Politics

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.

 

The South China Sea: Complicating Sino-Australian relations

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Recently, some of the gloss has come off the charmed relationship between the countries of Australia and China, which have enjoyed the have a long history of mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The spanner in the works has become the increasing confrontation between China and other Asia-Pacific alliances for control over the South China Sea.

International media coverage of the construction of Chinese military bases and the stationing of ground-to-air missiles systems on the Paracel and Spratly Islands was particularly disturbing to Australian authorities. Addressing all countries involved in the conflict, Australia called for the termination of the militarization of the South China Sea, in which it sees a threat to the security of the region, as well as the cessation of economic development due to the possible restrictions for sea and air traffic. Australia has also demanded that China cease the construction of artificial islands, and has also formally expressed its support to the Philippines, which appealed to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague over the legality of China’s maritime claims.

Over the past five years, bilateral trade volume has grown by about fifty percent, prior to the commencement of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement which took place in June 2015. As both nations continue to make their respective mutual investments, we see that Australian companies are now widely represented on the Chinese market, and in addition student exchange and tourism programs are developing and gaining market traction. In a speech in October 2015, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looked forward to a “golden age” of Australian-Chinese relations.

However, in a February 2016 official visit to China by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, discussions with Chinese authorities focused on the developing situation in the South China Sea. Foreign Minister Bishop brought up Xi Jinping’s statement from the previous year, recalling that China did not want to militarize the area of the challenged islands. Australian media reports also detailed Chinese denials by Ministry of Defense in Taiwan that a missile defense system was stationed on one of the Spratly Islands. However, on February 17 2016, at the joint press conference with his Australian counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi re-stated the state’s right to self-defense and that the construction of the military infrastructure on the islands was entirely legal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei also made a number of statements in which he urged Australian leadership to make an objective and unbiased assessment of the events in the region to fully understand the situation and avoid making rash statements. He also said that the islands in the South China Sea are primordial Chinese territory in which China has a right to station defensive targets, that it has been doing so for the last decade and that it does not constitute a ‘militarization’ of the region, nor does it harm the free sea and air transportation in the region.

Despite these differences, the development of bilateral economic relations continues. During Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit to China, an agreement was reached on expanding military cooperation between Australia and China. Commenting during the visit of his Australian colleague, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said that the two countries had reached agreement on a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. Yi also mentioned agriculture, education, tourism, energy, and the strengthening of maritime traffic between the countries among the most promising areas of the Australian-Chinese cooperation. The latter was to be given special attention as it implies Australia’s involvement in the ‘New Silk Road’, the most important international trade project for Chinese authorities currently.

One of Foreign Minister Bishop’s claims in mid-February was that China and Australia had long been successfully cooperating in the spheres of trade and security, and that the two countries indeed plan to run joint military exercises in the near future. However, just a week later the Australian Government leadership made statements to which China reacted negatively. On February 25 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that Australia was planning to significantly increase its military budget and to strengthen the combat capabilities of the Navy to protect its interests in the Asia-Pacific region. This was seen by many as due to the increase in military power of China and its expansion in the South China Sea. In addition, Turnbull expressed support from the part of Australia to the military presence of US in the Asia-Pacific that Australian Prime Minister called “the most important strategic partner of Australia.” According to him, the US military maintains stability in the region. It is difficult to say how much current stability in the region depends on the United States, whose influence there is weakening with each year. However, the Australian leadership clearly designated its position. Perhaps, Australia wants to reinforce its own armed forces because of this weakening of the US presence. Also, Canberra has again negatively reacted to the Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

At the same time, Marise Payne, Australian Minister for Defense, said that Australia plans on military cooperation with China, which Julie Bishop talked about; however, on some issues related to security in the Asia-Pacific region, the views of countries may not coincide, and Australia will increase its presence in the region. Beijing criticized Canberra’s plans to reinforce its military capabilities. Besides, Australia has recently expressed a desire to participate in future naval exercise ‘Malabar’, which has been carried out by the United States and India since Year 1992, and in which Japan took part in Year 2015. These exercises have caused repeated protests from the part of the Chinese government.

In response, a statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that Canberra would change its position and reconsider its views on the Chinese policy.

It could be said that the Australian-Chinese strategic relations are indeed headed for rough waters. Both countries are strong players in the Asia-Pacific region and have their own interests. However, in order to maximize the furtherance of its own interests, Australia continues to try and maintain constructive relations both with the United States and with China, despite their competition for influence in the region. Australia is also one of the founders of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by the Chinese initiative to finance the ‘New Silk Road’ project, so we may assume that, in spite of the current differences, both Australia and China are unlikely to seek any form of diplomatic complication in the South China Seas.

Australian military action in Syria and international law

Four Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in "echelon right" formation in the Middle East Region.

Four Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in formation in the Middle East [image via defence.gov.au]

The decision that Australian forces were going to join the US-led bombing campaign in Syria was announced in early September 2015 and the first bombing was carried out over the weekend of 12 and 13 September 2015. No legal basis on which the decision had been made was ever given by the Australian Federal Government. There was next to no debate in Parliament, but even if there had been it is unlikely that the Labor Party (ALP) would have opposed it given their recumbent position on all matters relating to national security.

Of the few meaningful discussions that took place in the Senate, it was only Senator Richard di Natale, the Green Party (a minority party holding one House of Representatives seat and 10 Senate seats) leader, and Senator Scott Ludlum (Greens) the only ones to raise further questions over the actual legality of the proposed military action. It took two months for the Foreign Ministry to give any kind of reason at all. On 16 November 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appeared on ABC National Radio to announce that the decision to join the US bombing was made in response to a request from the Iraqi government pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter.

The problem for the Australian government however, was that the Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq issued an official statement on 3 December 2015 renewing the Iraqi government’s “emphasis on the lack of need for foreign troops in Iraq and that the Iraqi government is committed to not allowing the presence of any ground forces on the land of Iraq, and will not ask any side, whether regional or from an international coalition to send ground troops to Iraq.” The Prime Minister of Iraq’s statement went on to repeat the Iraqi government’s position that it had asked for air support for Iraqi forces operating within Iraq. It further demanded that no activity of any kind be undertaken without the prior approval of the Iraqi government. It would appear that the Iraqi government has a firmer grasp of the limitations on military actions imposed by international law than the Australian government.

That Julie Bishop claimed the military intervention was at the request of the Iraqi government, contradicted what the government had itself said in August and then again in December 2015. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald the government of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott had “pushed for Washington to request that Australia expand its air strikes against Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.” This was presumably to engender support for his coalition’s flagging popularity. In acknowledging in August 2015 that the “invitation” was solicited, there was no mention then of any legal considerations that the government would have to consider. The further issue of how it was legally possible, under international law, for the United States to have any basis of inviting any country to join its bombing campaign in Syria, was never mentioned.

It further exemplifies the arrogant characteristic of western foreign policymakers that continue to assume the right to bomb countries, and regularly invites other allies to follow suit.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop [image via 2gb.com]

In a radio interview of 16 November 2015 Ms Bishop never made mention of any US request for support, or that the former Prime Minister had prompted such a request. She instead claimed that the invitation had come from the Iraqi government of Haider al-Abadi. As we shall examine, this claim was spurious in nature.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2249 On 20 November 2015. Although widely reported is mainstream press such The Telegraph as the UN authorisation of military action to “…eradicate ISIS safe havens in Iraq and Syria,” it was, importantly, not an all-clear to attack any Syrian territory. The resolution still commits all member states to “take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular the UN Charter……on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Daesh, in Syria and Iraq.”

The issue for the Australian government is that, while it claims to operate within international law, Resolution 2249 did not authorise any action outside the terms of the UN Charter, and its use of military force in Syria falls outside of the conditions set forth in Article 51. That means that any action would have to be either in self-defence or by special resolution of the Security Council. So far in terms of Australia, neither condition exists. That leaves only the notion of collective self-defence. As the only semblance of legal respectability that the coalition government was able to come up with, the claim relied upon the fact that Australia was acting at the alleged request of the Iraq government.

A letter sent by the Australian government to the Security Council on 9 September 2015 confirms the Australian government’s reliance upon the purported request by the Iraqi government. Communication notifying the UN Security Council of military action against another sovereign State is required under the terms of the UN Charter. The Abbot government’s letter to the Council stated that the Syrian government was “unable or unwilling” to prevent attacks from inside its borders being launched on Iraq. A highly contentious claim, the argument seems to have no foundation in international law. The United States and the United Kingdom are the only States to have officially endorsed the “unwilling or unable” doctrine and it could be argued that their vested interests in doing so are apparent. Their bombing coalition in Syria is intervening militarily to vindicate Iraq’s self-defense interest as a case of individual or collective self-defense. The letter went on to say “in response to the request for assistance by the government of Iraq, Australia is therefore undertaking necessary and proportionate military operations against ISIL in Syria in the exercise of the collective self-defence of Iraq.”

Possible reasons for its rejection as a doctrine in international law is the precedence for the extraterritorial use of force against non-state actors. The doctrine would effectively allow a back door pathway to avoiding restrictions placed on member states by Article 51 of the UN Charter that the use of force must be employed legitimate national self-defence or with the express consent of the Security Council. It is concerning to find the doctrine in an official letter from the Australian government to the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi [image via news.yahoo.com]

Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi

The Iraqi government statement of 3 December 2015 directly counters Ms Bishop’s claim of the Australian government bombing in Syria being at the behest of the Iraqis. The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi destroyed any potential legality for Australia’s military actions. There are however, further legal problems for the Australian government’s actions in Syria. The International Court of Justice has twice in recent years declared the concept of “collective self-defence” not applicable when the “defence” is against non-State actors. ISIS, while being an organized community living under a provisional government is not a sovereign state in any true sense, so if Iraq had asked for such help against ISIS in Syria, (which as we have seen it did not) such a request would have still had no legal basis.

Predictably, the Australian mainstream media had given only small treatment of Foreign Minister Bishop’s original announcement that Australia was intending to send bombers to Syria, and some light coverage when those operations commenced in September 2015. Almost no coverage was given to the legal questions of joining the bombing campaign, and no report of the government’s Security Council letter and and its dubious claims. The statement from the Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq was ignored also, as it would have undermined the editorial support for the government’s actions.

A significant development in the story was the extent of the actual bombing runs in Syria flown by the Australian Air Force. The Department of Defence issues the activities of the Air Task Group in Iraq and Syria. These reports show that the F/A-18 fighter-bomber contingent of the Australian Air Force flew 18 sorties in Syria in September 2015 for a total of 143 operational hours. This was the month the operations commenced but was also – interestingly – the month that the initial operations abruptly ended. The DoD figures show that zero sorties were flown in Syria in October and November and just 10 in December.

This development may, however, have something to do with the Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict. Clearly, for all parties involved in the conflict this has been nothing short of a game changer. Unlike the position of the US-led coalition, the Russians intervened at the specific request of the Syrian government. Therefore, there are no doubts about the legitimacy of such action under international laws. The Russian intervention, while on a relatively small scale, has been devastatingly effective. Not only have ISIS forces obliged to seek cover from air attacks, having enjoyed apparent immunity from the West and its allies during the preceding year, there has been a major disruption of their logistical support lines.

Through analysis of the subsequent Russian air reconnaissance and satellite imagery, it has been clearly established that ISIS had been transporting stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil across the Turkish border, that was then sold on the Middle East black market oil trade through a company with close ties to President Erdogan of Turkey. Weapons and vehicles were in turn being shipped back across the Turkish border into Iraq and Syria to support ISIS operations. Evidence also emerged that wounded ISIS fighters were being treated in Turkish and Israeli hospitals and trained in Turkish and Jordanian jihadist camps among other places. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have both pointed to the financial and material support ISIS and other jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda in Iraq receive from other countries in the region.

Russian S-400 "Triumf" anti-aircraft missile system

Russian S-400 “Triumf” anti-aircraft missile system [image via rt.com]

After the Turkish shootdown of one of their Su-24 bombers, the Russians have also since installed the sophisticated S400 air defence system in Syria. This brings anti-aircraft capabilities to their forces and the Syrian Armed Forces, giving them the capacity to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft in Syrian air space. While a purely speculative assumption, it may also be a reason why the Australian Air Force bombing of Syria ceased abruptly for two months after the Russian intervention. It is unfortunate that the Australian government at the time had neither the moral fortitude nor sufficient faith in the Australian people to either provide clear information on the origin of the request for intervention in Syria or to inform of the decision to temporarily withdraw from a war there was no business in pursuing in the first place.

Perhaps a new Australian foreign policy direction is currently being sought, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged that if “boots on the ground” are needed to defeat ISIS, local and regional troops are the key. This could be a signal that policy focus will shift from military action to pragmatism. In a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the Prime Minister addressed the contentious issue of ground troops directly, having just visited Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The destruction of ISIL requires military action including boots on the ground but they must be the right boots on the right ground,” he said. Turnbull has also previously stated that he believes “pragmatism and compromise” are the keys to success in Syria, albeit the success referred to is still the ‘Assad must go’ goal of the US-led coalition.

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.

The Hidden War: Saudi Arabia vs. Yemen

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Yemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in a UNESCO-listed heritage site in the capital, Sana’a, following an overnight Saudi airstrike, June 12, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

There’s a war going on and not everyone knows about it.

Not many here in Western nations like Australia and the US – for every day, Saudi Arabian cruise missiles and bombs are being launched into the country of Yemen. Homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques are being destroyed while at the same time United Arab Emirates and Sudanese ground forces have also crossed its borders. Over 7,000 people are dead as fighting continues. The war has been going on without cease since January of 2015, but the mainstream media is all but completely silent about it.

The current war in Yemen should actually be of great interest to the allies of the US-led coalition forces in their Middle East adventures — particularly because that government is actively involved, in effect taking sides in the conflict, as the Saudi cruise missiles and arms used by the Sudanese and Emirati troops are supplied by the United States. High-ranking Pentagon staff are also in Saudi Arabia advising king Salman bin Abdulaziz and the his military, with US defense satellites assisting the Saudi forces in reconnaissance and target selection. The general populations in the West need to be informed about a war that their governments are actively participating in, yet time continues to go by without our mainstream media corporations even making the slightest mention of Yemen or the extensive war taking place there.

One of the reasons western media is ignoring the war in Yemen is because the US position is indefensible. The United States is effectively aligned with the repressive monarchies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their support of Sunni extremist terrorism, in this instance intended to oppress the Yemeni people and their aspirations for self-determination and desire for democracy.

The origins of the Saudi-Yemeni conflict go back to the Arab Spring of 2011. The streets of Sana’a and Aden overflowed in a mass uprising agitating for democracy against the Saudi-backed dictatorship of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni Sunnis, Shias, and secular forces stood together demanding control of their country. The Ansarullah forces, also called known as Houthis,’ a Zaidi Shia group from Sa’dah in northern Yemen, have military experience and discipline. They won the respect of many people in the country during the street battles of 2011.

After the 2011 uprising, Yemen went on to experience a period of social upheaval as people’s assemblies began to spring up and broad democratic debate took place. However, the hopeful moment abruptly came to an end with a rigged election. As the only candidate on the ballot the Saudi-backed Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was declared the president.

The Zaidi Shias in the Ansarullah organization, the socialists and communists of the southern independence movement, the Arab Spring party of the more secular urban demographic and even some Sunni religious factions all refused to accept the new paradigm and were determined not to surrender.

MohammedAbdulsalam

Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah (AFP photo)

In response to the one-man election and the fraught transition process the Ansarullah organization formed a people’s committee to take up arms and continue the revolution. The transitional process was disrupted by conflicts between the Houthis and Islah, as well as the al-Qaeda insurgency. Islah is a loose coalition of tribal and religious elements with origins in the Islamic Front, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militia funded by Saudi Arabia.

In the northern regions of Yemen Ansarullah carved out liberated territories in the countryside, built alliances and made compromises — gradually preparing to seize power. Former President Saleh, a rival of Hadi, was then able to reach a diplomatic agreement with them.

