. But after they reached their base, the men decided to take a home leave. On returning to base two weeks later, calamity struck when many walked into a trap set by the Nusra Front, the Al Qaida affiliate in Syria.

Ten weeks later, the Pentagon announced that it had halted the program, which until that moment had been the keystone of the Obama administration’s policy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Syria. The program’s demise has been ascribed to a number of factors, including the participants, the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a Syrian militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG. But a McClatchy investigation shows that the primary factor may well have been the United States itself, which conceived of a program that didn’t have the support of the people it was intended to train and was viewed with deep skepticism by its key training partner, Turkey.

Syria Air Strikes as of 12-3-15 according to Western military sources via BBC

Reuters via Huffington Post, Russian Warplanes Allegedly Kill Scores In Syrian City, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 20, 2015. Rescue workers said they had confirmed 43 dead but that at least 30 more bodies had been retrieved that had still to be identified. Over 150 people were wounded with some of the serious cases sent to hospitals in Turkey. Separately, the Syrian army with the backing of Russian air power said on Sunday it had seized the rebel held town of Khan Touman in southern Aleppo, a major gain that opened the way for advances further to the west in Idlib province. The advances brought the army only a few kilometers from the major rebel-controlled Aleppo-Damascus highway, whose capture would be a big boost to the Syrian army.

Guardian, Turkish troops move out of northern Iraq after Obama appeal for calm, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2015. Recep Tayyip Erdogan agrees to pull troops out of Iraq to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad, which had accused Turkey of an ‘illegal incursion.’ Turkey has said said it would “continue” to pull its troops out of northern Iraq after US president Barack Obama urged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do so in order to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad over the deployment.

Unz Review, Week Eleven of the Russian Intervention in Syria: A Step Back from the Brink? The Saker, Dec. 19, 2015. The USA announced that it was withdrawing 12 of its F-15s from Turkey, 6 F-15C and 6 F-15E. Now this might not look like much, but these are highly symbolic aircraft as they are the aircraft which were suspected of “covering” for the Turkish F-16s which shot down the Russian SU-24. The F-15Cs, in particular, are pure air-to-air fighters which could only have been directed at the Russian aircraft in Syria. Of course, the US declared that this was a normal rotation, that it has been an exercise, but the bottom line is here: while NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg had promised to reinforce the NATO presence in Turkey, the US just pulled out 12 of its top of the line aircraft.

Compare that with the Russians who continued to increase their capabilities in Syria, especially their artillery. Furthermore, there is this very interesting news item: “Erdogan’s Spin Machine Now Blames Su-24 Shoot-Down on Turkish Air Force Chief”. Read the full article, it appears that there is a trial balloon launched in the Turkish social media to blame the downing of the SU-24 on the Turkish Air Force Chief (never mind that Erdogan publicly declared that he personally gave that order).

Finally, Russia succeeded in getting a unanimous decision of the UNSC to adopt a Russian resolution targeting Daesh finances. Needless to say, if the resolution was officially aimed at Daesh money sources, it really puts Qatar, Saudi Arabia and, especially, Turkey in a very difficult situation: not only does the resolution foresee sanctions against any country or entity dealing with Daesh, but the investigation of any claims of such financial relationships will be conducted by the UN. So not only do the Russians now have the means to channel their intelligence about the collaboration between Daesh and Turkey to the UNSC, but the Secretary General will now produce a report based, in part, on this intelligence. This is all very, very bad news for Ankara.

OpEdNews, Syria Shatters Pentagon Dream, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 18, 2015. They look at the Syrian chessboard and as power projection goes, they see Russia comfortably settling down, with a serious land and air base, to conduct all sorts of operations across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) in the near future. The Pentagon obviously never saw it coming. And that's just the beginning. Further on down the road there's bound to be increased military interaction between Russia, China and Iran across Southwest Asia. The Pentagon qualifies Russia, China and Iran -- the key nodes of Eurasia integration -- as threats. Amidst all the ambiguities, partners could not be a more delightfully diplomatic way to mask what is a stunning fact in the skies: with its current mix of sophisticated surface-to-air, sea-to-air and air-to-air defenses, from cruise missiles launched out of submarines to the S-400s, the de facto no-fly zone over Syria is now decided by Moscow -- not Washington and much less Ankara.

Those S-400s, by the way, will soon move up north around the vastly complex Aleppo theatre, as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) progressively gains ground. In the first half of 2016 we should be contemplating a situation where the S-400s will be targeting and covering the whole Turkish-Syrian border. This will be the moment when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will completely lose his marbles. Russia's air cover for the SAA advances -- and soon Syrian Kurd YPG advances -- is methodically preparing the terrain for the end of all Ankara's elaborate plans for a no-fly zone disguised as a safe zone, fully paid by the 3 billion euros disbursed by the EU to Turkey to settle Syrian refugees.

Middle East Eye, Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process, Gareth Porter, Dec. 18, 2015. The anti-Assad coalition led by the United States continues to stagger toward the supposed objective of beginning peace negotiations between the Syrian government and what has now been blessed as the politically acceptable “opposition.” The first such meeting was scheduled for 1 January, but no one on either side believes for a moment that any such negotiations are going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

If it is so obvious that the Riyadh conference and the larger scheme for peace negotiations is not going to come to fruition, why has the Obama administration been pushing it? The explanation for what appears to be a lost cause can be inferred from the basic facts surrounding the administration’s Syria policy. First, the administration adopted the objective of regime change in Syria in late 2011, at a time when it was convinced that the regime was on the ropes. And although it has partially backtracked from that aim by distinguishing between Assad and the institutional structure of the regime, it cannot back off the demand for Assad to step down without a humiliating admission of failure and major domestic political damage....The obvious implication of these facts is that the ostensible push for a ceasefire and peace negotiations is a useful device for managing the political optics associated with Syria during the administration’s final year. If it is not questioned by media and political elites, the administration will be able to claim both that it is insisting on getting rid of Assad and at the same time moving toward a ceasefire and political settlement. 

Washington Post, U.S.-led airstrikes kill 180 Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq, Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris, Dec. 17, 2015. Islamist militants also launched four coordinated attacks against Kurdish forces in that area. The assault shows the group’s resilience despite a year-long air campaign by the United States and allies. American-led airstrikes killed at least 180 Islamic State fighters as local Kurdish forces­ scrambled to repel a bold, multi-pronged assault by the militants, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday. At least four coordinated attacks by more than 300 heavily armed militants kicked off the most intense fighting that northern Iraq has seen this year, illustrating the extremist group’s continued potency despite a year-long air campaign by the United States and its allies.

CNN, On board the warship Moskva: The naval power behind Russia's air war in Syria, Matthew Chance, Dec. 17, 2015. — Several miles off the Syrian coast, the Moskva, a Russian warship laden with long-range guided missiles, is a formidable symbol of Russian naval might in this stretch of the eastern Mediterranean. I've been given rare access on board this 11,500-ton, 186-meter (610-foot) missile cruiser to witness the key role it plays in Russia's air war against jihadist rebels in Syria's grinding civil war. Equipped with a powerful air defense system, the Moskva has been situated off the Syrian city of Latakia to provide support to the Russian warplanes crisscrossing Syrian skies in an unrelenting schedule of sorties from the Hmeymim air base.

In the two days I've been touring the Russian military operations in Syria, their jets have flown more than 100 sorties, destroyed 287 rebel strongholds and 40 oil installations, and killed more than 400 rebels, the Russian Defense Ministry says. The Moskva was deployed here, not far from Syria's border with Turkey, in the wake of Turkey's shootdown of a Russian Su-24 jet last month, bringing an extra layer of air defense to the Russian intervention in Syria's civil war. Russia has launched missiles from the sea during its Syrian campaign, although not from the Moskva. Not long ago, an international journalist being granted this kind of access to an active Russian warship would have been even more of a rarity.

New York Times, ISIS Carries Out First ‘Serious’ Attack in Northern Iraq in Months, U.S. Says, Michael R. Gordon, Dec. 17, 2015. Islamic State fighters conducted their most significant military operation in northern Iraq in more than five months when they mounted a three-pronged attack on Wednesday night north and east of Mosul, American officials said Thursday. The attack appeared to have been intended to show that the group is still a potent fighting force despite setbacks in Sinjar, Iraq, and in northern Syria. It may have also been intended to disrupt efforts by the American-led coalition to prepare for the eventual battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which was captured by the Islamic State in June 2014. The assault, which took place on the eve of a visit here by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter on Thursday, was beaten back by pesh merga fighters, as the Kurdish forces are known.

OpEdNews, You Want War? Russia is Ready for War, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 16, 2015. Pepe Escobar, shown in a file photo, is an independent geopolitical analyst. Nobody needs to read Zbigniew "Grand Chessboard"  Brzezinski's 1997 Pepe Escobaropus to know US foreign policy revolves around one single overarching theme: prevent -- by all means necessary -- the emergence of a power, or powers, capable of constraining Washington's unilateral swagger, not only in Eurasia but across the world. Syria is leading all these assumptions to collapse like a house of cards.

"Tense" does not even begin to describe the current Russia-Turkey geopolitical tension, which shows no sign of abating. If Ankara opts for a suicide mission of knocking out yet another Su-24, or Su-34, Russia will simply clear the airspace all across the border via the S-400s. If Ankara under the cover of NATO responds by launching the Turkish Army on Russian positions, Russia will use nuclear missiles, drawing NATO into war not only in Syria but potentially also in Europe.

Since mid-2014 the Pentagon has run all manner of war games -- as many as 16 times, under different scenarios -- pitting NATO against Russia. All scenarios were favorable to NATO. All simulations yielded the same victor: Russia. And that's why Erdogan's erratic behavior actually terrifies quite a few real players from Washington to Brussels.

 

Air Force F-15 fighter

Air Force Times, U.S. pulls F-15 fighter jets from Turkey, Aaron Mehta and Jeff Schogol, Dec. 16, 2015. The U.S. is withdrawing a dozen F-15 fighters from the key Turkish air base of Incirlik, less than two months after their arrival. The fighters — six F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing and six F-15Es from the 48th Fighter Wing — will be returning to Europe. The U.S. will still maintain a dozen A-10 Warthog close-air support fighters at the base, located about 100 miles from the border with Syria.

