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The Good, The Bad & The Unknown: Understanding Syria (Part 1)

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Given the alarming escalation of international tensions over the Syrian conflict following the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib and the United States’ subsequent missile strike on Syrian Air Force bases, it is time for a review of the situation that has now been presented to Western populations through mainstream newsmedia once again as grounds for war.

According to the narrative that we are given, it is religion – specifically, the internal divisions of Islam – that drives both pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces in Syria in what seems to be a Sunni vs Shia/Opposition vs Government ‘civil war’, and not a regional battle to get rid of an international coalition of terrorist factions decimating secular societies.

This analysis targets a narrative common to most Western media. Our Australian counterparts are similarly shallow and disaffected, and rarely research their own articles on foreign conflicts, rather importing them, for an even more homogenized mass world coverage. Because the supposed facts being paraded in this – or any – inflamed crisis imported from the Western intelligence organisations and mainstream media outlets are misleading, fallacious or wrong, any reader searching for truth or an honest interpretation based on facts regarding the conflict may find themselves more confused or, worse, completely deceived about its nature.

The leading news corporations of countries like the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia etc are holding to the agenda that supports the “we’re fighting ISIS,” and “Assad must go” group think. It can be outlined as follows:

  • The Syrian uprising was purely civilian, with terrorists groups entering the ongoing conflict later, taking advantage of the situation
  • The regime started the conflict by using violence against peaceful protestors, who then started “arming themselves” to fight back
  • To overthrow Assad The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only
  • With complete disregard for international law and its institutions, the Syrian “criminal regime” must be toppled by an international coalition in its “Responsibility to Protect” civilians

Let’s take a look at these claims to see where they come from and what their intentions in terms of forming public opinion are.

What started as a peaceful civilian uprising against the Syrian president, turned into a bloody, armed civil war

This statement is the most important platform in the Western narrative regarding Syria, setting the stage for endless demonization of al-Assad and the Syrian government. The reality is that an opportunity was sought by the Sunni salafist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow the secular Syrian state, which was an agenda that brought them into aligment with right-wing elements of the states of Israel and Turkey, who sought a territorial foothold in the Golan Heights and Northern Syria. This, in turn, brought the support of the US and its allies to the anti-Assad coalition, and into direct opposition to the Syrian allies of Russia and Iran.

A 2006 diplomatic report by US chargé de affaires William Roebuck shows a clear intention of State Department officials regarding the regime and its ‘vulnerabilities’:

“We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of this vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising”.

As Robert Naiman wrote in the WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, “In public, the US was opposed to Islamist ‘extremists’ everywhere; but in private it saw the “potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists” as an “opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase”. Along with other advice, Roebuck suggests “playing on Sunni fears of Iranian influence… thought often exaggerated”, adding that both the “Egyptian and Saudi missions in Syria are giving increased attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue”. Fanning sectarian tensions is an old ploy, especially within strategies unconcerned by their effects on civilian societies.

Other formerly classified documents also look back into the moments before the 2011 uprising, as this heavily redacted US Defense Intelligence Agency document obtained via federal lawsuit, states: “AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) supported the Syrian opposition since the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to the Assad’s government because it considered it sectarian regime targeting Sunnis”.

Frans Van der Lugt, killed by extremists in 2014 in Homs, suggested , in a series of formerly classified cables that the beginning of the conflict was not as simple as mainstream media states:

“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents.” There were indeed anti-Assad protests, sometimes clashing with pro-Assad protests, but they were in many cases infiltrated or even promoted by elements with very different goals, mainly not Syrian in origin, and used for violence against civilians and peaceful protestors, policemen and soldiers. “Many opposition sympathizers started to arm themselves, first as protection and later to expel government’s forces. (The conflict) soon acquired sectarian features… this dragged into the conflict other regional forces…”

Here the article refers to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, among others. These ‘other regional forces’ became increasingly involved in a more covert fashion as the ‘uprising’ took hold.

The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only

Earlier in the Syrian war, US officials had at least maintained the pretense that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America´s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “…were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis (sic) coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of US-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As an example, the “moderate” rebels from Nour al-Din al-Zenki are one of the groups supported by the CIA, who beheaded a Palestinian boy last July for the cameras and took ‘selfies’ of themselves while doing it. A few months later another incident, this time covered ‘Aleppo Media Center’, showed the world a wounded child by the name of Omran (Aylan in other reports), who then became the poster boy for the Syrian conflict by means of media exposition. The connection between this two apparently dissociated incidents goes by the name of Mahmoud Raslan, one of Omran’s rescuers and photographer, seen in the video footage of the rescue outside the ambulance holding a camera with members of the White Helmets (civilian rescuers). This individual is also in pictures with the ‘moderate’ beheaders of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki mentioned above, posing like friends on a weekend trip, blurring the already thin line between moderates, extremists and even the so-called non-partisan civilian rescuers (USAID-funded) White Helmets.

The US-led coalition in Syria claims divisions between the Sunni majority and the Alawite Shia have provoked both sides to commit atrocities that have caused not only an enormous loss in lives but the destruction of communities, strengthen positions and reduce hope on a political solution. However, the majority of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is Sunni, and has included in the past a few Christian generals. As Kamal Alam writes for The National Interest:

The fact remains: The moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies. It has little military backing on the ground. If you want to ask why Assad is still the president of Syria, the answer is not simply Russia or Iran, but the fact that his army remains resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top.
Deir-Ezzor, an entirely Sunni city which has held out against ISIS encirclement for two years—and is commanded by the Druze General Issam Zahreddine, was attacked by the US Army, who targeted an SAA base killing 62 soldiers and wounding several more, in the first direct attack from the Pentagon on a Syrian Government facility or its forces. This incident happened on September 17th and ended the ceasefire, and not the alleged Russian attack on a UN aid convoy that allegedly took place two days later.

Taking in consideration the secular character of the Syrian society and its government, all bets on sectarian originated violence should be on the rebel side, also known for establishing Sharia law courts in controlled territories.

The Syrian ‘authoritarian regime’ must be toppled by an international coalition in its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians

The often-quoted Syrian Observatory of Human Rights indicates that up to September 2016, the number of deaths is 301,000. These estimates put the numbers between 250,000 and almost 500,000 victims and several millions displaced and surviving as refugees mainly in neighbor countries and Europe.

However, the sources of this information are not without an allegiance either. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one man operation located in Coventry, England. It is run by Rami Abdulrahman, a declared member of the opposition: “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” he told Reuters in 2012. It was also revealed by the New York Times that the SOHR is funded by subsidies from the European Union and a certain European country he won’t disclose.

As geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci notes: “…it is beyond doubt that it is the United Kingdom itself – as Abdul Rahman has direct access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The NYT in fact reveals that it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.”

John Kerry and Samantha Power reduced themselves to advocates for terrorism by campaigning against Syria and Russia in their efforts to regain Eastern Aleppo from forces made up of 50% al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Who are also said to dominate any other faction fighting on that side. The phrase “rebel-held Aleppo” is a mainstream media fiction fostering support for terrorism among world public opinion.

Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

While honest, ethical news outlets would denounce the audacity of a government whose officials advocate for human rights and point fingers at Russia for alleged war crimes while at the same time supporting terrorism as a manner of proxy army against Syria, Western mainstream media instead acts as a sort of PR asset for power. It’s not surprising to find recent cases when high ranking diplomats and politicians are caught lying to the public, even about supposed war crimes, to be then whitewashed by media giants as the New York Times or the BBC, like the fallacy of going to war with Iraq over it’s weapons of mass destruction – a term resurrected in demonizing Syria. Sadly, this is the kind of news available to most people in the world. It is in the interests of all peaceful and reasonable people worldwide to seek a deeper understanding of the truth, when so much is at stake.

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Dancing With The Devil: Australian Uranium in Ukraine

Filed in: Geopolitics Author: Brendan R Hay

In November 2016, a group of Australian federal politicians gathered quietly to take a very quick look at an issue with very long consequences. The outcome was an agreement that has now seen Australia sign a deal to sell uranium to a nation at war with Russia.

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

There has been a lack of detailed information to support the safety and safeguards assumptions underpinning the proposed treaty action, and according to some sources the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) National Interest Analysis of the plan is deeply deficient, especially in relation to key safeguards and security concerns and the implications of the Russian conflict. The NIA’s under-stated noting that ‘political tensions currently exist between Ukraine and Russia‘ completely fails to recognise or reflect the gravity of the situation.

Any plan to supply Australian uranium to such a fraught region deserves the highest level of scrutiny.
Instead, we have tick-a-box paperwork and cut-and-paste assurances.

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster spread fallout over vast areas of eastern and western Europe and five million people still live in contaminated areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Serious containment and waste management issues remain at Chernobyl with a massive concrete shield now under construction in an attempt to enclose the stricken reactor complex and reduce the chances of further radioactive releases.

Against this ominous backdrop there are deep concerns over those parts of the Ukrainian nuclear sector that are not yet infamous names, including very real security concerns about nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

The Zaporizhia nuclear facility is Europe’s largest and is only 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Some commentators have described the nuclear plants in the region as pre-deployed nuclear weapons, and there have already been armed incursions during the recent conflict period. Acts of apparent sabotage have already seen the dangerous practise of emergency power unloading at nuclear power plants in Ukraine– including the Zaporozhskaya and South Ukrainian reactors.

Australia has already suspended uranium sales to Russia and it makes an interesting political point to start selling uranium to the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine now. Along with security concerns there are serious and unresolved safety and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. President Petro Poroshenko still refuses to combat the endemic corruption that infuriates Ukrainians and strangles their economy.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four of which are currently running beyond their design lifetime while a further six will reach this state by 2020.  That means two thirds of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors will be past their use-by date within five years. The currently contested series of license renewals and the related European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing of a program to upgrade safety features at Ukrainian nuclear facilities has highlighted serious deficiencies in governance, operations and compliance with contemporary international standards.

On top of that, there is growing regional concern over the risks associated with the Poroshenko administration focus on keeping the reactors running. In rushing to extend operating licences Ukraine is cutting process and safety corners and not complying with its obligations under the Espoo Convention – an international framework agreement around transboundary environmental impact assessment. In April 2013 the UN Espoo monitoring group found that license renewals at the Rivne nuclear facility were not compliant with Espoo procedures.

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

In 2013 the Eastern Partnership, a leading East European civil society forum, declared that the absence of environmental impact assessment for nuclear projects posed ‘a severe threat to people both in Ukraine and in neighbouring states, including EU member states’. Nearby nations including the governments or Slovakia, Romania and Hungary have formally and unsuccessfully called for Ukraine to provide further detail on its nuclear projects and to facilitate increased regional dialogue on this unresolved issue of concern.

The Ukrainian government’s response to continuing domestic and international disquiet over the operations of its nuclear sector was a 2015 government decree preventing the national nuclear energy regulator from carrying out facility inspections on its own initiative. This coupled with increased pressure on industry whistle-blowers and critics has done nothing to address the real risks facing the nations aging nuclear fleet.

Apart from any other reason, the Ukraine sales deal should not be advanced in the continued absence of any meaningful Australian government, agency and uranium company response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which was directly fueled by Australian uranium.

None of these issues have been meaningfully identified, let alone addressed, in Australian treaty action or analysis to date. The Australian government and the rest of the West must recognize this danger, drop its charade of portraying Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a paladin of democracy, and start forcing him to enact visible, tangible reforms. Anemic recommendations, such as the  US State Department’s vague wish for ‘a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms,’ aren’t going to cut it. The overturned states of Syria and Libya are straining Europe to the breaking point – consider what a failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Central Europe could do.

Stones From the Glasshouse: The West and the Syrian War

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

The West is suffering a crisis of credibility over the Syrian War.

While the governments of the Coalition of the Willing – now invested in the latest Middle Eastern crusade nobly called Operation Inherent Resolve – conduct a behind-the-lines media war on Moscow, the Russian military continues the only real war against terror in Syria in partnership with the Syrian Government, as ironic as history would have it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [Reuters]

Our claims to the lofty notions of a free mainstream press have now become a hollow fraud, thanks largely in part to conflicts of corporate and political interests. It seems that Putin and Lavrov’s tactic of letting the West and its media bash away at Russia endlessly seems to have worked, because the West is losing the credibility war.

This is no more obvious than the reporting of the direct bombing of Syrian soldiers at Door Ez Zair, by US and Australian air strike elements that was portrayed as “mistaken.”

That the bombing was not a mistake but rather, as several commentators have pointed out (although never in the Australian media), was much more likely to have been a deliberate sabotaging by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s Pentagon element of the American war machine of the Kerry-Lavrov negotiated partial ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.

Secretary Kerry’s conscience apparently went untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month.

 The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. Najim Rahim/AP

The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. [Najim Rahim/AP]

Coverage on the Aleppo battle, especially in Australia and the US, can only be called hysterical. To sample across the mainstream, one would think that East Aleppo is the only part of the city being attacked, despite the city now having been a battleground for several years due to the ISIS/ISIL and non-ISIS jihadis, who have even mined the escape corridors the Syrian army set up for civilians to get out. These jihadis are forcibly using the local population as human shields now, with not a word of this in the Western press who falls prey to the psy-ops used by both sides in Syria.

The New York Times routinely portrays the battle for East Aleppo as simply a case of barbaric Russian and Syrian leaders bombing innocent neighborhoods with no regard for the human cost, operating out of an apparent lust to kill children.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo. [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

Going along with Al Qaeda’s propaganda strategy, the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have kept the focus on the children. A Times dispatch on Sept. 27 begins: “They cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters — which offer no protection from the powerful bombs that have turned east Aleppo into a kill zone…”

The reality is that US-led coalition Islamists of Al Qaeda/Al Nusra fire mortar shells into the government-held part of Aleppo every day, mutilating Syrian children as young as six, while doctors lack the medicine to relieve their pain. “What concerns us is that all parties to the conflict are committing violations against children,” UNICEF spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa Juliette Touma told RT the previous week. “Violations against children in Syria should come to an end.”

And yet, the violence continues, despite the best efforts of those who consider it their “Right To Protect”:

  • Two children were killed and 5 others were injured as the terrorist organizations fired a rocket shell on al-Sulaimaniyeh area in Aleppo city.
  • Several children dead in Aleppo bus station shelling by rebels. A mortar shell landed right next to a bus station in the government-controlled al-Hamadaneyah neighborhood of Aleppo.
  • Terrorists of “Jaish al-Islam” and “Al-Rahman Legion” targeted on Wednesday Damascus city with mortars, injuring a child and causing material damage in the areas where the shells hit.
  • Five killed, 13 others were injured due to terrorist attacks with shells on the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo city.

In the meantime, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced a 48-hour ceasefire in the embattled city starting on Thursday to allow civilians to leave Aleppo and pave the way for aid deliveries. “The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of Eastern Aleppo,” the minister said.

Aside from using the humanity as more pretense, another ceasefire will mean nothing to the West. The US ended all pretense of seeking a Syrian war resolution by announcing it would discontinue joint efforts with Russia in Geneva. To embarrass the country even more, US officials once again attempted to blame the failure on Russia by claiming it was violating the ceasefire with its bombing missions to support ending the terror siege in East Aleppo.

This determined demonizing of the Syrian coalition campaign to free Aleppo has been spun as a campaign to kill the civilians when they are no threat because they are unarmed. The Russians are cast as the aggressors from the East, despite Moscow being the only nation legally operating inside Syria under international law, while the Syrian Army is portrayed as the hired goons of Assad. Left out of all those reports is any mention of the East Aleppo civilians being used as human shields, or of their corpses being used as anti-Assad propaganda. And never a word is mention that mercenaries from over sixty countries have fighters in Syria.

Blurred lines: members of Free Syrian Army or ISIS?

Blurred lines: “moderate rebels” or ISIS/ISIL? [syrianfreepress.wordpress.com]

These “rebels” are portrayed as local heroes, rather than the collection of jihadists from both inside and outside Syria fighting under the operational command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which recently underwent a name change to the Syria Conquest Front. The name change and the pretense about anyone being “moderate” rebels are just more deceptions in the fog of war. The spectrum of opposition groups ranges from “moderate” brigades, backed by the US, to an alliance called Jaish al-Fatah – Army of Conquest – made up of hardline groups.

The Jaish al-Fatah group includes Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda, so they are formally designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

As journalist/historian Gareth Porter has written: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces (of Idlib and Aleppo) is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” This reality – the fact that the US government and its allies are indirectly supplying sophisticated weaponry to Al Qaeda – is rarely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. news media, though one might think it would make for a newsworthy story. But it would undercut the desired propaganda narrative of “good guy” rebels fighting “bad guy” government backed by the “ultra-bad guy” Russians.

The War on Terror has become a War of Terror being waged in Syria where the Western media has crossed over the line into aiding and abetting that effort, with the respective governments leading the way as flag bearers of regime change by any and all means necessary.

 

Red lines and dollar signs: the business of the Syrian War

A damning report on the conflict of interests in the Syrian Crisis debate identified numerous corporate and defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on potential military intervention. Much of the debate over Syria got underway in 2013, when not only were the conflicts-of-interest and military-industrial complex ties of these “consultants” and “experts” rarely disclosed, but the ideas they expressed were mere permutations of an ideologically narrow spectrum of U.S. and Western neo-conservative interventionism.

REPORT: Conflicts of interest in the Syria debate (An analysis of the defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on military intervention)

REPORT: Conflicts of interest in the Syria debate (An analysis of the defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on military intervention)

As US official sources are now claiming that ISIS is developing chemical weapons, and those same experts and think tanks are back with a vengeance.

The conflict-of-interest report by the Public Accountability Initiative (http://public-accountability.org) offers a new look at an issue raised by David Barstow’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series on the role military analysts played in promoting the Bush Administration’s narrative on Iraq. In addition to exposing coordination with the Pentagon, Barstow found that many cable news analysts had industry ties that were not disclosed on air.

During the public debate around the question of whether to attack Syria, Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush, made a series of high-profile media appearances. Hadley argued strenuously for military intervention in appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV, and authored a Washington Post op-ed headlined “To stop Iran, Obama must enforce red lines with Assad.” The phrase “red line” has been used numerous times in reference to Syria and its President Bashar al-Assad, particularly in attempt to establish the legal intervention of Russian forces in Syria as a crossing of those lines. It was also used in 2014 by those in favor of forcible ‘regime change’ in Syria when rockets with sarin filled warheads landed in rebel-held residential areas in Ghouta, Syria, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.  Each side naturally blamed the other, with western intelligence agencies providing evidence supporting the opposition, and Russian intelligence supporting the regime. Both sides issued biased reports with cherry-picked evidence, only adding to the confusion.  An analysis of all evidence relating to the August 21st chemical attack indicate it was carried out by opposition forces. According to the most likely scenario, they used looted incendiary rockets, refilled them with sarin they manufactured themselves, and launched them from a rebel-held territory 2 km north of Zamalka.1

Stephen Hadley’s television audiences was never informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this critically important financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.

Though Hadley’s undisclosed conflict is particularly egregious, it is not unique. The following report documents the industry ties of Hadley, 21 other media commentators, and seven think tanks that participated in the media debate around Syria. Like Hadley, these individuals and organizations have strong ties to defense contractors and other defense- and foreign policy-focused firms with a vested interest in the Syria debate, but they were presented to their audiences with a veneer of expertise and independence, as former military officials, retired diplomats, and independent think tanks.

A pentagonal network: think tank-defense industry ties [image via public-accountability.org]

A pentagonal network: think tank-defense industry ties [image via public-accountability.org]

If the recent debate around Syria is any guide, media outlets have done very little to address the gaps in disclosure and abuses of the public trust that Barstow exposed. Some analysts have stayed the same, others are new, and the issues and range of opinion are different. But the media continues to present former military and government officials as venerated experts without informing the public of their industry ties – the personal financial interests that may be shaping their opinions of what is in the national interest.This report details these ties, in addition to documenting the industry backing of think tanks that played a prominent role in the Syria debate. It reveals the extent to which the public discourse around Syria was corrupted by the pervasive influence of the defense industry, to the point where many of the so-called experts appearing on American television screens were actually representatives of companies that profit from heightened US military activity abroad. The threat of war with Syria may or may not have passed, but the threat that these conflicts of interest pose to public discourse – and democracy – is still very real.The Syrian crisis has indeed become a quagmire, with possible consequences far more dangerous than the European refugee crisis and the US anti-Muslim hysteria. As we have seen seen, the situation has led to increased Islamic extremist attacks in Europe, US and Asia and seen the the worsening of many international relations such as Turkey and Russia. British, German, French, US fighter jets and troops are gathered at Incirlik and Diyarbakir base. Spain has Patriot missiles in Turkey, Denmark and Germany are sending war ships to the Mediterranean Sea. These strategic deployments by NATO members are as much about protecting Turkey from Russia as they are about containing ISIS.The USA and Russia are both modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Some 200 nuclear warheads are stationed in the NATO members Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey. 20 new B61-12 nuclear bombs were brought to the Luftwaffe’s Buchel Air Base. Th B61-12 is a dial-a-yield bomb from 0.3 to 50 kilotons with GPS aided tail kit, which can be used as a tactical nuclear weapon. In a statement that hints not only of an agenda of conflict but also of chauvinism and orientalism, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (R) hints at the use of tactical nuclear bombs, saying: “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” This, however, is nothing new as Dick Cheney in 1991 was considering the use of tactical nukes against Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. Russian President Putin reminds the West, that Russia is also a nuclear power: “We know that high-precision weapons can be equipped with both conventional warheads and with special warheads, that is, with nuclear warheads. Naturally, in the fight against the terrorists, we hope that is something that will never be needed.”

The US military-industrial milieu that has surrounded the debate over the Syrian conflict has increased its propagandist stranglehold of the discussion in the US media and thereby providing a similar lens through which other Western nations and their conservative media and military institutions frame the issue and inform policy making decisions. We may yet, unfortunately, see weapons of mass destruction visited upon more civilian populations in the Middle East not at the hands of secular ‘dictators’ but from the so-called democratic nations of the West themselves.

Litvinenko inquiry: UK investigation fires political broadside at Moscow

A UK inquiry has concluded that the murder of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was “probably” approved by President Vladimir Putin. Retired High Court Judge Sir Robert Owen wrote that he was “sure” that two former Russian officials poisoned the 44-year-old at a London hotel with highly radioactive polonium-210. “The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin,” Sir Robert Owen wrote (emphasis added). Nikolai Patrushev was head of the FSB in 2006.

Anatoly Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, and Ben Emmerson QC [image via thestar.com]

Anatoly Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, and Ben Emmerson QC [image via thestar.com]

According to the report, Mr Litvinenko was poisoned with tea in 2006, and the detailed public inquiry has found that Mr Putin is likely to have signed off on the poisoning of the former KGB agent, in part due to personal ‘antagonism’ between the pair, it said. Litvinenko had been drinking tea at the Millennium hotel with former Kremlin bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi on the day he was poisoned, but Russia refused demands by British prosecutors in 2006 to extradite him. Lugovoi is now a member of the Russian parliament, in the far-right nationalist LDPR party. Responding to the report, Lugovoi, said the accusations against him were “absurd”, the Russian news agency Interfax was quoted as saying. “As we expected, there were no surprises,” he said. “The results of the investigation made public today yet again confirm London’s anti-Russian position, its blinkeredness and the unwillingness of the English to establish the true reason of Litvinenko’s death.” Kovtun, now a businessman in Russia, said he would not comment on the report until he got more information about its contents, Interfax reported.

Open hearings for the Litvinenko Inquiry started at the end of January, investigating his mysterious polonium-210 poisoning nearly a decade ago and were scheduled to last for about 10 weeks. The major focus of the inquiry has been the incrimination of Viktor Ivanov, the Director of The Federal Narcotics Service of Russia. As the inquiry heard closing arguments, the prosecution alleged that a report provided by Litvinenko to a security firm in 2006 before his murder made serious allegations against Ivanov, which could have served as a motive for the Kremlin to murder the former KGB officer by using a rare radioactive isotope. In response to the allegations, Ivanov told RT News, “It is clear that I cannot be the main target of this attack. These stones were thrown at the president of the Russian Federation, and this points us towards those who pulled the strings, certain Western political elites and their intelligence services. This is the level where there is no room for playing by the rules or delivering justice.”

Interestingly, the major international media services generally carry the story of the release of the public inquiry’s report as “Marina Litvinenko calls for sanctions against Russia,” and “Putin ‘probably’ ordered Litvinenko murder”. Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s World at One program Marina Litvinenko welcomed the imposition of asset freezes on Lugovoi and Kovtum. Asked if Britain’s response was adequate she said: “Yes I believe so.” However, interjecting at the January 21 press conference in London to clarify ‘technical details’ of the case, British QC Ben Emmerson delivered a politically-charged monologue taking special care to clarify that this was a Russian state-sponsored attack “on the streets of London” and called it “a mini act of nuclear terrorism.” The UK Scottish National Party’s Peter Grant went much further with the anti-Russian rhetoric. “The report I think leads to only one possible conclusion – we now have to regard the Russian government, the Russian state as an organisation actively involved in the commission, funding, supporting and directing acts of terrorism against UK citizens within the United Kingdom,” he said.

The anti-Russian rhetoric we are seeing across the UK conservative press and political parties in the wake of the release of the report disturbingly pushes the issue far further to the right of the political spectrum and tears a massive hole in Anglo-Russian relations. The Guardian has gone as far as publishing text from a part of the report carrying an unverified account from a witness claiming Putin was a pedophile. In drawing an incredibly long bow, David Davis, who was shadow home secretary at the time of the murder, said the report meant that in a civil UK court Putin would be found guilty of complicity in murder. He said: “We need to go after the financial assets of Putin in the Bahamas and in Cyprus. Eventually you get to a point when with a dictator you have to draw a line as we did in the 30s.”

The public inquiry has drawn criticism from independent and research journalists and political commentators. ‘This man was killed, was murdered in London almost 10 years ago. This latest report was set up in July 2014 – interestingly, just a couple of weeks after the MH17 disaster. So it was set up in this particular climate, this anti-Russia climate, and it has gone on now for 18 months. And what have they come up with – they’ve come up with a verdict that ‘probably’ this was the work of the Kremlin. ‘Probably’ – is not evidence,” Journalist and broadcaster Neil Clark told RT. “What is lacking – is any hard evidence, this is just conjecture; this is just a theory put forward; one of the theories is that the Kremlin was behind this. But there are other theories too to explain why this man may have been murdered,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the context of this. The fact was this man died in 2006, and we’ve got an inquiry set up in 2014 in the very month when the West was taking very anti-Russian line.”

As the official coroner’s inquest into Litvinenko’s death was suspended in July 2014 to start a public inquiry shortly thereafter, the timing is interesting. The coroner’s inquest came to an end when the Home Secretary asked the coroner to stop conducting the inquest as a criminal investigation, clearly something outside the jurisdiction of the coroner. This changed again, however, when Prime Minister David Cameron turned Owen loose on a search for Russian state culpability by appointing him as chairman of the public inquiry. This pre-determined position was obvious from Emmerson’s repeated insistence during Marina Litvinenko’s press conference that the inquiry’s conclusions were primarily about linking the murder to the Russian government in what he was calling “acts of nuclear terrorism,” during a politically charged diatribe at the January 21 conference. Emmerson also attempted to frame the alleged assassination as a large-scale state sponsored operation, affecting hundreds of UK citizens in the immediate vicinity of the radioactive contaminants. He stopped short of calling it an act of war by Russia on Britain, but that implication was most definitely the elephant in the room.

It is interesting to note that the inquiry is in no way a trial or judicial procedure, but simply a public inquiry. The term ‘public inquiry’ is actually a misnomer, because the rules in the UK allow a public inquiry to be conducted behind closed doors. Martin McCauley, former senior lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London said, “All they can do, as they said, ‘we have a prima facie case which proves that Lugovoy and Kovtun were acting as part of the FSB,’ which goes right up to Nikolai Patrushev. But prima facie only means on the face of it. Therefore, the case is not proven. In other words it is a probability, and in an English court it wouldn’t stand up, because you couldn’t convict Lugovoy and Kovtun on the evidence, which has been presented in the report… They didn’t cross-examine or interview Lugovoy or Kovtun…”

Cameron’s UK Conservative party has shown its anti-Russian stance as it shifted the coronial inquest to a public inquiry in order to allow a greater media exposure to what were clearly pre-determined findings of Russian state culpability. The call for further political action through sanctions belies the motivation for setting up such an enquiry, with the Litvinenko case a prime candidate for the task. Since 2008 Cameron has adopted a more robust, anti-Russian stance than the rest of the UK government has. He called for Russia to be suspended from membership of the G8 group of industrialised nations and for Georgia’s entry into NATO to be brought forward. Cameron’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin was initially cordial but soured over the annexation of Crimea by Russian-backed forces in early 2014. During the initial stages of the crisis, Cameron telephoned Putin to inform him that “Your relationship with us will face increasing difficulties unless you stop the aggression.” Shortly before the 2015 UK elections, even Labour candidate Ed Miliband called for tougher anti-Russian sanctions, if Russia, in his opinion, would continue its actions in aggravating the situation in eastern Ukraine. However, it is obvious that the Conservatives are toughest when it comes to evaluation of the Kremlin’s “Ukrainian policy.” In this case, these are exclusively geopolitical motives. The Russian senator noted that unlike other major European Union states, such as Germany and France, the United Kingdom has always taken a harsh approach to Russia. “In the British approach [toward Russia] there is no evidence of any further analysis, no rethink of what is happening in Europe on the whole, or with Ukraine, or the Russian Federation. The British approaches are extremely conservative and that is why I don’t expect any changes for the better from the point of view of Russian interests here,” Kosachev told RIA Novosti.

With the Conservative Party securing a majority of 330 seats in the parliament, the current harsh stance adopted by the United Kingdom toward Russia is highly likely to remain unchanged.

State-sponsored terror: what is ISIS in Paris?

 French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

It isn’t unusual to observe a progression from grief, to outrage, to retaliation after events like those that took place in Paris on November 13th, but it has been interesting to see how quick the escalation from those attacks to increasing the volatile stakes in Syria with air strikes on Islamic militants has taken place. It can safely be assumed that what we have come to know as ISIS now has ‘sleeper cells’ – if indeed the term is still relevant in the new paradigm – that can be found in all major European countries, along with the US, Canada and even Australia – yet this particular attack was carried out in France, further adding to its very recent list of vicious militant atrocities against its civilians.

In a country where national security and intelligence agencies are generally known for their competence, usually working in close cooperation with their NATO allies, it is a staggering prospect to conclude that the French security forces could have missed the preparations for such a carefully planned and well organised attack coordinated across no less than six targets simultaneously, especially given the recent increase in surveillance and powers of detention given to their police and intelligence establishments. However, now that the understandable yet often misguided rage provoked in the populations of France and other Western nations by the terrorist attacks in Paris has begun to simmer down, different analysts and intelligence agencies are now starting to try and establish why that city in particular was selected as the target for these attacks.

This attack was also carried out differently from previous terrorist attacks by ISIS, moving from cars packed with explosives and suicide bombers to intimidate its rivals in the Levant to Paris where we witnessed hostage-taking and raging urban gun battles – more like the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January – a very different modus operandi for the Middle Eastern group. Its organisers also may have been familiar with the details of the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in 2002. Someone seems to have invested a lot of resources into these terrorists, perhaps in militant training camps in Turkey, Jordan, Syria or even still in Iraq.

 Shi'ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. Credit: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuter

Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. © Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

A common response from commentators and analysts after events such as the Paris attacks is to pose the question of cui bono. Yet to find an answer it is not enough to simply calculate who benefits from the attack, it is also critical to establish which elements of a foreign nature had a conflict of interests with Paris. It is ultimately irrelevant which terrorist group was tasked with the mission of terrorising the French Republic – be it ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or some other form of Salafist radical movement. Often the case when those who carry out terrorist attacks remain ignorant of the fact of who was planning and sponsoring them. Moreover, what was witnessed in Paris on Friday was not a regular attack, but a carefully prepared operation where terrorists were acting simultaneously across different targets, far different from ‘lone wolf’ acts seen in other Western nations. The perception of a ‘new phase’ or increase in the capability of groups like ISIS claiming responsibility is more important and carries more weight than the unlikely reality of such a surge from a single terror group.

The assessment is that a similar attack in Germany would not be possible, where the security system is much tougher and more effective, whereas if terror groups targeted for example Spain or Italy the attack would not have the same impact, since those nations are not permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The legally dubious and militarily indecisive ‘retaliation’ strikes the French Air Force carried out against ISIS positions, striking a total of 20 targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa, testify to the fact that France has so far only assumed who actually organised the Paris massacre, not to mention the dangerously reactionary nature of such strikes and the effect on the already tense situation in the air above Syria. Nowhere near enough time has elapsed to perform a full investigation to uncover exactly the foreign source of the attacks to justify the French Air Force dropping more ordnance in Syria where Russia along with Assad’s forces actually have ISIS on the back foot.

© AP Photo/ French Army

© AP Photo/ French Army

Under the pretext of fighting against terrorism, the United States and its allies militarily intervened into the sovereignty of Syria without the approval from the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad and without receiving an appropriate UN mandate. It should be noted that out of all the US-led coalition forces operating in Syria, France has previously been leading in the bombing of oil infrastructure facilities occupied by ISIS in Syrian territories as part of the Western coalition flying air strikes over Syrian airspace, a fact openly admitted by the French government. These important facilities have been the most critical assets of ISIS forces, providing the group with virtually unlimited funding, while those Middle-Eastern states or state-supported elements that have been buying oil from terrorists continue receiving huge savings from the black market trade. The Islamic State has been selling crude oil at a price at least half that which can be found at international markets, creating a huge network of smugglers operating in neighbouring countries interested in the preservation of their activities, a multi-billion dollar illicit Mid-East oil industry. According to some analysts, stolen oil has provided ISIS with up to 2 billion dollars a year in profits so far, with cross-border smuggling operations receiving just as much. It has also – not surprisingly – been reported that some smugglers are even selling cheap oil to the Syrian army and Iranian troops deployed in Syria, who are in turn fighting ISIS on a daily basis.

It should also be taken into consideration that this attack took place in the very heart of Paris, full of secret service agents in civilian clothes and police officers that are tasked with ensuring the safety of tourists. France relies heavily on its tourism industry, which accounts four up to 7% of GDP.  It is also a nation with large Arab and African Islamic communities cannot be carried out without the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies. Any terrorist group that would try to infiltrate France under the guise of Syrian refugees to prepare such an attack on its own would surely be uncovered in short matter of time, given the wide communication and coordination required for this incident. The same thing could be said about the terrorist attack on the Russian Airbus over the Sinai.

For France, the foreign state with the keenest interest in preserving the status quo is Turkey, due to the fact that it allows the majority of the stolen oil to be transported across its territory, while Jordan also enjoys a considerably smaller share of the profits from this business. Media sources have indicated that smugglers are connected with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a cartel of Turkish businesses. These activities are somewhat common for Ankara, since it used to smuggle Iraqi oil when Saddam Hussein’s regime faced UN sanctions. Turks and Kurds alike – especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party – were already profiting from transporting Iraqi oil from Dohuk across Turkish territory, bringing a flood of heavy-duty trucks with hidden tanks filled with diesel fuel from refineries in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji. This resulted in signs for ‘diesel fuel from Iraq’ appearing along most Turkish highways, where residents could buy fuel at half-price. Smuggling was carried out by merchant tanker owners as well – transporting oil and fuels from illegal refineries in Shatt al-Arab, across the Persian Gulf to the United Arab Emirates.

This raises the possibility that some elements of foreign state apparatus have decided to target France over its policies. Turkey is one suspect, however unlikely as it would present a high political risk for Erdogan, and Ankara’s secret services are not nearly as competent as other possible states. Another possible player – Qatar, an incredibly rich gulf state with efficient enough security forces trained by American, British and French experts and is still closely associated with the most effective intelligence service in the Middle East – the British MI6. Qatar has also been providing extensive amounts of financial support to ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Doha has been frustrated with the indecisiveness of the French government in the fight against the Syrian regime, despite formerly taking a leading role in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. After being struck by the terrorist attack in Algeria in 2013 and the need to carry out a military operation in Mali against the local branch of al-Qaeda, Paris officially declared that its main priority in the efforts to combat international terrorism would lie in the region of the Maghreb and the Sahara Sahel – in other words, in the areas where it used to maintain colonies. Roughly 95% of the immigrants in France originate from these regions, primarily from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Representatives of those states are numerous amongst ISIS ranks, with many holding French passports.

French relations with Qatar were also strained by Paris’ reluctance to apply pressure on Lebanon and lack of opposition to a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

There are certain factors that inevitably bring agencies like the British MI6 into consideration. A historical mistrust exists between England and France, British jealousy of to the strong Franco-German axis within the EU, and a growing desire within the UK government to withdraw from the EU, due to its financial and immigration problems. Border policies are seen by Whitehall as too liberal in the EU, which leads to flows of refugees from the Middle East reaching Britain through France. Should Britain leave the EU it will be able to dramatically tighten border controls, while weakening the united Europe as a whole. In addition, MI6 involvement in such attack would correspond well with the aspirations of the UK’s primary strategic partner – the United States, which perceives a strong united Europe as a growing rival. The leaders of the EU – namely France and Germany – have also started drifting towards Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, which challenges Washington’s position in that conflict.

While it may be improbable that state actors in the UK would be directly organising such attacks, it does not in theory prevent British security services from assisting a friendly state, such as Qatar, to facilitate terrorist operations that would progress shared goals in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is unlikely that any investigation into the terrorist attacks in Paris will provide answers as to which entities facilitated the alleged terror cell to establish, organise, coordinate and operate so effectively. However, what is important is that they have gone some way already to achieving the goals of terrorism – Europe is further alarmed and weakened, and there is an acceleration of the gradual disintegration of the Union. European dependence on the United States has also sharply increased in the aftermath of the attack – therefore one cannot expect the leading EU countries including France and Germany, to change their positions over Russia and the Middle East in the foreseeable future.

The Irony of the West vs Russia: geopolitical hypocrisy

Photo: US officials say Russia has deployed battle tanks and artillery in Syria. (Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Photo: US officials say Russia has deployed battle tanks and artillery in Syria. (Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

A recent CNN article entitled ‘Putin’s playbook in Syria draws on Ukraine and loathing for revolution’ has its readership continuing to ponder the ‘what is Putin REALLY up to’ group think led by the neo-conservative liberal interventionists in Washington and followed unquestioningly in allied Western governments such as those of Australia and the UK.

There is a stark irony in that those elements of right-wing conservative Western governments and think tanks criticize what they see as an unknown Russian ‘playbook’ while fostering their own march to endless confrontation.

It also belies the expectation in Washington, London and Canberra that there is always an endgame planned for any military or political intervention, something that has become the rule for regime change policies backed by those same governments.

The United States’ neoconservative foreign policy and similarly aligned policy principles of its Middle East coalition partners often draw heavily from ideals laid down in think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the infamous Project for New American Century (dissolved in 2006 and re-formed as the Foreign Policy Initiative) which clearly lay out conservative goals and an endgame for US foreign policy; ie using the ideals of national interests/national security as a foundation for swaying public and therefore political opinion in favor any foreign interference it sees as necessary to maintaining the US as the world’s leading superpower.

In an interview with Foreign Policy In Focus, Robert Kagan – co-founder of both the PNAC and FPI – iterated the institute’s position toward Iran, saying, “It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.”1

Russian T-90 tank (image via defencetalk.com)

Russian T-90 tank (image via defencetalk.com)

Another ‘what are they up to’ article appearing in the Australian Murdoch press now has Russia ‘striking fear intothe heart of the West’ with new military technologies. The hypocrisy of this alarmist hype is stark when one considers the billions of dollars spent by the US alone ($620 billion in 2014)2 in developing new weapons for use in current and future conflicts. The very concept of soft power as employed by the West necessitates the use of fear of dominant military power to leverage geopolitical goals.

In their alarmist, McCarthyist clamor, the mainstream press chooses to focus on the increasing presence of Russian armed forces in the Middle East and elsewhere and conveniently ignore the facts of endless Western military imperialism. For example, while Russia has 14 military bases in foreign territories, the main sources of information on American military installations (NATO Watch Committee, the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases) reveal that the US operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases Worldwide.3

If any military operations truly ‘strike fear’ into any populace, one would have to look no further than the information on US Predator covert drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia during Barack Obama’s presidency now stands at 491.

In a special edition of the BBC’s Newshour Extra, recorded at the annual conference of the governing UK Conservative Party, a panel discusses appropriate responses to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. The question posed was whether EU and US sanctions, imposed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, be re-assessed or perhaps used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over joint military action in Syria.

FILE In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin. Russia defied international efforts to end a crackdown on civilians by Assad regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions and providing it with weapons. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, file)

FILE In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow’s Kremlin. Russia defied international efforts to end a crackdown on civilians by Assad regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions and providing it with weapons. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, file)

British Defence Minister Liam Fox summed up the prevailing Western group think on Syria in claiming that Putin’s move to support Assad in Syria is a deliberate distraction from the Ukraine issue while strangely offering that this was why the Ukraine issue has “disappeared from our media”.4

Fox continued to also claim that Russian politicians openly admitted to recognizing that they face the same international pressures as the West but hold on to power by making NATO the existential threat to the Russian people.

Summing up Fox’s statements in the program highlights some key ideological points held by neo-conservatives in the West and aligns perfectly with the propaganda we see in the conservative mainstream press:

• Assad and Putin are the ‘bad guys’
• ISIS wouldn’t be a problem the West had just gotten rid of Assad
• Assad needs to be deposed for allegedly using chemical weapons
• Russia would think twice about helping in Syria if we had punished it for perceived transgressions in Ukraine
• the west needs to ‘draw the lines’ and then punish anyone who crosses them
• Russia has ignored the UN and acted unilaterally by crossing sovereign borders

Incredibly, Fox’s view seems to be that if Western allies – presumably through NATO – had have ‘punished’ Putin for transgressing national sovereignty in Ukarine then Russia would now be less inclined to support its Syrian ally on the ground. This type of rhetoric only serves to further polarize the alliances that are now facing off in Syria.

Not only do these opinions show an ignorance of even recent history but also reflects the inherent chauvinism of the belief that the West is aligned with what is morally “good” and those nations seen to be in opposition as “bad”. In the now somewhat chilling words of former US President George W. Bush, “…our country is strong, we go forward to defend freedom, and all that is good and just in our world.”5

A CNN op-ed that Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading voice on national security issues, wrote on Oct. 13, 2015, was particularly chilling. It called on Obama to inflict severe pain on Russia and Putin regardless of the consequences:

“There is an opportunity here … to impose significant costs on an adversary that wants to undercut the United States everywhere. It is an opportunity to weaken an anti-American ruler who will always view us as an enemy. … We cannot shy away from confronting Russia in Syria, as Putin expects the administration will do. His intervention has raised the costs and risks of greater U.S. involvement in Syria, but it has not negated the steps we need to take. Indeed, it has made them more imperative.

“We must act now to defend civilian populations and our opposition partners in Syria. As Gen. David Petraeus and others have advocated, we must establish enclaves in Syria where civilians and the moderate opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and ISIS can find greater security. These enclaves must be protected with greater American and coalition airpower and likely foreign troops on the ground. We should not rule out that U.S. forces could play a limited role in this ground contingent. If al-Assad continues to barrel bomb civilians in Syria, we should destroy his air force’s ability to operate.

“We must back up our policy in ways that check Putin’s ambitions and shape his behavior. If Russia attacks our opposition partners, we must impose greater costs on Russia’s interests — for example, by striking significant Syrian leadership or military targets. But we should not confine our response to Syria. We must increase pressure on Russia elsewhere. We should provide defensive weapons and related assistance to Ukrainian forces so they can take a greater toll on Russian forces. … And if Putin continues to strike Syrian civilians and our opposition partners, we should ramp up targeted sanctions on Russia. Low energy prices are battering Russia’s economy and currency. We should increase that pain.”6

As Obama precariously admits he ‘failed’ in Syria – which echoes Liam Fox’s ‘we missed our chance’ rhetoric and underscores the notion that even more military intervention in the Middle East was actually necessary – are the nations of the Western Allies prepared to reconsider the increasingly dubious justifications for foreign intervention and regime change?


1. Goulka, Jeremiah (5 November 2012). “The Dogs of War Are Barking”. Regions: Middle East & North Africa. Foreign Policy In Focus (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies). ISSN 1524-1939.
2. 2015 United States federal budget https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_States_federal_budget
3. The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564
4. BBC World Service – Newshour Extra, ‘Doing Business with Mr Putin’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0343hjp
5. George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation on September 11, 2001 https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_W._Bush

The Russians are coming, 2015: neo-conservative propaganda in the West

With the recent Russian approval of military action to support its Syrian allies, propaganda in Western media ramps up to fever pitch with headlines like: “Russian President Vladimir Putin launches air strikes in Syria, but what’s he really up to?” The Australian mainstream media – along with a great part of Australian politics – has become disappointingly predictable in its blind, no-questions-asked endorsement of US neo-conservative interventionist policies. This unfortunately keeps an important discussion on Syria and the foreign policies being adopted as far away from Damascus as Canberra out of the public realm altogether.

120713023419-al-assad-gestures-story-top

Image via AFP/GETTY

After barely registering the former Abbot government’s decision to support US actions in Syria, the Australian press for example falls all over itself in decrying any action taken by the Kremlin to ostensibly achieve the same goals – that is, ensuring that militant Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are prevented from taking over the Assad regime.  At thus point, it seems clear that not many commentators question whether the US-led coalition has considered much beyond its parochial “Assad must go” neocon vision.

Indeed, according to an article on news.com.au the US is “…suggesting the Russians are helping Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad fight off rebel forces and accusing Putin of ‘pouring gasoline on the fire’ in Syria.” It would appear that to some in the Obama administration leaving a power vacuum which the extremist groups would inevitably fill is preferable to supporting Assad in fighting the ‘rebels’ whose forces would become part of a new Islamic Syrian state.

Middle-East based journalist Martin Chulov said Russia sees itself as a counter to US influence in the region, had “outfoxed” the US by announcing it would go it alone against Islamic State. “He wants a victory,” Fisk writes in The Independent. “Syria’s army, the only institution upon which the regime — indeed, the entire state apparatus — depends is being re-armed and trained for a serious military offensive against ISIS, one which is meant to have enormous symbolic value both in the Middle East and in the world.”

The issue for leaders and policy makers in the West now seems to be one of trust – do we follow the US in constant soft power plays like sponsored regime change (as in Ukaraine) to achieve what are often unclear aims or do we allow Russia to take more of a lead in the Middle East to achieve what seems to be their own unclear goals.

The extent of the mistrust of Assad’s regime and Putin’s foreign policies is revealed in sampling some recent Australian mainstream news articles:

Defiant Russia pledges more Syria assistanceThe West Australian, September 10, 2015
Abbot considers expanding fight to SyriaThe West Australian, August 23, 2015
Bashar al-Assad the accidental dictatorThe West Australian, August 30, 2015
In bed with a homicidal maniacnews.com.au (News Limited) September 21, 2015
Assad must go but his regime could save Syria from IslamistsThe Australian, September 16, 2015
Assad’s fall may not spell the end of Syria’s agonyThe Australian, August 22, 2015

Characterizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in such ways – maniac – parallels the childish way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin is also portrayed in the right-wing Australian press. It belies the ideological fears that drive the tightly-framed narrative in conservative newsrooms.

It follows the propaganda-style treatment of other (former) heads of state such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. The US invasion of Iraq is now not only widely seen as a strategic blunder, but also possibly a war crime, based on the unilateral nature of the decision to invade a sovereign nation on false pretenses (Hussein’s touted but non-existant links to al Qaeda) without the sanction of the UN. It follows, then, that the subsequent capture and execution of Hussein bears dubious legality at best. The torture and murder of Gaddafi was seen by the then US Secretary of State as a geopolitical master-stroke. “We came, we saw, he died,” she enthused upon being informed of his demise.

The reasoning behind the Obama administration’s continued “Assad must go” policy now sits within the framework of so-called humanitarian considerations, with liberal war-hawks such as Victoria Nuland driving the discussion. This is in contrast to demanding other regime changes in the Middle East based on fraudulent claims of support of global terrorism (as in the case of Iraq), yet the states of Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria have been on a neocon hit-list at least since the Bush-42 administration.

As Russia continues to take a greater role in the Middle East, Western media outlets would be well advised to be wary of slipping into a Fox News-style propaganda and war-mongering mode of news presentation. This is not to say that Assad and Putin are without any kind of culpability – no more or less than most other heads of powerful states – or that their domestic and foreign policy records should not be held to account. Rather, some balance needs to be restored to the coverage and discussion of these matters, relying less on regurgitating propaganda from allied governments and lobby groups and more on a considered approach to viewing complex international geopolitical in the greater historical, ethnic and social context.

The UN’s MH-17 tribunal and international anti-Russian policy

This week Russia’s vetoing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution proposing an international tribunal  dealing with the Malaysia Airlines MH17 shootdown over Ukraine in 2014 saw widespread condemnation across the West. The anti-Russian rhetoric that we see chiefly coming from the US, Europe and Australia is in keeping with the foreign policies employed to further their own agendas with Russia.

Russia exercised its veto at the Security Council session in New York during a vote on Wednesday, while 11 other members backed the draft resolution. Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.

Russia exercised its veto at the Security Council session in New York during a vote on Wednesday, while 11 other members backed the draft resolution. Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.

While Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the Russian veto “an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their families and friends,” and has vowed to pursue “an alternative prosecution mechanism” with Malaysia, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belgium, but stopped short of elaborating in similarly emotive language Samantha Power, neo-conservative war hawk and US ambassador to the UN said that, “Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations.”  This alludes to the fact that what had been proposed in the UNSC was a contrived tribunal to prosecute who was already seen as the criminal defendants, a move also likely prejudice the outcome of the as-yet unfinished air crash investigation.

Since the disaster occurred in July 2014, politicians and mainstream media alike in the US and Australia have dramatically and recklessly accused Russia and anti-regime rebels in eastern Ukraine of deliberately bringing down MH-17 with a Russian guided missile system, without – as yet – hard evidence to support the claims. Since an accident investigation should be undertaken to uncover the truth in what is supposed to be a scientific and completely impartial way, it is understandable that Russia would see a ‘prosecution tribunal’ vociferously supported by such anti-Russian sentiment as compromised from the outset. Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook,” writes that, “predictably, Russia has been decried as obstructing justice with language intentionally used to further heap guilt upon Moscow… which might perhaps be why Moscow itself had no faith in a UNSC resolution regarding MH17 to begin with.

mh17-spec1807

Image via themalaymailonline.com

In addition to being yet another excuse given for furthering economic sanctions against Russia, MH-17 is becoming another tool in the West’s arsenal of anti-Russian ideologies, now being brought to bear in the United Nations Security Council. When considering the international flavour of the MH-17 political manoeuvres, it must be remembered that Russia along with the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are gearing up to create an economic zone beyond the reach of Washington, London – or Canberra, for that matter. If indeed it was a foregone conclusion that Russia would veto a tribunal sponsored by opposing factions within the UN, the proposal could be seen as an attack on the Sino-Russian relationship.

Russia has also taken the recent move of enacting laws that allow action to be taken against “undesirable” international non-governmental organisations. One of the first organisations to be banned is the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based non-profit funded largely by the United States. According to its website, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and has “funded local non-governmental organisations in more than 90 countries.”

A statement on Tuesday from the Russian prosecutor general’s office said that it “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government. Using Russian commercial and non-commercial organisations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, organise political actions intended to influence decisions made by the authorities, and discredit service in Russia’s armed forces.”

In Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts, veteran investigative reporter Robert Parry explains:

NED is a U.S. government-funded organisation created in 1983 to do what the Central Intelligence Agency previously had done in financing organisations inside target countries to advance U.S. policy interests and, if needed, help in “regime change.” The secret hand behind NED’s creation was CIA Director William J. Casey who worked with senior CIA covert operation specialist Walter Raymond Jr. to establish NED in 1983. Casey – from the CIA – and Raymond – from his assignment inside President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council – focused on creating a funding mechanism to support groups inside foreign countries that would engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organised and paid for covertly. To partially replace that CIA role, the idea emerged for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.

It would seem that at least some Russian lawmakers have agreed that the NED serves, or at least has the potential to serve as a means of Western interests using grass-roots style “colour revolution”. American “colour revolutions” attempt to obfuscate all possible ties between themselves and their agitators in an attempt to take back the strategic initiative by maintaining maximum plausible deniability. It would seem the Russians have dealt with US subterfuge long enough that Russia’s emerging media influence on the world stage played an essential role in unmasking and disrupting America’s efforts to destabilise and overthrow the government in Armenia. The protests there were the work of  the “No To Plunder” group, led by lawyers and activists emanating from the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.

According to Tony Cartalucci of GlobalResearch, “times are tough for America’s ‘colour revolution’ industry. Perfected in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and honed during the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ the process of backing subversion in a targeted country and overthrowing a sitting government under the cover of staged mass protests appears to be finally at the end of running its course.”

 Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Ufa, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Ufa, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

It should also be remembered that, in terms of Western economic interests, that Russia is part of an emerging new order – the BRICS nations who recently held a twin BRICS/SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summit in Ufa, Russia, aimed at actively establishing interlocking security guarantees between Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

In an article for The Nation, The Geopolitical Big Bang You Probably Don’t See Coming, Pepe Escobar explains that,

The New Development Bank (NDB), the BRICS response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South—all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the US dollar. Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aiding in the reconstruction of Syria.

The wrangling over investigations into the MH-17 are a flashpoint in Russian-Western relations. The UN should be seeking a truly international investigation regarding the accident, knowing that it will take the unanimous agreement of the UNSC to secure any form of future prosecution. Should the West act in a truly objective manner toward such an investigation, they may find future resolutions met with agreement rather than a veto.

MH-17 reflects a fear of the increasing strategic depth between Russia and other nations such as China which are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

MH-17: Australia’s flight into a warzone

In July 2014, the Australian Government found itself embroiled in a complex international situation in one of the world’s geopolitical hotspots after Malaysian Airline’s flight MH17 was allegedly shot down over Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.  All contact was lost with the Boeing 777 around 50 kilometres from the Ukraine–Russian border and then crashed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

9M-MRD

9M-MRD, the aircraft shot down, photographed in October 2011

Immediately, the US and its allies focused the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Official Washington jumping to the conclusion that Ukrainian rebels and Russia were guilty in the shoot-down of the Malaysian passenger plane. Consequently, the European Union got in line behind the American-backed Poroshenko regime in Ukraine and supported further economic sanctions to punish Russia. According to some independent investigative journalists however, some US intelligence analysts may see the evidence differently.

Robert Parry writes that, “despite US spy satellites positioned over eastern Ukraine, US intelligence agencies have released no images of a BUK system being transferred by Russians to rebel control, shipped into Ukraine, deployed into firing position and then being taken back to Russia. Though the Obama administration has released other images of Ukraine taken by U.S. spy satellites, the absence of any photos of a rebel-controlled BUK missile battery has been the dog not barking in the strident case that Official Washington has made in blaming the rebels and Russia for the July 17 shoot-down that killed 298 people.”

If it was a rebel-operated BUK-1M (also referred to as the SA-11 Gadfly), it would suggest definitive evidence is required to prove that it quickly appeared from Russia, was used for a single shot by Russian-mentored separatist rebels, then just as quickly disappeared back into Russia – but with no satellite photos from the USA proving such a theory. On the other hand, a successful shoot-down of a Russian plane would have been a major coup for the newly installed Kiev regime, which saw the Russian ally President Viktor Yanukovych overthrown last February, providing the catalyst for the current civil war. It is disturbing to note that certain senior Ukrainian politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed the desire to see Vladimir Putin killed.

This possibility coupled with the lack of official intelligence seems to have given impetus to competing theories, such as the airliner being shot down by a Ukrainian Su-25 or Su-27 fighter jet – as in the opinion of officials such as Michael Bociurkiw, one of the first Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) investigators to arrive at the scene of the disaster, near Donetsk. In a July 29 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Bociurkiw, he said that: “There have been two or three pieces of fuselage that have been really pockmarked with what almost looks like machine gun fire; very, very strong machine gun fire.”

In addition, a Globalresearch.org piece in September 2014 featured retired Lufthansa pilot Peter Haisenko’s conclusion in on the new shootdown theory and pointed to the entry and exit holes centered around the cockpit. The lack of officially released intelligence to support a claim of pro-Russian rebel shootdown, and by extension a lack of credibility over further political isolation and economic sanctioning of Russia prompted the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) to issue a memorandum to the President Barack Obama, urging him to release what evidence the US intelligence community has about the tragedy.

“Twelve days after the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, your administration still has issued no coordinated intelligence assessment summarizing what evidence exists to determine who was responsible – much less to convincingly support repeated claims that the plane was downed by a Russian-supplied missile in the hands of Ukrainian separatists,” the July 29 letter states. “As veteran intelligence analysts accustomed to waiting, except in emergency circumstances, for conclusive information before rushing to judgment, we believe that the charges against Russia should be rooted in solid, far more convincing evidence. And that goes in spades with respect to inflammatory incidents like the shoot-down of an airliner. We are also troubled by the amateurish manner in which fuzzy and flimsy evidence has been served up – some of it via social media.”

In spite of the need to establish proper evidence in such a complex and potentially explosive situation once again the mainstream media plays to the rhetoric of Washington and its Western allies, relying on unverified claims being made by the Kiev regime about something as sensitive as whether Russia provided sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles – capable of shooting down high-flying civilian aircraft – to poorly trained eastern Ukrainian rebels. In October 2014 Australian Prime Minister made the dubious decision to refer to his upcoming G20 meeting with Vladimir Putin – to be held in Brisbane – in the following incendiary manner: “I am going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am – I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered, they were murdered by Russian backed rebels.”

The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten was equally as diplomatic, first taking a swipe at the government for “laying out the red carpet” for Putin, as well as accusing the Russian President of knowing “more about what happened with MH17 than he’s let on.” Shorten also went on to state that, ”It’s an international conference, not a conference run by Australia, so if Putin has the arrogance to turn up to visit a nation whose nationals died in this plane crash, he can.”

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin (image via businessinsider.com)

As disturbing as the knee-jerk reaction of conservative and liberal politicians alike, just as alarming is the anti-Russian sentiments increasingly found in the Australian news media. Consider a few NewsCorp headlines: “Ukraine Russia war and MH17: What is Putin really up to?” “Vladimir Putin: I am not autistic” – “Vladimir Putin: Just what is he thinking?” Putin is routinely featured as a comical character, lampooned in the Australian press as an eccentric criminal in a fashion that no other global leader is, almost in a way that suggests he should not be taken seriously. Without doubt, it would be dangerously naive to underestimate the importance of good relations with the Russians to ensure stability in the region.

What many in the media and government seems to misunderstand is that the charges are so serious that it could propel the world into a second Cold War and conceivably – if there are more such miscalculations – into a nuclear confrontation. These moments call for the utmost in journalistic professionalism, especially skepticism toward propaganda from biased parties. Australians are now experiencing more of the American style prelude to economic and military confrontation – that is, the major U.S. news outlets, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, publishing the most inflammatory of articles based largely on unreliable Ukrainian officials and on the U.S. State Department which was a principal instigator of the Ukraine crisis.

In the past, this kind of knee-jerk diplomacy and war-chasing journalism has influenced public opinion and allowed politicians to seek justification for confrontation, both economic and military. In the past, the pretenses given for war with ideological enemies and opposing states have been often misleading and sometimes false. In the case of a volatile conflict involving powerful factions in a far-flung and poorly understood region, it would be wise for Australians to be careful in rushing to judgements based on speculation or unverified facts. This time, the stakes are considerably higher.

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