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The white-Left Part 1: The two meanings of white

Friday, June 27, 2014

Will anti-war groups embrace US "hit & run" morality?

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday:
Over all, 42 percent said the United States had a responsibility to do something about the hostilities in Iraq, and 50 percent said it did not.
Anyone who is even casually familiar with the role of the United States in Iraq over the past several decades knows that its actions have played a major role in creating the problems Iraq is suffering from today. For more than a decade before the 2003 US War on Iraq, the US punished it with air strikes and sanctions that wrecked the economy and killed hundreds of thousands. That was followed by 8 years of war and occupation in which more than half a million people were killed, the country's infrastructure was destroyed, and the people were set against each other in the usual pattern of imperialist sectarian rule. The sectarian Shiite government against which the Sunni minority is now revolting was put in place by the United States. So to claim that the United States has no responsibility to do anything about the current state of affairs in Iraq, represents the same immoral denial of responsibility that has given Los Angeles a 48% hit and run accident rate.

This is not to say that the US has any business bombing anyone or that there is anything positive that the US can contribute through the use of military power, but that was not the question. The question was whether the US had a responsibility to do anything about the hostilities that the US has played a major role in instigating. To answer that in the negative is to take the selfish road of shirking responsibility for one's actions when they imperil innocent people.

This is the reason far too many Americans don't want to spend one thin dime, let alone risk an American life, trying to fix what we have broken or help innocent children that aren't their own. This attitude is the result of the backwardness and chauvinism of the people of an imperialist superpower. As followers of the imperialist mindset, they will oppose any intervention, even that which is truly humanitarian, unless there is something in it for them. Naturally the 50% that feel this way are opposed to military or any other action in Iraq or Syria and are for these reasons opposed to any US military action in Iraq or Syria.

This is a problem that can only be overcome with time and education. The more immediate problem is that rather than trying to teach these people why they should care about people that aren't even Americans, much of the anti-war movement is opportunistically welcoming their opposition to doing anything in Iraq and attempting to build so-called Left-Right unity on this basis.

During Obama's saber rattling after Assad's use of "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" 21 August 2013, there was a lot of talk in anti-war circles about building a right-left alliance in opposition to Obama's promised military response. Much of this unity was based on some of the most backwards and selfish instincts. This was articulated by Democratic Congressmember Alan Grayson of Florida, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he was on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, 6 September 2013. He listed four reasons Congress seems overwhelmingly opposed to this or any military intervention in the carnage in Syria:
According to the New York — The Washington Post whip count as of this morning, there are 19 members of Congress in favor of this resolution and 174 against. And the reasons are simple: It’s not our responsibility, it’s not going to do any good, it’s expensive, and it’s dangerous. And those arguments are winning the day among House members, both Democrat and Republican.
I think it is safe to say that these are also some of the reasons behind a much broader right-left alliance to pretty much act as if a hundred thousand people in Syria weren't being slaughtered by their own government on YouTube.

Now the conflagration in Syria has done what ignored fires tend to do, it spread. For anyone familiar with imperialism and the role of the US in it, and especially if they were aware of our country's role in putting the Assad's in power, the "it's not our responsibility" angle fails even when applied to Syria. It is an abomination when applied to Iraq.

War may not be the answer but neither is washing our hands of the situation.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Phyllis Bennis twists reality to fit politics on DN

Phyllis Bennis actually said this on Democracy Now Tuesday:
In Syria, both countries [Iran and the United States] have an interest in tamping down the violence, even though they have differences over what the real threat might be. Iran, in Syria, is still supporting the Syrian regime; the U.S., of course, opposes the Syrian regime. But both Iran and the United States say that they are against ISIS, I-S-I-S, the leading force in Syria that is opposed to the Syrian regime. So, the U.S. and Iran, in that context, are on the same side.
This is another good example of how those in the "anti-imperialist" camp twist reality to fit their twisted politics. Phyllis Bennis makes two, shall we say, dubious claims in the above statement 1) Iran is interested in tamping down the violence in Syria, and 2) ISIS is the leading force that is opposes the Syrian regime.

These two statements represent a break from reality that is so serve that I really don't know where to begin except to say they illustrate why it is so hard to build unity or even carry on a rational conversation with these "anti-imperialist" neighbors, but let me at least try.

If "tamping down the violence" means to Phyllis Bennis destroying any movement for democracy in Syria, slaughtering anyone who opposed the Assad regime so that there is no longer any armed resistance, and bringing the violence back to were it was for most of 40 years, through arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and murder in Assad's detention centers, then she may be able to make the argument that both the Assad regime and its Iranian backers are interested in "tamping down the violence," because after three years and 160,000 of his people's lives it should be clear to even a moron that Bashar al-Assad would rather take that road to "peace" than give up his "presidency."

If on the other hand, one wishes for the Syrian people and the whole region, the peace that comes with justice, then we must acknowledge that Iran is one of the greatest purveyor of violence in this conflict. Second only to Russia, it has enabled Assad's carnage with political, economic and military support. It is first in putting foreign "boots on the ground" in Syria. It has its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighting for Assad in Syria, and it has, let us say, "encouraged" both Hezbullah and Iraqi Shiite militias to be Assad's shock troops. Those forces don't exactly have a reputation for "tamping down the violence." As a matter of fact, it has been widely reported for over a year now that Iranians are pretty much peopling and running the Syrian state. Phyllis Bennis suggests that Iran has an interest in "tamping down the violence" in Syria, but that's not what the Iranians say. They say their future is joined at the hip with the continuation of the Assad regime. In other words they say what the other regime supporters say "Bashar al-Assad or we burn the country." I'm sure Phyllis Bennis knows that. Why else the "tamping down" metaphor?

So much for her not so veiled support for Bashar al-Assad and the Iranians. Shall we now turn to her attack on the Syrian Revolution? The view that all of Assad's armed opposition are Islamic jihadists is also an Assad regime talking point but ISIS is definitely not "the leading force" in Syria.

I know there is a peculiar definition of "the leading force" among some on the Left that allows them to think a small group can be "the leading force" regardless of its size or disconnect from the mass struggle because they have the "right" ideology. If Phyllis Bennis thinks ISIS is leading this struggle ideologically, she must also see the struggle to overthrow the Assad dictatorship as a reactionary counterrevolution.

But as a practical matter there is no way ISIS has been leading this revolution. First it is formally only about a year old, it has a relatively small number of fighters and they haven't been fighting the Assad regime. They have been fighting the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, even Jabhat al Nusra, in fact every rebel group that the mind of Phyllis Bennis has them leading. Also the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces issued a memo on 10 February 2014 titled "ISIS & the Assad Regime: From Marriage of Convenience to Partnership" in which they said:
Since the FSA declared war on this group on 3rd January 2014 and took over many of their bases, significant evidence has been uncovered which has confirmed circulating testimony and rumors about the links between the regime and ISIS.