The six F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing arrived at Incirlik on Nov. 6 to help protect Turkish airspace. When the F-15s’ arrival was first announced, Pentagon officials emphasized having the capability located so close to Syria was vital for the fight against the Islamic State. However, on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis downplayed the removal of the fighters, noting that capability would still be in Europe and able to flow down if necessary.

 

ISIS Smuggling Routes (Russia chart)

Three Alleged ISIS Smuggling Routes (in blue) from Central Syria Via NATO-member Turkey (Russian military chart)

RT, Washington's 'Plan B' in Syria: Renewed military intervention to oust Assad? Finian Cunningham, Dec. 16, 2015. US top diplomat John Kerry appeared to offer cooperation during lengthy talks in Moscow this week with President Vladimir Putin. Kerry said that US policy was not trying to isolate Russia, neither was it seeking regime change in Syria. Washington and its NATO partners have been seeking regime change against Russia’s long-time Syria ally going back to 2007 during the George W Bush presidency. The whole foreign-backed war in the Arab country – resulting in 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees over the past five years – has been orchestrated for the precise purpose of destabilizing Syria.

Like Kerry’s coy claim that the US is not trying “to isolate Russia as a matter of policy,” the bottom line is that Washington has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Russia as a result of provable US regime change in Ukraine in February 2014, and cajoled its European allies to follow suit. Withdrawing unilaterally from arms control treaties and expanding NATO forces on Russian territory are hardly the actions of a party “not seeking isolation” of Moscow.

Reuters, Biden, in call with Turkey PM, urges cooperation with Iraq, Susan Heavey, Dec. 14, 2015. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R), accompanied by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to the media before their meeting in Istanbul November 21, 2014. Reuters/Murad Sezer U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday welcomed the reported withdrawal of Turkish troops from a camp in northern Iraq and urged Turkey to continue trying to cooperate with Baghdad, the White House said on Monday. In a call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Biden said the move of Turkish troops from Camp Bashiqa was "an important step to de-escalate recent tensions," the White House said in a statement. Biden reiterated that Iraq's government must consent to any foreign military presence there. "The Vice President encouraged the Turkish government to continue its dialogue with Baghdad on additional measures to improve relations between Turkey and Iraq," it said.

Telesur, Bush Military Official: The Empire's Ship is Sinking, Abby Martin, Dec. 13, 2015. Abby Martin interviews retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former national security advisor to the Reagan administration, who spent years as an assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell during both Bush administrations. Today, he is honest about the unfixable corruption inside the establishment and the corporate interests driving foreign policy.

BBC, Syria conflict: Rebels leave Homs under truce, Lyse Doucet, Dec. 9, 2015. Syrian rebels have begun evacuating the last district they control in the city of Homs under a ceasefire deal reached with the government.Those leaving al-Wair, under siege for almost three years, will travel to rebel-held areas of Idlib province. Homs was once dubbed the "capital of the revolution" and saw some of the first protests of the 2011 uprising. But the truce means the entire city returns to government control, in a boost for President Bashar al-Assad. About 700 people, including rebel fighters and civilians, are due to depart throughout Wednesday, Homs governor Talal Barazi said.

Defense One, Allen Quits ISIS War Envoy Job, One Year After Calling for Group’s Destruction, Kevin Baron, Sept. 22, 2015. Kevin Baron is executive editor of Defense One. He is also national security/military analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. The retired general begged President Obama to “destroy” ISIS and was then appointed to help do it. More than a year after publicly pressing President Barack Obama to “destroy” the Islamic State with swift and decisive American military intervention in Iraq and Syria, retired Gen. John Allen reportedly will step down from the special-envoy job created to do just that. Allen leaves behind an arguably more powerful and influential ISIS and a White House once again searching for a new strategy. Obama tapped Allen with the title of special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL following Allen’s war cries in 2014.

First seen as the leader of the ISIS effort, Allen quickly faded from spotlight as he went to work building the coalition while ISIS continued to win territory, resources and tens of thousands of recruits from the region to its fight. Allen, 61, was retired from uniform and serving the Pentagon as a go-between for Israeli and Palestinian defense leaders for the Middle East peace process in August 2014. He was on his way to the Pentagon to resign that post and begin as co-director of a new Brooking Institute security center when Secretary of State John Kerry called him with a new command: help put together the anti-ISIS coalition. Allen never shied from public attention, but was not a war general in the vein of Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf or David Petraeus. The war’s top commander remains U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Lloyd Austin, in Tampa, Fla, who rarely appears in public or speaks to the media about his wartime command. Mostly, Allen continued quietly as a warrior-diplomat working in the Middle East.

 

Commentaries On Geo-Politics

Reuters, Russia hosts pro-Kurdish Turkish politician who condemns Ankara, Dmitry Solovyov, Dec. 23, 2015. The leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday and criticized Ankara for shooting down a Russian warplane last month. Russia, which imposed economic sanctions on Turkey after the Nov. 24 incident, and has sharply criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and would be keenly aware of the sensitivity of Ankara to any contacts between Moscow and Kurdish politicians. The visit by Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is likely to further damage ties between Moscow and Ankara. Erdogan has accused the HDP of connections with armed Kurdish rebels fighting in Turkey's south-east.

