Chomsky’s Right: The New York Times’ Latest Big Lie November 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Media.
Tags: chomsky, enrich uranium, Iran, iran nuclear, israel nuclear, john kerry, journalism, Media, new york times, non-proliferation, nonproliferation, nuclear deterrence, patrick smith, roger hollander
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Salon.com / By Patrick Smith
More misleading half-truths from a paper too cowed by power and myth to tell the truth about U.S. foreign policy.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Northfoto
Why France Is Playing “Stupid” On Iran November 13, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: aipac, foreign policy, french government, geneva negotiations, hollande, house of saud, Iran, iran nuclear, iran talks, israel, john kerry, netanyahu, pepe escobar, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: It is no secret that the Middle East is a time bomb and that the State of Israel with its ultra-right racist government is responsible for provoking the creation of new generation of terrorists. Iran, a small country virtually insignificant in terms of geopolitical relevance wants to develop nuclear energy (something I personally oppose, but that is beside the point here). Given its size and isolation, the likelihood of Iran developing nuclear weapons is virtually impossible, especially if it opens itself to international inspection. Nevertheless, the ruling elites of the State of Israel, themselves armed to the teeth with both conventional and nuclear weapons, are doing everything they can to derail the diplomatic enterprise in progress that would eliminate perhaps the greatest source of tension in the Middle East. They have their reasons, which I will not go into here. I post the following article to demonstrate how the American government and a large part of the powerful AIPAC Israel lobby allow themselves to become complicit in this disastrous strategy. The recent return to power in Israel of the crypto-fascist Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister for the racist Netanyahu government also is a cause for deep concern to all peace loving people.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio yesterday that Paris would not accept a “fools’ game.” Photograph: Pool/REUTERS
PARIS – US Secretary of State John Kerry has famously stated the US “is not blind” or “stupid” in its push to clinch a historic deal over the Iranian nuclear program. So now that the world has been informed, he must, cryptically, have been talking about France.
Torrents of bytes have already detailed how Israel routinely hijacks US foreign policy. Here’s yet one more graphic demonstration of how Wag the Dog works. Last Friday evening, President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu asking him not to derail Geneva. Bibi then duly picked up the phone and called, in succession, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande and asked them … to derail Geneva.
Hollande was the only one who followed Bibi’s marching orders. And all this after Kerry himself had been lectured by Bibi at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Friday morning.
Flash forward to the coda, early Sunday morning. Not by accident, Wendy Sherman, the lead US negotiator on the Iranian nuclear dossier, a certified Israeli-firster and borderline racist, flew from Geneva straight to Israel to duly “reassure” her true leader, Bibi, that no deal would be clinched.
It’s no secret that Bibi and the Likudniks also run a great deal of Capitol Hill. Apart from bombing Geneva, Bibi may also rack up another temporary victory, with the US Congress about to add even more sanctions on Iran by attaching them to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Meet Bandar Fabius
As far as French behavior is concerned, it is conditioned as much by the formidable Israeli lobby in Paris as hard cash from Gulf petro-monarchies.
Call it the AIPAC effect. Habib is the vice-president of the Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France, or CRIF — the French equivalent to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The ghostwriter of President Hollande’s speeches also happens to be a member of CRIF.
Fabius, grandiloquent and as slippery as runny Roquefort, invoked — what else — “security concerns of Israel” to derail Geneva. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif were always extremely worried about being sabotaged by their own internal opposition, the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. So their number one directive was that no details of the deal should be leaked during the negotiations.
That’s exactly what Fabius did. Even before Kerry landed in Geneva, Fabius was telling a French radio station that Paris would not accept a jeu des dupes (“fools’ game”).
The role of Fabius was pricelessly summed up by the proverbial unnamed Western diplomat telling Reuters, “The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively for months on this proposal, and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations.”
Terabytes of spin have been asserting that Washington and Paris are playing good cop-bad cop on the Iranian dossier. Not exactly; it’s more like the Gallic rooster once again showing off.
Hollande was gung-ho on bombing Damascus when Obama backed off at the 11th minute from the Pentagon’s “limited” attack; Hollande was left staring at a stale bottle of Moet. On both Syria and Lebanon, Paris is unabashedly playing a mix of neocolonial hugs and kisses while sharing the bed with Israel and the House of Saud.
But why, once again, shoot itself in the foot? Paris has lost a lot of money — not to mention French jobs, via automaker Peugeot — because of the Iran sanctions dementia.
Ah, but there is always the seduction of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, and the Gulf petro-monarchies. In a nutshell; Bandar Fabius was nothing but playing paperboy for the House of Saud. The prize: huge military contracts — aircraft, warships, missile systems — and possible construction of nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, a deal similar to the one energy giant French Areva clinched last year with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The ghost of Montaigne must be squirming; France does not do irony anymore. Iran has no right to have its own nuclear plants, but France builds them and operates them for its Wahhabi clients.
The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable September 5, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: answer coalition, anti-war, brian becker, dc demonstration, foreign policy, john kerry, John McCain, Middle East, neo-conservatives, Obama, roger hollander, Syria, syria protest, syria war, war
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The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable.
Obama, Kerry and the mass media are working overtime to conjure up the image of “inevitability” in order to demoralize and paralyze the anti-war opposition that clearly represents the sentiment of the vast majority of the people in the United States.
We reject the concept of the inevitability of this attack.
All power does not rest in the hands of the war makers. The people oppose this next war. We must organize and organize and organize.
Right now there are deep divisions within the summits of the political and economic establishment about the reckless act of aggression being planned against a country in the heart of the Middle East. Such opposition is not based on principle but rather fear that once the war starts it is impossible to know what regional and possibly global chaos could follow.
Under such political circumstances, a mass opposition can have a decisive impact even inside the centers of world imperialism.
John Kerry has adopted all the rhetoric of Bush and the neo-conservatives. “America is the indispensable nation” he tells the world. This is the language of the neo-con criminals who took the lives of a million Iraqis and thousands of U.S. service members. The hubris of Kerry is indistinguishable from that of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz — the grouping that put Syria on their “hit list” back in 2001.
In 2008, tens of millions of people campaigned for Barack Obama and against John McCain. They did so with enormous passion and the belief that the era of endless war in the Middle East would finally come to an end. Today, Obama and McCain are like brothers as they try to dragoon the country into the next war. McCain is always for imperial war. He has never met a war that he didn’t like. He has made a political career as cheerleader-in-chief for the death and destruction of people in weaker and more vulnerable countries. Today, he is Obama’s most important ally in Congress.
The Middle East contains two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves. The U.S. policy has been to destroy all independent, nationalist regimes whose origin was in the anti-colonial revolutions of the post-World War II era. The U.S. government wants only puppets and proxies in this resource-rich region.
The people of this country can rise and take their place as a major factor in the calculations of the war makers who speak in their name. This is not the time for hand wringing or passivity. The die has NOT been cast. We must all do everything in our power everyday in the coming days to mobilize opposition and spread the word to say “No War Against Syria!”
This Saturday, September 7 (initiated by the ANSWER Coalition) and Monday, September 9 (initiated by the Syrian American Forum) there will be major marches from the White House to the Capitol Building to tell Congress “Vote NO on war against Syria!” On Saturday, September 7, assemble at the White House at 12 Noon and on Monday, September 9, assemble at the White House at 10:00 a.m., both followed by a march to Congress. Click here for details about the D.C. demonstrations and here for a list of demonstrations taking place nationwide.
HANDS OFF SYRIA ACTIONS MOMENTUM GROWS September 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, hezbollah, imperialism, john kerry, Obama, palestinian resistance, roger hollander, Syria, syria attack, syrian government, war, war profiteering, weapons inspectors
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Roger’s note: This is a concise and precise statement of the folly of the government/media plan to attack Syria. From the current Senate hearing it is becoming more obvious that this is all about regime change and has nothing to do with chemical warfare. The burning question is: how to stop the continual blatant violations of international law with impunity for purely imperial objectives, putting in governments in the Middle East that will support U.S. objectives of monopolizing oil reserves.
For more information on actions:
President Obama has called for a vote in Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. Congress is scheduled to return on Monday, Sept 9. President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. When the UN Security Council would not support the U.S. war, Bush turned to the U.S. Congress for a war vote giving him “all necessary means”. Ten years later Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million US soldiers were deployed to Iraq. Today thousands of U.S. and NATO soldiers are disabled, traumatized and 1/3 will suffer from PTSD. Just as in Iraq, Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam this is again a U.S. war based on lies. Bombing Syria is NOT a ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is another war for Wall Street Profit! This time there is a risk of global confrontation or even world war. This war will only serve the billionaires and militarists who profit from war and conquest. The workers and poor will pay, in Syria and here in the U.S.
STATEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL ACTION CENTER
The people have made it crystal clear: We don’t want another war!
Last week there were demonstrations and rallies against bombing Syria in at least 48 U.S. cities. , the Times Square demonstration will be one of dozens across the country. , September 9, as Congress goes back into session, the Syrian American Forum and others will protest in front of the White House, then march to the U.S. Congress.
The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds $4 trillion dollars.
The cruise missiles the US is planning to fire at Syria cost $1.5 million apiece. The profits of the missile’s maker, Raytheon, is soaring — but our cities are crumbling. People are hurting from joblessness, foreclosures, sequester cuts and furloughs. Hospitals and schools are closing.
We need funds for job programs, healthcare and education, NOT billions wasted on war and destruction.
War propaganda always accompanies war. In 2003 before the massive attack on Iraq, it was the lie of “weapons of mass destruction.”
In 1991 in the first US war on Iraq it was wild claim that Iraqi soldiers were killing “incubator babies.”
In the Vietnam War it was the testimony that U.S. ships were being fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin.
It is ludicrous to think that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on the same day that UN weapons inspectors arrived in Syria. The inspectors were less than ten miles away from the attack and had been invited by the Syrian government.
The U.S. is the last country on earth that should start a war on the basis of combating war crimes.
The Pentagon’s 2004 assault on the city of Fallujah, Iraq alone left the residents there with staggering rates of cancer, birth defects and infant mortality due to the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.
Just last month the recipient of $1.5 billion in annual military aid, the Egyptian government, brutally cleared the streets, killing many hundreds at protest encampments that included men, women and children.
By far, the world’s largest stockpile of chemical, nuclear and every other kind of weapon belongs to the United States — the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilians.
No, President Barack Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry don’t care about the people of Syria one bit. What they care about is removing a government that gives aid to the Palestinian resistance, Hezbollah and other victims of the Israeli brutality. The repressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms beat down the people of the region so that U.S. oil companies can have unfettered access to oil profits.
We don’t want another war for the 1%. The rich will win and the people in the U.S., Syria and the entire Middle East region will lose.
Hands off Syria!
Some of the organizations, coalitions and community groups endorsing demonstrations: (Full list in formation.)
Syrian American Forum
United National Antiwar Coalition-UNAC
Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights
International Action Center
Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY
Harlem Tenants Council
La Peña del Bronx
U.S. Peace Council
Veterans For Peace / Chapter 021, NJ
People’s Power Movement
World Can’t Wait
International League for People’s Struggles/US
People’s Organization for Progress
Jersey City Peace Movement
Fight Imperialism Stand Together – FIST
Pakistan USA Freedom Forum
Honduras USA Resistencia
Al Quds Committee
Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY
Grannies for Peace
Black Waxx, NY
Guyanese American Workers United, New York, NY
Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement
Advocates For Peace And Social Justice, West New York, NJ
SI Solidarity Iran
People’s Video Network
International Action Center
c/o Solidarity Center
147 W. 24th St., FL 2 • New York, NY 10011
Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible? September 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: assad, chemical weapons, Colin Powell, Dale Gavlak, ghouta, jim naureckas, john kerry, Mnar Muhawesh, Prince Banda, putin, roger hollander, sarin gas, saudi arabia, Syria, syrian rebels, Yahya Ababneh
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Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).
The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?
The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.
Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”
On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?
In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.
When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.
Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.
Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.
Unlike the U.S. government, Mint does not have much of a track record, having been founded only about a year and a half ago (CJR, 3/28/12). The founder of the for-profit startup is Mnar Muhawesh, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American woman who believes, reasonably enough, that “our media has absolutely failed our country” (MinnPost, 1/18/12). One of its two reporters on its Syrian chemical weapons piece, Dale Gavlak, is a longtime Associated Press Mideast stringer who has also done work for NPR and the BBC. AP was one of the few US corporate media outlets to question official assertions about Iraqi WMDs, contrasting Powell’s assertions with what could be discerned from on-the-ground reporting (Extra!, 3-4/06).
Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch, 7/13).
Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”
Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”
This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.
Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.
Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.
Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.
The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”
However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.
Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”
“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.
Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.
More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.
In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.
Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.
“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.
“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.
“Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.
“Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.
According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.
“They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.
Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.
The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:
His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.
Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.
Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”
But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.
Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:
Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.
It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.
Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates .
Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism, He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.
Syria: Another Western War Crime In The Making August 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: chemical weapon, International law, iran war, john kerry, Lavrov, Muslims, nuclear war, paul craig roberts, roger hollander, Syria, syria chemical weapons, syria war, syrian government, syrian opposition, syrian rebels, un inspectiors
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Roger’s note: If the outrageous and frightening scenario outlined in this article is substantially correct, though most Americans will not want to believe it and will consider it to be conspiratorial ranting, it is a bitter piece of hard reality, and we ignore it at our peril.
OpEdNews Op Eds 8/26/2013 at 16:13:49
The US and UK governments have revealed none of the “conclusive evidence” they claim to have that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. Listening to their voices, observing their body language, and looking into their eyes, it is completely obvious that John Kerry and his British and German puppets are lying through their teeth. This is a far more shameful situation than the massive lies that former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell claims that he was deceived by the White House and did not know that he was lying. Kerry and the British, French, and German puppets know full well that they are lying.
The face that the West presents to the world is the brazen face of a liar.
Washington and its British and French puppet governments are poised to yet again reveal their criminality. The image of the West as War Criminal is not a propaganda image created by the West’s enemies, but the portrait that the West has painted of itself.
Perhaps the purpose of the wars is to radicalize Muslims and, thereby, destabilize Russia and even China. Russia has large populations of Muslims and is bordered by Muslim countries. Even China has some Muslim population. As radicalization spreads strife into the only two countries capable of being an obstacle to Washington’s world hegemony, Western media propaganda and the large number of US financed NGOs, posing as “human rights” organizations, can be counted on by Washington to demonize the Russian and Chinese governments for harsh measures against “rebels.”
Another advantage of the radicalization of Muslims is that it leaves former Muslim countries in long-term turmoil or civil wars, as is currently the case in Iraq and Libya, thus removing any organized state power from obstructing Israeli purposes.
Secretary of State John Kerry is working the phones using bribes and threats to build acceptance, if not support, for Washington’s war crime-in-the-making against Syria.
Washington is driving the world closer to nuclear war than it ever was even in the most dangerous periods of the Cold War. When Washington finishes with Syria, the next target is Iran. Russia and China will no longer be able to fool themselves that there is any system of international law or restraint on Western criminality. Western aggression is already forcing both countries to develop their strategic nuclear forces and to curtail the Western-financed NGOs that pose as “human rights organizations,” but in reality comprise a fifth column that Washington can use to destroy the legitimacy of the Russian and Chinese governments.
Russia and China have been extremely careless in their dealings with the United States. Essentially, the Russian political opposition is financed by Washington. Even the Chinese government is being undermined. When a US corporation opens a company in China, it creates a Chinese board on which are put relatives of the local political authorities. These boards create a conduit for payments that influence the decisions and loyalties of local and regional party members. The US has penetrated Chinese universities and intellectual attitudes. The Rockefeller University is active in China as is Rockefeller philanthropy. Dissenting voices are being created that are arrayed against the Chinese government. Demands for “liberalization” can resurrect regional and ethnic differences and undermine the cohesiveness of the national government.
Once Russia and China realize that they are riven with American fifth columns, isolated diplomatically, and outgunned militarily, nuclear weapons become the only guarantor of their sovereignty. This suggests that nuclear war is likely to terminate humanity well before humanity succumbs to global warming or rising national debts.
Any Other ‘Statesman’ Who Negotiated Peace Like John Kerry Would Be Treated as a Thief August 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: diplomacy, illegal settlements, israel, isreal colonies, isreal settlements, john kerry, mahmour abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, oslo accords, Palestine, peace process, robert fisk, roger hollander, west bank
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Roger’s note: there is no other journalist reporting on the Middle East I trust more than Robert Fisk.
Has John Kerry no shame? First he cuddles up to both Palestinians and Israelis and announces the renewal of a “peace process” which the Palestinians don’t trust and the Israelis don’t want. Then Israel announces that it will build 1,200 new homes for Jews – and Jews only – on occupied Palestinian land. And now Kerry tells the Palestinians – the weak and occupied Palestinians – that they are running out of time if they want a state of their own.
Israel has been running rings around cowardly US administrations for decades, ignoring Washington’s squirming embarrassment every time it went for another land grab on someone else’s property.