The Ansarullah forces marched into the capital city of Sana’a in January 2015 and seized power. The People’s Committee became the new government and called for a constituent assembly. The people’s assemblies originally formed during the Arab Spring 2011 uprising were restored and local community militias raised to defend the revolution. By February the ‘rebels’ were in control of the capital of Sana’a.

The barrage of Saudi missiles and bombs was launched in response to the gains made by the Ansarullah revolution. The Saudi royal family, the Israeli regime, and the United Arab Emirates are all seeking to restore Mansour Hadi to his position as their dictator of choice. Now still another force has joined this axis against the People’s Committee – ISIS.

The ISIS forces, who consider Ansarullah to be “shia apostates,” have set up shop in Yemen as well, seeking to bury the revolution with suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings.

Currently, Shi’a Houthis are fighting against the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia. The US supports the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, but many in US SOCOM reportedly favor Houthis, as they have been an effective force in order to roll back al-Qaeda and recently ISIS in Yemen.

As in Syria, the United States has allied with Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and a collection of autocratic Islamic monarchies against the Yemeni people’s Revolutionary Committee seeking to forge a constitutioal democracy.

Another important geopolitical consideration for the situation in Yemen is the fact that it has vast untapped oil resources. However, this oil remains in the ground, as Yemen remains under the stifling influence of Saudi Arabia. One of the key policies of the People’s Revolutionary Coalition is a commitment to begin extracting and refining Yemen’s oil resources under public control. Yemen is currently one of the poorest countries in the entire world, but this could rapidly change if it began exporting oil. Yemen has the potential for lucrative economic diversification similar to Iran or Venezuela, where public control of natural resources has laid the foundation for an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist government and a vibrant independent economy.

The revolutionary coalition maintains control of the capital of Sana’a. Despite their enemies having far more sophisticated weaponry, the people’s coalition has sunk Saudi naval vessels, launched homemade rockets across the Saudi border, and defeated the heavily armed US-trained troops from the United Arab Emirates in retaliation for the onslaught.

The Defense Minister of Iran, Hossein Dehghan, recently responded to the allegations that Ansarullah were nothing more than Iranian proxy warriors. When Ashton Carter stated in an interview with Atlantic Monthly that the war in Yemen was the result of Iranian influence, Dehqan responded, “US Secretary of Defense [Carter] had better go over his past record in this position of authority and reconsider his bully-like and aggressive stances and talk more sensibly and circumspectly.”

The Iranian angle is often presented in the rare instances Western media report on the conflict and recalls the US propaganda used during the Cold War. The ideological war between Marxist-Leninists and Western capitalism was supposed to have long been over. We are seeing now, however, that the world is rapidly re-polarizing and that one of the battles of the new century is a war between Western capitalism and those who reject it for independence and self-determination. In Yemen, those who demand independence, democracy, and control of their own natural resources are fighting and continue to prevail against some of the most well armed powers in the world.

The international financial cartel headquartered jointly in Wall Street, London, Geneva and Tel-Aviv has disillusioned much of the world. It has not delivered the utopia of abundance promised by Rand or Friedman. The neoconservative interventionist reality has led to violent social and economic devastation, as is obvious in the current state of the Middle East. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization are presiding over the bankrupting of the Western middle classes just as willingly as they are continuing to facilitate the exploitaton and impoverishment of the developing world. The Bretton-Woods cartels have no loyalties, even to their countries of origin.

For Peace In France

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The Rant Foundry would like to take this opportunity to express deep sympathy and the most heartfelt condolences to the citizens of Paris and the people of France; the families and loved ones of the victims of the November 13th attacks, those continuing to live in fear for their safety, those who will be called upon in these times of emergency.

Throughout the last century the gentle and proud people of France, the authors of so much that symbolises the aspirations and desires of those that call ourselves civilised and  cultured, have been subjected to unspeakable violence and acts of terrorism often swept over their picturesque country by forces beyond their control. War has cast its shadow across the nation for so much of its recent history and now the dread spectre of terror rises.

Our hearts go out to all French men, women, and children – may you find the strength to endure and overcome.

Vive la France!

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.

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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.

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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