Huffington Post, Donald Trump Doesn't Seem To Be Concerned That Vladimir Putin Kills Journalists, Sam Levine, Dec. 18, 2015. "I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe." Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday seemed unconcerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin kills journalists who disagree with him. Trump was pressed on his support for Putin by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on "Morning Joe" Friday. The comments came a day after the Republican presidential hopeful and the Russian president publicly praised each other. Editor's note: The blog contains no sourcing for its commentary, only attack language.

Consortium news, Saudis’ Anti-Terror Window-dressing, Paul R. Pillar, Dec. 18, 2015. Faced with greater public awareness of its role promoting Sunni jihadist terror, Saudi Arabia has announced a 34-nation “anti-terrorism coalition,” but it may be just window-dressing for Riyadh’s anti-Shiite agenda, not a serious move against extremism, an issue addressed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar. 

Intercept, Clinton, Rubio, Cruz Receive Foreign Policy Advice From Same Consulting Firm, Lee Fang, Dec. 18, 2015. Consultants affiliated with a small Washington, D.C., firm called Beacon Global Strategies hold the unique privilege of providing high-profile foreign policy guidance to Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, among others. The bipartisan firm was founded in 2013 by former senior officials from the State Department, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency, and quickly had more than a dozen clients, primarily defense contractors, according to Defense News.

Philippe Reines and Andrew Shapiro, both considered part of Clinton’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers, are founders of the firm. Eric Edelman, a former Bush administration Defense Department official, is an advisory board member to Beacon Global Strategies and a leading foreign policy adviser to Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. Brian Hooks, another veteran Bush administration official and advisory board member to Beacon Global Strategies, teamed up with Edelman to form a foreign policy prep effort for Republican candidates, called the John Hay Initiative. Hooks and Edelman have reportedly provided private briefings to help shape foreign policy ideas to candidates including Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, encouraging them to take on hawkish positions.

Washington Post, Putin: Donald Trump is 'a very flamboyant man, very talented,' Andrew Roth, Dec. 17, 2015. Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ranged from conflict zones to U.S. politics Thursday in a news Vladimir Putinconference in which he tried to close gaps with Washington over Syria, noted that Moscow remained engaged in Ukraine and gave a nod to Donald Trump as the “absolute leader” in the White House race. Putin — over three hours of questions and some overtime remarks — also touched on Russia’s battered economy and tense relations with Turkey over the downing of a Russian warplane. Many of Putin’s comments circled back to relations with the United States, including a bit of look-ahead musing on the White House race. Putin said Russia would work with “whomever the American voters choose,” but he singled out Trump.

Cannon Fire, Assad is more popular in Syria than Obama and Hillary are in the United States, Joseph Cannon, Dec. 15, 2015. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton refuse to countenance any solution to the Syrian civil war in which the elected, lawful, secular leader Bashar Assad is not removed from office. Despite this talk of democracy, the White House insists that Bashar Assad must not allowed to participate in any future election. Why? For one simple reason: Assad would win. A new poll proves the point. The survey, conducted by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments, found that 47 percent of Syrians believe that Assad has a positive influence in Syria, compared to only 35 percent for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 26 percent for the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Bashar Assad is the most popular man in Syria, according to ORB international, a credible UK polling organization whose clients have included the BBC and the Conservative party. The persistence of the myth that Assad lacks support calls to mind an article written by Jonathan Steele in the British newspaper the Guardian on 17 January 2012, less than one year into the war. Under a lead titled, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know it from western media,” Steele wrote: Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news? Especially as the finding would go against the dominant narrative about the Syrian crisis, and the media consider the unexpected more newsworthy than the obvious. Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll…ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

Let's take matters further. If Assad has a 47% approval rating in Syria, how does his popularity compare to Barack Obama's? According to the most recent Gallup poll, Obama's favorability rating is exactly the same as Assad's: 47%. Gallup's poll offers the highest number I could find. If we average out these findings, we may fairly say that Barack Obama's number is worse than Bashar Assad's. And what of Hillary Clinton's approval ratings? Here's a Gallup poll from last September: Currently, 41% of U.S. adults say they have a favorable opinion of the Democratic front-runner, while 51% hold an unfavorable view.

White House Press Office, Readout of Vice President Biden’s Call With Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadiadout of Vice President Biden’s Call With Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, Dec. 16, 2015. The Vice President spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi yesterday following his December 14 call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The Vice President noted the recent deployment of Turkish forces into northern Iraq had occurred without the prior consent of the Iraqi government. Both leaders welcomed initial indications of the withdrawal of some Turkish forces and agreed this should continue, reiterating that any foreign forces can only be present in Iraq with the coordination and permission of the Iraqi government. The Vice President reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity and called on Turkey to do the same by withdrawing any military forces from Iraqi territory that have not been authorized by the Iraqi government. The Vice President encouraged continued dialogue between Iraq and Turkey to address any outstanding grievances in the spirit of mutual cooperation. Both leaders reaffirmed their continued commitment to the fight against ISIL in Iraq.

USA Today, Russian airstrikes are bolstering Syrian dictator's grip on power, Jim Michaels, Dec. 14, 2015. Russian airstrikes aimed at rebel groups in Syria have strengthened the regime of Bashar Assad, undercutting President Obama's hope of using diplomatic pressure to force the Syrian dictator’s removal. The Russian airstrikes, which began more than two months, have helped Syrian ground forces retake territory and consolidate power for Moscow's long-time ally Assad, who had been suffering defeats as Syria's civil war drags on well into its fifth year.

RT via Russia Insider, NATO Is Going for Bust in Syria, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 15, 2015. The new plan is Northern Syria controlled by anti-Assad 'moderate rebels' (dominated by al Qaeda) with ISIS beaten but tolerated and solidified in western Iraq. NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal. UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice -- blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it. Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic -- UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.

 

News From Turkey

Washington Post, What’s freedom worth? Less than 3 billion euros, apparently, Can Dündar, Dec. 21, 2015. The writer is the imprisoned editor in chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. With its Flag of Turkeyhigh-dollar refugee deal with Turkey, the European Union abets Turkey’s abuse of its own citizens. Last month, while accommodating world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Antalya, the Turkish government observed this tradition, taking a break from exerting certain “domestic pressures.” But as soon as the guests left, it added Erdem Gül, Ankara bureau chief at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and me to the more than 20 journalists it has already put in jail.

In today’s world, which long ago became a global village, one would think that such despotic acts would attract notice and invite repercussions. On Nov. 26, I was imprisoned for publishing a news article on trucks being used by the Turkish intelligence service to illegally transport arms into Syria. Then, just days later, the European Union and Turkey came together for a summit on the migration crisis. In a letter written on behalf of all imprisoned journalists, Gül and I reminded European leaders of the core values of Western civilization, such as freedom of the press, thought and expression. As these leaders walked into the summit in Brussels, they had our letter in one pocket and the 3 billion euros they would give to Turkey in the other. The money in the right pocket was deemed more important than the letter in the left.

Zero Hedge, Turkey Blasts "Breakthrough" UN Resolution On Syria: "It Lacks Perspective. Assad Must Go!" Tyler Durden, Dec. 19, 2015. Well, for anyone who thought Turkey might be set to bow to international pressure by moving its troops north and thus back towards the Turkey-Iraq border, think again. Because on Saturday, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu was out with a series of declarations that seem to suggest Turkey is going full-belligerent-retard as Erdogan scrambles to preserve the “Assad must go” narrative on the way to securing whatever Ankara’s interests are in both Iraq and Syria.

First, Davutoglu said that the provision of training to the Peshmerga and Mosul militiamen is “in line with a request from Iraq authorities and as such, the mission in Iraq will continue “until Mosul is freed” from ISIS. Next, Davutoglu claims that the Islamic State attacks on Turkish positions in Bashiqa prove Turkey “is right.” Davutoglu then slammed a UN Security Council resolution agreed in New York on Friday. Diplomats adopted a resolution which purports to draw a road map for ending the war in Syria. For Turkey, the absence of a decision on Assad's future is maddening. The Security Council resolution "lacks realistic perspective," Davutoglu said on Saturday, before adding that the "Syria crisis can only be solved if Bashar al-Assad leaves power."

Consider that, and consider the fact that, as we reported yesterday, Ankara is now establishing a military base in Qatar in order that the two countries might work more closely on tackling "common enemies."

What we're beginning to see here is the formation of three alliances in the Mid-East: 1) Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq; 2) Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; 3) Britain, France, and Germany. The first alliance is pro-Assad, anti-terror. The second is anti-Assad, pro-Sunni extremist. The third is anti-Assad (although less vehemently so). Note that we've left the US out. Why? Because Washington is now stuck. The US wants desperately to maintain coordination with Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha, but between stepped-up media coverage of Saudi Arabia's role in underwriting extremism (via the promotion of Wahhabism) and heightened scrutiny on Erdogan's role in financing terrorists, the position is becoming increasingly untenable. But aligning solely with the UK, France, and Germany entails adopting a more conciliatory approach to Assad. The US is now thoroughly confused as to what to do next.

Zero Hedge, Treason! Lawmaker Discovers It's Bad Idea To Accuse Erdogan Of Supplying Sarin Gas To ISIS. Tyler Durden, Dec. 17, 2015. Two weeks ago, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem said he, like Moscow, will soon provide proof of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s role in the smuggling of Islamic State oil. "I have been able to establish that there is a very high probability that Berat Albayrak is linked to the supply of oil by the Daesh terrorists,” Erdem said, referencing Erdogan’s son-in-law who just happens to be the country’s energy minister. That wasn’t the first time Erdem has accused the Erdogan government of engaging in nefarious activities. Recall that back in October, Erdem and fellow CHP deputy Ali Seker claimed an investigation into Turkey's role in a 2013 sarin gas attack that killed more than a thousand civilians in Syria was being obstructed.

On the heels of Erdem’s allegations surrounding Erdogan’s role in Islamic State’s illicit oil smuggling business, the lawmaker said he intends “to carry this investigation through to the end,” to which we replied: “..we can only hope that, for the sake of exposing the truth, ‘the end’ doesn’t end up being a Turkish jail cell, or worse.”

