Syria

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Heating up the New Cold War: Turkey and Russia in Syria

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Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber [image via rt.com]

The recent downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 by Turkish air force F16s in a provocative test of alliances in the volatile Syrian War region is an indication of what is at stake not only for the West but for the other nations and interests piling into the conflict. This new meeting of eastern and western alliances in Syria bears more than a superficial resemblance to the Imperial house of cards that was on the verge of collapse in Central Europe a little over a century ago. Now, with the eyes of the world on the Syrian War, Turkish fighter jets on patrol near the Syrian border shot down the Russian warplane in November after claiming it violated Turkey’s airspace, in what has become a long-feared escalation that is straining relations between Russia and the West and bringing the spectre of NATO military action to the scenario.

Escalating Tensions

The Syrian War – for the Western anti-Assad coalition – is being waged as a multidimensional chessboard proxy war spearheaded in part by Turkey itself, amid Russia’s joint military operations with Syria against the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and supporting terrorist factions. An escalation of tensions particularly with Russia has been expected not because the Turkish government actually fears Russian warplanes crossing parts of their borders pose a distinct threat to its security or national sovereignty, but because it has been obvious particularly since NATO’s aggressive stance toward Russia over eastern Ukraine, that once Moscow sent aircraft to Syria another shootdown shrouded in mystery would be an opportunity for geopolitical leverage to good to miss.

In addition to Turkish military having cameras rolling as the Russian Su-24 bomber went down in flames, terrorists operating in the region had allegedly rushed to the scene of the crash shortly after the incident, according to Reuters. One of the pilots was killed by ground arms fire as they tried to eject to safety, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Turkish President Racciyp Erdogan it then went on to demand that the NATO Council convene, although not only wasn’t Turkey attacked, but rather itself committed an act of aggression. While Turkey maintains that it was only reacting in self-defense – it was against aircraft that were not engaged in actions over Turkish airspace or against the Turkish national military.

In order to justify its actions the Turkish Army has made radar footage public, footage that was supposed to have confirmed a breach of national sovereignty. The release, however, clearly shows that the Russian jets passed over what amounts to a sliver of Turkish territory, a small Turkish strip inside the Syrian mainland. The Turkish state broadcaster Haberturk TV showed footage of the downed Russian jet, trailing a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area apparently known as ‘Turkmen Mountain.’

Pan-Turkism in the Middle East

In Turkey, the Anatolian Agency released images of two pilots parachuting out of the jet before its crash. The Turkish media have since commenced a tirade of coverage stressing that the affected area inside Syrian territory is held by Turkmen opposition groups, and not anti-Assad terrorists. Hence, the story being sold is that the Russian campaign is not aimed at rooting out ISIS, but rather at protecting the Assad regime against its opponents, the alleged ‘moderate opposition’.

The shootdown of a Russian jet con­duct­ing oper­a­tions against Turk­men mili­tia pulls back the cur­tain on known Pan-Turkist militant ele­ments such as the Grey Wolves that con­sti­tute part of the so-called ‘mod­er­ate’ rebel forces being armed by the West and Turkey. It now seems they were the mili­tia unit responsible for the killing of the Russ­ian pilot of the SU-24. Grey Wolf ele­ments have also been active in sup­port of the Mus­lim Turkish Uighurs in resource-rich Xin­jiang Province in northwestern China which shares part of its borders with Russia. After Thai­land extra­dited some ethnic Uighurs to China to face crim­i­nal charges, the Grey Wolves demon­strated against China in Turkey by det­o­nating a bomb in Bangkok on 17 August 2015, tar­get­ing Chinese tourists.

From Turkey to Ukraine, Crimean Tatars are sup­ported by Erdo­gan, who has been attempt­ing to real­ize a neo-Ottoman agenda. Now, the Tatars are work­ing with the OUN/B heirs in Ukraine’s Pravy Sek­tor to sab­o­tage the Crimean power grid. The attack on the elec­tri­cal grid came after a Tatar/Pravy Sek­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion in block­ing over­land truck deliv­er­ies to Crimea, as well as the Crimean water supply.

