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Woman as Reason: Afghan women demand justice May 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Women.
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From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Is the March 19 murder of Farkhunda by a mob of men who beat her to death with stones and sticks, ran her over with a car, threw her body on the banks of the Kabul River and lit it on fire, a turning point for women in Afghanistan? Some are saying it is.

Farkhunda was a 27-year-old woman who was studying religion and thought she had a right to criticize mullahs selling good luck charms at a religious shrine in central Kabul. But then one mullah started screaming that she was an infidel and had burned the Koran. Even though Farkhunda had been at the shrine for hours castigating the trinket sellers as un-Islamic, the lynch mob believed the mullah and turned on her with inhuman fury.

Her death was captured by cell phones and projected on social media. The impact was profound. Nargis Azaryun, a youth activist and member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), expressed what many felt when she checked her facebook page that morning: “The first sentences I read about the incident left me in shock: ‘Today we killed a woman who burned the Koran. Allah Akbar.’… I cried for hours, thinking how helpless she was when they were kicking her. She kept screaming and saying, ‘I haven’t burned the Koran,’ but no one was listening to her….The police did not help her because everyone believed that she deserved to die, deserved to be burned to death….”

Because Farkhunda’s death was broadcast all over social media, because it was so horrific and because there was such an outcry—for once, instead of taking the man’s word as the unchallenged truth—her murder was investigated and she was declared “completely innocent.”

AFGHAN WOMEN STAND TALL

Then women did something unprecedented: they went to Farkhunda’s family and asked if they could carry her coffin, this in a country where women are often banned from attending funerals. The women who made this move were activists, belonging to groups like WLUML, Solidarity Party, Women for Women International-Afghanistan; others held professional jobs in the city or university.

Against all tradition, women in Afghanistan carry Farkhunda's coffin.

There is no question that they were aware of what happened in Turkey in February at the funeral of 19-year-old student Özgecan Aslan, who was savagely sexually assaulted and murdered. Over 5,000 came to her funeral where women refused the Imam’s orders to step to the back of the crowd. Instead women stepped forward to carry Aslan’s coffin and bury her, vowing: “No other man’s hands would touch her again.” (See “From Turkey to USA, women as force & reason fight inhumanity,” March-April 2015 N&L.)

In Afghanistan at the burial the women chanted: “We want justice!” and “We are all Farkhunda!” A member of WLUML said that at Farkhunda’s funeral, “For the first time in Afghanistan we stood tall to say that no man will touch her burnt body’s coffin.”

It didn’t end there. On March 24 thousands of demonstrators marched on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court demanding justice for Farkhunda, the second protest in as many days. Organizers estimated that 3,000 marched—one of the largest demonstrations ever in Kabul. Demonstrators shouted, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Down with ignorance.” Afghans in other countries have demonstrated too.

At the March 24 demonstration, the head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, Fatana Gailani, expressed the hope that Farkhunda’s death would be a catalyst for change. Others thought the response to her death had brought people together who were sickened by the inhumanity of her attackers. Is this the beginning of a better life for Afghan women?

WOMEN AS FORCE AND REASON

If Farkhunda had burned the Koran, would there have been an outcry? When it was thought she had, the police stood by and watched her murder. A spokesman for them said that the killing of “an unbeliever” was justified. What of the women who are jailed for years for running away from home to avoid a forced marriage or those who die from honor killings? Who carries their coffins or demonstrates in the streets shouting for justice for them?

It means something that these women stood tall in Kabul. They took matters into their own hands and revealed their creativity through action, which is the way that genuine change comes about.

Azaryun made this clear, saying: “I picked up [Farkhunda’s coffin] because I wanted to tell the women in this country that if we want to achieve anything we should sit up and do what we want to do. Do it like a woman. And if we stick together, we break taboos. We proved it yesterday. No one could stop us yesterday from being by Farkhunda’s side because we were together and supporters of each other.”

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Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is one critic’s analysis of the geopolitical realities that maintain the Bush/Obama doctrine of permanent war, Middle East division.  Whether or not all the players (Shia, Sunni, Isis, Isil, Kurds, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc.) are correctly ordered and the power relationships perfectly defined, what is true is that it is all about markets and oil. That is, the business and profit making elements of capitalist economy, backed by governments’ foreign policies and military might, are what determine the course of action.  The needs, desires, dreams, rights, etc. of living human beings are trumped by the capitalist Behemoth.  I for one cheered when Obama was forced not to attack Syria earlier in the year (remember sarin gas?) and opened for the fist time in decades a dialogue with Iran with the possibility of resolving the nuclear issue and thereby ratcheting down the tensions between the U.S. and a major middle east power.  But as it turns out, it was too good to be true.  The drive to protect economic interests (read: corporate and military) wins out again.  

I want to repeat something I posted yesterday from an article by Murray Dobbin about the Ottawa shootings, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski :

We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.

In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998   Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

The answer is in.

 

WEEKEND EDITION OCTOBER 24-26, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org

by SHAMUS COOKE

How did Obama manage to botch U.S. foreign policy so stunningly? The promising speeches he gave in 2008 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his inspiring words have since been buried in the rubble of Libya, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The region that once viewed Obama as a peace messiah now rejects him as a warmonger. And with every new foreign policy zigzag Obama only finds fresh “threats” while never managing to find the path to peace.

Obama would like peace in theory, but doing so requires he shake up his Middle East alliances. The U.S. stands pigeonholed in tightly-wound alliances with the most hated regimes in the world, sandwiched between the global pariah Israel and the brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. The other important U.S. ally is war-hungry expansionist Turkey, while the smaller U.S. allies are the remaining Gulf state monarchy dictatorships.

Allies like these make peace impossible. Obama recognizes that these friends restrict the ability of the U.S. to retain regional credibility. Consequently, there has been much speculation about a massive shift in U.S. alliances that hinges on peace with Iran, possibly supplemented by strengthening the alliance with Iraqi Kurds.

Americans and Iranians would celebrate a peace between nations, but this scenario now seems off the table. After “talking” peace with Iran for the first time in decades, Obama chose the warpath yet again.

This decision was finalized recently when the “ISIS deal” was struck between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, again cementing this ugly alliance. In exchange for Saudi Arabia attacking ISIS, the U.S. would commit to war against the Syrian government, which the Saudis want toppled to undermine their rival Iran. The Syrian rebels that Saudi Arabia agreed to train — with $500 million from U.S. taxpayers — will be used against the Syrian government, not to fight ISIS. The U.S. allies in the region understand the war against the Syrian government as a first step to war against Iran.  Even if a nuclear deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran the path to war will have been set.

Economics is a key reason that U.S. allies want Iran destroyed. Iran stands as a competitor for markets and investment throughout the region, and the destruction of Syria and Iran would open up new markets for the vulture-like U.S. allies. The economic oil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has recently heated up, with Saudi Arabia selling oil at extra low prices to put political pressure on Iran. This, coupled with the ongoing “economic war” that Obama is waging, has the potential to weaken Iran via internal chaos, softening it up to possible invasion if the Syrian government falls.

Iran’s military is another reason the U.S. wants regime change. There are U.S. military bases scattered around the Middle East, though none in Iran, which has a powerful regional military force that patrols the strategic Strait of Hormuz, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. It’s intolerable for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that one fifth of the world’s oil production must pass through this Iranian controlled area.

Iran’s regional power is bolstered by its political and religious connections throughout the Middle East. Not only does Shia Muslim Iran exert automatic authority over Shia majority Iraq, but also over Shia Hezbollah and Shia-led Syria. This region-wide dynamic is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent.” There also exist sizable oppressed Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Turkey that act as intrinsic political thorns in the sides of these Sunni sectarian governments, giving Iran a powerful political base in each case.

For example, when Saudi Arabia recently announced a death sentence for a popular Shia cleric, Iran responded that there would be “consequences” if the sentence were carried out, thus re-enforcing Iran’s self-portrayed position as “defender of the Shia.”

In Yemen there already exists a strong Shia insurgency against the pro-U.S. Sunni government that is using al-Qaeda-linked fighters against the Shia; the results of the conflict will either empower Iran or weaken it.

These regional religious tensions have been exponentially deepened by the U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government, which has relied on systematic Sunni Islamic sectarianism to attract jihadist fighters and a flood of Sunni Gulf state donations.

The Sunni fundamentalism in Syria — loosely based on the Saudi fundamentalist version of Islam — views Shia Muslims as heretics worthy of death. The executions of Shia in Syria have reverberated throughout the Middle East, acting as an implicit threat to Shia Iran while increasing tensions in the Shia populations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and beyond. The regional Shia backlash against the Sunni fundamentalists have strengthened Iran’s regional influence, one likely reason why Obama made the peace-killing deal with Saudi Arabia against ISIS and the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are adamant that the U.S. make no peace with Iran. Both sent strong messages after Obama’s 2013 last minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government, and his brief flirtation with Iran.  Saudi Arabia went as far as refusing a seat on the UN Security Council.  Israel protested the decision too, after it had lobbied heavily in the U.S. Congress through AIPAC to ensure the bombing took place.

The Kurdish Question

Turkey has long assisted the U.S. in attempting to topple the Syrian government, and has recently been insisting on a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which would be directed against the Syrian government, since ISIS has no air force. Turkey has no good intentions in Syria, and has long wanted to grab easy oil-rich land for itself; which happens to be where the Kurdish population in Syria resides.

The call to enforce a no-fly zone to “protect the Kurds” on Turkey’s border, if achieved, will be similar to the no-fly zone in Libya — to create a “humanitarian corridor” — that was used instead to create a massive U.S.-led bombing campaign for regime change.

The Kurdish people face the same situation they’ve faced for hundreds of years: other nations have used the Kurds for their own self-interest. The Kurdish people want and deserve their own independent nation state, but they’ve been betrayed countless times in the past and the situation now seems no different. Promises are made and arms given to the “good” pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds, while across the border in Turkey another faction of Kurds are labeled terrorists and repressed by the government.

Recently, the Kurdish Syrian town on the border of Turkey was invaded by ISIS and militarily defended by the “bad Kurds” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in Turkey. The Turkish military watched across the border as ISIS relentlessly attacked Kobani, while the Turks used military force to prevent Turkish Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to help defend the Kurdish city.

This reinforced perceptions that ISIS was, in part, a Turkish creation, since Turkey’s border has long been an uncontested point of entry for foreign jihadists to enter Syria. Turkey defended its actions by essentially equating the Kurdish PYD and PKK with ISIS, dismissing all of them as “terrorists.” In Turkey, Kurdish protests erupted against the government’s actions and inactions in Kobani, leaving 40 dead. Protests also occurred in other Kurdish regions including Iran.

Turkey ultimately proved that it fears the Kurds more than ISIS, and further proved that negotiations with its domestic Kurdish population will never result in an independent Kurdistan on any inch of Turkish territory.  Turkey will likewise be violently opposed to any creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq or Syria, since it would empower the Turkish Kurds while preventing Turkey from grabbing the oil-rich regions for itself.

This dynamic acts as an impossible barrier for the Obama administration to “re-balance” its Middle East alliances by using the Kurds. No nation with a sizable Kurdish population — Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria — will buy in to a possible U.S. policy of Kurdish statehood, since they would lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds live on.

Not only would the U.S. lose regional allies by advocating Kurdish independence, but if such a state were to emerge, it would be a weak nation, since the Kurds are already divided into various factions, and thus not strong enough for the U.S. to rely on to achieve regional objectives.

Consequently, Obama feels compelled to continue down the same war-torn path as his predecessors. But Obama’s perspective is colored by his assumption that the United States must remain the regional power in an area thousands of miles from its border, and that U.S. corporations should dominate the oil, banking, weapons selling, and other markets in the region.

The U.S. is long past the point where it can claim that its Middle East goals are “peace, stability, and democracy,” especially after invading and destroying Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now the dirty war against Syria.  The oil, minerals, and other wealth that attracts the U.S. corporations that steer U.S. foreign policy prevent any real lasting peace to be achieved. The logic of corporate America is to crush the competitor by any means necessary.

Peace with Iran and Syria could be achieved if Obama told the world the truth about the above dynamics in the region, and treated Iran and Syria with the respect that an independent nation deserves, while working to curb the power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both depend on U.S. financial, military, and political support.

But instead Obama has dug in his heels and re-enforced alliances that demand the continuation of the Syrian war, and after that Iran. A war-shredded region remains on the bloody path to a potentially even wider war, while the billions of U.S. tax dollars funding this genocide will remain unusable for domestic projects like job creation and climate change reduction and preparedness. During this election season both Democrats and Republicans agree on continuing Middle East war.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: Commentary Magazine referred to this article as “Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory.”  I am reminded of the saying: “paranoids can have real enemies.”  There are conspiracies.  The CIA, for example, has been “conspiring,” both at home and abroad since the end of WWII.  Hersch has based most of this report on a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) document that the DIA says never existed.  Someone is lying.  You will have to decide for yourself.

None of this surprises me.  What I really find interesting is that the real hawk when it came to the near all-out attack on Syria was none other than President Obama himself (with help from Secretary of State John Kerry, the country’s number one “diplomat”).  It was the generals and the Pentagon that didn’t want to go to war.  How’s that for irony?  And, while on the subject of irony, it took the neo-Stalinist Putin to bail Obama out from what likely would have been a Middle East holocaust.

 

Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

*

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

*

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

4 April

Erdogan slams Obama for silence on Israel’s Gaza flotilla raid September 13, 2011

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Turkish premier reiterates Ankara’s intent to refer legality of Israel’s blockade on Gaza to The Hague, saying the world will see ‘who is standing alongside the victims’.

By DPA and Haaretz 

 
 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Saturday his country’s intent to refer the legality of Israel’s Gaza blockade to The Hague, adding a criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama’s position regarding Israel’s 2010 of a Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla.

Speaking a convention of businessmen in the central Turkish city of Kayseri broadcast live on Turkey’s state news channel TRT Erdogan vowed to continue the legal struggle for justice for the nine people killed in the raid.

   
 

“We will carry this struggle to The Hague and Erdogan criticizes Obama,” the Turkish premier said, criticizing Turkish opposition leaders for what he described as “acting as advocates for Israel.”

Erdogan was also deeply critical of the United States position on the Mavi Marmara incident, pointing out that he had to point out to Obama how the attack had left nine Turks dead from wounds inflicted by 35 bullets mostly fired from close range, one of them an American passport holder.

“I asked President Obama whether the reason he showed no interest in one of his nationals being killed was because [the victim] was [ethnically] Turkish – he didn’t reply,” said Erdogan.

Edogan’s comments came a week Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu first indicated that Turkey was to appeal the International Court of Justice in The Hague as soon as next week in order to probe the legality of Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, saying that Turkey could not “accept the blockade on Gaza.”

“We cannot say that the blockade aligns with international law,” he said, adding that the stance taken by the Palmer Commission Report was the author’s “personal opinion, one which does not correspond with Turkey’s position.”

Speaking in an interview with Turkish station TRT on Saturday, Davutoglu said that Ankara was preparing to appeal the international court in The Hague, reiterating the official Turkish position which rejects the finds of the Palmer Commission report.

He added that Ankara was planning to initiate the Hague appeal as soon as next week, saying: “We are bound by the International Court of Justice. We say that the ICJ decides.”

Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011

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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows.  Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).

Published on Monday, May 30, 2011 by The Independent/UK

  by  Robert Fisk

This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)

President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)

 

While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”

And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.

Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.

Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.

The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.

Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.

But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.

Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?

One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.

There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.

Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?

And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.

Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.

Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.

But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.

Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).

But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.

© 2011 The Independent

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Robert Fisk

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.

Obama and the Denial of Genocide March 15, 2010

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Published on Monday, March 15, 2010 by Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)by Stephen Zunes

The Obama administration, citing its relations with Turkey, has pledged to block the passage in the full House of Representatives of a resolution passed this past Thursday by the Foreign Relations Committee acknowledging the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Empire of a 1.5 million Armenians.  Even though the Obama administration previously refused to acknowledge and even worked to suppress well-documented evidence of recent war crimes by Israel, another key Middle Eastern ally, few believed that the administration would go as far as to effectively deny genocide.

Following the committee vote, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that “We are against this decision,” and pledged that the administration would “work very hard” to prevent the bill from coming to the floor.  Despite widespread support for the resolution by House Democrats, she expressed confidence that the administration would find a means of blocking the resolution, saying, “Now we believe that the U.S. Congress will not take any decision on this subject.”

As candidates, both Clinton and Barack Obama had pledged that their administrations would be the first to formally recognize the Armenian genocide. Clinton acknowledged that this was a reversal, but insisted that circumstances had “changed in very significant ways.” The State Department, however, has been unable to cite any new historical evidence that would counter the broad consensus that genocide had indeed taken place in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. The official excuse is that it might harm an important rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. However, there is no indication the Armenian government is at all concerned about potential negative fallout in their bilateral relations over a resolution passed by a legislative body in a third country. 

More likely, the concern is over not wanting to jeopardize the cooperation of Turkey, which borders Iran, in the forthcoming enhanced sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Back in 2007, a similar resolution acknowledging the Armenian genocide also passed through the House Foreign Relations Committee.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promised that she would allow it to come for a vote. With 226 cosponsors – a clear majority of the House – there was little question it would pass.  However, in response to claims by the Bush White House and Republican congressional leaders that it would harm the “Global War on Terror,” Pelosi broke her promise and used her power as speaker to prevent a vote on the resolution. She will also certainly buckle under pressure from an administration of her own party.

The Historical Record

Between 1915 and 1918, under orders of the leadership of the Ottoman Empire, an estimated two million Armenians were forcibly removed from their homes in a region that had been part of the Armenian nation for more than 2,500 years. Three-quarters of them died as a result of execution, starvation, and related reasons.

According to Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during that period, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.” While issuing a “death warrant to a whole race” would normally be considered genocide by any definition, this apparently isn’t the view of the Obama administration.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by the United States, officially defines genocide as any effort “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” The earliest proponent of such an international convention was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer who originally coined the term “genocide” and identified the Armenian case as a definitive example.

Dozens of other governments – including Canada, France, Italy, and Russia – and several UN bodies, as well as 40 U.S. states, have formally recognized the Armenian genocide. The Obama administration does not, however, and is apparently determined to prevent Congress from doing so.

Congress has previously gone on record condemning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for refusing to acknowledge the German genocide of the Jews.  Congress appears unwilling, however, to challenge Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians.  While awareness of anti-Semitism is fortunately widespread enough to marginalize those who refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust, tolerance for anti-Armenian bigotry appears strong enough that it’s still considered politically acceptable to deny their genocide.

The Turkey Factor

 Opponents of the measure argue that they’re worried about harming relations with Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and an important U.S. ally. However, the United States has done much greater harm in its relations with Turkey through policies far more significant than a symbolic resolution acknowledging a tragic historical period. The United States clandestinely backed an attempted military coup by right-wing Turkish officers in 2003, arming Iraqi and Iranian Kurds with close ties to Kurdish rebels in Turkey who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish citizens. The United States also invaded neighboring Iraq. As a result, the percentage of Turks who view the United States positively declined from 52 percent to only 9 percent.

Generations of Turks have been taught that there was no Ottoman genocide of the Armenians, but that there were scattered atrocities on both sides. Indeed, most Turks believe their country is being unfairly scapegoated, particularly when the United States refuses to label its treatment of American Indians as genocide or acknowledge more recent war crimes.  As a result, some argue that a more appropriate means of addressing the ongoing Turkish denial of historical reality would be through dialogue and some sort of re-education, avoiding the patently political device of a congressional resolution that would inevitably make Turks defensive.

Failure to acknowledge the genocide, however, is a tragic affront to the rapidly dwindling number of genocide survivors as well as their descendents.  It’s also a disservice to the many Turks who opposed the Ottoman Empire’s policies and tried to stop the genocide, as well as the growing number of Turks today who face imprisonment by their U.S.-backed regime for daring to publicly concede the crimes of their forebears. For example, Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, was prosecuted and fled into exile to escape death threats after making a number of public references to the genocide.

Some opponents of the resolution argue that it is pointless for Congress to pass resolutions regarding historical events. Yet there were no such complaints regarding resolutions commemorating the Holocaust, nor are there normally complaints regarding the scores of dedicatory resolutions passed by Congress in recent years, ranging from commemorating the 65th anniversary of the death of the Polish musician and political leader Ignacy Jan Paderewski to noting the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Republican Party in Wisconsin.

The Obama administration insists that that this is a bad time to upset the Turkish government.  However, it was also considered a “bad time” to pass the resolution back in 2007, on the grounds that it not jeopardize U.S. access to Turkish bases as part of efforts to support the counter-insurgency war by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. It was also considered a “bad time” when a similar resolution was put forward in 2000 because the United States was using its bases in Turkey to patrol the “no fly zones” in northern Iraq.  And it was also considered a “bad time” in 1985 and 1987, when similar resolutions were put forward because U.S. bases in Turkey were considered important listening posts for monitoring the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

For deniers of the Armenian genocide, it’s always a “bad time.”

While the passage of the resolution would certainly lead to strong diplomatic protests from Turkey, it is dubious that there would be much of a rupture between Ankara and Washington.  When President Ronald Reagan, a major backer of the right-wing military dictatorship then ruling Turkey, once used the term genocide in relation to Armenians, U.S.-Turkish relations did not suffer.

The Obama administration, like administrations before it, simply refuses to acknowledge that the Armenian genocide even took place.  As recently as the 1980s, the Bulletin of the Department of State claimed that “Because the historical record of the 1915 events in Asia Minor is ambiguous, the Department of State does not endorse allegations that the Turkish government committed genocide against the Armenian people.”  Even more recently, Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense in President George W. Bush, stated in 2002 that “one of the things that impress me about Turkish history is the way Turkey treats its own minorities.”

The operative clause of the resolution simply calls upon Obama “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution.”  Therefore, if Obama really doesn’t want Congress to pass such a resolution, all he needs to do is make an executive order acknowledging the genocide.  Despite whatever excuses one wants to make, failure to do so amounts to genocide denial.

Genocide Denial

Given the indisputable record of the Armenian genocide, many of those who refuse to recognize Turkey’s genocide of Armenians, like those who refuse to recognize Germany’s genocide of European Jews, are motivated by ignorance and bigotry. The Middle East scholar most often cited by members of Congress as influencing their understanding of the region is the notorious genocide-denier Bernard Lewis, a fellow at Washington’s Institute of Turkish Studies.

Not every opponent of the current resolution explicitly denies that there was genocide. Some acknowledge that genocide indeed occurred, but have apparently been convinced that it’s detrimental to U.S. security to state this publicly. This is still inexcusable.  Such moral cowardice is no less reprehensible than refusing to acknowledge the Holocaust if it were believed that doing so might upset the German government, which also hosts critical U.S. bases.

Obama is not the first Democratic president to effectively deny the Armenian genocide. President Bill Clinton successfully persuaded House Speaker Dennis Hastert to suppress a similar bill, after it passed the Republican-led Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 40-7 and was on its way to easy passage before the full House. President Jimmy Carter also suppressed a Senate effort led by Bob Dole, whose miraculous recovery from near-fatal wounds during World War II was overseen by an Armenian-American doctor who had survived the genocide.

Interestingly, neoconservatives – quick to defend crimes against humanity by the Bush administration, the Israeli government, and others – are opportunistically using Obama’s flip-flop on this issue as evidence of the moral laxity of Democrats on human rights. 

Adolf Hitler, responding to concerns about the legacy of his crimes, once asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” Obama is sending a message to future tyrants that they can commit genocide without acknowledgement by the world’s most powerful country.

Indeed, refusing to recognize genocide and those responsible for it in a historical context makes it easier to deny genocide today.  In 1994, the Clinton also refused to use the word “genocide” in the midst of the Rwandan government’s massacres of over half that country’s Tutsi population, a decision that contributed to the delay in deploying international peacekeeping forces until after the slaughter of 800,000 people.   

As a result, the Obama administration’s position on the Armenian genocide isn’t simply about whether to commemorate a tragedy that took place 95 years ago. It’s about where we stand as a nation in facing up to the most horrible of crimes. It’s about whether we are willing to stand up for the truth in the face of lies. It’s about whether we see our nation as appeasing our strategic allies or upholding our longstanding principles.

© 2010 Foreign Policy in Focus

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

Stealth Move in Washington Aims to Get $100 Billion for IMF Without Congressional Debate May 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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“You don’t have to do this.” Those are the near-last words of several victims in the Coen brothers’ classic film No Country for Old Men, as they try to convince the movie’s unrelenting assassin that he should spare them. The assassin, played by Javier Bardem, finds this annoying, because in his mind these murders are pre-determined.

So it is with the IMF’s continuing confrontations with its borrowers, with one government after another pleading: “You don’t have to do this.” Turkey and Latvia were in the news last week, having joined the roster of governments whose IMF disbursements are being withheld because they find it politically impossible to impose the required punishments on their citizens.

The IMF sees these measures as necessary and pre-determined – in most cases by the borrowing countries’ having run-up unsustainable external or budget imbalances. But in fact the IMF has a long track record – dating back decades – of imposing unnecessary and often harmful conditions on borrowing countries.

Latvia missed a 200 million euro disbursement from the IMF in March for not cutting its budget enough. According to press reports, the government wants to run a budget deficit of 7% of GDP for this year, and the IMF wants 5%. Latvia is already cutting its budget by 40%, and is planning to close some public hospitals and schools in order to make the IMF’s targets, prompting street protests. Latvia’s GDP crashed by 18% in the first quarter of this year, after a 10.3% drop in the preceding quarter. These are among the worst declines in the world. This indicates that the IMF’s prescription is serious overkill. The purpose of IMF aid is supposedly to make any necessary adjustment easier, not worse.

In Pakistan, it would be surprising if the US Treasury, which is the principal overseer of the IMF, did not see a need to ease up on the contractionary IMF conditions there. The government of nuclear-armed Pakistan is facing serious political problems right now, having recently launched a major offensive against a growing Taliban insurgency. Slowing Pakistan’s economy at a time when the global economic crisis is already doing that may not be the best policy from the point of view of political stability. The IMF has negotiated an increase in Pakistan’s fiscal deficit from 3.4% to 4.6% of GDP, but is holding the line against lowering interest rates.

In almost all of its standby arrangements negotiated over the last year, the IMF has included conditions that will reduce output and employment in situations where economies are already shrinking.

Yet here in Washington there is a rush to get the IMF more money without any congressional hearings or debate. We are told that poor countries will suffer if the IMF does not get a $108bn appropriation from Congress immediately. But this is nonsense.

If we add up all of the IMF’s commitments under the 16 standby arrangements negotiated since the crisis intensified last year, the total is less than $46bn. The poorest countries will not be allowed to borrow anywhere near that amount.

The IMF already has $215bn on hand, plus more than $100bn in gold reserves. It plans to create another $250bn in SDR’s, ie the IMF’s currency. Even if we include the $67.5bn that Mexico ($47bn) and Poland ($20.5bn) together can tap under the IMF’s flexible credit line, it is clear the IMF is trying to get hundreds of billions of dollars more than it is likely to need. And it has at least ten times the money that the poor countries – whose needs are pocket change compared to IMF resources – will ever be allowed to borrow.

Yet the Obama administration, in a surprise move out of nowhere on Tuesday, decided to try and attach the $108bn for the IMF to another spending bill in order to circumvent the normal legislative process. The reason for this stealth maneuver is that they might run into trouble in the House, where legislators are wary of voting for multi-billion blank cheques after the backlash against the Tarp financial bailout. They will try to convince Congress to approve this money without hearings or debate with the idea that it must be done in order to save poor people in poor countries.

Congress should be met with a chorus of opposition: “You don’t have to do this.”

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Who Believes There Is ‘Progress’ in the Middle East? December 28, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Posted on Dec 28, 2008
Rafah burning
AP photo / Eyad Baba

Smoke rises from a burning building as Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.

If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind’s folly, then the end of 2008 is proving my point.

Let’s kick off with the man who is not going to change the Middle East, Barack Obama, who last week, with infinite predictability, became Time’s “person of the year”. But buried in a long and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: “And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that’s been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.”

What is this man talking about? “Building on progress?” What progress? On the verge of another civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, with Israel’s monstrous wall and its Jewish colonies still taking more Arab land, and Palestinians still firing rockets at Sderot, and Obama thinks there’s “progress” to build on?

