Sep 26, 2014

New US-led Middle East war repeats old mistakes: fuels the cycle of violence

new US-led war in Middle East - airstrikes on Syria

Airstrikes and rockets that hit targets in Syria and Iraq this week mark an escalation in the early stages of a war stamped with the trademark -- Made-in-the-USA. This latest war follows upon earlier interventions and strategic errors that helped fan the flames of jihadist militancy.

Preferable to a US-led coalition in which Sunni dictatorships and former colonial powers play a prominent role would have been a genuine international effort inclusive of Syria and Iran, and perhaps one or more of the BRICS nations. But given the political snake pit the ME has become any such scenario is certain to be seen as more problem than solution by the imperialist powers who jealously guard their interests. A Guardian article by Ali Gharib entitled - Obama's ISIS coalition was built at Iran's expense, and Rouhani knows it  - discusses some of the hurdles to cooperation even in the face of rampaging ISIL.

The lead role of the US in this new war effort is ironic given the American contribution to the actual crisis. The disastrous fall-out from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Washington's covert involvement in the Syrian conflict were key factors behind the growth of ISIL and like-minded groups. This angle was of course downplayed as Obama and Gulf autocrats worked to undermine Syria, the only secular state in the region.

Imperialist war making and interference has been instrumental in unleashing a tidal wave of sectarianism and Islamist radicalization. There is no reason to suppose that this war will be any different. Even though it is ostensibly being directed at ISIL over time it could be perceived quite differently, especially if the impetus shifts toward the targeting of Syrian regime forces and assets in an effort to oust Assad, or if there is a high civilian casualty toll. Many factors could change the direction and perception of the war.

Stirring it up seems to be part of the US talent. Throughout recent decades when it served its purposes Washington cynically supported hardline Islamic groups that more often than not wound up turning against it. The article Playing with Fanatic Fire published recently on the AntiWar site provides some background on how radical Islam has been exploited in the pursuit of power.

During a UN speech this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rightly linked "strategic blunders" in the Middle East with the rise of groups such as ISIL. Rouhani said -  "Certain states have helped to create it, and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our peoples are paying the price." He also said that anti-Western sentiment in parts of the globe was "the offspring of yesterday's colonialism."

The use of airstrikes and rockets will create a lot of damage while not defeating the Islamic State. This is a recipe for a long drawn out war with civilian casualties. The recent airstrikes in Syria have already resulted in civilian deaths. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that eight civilians were killed, including three children. In Der-Ezor province where coalition warplanes targeted ISIL facilities there were civilian casualties. The Syrian Observatory reports that in the countryside of al-Hasakah the dead included women and children. More "mistakes" that will be compounded as the bombing campaign progresses.

You would think there was no causal chain... no lessons to be learned from past mistakes as the US embarks on yet another war with no foreseeable end and freighted with unseen consequence. The view of Obama as a 'reluctant warrior' isn't supported by the facts. Far from being a reluctant warrior, Obama has exhibited a cynical willingness to exploit US military power even more aggressively than many of his predecessors.

Under his watch predator drone strikes dubbed "bug splats" have had a devastating impact on communities in Pakistan. In the process of targeting militants hundreds of civilians have been killed, including women and children. Black ops, dirty wars and airstrikes have increased during his presidency - notably in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, in the assault on Libya and most recently in Syria and Iraq. This projection of American military power is not just profoundly misguided, it is dangerous. It feeds the cycle of violence and adds exponentially to the insecurity in our world rather than decreasing it.

Sep 21, 2014

US journalists critical of Obama admin secrecy - 'setting standards for secrecy that are spreading nationwide'

White House secrecy and information control

Barack Obama came into office promising the most open and transparent government ever. In the light of the Obama administration's obsessive concerns with secrecy and information control the claim seems badly out of sync with current realities.

People close to the action are best placed to judge when it comes to issues of access and transparency. Veteran NYT Washington correspondent David E. Sanger described the Obama administration as "the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered."

More recently at a convention of news/media editors in Chicago speakers were sharply critical of the lack of White House openness. AP's Washington Bureau Chief, Sally Buzbee, believes the problem of information control "extends across the entire federal government and is now trickling down to state and local governments."

A Definitive Source post includes Buzbee's list of ways in which the Obama administration "is making it hard for journalists to find information and cover the news." Here are two:

1) As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.

2) The White House once fought to get cameramen, photographers and reporters into meetings the president had with foreign leaders overseas. That access has become much rarer. Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media: Keep them out and let them use handout photos.

Read the rest of Buzbee's list here.

Brian Carovillano, AP managing director for US news, said "The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations — from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events."

The AP report also mentions a New York Times reporter, James Risen, who believes that pressure on reporters and their sources is having "a chilling effect on newsgathering." Risen described "scaring" a source just by turning up at the person's home and knocking the door.

"He opened the door and he turned white," Risen said. "He marches me back through the kitchen (to a back exit) and said, "'Go out that way.'"

According to Buzbee sources have been warned that they risk being fired for even talking to reporters. On how the Obama administration rates on transparency as compared with the George W. Bush administration she said: "Bush was not fantastic," adding that "The (Obama) administration is significantly worse than previous administrations."

On the White House website Obama states that  “Government should be transparent... Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.”

However the stark contrast between Obama's actual practices in office when compared with his claims on transparency is night and day.  In this YouTube video the one-time candidate for president  is heard making promises on transparency that seem like a bad joke given what has transpired in the interim.

Don't believe the hype

Obama fails to deliver on transparency in government

Sep 17, 2014

Washington's war to 'destroy' ISIL: what is ISIL and who is the real security threat?

US to 'destroy' ISIL in new war

In recent weeks Western media has been sounding the alarm over the speedy territorial gains made by the Islamic State - also known as ISIL and ISIS - with warnings of the threat it poses to the West. In some of the more alarmist commentary you would think  ISIL had arisen like a desert djinn and magically metastasized into an evil contagion threatening the so-called "civilized" world. The creation and progress of ISIL is far from a recent development. It arose on the back of the chaos in Iraq in the years following the US invasion - fertile soil for the emergence of Sunni Salafist resistance. You could describe ISIL as the spawn of American war mongering. Washington now wants to destroy what it was instrumental in creating.

An early precursor of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. AQI later joined with other Sunni insurgent groups and consolidated as Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). As ISIS or Da'esh the group experienced significant growth and capitalized on the alienation among Sunnis who felt discriminated against by the new political order in Baghdad. 

ISIL's military gains and speedy territorial advances owe much to the stockpile of US weaponry in its possession. By some estimates the ISIL haul of US military hardware in Iraq includes 1,500 Humvees, 4,000 PKC machineguns and 60 M198 155-millimeter howitzers. American weapons have also come into ISIL's possession via other rebel groups in Syria and in some cases directly.

As far back as 2012 arms for the rebels were airlifted through Turkey and Jordan with CIA assistance. An NYT article in March of last year entitled Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A. gives an overview of the scope and duration of the operations involved.

The rapid growth of ISIL also owes much to the millions funneled through Kuwait to aid the Syrian rebel cause and money raised through other channels. Washington's friends in the Arab Gulf behind the anti-Assad push knew exactly who the heavy hitters were among the rebel forces and they weren't John McCain's "good guys." Ghanim al-Mteiri, a leading Kuwaiti fundraiser told the New York Times -   "... we want to get Bashar out of Syria, so why not cooperate with al-Qaeda?"

The Islamic State organization includes Iraqis who once opposed the American military machine in their country. Many of them spent time in US holding cells. Among the prisoners held at Camp Bucca was ISIL leader, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, where he set about early organizing.

Some of the Iraqis in ISIL previously served as officers in Saddam's army - the army that the Americans in their infinite wisdom chose to disband. ISIL has 25 deputies in Syria and Iraq and about a third of these were officers under Saddam and spent time in US prisons. These men bring with them military expertise and a capacity for resistance honed during the arduous years of war in their homeland. Iraqis who hold key positions in ISIL include Fadel al-Hayali, a one-time lieutenant colonel in Saddam's army and Adnan al-Sweidawi, head of ISIL's military council.

The American plan to combat ISIL could prove counterproductive and may become a catalyst for a wider war or the type of backlash the West most fears. The plan isn't without internal contradictions.The sight of John Kerry seeking support from the Saudis to combat ISIL is ironic in the extreme given the Saudi track record of support for hardline Salafism elsewhere in the world. This truth was addressed recently in an NYT article by Ed Husein who makes this key point - "Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe."

Others also see contradictions at work in the US-led coalition. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, accused the US of attempting to fight ISIL with the countries that helped to create it. She said: "Some of the countries in the coalition are among financial and military supporters of terrorists in Iraq and Syria..."

Washington is revving up yet another war in the Middle East that might have no foreseeable end, notwithstanding John Kerry's preferred characterization of US strategy as a "counterterrorism operation." Also Kerry's boasts of a "significant coalition" needs to be viewed with a large dose of skepticism. Not all in the coalition are equally willing and their contributions will vary accordingly.

It's disturbing how far Washington has been prepared to extend the leash it has granted itself since 9/11. Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted in an Intercept article saying: "The claims of who can be bombed has grown during Obama’s term in office... Three years ago, they pretended only senior Al Qaeda leaders who posed an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland could be killed, then in the NDU [National Defense University] speech Obama said any 'continuing and imminent threat to the American people,' and now the continuing and imminent is gone and it's 'anyone who threatens America's core interests.'"

Washington's borderless hitman approach to taking out alleged enemies is a strategy that is arguably lawless and ultimately  self-defeating... especially when going after cross-border targets involves an ever-rising civilian death toll. American predator drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have resulted in the death and wounding of hundreds of women and children who simply happened to be in and around the targeted facilities.

Washington's high-handed arrogation of powers to itself since 9/11 has seen the destabilization of nations, damage to the social fabric of targeted societies and the emergence not so much of the American global policeman as of the American global cowboy or even terrorist. With scant respect for international law and national sovereignty the US dispatches its forces like a high-tech posse to hunt down the "wanted" wherever and whenever it chooses, even if such missions do risk civilian casualties and add significantly to global tensions.

While we've been hearing a lot in the media lately about the threat posed by ISIL, there are grounds to believe that American war making, interventionism and "policing" poses a greater threat to global security - one that risks provoking a wider war with serious consequences for the planet.

Sep 11, 2014

Troubling questions about MH-17 crash remain following release of Dutch report

DSB report on MH-17 crash

The Dutch Safety Board's (DSB) preliminary report on the causes of the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 is noteworthy for what it fails to report. It tells us pretty much what we already know or have surmised from analysis of damaged sections of the plane at the crash site. The report states that - "The damage observed in the forward section of the aircraft appears to indicate that the aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft... It is likely that this damage resulted in a loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to an in-flight break up."

No word as to what the mysterious "objects" may have been... whether they were the result of a missile attack (the word "missile" isn't mentioned in the report) or other fire and no hint either when it comes to possible parties involved.

The report has confirmed that the cockpit took a lot of the damage... damage noted at first hand by one of the first OSCE investigators at the scene of the crash, Canadian Michael Bociurkiw. In a CBC interview Bociurkiw said that he saw sections of the plane that were "pockmarked." He described the visual appearance as resembling  "machine gun fire... very very strong machine gun fire."

The report has no comment either on other pertinent matters leaving the field open for spin that a few commentators have been quick to supply.  Much of the speculation on the heels of the report's release  has come from "experts" in government and media, a number of whom are more than willing to fill in the gaps in order to further their case about Russian involvement.

That a surface-to-air missile of the Buk type - possibly armed with a fragmentation warhead - may have been involved is a distinct possibility. Who the investigators believe was behind the targeting of the plane is a question unlikely to be addressed until a much later date, if at all. Given the DSB's extremely cautious approach at this stage of the investigation it's hard not to conclude that a number of key considerations remain opaque or have been understated or shelved for whatever reason.

Radar data is a case in point. The DSB received ATC surveillance data from the Russian Federation yet remains silent on the issue of the Ukrainian Su-25 fighter that the Russians claimed their radar tracked as it climbed to within 3 to 5 kilometers of MH-17.

Russian radar isn't the only source that places Ukrainian fighter/fighters in the vicinity of MH-17 on July 17. As mentioned in an earlier post, a BBC report by correspondent Olga Ivshina places eye witnesses at the scene who specifically refer to the presence of Ukrainian military aircraft in the proximity of MH-17 before it crashed. The women who Ivshina spoke with were not militia members, just local civilians. They came across as entirely credible in the related BBC video.

The report by Ivshina was subsequently deleted by the BBC. Was it censored because every eye witness interviewed claimed the presence of Ukrainian military aircraft on July 17? Or did it have anything to do with claims - mentioned in other reports -  that Kiev has used civilian planes flying over the region as cover for its military aircraft when carrying out strikes, a number of which have resulted in civilian casualties?

In a recent article - Malaysian Airlines Whodunnit Still a Mystery - investigative journalist Robert Parry points out another missing link in the Dutch report:

The report is also silent on the “dog-not-barking” issue of whether the U.S. government had satellite surveillance that revealed exactly where the supposed ground-to-air missile was launched and who may have fired it.

The Obama administration has asserted knowledge about those facts – initially pointing the finger at ethnic Russian rebels using a powerful Buk anti-aircraft missile system supposedly supplied by Russia – but the U.S. government has withheld satellite photos and other intelligence information that could presumably corroborate the charge.

Curiously, too, the Dutch report, released on Tuesday, states that the investigation received “satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence.” Obviously, the more relevant images in assessing blame would be aerial photography in the days and hours before the crash that killed 298 people on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In mid-July, eastern Ukraine was a high priority for U.S. intelligence and a Buk missile battery is a large system that should have been easily picked up by U.S. aerial reconnaissance. The four missiles in a battery are each about 16-feet-long and would have to be hauled around by a truck and then put in position to fire.

Parry also notes in his article that Russian satellite imagery purported to show "... Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18."

If the claims about the Ukrainian Buk systems are accurate it is safe to assume that the Americans have similar satellite images for the dates in question. So it seems curious that they have only released satellite images for days following the crash. The DSB report states that the investigation received “satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence.”

Why would Ukrainian forces position their Buk missile systems in that location and at that time, when the east Ukraine self-defence militias they are fighting possess no air capability? The positioning of the Ukrainian Buks appears to have been for another purpose.

The Dutch report doesn't take us far on the road of discovery. There remain many unanswered questions. Assurances by the DSB that the final report will be released before the first anniversary of the crash in 2015 suggests we are in for a long wait. When the final report is released memories of MH-17 will have receded and we may be looking at an entirely different state-of-affairs in the Ukraine. This may suit the agenda of those for whom the revelation of key information pertaining to the downing of MH-17 could prove to be politically compromising.