This memo is just a small sample of testimony from FSA fighters that describe events on the ground where regime forces have been protecting and assisting this group. Accounts go further, saying that regime forces are intimately intertwined with this group, whose objectives are one and the same: to destroy moderate Opposition forces and establish control over as much of Syria as possible.
So there's that.

As for her assertion that "the U.S., of course, opposes the Syrian regime," I have already dealt with that at length:
How Obama has supported Assad's gas murder always
Obama's Real Syria Policy: Endless War
The Courtship Continues: Obama stopped French strike on Assad
The Courtship Continues: Obama's New Gift to Assad
How Obama Helped Assad Kill with Poison Gas in Syria
Win-Win for Assad as Obama Response to CW Mass Murder Put on Hold
Obama Denied Gas Masks to Assad's Victims
Obama's Dilemma and Assad's Opportunity
Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad
Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad Exposed!
Obama "green lights" Assad's slaughter in Syria
Assad's Redline and Obama's Greenlight!
Chemical weapons use in Syria, Has Obama's red-line has been crossed?
AP weighs in on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria
Syria: Obama's moves Assad's "red line" back as SOHR reports 42,000 dead!
SecState John Kerry and his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad
How Obama's 'No MANPADS for you' policy in Syria is backfiring
More thoughts on Obama's 'No MANPADS for you!' policy
Obama: Did the CIA betray Assad's opposition in Syria?
Obama planning drone strikes against Assad's opposition in Syria
How Obama helps Assad: US tried to start war between FSA & al Nusra Front

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Monday, June 23, 2014

ISIS attacks Free Syrian Army with US weapons

In my blog post yesterday I predicted:
Because Obama has refused weapons for the Free Syrian Army and the other moderate forces in Syria and because ISIS has now gotten its hands on stockpiles of the latest US weaponry in Mosul and other Iraq arsenals they have captured, there is the distinct possibility that in future battles between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army, ISIS will have the best US weapons. Now that would be a real embarrassment to President Obama.
Obama's embarrassment didn't take long to develop. Today Reuters is reporting:
Equipped with Humvees, ISIL clashes with rivals in Syria

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Gareth Jones)
BEIRUT - The Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) battled with rival opposition fighters in northern Syria on Sunday, using U.S.-made military vehicles captured from neighboring Iraq for the first time, a monitoring group said.
For the first time, ISIL combatants have been using U.S-made Humvees - four-wheel drive military vehicles - in fighting in northern areas of Syria's Aleppo province, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The vehicles, which appear to have been seized during ISIL's recent Iraqi offensive, were used to gain control of villages outside the town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border, it said. More...
Azaz was liberated from Assad regime forces on 19 July 2012. One year later ISIS attempted to set up a headquarters in Azaz, but this provoked protests from local activists. At that time ISIS didn't have a military presence in Azaz. It was under the control of the FSA's Northern Storm Bridage. In September ISIS started bringing in military forces, including rooftop snipers, attacking the FSA and terrorizing the people. In early October a peaceful anti-ISIS protest in Azaz was fired upon by them. Throughout September ISIS had been increasing it military presence in Azaz. By the middle of October 2013, ISIS had removed any remaining FSA elements, until a spring counter-offensive drove them out.

It would appear that the Syrian opposition forces are the only military forces in Syria or Iraq actually fighting ISIS on the ground, and they are winning ground from them. Taking advantage of ISIS's diversion of forces to Iraq, the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front and other Syrian opposition force were able liberated some areas, as this Al Jazeera report tells us:
Sigh of relief after ISIL retreat
Withdrawal of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters from northern Syrian town gives residents hope.
09 Mar 2014
by Emma Beals
Azaz, Syria - Residents of parts of northern Syria say they are breathing easy again after living under the rule of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL) fighters, who hastily retreated from the area after the threat of attack from other rebel groups.
"It feels like the town is smiling, laughing, happy," Azaz resident Abu Bilal told Al Jazeera. More...
Now it looks like ISIS is trying to retake Azaz and the surrounding areas from the democratic opposition in Syria and now they are fortified with the type of US weapons the FSA has been denied. How embarrassing for President Obama and all who have supported his refusal to arm Assad's moderate opposition.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Sunday, June 22, 2014

O'Donnell's good question and Obama's bad answer

"CBS This Morning" host Norah O'Donnell asked President Obama a very good question when she interviewed him about the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS and its dramatic return to Iraq after a year of growth in Syria:
Would that vacuum exist had we backed the moderate forces in Syria?
President Barack Obama responded:
"Yes, I think this notion that somehow there was this ready-made moderate Syrian force that was able to defeat [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is simply not true, and, you know, we have spent a lot of time trying to work with a moderate opposition in Syria.

"But, as I said yesterday, when you get farmers, dentists and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad, the notion that they were in a position to suddenly overturn not only Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy. And I think it's very important for the American people - but maybe more importantly, Washington and the press corps - to understand that."
The correct answer is No, ISIS would probably not be leading the uprising in Iraq if Obama had backed the moderate forces in Syria. President Obama is just wrong when he implies that the Syrian opposition had to battle both the Assad regime and the hard-line Islamic jihadists from the beginning and he is wrong when he says his administration did all it could to help them when it "spent a lot of time trying to work with" some of the opposition forces. The struggle against Assad had gone on for almost a year before these jihadists became a significant factor.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Syrian people rose up to overthrow the 40 year old Assad dictatorship. It became an armed struggle because Assad responded to peaceful protests with gun fire. It has been dragging on because while the Syrian opposition has had the numbers, they have lacked the guns. From the very beginning the only military help the Syrian opposition needed or asked for was help with weapons, ammunition and supplies. They have been adamant that if they had the weapons they could do the fighting, no foreign boots needed, no thanks, and if they were allowed modern anti-aircraft defence systems, they could enforce their own 'no-fly' zone.

Free Syria Flag
It wasn't just "farmers dentists and folks" with no military training that took up arms against the regime, tens of thousand of Syrian Arab Army soldiers decided their allegiance to the people precluded shooting them and switched sides. The Free Syrian Army was founded by these defectors. Sometimes whole units and their commanders defected. Obama is just wrong when he implies that the moderate opposition as a whole lacked combat experience and training. They already had plenty of that and got pretty good at passing on their training to civilian volunteers. What they lacked was weapons and ammo. Often they started with what they could walk away with, and that precluded heavy weapons. Later that would be supplemented with those they could capture from Assad's arsenal or purchased on the black market with donor money but they have always been short of weapons and ammo as compared to Assad's forces with their generous Russian and Iranian backers.

Man with MANPADS
The Syrian opposition will tell you that time and time again that this has been the single most important factor stopping them from defeating Assad. They have lacked a consistent supply of small arms and ammunition and they lacked altogether certain important categories of heavy weapons such as advanced anti-tank weapons and man portable air defence systems also known as MANPADS that could offset Assad's military dominance.

The problem of jihadists in Syria is relatively new. This wound has been allowed to fester for more than two years before they were able to infect it the way they have. A hundred thousand people had been slaughtered, many of them by Bashar al-Assad's barrel-bombing air force, while the powers that could stop it looked on and did nothing. Had Assad's moderate opposition received a sufficient supply of arms in the early years of this conflict, it would probably already be over and the Assad regime a subject of history. The jihadist threat represented by ISIS would have never had a chance to grow.

The struggle had gone on for almost a year before al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra {JAN] set off its first car bomb attack on 6 January 2012 and then announced itself 17 days later. Through most of 2012 they remained a relatively small force carrying out suicide and car bombings and killing dozens of people here and there, but their audacity and good supply of weapons continued to attract Syrians from other brigades, JAN was and remains a predominately Syrian group, and it continued to grow. By the end of 2012, JAN had been added to the US list of terrorist organizations.

As for the notion that those who took up arms against the regime are on a fool's errand and President Obama's contention that the thought that they could ever prevail is "a fantasy." Its simply not supported by the history of this conflict. Nobody can deny that in late-2012, early-2013, before Hezbollah intervened with sectarian fanatics that wouldn't defect, Assad was on the ropes, even with all his Russian and Iranian help.

The fact that they have already come to within an inch of toppling Assad without Obama's help shows that it isn't such a fantasy to think that they can do it. How were they to know, in advanced, that the "leader of the free world" would use his power and influence to deny them tools that had become essential in struggle to bring democracy to their country because the dictator had made it an armed struggle?

Syrian city after Assad
If Assad's opposition in Syria had been allowed to acquire, in 3 years, the type of air defence capabilities that Putin's proxies in Ukraine have in as many months. They could bring down Assad's barrel bombing helicopters and jets themselves with no more support. That alone could have changed the whole contour of the conflict. Assad has consistently bombed civilian targets like schools, bakeries, hospitals, play grounds, and apartment building. His almost unchallenged domination of the air, along with his missiles and heavy artillery are by and large responsible for the massive Syrian refugee crisis because Assad uses them to make liberated areas unliveable.

The jihadist group that is causing so many problems now in Syria and Iraq is not Jabhat al-Nusra but ISIS and while both share the al Qaeda outlook, JAN remains dominated by Syrians and participates in the struggle against the Assad regime. In contrast, the much more vicious ISIS is made up mainly of foreign fighters, seems to have a truce going with the Assad forces, and has even been disowned by al-Qaeda leader Zawqawi.

The consequence of doing nothing can be frightful. Here are just two of Obama's missed opportunities to nip this thing in the bud:

1.] Give them an inch and they'll threaten Baghdad: ISIS should never been allowed to take and hold Raqqa.

ISIS didn't come onto the scene until April 2013 when the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, the al Qaeda affiliate established to fight the US occupation of Iraq, announced he was merging ISI with JAN under the new name. The leadership of JAN rejected the merger and continued as an independent group although it is estimated that they lost as many as half their fighters to ISIS.

This was just a month after the combined opposition forces had captured their first provincial capital of Raqqa from the Assad regime. The Jabhat al Nusra and the Free Syrian Army were the lead forces in capturing Raqqa, but soon the dark cloud of ISIS descended on the city.

ISIS should never been allowed to capture and occupy Raqqa, Syria. Sarah Birke visited Raqqa soon after it was liberated and she described the changes in the New York Review of Books, 27 December 2013:
When I visited that month, the city was ruled by a coalition of militias, and it was possible to move around as a woman without a headscarf. I met with an Alawite nurse who worked alongside Sunni peers. And I talked to Abdullah al-Khalil, a prominent lawyer before the war, who as head of the local council continued to pay street cleaners salaries and was trying to secure enough money to keep other services going.

But within two months, ISIS was firmly in charge. The group beheaded three Alawites in the city’s central square, and established sharia courts and policing. Abdullah al-Khalil, the head councilman, was himself kidnapped by ISIS or its allies. Women have been told to cover up, smoking banned, and girls and boys segregated in school. Minorities have been hounded out of the city, and foreign journalists and aid workers are no longer welcome: dozens are currently in ISIS captivity.
ISIS killings in Mosul
The capture of Raqqa by ISIS represented a turning point in this conflict.  Even at that late date, had the moderate rebels received adequate support in their struggle against the ISIS for Raqqa it is likely they wouldn't be leading the capture of Mosul and threatening of Baghdad in Iraq today. There would still be a problems created by the Sunni-Shiite divide the US cultivated to occupy Iraq and its echoes in the current sectarian Maliki government, but it is likely they would have a very different character because it is likely ISIS wouldn't be leading them.

ISIS has been in the position of being able to come back into Iraq and capitalize on and direct Sunni rage against the Maliki government because once it succeeded in throwing the FSA, JAN and other opposition forces out of Ragga and the surrounding area, it was able to establish a safe rear area that allowed it to organize, consolidate forces, train and grow. It became a base camp from which it could slowly grow the areas of Syria under its control, capturing Minberg airbase near Aleppo in August and taking Azaz away from the FSA in September.
ISIS HQ in Raqqa
Apparently, ISIS occupation of Raqqa was okay with Assad because while he had bombed the FSA in Raqqa relentlessly, after there was a "change in management", the clearly marked ISIS headquarters in Raqqa became one of the safest places in Syria. Until this week, neither it nor any of the other ISIS installations or camps around Raqqa have been bombed by Assad's air force.

Why Obama never lifted a finger to prevent the establishment of ISIS in Raqqa is another question and one that will be discussed for years to come. I don't think it would have taken much. ISIS prevailed in the struggle for Raqqa because they were better armed. No shots were fired because when ISIS flexed it muscles the other opposition forces conceded. As always, there were many other factors but that one was decisive. The FSA was starved for weapons particularly heavy weapons, and as Obama pointed out in his comment, they were now fighting a war on two fronts. The ISIS may not have had to worry about Assad's air force, but the FSA did.

2.] ISIS's current success is also blow-back from Obama's failure to strike Assad after the August chemical attack.

If Obama had delivered on his promise to make a serious military strike against Assad for using chemical weapons after the August attack that killed more than 1400 Syrian, it would be much less likely that ISIS would be threatening Baghdad now.

Children of sarin | 21 Aug 2013
My friends in the Syrian American Council tell me that it is hard to over-estimate the negative effect on the morale of the opposition of Obama's failure to take military action even after Assad used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons," itself an indecisive phrase that had no place in an ultimatum. If an army travels on its stomach, a revolution lives or dies on the morale of the masses and it seems entirely too many Syrians had too much faith in Obama and the US so when he reneged on his promise, they took it as a shot to the gut, or rather a knife in the back. I'm told that no battlefield defeat, no new outrage from Assad, had the destructive effect on the fighting spirit of the people against Assad as this one betrayal.

Yarmouk child
Like so many people before them they had to learn the hard way about the gap between US words and actions. It yielded predictable results, some quit the FSA, some dropped out of the struggle altogether, some said fuck Obama and joined the ISIS. The net effect among opposition forces in Syria of Obama's promise to attack Assad if he did what he did and Obama's failure to follow through, was to weaken the FSA and other moderate forces and to strengthen the Islamic extremist like ISIS.

We can only speculate whether what ISIS might call their "August 21st" recruits have played a significant role in this current offensive. It may be a very small one or it could be the factor that has placed them less than 40 miles from Baghdad. What we can say is that it is another in a series of failures to act in the Syrian crisis in such a way as to could have a positive effect on current event, perhaps avoiding them entirely.

President Obama needs to own up to his mistakes with regards to Syria, which range from inaction to closet support for Assad, rather than trying to convince those that see a way to a better outcome that they are living a fantasy because every day Assad's barrel bombs are still killing children and there are things Obama can still do to stop that, like allowing the people Assad is bombing MANPADS.

Fighting ISIS
Now that he is also concerned about the rise of ISIS, he has self-interested reasons for supporting military aid to the Syrian opposition. They are the only force that has been effectively fighting and winning territory from ISIS. Already, in the past week, Syrian opposition fighters have taken advantage of the apparent diversion of ISIS resources to Iraq to free the towns of Tel Sha’ir, Tel Bital, Tel Jijana, Al-Khalifatli and Hawzan from its grip.

Because Obama has refused weapons for the Free Syrian Army and the other moderate forces in Syria and because ISIS has now gotten its hands on stockpiles of the latest US weaponry in Mosul and other Iraq arsenals they have captured, there is the distinct possibility that in future battles between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army, ISIS will have the best US weapons. Now that would be a real embarrassment to President Obama. He should see that the Free Syrian Army and the moderate opposition get the advanced weapons they need, including MANPADS, to defeat both Assad and ISIS. He should stop underestimating Assad's opposition. It is a flame that Assad hasn't been able to stomp out in three years. If Obama sees they get the weapons, I'll personally guarantee, the land of two rivers will no longer be the land of two tyrants.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Remembering Juneteenth - 149 Years Ago Today

I planned to spend today writing job applications and looking for work but in perusing my morning mail, I saw no mention of Juneteenth on the many progressive email lists I'm on. I think this revolutionary holiday is so important in the United States that I've decided to write this brief blog post to remind people who may have forgotten and introduce people who never got the news.

Juneteenth is the slave's celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. Whereas the bourgeoisie celebrates Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on 1 January 1863, as ending slavery, the fact is that the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free a single slave because it only applied to the Confederate states where it couldn't yet be implemented.

In contrast, Juneteenth celebrated the day when large numbers of slaves in Texas were actually freed, because it was on 19 June 1865 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. General Granger didn't waste any time, his General Order Number 3 began:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
From Juneteenth.com we have this description of the reaction:
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.
Juneteeth.com also has much more on the history of Juneteenth including where and how it is being celebrated today.

Sales of the following items help support this blog and my work:

87 Minute documentary on the Vietnam War. Shows how the U.S. government killed more than 3 million Vietnamese in their War of Independence. Starts with the history of the conflict from WWII, the defeat of the French, how the American people were lied into the conflict in the Gulf of Tonkin. Then shows how the killing was done. Includes testimony from soldiers and Vietnamese. Narrated by Martin Sheen. Written, Produced and Directed by Clay Claiborne. Includes five special features.
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Scarf made in the form of the Free Syria flag, pantonie colors and 3 red stars on each end,,damask material

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Note, re job search:
As I am writing this I just heard Amy Goodman on Democracy Now say they are looking for a Linux System Admin, so to short-stop another group of messages alerting me to that, let me say I have already applied for a Linux Admin job a DN three times in the past and have never received a response. I don't know why they apparently can't hang on their Linux people but I have even offered them my services for free without any feedback. I have also given my Vietnam doc to Amy personally twice and once through Jeremy Scahill, but it has never once been mentioned on her show. So I get the feeling I'm not very popular with AG, but if you know of any other Linux or computer related jobs I would be very happy to hear about them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bush, Barack & Bashar BFF to Islamic Extremists in Iraq & Syria

ISIS claims to have killed 1700 Iraqi
Shia air force recruits in Tikrit | 16 June 2014
The roots that nourish the growth of Islamic extremism, as exampled by the recent advances made by a jihadist group with the grandiose name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS] in Mosul and Tikrit, are to be found in the struggle of late stage capitalism to keep itself afloat.

They go back a long ways and are tied to the reality that this system of robbing the many to enrich the few creates economic crisis in which nobody can buy what they are selling. This gave us our most recent economic crisis and it also gave us the Great Depression of the 1930's.

It was the industrial production and people power requirements of World War II that brought the United States and much of the world out of that great capitalist economic crisis. Since then we have lived in an economy that has required war and the resulting death of human beings to remain "healthy." This is one reason why the communist propagandists called it "morbid capitalism," the other is that it actually is dying.

Soon after that world war ended, the US began to slip into a new economic recession so a new reason to spin up the war machine was needed. "The International Communist Conspiracy to take over the World" was discovered. The "threat" of Soviet expansion had to be anticipated. The "Cold War" became the reason for spending billions preparing for a hot one. The decade of 1960's saw one of the longest periods of "post-war" economic expansion and millions of Vietnamese paid for it with their lives as the US fought communists leading a small faraway country to independence. The US had been financing the war even when the French were doing the dying for "our side."

Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and they didn't have "communism" to kick around any more, at least not in a way that could justify billions in taxes and destructive public expenditures. Those who failed to understand the necessity of war to capitalism's survival in this late stage naïvely talked of a peace dividend. The war profiteers knew better and they knew that had better come up with a new raison d'être, but fast. After flirting with the "War on Drugs" and finding it insufficient, they settled for the specter of Islamist extremism and the "War of Terror." Soon Nine-Eleven gave them the PR boost they needed to turn this "War on Terror" into a major contributor to capitalism's life support. Soon there were 60 thousand US troops in Afghanistan on a mission to get the Al Capone of the "War on Terror." In his dreams, Osama Bin Laden couldn't fill the body bags they did.

"War on Communism" becomes "War on [Islamic] Terrorism" 

Unwittingly or otherwise, the US and its NATO partners had been creating fertile ground for this new foe even as it waged the "War on Communism." In the name of combating communism, they had long supported the suppression of democracy by autocratic rulers throughout the Middle East and North Africa [MENA], fearing that democracy might be the "gateway drug" to something stronger. So everywhere in the region (and beyond) they worked against the real democrats, and their "fellow travelers," the anarchists, socialists, communists and other social justice advocates. Taking this opportunity to plug my documentary film Vietnam: American Holocaust, I offer this example:
MARTIN SHEEN: Earlier in 1963 The U.S. supported a coup in Iraq that put the Baath Party in power. The CIA specifically supported a young 25 year old Baathist by the name of Saddam Hussein, providing him with a list of his enemies including 700 communists and democrats to be eliminated. A blood bath ensued.

CLAY CLAIBORNE: At a White House meeting to plan the overthrow of Diem, less than a month before JFK is himself murdered, Bobby Kennedy worries that Vietnam might not be so easy and wonders about the wisdom of putting someone they hardly know in charge of such an important country.

Picture from NSC meeting, voice of Robert Kennedy with sub-titles.

ROBERT KENNEDY: Could I, I may be a minority, but I just don't see that this makes any sense on the face of it. Uh, I mean , it's different from a coup in Iraq or South American country; we are so intimately involved in this, and what we're doing really is, uh, what we talked about when we were sitting around the table talking about all this kind of thing we talked about four weeks ago. We're putting the whole future of the country and really, Southeast Asia, in the hands of somebody that we don't know very well...
Robert Kennedy at National Security Council meeting
And so it went. With US Presidential support, Saddam Hussein was able to establish his dictatorship in Iraq and a later US President would provide him with the technology to gas his own people, before yet another US President would decide it was time for him to go.

Everywhere the US could in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond, it worked to throttle the progressive forces that could have provided sounder leadership out of the malaise of the Middle East, and put or left in place, fascist or autocratic governments and, of course, clerics to console the masses.

Through NATO support for a Zionist and expansionist Israel and its brutal treatment of the Palestinian people, they have given the people of MENA a hard lesson in the reality of western values. Israel has been for them a towering monument to the hypocrisy of everything the West is selling.

Israel has also consistently thrown its weigh behind the most right-wing elements in Arab governments and the Islamists in the political sphere. Israel helped to create Hamas in the hopes that the Islamic group would prove a more moderate counterweight to the secular nationalistic Palestinian Liberation Organization. Israel prefers an Assad victory in the present conflict in Syria. This pattern has repeated in many places and at many levels as the imperialists made alliances with fascists and right-wing religious movements against the Left.

Perhaps nowhere was this alliance more dramatic than in Afghanistan, the very home of Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Under President Reagan's leadership in the 1980's, the US formed an alliance with the Mujaheddin [which literally means "people doing jihad"] against the Soviet backed secular government. They even gave the Mujaheddin the latest in US air defense equipment, which is something they have refused to do for the secular Free Syrian Army that is fighting the fascists and jihadists in Syria. They sold the project as a way to bleed the teetering Soviet Union and showed little regard for the lives lost or what they were leaving in their wake. That included the Taliban and a fertile field for the growth of Islamist terrorists organizations. Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary in the UK from 1997–2001, wrote in the Guardian, 2005:
"[Osama] Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan."
Through their efforts they had done much to reduce the progressive movements in the region. They have displayed Western behavior that taught the people not to look in that direction for salvation, and they had created such misery that people naturally fell back on their religion, for as Karl Marx said:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
Socialism got a bad rap because it had been perverted in the Soviet Union and China and because some fascists like to dress up as "socialists." Qaddafi and Assad ran the most brutal and repressive regimes in the region but they called themselves "socialists." The caricature western "Left" didn't win any friends of the people awards by supporting pseudo "socialist" regimes run by these fascists in Libya and Syria.

The short story is that many forces have come together in this period that encouraged many people in the Middle East and North Africa to look backwards rather than forward for solutions to their problems.

Enter Nine-Eleven

Syrian protesters
Immediately after Nine-Eleven, NATO went after the monsters they helped create in Afghanistan. Presumably those most responsible for the terrorist attack were already dead, but there were billions of dollars to be made in the efforts to replace an extremist Islamic government with an extremely corrupt secular one. Afghanistan was only the opening act in a new series of attacks on Muslim countries. Soon the primary target of US vengeance came into view. It was Saddam Hussein, the very man the US had helped rise to power four decades earlier, the same one who used poison gas to kill thousands of his own citizens while the US looked on, and his oil rich country of Iraq.

The problem was, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq, at that time. Saddam Hussein's brutal methods thwarted the development of such jihadist groups. When the second President Bush was looking for a reason to invade Iraq, Michael Maloof, who I strongly suspect of being Sy Hersh's "former intelligent officer" on all things Syrian, was a CIA analyst and part of a two man team tasked with making a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. He couldn't find any and its said he was eventually fired because he couldn't stop trying. In any case, another excuse had to be found and remembering that Hussein had used poison gas to kill his own people, his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction became the casus belli for the second Iraq War.
"We know he has WMD because we have the receipts."
Beyond setting up these general conditions, it was the US policy and conduct during the Iraq War that set the stage for the current advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS], which is what al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] became. Under the Hussein regime, a Sunni elite ruled Iraq even though Shiite were the majority. This allowed the US to claim that replacing a corrupt Sunni regime with a corrupt Shiite regime was a move towards "democracy."

To occupy and control Iraq, the imperialists fell back on first principles, exacerbate all ethnic and sectarian differences in an effort to divide and rule. First the US disbanded the Iraqi national army. Then it employed the most vicious and sectarian Shiite militia, some of them no more than CIA hired death squads, to enforce security. It also tried to suppress Shiite militias that stood for national unity and against collaboration with the occupiers like Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. It also gave Kurds the license to largely abandon the Iraqi national enterprise.

It was in this environment of occupation that al Qaeda, a group with no past presence in Iraq, was able to take root and grow. They were aided and supported by the remnants of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq as well as the Ba'athist regime in Syria, just as the jihadists in Libya are now being funded and advised by remnants of the Qaddafi regime. No one who is familiar with this history is surprised that Mosul fell to an alliance of ISIS and former Ba'ath Party fighters or, given the harsh marginalization the Iraqi Sunni community has suffered under the Shiite dominated al-Maliki government, that this effort has enjoyed some popular support from the Sunni population.

Who's Baghdadi?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is considered by many the new "Osama Bin Laden" on steroids. At the time of the US invasion of Iraq he was a lecturer of Islamic studies and an Iman at mosques in Baghdad and Falluja. He was detained by US forces 4 June 2004 and held for three years at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. After he was released he established the "Sunni Army" militia and joined al-Qaeda. On 13 October 2006 the group which had several names since its formation in 2004, none of which were what it was generally called in the West, Al Qaeda in Iraq [AOI] because it had sworn loyalty to Osama Bin Laden in 2004, formally announced itself as the Dawlat al-'Iraq al-Islamiyya or "Islamic State of Iraq" [ISI].

Among the other half dozen top leaders of the ISI were Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, an ex-intelligence officer from Saddam Hussein's air force and two other ex-officers from Saddam Hussein's army, Haji Bakr and Abu Ahmad al-Alwani. Altogether, three members of the al Arabiya News list of the top six ISIS leaders are veterans of US detention in Iraq. Both the Shura and Military councils appear to be heavily weighted in favor of those from a military background as compared to religious.

ISI gained a fearsome reputation in the patriotic struggle against the US occupation just as this insulting and often brutal occupation was creating fertile recruiting ground for its militias. This recruitment wasn't limited to Iraq. The US war, which took more than a half-million Iraqi lives, was hated all over the globe. The US occupation of Iraq was equally despised and just the thing to draw young Muslims towards jihad.

Just as today, ISI's funding came from "taxes" and "tolls", from robbery, kidnapping, and ransom, looting of everything from factories to archaeological sites in captured areas, looting grain silos, controlling grain and cotton production and so on, supplemented by private foreign contributions. Behind all the religious rhetoric about a new caliphate and serving Allah, the leaders of the ISI were building a criminal empire that would have made Al Capone jealous.

The ISI adopted a strategy of attacking prisons to free jailed members and gain new recruits from the other freed inmates. They've done this 24 times. When they did it to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison last year, they released 1,000 prisoners. They were recruiting thugs and murders to help them loot, not the devout for a religious mission. Why am I not surprised? Isn't this the first time extreme religiosity has been used to disguise nefarious purposes?

ISI was always a Sunni extremist group. Even when its focus was fighting the US occupation and its Iraqi government, it always found time for sectarian attacks on Shiite Muslims and Christians, as well as indiscriminate attacks that killed everyone. After the "Awakening" and the "Surge," its stranglehold on major urban areas like a Fallujah was broken but it continued to operated and build in the more backwards and rural areas. Even as the US was drawing down its forces in Iraq, the continued brutality and injustices of the incompetent Shiite government the US was leaving in its place was doing little to respond to Sunni grievances or unite the whole people.

ISI comes to Syria

Odd as it may sound, the leadership of ISI may have seen its initial expansion into Syria as a defensive move! After the Syrian Revolution began, the eyes of young Arabs turned to the struggle going on in Syria against the Assad regime. Colonel Hajji Bakr feared that everyone would start going to Syria to fight, leading to a collapse of their group. Initially Baghdadi forbade anyone going to Syria and considered all who disobeyed his order to be defectors. This non-interventionist policy wasn't holding so Bakr proposed the forming of a non-Iraqi battalion to be sent to Syria. This new command would be under Syrian leadership and was to attract non-Iraqi fighters from abroad. No Iraqi officers could join. This was the beginning of Jabhat al Nusra [JAN], also know as al Nusra Front. Baghdadi sent Abu Mohammed al-Golani to Syria to run it.

The "Front", as it became known, came to Syria with fresh but seasoned fighters and better arms than the Free Syrian Army. They enjoyed some notable battlefield successes and soon became famous worldwide, attracting jihadists from the Gulf, North Africa, Yemen, even Europe and the US. Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Baghdadi and Bakr were beginning to fear they'd created a monster that out shined them. They ordered al-Golani to announce that al Nusra was officially under the "State of Iraq" and Baghdadi. Golani said he'd think about it. Then he sent Baghdadi a letter saying it wouldn't be in the best interest of the revolution, sorry Charlie.

Baghdadi and Bakr were furious. Then US President Obama put al Nusra Front on the terrorist list, making Golani the most wanted man in Syria. That was the last straw. They feared al Nusra was getting off the reservation so as a test of loyalty, Baghdadi told Golani at a meeting in Turkey to conduct military operations against the FSA. The Front's Shura council unanimously rejected the orders. In a strongly worded letter Baghdadi responded by telling Golani to obey the orders or disband al-Nusra. After waiting for a reply, which never came, Baghdadi sent an envoy who Golani refused to meet.

Baghdadi was now more determined than ever to bring al Nusra Front firmly under his wing and announce the formation of a united Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS]. There was a lot of "inside baseball" spy vs. spy stuff that went on. Baghdadi sent Iraqi commanders to meet with and entice Front commanders to join them. Some were caught by the Front and "detained." The Iraqi emir of "the State" traveled to Syria and summoned Golani to a meeting. Golani apologized "for security reasons" but refused to back it up in writing once he was safely away. So Baghdadi decided to unilaterally announce the disbanding of al Nusra Front and the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Al Nursa didn't disband but it did split with some going to ISIS and others staying with the JAN. A Saudi officer, called Bandar al-Shaalan recruited some of the al Nusra officers for Baghdadi.

In what may have been the opening shot of the hot war between the jihadists, Bakr suggested Baghdadi send a security detail to seize JAN's arms depots, eliminate all who resisted, and put bombs under the cars of Golani and his close associates. Sensing trouble, Golani appealed to the head of all al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to settle the dispute between the two al Qaeda franchises. Zawahiri got Yemen and Saudi jihadists involved and came to the decision that the time wasn't right for the merger, al Nusra would stand as the official al Qaeda franchise holder in Syria and ISIS was to disbanded. In an audio message aired on Al Jazeera 8 November 2013, he said:
"The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is to be abolished, while the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) remains functioning,"
BTW, a source that tells you ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a source that doesn't know what it is talking about. [ or in the case of Juan Cole on DN this morning, dumbing down for his audience, because he certainly knows what he is talking about ] Anyway ISIS rejected that solution with the help of certain Saudi sources that supported the "State." Those included the Saudi religious leader Abu Bakr al-Qahtani and a mufti names Nasser al-Thaqil. The former Saudi officer Bandar Bin Shaalan became the groups representative to Saudi Arabia and the religious extremists in the Gulf that supported Baghdadi. These included Turki Benali of Bahrain who released a statement titled "Extended Hands for Allegiance to Baghdadi" under the name of Abu Humam Bakr Bin Abdul-Aziz al-Athari. In addition to attracting donors from the region and fighters from all over the world, Shaalan became responsible for media affairs. Truly, he became the Kingdom's connection to ISIS.

With Baghdadi's refusal to abandon the Levant to al Nusra came more mediation. Zawahiri asked the head of al Qaeda in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi to mediate. Golani continued saying that Baghdadi's presence in Syria would destroy the revolution and Baghdadi refused to respond so this mediation failed. Then a Kuwaiti sheik named Hamed al-Ali entered the dispute on the side of Golani stressing unity and calling Baghdadi's "State" a grave political and religious mistake. Both sides agreed to give the final word to Zawahiri but when he came down on the side of Golani, Baghdadi reject that solution and continued looking for muftis to support his position while renewing efforts to eliminate al Nusra's leadership.

The break has since solidified between the two groups and occasionally broken out in armed conflict. While they both share the al Qaeda extremism, al Nusra has a large number of Syrian fighters whereas ISIS is mainly foreign fighters. Also unlike ISIS, al Nusra actually fights the Assad forces. Because of these factors, the other forces in the Syrian opposition have sometimes been able to co-operate with Jabhat al Nusra [JAN] and include them in a united front against ISIS.

Assad and ISIS

The support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was critical to the growth of al Qaeda in Iraq in its formative years. During the US occupation of Iraq, he gave them safe haven in Syria and ran the rat-line for them into Iraq. Syrian security forces ran a series of safe houses leading to the Iraqi border. He also ran the main pipeline through which foreign jihadists joined the fight against US imperialism in Iraq. All throughout the US occupation, bearded young men with one way tickets and little luggage would fly into Damascus Airport to be transported across Syria by Assad's security services and delivered to al Qaeda in Iraq. For these and other reasons, there was no love lost between George Bush and Bashar al-Assad. He looked at Syria with the same contempt he had for Iran and he tried to sanction it with the same isolation.

Through this alliance, the Assad regime was able to develop intimate ties and personal connections to al Qaeda in Iraq. Ties between the jihadists and fascist regimes have a long history. Bashar's daddy, Hafez Assad, also used the jihadists before he chopped them up. Mummar Qaddafi funded jihad all over Africa and as far away as Asia. An alliance of jihadists and Qaddafi regime remnants is behind most of Libya's current security woos. Now we see reports of former Iraqi Baathist security officers and Syrian security officers acting as "emirs", or commanders in ISIS.

In Assad's Prisons
Among other things, these ties allowed Bashar al-Assad to know who exactly to lock up after the US started pulling out of Iraq in 2008. Suddenly, jihadists in Syria were more trouble than they were worth. Assad welcomed the change in the White House. President-elect Obama sent his people to Damascus a week after winning the election. Soon Assad was being brought in from the cold and signing on as a partner in the "War on Terror," US military delegations followed the diplomatic and congressional ones to Damascus and Assad was making his famous water-boarding plus detention facilities available for the CIA's special rendition program. When the Arab Revolt came to Syria in early 2011, it came as a surprise. Obama's Damascus envoy John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad were collaborating on some grandiose plans for the whole region the same week Qaddafi started shooting protesters in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, the continued effects of US war damage to Iraq's infrastructure, the chauvinistic US occupation, and the sectarian Shiite government the US left in its wake, continued to ignore and antagonize the Sunni community and consequently jihadists continued to multiply. Mummar Qaddafi wasn't the only regional leader happy to see his jihadists off to fight the Americans in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq grew and morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and it continued to dispatch suicide bombers to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities with tragic regularity.

After massive peaceful protests broken out in Syria 15 March 2011, and grew in April and May, Assad knew just what to do with the jihadists in his jails. He let them out! He needed them free, i.e. at large, to form the terrorist groups he claimed were his real opposition. Besides, he needed the space to lock up those protesters demanding democracy!

Many of the jihadists freed by Assad, together with some Syrian state security officers, joined Baghdadi's people in Syria. This is the core group that brought jihadism to the Syrian conflict and allowed the Islamic State of Iraq to grow its pretensions to include the Levant. From his earlier collaboration with some of these same personalities, Assad knew just how to utilize this terrorist threat. He also knew how to help them recruit internationally and could "fail" to stop their entry into Syria. He knew that if he could make it appear that the only choices for Syria's future was al Qaeda or al Assad, the West would back Assad and so would most Syrians. Assad knew it was a big risk to let those mad dogs off the leash but he was desperate. He needed the jihadist threat to grow. That wasn't difficult.

Thanks in large part to Obama's interdiction of arms to the Free Syrian Army and the other pro-democracy fighters, ISIS & JAN tended to have the best weapons, win the most victories and recruit the most fighters, and just as a decade earlier young Muslims were being drawn to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight US imperialism, now they were being drawn to Syria to aid a people seemingly otherwise abandoned by the world.

The Abandonment of the Syrian People

It was this abandonment by the world, most particularly the West, that allowed the agony of the struggle against a 40 year old dictatorship to grow to the point where jihadism could gain a foothold in Syria in the first place. In the beginning a people rose up non-violently to demand democracy. When they were repeatedly fired upon they began to exercise their right of self-defense. Ten of thousands of Syrian Arab Army soldiers defected, the Free Syrian Army was founded and they were joined in the fight by a whole range of militias that formed up, some on a secular basis and others on a religious one, with a hold range of views, but united in the task at hand, overthrowing of the Assad dictatorship.

The foe they face holds state power and controls a modern military which for three years now he has used to murder the masses without mercy. Massive civilian deaths are central to his military strategy. For three years the world has collaborated in watching and doing nothing to stop him while Assad has enjoyed powerful military intervention on his behalf. In addition to vetoing any effective United Nations action, Russian has provided Assad an endless supply of bombs, bullets and banknotes, as well as all manner of military hardware, Russian military advisers and Russian special forces to guard key installations. Iran has also provided financial aid, weapons and boots on the ground. Some say they have largely taken over the running of the Syrian state and the control of military operations. Under pressure from Iran, the Maliki government in Iraq has supported the Assad government by allowing Iran to use its facilities to resupply Assad's forces and it has encouraged sectarian Iraqi militias to join the fight on Assad's side. Iran also "influenced" the Lebanese force Hezbollah to intervene big time and bail Assad out just when he was teetering. It is generally pointed out that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supplied money and weapons to the rebels as though there was some sort of rough parity of outside forces but this is hardly the case because Russian, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon have supplied far more than light weapons, money and ammo.

By and large, the Syrian revolutionary forces have had to rely on their own efforts and have received little military help from other countries. The civilian population has had to endure three years of relentless aerial bombardment without a single attempt by anyone in the international community to impose a no-fly zone. The forces opposing Assad have had to rely largely on looting Assad's arsenals for their supply of weapons. They have received important financial support from other Arab governments and individuals and this has at times allowed them to pay salaries, get supplies and buy weapons abroad. They have also received weapons directly, most notably from Libya, which has also been the biggest source of foreign fighters taking up the anti-Assad cause in Syria; some being motivated by revolution, some by jihad, most probably by a little of both. The US also provided millions in humanitarian aid, said to include radios and MREs.

The lack of heavy weapons to defend against Assad's tanks and planes has been one of the biggest factors allowing this slaughter to continue and here the NATO countries, led by Obama, haven't been neutral. They have actively intervened to deny Assad's opposition the most effective weapons for these tasks. President Obama went far beyond merely refusing to provide heavy weapons to Assad's democratic opposition, he sent the CIA to southern Turkey and Jordan to interdict any heavy weapons they might get from any source. They even kept anti-aircraft missiles the FSA had bought from the Libyans with their own money locked up in warehouses in Turkey while Assad's barrel bombs rained down on the children of Aleppo. These are the basic conditions that allowed the people's demand for democracy to turn into a festering wound in Syria, and into this mix came ISIS.

While ISIS may have waged some fearsome battles against Bashar in the beginning, they soon showed that they much preferred imposing their brutal version of Shari Law on civilians in the liberated areas to confronting the Syrian Army on the battlefield. Then as time went on, a curious relationship began to emerge. Not only did they cease to attack Assad's forces, he seemed never to attack them. The Syrian Air Force would bomb Free Syrian Army installations while leaving ones clearly marked with the black jihadist flag untouched. Other anecdotal evidence of collusion emerged. There was a Syrian Arab Army unit that defected to ISIS only to find themselves turned back over to Assad forces. There was the siege of some Assad forces that the FSA turned over to ISIS only to watch the jihadists immediately allow them to be resupplied. Soon open warfare was breaking out between ISIS and the other forces in the Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, even the Syrian jihadist group al-Nusra. Then we heard stories of battles between the FSA and ISIS in which the Syrian Air Force, Assad's air force, provided air support to the jihadists. And as if they weren't already receiving too much money from wealthy Bin Laden lovers in Qatar and the Kingdom, Bashar al-Assad started buying millions of dollars of oil from ISIS!

ISIS should have been stopped in Raqqa

As the conflict dragged on and Assad's violence and murder increased with Western tolerance and acceptance, the blood of a growing number of Syrians provided fertile ground for the growth of jihadism. When Obama reneged on his pledge to respond to Assad's growing and continued use of chemical weapons, he showed again that Western promises were worth nothing and Western regard for Arab lives was worth even less. This failure to act on long promoted "humanitarian" concerns greatly demoralized the democratic forces and represented a propaganda coup for those that said only fools would look to the West to find a vision of Syrian or Iraqi future. After 21 August 2013, many more fighters cast their lot with the jihadists. The fall of Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq to forces under the leadership of ISIS is blow back from Obama's failure to take action after Assad's chemical attacks.

The Syrian revolutionaries regard ISIS as a tool of the regime. Its brutal imposition of Shura law in the areas it controls, complete with beheadings and torture for religious infractions, creates precisely the image of terror and sectarian violence the regime wants for its opposition. Their terrible reputation causes Syrians to fear the revolution and foreigners to refuse it support. It has carried out assassinations and kidnappings against the Free Syrian Army and other anti-regime forces and where ISIS has been routed, it has been FSA fighters not SAA soldiers found in their jails. Why they rarely attack regime forces remains a mystery but it is easy to see why the Assad regime so rarely attacks them, by accident or design, they are doing the regime's work.
Clearly marked ISIS HQ in Raqqa remains unbombed

Well funded by Shaalan's Saudi backers and free from attack by Assad's forces, ISIS was on a roll. By May 2013 they had taken over control of Raqqa and the surrounding liberated areas from the Free Syrian Army. Once they did, Assad's air force stopped bombing military targets in Raqqa. It was there, in Raqqa, that ISIS was able to establish a center. With the Syrian opposition forces tied up fighting Assad's forces and with their own forces seemingly safe from regime attacks, these foreign jihadists could grow in the safe haven they had been allowed to establish in Syria. From there they have been able to take the battle back across the border to Iraq.

In Syria, ISIS has been exposed and isolated from the revolutionary forces. A coalition of virtually everybody else, Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, even the official al Qaeda franchise, al Nusra Front, have been fighting it and making some gains by throwing them out of a number of places in Syria. Had the Free Syrian Army been adequately supported in its fight against ISIS in Raqqa, I don't think we would be talking about ISIS in Mosul now. In Iraq, ISIS has been able to marshal Sunni resentment against the Maliki government. They are only a few thousands but they are committed and battle-tested, this has allowed them to take the lead of a much larger Sunni revolt.

When they took Mosul, they became even stronger. They took some $480 million and a good supply of US weapons. Already they are taking some of these weapons back across the border to fight the Free Syrian Army, so one of the great ironies of this situation is that in the armed struggle between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it may be ISIS that will have the best and most US weapons.

So far the Iraqi government forces have shown themselves to be inadequate to the task of defeating ISIS, in Mosul, they acted like old soldiers and just faded away. Where they have fought, they have attacked the whole Sunni population in such a way as to actually strengthen the jihadists. Maliki wages war in Sunni areas like Fallujah in much the same way Assad does in Syria, with little regard for human life or damage to civilian infrastructure.

For now, the Kurdish forces have occupied positions abandoned by the Iraqi military in Kirkuk, but are avoiding any direct conflict with ISIS. There are even rumors of an agreement between the two.

Iran has vowed support for the Shiite government in Baghdad and has already sent troops, but they bring with them no solutions. They have been one of the main promoters of sectarian strife in the region. Ditto, their puppet Maliki, although since Maliki is a puppet with two masters, the US and Iran will be meeting shortly to try to keep their strings from getting crossed.

US air power is also quite useless in this situation. A no-fly zone won't bother ISIS at all, not at all. They are desert guerrillas, they have no bases, no depots, no industrial base. The only thing Obama can do with bombs is kill a bunch of civilians and US boots on the ground are what caused these problems to begin with.

The only force that is doing it right, the only force on the ground that is actually fighting ISIS and winning is the Free Syrian Army and its allies and the best course of action for those concerned about the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham is to see that they get the arms and supplies they need to defeat both ISIS and the Assad regime and set Syria on the road to a democratic future.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Friday, June 13, 2014

Introducing Doctor Claiborne

My Great-Grandfather was born a slave.
John J Aldridge
Grandfather Aldridge was a share cropper in North Carolina who eventually saved enough to buy his plot of land and become a small independent farmer. 

Grandfather Claiborne was a shoemaker in Baltimore supporting a large family.
James Claiborne Family - 1922

My Mom, Macy Claiborne
My Mother was the first member of her family to graduate from college, and although my Father never got more than a high school diploma, he became a consultant to every Republican president from Eisenhower to Bush Sr.

My Dad with Presidents

It wasn't until I watched the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, about the city where I was born and my Dad began his political career, that I fully understood why he ended up on the Republican side of the street. Politically, I didn't follow him, although he did teach me that both parties were different wings of the same bird of prey.

My own college career was cut short of a diploma by the Vietnam War and my activism against it.

Candice Claiborne

This Sunday, my Daughter, Candice Nicole Claiborne, will be the first in our family to go all the way when she accepts her Doctor of Philosophy degree in clinical psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Best Father's Day Gift Ever!

Candice and her Dad, Linux advocates at Comdex 1997
She help make the famous tall red hat.

Candice and her Mon at Garduation