I suspect this nonsensical language comes from the mental mists of his future Secretary of State. “At least in conversation” is pure Hillary Clinton – its meaning totally eludes me – and the giveaway phrase about progress being made “around” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even weirder. Of course if Obama had talked about an end to Jewish settlement building on Arab land – the only actual “building” that is going on in the conflict – relations with Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority, justice for both sides in the conflict, along with security for Palestinians as well as Israelis, then he might actually effect a little change.

An interesting test of Obama’s gumption is going to come scarcely three months after his inauguration when he will have a little promise to honour. Yup, it’s that dratted 24 April commemoration of the Armenian genocide when Armenians remember the 1.5 million of their countrymen – citizens of the Ottoman empire slaughtered by the Turks – on the anniversary of the day in 1915 when the first Armenian professors, artists and others were taken off to execution by the Ottoman authorities.

Bill Clinton promised Armenians he’d call it a “genocide” if they helped to elect him to office. George Bush did the same. So did Obama. The first two broke their word and resorted to “tragedy” rather than “genocide” once they’d got the votes, because they were frightened of all those bellowing Turkish generals, not to mention – in Bush’s case – the U.S. military supply routes through Turkey, the “roads and so on” as Robert Gates called them in one of history’s more gripping ironies, these being the same “roads and so on” upon which the Armenians were sent on their death marches in 1915. And Mr Gates will be there to remind Obama of this. So I bet you – I absolutely bet on the family cat – that Obama is going to find that “genocide” is “tragedy” by 24 April.

By chance, I browsed through Turkish Airlines’ in-flight magazine while cruising into Istanbul earlier this month and found an article on the historical Turkish region of Harput. “Asia’s natural garden”, “a popular holiday resort”, the article calls Harput, “where churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary rise next to tombs of the ancestors of Mehmet the Conqueror”.

Odd, all those churches, isn’t it? And you have to shake your head to remember that Harput was the centre of the Christian Armenian genocide, the city from which Leslie Davis, the brave American consul in Harput, sent back his devastating eyewitness dispatches of the thousands of butchered Armenian men and women whose corpses he saw with his own eyes. But I guess that all would spoil the “natural garden” effect. It’s a bit like inviting tourists to the Polish town of Oswiecim – without mentioning that its German name is Auschwitz.

But these days, we can all rewrite history. Take Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s cuddliest ever president, who not only toadies up to Bashar al-Assad of Syria but is now buttering up the sick and awful Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika who’s just been “modifying” the Algerian constitution to give himself a third term in office.

There was no parliamentary debate, just a show of hands – 500 out of 529 – and what was Sarko’s response? “Better Bouteflika than the Taliban!” I always thought the Taliban operated a bit more to the east – in Afghanistan, where Sarko’s lads are busy fighting them – but you never can tell. Not least when exiled former Algerian army officers revealed that undercover soldiers as well as the Algerian Islamists (Sarko’s “Taliban”) were involved in the brutal village massacres of the 1990s.

Talking of “undercover”, I was amazed to learn of the training system adopted by the Met lads who put Jean Charles de Menezes to death on the Tube. According to former police commander Brian Paddick, the Met’s secret rules for “dealing” with suicide bombers were drawn up “with the help of Israeli experts”. What? Who were these so-called “experts” advising British policemen how to shoot civilians on the streets of London? The same men who assassinate wanted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and brazenly kill Palestinian civilians at the same time? The same people who outrageously talk about “targeted killings” when they murder their opponents? Were these the thugs who were advising Lady Cressida Dick and her boys?

Not that our brave peace envoy, Lord Blair, would have much to say about it. He’s the man, remember, whose only proposed trip to Gaza was called off when yet more “Israeli experts” advised him that his life might be in danger. Anyway, he’d still rather be president of Europe, something Sarko wants to award him. That, I suppose, is why Blair wrote such a fawning article in the same issue of Time which made Obama “person” of the year. “There are times when Nicolas Sarkozy resembles a force of nature,” Blair grovels. It’s all first names, of course. “Nicolas has the hallmark of any true leader”; “Nicolas has adopted…”; “Nicolas recognises”; “Nicolas reaching out…”. In all, 15 “Nicolases”. Is that the price of the Euro presidency? Or will Blair now tell us he’s going to be involved in those “conversations” with Obama to “build on some of the progress” in the Middle East?