Any other “statesman” involved in any other dispute who told an occupied people that if they didn’t make peace their occupiers would steal even more of their land, would be regarded as an outcast, a fellow thief, a potential criminal. But no. John Kerry announces that illegal Jewish colonies – or “settlements” as he likes to call them, along with the world’s Israel-compliant press – are “illegitimate”. I think he meant internationally “illegal”. But it doesn’t matter. In the first 10 years of the Oslo “process”, the number of Israelis living on stolen Palestinian land doubled to 400,000. No wonder Kerry muttered that Israel’s latest theft announcement was “to some degree [sic] expected”.
You bet it was. Israel has been running rings around cowardly US administrations for decades, ignoring Washington’s squirming embarrassment every time it went for another land grab on someone else’s property. The Oslo accords, remember, envisioned a five-year period in which Israelis and Palestinians would refrain from taking “any unilateral steps that would prejudice the outcome of the negotiations”. Israel simply ignored this. As it still does. And what does Kerry advise the Palestinians? That they should not “react adversely”!
This is preposterous. Kerry must know – as the UN and the EU know – that there is not the slightest chance of “Palestine” existing as a state because the Israelis have already stolen too much land on the West Bank. Anyone who drives around the occupied territories realises at once (unless they are politically blind) that there is as much chance of building a state in the West Bank – whose map of colonies and non-colonised districts looks like the smashed windscreen of a car – as there is waiting for the return of the Ottoman Empire.
And Kerry? He’s a man whose every statement must be colonised by the word “sic”. Take this, for example. “We have known [sic] that there was going to be a continuation of some [sic] building [sic] in certain [sic] places, and I think the Palestinians understand that.” I suppose there should be a “sic” after “understand” as well. And then Kerry tells us that “what this” – he’s talking about the land theft – “underscores, actually [sic again], is the importance of getting to the table … quickly”. In other words, do what you’re told now – or we’ll let the Israelis snatch even more of your property. In the real world, this is called blackmail.
“Kerry must know – as the UN and the EU know – that there is not the slightest chance of “Palestine” existing as a state because the Israelis have already stolen too much land on the West Bank.”
Then came the ultimate lie: that the “question of settlements” is “best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders”. Tosh. The colonies – or settlements, as Kerry goes on calling these acts of robbery – are not being taken by Israel because of “security” or “borders” but because the Israeli Right, which continues to dominate the Netanyahu administration, wants the land for itself. Many Israelis don’t. Many Israelis see the vileness of this land theft and condemn it. They deserve the peace and security which the world wishes them. But they won’t get it with colonisation, and they know it.
And Kerry isn’t on their side. He’s going all out for “peace” on Israeli government terms, and the Palestinians – “cabined, cribbed, confined” – have got to shut up and take what they can get. And they will be given a few small morsels. Twenty-six elderly prisoners will be handed over today. Crumbs for Mahmoud Abbas and his merry men. But more colonies for Israel, a country which hasn’t even told John Kerry – or us – where its eastern border is. On the old 1967 “green line”? Along the colony “line” east of Jerusalem? Or the Jordan river? But for Kerry, it’s “hurry, hurry, hurry”. Book your seats now, or it will be a full house. What price “Palestine”?
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
Tags: adriana perez, alan gross, bob menendez, Criminal Justice, Cuba, cuban five, fidel castro, foreign policy, john kerry, Latin America, oakland ross, raul castro, roger hollander
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She’s 43 years old, childless, and lives in Cuba, while her husband of a quarter-century is incarcerated in a U.S. maximum-security prison, having served just 14 years of a soul-crushing sentence — two life terms plus 15 years.
So what are the odds that Adriana Perez and her spouse, Gerardo Hernandez, will ever have a child together?
Right now, those chances are looking extremely slim.
Or, as Perez put it just the other day: “It’s another one of our rights that is being violated.”
In this case, the right to bear children.
An intense, somewhat diminutive woman with dark, striking features and a crown of wavy black hair, the Cuban activist was in town last week to address an assembly of about 160 mostly left-leaning Torontonians. They crowded into the United Steelworkers Hall at 25 Cecil St. to hear a tale of American hard-heartedness and duplicity, at least as it’s framed by one of its victims.
In the United States, however, the same individuals are vilified as foreign spies, criminals who broke the law and who richly deserve to be behind bars.
Behold the core configuration of Cuba-U.S. relations in the early years of the third millennium: a tale of five Cuban convicts — plus one yanqui detainee.
The gringo in this story is a 63-year-old American by the name of Alan Gross, who is currently doing time in a Cuban jail.
Put them together, and what you’ve got is possibly the main obstacle to progress on what may well be the most bizarrely dysfunctional bilateral relationship in the world, a state of bitter enmity that has alternately fumed and flared for more than 50 years, pitting Washington and Havana in what some regard as the final battleground of the Cold War.
The Cold War, of course, is over — and ideological disagreement no longer has much to do with the stubborn antipathy that continues to dominate U.S.-Cuba relations.
Even the experts seem stymied by the remarkable and seemingly illogical persistence of the dispute.
“There is no explanation,” says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based think-tank. “This is the war without end — the war against Cuba.”
To some degree, that war can now be reduced to a conflict over prisoners — five Cubans and one American.
Where the Cubans are concerned, time is fast running out.
“The real fear is that the United States is essentially destroying the prospects of these families to have children,” says Birns. “The inability to have children confronts all of them.”
It is certainly staring Adriana Perez straight in the face, as she travels the world trying to drum up support for her husband and his four comrades.
In fact, her hopes for children may already be moot.
Here’s the story so far.
Dispatched to south Florida in the 1990s, the five Cuban men were on a long-term clandestine mission — no one denies that — but they were not spies in the conventional sense, according to their defenders. They were not interested in undermining the U.S. government or its institutions. Instead, they spent their time monitoring the activities of radical Cuban-American groups fiercely opposed to the government of Fidel Castro and not averse to violence.
Later, Havana offered to share its intelligence with the U.S. government.
That was a mistake.
Instead of saying gracias, compañeros, American authorities responded by arresting the five Cubans and charging them with a raft of espionage-related crimes.
Lawyers for the five sought to move the trial out of Miami, with its volatile anti-Castro community, but those efforts were rebuffed.
“That was quite shocking,” says Birns. “In south Florida, it’s hard to imagine you could get an impartial jury.”
Impartial or not, the Miami jurors subsequently convicted the defendants on all counts, and the men were sentenced in 2001 to sometimes astoundingly long prison terms, most notably the sentence meted out to the husband of Adriana Perez.
With one exception — Rene Gonzalez, who was released from a federal prison in 2011 but is still serving three years of parole — the Cubans have remained behind bars ever since.
“In spite of this, they have not lost their optimism that they will return to Cuba,” said Perez, who hasn’t seen her husband since the 1990s — and not for lack of trying.
On at least 10 occasions, she has sought a U.S. visa in order to visit Hernández in jail, only to be turned down each time.
This past week, she called on a highly sympathetic Toronto audience to step up their efforts to win the release of the five.
“I ask each one of you, when you leave here, to think, ‘What would I do if it was my son or brother or father who was in jail?’ ” she said. U.S. President Barack Obama “is not going to give freedom to the five spontaneously or because he is a good person.”
What’s needed, she said, is political pressure.
That pressure could take many different forms, but it seems unlikely they will include a prisoner exchange, although the Cubans have earnestly sought one.
Cue Alan Gross, a possibly somewhat naive American who was arrested in Havana in 2009, while working on a “pro-democracy” project funded by the United States Agency for International Development, a contract that involved providing electronic communications equipment to the island’s minuscule Jewish community.
For that activity, the Cubans arrested the American and put him on trial. He is now serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the Cuban state.
Havana has left no doubt that it would agree to a swap — Gross’s freedom in return for the release of some or all of the five. But Washington says no.
“The U.S. position is these are not comparable detainees,” says Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas, a research and analysis forum based in New York. “I don’t think the United States is going to budge on this.”
As a result, the two neighbours remain suspended in the same state of mutual hostility and diplomatic paralysis that has prevailed for almost as long as Cuba has been governed by someone named Castro.
Nowadays, the man in charge in Havana is Raul Castro, Fidel’s slightly younger brother and a considerably more pragmatic individual than his elder sibling ever was.
By most accounts, Raul badly wants to ease tensions with Washington — for economic reasons, above all, given the dilapidated state of the island’s economy. But his government also seems deeply committed to securing the release of the Cuban Five.
“They have tried every conceivable measure to show they are conciliatory,” says Birns in Washington. “They are giving away the store in terms of the concessions they are granting. You would think that Washington would want to dance around the maypole.”
Instead, the Obama administration continues to include Cuba on its list of “terrorist” states — a tired anachronism at best — and to maintain its long-running economic embargo against the island.
“We’re in a complete stalemate,” says Sabatini.
It sometimes seems that nothing short of the Second Coming could inspire a change in the official U.S. stance on Cuba.
Consider the recent appointment of John Kerry as U.S. secretary of state. Many observers expected the former Democratic presidential candidate to provide a fresh new look to Washington’s outmoded policy toward the island. After all, he has long advocated a range of measures that would reduce tensions between the two sides. So far, however, there is little sign that Kerry is sparing much time pondering the fate either of the Cuban Five or of the remaining 11 million islanders still sweltering in the Antillean sea breeze roughly 100 kilometres across the Straits of Florida from Key West.
“That’s the shamefulness of it,” says Birns. “This is the great curse. It’s an unvisited policy.”
According to Sabatini, Cuba receives little attention from the State Department in Washington at least partly because the U.S. has far bigger foreign-policy concerns, from North Korea to China to the Middle East.
Besides, he says, improved relations with the island would spell only minor economic and political benefits for the United States, while risking a much more formidable downside — the outrage of Cuban-Americans in south Florida.
“The amount of noise they would cause is huge,” he says. “So why do it?”
In the absence of a clear directive from the White House, he believes it is inevitable that Cuba policy will remain mired in bureaucratic inertia and outdated thinking.
After all, the U.S. Senate’s foreign affairs committee is chaired by Bob Menendez, a retrograde Cuban-American who would not look fondly on ambassadorial candidates with a history of progressive-minded ideas about his ancestral island home.
“The problem is that, for career people in Washington, being behind a Cuba change is a death sentence,” says Sabatini. “They want to be ambassadors. They’d never be approved.”
Still, there may be at least a glimmer of change on the short-term horizon, as Obama prepares to travel to the region next month, a trip that will include stops in Mexico and Costa Rica.
The United States is now the only country in the Americas that does not have normal diplomatic relations with Havana, and Latin American leaders are impatient with what they see as U.S. foot-dragging.
That frustration might be enough to produce a shift in Washington’s tone, if not something more concrete.
“There are rumblings of change,” says Sabatini. “But it will have to come from the White House.”
Meanwhile, Adriana Perez continues to traverse the globe, on an increasingly urgent campaign to secure the release of her husband.
“We hope it comes soon,” she said in Toronto last Saturday, “because it’s already too late.”
For more about Cuba — the good, the not-so-good, and the downright glorious — check out Oakland Ross’s eRead, Cuba Libre. Simply go to stardispatches.com and subscribe for $1/week. Cuba Libre is also available for single-copy purchase at itunes.ca or starstore.ca for $2.99.
Vietnam MIAs: Ghosts Return to Haunt McCain May 30, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in History, John McCain.
Tags: alexander cockburn, history, j.d.hayworth, john kerry, John McCain, kissinger, mias, north vietnam, pows, republicans, roger hollander, schanberg, senate, torture, vietnam, vietnam vets, Vietnam War
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Friday 28 May 2010
The ghosts that haunt Sen. John McCain are about 600 in number and right now, they are mustering for a final onslaught. McCain, one of America’s foremost Republicans and President Barack Obama’s opponent in 2008, is currently locked in a desperate bid for political survival in his home state of Arizona.