Well sure enough, Erdem now faces “treason” charges. Here’s Today’s Zaman again: "The Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into Republican People's Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Eren Erdem for 'treason,' following his claims on the Russia Today (RT) TV station that radical groups used Turkey as a transit route for the shipment of sarin gas.

Turkish media reported on Wednesday that the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office will send a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday. If the summary of proceedings is sent to Parliament, the process for stripping Erdem of his parliamentary immunity will begin. Erdem might be prosecuted over treason if Parliament votes in favor of the removal of his parliamentary immunity.

Cem Kucuk, a columnist at the pro-government Star daily, said on a program on Kanal 24 on Tuesday that Erdem's appearance on RT and his claims regarding sarin gas were “treason.” Kucuk argued that Erdem's immunity should be removed by Parliament for him to “pay for his deeds.”

For his part, Erdem repeated his contention that he's the subject of a smear campaign. “The paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths is sharing my address [on Twitter] and plans a raid [on my house]. I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country's prestige,” he says.

The charges come just two days after Erdem gave the following interview to RT in which he says ISIS "received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey." He insists there are grounds to believe a cover up is in the offing.

And so, just as Erdogan arrested Can Dundar, editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s capital correspondent in Ankara on charges of spying and aiding a terrorist organization after they published video depicting an MIT truck transporting weapons to Syria, and just as Ankara arrested the generals who stopped the truck, AKP will now try a member of the opposition for treason.

OpEdNews, Syria: The Deadly Game of Ignorant Fools, Peter Kellow, Dec. 15, 2015. When Turkey sees its natural, non-Sunni enemy in Assad team up with its ancient enemy in Russia, the advantage of siding with ISIS is all too evident. Hence, its purchase of ISIS oil. Hence its downing of the Russia fighter.

ISIS is very strongly Sunni and the sworn enemy of Shiites and so for Turkey to have a Sunni ally on its border as a buffer between Assad in Syria and the Shiite dominated Iraq is clearly to its advantage.

Turkey is out of control. The days of it being a slightly wayward, but non-threatening ally, eager to participate in the fruits of EU membership seem a long time ago. We could yet find ourselves in a deadly military pact with the new caliphate pretender confronting not only the whole Middle East but Russia as well. The very strong commitment we give by signing the military pact of NATO will drag us in on Turkey's side whether we like it or not.

BBC, Turkey PM accuses Russia of wanting 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 9, 2015. Turkey's prime minister has accused Russia of attempting "ethnic cleansing" with its air strikes in northern Syria. Ahmet Davutoglu said Russia's campaign had targeted Turkmen and Sunni communities around the Latakia region. President Vladimir Putin has asked UK specialists to help analyse the flight recorder in a phone conversation with PM David Cameron, the Kremlin says. Turkey insists that its F-16 fighters shot down the Russian Su-24 on 24 November because the bomber had trespassed into its airspace. Russia denies this. Russia says its bombers are attacking IS and other jihadist groups in Syria, helping the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Reuters via CBC News, Russia calls Turkey's accusations of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria groundless, Staff report, Dec. 10, 2015. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Thursday that accusations by Turkey of Moscow allegedly conducting ethnic cleansing in Syria are "groundless".

 

News From Syria

Shadowproof, Report: 60 Percent Of Syrian Rebels Are Sympathetic To ISIS, Dan Wright, Dec. 22, 2015. So much for the “moderate rebels.” A report from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, a think tank run by the Tony Blair Foundation, finds that ISIS represents the mainstream of the Syrian rebels groups trying to overthrow the Assad government. According to the think tank linked to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, roughly 60% of the rebel fighters in Syria are sympathetic to ISIS’ political and religious beliefs and practices. While there may be personal disputes between ISIS and the other rebels, most find little problem with ISIS’ ideology and governing style. These findings stand in considerable contrast to earlier claims made by the Obama Administration, about which groups constituted the Syrian rebels. President Obama had, at one point, pushed to train a so-called moderate rebel force in Syria and spent $500 million to do so. After the failures of the program became evident, Obama switched his position and labeled the belief in the moderate rebels as a viable force to take on ISIS and Assad as a “fantasy.”

Reuters, Assad makes rare visit to church in Damascus, Kinda Makieh, Dec. 19, 2015. Syrian President Bashar al Assad attended Christmas choir preparations in an ancient church close to a frontline area in the Bashar and Asma Assadcapital Damascus where his army is engaged in heavy fighting with rebels, state media said on Saturday. State television showed footage of Assad and his wife Asma (shown together in a file photo) making the visit overnight to the Notre Dame de Damas Church, where he was shown chatting to the choir. He took a seat near the altar and listened to a recital of Christmas poems in the main cathedral hall. The surroundings of the church in the old part of the ancient capital were hit by mortar fire on Friday, officials said.

The church is only 2 km away from Jobar, a neighborhood of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus that has been the focus for months of heavy aerial bombardments and more recently Russian bombing that have left dozens of mostly civilian casualties. Assad has portrayed himself in recent interviews with the Western media as a protector of Syria's minorities, saying his rule was an example of religious tolerance in a country threatened by Islamist insurgents who have taken swathes of territory and seek to impose their version of strict Islam.

Cannon Fire, Assad is more popular in Syria than Obama and Hillary are in the United States, Joseph Cannon, Dec. 15, 2015. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton refuse to countenance any solution to the Syrian civil war in which the elected, lawful, secular leader Bashar Assad is not removed from office. Despite this talk of democracy, the White House insists that Bashar Assad must not allowed to participate in any future election. Why? For one simple reason: Assad would win. A new poll proves the point. The survey, conducted by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments, found that 47 percent of Syrians believe that Assad has a positive influence in Syria, compared to only 35 percent for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 26 percent for the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Bashar Assad is the most popular man in Syria, according to ORB international, a credible UK polling organization whose clients have included the BBC and the Conservative party. The persistence of the myth that Assad lacks support calls to mind an article written by Jonathan Steele in the British newspaper the Guardian on 17 January 2012, less than one year into the war. Under a lead titled, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know it from western media,” Steele wrote: Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news? Especially as the finding would go against the dominant narrative about the Syrian crisis, and the media consider the unexpected more newsworthy than the obvious. Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll…ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

Let's take matters further. If Assad has a 47% approval rating in Syria, how does his popularity compare to Barack Obama's? According to the most recent Gallup poll, Obama's favorability rating is exactly the same as Assad's: 47%. Gallup's poll offers the highest number I could find. If we average out these findings, we may fairly say that Barack Obama's number is worse than Bashar Assad's. And what of Hillary Clinton's approval ratings? Here's a Gallup poll from last September: Currently, 41% of U.S. adults say they have a favorable opinion of the Democratic front-runner, while 51% hold an unfavorable view.

RT via Russia Insider, NATO Is Going for Bust in Syria, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 15, 2015. The new plan is Northern Syria controlled by anti-Assad 'moderate rebels' (dominated by al Qaeda) with ISIS beaten but tolerated and solidified in western Iraq. NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal. UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice - blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it. Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic - UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.

Justice Integrity Project, Why Puppet Masters Need Presidents, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 12, 2013. President Obama did Americans a favor by bungling his recent attempt to please his powerful backers who have long wanted the United States to overthrow the Assad dynasty in Syria. Global and domestic critics thwarted the U.S. military action, at least for the time being. Obama and his team were not able to prove that U.S. and global interests required a bombing attack -- or even that fatal gas deaths of civilians in Syria were caused beyond a reasonable doubt by the ruling government. In fact, rebels just released a Belgian hostage who blames his captors for the fatal Aug. 21 gas attacks.

Justice Integrity Project, Learn the Truth About Benghazi Before Syria Vote! Andrew Kreig, Sept. 4, 2013. The public deserves to know the facts about the Benghazi massacre in 2012 before approving the bombing of Syria sought by President Obama. persistent reports suggest the CIA was using Benghazi last year as a base to smuggle arms and foreign fighters to overthrow Syria’s government. Was Benghazi President Obama’s version of the Iran-contra scandal?

 

GOP Debate Dec. 15 In Las Vegas

Republican presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Republican presidential candidates at the Republican presidential debate organized by CNN and held in Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel & Casino Dec. 15, 2015

Buzzflash at Truthout, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Millennials: Return of the Chicken Hawks, Bill Berkowitz, Dec. 17, 2015. Donald Trump who sat out the Vietnam War, is ready to “bomb the s**t out of ISIS.” Senator Ted Cruz, who never served in the military, has said several times that he wants to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” joking that we’ll find out if “sand can glow in the dark.” And, a new poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics, found that in the wake of the Paris attacks, 60 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds polled say they support committing U.S. combat troops to fight ISIS. 62 percent say it ain't gonna be them. Chickenhawkdom is alive and well in America.

In the Tuesday night’s Republican Party debate in Las Vegas, Donald Trump basically advocated a bombing campaign of ISIS that would kill thousands of civilians, including women and children. Responding to a question by moderator Hugh Hewitt, Trump said: “I would be very, very firm with families. They might not care very much about their lives but they do care about their families’ lives.”

Slate, America’s New Know-Nothings, Fred Kaplan, Dec. 16, 2015. The Republican Party’s top presidential candidates proved that they know nothing about foreign policy. It was a grotesque debate, a travesty of rhetoric, a carnival of buncombe the likes of which even H.L. Mencken (who coined the last phrase) could not have imagined. I refer, of course, to Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, its entire two hours devoted to national security and terrorism, about which most of the nine major candidates proved they knew nothing, a fact that some tried to conceal by making stuff up.

Donald Trump, the front-runner, was asked to elaborate on his proposal to shut down the Internet to keep ISIS from recruiting on social media. First, he affirmed that this was still his position, saying, “I don’t want them using our Internet” (as if the Internet has a nationality), then added that he was “not talking about closing the Internet,” just “those parts” of the Internet in Iran and Syria (as if each country occupied a sector, some digital latitude and longitude, of the World Wide Web).

Sen. Ted Cruz, who seems to have signed a nonaggression pact with Trump, was asked about his hair-raising proposal to “carpet-bomb ISIS to oblivion.” Did this mean, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked, that he’d kill thousands of civilians in towns like Raqqa, Syria? Cruz explained that he would “carpet-bomb where ISIS troops are, not a city” — ignoring (not knowing?) that ISIS formations mainly are in cities. They don’t hang around campfires at night in the desert, forming nifty targets for bombers flying above.