Threat of use of nuclear ordnance

The type of combat scenario seen in Syria inevitably raises the prospect of the someone in the region resorting to the use of nuclear ordnance. Not only are there American nuclear weapons in Turkey, with up to fifty B61 nuclear bombs in Erdogan’s hands with limited oversight, Turkey is the other nuclear power in the Middle East along with Israel, and the two have been working closely together since the 1940s.

In the context of the Syrian conflict it is a critical consideration – these B61 bombs, dangerous as they already are, have been slated for what the nuclear non-proliferation community has termed an illegal modification. From The Guardian:

“… In non-proliferation terms however the only thing worse than a useless bomb is a ‘usable’ bomb. Apart from the stratospheric price, the most controversial element of the B61 upgrade is the replacement of the existing rigid tail with one that has moving fins that will make the bomb smarter and allow it to be guided more accurately to a target. Furthermore, the yield can be adjusted before launch, according to the target.

“The modifications are at the centre of a row between anti-proliferation advocates and the government over whether the new improved B61-12 bomb is in fact a new weapon, and therefore a violation of President Obama’s undertaking not to make new nuclear weapons. His administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review said life extension upgrades to the US arsenal would ‘not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.’

“The issue has a particular significance for Europe where a stockpile of 180 B61s is held in six bases in five countries. If there is no change in that deployment by the time the upgraded B61-12s enter the stockpile in 2024, many of them will be flown out to the bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.“

In early 2015, Turkey had 117 of its F16 aircraft modified. These upgrades included avionics, electronic warfare and targeting, but also included upgrades for some of their aircraft to nuclear capability.

The United States keeps its nuclear inventory in Turkey at Incirlik Air Force Base, where specially modified NATO F16s are intended to carry these weapons against Russian cities. However, by agreement, none of America’s specially modified planes are actually stationed in Turkey.

The alternative that Erdogan and select NATO commanders found was a simple: as Turkish and Israeli pilots already trained together against the ‘common enemy’ – Iran – Israel could train Turkish crews to deliver the newly modified and much more lethal B61 guided warhead and could complete the modification on some of the upgraded Turkish aircraft to full nuclear capability.

These aircraft with targeting intelligence allegedly stolen from the US by Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, are ready to be deployed at any time or as part of a yet to be determined cabal of other ‘unannounced nuclear states,’ such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel or Germany, could prove a first strike capability.

Analysis of Russian response

In recent weeks with Russian air support, Syrian troops have retaken large swaths of territory from ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist fighters. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has even begun approaching the Euphrates River east of Aleppo, which would effectively cut off ISIS from its supply lines leading out of Turkish territory.

From there, Syrian troops could move north, into the safe zone the US and its Turkish partners have long-sought but have so far failed to establish within Syria’s borders. This ‘safe’ or ‘no-fly’ zone includes a region of northern Syrian stretching from Jarabulus near the west bank of the Euphrates to Afrin and Ad Dana approximately 100 kilometers west. Taking the Jarabulus-Afrin corridor and fortifying it against NATO incursions while simultaneously cutting off ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist factions deeper within Syria would be perhaps the most decisive of all possible actions. With Syria secured, an alternative arc of influence will exist within the Middle East, one that will inevitably work against Saudi and other GCC efforts in Yemen, and in a wider sense begin an eviction of Western military hegemony from the region.

If Syrian coalition troops retake this territory, the prospect of the West ever making an incursion into Syria, holding territory, or compromising Syria’s territorial integrity would be lost forever. Western ambitions toward regime change in Damascus would be indefinitely suspended.

For Turkey’s government – which has been consistent only in its constant failure regarding its proxy war against its neighbouring Syria and now alleged to be supporting ISIS – the prospect of Russian retaliation either directly or indirectly will leave it increasingly isolated.

State-sponsored terror: what is ISIS in Paris?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© AP Photo/ French Army

© AP Photo/ French Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Irony of the West vs Russia: geopolitical hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

120713023419-al-assad-gestures-story-top

Image via AFP/GETTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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