Politics

Foreign relations, geopolitics and current affairs

Australian Foreign Policy failure: Venezuela

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

In February this year the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement on the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela. The statement said, in part:

“Australia recognises and supports the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in assuming the position of interim President, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and until elections are held.” The statement went on to urge “all parties to work constructively toward a peaceful resolution of the situation, including respect for the rule of law.”

nicolas-maduro-rally

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in support of the government marking the one-year anniversary of his controversial re-election. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

This statement surely puts to rest the perception that Australia is actually a nation that respects the so-called “rule-of-law.” Whether or not Payne sought the legal advice of her department before making this extraordinarily ignorant statement is unknown. A Freedom of Information request on that point remains unanswered at the time of writing.

Unfortunately, the statement only serves to proclaim the usual Australian obeisance to the United States, responding to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call that nations decide whose side they are on. There is of course only one acceptable answer for the Americans to such a call. It is eerily reminiscent of George Bush and Tony Blair calling for similar compliance prior to the attack on Iraq.

If Ms Payne or her advisers had actually looked at the Venezuelan constitution she purports to uphold – as does the would-be president-elect Juan Guaido – she would have seen that section 233 provides a mechanism for replacing the President. The scenarios under which a President is excluded from continuing in office are spelled out. None of them are applicable in the present circumstances. It then goes on to describe the applicable protocol should the President become unable to serve prior to his inauguration. Again this is not relevant because Mr Guaido made his bid for power 13 days after the inauguration.

Even if Mr Guaido had legitimately become acting President (and a self declaration in the middle of the street does not count) then he would have been obliged under the constitution to immediately call an election. He did not do so.

Ms Payne’s statement sought “a transition to democracy” as soon as possible although precisely what she meant by that was not specified, as Venezuela has as much right to call itself a democracy as does the United States. On May 20 of last year, Maduro received the votes of 6.2 million people, about 31 percent of the eligible voters, about the same percentage that U.S. presidents generally receive (Obama received 31 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2012, while Trump received 26 percent in 2016). Four different groups of international observers concluded that Maduro’s electoral victory was clean.

Payne could more validly have demanded that the United States “transition to democracy”, as it has a President elected on a minority of the popular vote by a significant margin; has the greatest degree of gerrymandering of any western political system; disenfranchises millions of citizens (especially minority groups); and has a well documented history of ballot box rigging.

There is furthermore well-documented evidence that Senator Bernie Sanders was the victim of corrupt, illegal and unethical practices to deny him the Democratic Party nomination. Ms Payne – along with the entire Australian Government – is conspicuously silent on these manifest flaws in the US electoral system.

To compound the blatant violations of not only the Venezuelan constitution, but also Article 2 of the UN Charter (non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations), President Trump has appointed Elliot Abrams as his ‘special envoy’ for Venezuela. Abrams is not only a convicted criminal for previous regime change and other operations on behalf of the United States, he was also involved in an earlier coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

Ms Payne could also have acknowledged (although Australian politicians never do) that at least part of Venezuela’s current problems are directly related to the imposition of illegal sanctions the US has applied, as well as waging a persistent campaign of hybrid warfare against Venezuela’s sovereign government. This did not begin with Mr Maduro.

Many other countries, including notably Russia and China, have warned the United States to leave Venezuela alone. They, like many other countries, recognise that the current US bullying and violations of international law have their roots in the Monroe Doctrine, first formulated in 1823. This doctrine has been used to justify America’s blatant interference in Latin America, their “backyard”, a concept wholly foreign to the UN Charter or international law.

The theft of one third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, coups in Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and elsewhere since World War 2, and the support of brutal dictatorships throughout the continent hardly qualify one as an upholder of democracy and the rule of law. Australian elected officials like Marise Payne choose to ignore history at their own peril.

The rest of the world also recognises that Venezuela happens to have the world’s largest known reserves of oil, which would make American interference part of a long and dishonourable tradition of destroying countries (Iraq, Libya, Syria) whose oil assets they covet.

Venezuela has also taken recent and significant steps to detach itself from the US petrodollar. Again, together with Russia and China it is forging new relationships for its oil trade independent of the US dollar. Such a trend poses an existential threat to US geopolitical hegemony and is a major factor in the promotion of wars and regime change around the world.