After 20 years of immunity from challenge from his fellow Republicans, he’s now involved in a close primary battle with J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman turned radio broadcaster who sports the tea party label. Hayworth says McCain is a fake Republican, soft on issues like immigration. The polls have been tightening, and if McCain got bludgeoned by some new disclosure, it could finish him off.
That very disclosure is now likely to burst over the head of McCain, the former Navy pilot who was held in a North Vietnamese prison for five years and returned to the U.S. as a war hero.
His nemesis is Sydney Schanberg, a former New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia that formed the basis for the Oscar-winning movie “The Killing Fields.”
In recent years, Schanberg has worked relentlessly on one of the great mysteries of the Vietnam War, one that still causes hundreds of American families enduring pain. Did the U.S. government abandon American POWs in Vietnam?
By 1990, there were so many stories, sightings and intelligence reports of American POWs left behind in Vietnam after the war was over that pressure from Vietnam vets and the families of the MIAs (missing in action) prompted the formation of a special committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate. The chairman was John Kerry, a Navy man who had served in Vietnam. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member.
Down the years, Schanberg has pieced together the evidence, much of it covered up by the Senate committee. In 1993, an American historian unearthed in Soviet archives the record of a briefing of a Vietnamese general to the Soviet politbureau. The briefing took place in 1973, right before the final peace agreement between the U.S. and Hanoi.
What the Vietnamese general told the Russians was that his government was intent on getting war reparations, $3.25 billion in reconstruction money, pledged by the U.S. in peace negotiations headed on the U.S. side by Henry Kissinger. The general told the Russians that Hanoi would hold back a large number of POWs until the money arrived.
But Nixon and Kissinger had attached to the deal a codicil to the effect that the U.S. Congress would have to approve the reparations — which the two knew was an impossibility in the political atmosphere of the time. Thus they effectively sealed the POWs’ fate. Hanoi released 591 immediately, but held back around 600.
All of this was suppressed by the Kerry-McCain committee, with the complicity of the U.S. press, enamored of both McCain and Kerry. McCain was particularly vicious in mocking what he and his press allies suggested were the fantasies of MIA families and Vietnam vets.
Schanberg writes now that, “In a private briefing in 1992, high-level CIA officials told me that as the years passed and the ransom never came, it became more and more difficult for either government to admit that it knew from the start about the unacknowledged prisoners. Those prisoners had not only become useless as bargaining chips but also posed a risk to Hanoi’s desire to be accepted into the international community.
“The CIA officials said their intelligence indicated strongly that the remaining men — those who had not died from illness or hard labor or torture — were eventually executed.”
In the presidential campaign of 2008, as I reported for The First Post at the time, McCain faced accusations that in fact, as a POW, he had broken and cooperated with his North Vietnamese captors, who regarded McCain as a valuable prize because his father was a prominent U.S. admiral, at the time commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific.
McCain Jr., so his accusers said, disclosed vital information and made broadcasts denouncing the U.S., which were then used by the Vietnamese to break other POWs.
The issue never became a big one in 2008 — but now it’s coming on back with a vengeance.
On May 26, the American Conservative, a monthly, released a special issue, “The Men our Media Forgot.” The U.S. media, pressured in any number of ways by successive U.S. governments to ridicule and suppress enquiries into the missing POWs, are the prime target, but McCain also bulks large in the American Conservative’s sights, since his present political crisis forms an excellent peg for Schanberg’s story. The calculation is evidently that this could be a huge boost to Hayworth.
In an article for the American Conservative titled “McCain and the POW Cover-Up,” Schanberg insinuates, without saying so directly, that the Pentagon blackmailed McCain to squelch the MIA hearings: “It’s not clear whether the taped confession McCain gave to his captors to avoid further torture has played a role in his postwar behavior in the Senate. That confession was played endlessly over the prison loudspeaker system at Hoa Lo — to try to break down other prisoners — and was broadcast over Hanoi’s state radio.
“Reportedly, he confessed to being a war criminal who had bombed civilian targets. The Pentagon has a copy of the confession but will not release it. Also, no outsider I know of has ever seen a non-redacted copy of the debriefing of McCain when he returned from captivity, which is classified but could be made public by McCain.”
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through http://www.counterpunch.com.
Copyright 2010 Creators.com
Obama’s Flailing Wars May 17, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: afghan escalation, Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, drone missiles, hillary clinton, james jones, john kerry, Karzai, mccrystal, obama's wars, pakistan, pakistani army, pakistani taliban, roger hollander, Taliban, tom englehardt, war
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A Study in BP-Style “Pragmatism”
by Tom Engelhardt
On stage, it would be farce. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s bound to play out as tragedy.
Less than two months ago, Barack Obama flew into Afghanistan for six hours — essentially to read the riot act to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom his ambassador had only months before termed “not an adequate strategic partner.” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen followed within a day to deliver his own “stern message.”
While still on Air Force One, National Security Adviser James Jones offered reporters a version of the tough talk Obama was bringing with him. Karzai would later see one of Jones’s comments and find it insulting. Brought to his attention as well would be a newspaper article that quoted an anonymous senior U.S. military official as saying of his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a reputedly corrupt powerbroker in the southern city of Kandahar: “I’d like him out of there… But there’s nothing that we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency, then we can put him on the [target list] and capture and kill him.” This was tough talk indeed.
At the time, the media repeatedly pointed out that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, had consciously developed a standoffish relationship with Karzai. Meanwhile, both named and anonymous officials regularly castigated the Afghan president in the press for stealing an election and running a hopelessly corrupt, inefficient government that had little power outside Kabul, the capital. A previously planned Karzai visit to Washington was soon put on hold to emphasize the toughness of the new approach.
The administration was clearly intent on fighting a better version of the Afghan war with a new commander, a new plan of action, and a well-tamed Afghan president, a client head of state who would finally accept his lesser place in the greater scheme of things. A little blunt talk, some necessary threats, and the big stick of American power and money were sure to do the trick.
Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, the administration was in an all-carrots mood when it came to the local military and civilian leadership — billions of dollars of carrots, in fact. Our top military and civilian officials had all but taken up residence in Islamabad. By March, for instance, Admiral Mullen had already visited the country 15 times and U.S. dollars (and promises of more) were flowing in. Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Forces were arriving in the country’s wild borderlands to train the Pakistani Frontier Corps and the skies were filling with CIA-directed unmanned aerial vehicles pounding those same borderlands, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other insurgent groups involved in the Afghan War were located.
In Pakistan, it was said, a crucial “strategic relationship” was being carefully cultivated. As the New York Times reported, “In March, [the Obama administration] held a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan’s government, which officials said went a long way toward building up trust between the two sides.” Trust indeed.
Skip ahead to mid-May and somehow, like so many stealthy insurgents, the carrots and sticks had crossed the poorly marked, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan heading in opposite directions. Last week, Karzai was in Washington being given “the red carpet treatment” as part of what was termed an Obama administration “charm offensive” and a “four-day love fest.”
The president set aside a rare stretch of hours to entertain Karzai and the planeload of ministers he brought with him. At a joint news conference, Obama insisted that “perceived tensions” between the two men had been “overstated.” Specific orders went out from the White House to curb public criticism of the Afghan president and give him “more public respect” as “the chief U.S. partner in the war effort.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Karzai of Washington’s long-term “commitment” to his country, as did Obama and Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal. Praise was the order of the day.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, interrupted a financial reform debate to invite Karzai onto the Senate floor where he was mobbed by senators eager to shake his hand (an honor not bestowed on a head of state since 1967). He was once again our man in Kabul. It was a stunning turnaround: a president almost without power in his own country had somehow tamed the commander-in-chief of the globe’s lone superpower.
Meanwhile, Clinton, who had shepherded the Afghan president on a walk through a “private enclave” in Georgetown and hosted a “glittering reception” for him, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to flay Pakistan. In the wake of an inept failed car bombing in Times Square, she had this stern message to send to the Pakistani leadership: “We want more, we expect more… We’ve made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.” Such consequences would evidently include a halt to the flow of U.S. aid to a country in economically disastrous shape. She also accused at least some Pakistani officials of “practically harboring” Osama bin Laden. So much for the carrots.
According to the Washington Post, General McChrystal delivered a “similar message” to the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army. To back up Clinton’s public threats and McChrystal’s private ones, hordes of anonymous American military and civilian officials were ready to pepper reporters with leaks about the tough love that might now be in store for Pakistan. The same Post story, for instance, spoke of “some officials… weighing in favor of a far more muscular and unilateral U.S. policy. It would include a geographically expanded use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan and pressure for a stronger U.S. military presence there.”
According to similar accounts, “more pointed” messages were heading for key Pakistanis and “new and stiff warnings” were being issued. Americans were said to be pushing for expanded Special Operations training programs in the Pakistani tribal areas and insisting that the Pakistani military launch a major campaign in North Waziristan, the heartland of various resistance groups including, possibly, al-Qaeda. “The element of threat” was now in the air, according to Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador, while in press reports you could hear rumblings about an “internal debate” in Washington that might result in more American “boots on the ground.”
In other words, in the space of two months the Obama administration had flip-flopped when it came to who exactly was to be pressured and who reassured. A typically anonymous “former U.S. official who advises the administration on Afghan policy” caught the moment well in a comment to the Wall Street Journal. “This whole bending over backwards to show Karzai the red carpet,” he told journalist Peter Spiegel, “is a result of not having had a concerted strategy for how to grapple with him.”
On a larger scale, the flip-flop seemed to reflect tactical and strategic incoherence — and not just in relation to Karzai. To all appearances, when it comes to the administration’s two South Asian wars, one open, one more hidden, Obama and his top officials are flailing around. They are evidently trying whatever comes to mind in much the manner of the oil company BP as it repeatedly fails to cap a demolished oil well 5,000 feet under the waves in the Gulf of Mexico. In a sense, when it comes to Washington’s ability to control the situation, Pakistan and Afghanistan might as well be 5,000 feet underwater. Like BP, Obama’s officials, military and civilian, seem to be operating in the dark, using unmanned robotic vehicles. And as in the Gulf, after each new failure, the destruction only spreads.
For all the policy reviews and shuttling officials, the surging troops, extra private contractors, and new bases, Obama’s wars are worsening. Lacking is any coherent regional policy or semblance of real strategy — counterinsurgency being only a method of fighting and a set of tactics for doing so. In place of strategic coherence there is just one knee-jerk response: escalation. As unexpected events grip the Obama administration by the throat, its officials increasingly act as if further escalation were their only choice, their fated choice.
This response is eerily familiar. It permeated Washington’s mentality in the Vietnam War years. In fact, one of the strangest aspects of that war was the way America’s leaders — including President Lyndon Johnson — felt increasingly helpless and hopeless even as they committed themselves to further steps up the ladder of escalation.
We don’t know what the main actors in Obama’s war are feeling. We don’t have their private documents or their secret taped conversations. Nonetheless, it should ring a bell when, as wars devolve, the only response Washington can imagine is further escalation.
Washington Boxed In
By just about every recent account, including new reports from the independent Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is going dreadfully, even as the Taliban insurgency gains potency and expands. This spring, preparing for his first relatively minor U.S. offensive in Marja, a Taliban-controlled area of Helmand Province, General McChrystal confidently announced that, after the insurgents were dislodged, an Afghan “government in a box” would be rolled out. From a governing point of view, however, the offensive seems to have been a fiasco. The Taliban is now reportedly re-infiltrating the area, while the governmental apparatus in that nation-building “box” has proven next to nonexistent, corrupt, and thoroughly incompetent.
Today, according to a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), the local population is far more hostile to the American effort. According to the ICOS, “61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after Operation Moshtarak than they did before the February military offensive in Marja.”
As Alissa Rubin of the New York Times summed up the situation in Afghanistan more generally:
“Even as American troops clear areas of militants, they find either no government to fill the vacuum, as in Marja, or entrenched power brokers, like President Karzai’s brother in Kandahar, who monopolize NATO contracts and other development projects and are resented by large portions of the population. In still other places, government officials rarely show up at work and do little to help local people, and in most places the Afghan police are incapable of providing security. Corruption, big and small, remains an overwhelming complaint.”
In other words, the U.S. really doesn’t have an “adequate partner,” and this is all the more striking since the Taliban is by no stretch of the imagination a particularly popular movement of national resistance. As in Vietnam, a counterinsurgency war lacking a genuine governmental partner is an oxymoron, not to speak of a recipe for disaster.
Not surprisingly, doubts about General McChrystal’s war plan are reportedly spreading inside the Pentagon and in Washington, even before it’s been fully launched. The major U.S. summer “operation” — it’s no longer being labeled an “offensive” — in the Kandahar region already shows signs of “faltering” and its unpopularity is rising among an increasingly resistant local population. In addition, civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO actions are distinctly on the rise and widely unsettling to Afghans. Meanwhile, military and police forces being trained in U.S./NATO mentoring programs considered crucial to Obama’s war plans are proving remarkably hapless.
McClatchy News, for example, recently reported that the new Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), a specially trained elite force brought into the Marja area and “touted as the country’s best and brightest” is, according to “U.S. military strategists[,] plagued by the same problems as Afghanistan’s conventional police, who are widely considered corrupt, ineffective and inept.” Drug use and desertions in ANCOP have been rife.
And yet, it seems as if all that American officials can come up with, in response to the failed Times Square car bombing and the “news” that the bomber was supposedly trained in Waziristan by the Pakistani Taliban, is the demand that Pakistan allow “more of a boots-on-the-ground strategy” and more American trainers into the country. Such additional U.S. forces would serve only “as advisers and trainers, not as combat forces.” So the mantra now goes reassuringly, but given the history of the Vietnam War, it’s a cringe-worthy demand.
In the meantime, the Obama administration has officially widened its targeting in the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands to include low-level, no-name militants. It is also ratcheting up such attacks, deeply unpopular in a country where 64% of the inhabitants, according to a recent poll, already view the United States as an “enemy” and only 9% as a “partner.”
Since the Times Square incident, the CIA has specifically been striking North Waziristan, where the Pakistani army has as yet refrained from launching operations. The U.S., as the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reports, has also increased its support for the Pakistani Air Force, which will only add to the wars in the skies of that country.
All of this represents escalation of the “covert” U.S. war in Pakistan. None of it offers particular hope of success. All of it stokes enmity and undoubtedly encourages more “lone wolf” jihadis to lash out at the U.S. It’s a formula for blowback, but not for victory.
BP-Style Pragmatism Goes to War
One thing can be said about the Bush administration: it had a grand strategic vision to go with its wars. Its top officials were convinced that the American military, a force they saw as unparalleled on planet Earth, would be capable of unilaterally shock-and-awing America’s enemies in what they liked to call “the arc of instability” or “the Greater Middle East” (that is, the oil heartlands of the planet). Its two wars would bring not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but Iran and Syria to their knees, leaving Washington to impose a Pax Americana on the Middle East and Central Asia (in the process of which groups like Hamas and Hezbollah would be subdued and anti-American jihadism ended).
They couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong, something quite apparent to the Obama team. Now, however, we have a crew in Washington who seem to have no vision, great or small, when it comes to American foreign or imperial policy, and who seem, in fact, to lack any sense of strategy at all. What they have is a set of increasingly discredited tactics and an approach that might pass for good old American see-what-works “pragmatism,” but these days might more aptly be labeled “BP-style pragmatism.”
The vision may be long gone, but the wars live on with their own inexorable momentum. Add into the mix American domestic politics, which could discourage any president from changing course and de-escalating a war, and you have what looks like a fatal — and fatally expensive — brew.
We’ve moved from Bush’s visionary disasters to Obama’s flailing wars, while the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq continue to pay the price. If only we could close the curtain on this strange mix of farce and tragedy, but evidently we’re still stuck in act four of a five-act nightmare.
Even as our Afghan and Pakistani wars are being sucked dry of whatever meaning might remain, the momentum is in only one direction — toward escalation. A thousand repetitions of an al-Qaeda-must-be-destroyed mantra won’t change that one bit. More escalation, unfortunately, is yet to come.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), will be published in June.
[Note on Sources: Let me offer one of my periodic appreciative bows to several websites I rely on for crucial information and interpretation when it comes to America’s wars: Juan Cole’s invaluable, often incandescent, Informed Comment blog, Antiwar.com (especially Jason Ditz’s remarkable daily war news summaries), the thoughtful framing and good eye of Paul Woodward at the War in Context website, and Katherine Tiedemann’s concise, useful daily briefs of the most interesting mainstream reportage on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the AfPak Channel website. A special bow to historian Marilyn Young, author of the classic book The Vietnam Wars, who keeps me abreast of the latest thinking on all sorts of war-related subjects via her own informal information service for friends and fellow historians.]
© 2010 TomDispatch.com
Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”) and is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His most recent book is, The American Way of War: How The Planet’s Garrison State Brought Itself to Ruin. He is the editor of The World According to TomDispatch: America and the Age of Empire and Mission Unaccomplished: TomDispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture’s crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.