Webster TarpleyTax Wall Street Party, GOP Debates: A Grotesque Parade Of Warmongers Ready To Start World War Three Over Trifles With Appalling Nonchalance, Webster G. Tarpley (shown in file photo), Dec. 15, 2015.

  • Candidates Willing To Slaughter Children
  • None Of These Creatures Must Ever Gain Access To Nuclear Button
  • Intense Competition For Role Of Dictator In GOP’s Coming Police State
  • Only Winners Are Neocon 'Strangeloves' Who Tell Bozo Candidates What To Say

Washington Post, GOP candidates challenge Russia’s role in war in Syria, David A. Fahrenthold, Dec. 15, 2015. Two of the candidates in the “undercard” portion of Tuesday night’s GOP debate said they would shoot down Russian planes in the airspace over Syria, if America set up a “no-fly zone” there and Russia violated it. “The most important and effective thing you can do to a bully is punch ‘em in the face,” said former New York governor George Pataki, after calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a bully. If Russian aircraft violate airspace that America has shut off, “either us or the Turks should shoot ‘em down, to keep our word.”

Washington Post, Debate’s focal point: Who can keep the country safe?  Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker, Dec. 15, 2015. The mood was dire to the point of being apocalyptic, but it presented candidates with an opportunity to draw sharp contrasts in how they would eradicate threats from home-grown enemies or the Islamic State.

Huffington Post, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Everything is terrifying and we're all going to die, Nick Wing and Nick Baumann, Dec. 15, 2015. Fear and terror stole the Republican debate stage on Tuesday night. In the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Americans see terrorism as the top issue facing the U.S. And if people were already scared, watching 13 presidential candidates spar over who is best equipped to defend the nation against terrorism probably didn't help.

"We have entered World War III," former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania declared less than a minute into the undercard debate. His proclamation would set the tone for more than four hours in which candidates spared no effort to paint the threat from the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other jihadists as existential. "We're at war folks, they're not trying to steal your car, they're trying to kill us all," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "The next 9/11" is "coming soon," he warned later.

 

Democratic Debate Dec. 19 in Manchester, NH

Democratic Debate 12-19-15Guardian, Sanders: Clinton's pursuit of 'regime change' in Libya helped rise of ISIS, Dan Roberts, Dec. 17, 2015. Vermont senator challenges Clinton’s foreign policy record and says her ties to Wall Street mean she would not take on ‘billionaire class’ (5:45 min). Bernie Sanders has accused Hillary Clinton of encouraging Islamic extremism in Libya, in a prelude to a Democratic debate on Saturday during which he is expected to go on the attack for the first time over the unintended consequences of the former secretary of state’s more interventionist foreign policy. Speaking to the Guardian in an extensive pre-debate interview, the senator from Vermont criticized Clinton for carelessly fomenting regime change in Libya “without worrying” about the ensuing instability that has helped Islamic State forces take hold in the country.

“Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of the dictator does not make a lot of sense,” Sanders said. “I voted against the war in Iraq ... Secretary Clinton voted for that war. She was proud to have been involved in regime change in Libya, with [Muammar] Gaddafi, without worrying, I think, about what happened the day after and the kind of instability and the rise of Isis that we have seen in Libya.”

Shadowfront, Libya’s Collapse Proves Hillary Clinton Learned Nothing From Iraq War, Dan Wright, Nov. 24, 2015. In October 2002, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York voted to authorize the Iraq War. In fact, Senator Clinton went beyond just voting for the bill; she took to the Senate floor and made an impassioned speech accusing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction and providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda. Clinton also made it clear in her speech that she knew her vote could very well lead to war, but she would still “cast it with conviction.”

The war that followed in 2003 is likely to go down as one of the greatest military blunders in US history, if not one of the country’s greatest crimes. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, trillions of dollars spent, and the sowing of local and regional instability that further empowered Iran and led to the rise of ISIS. And, of course, no weapons of mass destruction to be found.

But in 2014, now a former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton changed her position again and said in her book “Hard Choices” that “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.” But did she learn anything from the Iraq War? The answer appears to be no. In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the charge by the Obama Administration to begin a military campaign in Libya. US and NATO forces helped Libyan rebels overthrow the government led by Muammar Gaddafi. The justification was to prevent a massacre that was supposedly imminent in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton maneuvered behind the scenes to keep the NATO coalition together, as well as promote regime change as the ultimate goal. After the war, she claimed that “we set into motion a policy that was on the right side of history, on the right side of our values, on the right side of our strategic interests in the region.” Gaddafi, who fled after the fall of his government, was eventually found, then tortured and killed by the rebels — something Clinton apparently found amusing when, in an interview with CBS News, she paraphrased Julius Caesar in regards to Gaddafi, chuckling “We came, we saw, he died.” Once again, Hillary Clinton had backed the violent overthrow of a government in the Middle East, and, once again, the results would ultimately be a nightmare for both the region and the US. As Hillary Clinton makes yet another attempt to assume the imperial presidency, it is worth keeping in mind that she apparently is unwilling or unable to learn anything from the horrendous blunders she has championed in the past. Are you ready for more?