The brand of sovereign independence that Venezuela is displaying is intolerable to Washington. It is however supported by the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people where more than 80% according to recent polls oppose foreign intervention in their affairs.

Should the Trump Administration take the military option, which according to the President is “on the table,” it will set in train a catastrophic chain of events that has the overwhelming potential to drag parts of the Latin American region into the fog of war as we have seen happen in the Middle East after two Gulf Wars.

Keeping an Eye on the Sheriff: New US Ambassador to Australia

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Back in October 2003, former US President George W Bush caused something of a stir in Australia and East Asia after he described then-Prime Minister John Howard’s government as America’s “sheriff” for the region. Bush was asked whether Washington viewed the capital, Canberra, as the region’s deputy sheriff.

89b5e6aa-457c-11e9-b5dc-9921d5eb8a6d_image_hires_212727

US Amassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse. Photo: AP

This was a reference to similar comments made by Mr Howard three years ago. At that time, his words generated a huge row across the region. Mr Bush, apparently unaware of the sensitivity of the subject in the region, said: “We don’t see [Australia] as a deputy sheriff; we see it as a sheriff. There is nothing ‘deputy’ about this relationship.”

A government spokesman at the time said that while Australia enjoyed a good long-term relationship with the US, it could not be described as a sheriff.

“Sometimes there are some nuances in the language that get a little bit lost,” Liberal MP Fran Bailey said in 2003. “The American concept of a sheriff is a peacekeeper. We don’t actually use the term sheriff, but we do act as a peacekeeper.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Australia’s role in the East Asian/South Pacific region is increasingly coming under the international spotlight as the Trump Admninistration shoehorns a Reagan-era Republican lawyer into the role of US Ambassador to Australia.

Arthur Culvahouse Jr. wasted no time at his new diplomatic post to begin strong-arming Canberra into adopting Washington’s confrontational policy regarding Beijing.

A Reuters article published by the South China Morning Post in March 2019 points out that:

China is using “payday loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new US ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday, in comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The United States and its regional allies have been battling China for greater influence in the Pacific – a region that has votes at international forums like the United Nations and controls vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean.

The geopolitical competition has seen both sides increase foreign aid to the region in recent months, which the West says is needed to prevent the Pacific falling into financial distress and becoming susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The arrival of Culvahouse, the first US ambassador to Australia in more than two years, comes at time of bilateral tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

In 2017, then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of meddling in domestic affairs. In 2018, Canberra banned companies linked to foreign governments from investing in its nascent 5G network, effectively blocking China’s Huawei.

The timing of the arrival of the new ambassador is a clear move to signal the US interests in Australia’s diplomatic postion in the region. It would appear to be a diplomatic mission with a specific geopolitical intent. The American people for whom Ambassador Culvahouse is supposed to be a representative, should be perplexed over his obsession with China rather than fulfilling his duties of representing the United States in Australia itself.

As the United States has done with many other allies, it has successfully turned Australia into a Washington proxy for its own confrontation with China. Washington risks dragging Australia down an usuccessful diplomatic path with it, when Australia could instead be bilaterally resolving issues with China and building constructive relations throughout Asia-Pacific, all while redefining for itself a more positive role in the region, breaking free from its historical role as an extension of Anglo-American hegemony.

Geography 101: China is Located in Asia, the United States is Not 

Interestingly enough, Reuters failed to notice that China is actually located in Asia-Pacific, while the United States is not.

Just as the US is expected to exert a certain amount of influence in North America where it is actually located, it is not unreasonable to expect China to do likewise in Asia. That US foreign policy seems formed around the notion that the US, not China, should hold primacy in Asia is both counterintuitive and fundamentally flawed.

Such a policy reflects a basic but intentional lapse in geographical awareness widespread across Western media and political circles representing the remnants of European-American imperialism of the 19th-20th centuries. It suggests that Asians lack agency to decide for themselves how “votes at international forums like the United Nations” and “vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean” should be used and that the United States should decide for them instead.

The US currently does this by attempting to surround China with client states and infecting nations across Asia with US government-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs impose upon the region US-style institutions that reflect US interests through a process the US itself calls “soft power.”

Examples of this can be seen in Myanmar where US-funded NGOs have managed to bring existing ethnic tensions toward the brink of war, in Thailand where US-backed political forces are attempting to displace the military and constitutional monarchy and roll back recent progress made between Bangkok and Beijing and in Cambodia where the entire opposition is virtually run out of Washington D.C.

The more obvious results of this US “soft power” in action are ongoing “colour revolutions,” but a more subtle attempt to overwrite Asian culture and institutions with US ideas and institutions is also constantly attempting to take root. It is the latest evolutionary step taken by centuries of European and now American imperialism and it is the tool of choice used by the special interests of today benefiting from this imperialism.

Ambassador Culvahouse’s rhetoric and the accompanying talking points touched on by Reuters brings all of this into focus, with the US openly accusing China of usurping American primacy in Asia, and admitting it is investing across the region to regain it.

Who is Ambassador Culvahouse? 

Ambassador Culvahouse had previously served President Ronald Reagan’s administration between 1987 and 1989. He has also been involved in multiple committees within the Republican Party, Australia’s ABC would report.

Ambassador Culvahouse is also listed as a Brookings Institution trustee, which may help explain why in his capacity as US Ambassador to Australia he is openly pursuing policy that serves neither the American nor Australian people but rather the corporate sponsors who control both Brookings’ activities and those of Washington.

He is also a former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), a massive international law firm whose clients include equally massive corporations seeking to protect their existing monopolies and to find footing in emerging markets, including in China. Former OMM chairman and now Ambassador Culvahouse stepping into the middle of Australia’s bout with China over 5G and Huawei and OMM’s own role in cases specifically involving Huawei (e.g.), in turn represents equally massive conflicts of interest.

Ambassador Culvahouse is another stark example of “revolving door” politics in which representatives of special interests move in and out of government positions appointed to regulate and hold accountable these very interests.

The entire process that Ambassador Culvahouse represents is the modern manifestation of European-American imperialism, representing the modern equivalence of an elite minority, their greed and the mechanisms instituted to satisfy it, merely dressed up as representative governance serving the majority.

But just like every other empire in history, American hegemony rose on a global scale before beginning to fade. The vector sum of Chinese-Australian economic ties, despite recent setbacks (some might call sabotage), is positive, as noted by the Parliament of Australia itself. As China continues to grow economically, politically and even militarily within the region and upon the global stage, the US will have no choice but to concede its longstanding primacy in Asia-Pacific, a process already well underway.

Without an entirely new, innovative and constructive American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Ambassador Culvahouse and his rhetoric serve only to delay the continued, inevitable decline of American power and in the process, increase resentment not only from Beijing, but resentment from all the partner-proxies including Australia the US is using in the process.

US Media is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Summit

The media’s mania over Trump’s Helsinki performance and the so-called Russia-gate scandal reached new depths on Monday, says Joe Lauria

By Joe Lauria
Originally published by Consortium News – reprinted here with permission

The reaction of the U.S. establishment media and several political leaders to President Donald Trump’s press conference after his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday has been stunning.

Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows said:

“There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president.

Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.

Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not  realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.

Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions … never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.”

As soon as the press conference ended CNN cut to its panel with these words from TV personality Anderson Cooper: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, surely, that I’ve ever seen.”

David Gergen, who for years has gotten away with portraying himself on TV as an impartial political sage, then told CNN viewers:

“I’ve never heard an American President talk that way but I think it is especially true that when he’s with someone like Putin, who is a thug, a world-class thug, that he sides with him again and again against his own country’s interests of his own institutions that he runs, that he’s in charge of the federal government, he’s in charge of these intelligence agencies, and he basically dismisses them and retreats into this, we’ve heard it before, but on the international stage to talk about Hillary Clinton’s computer server …”

“It’s embarrassing,” interjected Cooper.
“It’s embarrassing,” agreed Gergen.

White House correspondent Jim Acosta, ostensibly an objective reporter, then gave his opinion: “I think that sums it up nicely. This is the president of the United States essentially taking the word of the Russian president…over his own intelligence community. It was astonishing, just astonishing to be in the room with the U.S. president and the Russian president on this critical question of election interference, and to retreat back to these talking points about DNC servers and Hillary Clinton’s emails when he had a chance right there in front of the world to tell Vladimir Putin to stay the HELL out of American democracy, and he didn’t do it.”

In other words Trump should just shut up and not question a questionable indictment, which Acosta, like nearly all the media, treat as a conviction.

The Media’s Handlers

The media’s handlers were even worse than their assets. Former CIA director John Brennan tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

Here’s where the Republican Patriots are, Brennan: “That’s how a press conference sounds when an Asset stands next to his Handler,” former RNC Chairman Michael Steele tweeted.

Representative Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, said on Twitter: “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Russia poses a grave threat to our national security.”

All these were reactions to Trump expressing skepticism about the U.S. indictment on Friday of 12 Russian intelligence agents for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election while he was standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the press conference following their summit meeting in Helsinki.

“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The indictments, which are only unproven accusations, formally accused 12 members of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, of stealing Democratic Party emails in a hacking operation and giving the materials to WikiLeaks to publish in order to damage the candidacy of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictments were announced on Friday, three days before the summit, with the clear intention of getting Trump to cancel it. He ignored cries from the media and Congress to do so.

Over the weekend Michael Smerconish on CNN actually said the indictments proved that Russia had committed a “terrorist attack” against the United States. This is in line with many pundits who are comparing this indictment, that will most likely never produce any evidence, to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. The danger inherent in that thinking is clear.

Putin said the allegations are “utter nonsense, just like [Trump] recently mentioned.” He added: “The final conclusion in this kind of dispute can only be delivered by a trial, by the court. Not by the executive, by the law enforcement.” He could have added not by the media.

Trump reasonably questioned why the FBI never examined the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee to see whether there was a hack and who may have done it. Instead a private company, CrowdStrike, hired by the Democratic Party studied the server and within a day blamed Russia on very dubious grounds.

“Why haven’t they taken the server?” Trump asked. “Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server and what is the server saying?”

But being a poor communicator, Trump then mentioned Clinton’s missing emails, allowing the media to conflate the two different servers, and be easily dismissed as Gergen did.

At the press conference, Putin offered to allow American investigators from the team of special counsel Robert Mueller, who put the indictment together, to travel to Russia and take part in interviews with the 12 accused Russian agents. He also offered to set up a joint cyber-security group to examine the evidence and asked that in return Russia be allowed to question persons of interest to Moscow in the United States.

“Let’s discuss the specific issues and not use the Russia and U.S. relationship as a loose change for this internal political struggle,” Putin said.

On CNN, Christiane Amanpour called Putin’s clear offer “obfuscation.”

Even if Trump agreed to this reasonable proposal it seems highly unlikely that his Justice Department will go along with it. Examination of whatever evidence they have to back up the indictment is not what the DOJ is after. As I wrote about the indictments in detail on Friday:

“The extremely remote possibility of convictions were not what Mueller was apparently after, but rather the public perception of Russia’s guilt resulting from fevered media coverage of what are after all only accusations, presented as though it is established fact. Once that impression is settled into the public consciousness, Mueller’s mission would appear to be accomplished.”

Still No ‘Collusion’

The indictments did not include any members of Trump’s campaign team for “colluding” with the alleged Russian hacking effort, which has been a core allegation throughout the two years of the so-called Russia-gate scandal. Those allegations are routinely reported in U.S. media as established fact, though there is still no evidence of collusion.

Trump emphasised that point in the press conference. “There was no collusion at all,” he said forcefully. “Everybody knows it.”

On this point corporate media has been more deluded than normal as they clutch for straws to prove the collusion theory. As one example of many across the media with the same theme, a New York Times story on Friday, headlined, “Trump Invited the Russians to Hack Clinton. Were They Listening?,” said Russia may have absurdly responded to Trump’s call at 10:30 a.m. on July 27, 2016 to hack Clinton’s private email server because it was “on or about” that day that Russia allegedly first made an attempt to hack Clinton’s personal emails, according to the indictment, which makes no connection between the two events.

If Russia is indeed guilty of remotely hacking the emails it would have had no evident need of assistance from anyone on the Trump team, let alone a public call from Trump on national TV to commence the operation.

More importantly, as Twitter handle “Representative Press” pointed out: “Trump’s July 27, 2016 call to find the missing 30,000 emails could not be a ‘call to hack Clinton’s server’ because at that point it was no longer online. Long before Trump’s statement, Clinton had already turned over her email server to the U.S. Department of Justice.” Either the indictment was talking about different servers or it is being intentionally misleading when it says “on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”

This crucial fact alone, that Clinton had turned over the server in 2015 so that no hack was possible, makes it impossible that Trump’s TV call could be seen as collusion. Only a desperate person would see it otherwise.

But there is a simple explanation why establishment journalists are in unison in their dominant Russian narrative: it is career suicide to question it.

As Samuel Johnson said as far back as 1745: “The greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than that they are in fashion …since vanity and credulity cooperate in its favour.”

Importance of US-Russia Relations

Trump said the unproven allegation of collusion “has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”

The American president said the U.S. has been “foolish” not to attempt dialogue with Russia before, to cooperate on a range of issues.

“As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics or the media or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct,” Trump said. “Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forwards the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”

This main reason for summits between Russian and American leaders was also ignored: to use diplomacy to reduce dangerous tensions. “I really think the world wants to see us get along,” Trump said. “We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90 percent of the nuclear. And that’s not a good thing, it’s a bad thing.”

Preventing good relations between the two countries appears to be the heart of the matter for U.S. intelligence and their media assets. So Trump was vilified for even trying.

Ignoring the Rest of the Story

Obsessed as they are with the “interference” story, the media virtually ignored the other crucial issues that came up at the summit, such as the Middle East.

Trump sort of thanked Russia for its efforts to defeat ISIS. “When you look at all of the progress that’s been made in certain sections with the eradication of ISIS, about 98 percent, 99 percent there, and other things that have taken place that we have done and that, frankly, Russia has helped us with in certain respects,” he said.

Trump here is falsely taking credit, as he has before, for defeating ISIS with only some “help” from Russia. In Iraq the U.S. led the way against ISIS coordinating the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. But in the separate war against ISIS in Syria, Russia, the Syrian Arab Army, Kurdish forces, Iranian troops and Hizbullah militias were almost entirely responsible for ISIS’ defeat.

Also on Syria, Trump appeared to endorse what is being reported as a deal between Russia and Israel in which Israel would accept Bashar al-Assad remaining as Syrian president, while Russia would work on Iran to get it to remove its forces away from the northern Golan Heights, which Israel illegally considers its border with Syria.

After a meeting in Moscow last week with Putin, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he accepted Assad remaining in power.

“President Putin also is helping Israel,” Trump said at the press conference. “We both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. They would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. In that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. Israel will be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.”

Trump also said that the U.S. and Russian militaries were coordinating in Syria, but he did not go as far as saying that they had agreed to fight together there, which has been a longstanding proposal of Putin’s dating back to September 2015, just before Moscow intervened militarily in the country.

“Our militaries have gotten along probably better than our political leaders for years,” Trump said. “Our militaries do get along very well. They do coordinate in Syria and other places.”

Trump said Russia and the U.S. should cooperate in humanitarian assistance in Syria.

“If we can do something to help the people of Syria get back into some form of shelter and on a humanitarian basis…that’s what the word was, a humanitarian basis,” he said. “I think both of us would be very interested in doing that.”

Putin said he had agreed on Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron on a joint effort with Europe to deliver humanitarian aid. “On our behalf, we will provide military cargo aircraft to deliver humanitarian cargo. Today, I brought up this issue with President Trump. I think there’s plenty of things to look into,” Putin said.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

We’re Back

After a 12-month hiatus from publishing, we are excited to announce the return of The Rant Foundry to our readers and the world at large.

images.png

We return armed with new skills – lead journalist Brendan Hay has both completed Diplomas in Journalism, Data Journalism & Media Standards, and editor JF Dowsett has recently completed a course in Digital Network Security.

We didn’t, however, take a break from writing and research. Many events of a geopolitical nature have taken place in the last year, and reporting on these events and the impact they have on the lives of ordinary people around the world remains as imperative as ever.

As more important political and social events take place in and arond the world of cyberspace, we believe it is critical to cut through corporate, technical, and political spin to examine as best we can the reality.

As Russia, Iran, China and other rising threats to the Western global hegemon come under further political, economic and even digital sanctions and attacks, we find ourselves in a new Cold War, with the spectre of nuclear war and global internet hacking that could both spell disaster for much of the world’s population, it is clear we in the West have a responsibility to stand for the truth, and place ourselves on the right side of history.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: