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Friday, April 29, 2016

Robert F. Kennedy's Jr. Andromeda Strain

For more than ten thousand years, humanity has looked up at the night sky and drew patterns among the stars. We created relationships between the stars based on our very unique point of view that have no basis in reality. Take for example the Andromeda Constellation. It is visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. One of its stars, Mirach, is red giant around 200 light years from Earth, another of its "stars," M31 isn't a star at all, it's a galaxy made up of over a trillion stars more than 1.2 million light years from Earth. Even so, since at least the 2nd century, humans have grouped then together in one of the original 48 constellations listed by Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy. Obviously these two points of light in the night sky share nothing in common outside the brains of humans and yet we group them together and assume a connection because that's what it looks like to us.

Here's another fun fact about constellations: The sun is the only known star in our galaxy which is not part of a constellation. Now, why is that?

In the piece that we are about to examine, in some detail I should warn, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. strains to understand what has been happening in Syria, but he is like the primitive Earthbound observer straining to understand the points of light that make up Andromeda. Whereas the early astronomers mistook the super galaxy M31 for an ordinary star, Kennedy sees in the million points of light that make up the Syrian Revolution, just another oil war.

What "the Arabs" Want & Why

Back here on Earth, we also have to be aware of the dangers of analyzing distant things with blinders on. When we look at other peoples' revolutions solely from the point of view of our involvement and our concerns, a narrow, self-interested, and generally white supremacist outlooks tends to dominate and it can lead to incorrect and chauvinist conclusions. This is the case with Robert F. Kennedy's Jr.  recent piece in Politico titled Why the Arabs Don't Want Us in Syria.

Friday of Immediate Military Intervention | Homs | 16 Mar 2012

The title already is bathed in the brand of chauvinism that would allow a Kennedy to think he could speak for all Arabs. Does Kennedy claim to speak also for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian Arabs that protested in every major Syrian city on the Friday of a No-Fly Zone or the Friday of Immediate Foreign Intervention? How about the Syrians that were dis-heartened by Obama's reneging on his redline promise after Assad murdered 1400 with sarin? Actually Kennedy's essay reeks of this chauvinism. Take for example, just the first paragraph:
In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I've made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country. As we focus on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead we should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil—and how they often point the finger of blame back at our own shores.
He seems to equate Arab with Islamic which is odd since the Arab that murdered his father, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was a Palestinian Christian. He speaks of the "bloodthirsty responses" of the Muslim religion and says nothing about the revolutionary response of Arab nationalism that is very much a part of this history. This is to be expected since in the last sentence he lets us know this essay is really about us and our history anyway. But most insulting to the Arabs Kennedy seeks to speak for is his reference to "so many innocent lives" taken by Daesh, which he respectfully calls the Islamic State. He mentions only the 143 lives taken by Daesh in Europe and the US and ignores the thousands of Arabs they have slaughtered in Syria and Iraq. It is also clearly his intention not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Arab lives taken by the savagery of Bashar al-Assad. Those aren't "innocent lives" Kennedy shows much concern for.

Still, this lengthy essay is actually quite good, so long as it sticks to cataloging the abuses of US imperialism to the region since the 1950's. For those less familiar, it gives a good summary of "CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt." He goes back to when "The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949" just as did my 13 January 2013 post How the US help put Assad in power in Syria. That piece nominated CIA agent Deane Hinton for making the most prophetic statement of 1949. He made it to the CIA committee that was planning the coup to replace the government elected in 1947, and it got him kicked out of the meeting:
"I want to go on record as saying that this is the stupidest, most irresponsible action a diplomatic mission like ours could get itself involved in, and that we've started a series of these things that will never end."
Oh, how those words still echo down the history to this very day! In Kennedy's telling of this history, his singular perspective gets him into trouble on the Syrian Revolution because not every effort to overthrow a foreign government is a CIA coup plot. No doubt, the CIA will try to involve itself. If its not a party they started, it most certainly is a party they will try to crash., and if you only look for CIA influence then its likely that's all you'll see. This is especially true if you are possessed by a chauvinist bias that discounts the agency of the natives and see's its activists only in the light you shine from a great distance.

This is how one of those activists, Robin Yassin-Kassab, one of the authors of Burning Country, recently described the causes of the Syrian conflict:
EVERY REGIME or government or state system in the world has to govern through a combination of two things--coercion and consensus. Depending on the state, there's a different balance between the two. The current Syrian regime came to power when Bashar al-Assad's father seized power in 1970. He used the Baath Party to impose a totalitarian state with him at the apex.

It leaned heavily on coercion to keep the people down ever since. But it also did things to win consent from key groups in society. So, for example, Hafez al-Assad opened up opportunities for sections of the Alawis, Christians, Ismailis, as well as Sunni peasants. He encouraged them to enter the army, security services and universities.

Many were willing to tolerate the dictatorship as long as their lives improved. The peasantry in general, whatever their religious background, acquiesced to his rule. Their villages were being electrified, roads were being built so they could get crops to market, and schools were being built in their villages and towns. The urban Sunni working class also benefited though getting jobs in the growing state-owned sector of the economy and from subsidized food and fuel.

Nevertheless, people were discontented with Hafez al-Assad's dictatorship. When Bashar al-Assad came to power in the year 2000, he promised a "Damascus Spring," raising hopes among Syria's masses for a new democratic opening. But those were quickly dashed. Assad the younger actually strengthened his family dictatorship and imposed neoliberal economic changes that were disastrous for workers and peasants.

Assad's neoliberalism was simply crony capitalism. He sold off state-owned companies mainly to his family and friends. For example, the president's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, ended up with a finger in 60 percent of the economy. At the same time, he cut subsidies on food and fuel, destroying the safety net for the poor.

While conditions were terrible before neoliberalization, they grew profoundly worse after it. Discontent began to build and people began to share their concerns over the Internet. Syria was ripe for a resistance movement.
Notice how his brief description leaves out any reference to US imperialism or the CIA? This is not because Robin is in denial about their roles but because it is a brief description. Compare this to the genesis Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gives us. He sees Assad's refusal to build a pipeline through Syria
that Qatar and other western interests wanted as the cause of the massive Friday demonstrations demanding the downfall of the regime. If Kennedy's essay was a photo shoot, this paragraph would be the "money shot" because this is where he presents the facts underlying his view that the uprising against Assad was instigated by outsiders:
Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.
This is the "money shot" because the whole point of this essay is to promote a view of that the uprising against Assad is in reality a CIA engineered regime change program. Unlike Robin's assessment that the principal causes of the rebellion against Assad are to be found within Syrian society, Kennedy shows little concern or knowledge about these Syrian developments. He discounts a decade of struggle and repression since the Damascus Spring Movement that followed the death of Hafiz al-Assad, and dates the struggle as starting in 2011, engendered by what was happening in other Middle East and North African countries.

His narrative seems to make perfect sense because by the time he has gotten to 2011, he has already led us through a 50 year history of CIA regime change plots, and at the same time he has ignored the struggle of the Arabs, in those same 50 years, for Arab unity and self-determination. Both of those histories intersect in the present day conflict in Syria but Kennedy's narrative sees only one, and the lesser one at that, and ignores the other.

Even so, Kennedy still has to play fast and loose with the facts to make his case. He implies a cause and effect relationship when he says "soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups." This is just not true! The CIA was already funding Syrian opposition groups long before 2009. We can either believe Kennedy or not with regards to "secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies" because he gives us nowhere else to go with them. If we follow the "began funding" link to details, we find this Washington Post story U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show. That article names only one group receiving US dollars, the MJD and its Barada TV, an opposition satellite TV station:
Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
If the State Department has been funding this group since 2006, it kinda undermines Kennedy's argument that they began in 2009 because Assad rejected Qatar's pipeline deal, and remember, this is his link.

In 2006, when this funding began under Bush, Assad was still running jihadists into Iraq to fight the US occupation. This $6 million works out to about $1 million a year. That's not a lot to run a TV station on, even if you're not doing it in London. Consider for scale that the annual budget of Los Angeles alternative radio, Pacfica's KPFK is $13 million, and its only a radio station! And while we don't have anything to tell us how those funds were metered out, I'd wager that it was heavily front loaded, when the group was first starting and when Bush's policy of regime change in Syria still ruled the day. All this changed under Obama.

But not only does Kennedy never mention the 2006 start date for this $6 million, although that is clearly stated in his source materials, he goes even further to imply that this money was specifically for the present conflict by saying:
In 2011, the U.S. joined France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK to form the Friends of Syria Coalition, which formally demanded the removal of Assad. The CIA provided $6 million to Barada, a British TV channel, to produce pieces entreating Assad’s ouster.
This is just intellectually dishonest. Clearly Kennedy is leading the reader to believe this funding began in 2011, after the US, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK got together to oust Assad. He says nothing about the months of massive peaceful protests and Assad's bloody assaults on them that preceded the forming of the Friends of Syria Coalition. He also calls it a British TV channel whereas it is a Syrian opposition channel based in Britain [They don't last too long in Syria.] and he says the $6 million came from the CIA, whereas his Wikileaks source material says in came from the US State Depart filtered through two NGOs, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Bureau of Human Rights and Labor (DRL). Are these differences important? If you want to know whether Kennedy is calling out imperialist lackeys or slandering Syrian revolutionaries, they are.

The reason for thinking these US govt funds came mainly in the Bush years is that Obama changed the US policy towards Syria from one of regime change to one of engagement. It was only after the masses started loudly demanding an end to the regime that Obama begin meekly parroting them by asking Assad to step down. The Wikileaks State Department cable Kennedy and the Washington Post use speaks of that too, in a part they didn't quote:
2. (C) As the Syria policy review moves apace, and with the apparent collapse of the primary Syrian external opposition organization, one thing appears increasingly clear: U.S. policy may aim less at fostering "regime change" and more toward encouraging "behavior reform."
Wikileaks has another document from 2009 that also gives us a very different picture of the US attitude towards Bashar al-Assad at that time. It is to be found in one of the emails in the Statfor Global Intelligence Files, subject line US sends military team back to Damascus for talks, Reva Bhalla, one of their Mideast experts, summarizes the current state of affairs. This is in August 2009:
Syria offering intel cooperation on AQ, Iran, HZ
Syria facilitating March 14 win in Lebanon
Saudi pouring money into Syrian coffers
US and Saudi rewarding Syria with diplomatic recognition (notice how
quiet everyone is about Lebanon)
Signs that Syria is moving forward -- big Syrian military/intel
reshuffles; Iran threatening to destabilize the Syrian regime; HZ
this is all covered in our analysis
Kennedy's narrative seems to work as much because of what he leaves out as it does on what he focuses on. Here we have a different view of US - Syria relations circa 2009. It doesn't sound like the Obama administration is simply continuing the Bush policy of isolation and regime change towards Syria at all. It sounds like he is changing that policy.

Who is Barada TV?

Barada TV
Kennedy would have us believe that a London based Syrian opposition TV station that has been receiving about $1 million a year from the US State Department since 2006 is the center piece of the CIA regime change plans for Syria. So what is Barada TV when its at home? ABC.Net's Elizabeth Jackson did an interview with one of Kennedy's "pipeline proxies" responsible for the station in June 2011 when the rebellion was still very young:
In this spring of revolutions, Arabic satellite channels have defined the story by providing around-the-clock coverage and commentary. But that hasn't happened in Syria, where authorities have banned the international media.

But in this brave new digital world, a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, has been able to circumvent the Syrian authorities.

Malik al-Abdeh is the chief editor. I asked him how the station began.

MALIK AL-ABDEH: Well it began in late 2008 when a group of Syrians from inside Syria and also from the expatriate community decided that they really wanted a TV channel that expresses the people's opinions freely without any government censorship. So I was one of the people from the beginning and we sought funding for this new channel, we got funding and we began working on it and then the channel was launched in April 2009.
They sound like a group of activists with a dream that was beyond their budget and didn't look too far down the throat of a gift horse when some "NGOs" showed up with the money. So what did it buy in the heart of London?
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Describe for us what your studio is like.

MALIK AL-ABDEH: Very small, it's actually very, the number of employees we have at Barada is about 10 people and one part-timer. It's a very small set up. It's extremely small studio, it's a virtual studio, so it's very, very modest.

I mean viewers can tell when they watch us that this is a very low-budget production, but we more than make up for it in terms of our content, our bravery in terms of dealing with a lot of issues relating to Syria, especially with what's happening now in the country and the revolution is almost entering its fourth month now.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Tell me about the material that you broadcast there from that tiny studio. Do you get material from YouTube, or do the Syrians themselves somehow upload videos directly to you?

MALIK AL-ABDEH: Some of the videos are sent directly to us. I mean ever since we've been broadcasting daily to our live show, we've had a lot of viewers, our viewership has really skyrocketed inside the country.

People watch our channel to get the news of what's happening in Syria and also to get opinion. And also to call in. So we've got quite a strong, I would say a very strong following in Syria. For that reason people now trust us. That if they send their recorded material that it would be broadcasted.
He then goes on to describe a critical role some ex-patriot groups were playing in the struggle to take down Assad:
These are groups of young men, usually around two, three or four maximum, who set up a YouTube channel and then through their contacts inside Syria, through their ability to get these videos onto mainstream satellite channels, they build up a reputation and people then send videos that were recorded using mobile phone or a very simple hand-held camera and they send them to these guys and some of these guys are based in France, some of them are based in Jordan, in Turkey, it's really quite dispersed.
And on the pivotal question of funding, which on the basis of Kennedy logic, makes this guy the principal instigator of "just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics" he says this:
ELIZABETH JACKSON: There's been a lot of speculation that the US is bankrolling the channel. Is that right?

MALIK AL-ABDEH: Well if you're referring to the US government, that's not true. We have a funding relationship with a US-based NGO who are currently contributing about 50 per cent of our budget and that's primarily to pay for a three-year contract with the satellite provider.

The rest of the money, program making is funded by Syrian expatriates who became very interested in what we do because they felt we were having an influence on the ground. And that's our funding arrangement.

But I would like to stress the fact that regardless of who pays for the channel, and let's not forget, there's no other way of funding a channel like this, it's not as if we can go commercial and have advertisements because no one in Syria would be willing to advertise with us. Regardless of who's actually paying the money, the most important thing is we have an independent editorial policy.
He knows the money paying the all important satellite bill is tainted. They have chosen to accept it along with the cover story for what is undoubtedly the true source. The money is forthcoming because they share a common goal with the US govt. They want to overthrow Assad and at a minimum, the US govt wants to trouble Assad and also has an interest in appearing to support the fight against him.
Full Disclosure: Did I make a morally equivalent deal with the devil by licensing Vietnam: American Holocaust to RT? We all know who bankrolls RT so did that make me a Putin proxy? If enemies want to charge that, I have little defense, except to say that both he and I share a commonality of interests when it comes to exposing the crimes of US imperialism ........but other imperialist crimes have captured my attention lately and RT doesn't call me any more.
Ho Chi Minh & Vo Nguyen Giap with OSS agents in 1945
A million dollars a year is peanuts to the US govt, but it is enough to hang a whole conspiracy theory on, as Kennedy has shown us, which raises the sticky question of whether revolutionaries should ever risk even the appearance of being proxies by accepting support from imperialists. Should Ho Chi Ming have accepted weapons and training from the pre-CIA OSS when the Viet Minh and the US were both fighting the Japanese? Should Vladimir Lenin have accepted that train ride across Germany? Should the American Revolutionaries have accepted the support of France that had purely imperialist reasons for wanting to see Britain weakened? Are such alliances indispensable to the revolution? Should even the appearance of compromise be avoided? These are sticky questions every revolution and every revolutionary has to grapple with and the answers that seem clear when considered in the comfort of a western parlor may not be so easy when the battle is drawn, your friends are dying, and every asset must be brought to bear to turn the tide.

Who really needs a Syria pipeline?

According to Kennedy, Qatar and the West needed to overthrow Assad to do their pipeline deal and that's why they financed and fomented an uprising against him. What he doesn't tell you is that there was an alternate, and by some preferred, route that didn't involve Syria. In August 2009, Tamsin Carlisle reported in The National:
The reports said two different routes for such a pipeline were possible. One would lead from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to Turkey. The other would go through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey. It was not clear whether the second option would be connected to the Pan-Arab pipeline, carrying Egyptian gas through Jordan to Syria. That pipeline, which is due to be extended to Turkey, has also been proposed as a source of gas for Nabucco.
Again, Kennedy makes his case as much by what he leaves out as he does by what he focuses on. Five months later it seems that the alternate route that involved Syria had been forgotten, as Tamsin Carlisle was now reporting in The National:
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, used his appearance in Abu Dhabi yesterday at the World Future Energy Summit to promote the ambitious project, which could supply gas to Europe through a Turkish hook-up with the proposed Nabucco pipeline....Qatar proposed an overland gas link to Turkey through Saudi Arabia last August during talks in Turkey ... The biggest obstacle to the project is likely to be winning support from Saudi Arabia
In this article, Syria doesn't even get a mention. This is after Assad supposedly rejected the pipeline to please Putin and "well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad." to use Kennedy's happy phrase.

Kennedy also didn't say that Iran is pushing its own $10 billion pipeline deal. Oilprice.com said it is "in direct competition with Qatar’s similar designs" and added this "pipeline is another proxy in the Syrian conflict theater," abet, one that Kennedy failed to mention. Maybe Iran's desire for a pipeline can explain why they have been willing to spend so much of their national blood and treasure to kill so many Syrians and prop up Assad? One thing is for sure, they don't have an alternate route involving Saudi Arabia!

Kennedy on recent Syrian history

Kennedy is telling us what the Arabs want and why but he doesn't listen to Arabs. These are the Arab experts he cites: Sy Hersh, Joe Biden, Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, the right-wing group Judicial Watch, FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and of course Wikileaks and the Washington Post. Where are the Syrians? Why doesn't he ask those in the refugee camps if they prefer it if the richest, most powerful country on Earth, a country that claims to stand for freedom and democracy, just leaves them to their fate with Assad & Putin?

Kennedy may claim to speak for the Arabs but he certainly doesn't know the history of the Syria revolution. For example he tells us "Sunni soldiers of the Syrian Army began defecting in 2013." Clearly, he hasn't been reading my blog because he must have missed these:
06/20/2012 BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
06/21/2012 BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
06/24/2012 NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
06/26/2012 BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
07/01/2012 BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
07/05/2012 BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria
07/14/2012 Syrian defector spills beans as important new defection reported.
And I didn't start blogging about Syria until April 2012. There were many more defections before that. In fact the Free Syrian Army first formed from a group of 200 Syrian Arab Army soldiers that defected in Dara in July 2011 when they were ordered to fire on peaceful protesters. And it wasn't just Sunnis who defected, Christians and Alawite soldiers also defected. Kennedy is wrong about that as well. As Reuters reported in 2012, a year before Kennedy said the defections began, many were paying an even higher price for trying:
Thousands of soldiers have been killed or imprisoned because they tried to flee and failed, or were suspected of planning to do so. Around 2,500 officers and lesser ranks are imprisoned in the notorious Seidnaya jail north of Damascus, which has been emptied of political prisoners to make way for military personnel, according to opposition sources.
To Kennedy its like these heroic pre-2013 defections and attempts never even happened. These soldiers weren't Syrian patriots for refusing to kill their country men and women for the regime, to Kennedy they were just so many "pipeline proxies."

Syrian soldiers joining the fight against Assad | 31 Dec 2011

Here is another example of Kennedy's distorted history:
The Sunni insurgency named itself Al Qaeda in Iraq.
That's not what happen! Does he see no Arab opposition that is not al Qaeda and therefore illegitimate?

Assad is best for Us

Listen to how Kennedy attempts to prettify conditions he would never tolerate for himself:
Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong, disciplined army loyal to the Assad family.
So the purpose of the national army is to protect the government from the people because that government rules with "a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality" and is loyal to one man and the family he controls. Kennedy doesn't ever address the internal opposition this brutality generated because everybody he talked to thought the Syrians were fine with it. Too bad he didn't talk to any Syrians:
No one believed that the regime was vulnerable to the anarchy that had riven Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia.
He calls people rising up again police state rule "anarchy" even when the police state is a US client. Kennedy may think he can speak for the Arabs but he's really not on their side.

In defense of Assad, he makes an argument that Saudi Arabia is worst. Most who know the pre-March 15, 2011 brutality of the Assad regime wouldn't think Saudi Arabia is worst. Saudi Arabia may announce hundreds of executions every year but in Syria thousands just disappeared into the state security gulag without a trace. Anyway this question of who is worst is neither here nor there for Syrians. Why should they curtail their attempts to overthrow Assad because people somewhere else have it worst? This is a purely POV argument being made by and to people that don't have to live in either Saudi Arabia or Syria.

These so-called anti-imperialists really don't care about the suffering of people under a dictator unless they can use it as a talking point that puts their country at the center of everything. They don't care how many Arabs these dictators slaughter to stay in power and they want them to stay in power because they falsely think that will make the world safer for them. Seymour Hersh sang a similar song about Libyan "Brother Leader" Mummar Gaddafi on Democracy Now Monday:
Gaddafi was a tame cat....they [Obama & Clinton] were going after a guy that had been doing a lot of good work for us, believe it or not, horrible as he was. He was a horrible human being. Bad things happened inside that country to the people. But he was actively working with us on the al-Qaeda issue,..

They took out a guy that didn’t need to go.
From whose point of view did Gaddafi not need to go? Clearly, Hersh takes the POV of the imperial chauvinist and not the people inside that country. Hersh saw Gaddafi as providing a valuable service to the West and didn't mind too much if he did bad things inside of Libya. That's not his problem and he'd just as soon not hear about it. Mercifully, from Democracy Now, he won't.

Bernie Sanders reflected the same imperial preference for dictators during a recent Democratic debate when he said:
Yes, we could get rid of Gaddafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS. [ It would also stop the barrel bombs from falling - Clay ] So I think, yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of dictators is easy. [ Tell that to the 30,000 dead Libyans. Tell that to a half-million dead Syrians. Its even harder when no one helps. - Clay ] But before you do that, you’ve got to think about what happens the day after.
Again, its a matter of your POV. If a dictator serves some useful purpose, like say suppressing the drug trade, then you might want to think long and hard before you get rid of him. If on the other hand, if you are living under a dictator, you get rid of him as soon as you can and then you deal with the perils of freedom as they come.

Sanders also has the same priorities as Kennedy when it comes to Bashar al-Assad:
In terms of Assad - a terrible dictator.

But I think in Syria the primary focus now must be on destroying ISIS and working over the years to get rid of Assad. That's a secondary issue.
Again its a question of POV. 95% of the half-million Syrian that have died in this conflict have been killed by the forces backing Assad. A few more years of Assad will probably mean a couple of hundred thousand more Syrians will "feel the burn." Not a problem for Sanders. And never mind Assad's role in creating ISIS, they are our main problem now and we can live with "a terrible dictator" in Syria "over the years" even if many Syrians can't.

Kennedy also shows little humanitarian concern for what many call the first holocaust of the 21st century. He is willing to excuse Assad "dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians," that is to say bombing neighborhoods and apartment blocks and not just Sunni ones, as "Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis." In other words, its not his fault, we made him do it. Joseph P. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's Jr. grandfather, was similarly forgiving and supportive of Adolph Hitler. Meanwhile, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. uses the word "holocaust" to describe the autism epidemic but not the hundred of thousands of dead Syrians Assad's carnage has produced.

He also lets Assad escape blame for creating the worst refugee crisis since World War II:
But then, in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe.
What a kindness to Assad! It has mainly been his barrel bombs, artillery bombardment, chemical weapons attacks, missile strikes and ground assaults that are driving millions of refugees in neighboring countries and tens of thousands into Europe, not the much better publicized Daesh be-headings. Apparently to Kennedy, millions of Syrian refugees crowded into camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan aren't the problem. The problem that they may be headed for Europe (and the US). Again, its a question of your POV.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is in agreement with Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin in seeing only two sides in the Syrian conflict, the Assad side and the western-back terrorist side. Five years of struggle by Syrians to overthrow a 40 year dictatorship, the millions that came out in peaceful protests, the tens of thousand who left Assad's army to join the people's flight, the untold suffering of so many is reduced to nothing, like they don't even exist!
...we must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mideast for 65 years.
But there weren't mass protests demanding an end to the regime when the US invaded Iraq or Afghanistan. There wasn't a revolution going on in those countries. It makes no difference to Kennedy. Those brave Arabs are just "pipeline proxies" and so can be completely discounted. In this one sentence the outrageous chauvinism of Kennedy's POV really shines:
Once we strip this conflict of its humanitarian patina and recognize the Syrian conflict as an oil war our foreign policy strategy becomes clear.
With maybe a half million Syrians dead and more than ten million made homeless, it should be clear that the Syrian conflict is a humanitarian disaster of enormous magnitude no matter who you blame for it. To call this a patina or veneer, to say it is something put on for show, represents a very ugly attitude towards humanity. From his POV the US is behind every conflict in the Middle East, and the motive is always oil, he pays no attention to the struggle of the Syrian people against dictatorship. In his mind they have no independent agency worth considering. Those millions that rallied for the downfall of the regime are just "pipeline proxies" in his mind and clearly we should do nothing.

His solution:
... let the Arabs run Arabia. Other than humanitarian assistance and guaranteeing the security of Israel’s borders, the U.S. has no legitimate role in this conflict.
Which is not to say that he is objecting to the Iranians and Russians running Syria, he means we shouldn't have any objections to Assad running Syria so long as he only kills other Arabs and the only civilians in the region that deserve our protection are settlers from Europe and America and their continuing annexation of Arab lands. Make no mistake about it Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is no friend of "the Arabs" and has no business thinking he can tell us what they want and why.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Monday, April 11, 2016

Code Pink changes a logo, will it now also change its stand on Syria?

Flags have meanings. 
They tell people which side you stand on. 
The Syrian conflict is also defined by flags.
The Assad regime has its flag.The terrorists have their flag.The people have their flag.
While millions of Syrians have rallied behind their flag of liberation...
Urging NATO action | Oct 2011
Friday Freedom Protest | March 2016
End the Regime | 4 March 2016
Some in the US Left have chosen instead to salute the tyrant's colors...
Last August, I criticized Veterans for Peace for marching with Assad's flag and for their pro-Assad convention resolution.

Report on Convention: Veterans for Peace gives Assad & ISIS a new tool
Booth & Banner @ Veterans for Peace National Convention
Critique of Proposed VFP Resolution 2015-3 Stop All Foreign Intervention In Syria
Until recently, Code Pink was also waving Assad's flag on its website, their Syria logo was a broken peace symbol backed by the fascist flag. It looked as though Bashar al-Assad could also count Code Pink as one of his supporters, and the reasons for thinking that went far beyond that logo. What we've heard from most them on Syria is silence and that was just what the doctor ordered. So the question is: How deep is this change?

Code Pink has been one of the leading US peace organizations and progressive women's organizations since in was found by Jodie Evans, Medea Benjamin and other activists near the end of 2002 during the run up to the Iraq war. Since then it has been active in a great many campaigns including justice for Palestine, closing Gitmo, against militarized drones and more recently, breaking ties with Saudi Arabia. This is how it describes itself:
CODEPINK is a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs. Join us!
For an American group that has joined the fight in places as far away as off the coast of Gaza and in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring and fancies itself a defender of peace and justice everywhere with a special focus on women, they have been surprisingly quiet about this conflict that has ended a half million lives and up-ended twelve million more, the majority women and children, in the last five years.

Mainly Code Pink has has had very little to say about Syria. They didn't complain about his barrel bombing of civilian housing. Unlike Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, they haven't done much to expose the Assad regime's systematic use of rape as a weapon. Medea Benjamin has sent out over 7,384 tweets but Google can't find the word "sarin" in any on them, but after Assad murdered over 1400 people with sarin, including hundreds of children, in East Ghouta and other Damascus suburbs and the specter of a promised Obama military response was raised, Code Pink jumped into action on Syria.  Its purpose was to oppose Obama keeping his "red-line" promise. They need not have bothered, Obama had no plans to keep this promise, he'd been in Assad's corner all along. Obama was happy to have "Left" cover for his plans, to have Medea Benjamin believe "We forced the president to go to Congress." That's why Medea Benjamin was able to keep sneaking into the hearings and why Obama told the audience "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to."  He didn't want to see Assad harmed either. He even made the French stand down. Code Pink couldn't take credit for that but they did claim a great victory in "Stopping a War" because Obama reneged on his promise that the US would take military action if Assad used chemical weapons.

Once that danger had passed, Code Pink again turned quiet on Syria. One of the consequences of Obama's reneging on his promise to take action if Assad ever did use "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" was a loss of hope among the Syrian people of ever seeing meaningful support from the West and a great propaganda victory for the anti-western jihadists. Daesh was able to make hay out of this and soon Mosul would fall. Assad saw his way free to greatly step up the terror bombing and even use chemical weapons many more times. But my then Code Pink had moved on to other things.

They did briefly focus on the effects of the Syrian civil war on women at the "Women Lead to Peace Summit" they helped organize in Geneva, Switzerland ahead of the Geneva II Syria peace talks in January 2014. It was a mixed bag with Assad regime apologists such as Mairead Maguire participating.

They have opposed the overthrow of Assad and promoted Assad regime propaganda that the US government is behind the revolt by backing a propaganda bill put forward by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) that is intended to “bring an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad..” As if that is the problem. That's just "Left" cover for Obama's real agenda. They have also promoted the Assad regime view that Daesh, which they call ISIS, is part of the revolutionary opposition:
They only listen to US politicians and continue to be deaf to the demands of the massive Friday protests for a no-fly zone in Syria even though Assad's "Death from Above" campaign has created the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two:
And they don't support the Syrian people's demand for and end to the regime:
Beyond the silence, the absences of comment or protest, one of the things that might make the world think they were in Assad's corner was the logo they used for "Syria" under the "Issues & Campaigns." section of the Code Pink website. You had to click the "Load More" link to see it because the worst humanitarian crises of our time doesn't make the first screen. I first saw the logo less than two weeks ago while researching this piece and immediately launched a twitter campaign against it:

Now I am happy to report that they have since gotten rid of that awful, pro-Assad logo and replaced it with something more neutral. The question is, will the campaign behind it now also change to something less pro-Assad as well? Is this really a change of heart or just a change of face?

They also have a petition you should sign - Obama: Drop Food, Not Bombs, in Syria!, but they should be doing much more..

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong.

Would Misrata, Libya look like Homs, Syria today if NATO hadn't intervened?

In the past four years we have seen what a fascist dictator can do to his cities with unrestrained air power  because nobody bothered to stop Syrian, and then Russian, air power from reducing them to ruble. We've seen it in:
Homs todayAleppo todayIdlib today

Misrata May 2011
Misrata post-GaddafiMisrata today

Because of the United Nations intervention carried out by NATO, the Gaddafi regime could only use artillery, but not air power, to bombard Misrata and his siege was over in four months. Still the first photo shows what he had accomplished by May of 2011. After Gaddafi was overthrown, documents showing Gaddafi's plans for Misrata were found:
One document shows the commanding general of government forces instructing his units to starve Misrata's population during the four-month siege. The order, from Youssef Ahmed Basheer Abu Hajar, states bluntly: "It is absolutely forbidden for supply cars, fuel and other services to enter the city of Misrata from all gates and checkpoints." Another document instructs army units to hunt down wounded rebel fighters, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Plans to bombard the city are also in the archive, say investigators, who also claim they have a message from Gaddafi relayed to the troops ordering that Misrata be obliterated and the "blue sea turned red" with the blood of the inhabitants.
Now we know what these policies look like if they are allowed to be carried out in full, and now both Syria and the world are paying a heavy price for this non-interventionist policy. The white "anti-imperialist" Left thinks the NATO intervention in Libya was a big mistake, and they are happy to have helped stop it from happening in Syria (as if the imperialist had any such plans this go 'round), but then they never lived in Misrata, Homs, Aleppo or Idlib, and probably don't know anybody who does.

Anyway, the real point of this post is to republish this very nice critique of the prevailing attitude of this Imperial Left forward the intervention in Libya:

Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong.

Republished from Vox World, written by Shadi Hamid
5 April 2016

Libya and the 2011 NATO intervention there have become synonymous with failure, disaster, and the Middle East being a "shit show" (to use President Obama’s colorful descriptor). It has perhaps never been more important to question this prevailing wisdom, because how we interpret Libya affects how we interpret Syria and, importantly, how we assess Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Libya, as anyone can see, is a mess, and Americans are reasonably asking if the intervention was a mistake. But just because it’s reasonable doesn’t make it right.

Most criticisms of the intervention, even with the benefit of hindsight, fall short. It is certainly true that the intervention didn’t produce something resembling a stable democracy. This, however, was never the goal. The goal was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.

Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened. By that standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.

Critics further assert that the intervention caused, created, or somehow led to civil war. In fact, the civil war had already started before the intervention began. As for today’s chaos, violence, and general instability, these are more plausibly tied not to the original intervention but to the international community’s failures after intervention.

The very fact that the Libya intervention and its legacy have been either distorted or misunderstood is itself evidence of a warped foreign policy discourse in the US, where anything short of success — in this case, Libya quickly becoming a stable, relatively democratic country — is viewed as a failure.

NATO intervened to protect civilians, not to set up a democracy

As stated in the UN Security Council resolution authorizing force in Libya, the goal of intervention was "to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack." And this is what was achieved.

In February 2011, anti-Qaddafi demonstrations spread across the country. The regime responded to the nascent protest movement with lethal force, killing more than 100 people in the first few days, effectively sparking an armed rebellion. The rebels quickly lost momentum, however.

I still remember how I felt in those last days and hours as Qaddafi’s forces marched toward Benghazi. In a quite literal sense, every moment mattered, and the longer we waited, the greater the cost.

It was frightening to watch. I didn’t want to live in an America where we would stand by silently as a brutal dictator — using that distinct language of genocidaires — announced rather clearly his intentions to kill. In one speech, Qaddafi called protesters "cockroaches" and vowed to cleanse Libya "inch by inch, house by house, home by home, alleyway by alleyway."

Already, on the eve of intervention, the death toll was estimated at somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000. (This was when the international community’s tolerance for Arab Spring–related mass killings was still fairly low.)

As Obama’s advisers saw it, there were two options for military action: a no-fly zone (which, on its own, wouldn’t do much to stop Qaddafi’s tanks) or a broader resolution that would allow the US and its allies to take further measures, including establishing what amounted to a floating no-drive zone around rebel forces. The president went with the latter option.

The NATO operation lasted about seven months, with an estimated death toll of around 8,000, apparently most of them combatants on both sides (although there is some lack of clarity on this, since the Libyan government doesn’t clearly define "revolutionaries" or "rebel supporters"). A Human Rights Watch investigation found that at least 72 civilians were killed as a result of the NATO air campaign, definitively contradicting speculative claims of mass casualties from the Qaddafi regime.

Claims of "mission creep" have become commonplace, most forcefully articulated by the Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. Zenko may be right, but he asserts rather than explains why mission creep is always a bad thing. It may be that in some circumstances, the scope of a mission should be defined more broadly, rather than narrowly.

If anything, it was the Obama administration’s insistence of minimizing the mission — including the absurd claim that it would take "days, not weeks" — that was the problem from the very start. Zenko and others never make clear how civilians could have been protected as long as Qaddafi was waging war on them.

What Libya would look like today if NATO hadn’t intervened

It’s helpful to engage in a bit of counterfactual history here. As Niall Ferguson notes in his book Virtual Alternatives, "To understand how it actually was, we therefore need to understand how it actually wasn’t."

Applied to the Libyan context, this means that we’re not comparing Libya, during or after the intervention, with some imagined ideal of stable, functioning democracy. Rather, we would compare it with what we judge, to the best of our ability, the most likely alternative outcome would have been had the US not intervened.

Here’s what we know: By March 19, 2011, when the NATO operation began, the death toll in Libya had risen rapidly to more than 1,000 in a relatively short amount of time, confirming Qaddafi’s longstanding reputation as someone who was willing to kill his countrymen (as well as others) in large numbers if that’s what his survival required.

There was no end in sight. After early rebel gains, Qaddafi had seized the advantage. Still, he was not in a position to deal a decisive blow to the opposition. (Nowhere in the Arab Spring era has one side in a military conflict been able to claim a clear victory, even with massive advantages in manpower, equipment, and regional backing.)

Any Libyan who had opted to take up arms was liable to be captured, arrested, or killed if Qaddafi "won," so the incentives to accept defeat were nonexistent, to say nothing of the understandable desire to not live under the rule of a brutal and maniacal strongman.

The most likely outcome, then, was a Syria-like situation of indefinite, intensifying violence. Even President Obama, who today seems unsure about the decision to intervene, acknowledged in an August 2014 interview with Thomas Friedman that "had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. ... And so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction."

What caused the current Libyan civil war?

Critics charge that the NATO intervention was responsible for or somehow caused Libya’s current state of chaos and instability. For instance, after leaving the Obama administration, Philip Gordon, the most senior US official on the Middle East in 2013-'15, wrote: "In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster."

The problem here is that US intervention did not, in fact, result in a costly disaster, unless we are using the word "result" to simply connote that one thing happened after a previous thing. The NATO operation ended in October 2011. The current civil war in Libya began in May 2014 — a full two and a half years later. The intervention and today’s violence are of course related, but this does not necessarily mean there is a causal relationship.

To argue that the current conflict in Libya is a result of the intervention, one would basically need to assume that the outbreak of civil war was inevitable, irrespective of anything that happened in the intervening 30 months.

This makes it all the more important to distinguish between the intervention itself and the international community’s subsequent failure — a failure that nearly all the relevant actors acknowledge — to plan and act for the day after and help Libyans rebuild their shattered country.

Such measures include sending training missions to help the Libyan army restructure itself (only in late 2013 did NATO provide a small team of advisers) or even sending multinational peacekeeping forces; expanding the United Nations Support Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) limited advisory role; and pressuring the Libyan government to consider alternatives to a dangerous and destabilizing political isolation law.

While perhaps less sexy, the US and its allies could have also weighed in on institutional design and pushed back against Libya’s adoption, backed by UNSMIL, of one of world’s most counterproductive electoral systems — single non-transferable vote — along with an institutional bias favoring independents. This combination exacerbated tribal and regional divisions while making power sharing even more difficult.

Finally, the US could have restrained its allies, particularly the Gulf States and Egypt, from excessive meddling in the lead-up to and early days of the 2014 civil war.

Yet Libya quickly tumbled off the American agenda. That’s not surprising, given that the Obama administration has always been suspicious of not just military entanglements but any kind of prolonged involvement — diplomatic, financial, or otherwise — in Middle East trouble spots. Libya "was farmed out to the working level," according to Dennis Ross, who served as a special assistant to President Obama until November 2011.

There was also an assumption that the Europeans would do more. This was more than just a hope; it was an organizing principle of Obama administration engagement abroad. Analysts Nina Hachigian and David Shorr have called it the "Responsibility Doctrine": a strategy of "prodding other influential nations … to help shoulder the burdens of fostering a stable, peaceful world order."

This may be the way the world should operate, but as a set of driving assumptions, this part of the Obama doctrine has proven to be wrong at best, and rather dangerous at worst.

We may not like it — and Obama certainly doesn’t — but even when the US itself is not particularly involved in a given conflict, at the very least it is expected to set the agenda, convene partners, and drive international attention toward an issue that would otherwise be neglected in the morass of Middle East conflicts. The US, when it came to Libya, did not meet this minimal standard.

Even President Obama himself would eventually acknowledge the failure to stay engaged. As he put it to Friedman: "I think we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this."

Yet it is worth emphasizing that even with a civil war, ISIS’s capture of territory, and as many as three competing "governments," the destruction in Libya still does not come close to the level of death and destruction witnessed in Syria in the absence of intervention.

In other words, even this "worst-case scenario" falls well short of actual worst-case scenarios. According to the Libya Body Count, around 4,500 people have so far been killed over the course of 22 months of civil war.

In Syria, the death toll is about 100 times that, with more than 400,000 killed, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research.

We’re all consequentialists now

For the reasons outlined above, Libya’s descent into civil conflict — and the resulting power vacuum, which extremist groups like ISIS eagerly filled — wasn’t inevitable. But let’s hypothesize for a moment that it was. Would that undermine support for the original intervention?

The Iraq War, to cite the most obvious example, wasn’t wrong because it led to chaos, instability, and civil war in the country. It was wrong because the decision to intervene in the first place was not justified, being based as it was on faulty premises regarding weapons of mass destruction.

If Iraq had quickly turned out "well" and become a relatively stable, flawed, yet functioning democracy, would that have retroactively justified an unjustified war? Presumably not, even though we would all be happy that Iraq was on a promising path.

The near reverse holds true for Libya. The justness of military intervention in March 2011 cannot be undone or negated retroactively. This is not the way choice or morality operates (imagine applying this standard to your personal life). This may suggest a broader philosophical divergence: Obama, according to one of his aides, is a "consequentialist."

I suspect that this, perhaps more than narrower questions of military intervention, drives at least some of the revisionism over Libya’s legacy. If we were consequentialists, it would be nearly impossible to act anywhere without some sort of preordained guarantee that a conflict area — which likely hadn’t been "stable" for years or decades — could all of a sudden stabilize.

Was the rightness of stopping the Rwandan genocide dependent on whether Rwanda could realistically become a stable democracy after the genocide was stopped? And how could policymakers make that determination, when the stabilization of any post-conflict situation is dependent, in part, not just on factual assessments but on always uncertain questions of the international community’s political will — something that is up to politicians — in committing the necessary time, attention, and resources to helping shattered countries rebuild themselves?

The idea that Libya, because it had oil and a relatively small population, would have been a relatively easy case was an odd one. Qaddafi had made sure, well in advance, that a Libya without him would be woefully unprepared to reconstruct itself.

For more than four decades, he did everything in his power to preempt any civil society organizations or real, autonomous institutions from emerging. Paranoid about competing centers of influence, Qaddafi reduced the Libyan army to a personal fiefdom. Unlike other Arab autocracies, the state and the leader were inseparable.

To think that Libya wouldn’t have encountered at least some major instability over the course of transition from one-person rule to an uncertain "something else" is to have a view of political development completely detached from both history and reality. ... More...

Shadi Hamid is a senior fellow at the Project on US Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and the author of the forthcoming book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.
See also:
How Noam Chomsky cleans up Mummar Qaddafi
Why I consider Libya a revolutionary success story

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya