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The Demise of Arms Control Draws Near: No Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Andrei AKULOV | Strategic Culture Foundation | 26.09.2018

There have been ups and downs in the relationship between Russia (the Soviet Union) and the US, but both nations have become accustomed to the fact that their arsenals of offensive nuclear weapons are under the control of an agreement to prevent an arms race in this area. Some type of treaty has been in place since the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was concluded in 1963. Since 1972, when the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) agreement was signed, there have always been negotiated constraints on nuclear arsenals. But today, there are ominous signs that the system that has worked so well to push the superpowers back from the brink of the nuclear abyss is being unraveled.

Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, speaking before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept. 18, claimed that Russia’s new strategic weapons that were announced by President Vladimir Putin last March were an obstacle to Washington’s agreement to extend the New START treaty. She also asserted that the issue has not been discussed through the formal New START process. She did not explain why not. The official said the final decision had not been made as yet and, “All options are on the table.” The same applies to the other remaining treaties that Washington is accusing Moscow of violating.

The options under consideration are: withdrawing from the New START; renegotiating the provisions related to the verification process; or signing another treaty instead, such as the 2002 Moscow Treaty or the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The undersecretary said that the US administration wanted Russia’s recently unveiled strategic nuclear weapons to be included in the count.

Negotiations are possible over the issue of the new weapons that are being tested or are already part of Russia’s arsenal. Moscow has been calling for a strategic dialog for quite some time, and Russia is not to blame because Washington is reluctant to start the process, whatever its motivation. A duplication of the 2002 treaty is unacceptable. It has already been finalized. No such radical reduction is possible without other nuclear states joining in, and they are not doing so. It’s really hard to understand why the undersecretary would bring this up, knowing perfectly well the proposal would have no chance.

David Trachtenberg, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, also insists that the extension of New START was uncertain, despite the fact that on-site inspections and monitoring were useful.

The Senate hearings showed that the lawmakers are divided on the future of arms control and are prone to putting the blame on Russia for violating each and every agreement in existence without taking a proper look at what the US is doing. There is slim chance of an extension of the New START and hardly any prospects for a new deal.

The New START will expire in 2021 unless extended by agreement of the US and Russian presidents or replaced by a follow-on treaty. The US and Russian presidents discussed the New START during a phone conversation in January and at the Helsinki summit in July, where the Russian leader suggested that the parties thoroughly review all the components of the arms-control regime, including New START and the INF treaty, the 2011 Vienna Document on confidence-building measures in Europe, and the Open Skies Treaty. After meeting Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the extension of the New START was far from a slam-dunk decision. Meanwhile, the United States is moving ahead and designing a new ground-based missile that is in open violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty.

The long-range Kalibr sea-based cruise missile that was added to the arsenal of the Russian armed forces in late 2017 would violate the presidential nuclear initiatives (PNIs) of 1991 if it were equipped with a nuclear payload. Technically, it is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead but it does not. Russia’s non-strategic arsenal is large and sophisticated enough as it is — there is no need to violate its obligations under the PNIs. The US has a great numerical advantage in sea-based long-range missiles, and there is no verification mechanism in place to ascertain whether or not they are equipped with nuclear warheads.

The US has always been reluctant to discuss ways to enhance the PNIs by adding verification measures. The long-range cruise-missile capability demonstrated by Russia’s Navy during the Syrian conflict came as a surprise, but this does not mean it is a violation. Things change and it’s only natural to adapt to a new reality. It’s widely believed that the best way to tackle the problems related to national security is through talks, but the US administration and many people in Congress see it differently.

There is something important to remember — the US sea-based nuclear-tipped TLAM/N missiles are still part of the US arsenal, and there is no way to make sure they are not clandestinely installed on nuclear attack submarines. This issue could be discussed separately from the strategic nuclear agenda. The problem cannot be neglected. No one is standing in the way of launching a dialog. President Bush and President Gorbachev managed it. In theory, President Trump and President Putin could do the same thing, but the American leader should be prepared to be attacked for dealing with Russia. Those in America who stand in the way of an arms-control dialog between the two leading nuclear powers are actually undermining the country’s security, but they will do it anyway in order to pursue their own political ends, because they are filled with hatred against both the US president and Russia.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review states that the United States will pursue a nuclear-armed, submarine-launched cruise missile in order to “provide a needed nonstrategic regional presence, an assured response capability.” How does this jibe with the fact that the PNI is still in effect? It looks like the initiatives’ future is as uncertain as the fate of other treaties.

Of course Russian strategists have never forgotten that the US still has 50 empty silos ready to hold ICBMs, with several hundred additional warheads that are also in storage and could potentially be loaded.

There are only three years left until the New START expires. The experience of history demonstrates that that is hardly enough time to prepare a new treaty that actually has no chance of being ratified by the Senate in an era when the overall bilateral relationship is at its lowest ebb. The US still has no clear idea of what its future nuclear triad will be like. Discussions are underway. All we know is that it is investing more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its aging nuclear forces, which will include new ground-based missiles, new missile submarines, and a new bomber.

No major arms-control treaty will be concluded until the administration and Congress know exactly what components will be included in the arsenal and what programs are to be implemented to achieve the established goals —once all the assessments and estimations are complete and the guideline documents in place. Thus, an automatic five-year extension is the only hope for the New START’s survival. That could be accomplished through a simple executive agreement. Without a New START in effect, other agreements, such as the INF Treaty and the PNIs, have no chance. The very real prospect of an end to arms control and the non-proliferation regime is looming. That’s something leading experts in Russia were warning about as far back as 2015. Very serious discussions must be launched right now in order to prevent such a scenario. It’s a scary prospect!

The good news is that the patient can still be saved. There is still a little time left, although not much. There are no options but for Russia and the US to put their differences aside, forget about Ukraine, Syria, trade wars, and other issues that divide the two nations and concentrate on ways to save arms control or whatever is left of it. With their relationship at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War, it is even more vital to keep the nuclear risks in check and prevent a new nuclear arms race. Russia (Soviet) and US officials have always emphasized that any plan that keeps nuclear weapons under control and subject to proper verification procedures is a better option than an unfettered arms race. The US administration and its lawmakers seem to disagree.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magnitsky affair: the confession of a hustled journalist

By Elias Hazou | The Duran | September 25, 2018

Before getting down to brass tacks, let me say that I loathe penning articles like this; loathe writing about myself or in the first person, because a reporter should report the news, not be the news. Yet I grudgingly make this exception because, ironically, it happens to be newsworthy. To cut to the chase, it concerns Anglo-American financier Bill Browder and the Sergei Magnitsky affair. I, like others in the news business I’d venture to guess, feel led astray by Browder.

This is no excuse. I didn’t do my due diligence, and take full responsibility for erroneous information printed under my name. For that, I apologize to readers. I refer to two articles of mine published in a Cypriot publication, dated December 25, 2015 and January 6, 2016.

Browder’s basic story, as he has told it time and again, goes like this: in June 2007, Russian police officers raided the Moscow offices of Browder’s firm Hermitage, confiscating company seals, certificates of incorporation, and computers.

Browder says the owners and directors of Hermitage-owned companies were subsequently changed, using these seized documents. Corrupt courts were used to create fake debts for these companies, which allowed for the taxes they had previously paid to the Russian Treasury to be refunded to what were now re-registered companies. The funds stolen from the Russian state were then laundered through banks and shell companies.

The scheme is said to have been planned earlier in Cyprus by Russian law enforcement and tax officials in cahoots with criminal elements. All this was supposedly discovered by Magnitsky, whom Browder had tasked with investigating what happened. When Magnitsky reported the fraud, some of the nefarious characters involved had him arrested and jailed. He refused to retract, and died while in pre-trial detention.

In my first article, I wrote: “Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant, died in jail in 2009 after he exposed huge tax embezzlement…”

False. Contrary to the above story that has been rehashed countless times, Magnitsky did not expose any tax fraud, did not blow the whistle.

The interrogation reports show that Magnitsky had in fact been summoned by Russian authorities as a witness to an already ongoing investigation into Hermitage. Nor he did he accuse Russian investigators Karpov and/or Kuznetsov of committing the $230 million treasury fraud, as Browder claims.

Magnitsky did not disclose the theft. He first mentioned it in testimony in October 2008. But it had already been reported in the New York Times on July 24, 2008.

In reality, the whistleblower was a certain Rimma Starova. She worked for one of the implicated shell companies and, having read in the papers that authorities were investigating, went to police to give testimony in April 2008 – six months before Magnitsky spoke of the scam for the first time (see here and here).

Why, then, did I report that about Magnitsky? Because at the time my sole source for the story was Team Browder, who had reached out to the Cyprus Mail and with whom I communicated via email. I was provided with ‘information’, flow charts and so on. All looking very professional and compelling.

At the time of the first article, I knew next to nothing about the Magnitsky/Browder affair. I had to go through media reports to get the gist, and then get up to speed with Browder’s latest claims that a Cypriot law firm, which counted the Hermitage Fund among its clients, had just been ‘raided’ by Cypriot police.

The article had to be written and delivered on the same day. In retrospect I should have asked for more time – a lot more time – and Devil take the deadlines.

For the second article, I conversed briefly on the phone with the soft-spoken Browder himself, who handed down the gospel on the Magnitsky affair. Under the time constraints, and trusting that my sources could at least be relied upon for basic information which they presented as facts, I went along with it.

I was played. But let’s be clear: I let myself down too.

In the ensuing weeks and months, I didn’t follow up on the story as my gut told me something was wrong: villains and malign actors operating in a Wild West Russia, and at the centre of it all, a heroic Magnitsky who paid with his life – the kind of script that Hollywood execs would kill for.

Subsequently I mentally filed away the Browder story, while being aware it was in the news.

But the real red pill was a documentary by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, which came to my attention a few weeks ago.

Titled ‘The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes’, it does a magisterial job of depicting how the director initially took Browder’s story on faith, only to end up questioning everything.

The docudrama dissects, disassembles and dismantles Browder’s narrative, as Nekrasov – by no means a Putin apologist – delves deeper down into the rabbit hole.

The director had set out to make a poignant film about Magnitsky’s tragedy, but became increasingly troubled as the facts he uncovered didn’t stack up with Browder’s account, he claims.

The ‘aha’ moment arrives when Nekrasov appears to show solid proof that Magnitsky blew no whistle.

Not only that, but in his depositions – the first one dating to 2006, well before Hermitage’s offices were raided – Magnitsky did not accuse any police officers of being part of the ‘theft’ of Browder’s companies and the subsequent alleged $230m tax rebate fraud.

The point can’t be stressed enough, as this very claim is the lynchpin of Browder’s account. In his bestseller Red Notice, Browder alleges that Magnitsky was arrested because he exposed two corrupt police officers, and that he was jailed and tortured because he wouldn’t retract.

We are meant to take Browder’s word for it.

It gets worse for Nekrasov, as he goes on to discover that Magnitsky was no lawyer. He did not have a lawyer’s license. Rather, he was an accountant/auditor who worked for Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan.

Yet every chance he gets, Browder still refers to Magnitsky as ‘a lawyer’ or ‘my lawyer’.

The clincher comes late in the film, with footage from Browder’s April 15, 2015 deposition in a US federal court, in the Prevezon case. The case, brought by the US Justice Department at Browder’s instigation, targeted a Russian national who Browder said had received $1.9m of the $230m tax fraud.

In the deposition, Browder is asked if Magnitsky had a law degree in Russia. “I’m not aware that he did,” he replies.

The full deposition, some six hours long, is (still) available on Youtube. As penance for past transgressions, I watched it in its entirety. While refraining from using adjectives to describe it, I shall simply cite some examples and let readers decide on Browder’s credibility.

Browder seems to suffer an almost total memory blackout as a lawyer begins firing questions at him. He cannot recall, or does not know, where he or his team got the information concerning the alleged illicit transfer of funds from Hermitage-owned companies.

This is despite the fact that the now-famous Powerpoint presentations – hosted on so many ‘anti-corruption’ websites and recited by ‘human rights’ NGOs – were prepared by Browder’s own team.

Nor does he recall where, or how, he and his team obtained information on the amounts of the ‘stolen’ funds funnelled into companies. When it’s pointed out that in any case this information would be privileged – banking secrecy and so forth – Browder appears to be at a loss.

According to Team Browder, in 2007 the ‘Klyuev gang’ together with Russian interior ministry officials travelled to Cyprus, ostensibly to set up the tax rebate scam using shell companies.

But in his deposition, the Anglo-American businessman cannot remember, or does not know, how his team obtained the travel information of the conspirators.

He can’t explain how they acquired the flight records and dates, doesn’t have any documentation at hand, and isn’t aware if any such documentation exists.

Browder claims his ‘Justice for Magnitsky’ campaign, which among other things has led to US sanctions on Russian persons, is all about vindicating the young man. Were that true, one would have expected Browder to go out of his way to aid Magnitsky in his hour of need.

The deposition does not bear that out.

Lawyer: “Did anyone coordinate on your behalf with Firestone Duncan about the defence of Mr Magnitsky?”

Browder: “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Going back to Nekrasov’s film, a standout segment is where the filmmaker looks at a briefing document prepared by Team Browder concerning the June 2007 raid by Russian police officers. In it, Browder claims the cops beat up Victor Poryugin, a lawyer with the firm.

The lawyer was then “hospitalized for two weeks,” according to Browder’s presentation, which includes a photo of the beaten-up lawyer. Except, it turns out the man pictured is not Poryugin at all. Rather, the photo is actually of Jim Zwerg, an American human rights activist beaten up during a street protest in 1961 (see here and here).

Nekrasov sits down with German politician Marieluise Beck. She was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace), which compiled a report that made Magnitsky a cause celebre.

You can see Beck’s jaw drop when Nekrasov informs her that Magnitsky did not report the fraud, that he was in fact under investigation.

It transpires that Pace, as well as human rights activists, were getting their information from one source – Browder. Later, the Council of Europe’s Andreas Gross admits on camera that their entire investigation into the Magnitsky affair was based on Browder’s info and that they relied on translations of Russian documents provided by Browder’s team because, as Gross puts it, “I don’t speak Russian myself.”

That hit home – I, too, had been fed information from a single source, not bothering to verify it. I, too, initially went with the assumption that because Russia is said to be a land of endemic corruption, then Browder’s story sounded plausible if not entirely credible.

For me, the takeaway is this gem from Nekrasov’s narration: “I was regularly overcome by deep unease. Was I defending a system that killed Magnitsky, even if I’d found no proof that he’d been murdered?”

Bull’s-eye. Nekrasov has arrived at a crossroads, the moment where one’s mettle is tested: do I pursue the facts wherever they may lead, even if they take me out of my comfort zone? What is more important: the truth, or the narrative? Nekrasov chose the former. As do I.

Like with everything else, specific allegations must be assessed independently of one’s general opinion of the Russian state. They are two distinct issues. Say Browder never existed; does that make Russia a paradise?

I suspect Team Browder may scrub me from their mailing list; one can live with that.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | | Leave a comment

Living in wacko-land

By Paul Robinson | Irrussianality | September 25, 2018

A chance encounter with a Twitter post got me following links on the internet today as I filled in time between classes. I know that there’s a lot of truly rotten stuff out there, and every now and again I write some piece denouncing some example or other. But on the whole, I try and stay clear of it. Still, immersing myself in all this was rather interesting, so I thought that I would share the results.

The Tweet which got me started was this one from Toronto-based Ukrainian-Canadian ‘political analyst’ Ariana Gic, who writes occasional columns for outlets like the Atlantic Council. I’m always rather sceptical of ‘independent analysts’ who seem to lack an institutional base, and am frankly amazed that one can making a living that way, but apparently one can. Anyway, this is what Ms Gic had to tell us yesterday.

gic

I don’t think that I need to discuss this, as I’m sure you can all see the point without further commentary, but it’s perhaps useful to add the fact that the officer commanding Soviet forces in Kiev until his death in combat on 20 September 1941 wasn’t an evil ‘Moskal’ but a Ukrainian, General Mikhail Kirponos. But that’s by the by. Not knowing anything about Ms Gic, I decided to see what else she has written. And then, following the links from what I found, I ended up discovering what a bunch of others have written recently too. Here’s some of the results:

1) The World Cup ‘revealed Russian chauvinism.’ According to a piece by Ariana Gic in the EUObserver, the World Cup displayed the nasty nationalism prevalent in the Russian population. This is a favourite theme of Ms Gic, who is keen that we should all know that Ukraine’s (and the West’s) real enemy is not Putin or his ‘regime’ but the Russian people. ‘Kremlin propaganda tapped into existing Russian exceptionalism, imperialism, chauvinism, & hatred of Ukrainians,’ she tells us on Twitter, adding that we must fight the ‘lie of the good Russians’.

2) Ms Gic’s Twitter account connected me to that of another Canadian activist, Marcus Kolga. A man of, I think, Latvian descent, Kolga played a prominent role in the lobbying which produced the Canadian Magnitsky Act. According one of his latest Tweets:

Interference in Canada’s 2015 election confirmed & there are constant attempts by Kremlin to undermine Canadian democracy, alliances + policy. Not simply a 2019 election interference problem but attack on democracy.

I read the Canadian newspapers every day and have yet to see any indication of Russian interference in our 2015 election. But never mind. Kolga tells us it’s ‘confirmed’! Pursuing him a bit further, I discovered a bunch of articles he’s written for publications like the Toronto Sun. In one of these he informs us that the Russian annexation of Crimea was just like the Soviet annexations of the Baltic States in 1940 and that Vladimir Putin is involved in ‘relentless attempts to deny the Soviet occupation and repression of these nations.’ This is odd, as I’ve never seen any such attempt. But I’m just an academic who’s written a couple of peer-reviewed articles about Putin’s speeches. What do I know?

Kolga will be one of the panelists at a seminar held by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute here on Ottawa on Thursday. The blurb for the seminar tells us:

Russia uses hybrid or asymmetric tactics to advance its goals in Eastern Europe and beyond. … An important element is its use of disinformation and offensive cyber activities. Russian websites have already tried to spread vicious rumours about NATO troops in the Baltics. Closer to home they have spread rumours about the family history of Canada’s foreign minister and have worked to manipulate aspects of Baltic history in an effort to marginalize their security concerns. Kremlin meddling was clearly a factor in the US, French and German elections and Canada can expect the same in future elections. … To shed light on this issue, MLI is hosting a panel event that will bring together some of the leading thinkers on the strategic threat posed by Russia.

It’s nice to see that this well-balanced seminar hasn’t predetermined the issue of the Russian ‘threat’. I have better things to do than spend a couple of hours listening to how terrible it is to ‘spread rumours [sic] about the family history of Canada’s foreign minister.’ I won’t be attending.

3) After a diversion into the territory of Mr Kolga, Ms Gic next directed me to something by Paul Goble, whose work I generally avoid. In a recent article for Euromaidan Press, Goble claims that in Donbass, ‘Moscow is replacing local people with Russians.’ Citing ‘US-based Russian journalist Ksenia Kirillova,’ Goble tells us that locals are being arrested and ‘replaced by new arrivals’ from Russia. ‘Most of them are coming from Vorkuta and Irkutsk’, says Goble, adding that

Kirillova does not say, but it is clear from her interviews that the “DNR” officials backed by Moscow are interested in promoting the departure of the older residents and their replacement with more malleable and thus reliable Russians from distant regions of the Russian Federation.

Ariana Gic comments that Goble’s story tells us that Russia is trying to ‘forcibly change the demographics of the local population in occupied Ukraine’. This amounts to ‘ethnic cleansing, and a war crime under Art 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention,’ she says. Think about this for a moment. Just how many Russians would you have to import from Vorkuta and Irkutsk in order to reconfigure the demographics of Donbass? And just how how many Russians do you imagine are going to want to move to a war zone with an almost non-existent economy? To quote John McEnroe, ‘You cannot be serious.’

4) After pursuing these links a bit more, I finally, and I know not how, ended up on a page full of Twitter postings by Andreas Umland, which in turn directed me to a gem of an article by Paul Knott in the New European, entitled ‘Meet the Most Dangerous Man in the World.’ And who is the ‘most dangerous man in the world’? Alexander Dugin, of course. Knott notes that those who have studied Dugin, like Marlene Laruelle of The George Washington University, consider his influence exaggerated. But facts and scholarly analysis be damned! Knott knows better. ‘Dugin is heavily promoted by the Kremlin-controlled Russian media and has strong ties to the military,’ he tells us, adding that Vladimir Putin ‘is in thrall to him.’ ‘The substantial influence Dugin exerts over ultra-powerful people like Putin and, indirectly, Trump, makes him a frightening figure,’ says Knott. Dugin as the puppet master of Donald Trump? Is that what we’ve come to now? Knott was a British diplomat for 20 years. It makes you wonder about how they do their recruiting in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Reading all this, one feels like one is living in wacko-land. And it’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. One of the organizations Ms Gic writes for is ‘Stop Fake’. If only!

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Russophobia | , , | 2 Comments

Britain’s Labor Party Passes Motion for ‘Arms Embargo’ on Israel

Palestinian flags waved during the Labor party conference in Liverpool. (Photo: Via Twitter)
Palestine Chronicle | September 26, 2018

The British Labor Party conference passed a motion to support an embargo on arms sales to Israel, a first in the country’s history.

As the proposal was put forward, hundreds of pro-Palestinian Labor delegates stood and waved their flags inside the conference hall in Liverpool, chanting “Free Palestine!” and turning the hall into a sea of Palestinian flags.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Ben Jamal, which has been a key force behind the proposal, said:

“This incredible show of support and this historic motion demonstrate the strength of feeling at the grassroots of the party.”

He added:

“Labour members want to show real solidarity with Palestinians… Given Israel’s continuing use of live fire to kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, it is no surprise that there’s clear support for an immediate freeze of arms sales to Israel.”

The motion – moved by Harlow Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and seconded by Wolverhampton South West CLP – is the first on Palestine to be heard at the party’s conference in many years.

Palestine was put forward as the fourth-most important issue by CLPs in the priorities ballot, after housing, the school system and “justice for the Windrush generation” – and above Brexit, the NHS, climate change and social care.

The motion comes amid ongoing protests along Gaza’s border with Israel dubbed the Great March of Return.

Despite the largely peaceful nature of the protests, Israeli snipers have killed more than 170 Palestinians since they began on March 30, with more than 17,500 injured.

More than 68 Palestinians injured by Israeli forces have required amputations of either lower or upper limbs since the protests began.

Palestinians have been calling to return to the homes their families were forced from in 1948, during the military campaign surrounding the creation of Israel.

They are also calling for an end to the decade-long Israel-Egypt blockade that the UN says will make Gaza “unlivable” by 2020.

Tuesday’s motion at the Labour Party conference called for an “independent international investigation into Israel’s use of force against Palestinian demonstrators”, an “immediate and unconditional end to the illegal blockade and closure of Gaza” and “a freeze of UK government arms sales to Israel”.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists stand at nearly 640: Committee

Press TV – September 25, 2018

The Committee to Support Palestinian Journalists says the Israeli military’s violations against Palestinian journalists since the beginning of the current year stands at 637 as the Tel Aviv regime continues its repressive measures against members of the press in the occupied territories.

The New York-based committee, in a statement released on Tuesday, said Palestinian journalists Ahmed Abu Hussein and Yasser Murtaja succumbed to Israeli-inflicted gunshot wounds earlier this year, while covering anti-occupation protests along the border between the besieged Gaza Strip and occupied lands.

The committee further noted that the month of August witnessed the highest number of Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists, and the number hit 129.

It added that most of last month’s violations were recorded in the Gaza Strip, where reporters were targeted by live bullets and tear gas canisters as they were reporting on “The Great March of Return” protests.

The committee stated that it has recorded 82 cases of arrests and summonses since the beginning of the current year, besides 53 cases of extension of detention, adjournment and trial of Palestinian journalists being held in Israeli jails.

It highlighted that it has documented more than 83 cases of denial of coverage and obstruction of information, 31 cases of confiscation of media equipment, cameras and press cards plus six travel ban cases.

The committee also recorded 7 cases of incitement, and 35 cases of closure of media institutions and news websites.

It later expressed deep regret and condemnation of the Israeli forces’ targeting of Palestinian reporters, who conduct their “noble” mission by conveying the truth and exposing the ugliness of crimes being committed against the Palestinian nation.

The Committee to Support Palestinian Journalists also censured the Israeli regime’s bans on the broadcast of Arabic-language Palestinian al-Quds television network.

Israeli authorities have on occasion accused al-Quds television channel of being a “propaganda tool” for the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas.

The committee finally warned against the rising number of Israeli crimes against Palestinian journalists, calling on the International Federation of Journalists and the Union of Arab Journalists in addition to all human rights organizations to voice solidarity with Palestinian journalists, condemn Israel’s barbaric practices against members of the press and devise measures to stop the deliberate Israeli violations against them.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 1 Comment

Pro-Israeli Terror Threat at Labour Conference Covered Up By MSM

By Craig Murray | September 26, 2018

A fringe venue at the Labour conference was evacuated last night after the screening of a film about my friend Jackie Walker was cancelled by a terrorist bomb threat. Jackie, a black Jewish prominent critic of Israel, is currently among those suspended from the Labour Party over accusations of anti-semitism which are, in her case, nonsense.

What is astonishing is that the state and corporate media, which has made huge play around the entirely fake news of threats to pro-Israel MP Luciana Berger leading to her being given a police escort to protect her from ordinary delegates, has completely ignored this actual and disruptive pro-Israeli threat – except where they have reported the bomb threat, using the big lie technique, as a further example of anti-semitism in the Labour Party!

The Guardian’s report in this respect is simply unbelievable. Headed “Jewish event at Labour conference abandoned after bomb scare” it fails to note that Jewish Voice for Labour is a pro-Corbyn organisation and the film, “The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker”, exposes the evil machinations of the organised witch-hunt against Palestinian activists orchestrated by Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy. It is not that the Guardian does not know this – it has carried several articles calling for Jackie Walker’s expulsion.

The attempt to spin this as the precise opposite of what it was continues on social media. This chap is followed on Twitter by the Foreign Office.

I want you to undertake a little mental exercise for me, and try it seriously. Just imagine the coverage on Newsnight, the Today Programme and Channel 4 News if a Labour Friends of Israel meeting had been cancelled by a bomb scare. Imagine through the experience of seeing or listening to the coverage, on each of those in turn, of a bomb threat to Labour Friends of Israel.

Done that?

Well the bomb threat to the pro-Palestinian rights Jewish Voice for Labour has so far received zero coverage on those programmes.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 9 Comments

‘Violating our right to inform’: Twitter suspends Venezuelan Presidential Press account

RT | September 26, 2018

Twitter has suspended the official account of the Venezuelan government’s press team, reportedly without giving any explanation. The suspension is the latest in a series of social media strikes against Venezuelan media outlets.

“They blocked our Twitter account of the Presidential Press, they flagrantly violate our right to inform, we demand immediate reinstatement,” Minister for Communication Jorge Rodriguez tweeted on Tuesday.

The Presidential Press profile has more than one million followers. Monday’s suspension is not the first such event: in October 2017, President Maduro denounced an apparent campaign to limit the reach of his posts on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, TeleSUR reported.

While it is unclear if the events are connected, the suspension comes amid a wider clampdown by social media companies on anti-Western and alternative media. In August, Facebook abruptly removed the page of TeleSUR English, a Latin-American news network part-funded by the Venezuelan government. The removal was accompanied by the vague explanation that TeleSUR had breached Facebook’s terms of use.

The apparent censorship of TeleSUR came less than a week after the social media giant deleted the page of Venezuelanalysis, an outlet that offered leftist commentary on Latin American affairs. Though Facebook reinstated the page, Venezuelanalysis received no apology or explanation for its removal.

While accusations of bias and censorship by Silicon Valley tech companies have mostly come from conservatives in the US, a growing number of left-wing sites have felt the squeeze too. Journalist Abby Martin, who hosted ‘The Empire Files’ on TeleSUR told RT that big tech’s censorship efforts are “literally curating our reality and trying to paint anything that challenges this establishment narrative as conspiracy theories, as disinformation, as Russian trolls.”

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | , | Leave a comment

50,000 Syrians returned home from Lebanon this year – official

RT | September 26, 2018

Fifty thousand Syrians have returned home from Lebanon so far in 2018, a top Lebanese official said Tuesday.

The number could reach 200,000 in a year’s time if it continues at this rate, according to Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security agency. It had organized the return of 25,000 Syrians in coordination with Damascus, and another 25,000 had made their own way home, Reuters reports.

Lebanon is hosting 976,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The government says the total number of Syrians in the country is around 1.5 million.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

A Wake-Up Call to the Canadian Left

By Michael Welton | CounterPunch | September 26, 2018

Yves Engler is Canada’s foremost feisty contrarian. Contrarians oppose what most people think about people and events. They don’t like to bask in the sunlight. They would rather look in the shadows or dimly lit back alleys. If they walk on a summer beach, they pay little attention to the sun glinting off the shells. They want to see what lies under the rocks.

Alas! There aren’t many contrarians left. We live in the age of the vanquished reporter and group think. The mass media (BBC, CNN, CBC) toe the prevalent hegemonic political line. They ask no questions. They speak confidently on the latest demonic act of Russia or Syria or Iran. Israel always gets off the hook, no matter how many Gazans are gunned down. The US-Saudi Arabia can massacre hundreds of thousands of Yemenis. Not on the news tonight! And won’t be on next week, either. All “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality” (Robert Parry).

Engler’s new book, Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada’s Foreign Policy (Black Rose Publishers, 2018) follows in the train of previous muckraking and debunking books. Basically, Engler thinks the Canadian intelligentsia sees foreign policy through a glass darkly. They think that Canada is basically a benevolent nation. We (I am a Canadian) think we are not like our neighbour to the south. They are the land of conquest.

They are the democratic sheep in wolves clothing. They are the ones who bring “democracy and freedom” to nations on their gunboats. No, Canadians are a nation of peacekeepers and nice folks. Our myth-making agencies (Engler includes the Department of National Defense and Veteran Affairs as well the mass media) celebrate our heroic engagement in various wars and benevolent corporate and banking actions in the Caribbean and South America.

Engler believes adamantly that the left has “played a part in justifying Canada’s role within an unfair and unsustainable world economic system.” He focuses our attention on the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party (CCF) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) because this social democratic party has a voice in parliament. They can speak out on foreign policy. He also examines labour union spokespersons and well-known left commentators’ views on foreign policy issues. But Engler points out that the early CCF, fired with a vision of justice for Canada, was silent on the Canadian banks substantial influence over Caribbean finance. Even the lauded Regina Manifesto (1933) ignored Canadian complicity in European colonialism and was weak on Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. Although in the years between 1933 and 1943, the CCF opposed imperialism and nationalism associated with Zionism. However, since then, the party has “often backed the dispossession of Palestinians.” Engler provides many more dispiriting examples.

He discovers that the left promotes imperial policies and recycles nationalist myths. In the post-WW II era, the CCF backed NATO and supported the Korean War. More recently, the NDP “endorsed bombing Syria and Libya.” Labour unions supported the Marshall Plan, NATO, Korean War, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the Bay of Pigs invasion. They were swept up in the anti-communist mania of the lamentable Cold War. On the economic front, Engler observes that Quebec sovereignists are progressive at home and, in the case of Haiti (Engler’s favourite example of Canadian political malfeasance), supported the overthrow of Jean-Baptiste Aristide in 2004.

Engler argues that liberal and left intellectuals are pressured to be patriotic. They mostly ignore international affairs. Social democracy has great difficulty criticizing their own government’s imperialism. We don’t realize, it seems, that Canada is not a mere caboose hinged to the imperialist train. We actively participate in imperial projects. We choose to send troops to the Ukraine, even though the US engineered the coup overthrowing Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian armies display fascist insignia at will. We heartily support the movement of NATO troops close to the Russian border. We seem averse to realizing how our present Canadian foreign policy does not foster world peace and unity at this moment of civilizational crisis.

PM Harper sent troops to fight for western hegemony in Afghanistan. We chirp along with the choir accusing Russia and Iran of just about everything nasty. It’s all their fault. We are stupefied on the drug of propaganda. Engler states: “But instead of criticizing the geo-strategic and corporate interests driving foreign policy, the NDP/CCF has often supported them and contributed to Canadians’ confusion about their country’s international relations.” Dissident CCF or NDP voices are usually repressed or preventing from running for office.

Engler’s text is packed with facts and details. That’s his style. A short review must entice the reader to dig into the text. But let me guide readers’ attention to several courageous investigations and commentaries that raised my eyebrows. It takes guts to demythologize Canada’s popular critics and causes. Many of Canada’s intellectuals are associated with think tanks. Engler argues that the influential Rideau Institute of International Affairs “spurns demilitarization and anti-imperialist voices.” He thinks that Peggy Mason, president of the Institute since 2014, has significant experience in Canadian foreign policy circles. But it is unlikely she will “forthrightly challenge the foreign policy status quo or the corporate interests that back it.”

Engler cuts to the quick regarding cheerleading Canada’s role as peacekeepers. He thinks this is mainly a way to “align with Canadian mythology and evade confronting military power.” For Engler, Canada’s peacekeeping in Egypt in 1956 and Cyprus in 1964 were aimed at reducing tensions within NATO. In the Congo and Korea, Engler states that “Ottawa contributed to US imperialist crimes.” These are harsh accusations that bump into our sense of being benevolent actors. Engler offers this nugget insight: the left nationalist mythologies separate us from US imperialism while obscuring our compliant service to western hegemony. Engler thinks that Linda McQuaig’s idealization of Lester Pearson is shameful.

Engler takes on Canada’s folk hero and distinguished public figure, Stephen Lewis. From 2001-2006, Lewis was the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. In his celebrated Massey lectures, Race Against Time (2005), Lewis “failed to critique any Canadian policy measure in Africa except for Ottawa’s insufficient aid.” In fact, Engler points out that Canada’s early assistance to Africa trained militaries to prevent the pursuit of “wholly independent paths.” Ottawa backed the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966. Engler moves inside the murky and confused world of the Rwanda massacres in the mid-1990s. There are different narratives framing the meaning of these massacres.

Romeo Dallaire’s narrative is but one, now tattered, story. The gutsy Engler informs us that Dallaire justified the NATO invasion of Libya, and called for interventions in Darfur, Iran and Syria. Some scholars now shift the spotlight on the malevolent role of Paul Kagame, the leader of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, both in the Rwanda killings and invasion into the east Congo. Basically, Engler thinks that Lewis praises Kagame, an authoritarian dictator who brooks no opposition, far too much.

In his book, Lewis criticizes China for backing Khartoum but remains silent on Kagame’s invasion of the Congo. And Lewis has also been silent on “official Ottawa’s multi-faceted support for European colonial rule or Canada’s role in overthrowing progressive leaders Patrice Lumumba, Milton Obote and Kwame Nkrumah.” It seems, Engler suggests, that media coverage of Africa in the Canadian media (2003-2012) is still infected with a “moralizing gaze” and “white man’s burden” imagery.

It is not surprising that Engler wonders why the left “accept or promote policies that do harm to ordinary people across the planet.” In fact, one of Engler’s maxims for foreign policy is that we do no harm to others and act to sustain our common homeland, the earth. If many liberal or left critics raise tough questions on domestic issues, why do they see foreign policy through the glass darkly? Engler even shocks us by demonstrating that many indigenous people, victims of Canadian colonialism, joined in the wars of Empire.

For one thing, Engler argues insistently that the left has accommodated itself to a Canadian form of nationalism. Enveloped in the myth of benevolent peacekeepers and crusaders for world peace, we create dubious icons like Lester Pearson and Romeo Dallaire. Left-leaning Canadian nationalists—such as those who supported the Waffle movement within the NDP in the late 1960s and 1970s—embraced the idea that Canada was a colony of the US. In fact, say the Waffle intellectuals, we began as a British colony, became a nation and returned to colony status through subservience to the US Empire. Did we really?

But the deterministic “staples theory”, made famous by legendary Canadian economic historian Harold Innes, renders us passive as a sovereign nation. This theory obscures our foreign policy choices about the kind of world we as Canadians desire and our corporate commitments to exploit other nation’s financial and natural and human resources. We black-out the nasty stuff in the Caribbean, Africa, Guatemala and elsewhere. We can’t (or won’t see it) because we, too, are “exceptional.”

And, as Engler reminds us, think again about Canada as the poor hewers of wood and drawers of water. Toronto ranks seventh in the world as a financial centre. Boldly, he states: “Canadian companies are global players in various fields:” Garda World is the world’s largest privately held security companies (with 50,000 employees). SNC Lavalier is one of the world’s largest engineering companies. Bombadier and CAE are the world’s largest aerospace and flight stimulators.

And the “starkest example” of Canadian corporate power is the mining sector where ½ of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada. If one is weeping over Canadian subservience—poor us! –to US corporate power, “left nationalists generally ignore Canadian power and abuse abroad.” Engler has written about our not too exceptionally just mining companies in other books. Banging the drum, he says, “Wake up Canadian left intellectuals!”

Dr. Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Book Review, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Turkey and Syria: When “Soft Power” Turned Hard

By Jeremy Salt | American Herald Tribune | September 25, 2018

The onset of the so-called Arab Spring in late 2010 took governments around the world by surprise, and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) government was no exception. Repositioning itself to meet new circumstances, it gradually turned its back on some of the defining principles of its previous policy. Opposed to outside military intervention anywhere in the Middle East, it came in behind the NATO attack on Libya. Committed to “soft power” and dialogue, it substituted engagement with Syria in favor of confrontation and “regime change.”

In supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which launched murderous assaults across the Syrian border, as well as other armed groups seeking to pull down the Syrian government, the AKP government took foreign policy in a radically new direction, leading eventually to the occupation of Syrian territory. Not since the establishment of the republic in 1923 had a Turkish government interfered so openly and aggressively in the affairs of a neighboring state. Balancing risks against opportunities, its choices seemed a signal to the world of how it saw Turkey, no longer just as a regional power but one intent on playing a more influential role on the global stage and prepared to act accordingly.

In 2011, following the collapse or overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the “Western” and Middle Eastern regional coalition calling itself the Friends of the Syrian People set out to destroy the government in Damascus. Initially, it hoped to achieve this through an aerial offensive launched under the aegis of the UN Security Council. With Russia and China making it clear that they would not allow a no-fly zone to be established over Syria, and with Russia going on to veto a French resolution (October 2016) demanding an end to air strikes on “rebel” positions in and around Aleppo, the Friends of the Syrian People had to resort to the use of proxy forces that it armed and paid. Given Turkey’s long border with Syria, its role in this project was of critical importance; without its participation, it is doubtful this onslaught on the Syrian government could have gone ahead.

Some of the fallout could have been predicted. Shia Iran — and Iraq, with its predominantly Shia government — were hostile from the start. A refugee flow from Syria into Turkey was inevitable, but possibly not to the extent it reached: according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3.5 million people by May 2018, maintained in and out of more than 20 camps near the Syrian border, at a cost to the Turkish government alone, according to its own figures, of about $30 billion. The refugee situation ultimately gave rise to friction with the EU. Turkey complained that the EU was not delivering the aid it had promised, and President Erdogan warned in 2018, as he had in 2016, “We are the ones feeding three million to 3.5 million refugees in this country. You have betrayed your promises. If you go any further, those border gates will be opened.” [1] These angry words fed into anti-Turkish sentiment developing in Europe over other issues, namely Turkey’s deteriorating human-rights situation and President Erdogan’s labeling Dutch and German authorities “Nazi remnants” and “the grandchildren of Nazis” for refusing to allow Turkish electoral campaigning within their borders. Against European protests, he insisted, “I will describe Europe as Nazis [sic] as long as they call me a dictator.” [2]

Turkey’s involvement in Syria led to accusations of widespread plunder from East Aleppo when it was occupied by takfiri jihadist groups, with factories allegedly being dismantled and the parts transported across the Turkish border for sale. The sale of oil from territory conquered by the Islamic State was another issue. According to reports, a company with links to President Erdogan’s son-in-law and cabinet minister, Berat Albayrak, was transporting contraband oil from territory conquered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria across the Turkish border, along with oil from Iraq’s Kurdish north — which was in dispute with the government in Baghdad over oil rights. [3] The oil was allegedly moved to the southeastern Turkish oil terminal at Ceyhan for onward sale. Russian drone surveillance footage showed hundreds of tankers lined up in the Iraqi desert or clustered around the Turkish border, some of them crossing it. Large-scale aerial bombing of the tankers after Russian intervention in Syria appears to have brought the trade to an end.

An MP of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Eren Erdem, was charged with treason after alleging that President Erdogan himself benefitted from Islamic State oil sales. Erdem also claimed that the sarin nerve gas allegedly used against civilians in the Ghouta outer district of Damascus in August, 2013 was transported across the border from Turkey (a charge also made by the veteran American journalist Seymour Hersh [4]). Erdem’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution ended when the CHP failed to renominate him ahead of the June 2018 elections and he was banned from leaving the country.

Ankara’s Syria policy also led to serious complications with Moscow, especially the shooting down of a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 by a Turkish F16 fighter aircraft near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24, 2015. Trade sanctions by way of punishment continued until most had been lifted by May 2017, in tandem with the progress of the Astana “peace” talks involving Russia, Turkey and Iran.

In the wake of the decision to confront the Syrian government, uncounted numbers of takfiri jihadists traveled across Turkey from around the world to join the fight in Syria. Some entered Turkey by land from the Caucasus. Others flew into Istanbul and then moved by bus or plane to safe houses in the southeast before crossing the border. As they entered the country legally, and as journalists were able to locate them, it could scarcely be argued that the government did not know who they were or where they were going. At the same time, Islamic State (IS) cells were forming in various parts of the country.

Between 2013 and 2016, suicide or car bombings caused havoc across Turkey. Some were the work of the Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK), retaliating for Turkish military action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast and the civilian casualties that were caused inside Kurdish towns and cities as a result. Others were bombings connected with the Islamic State. The TAK bombing of buses carrying military and civilian personnel from army headquarters in Ankara on February 17, 2016, was followed on March 13 by its bombing of civilian buses on Ataturk Boulevard in nearby Kizilay. More than 60 people were killed in the two bombings. Later that same year, on June 7, 12 police were killed when the TAK bombed a bus in central Istanbul; and on December 10, a car bombing and a suicide bombing in the central Istanbul Bosporus suburb of Beşiktaş, both claimed by the TAK, killed 48 people.

Attacks by the Islamic State include the suicide bombing of a police post in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist district in January 2015. The bomber, the Daghestani widow of a Norwegian-Chechen IS fighter, and one policeman were killed. In July 2015, a student from the city of Adiyaman, a known center of IS recruitment, killed 32 Turkish and Kurdish students in a suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc. In January 2016, a Syrian IS suicide bomber killed 13 people, all of them foreign tourists, in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. In March, a suicide bombing killed five people, three of them Israeli, in the fashionable Beyoglu quarter. In June, Russian and Central Asian IS attackers killed 45 people in an attack on the international terminal at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. On January 1, 2017, an Uzbek national killed 39 people and wounded dozens with an AK-47 assault rifle during an attack on the Reina nightclub in the Bosporus suburb of Ortakoy. He was captured and more than 50 alleged accomplices were later arrested. The attack was claimed by IS.

In some cases, no responsibility was claimed, and the perpetrators were never clearly identified. These attacks include the bombing of a peace demonstration outside the central Ankara railway terminal in October 2015, in which 109 people were killed. One of the bombers was allegedly identified as the younger brother of the perpetrator of the Suruc bombing. However, as the demonstration had been organized by the largely Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), along with civil-society groups, and as general elections were to be held in three weeks time, suspicions were also raised of “deep-state” involvement. The first, and worst, of the atrocities were the two car bombings on May 11, 2013, which killed 51 people, wounded scores of others and caused massive destruction in the Hatay Province town of Reyhanli, adjacent to the Syrian border. Responsibility was never claimed but suspicions rested on the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra.

Turkey had wanted a physical presence inside Syria from the beginning of the crisis, a “safe” or “buffer” zone or “humanitarian corridor.” Ankara had already sent troops across the border on one specific mission — to relocate the historic Suleyman Shah tomb to a new site only a few hundred meters from the Turkish border — when in 2016 it launched the large-scale Euphrates Shield operation in the name of driving the Islamic State and the Kurdish militia (the People’s Protection Units, YPG) out of the border region.

Disagreement between the United States and Turkey over the status of the YPG, a “terrorist” group allied with the PKK, according to the Turkish government (though not in the eyes of the U.S. administration) led to heated rhetoric, with Turkey threatening to extend its military operations to Manbij and even across the Euphrates to the Iraqi border. Daily control of Manbij by the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an ally of the YPG, further inflamed relations between Washington and Ankara, until the two governments reached agreement on the withdrawal of the SDF and joint patrols by their military forces. Other issues dividing the two NATO members included the refusal of the United States to extradite the Muslim guru Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating the failed coup of 2016; the arrest of a U.S. pastor in Izmir accused of fomenting terrorism through his alleged links with the Gulen movement; the prosecution in the United States of a senior Turkish Halkbank (People’s Bank) executive on charges of money laundering for Iran; the charges laid against 12 members of Erdogan’s security detail, filmed brutally kicking and beating demonstrators outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence during the president’s visit to Washington in May 2017; and the strengthening of Turkey’s relations with Russia — despite the near crisis in 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border, and its decision to purchase Russian S-400 missiles.

The exclusion of the United States from negotiations over Syria in Astana by Russia, Iran and Turkey, and the purchase of Russian missiles were followed by hints from President Erdogan of increased “defense” cooperation with Russia, putting further strains on the NATO alliance. Along with developing trade relations was the issue of Russian support for Turkish nuclear development. In April 2018, in line with an agreement signed by the two governments in 2010, work began on the construction of a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, on the Mediterranean coast in the southern province of Mersin. The plant will be built, owned and operated by the Russian state energy corporation, Rosatom.

In early 2018, Turkey launched a second military operation (Olive Branch) in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria, culminating in the routing of the YPG militia and the occupation of Afrin city. As a result of these two operations, Turkey and its Turkish Free Syrian Army (TFSA) auxiliaries — many recruited from armed groups involved in the fighting against the Syrian government — control hundreds of villages and towns in 3,460 square kilometers of northwestern Syria. The occupied zone stretches as far south as Al Bab, 40 kilometers north of Aleppo. Within this region, Turkey has set up a full range of administrative services, from police and post offices to schools (where Turkish is now taught as a second language) and local councils operating under Turkish control. Harran University, in Turkey’s southeast, will also be opening a branch in the Turkish-occupied zone. Following his victory in the presidential elections, Erdogan said he would take further measures to “liberate” Syria.

The infrastructure at Al Bab includes the establishment of an industrial zone north of the city. Representatives of the governor of Gaziantep were present at the laying of the cornerstone on February 10, 2018. Built over 56 hectares, the site will include factories, hotels, four mosques, power stations and the provision of all utilities as well as the construction of a road network connecting Al Bab to other parts of the territory Turkey has occupied. Turkish control extends to Idlib province, where in the name of “de-escalation” it has established at least 12 “observation posts,” as sanctioned by its partners in the Astana negotiations. Large parts of the province plus Idlib city itself are controlled by the takfiri Hayat Tahrir al Sham. In the regions brought under Turkish control, Kizilay (the Turkish Red Crescent) and the Turkish Directorate of Emergency Management (AFAD) have prepared camps and assistance for tens of thousands of refugees from other parts of Syria, including takfiris and their families removed from cities and regions recaptured by the Syrian army.

The political complexities in this situation include the “green light” given by Russia for Turkish military intervention in Afrin, including the use of air power. Through the Astana talks, Russia had also sanctioned the stationing of Turkish troops in Idlib to monitor the “de-escalation” zones, transforming Turkey through these maneuvers into an ostensible partner for peace talks even as it continued to consolidate its occupation of Syrian territory. With all takfiri groups cleared out of the Damascus region, the Syrian army turned its attention towards the armed groups operating near the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and campaigned against U.S.-backed forces in Deir al Zor province. Eventually its attention must swing towards the northwestern and northeastern regions occupied by Turkish and U.S. forces and their proxies. In early June 2018, President Assad, determined to restore his government’s authority over all of Syria, warned that force would be used against U.S. troops if they were not withdrawn voluntarily.

The Turkish government says return of the territory it holds to the Syrian government is “completely inconceivable,” as Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag has remarked of Afrin. According to President Erdogan, “We will solve the Afrin issue and the Idlib issue, and we want our refugee brothers and sisters to return to their country,” adding that Turkey would not shelter them forever. [5] To whom the occupied territory would be returned if not the Syrian government remained an unanswered question.

Against the background of all the developments since 2011, a central question is how or whether intervention in Syria can be said to have served the Turkish national interest, as assessed on the basis of costs and benefits to the Turkish state and its people. The course of Turkish involvement in the war in and on Syria, as examined in the foregoing pages, may point to some answers.

TURKEY’S NEW DIRECTIONS

The election of the AKP in 2002 signaled radical, if not counterrevolutionary, changes in Turkey’s social and political fabric as well as redirections in its foreign policy. As early as 1994, the success of the Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party in local elections was a sign that Turkey was breaking away from its Kemalist past in favor of a political model that would place greater emphasis on Muslim values and closer connections with the Muslim world. The military had intervened in 1960 and 1980. Then, in 1997, less than a year after Refah had become the dominant partner in a coalition government with the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi), it intervened again, not by putting tanks on the streets but by squeezing Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan out of office in what has often been called a “soft” or “post-modern” coup.

With the Constitutional Court closing down the party and Erbakan banned from taking part in politics, the military fixed its sights on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Refah mayor of the greater Istanbul municipality. He was jailed for reciting a poem considered to be incitement to religious or racial hatred; released after six months, he went on to co-found the Justice and Development Party in August, 2001. His rhetoric was that of a changed man. While not retreating from his conservative religious convictions, Erdogan insisted that his party was on a different path from its Refah forerunner. “We have opened a new page with a new group of people, a brand new party…. We were anti-European. Now we’re pro-European.” [6] Although the new party was committed to enlarging democracy within the secular framework of the constitution, doubts remained, usually summed up with mystical references to a “hidden agenda” that would only become clear once the party had consolidated its position in power.

Cutting the head off the Refah hydra made no difference; other heads quickly grew in its place, first the Fazilet (Virtue) Party and then Erdogan’s AKP. In the 2002 general elections, the party won 34 percent of the vote, enough to give it a majority in the Grand National Assembly. In 2007, it took 46.7 percent of the vote, and in the 2011 elections — after narrowly surviving an attempt by the Constitutional Court prosecutor to close it down in 2008 — increased its lead still further to 49.8 percent. In the June 2015 elections, the AKP lost its majority but regained it when fresh elections were held in November to resolve the parliamentary deadlock. The party also won a series of constitutional “reform” referendums in 2007, 2010 and 2017, centering on the establishment of an executive presidency, the authority of which Erdogan had already de facto assumed. In 2014, he was elected president by popular vote, replacing the parliamentary mode. This election was marked by numerous reports of irregularities, including the use of unofficial unstamped ballot papers. In an unprecedented move, the head of the Supreme Electoral Board, refusing to investigate complaints about the conduct of the elections, declared that they should be regarded as valid. In 2017, constitutional changes diminishing the power and prerogatives of parliament and tightening government control of the judiciary while greatly increasing the authority of the president were narrowly passed by referendum. Again, many irregularities were reported but not investigated. On June 24, 2018, Erdogan was re-elected as president in the new constitutional system on 52.59 percent of the vote.

In the early years, the AKP government worked hard for EU accession. It brought hyperinflation to a halt and stabilized the currency, but perhaps its most startling achievement was the way in which it took on its primal enemy — the military — and won. Hundreds of senior army officers were accused of being part of a “deep-state” network known as Ergenekon [7] and charged with plotting to overthrow the government. These measures were taken when the AKP government was cooperating with the Gulen movement. The latter’s methods (the slow indoctrination of society through a countrywide network of dershane preparatory schools) were different from the political route followed by the AKP, but their aims were the same: the gradual re-Islamization of Turkish society and the slow whittling away of the Kemalist heritage. However, by 2013, the relationship between the government and the movement had broken down. From that time onwards, the Gülen movement became the “parallel state” and finally the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which the government accused of launching the failed coup of 2016.

Reconnecting with Turkey’s Ottoman past, and seeking to use the historical and cultural connections between Istanbul and the Muslim world as a foreign-policy tool, the government tilted towards closer relations with Arabs and Muslims, while still proclaiming its commitment to the goal of EU accession. An early sign that Turks were prepared to take a more independent stand on the Middle East was the decision by the Grand National Assembly in 2003 not to commit Turkish troops to the war on Iraq. Another was Erdogan’s close identification with the Palestinian cause. In 2004 Erdogan called Israel a terrorist state after a missile attack killed the eminent Gazan religious scholar Ahmad Yassin. He sharply criticized Israel during its attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 and later said that “a slow and methodical massacre has been taking place in Palestine since the early 20th century.” [8] Taking part in a panel discussion at Davos in January 2009, he turned on Israeli President Shimon Peres with the words: “When it comes to killing you know well how to kill.” After the 2010 attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, Erdogan said the Israeli government was inhuman, aggressive, brazen, irresponsible, despicable, cowardly, reckless and vicious. [9]

While Turkey had been moving towards a major policy reorientation ever since the AKP government came into office, it was Ahmet Davutoglu who set its contours. An academic and former senior adviser to the prime minister, Davutoglu was appointed foreign minister on May 1, 2009, subsequently serving as prime minister from 2014 to 2016, when he decided not to stand for office again. The phrases associated with his approach to foreign policy were “soft power,” “strategic depth,” “dialogue” and “zero problems” with neighboring states. While Turkey suffered some setbacks (including the rejection in 2010 by the White House of a nuclear agreement with Iran brokered by Turkey and Brazil), soft power was extremely successful as a diplomatic tool.

Dialogue was especially marked in the case of Syria, with senior officials from both countries making a flurry of visits to each other’s capitals and cementing both political and commercial ties. By 2010, trade between the two had jumped to $2.5 billion, a 43 percent increase over the previous year. The lingering aftereffects of previous problems — especially Syria’s support for the PKK and the sanctuary given to its leader, Abdullah Ocalan — appeared to have been smoothed over, with the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish and Syrian citizens putting the seal on the process.

By late 2010, however, the onset of the Arab Spring had rocked the foundations on which Turkish foreign policy had been built. Within a few months, soft power began to look more like old-fashioned hard power. Having initially opposed outside armed intervention anywhere in the Middle East, the AKP government ended up coming in behind the NATO air attack on Libya and backing armed groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, from within Syria and through attacks launched across the Turkish border. Where Syria’s president was concerned, the language of dialogue and mediation gave way to threats, warnings and insults.

“WE ARE NOT IMMORTAL”

In the years leading up to the Arab Spring, the AKP government had given no signs of disapproval of Arab governments, even though their abuses of human rights and — in the case of some Gulf states — lack of democratic infrastructure were matters of global concern. Erdogan had developed a close working relationship with both Bashar al-Assad and Muammar al-Qadhafi, from whose government he had received, as late as December 2010, the Qadhafi International Prize for Human Rights (worth $250,000). Like governments everywhere, however, the AKP was caught on the back foot by the rapid developments in Tunisia, where the death of Muhammad Bouazizi on January 4, 2011, triggered demonstrations that precipitated the flight of President Zine el Abidine bin Ali 10 days later. In the Turkish government’s view, Tunisia was the start of a widespread regional revolt to which it should respond by supporting the people. This would accord with being on “the right side” of history as depicted by Davutoglu. [10]

Although Davutoglu described Turkey’s intervention in Egypt as “a risk,” [11] the government only intervened after even Husni Mubarak’s chief sponsor, the U.S. administration, was getting ready to abandon him. Addressing his party’s parliamentary caucus in early February 2011, Erdogan called on the Egyptian leader to listen to his people… “Mubarak, we are human beings. We are not immortal. We will die one day and we will be questioned for the things that we left behind. The important thing is to leave behind sweet memories.” [12] The crisis in Egypt was followed by the crisis in Libya, beginning with protests in Benghazi on February 17. This further upheaval involved very practical considerations for Turkey, given the $15 billion investment of close to 200 Turkish companies in Libya and the presence of about 25,000-30,000 workers (mostly employed in construction). Turkey’s immediate concern was their repatriation, effected by ferries from Benghazi or overland to Alexandria and home by sea from there.

The steady escalation of the crisis in Libya paved the way for resolutions passed by the UN Security Council deploring the “systematic violation” of human rights in the Libyan jamahiriyya, many of them grossly exaggerated by the media, but still forming the body of accusations at the UN. Resolution 1970 referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Resolution 1973 authorized member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, including the establishment of a “no-fly zone” in Libyan air space. On March 19, the United States, Britain and France, using the pretext of a no-fly zone, launched an aerial assault on Libya that was to last for seven months. A week later, the operation was transferred to NATO, immediately involving Turkey.

Initially, Turkey opposed the imposition of the no-fly zone. On March 14, Erdogan warned that military intervention by NATO in Libya would have “dangerous consequences.” [13] On March 19, he called for an immediate end to the bloodshed and violence against civilians: “We expect steps to be taken right now without losing any time and expect the people’s demands for change and transformation to be met.” [14] Only reluctantly and under pressure from its allies did Turkey throw its weight behind military action, authorizing the dispatch of a naval mission to the Libyan coast. For columnist Semih Idiz, “Turkey was confused and late, … [but] joining the game was inevitable. It could not have stood against its NATO allies.” With the approval of the naval mission, “Turkey will effectively have joined the military operation. If the soldiers are fired upon they will respond.” [15]

Having taken the decision, the Turkish government moved quickly to support the Libyan National Transitional Council. On May 2, it closed its embassy in Tripoli, and the following day Erdogan called on Qadhafi to cede power. Turkey moved quickly to consolidate its support for the “rebels,” irrespective of the fact that there was no countrywide popular uprising against the Libyan leader, only demonstrations in Benghazi. The “civil war,” such as it was, had been created by external intervention, with the “rebels” on the ground sheltered and advancing only under the umbrella of French, British and U.S. air power.

In September, Erdogan made a triumphal trip across North Africa. His strong support for the Palestinians prepared the way for what Time magazine called the “rock star” reception he was given by thousands of people at Cairo airport. [16] Building on his forceful previous intervention on the Palestine question, he told a session of the Arab League that a Palestinian state was “not an option but an obligation.” [17] Later he coupled criticism of Israel with a call on Arab leaders to accept democracy and freedom, which “is as basic a right as bread and water for you, my brothers.” [18] In Libya, he told a crowd chanting anti-Assad slogans that “those who repress their own people in Syria will not survive. The time of autocracies is over. Totalitarian regimes are disappearing. The rule of the people is coming.” [19] What could not escape notice was that, when it came to the crushing of the protest movement in Bahrain and the autocratic nature of other Gulf regimes, the Turkish government’s language was noticeably more restrained and at most only mildly critical. It responded to the crackdown on demonstrators in Bahrain by calling on “all parties” to refrain from violence. Davutoglu spoke of the need to “complete” reforms through a social compromise and for the intervention of Saudi and UAE forces in Bahrain to be a “temporary measure.”

Only in Syria did “soft” power give way to hard. Conforming to its self-image as a world power in the making, Turkey began acting like one. In principle, as explained by the foreign minister, Turkey was opposed to foreign intervention but, “if there is an oppression by an autocratic leader against the people, nobody can expect us or [the] international community to be silent.” [20] Apparently deciding that the government in Damascus could not long resist the wave of demonstrations spreading across the country, the Turkish prime minister and his foreign minister washed their hands of President Assad, whom Erdogan had only recently been addressing as “brother.” Their stand reinforced the position Turkey had already taken against Libya inside the U.S.-EU-Gulf-state bloc, the difference being that, whereas the Libyan government did not have strong international support, the Syrian government did. Iran, Iraq, Russia and China all opposed foreign intervention in any form. The regional and global stakes were much higher, as President Assad made clear when referring to the regional “earthquake” likely to follow an attack on his country.

Still referring to President Assad as a “good friend,” Erdogan said they had had “long discussions about lifting the state of emergency [and] the release of political prisoners. … We discussed changing the election system [and] allowing political parties; … however, he was late in taking these steps … and that’s how unfortunately we ended up here.” [21] According to Davutoglu, President Assad had agreed to introduce reforms but “never delivered.” [22] He would not spell out what these reforms were on the grounds of “diplomatic propriety,” but Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said they centered on a political role for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Syria. Erdogan “kept asking Assad and Syrian officials in every meeting they held to establish dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. We kept telling him that the disagreement between the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1980s and cannot be resolved that easily.” [23]

Claiming to have visited Syria more than 60 times in the previous eight years, in August 2011, Davutoglu made a final attempt to bring President Assad around to his government’s way of thinking. The core message carried to the Syrian leader in Damascus was that Turkey had “run out of patience.” [24] Back in Ankara, Davutoglu told reporters that “this is our final word to the Syrian authorities. Our first expectation is that these [military] operations stop immediately and unconditionally. … If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken.” [25] In the coming weeks he said that, while “we hope military intervention will never be necessary,” Turkey was preparing for any scenario. [26] In the Syrian capital, however, President Assad continued to insist that his government would not relent “in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens.” [27]

The “steps that would be taken” by Turkey were already taking shape. On August 23, the government threw its weight behind the establishment of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in Istanbul and the operations of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Hatay province, allowing the group “to orchestrate attacks across the [Syrian] border from inside a camp guarded by the Turkish military.” [28] For his interview with a New York Times reporter, the leader of the FSA, former Syrian army colonel Riad al Assad, arrived under a guard of 10 heavily armed Turkish soldiers and wearing a business suit that “an official at the Turkish Foreign Ministry said he had purchased for him that morning.” [29]

Increasing the pressure on Damascus, the AKP government imposed a range of sanctions against the Syrian government and senior officials, consolidating measures already taken by the United States and the EU. The sanctions included a travel ban, a freeze of Syria’s financial assets, an embargo on weapons deliveries by third countries transiting Turkish land and sea space, and a trade ban that forced trucks crossing Syria to and from Jordan and then on to the Gulf countries and Yemen to take the longer and more costly route through Iraq. The government seemed to be preparing itself for all contingencies, including the establishment of a “buffer zone” across the Syrian border and “a huge influx of refugees after a massacre, for example, as happened at Halabja in Iraq.” [30] Needless to say, Turkey’s role in the unfolding of the Syrian crisis was strongly supported by the United States. [31]

The breakdown of relations with Syria was followed by dire warnings of what President Assad could expect if he did not leave office.

If you are such a hero that you are willing to fight to the death then why didn’t you fight to the death for the Golan Heights? Are your heroics only against your oppressed public? This isn’t being a hero. This is being afraid. … Quit power before more blood is shed, … for the peace of your people your region and your country. [32]

President Assad should learn from the fate of Hitler, Mussolini, Ceausescu and much more recently, Muammar al Qadhafi, “who was killed just 32 days ago in a manner none of us would wish for and who used the same expression you used” [to “fight and die for Syria”]. [33] Davutoglu compared the situation in Syria to Srebrenica: “If Assad could have been a Gorbachev he would have succeeded. But he chose to be a Milosevic. It is now too late for him to transform, to become a Gorbachev. He has lost his credibility.” [34] He described the situation in Syria as

a confrontation between a whole community and a theocratic regime whose suppression does not affect just the Sunnis but also the Christians and Alawites. … For us the confrontation in Syria is not a civil war or sectarianism, it is a confrontation between a society that is trying to decide its fate and a theocratic regime that is trying to save itself and preserve the status quo by persecuting large sections of the [Syrian] people. [35]

In fact, Syria does not have a “theocratic regime” but a secular government, and while Alawis are influential inside the Syrian political, military and intelligence system, for reasons that go back as far as the French mandate, the system could not have survived without a high degree of support among Sunni Muslims. The foot soldiers in the army are overwhelmingly Sunni, yet through eight years of severe conflict sectarian divisions were unknown, undermining the hostile narrative centering on “the Alawi regime.” Their imperative was clearly not the survival of the “regime” as such but the survival of the country, against the most determined attempt ever made in modern Middle Eastern history by foreign governments, their regional allies and their proxy forces inside Syria to destroy an Arab government.

ONE-SIDED NARRATIVE

Absent from the rhetoric of Turkish government leaders was any acknowledgement of the personal popularity of President Assad and the scale of violence being directed against the army and civilians by the armed takfiri groups. Early in the conflict, arms streaming into Syria across the borders of neighboring states included AK-47 assault rifles, Cobra anti-tank missiles and Sam-7 surface-to-air missiles. Libya was another source of weaponry, following the destruction of its government and the murder of Qadhafi. In November 2011, Abdulhakim Belhaj — head of the Tripoli Military Council until his resignation to enter politics, and previously the commander of the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya (IFGL) and widely regarded as an al-Qaeda proxy — met leaders of the FSA in Istanbul and along the Turkish border with Syria. Libya was also an early source of recruitment, with groups of men flown to Turkey before crossing the border to take up arms against the Syrian government. Staying in luxury hotels, they were a common sight in Ankara, Antalya and the cities of the southeast.

While the FSA and the Turkish foreign minister, speaking to members of the U.S. Congress in Washington, claimed that about 40,000 Syrian soldiers had defected,[36] defections were, in fact, few in number. From the start, Russia and China made it clear they would not allow the UN Security Council to be used as a mechanism for open intervention in Syria, as it had been against Libya. In October 2011, they vetoed a European-sponsored resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria (as distinct from the sanctions already being imposed by individual UN members). In early February 2012, they vetoed another resolution, this time based on an Arab League initiative calling for President Assad to step down. The decision infuriated the United States; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that, faced with a “neutered” Security Council, “we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.”[37] All measures taken by the Syrian government to create a new political environment were dismissed out of hand by the Friends of the Syrian People as cosmetic or a “cynical ploy.”[38]

The Turkish government continued to play a central role in all these events, though at a mounting internal and regional cost. In the southeastern provinces bordering Syria, economic sanctions declared by the government crippled cross-border trade and tourism emanating from Jordan and the Gulf countries. In Antakya, restaurants, small shops and truckers were all badly affected; informal trade of goods across the border via private cars stopped altogether. In Gaziantep, the cross-border trade in Turkish electrical goods, cosmetics, textiles and carpets destined for sale in the Gulf all but dried up. The ethno-religious makeup of these border regions added another dimension to the government’s policy. Both the Alevis (Alawis) of Hatay (estimated at more than 50 percent of the province’s 1.5 million population) and the Christians maintain close ties across the Syrian border dating back to the French mandate for Syria. By and large, they shared the view that the present Syrian government was the best protector of minority interests against the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-type government. Alevi sensitivities were further aggravated by the pointed references Erdogan made to the Alevi background of CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, seven times alone during the election campaign of 2011… [39] “Mr Kilicdaroglu, you should say openly what you really mean to say in regard to Syria. Say openly why you sympathize with the Syrian regime and why you are turning a blind eye to the oppression.” [40] Taken together with the prime minister’s known sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, Alevis suspected the government was aiming to oust not only Bashar al-Assad, “but the Alawis as a whole and to replace them with the pro-AKP Sunni Ikhwan movement.” [41]

Turkey’s confrontation with Syria inevitably led to difficulties with Iran and Russia, both of them already critical of Turkey’s decision to host a NATO anti-missile radar base in Malatya province. Visits by Davutoglu to Tehran and reciprocal visits by senior Iranian officials to Ankara had no effect on Iran’s basic position of support for the Syrian government. Iraq remained equally critical of Turkish policy, relations worsening after Turkey decided in 2015 to open a military base at Bashiqa, Mosul. Turkey’s reasons were twofold: the occupation of Mosul by the Islamic State and the presence around that city of Kurdish peshmerga forces. Although the Islamic State had been driven out of Mosul by September 2017, the Turkish parliament still voted to maintain the troop presence at Bashiqa, described by the Iraqi parliament as a “hostile occupying force.” The peshmerga were to be withdrawn a short time later, following the collapse of the Kurdish drive for independence.

With the Iraqi government opposed to Turkish intervention in Syria, Turkey reoriented its Iraq policy towards the strengthening of relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). As interpreted by the Istanbul academic Soli Ozel,

Ironically, after years of writing off the Iraqi Kurdish leadership as simple tribal leaders, Turkey has established the closest of relations with the KRG. The Kurds have emerged as Turkey’s natural ally in Iraq, its most important trading partner and investment destination, not just regionally but globally, and a partner in containing the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose stronghold is the Kandil mountains inside the KRG. [42]

Trade relations included the signing of extensive oil and natural-gas agreements, over the protests of the government in Baghdad. Accusations against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi of Iraq further complicated the tripartite relationship among Turkey, the KRG and the central government. In December 2011, Hashimi, a leader of the Sunni Muslim Iraqiyya political bloc, fled to the Kurdish north after being accused of sponsoring an anti-Shia “death squad.” He then shuttled among Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the governments of all three countries declining, along with the KRG, to extradite him. Although Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, said a judicial inquiry had confirmed the substance of the evidence against Hashimi, statements from Ankara implied that he was the victim of a Shia witchhunt.

Turkey’s emphasis on relations with the KRG, at the expense of its relationship with the government in Baghdad, was severely undermined in the first place by Masoud Barzani’s support for the Syrian Kurds, whom Barzani encouraged to overcome differences and work together for autonomy, much to the chagrin of President Erdogan. The isolation of the KRG by Turkey and Iran after the independence referendum in 2017 was followed by the Kurdish abandonment of Kirkuk and the restoration of the authority of the central government there and elsewhere. These developments, along with the death on October 3 of Jalal Talabani, founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the decision of Masoud Barzani on October 30 not to stand for reelection as the Kurdish region’s president, threw the Kurds’ national cause into disarray. These events turned Turkey’s Iraq policy upside down, compelling it to repair its damaged relationship with the central government. The triumph of the Sadrist bloc in the Iraqi elections of May 2018 added to the uncertainties of Turkish policy.

In 2012, Erdogan remarked that “Bashar is losing blood day by day. … Sooner or later those who have oppressed our Syrian brothers will be called to account before their nation. Your victory is close.” [43] While Turkey represented itself as being on the right side of “the people” and “history” in Syria, there was never any evidence that the bodies it backed — the SNC, the FSA and other armed groups — had any support in Syria beyond the marginal. Throughout the crisis, it was clear that Syrians, overwhelmingly, wanted an evolved political solution to the crisis shattering their country, not a solution imposed through violence and outside intervention. In parliament, Davutoglu said a new Middle East was about to be born, and “we will be the owner, pioneer and servant of this new Middle East.” Domestic critics had not understood the zeitgeist and had failed to understand what was happening in Syria. “The era of policies [such as] ‘wait and see’ and following behind big powers has ended …. Turkey is no longer a country which does not have self-confidence and is waiting for foreign approval [of its policies].” [44] However, six years later, Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and the takfiri armed groups have been largely routed. Looking back from 2018 to the beginning of the crisis in 2011, it seems that it was Davutoglu who had put himself on the wrong side of history.

IN LIEU OF A CONCLUSION

Within a year of the launch of the proxy war against it in 2011, Syria was not so much collapsing as being collapsed by a war of attrition funded and coordinated by outside governments. Turkey’s role in this war was pivotal. As the dangers increased, critics were wondering precisely where Turkey’s policies would end. For Gokhan Bacik, the implications of the Turkish position were revolutionary. Not since the foundation of the republic in 1923 had a Turkish government been party to “an aggressive foreign policy strategy that urges regime change in another country.” [45] Some criticisms centered on how Turkey seemed to have positioned itself at the vortex of other agendas, principally a Saudi-dominated Sunni Muslim agenda and a Western/Israeli agenda determined by Syria’s alliance with Iran. [46] For the veteran journalist Cengiz Çandar, the question was whether the Arab Spring was not turning into a Turkish autumn. [47]

Challenging Turkey’s support of the FSA, Faruk Logoglu, the CHP’s deputy chairman, said Turkey “has taken a one-sided approach to the Syrian case from day one. The Turkish government has excluded the regime directly and positioned itself on the side not only of the political figures of the opposition but also military figures of the opposition. Facilitating the military arm of the opposition which aims to destroy the regime of a country is against international law and regulations.” The notion that Turkey had a pioneering role to play in the “new” Middle East was a “dangerous fantasy.” In another view, while Turkey’s strong position on the question of Palestine had been greatly appreciated across the Middle East, it was not an Arab country, and any attempt to play a leadership role would be resisted, apart from which Turkey needed to solve its own problems before setting itself up as a model for anyone else. [48]

Within a short time of intervening in Syria, Turkey’s zero-problems policy had turned into an accumulation-of-problems policy. Russian aerial intervention in 2015 helped to turn the corner for the Syrian government, which by early 2018 had regained control of most of the country. However, statements that “the war is over” or “all but over” will remain premature as long as Turkey occupies northwestern Syria, the United States occupies the northeast and maintains military bases there and elsewhere, and the United States and Israel continue to launch air attacks on Syrian military positions or against what Israel claims are Iranian positions or Hezbollah weapons-supply routes.

Through the agreement with Turkey to remove Kurdish forces from the city of Manbij, the United States undermined the Kurdish rationale for its presence in northeastern Syria. In response, the Syrian Democratic Council, an umbrella group representing both the YPG and the U.S.-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces, entered into negotiations with Damascus centering on the Kurds returning to the Syrian national fold in return for a decentralized form of government in the north. Of necessity, such an agreement would end the U.S.-Kurdish tactical alliance. With the Islamic State largely suppressed and the Kurds falling away as an ally, the rationale for a continuing U.S. presence in Syria is reduced to limiting Russian gains and holding Syria hostage to its strategic alliance with Iran. With no exit point in sight, the continuing occupation of Syrian territory, by the United States or Turkey, is a formula for future conflict.

The costs to Turkey of intervention in Syria — not to speak of the catastrophic effects on the Syrian people — through armed proxies have been enormous. These include civilian deaths from Islamic State suicide bombings, a refugee influx of more than three million people, the cost of maintaining them (running to tens of billions of dollars), domestic discontent over their presence at a time of developing economic crisis, and strained relations with Iran, Iraq, the EU, Russia and even the United States. If riding the wave of reform set off by the Arab Spring was seen as a “national-interest” benefit, the wave has long since receded, taking with it Davutoglu’s aspirations to “serve and lead” the Arab world. If overthrowing the Syrian government in the interest of democracy was a national interest, there were other targets far less democratic with which Turkey continued business as usual.

The intentions of other members of the collective calling itself the Friends of the Syrian People were clear. The dominant partners in this alliance are the traditional enemies of national independence in the greater Middle East: the United States, Britain and France, and Gulf states attaching themselves to these powers. Iran was their ultimate target, and Syria the central pillar in the strategic alliance among Iran, Syria and Hezbollah that they hoped to destroy. It is difficult to see how Turkey’s national interest was served by joining this company and helping it to achieve goals that clearly are not Turkey’s.

As the YPG is an ally of the PKK, there was a credible national interest in routing it. However, it was intervention by Turkey and other countries that empowered the YPG in the first place. Formed in 2004, it played no significant role in Syrian politics until the destruction of the government’s authority in the north by proxies of the Friends of the Syrian People created the opportunity. Ironically, Bashar al-Assad was just as opposed to Kurdish autonomy in the north as Tayyip Erdogan.

All Turkish opposition parties are opposed to the AKP government’s Syria policy. The CHP’s presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, said before the June 2018 elections that his government would restore relations with Syria, a step that would have had to include the withdrawal of Turkish forces. The party’s defeat closed off this exit route. In the long term, historians are likely to regard the Syria policy of the AKP government as a violent rupture of Ataturk’s guiding principle of “peace at home and peace in the world,” and as misguided adventurism unprecedented in Turkey’s republican history.

[Note: In March 2016, the Turkish government took over Zaman newspaper. Its digital archive was destroyed and all its subsidiary news outlets subsequently closed down on the grounds that they were part of the Gülenist “terror organization.” Zaman files are no longer accessible within Turkey. Zaman reports cited in these endnotes were accessed before 2016.]

[1] “Erdogan Threatens to Let 3m Refugees into Europe,” Financial Times, November 25, 2016.

[2] “I Will Describe Europe as Nazi as Long as They Call Me a Dictator: Erdoğan,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 23, 2017.

[3] Of many reports on these allegations, see Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil,” World Policy, October 17, 2016.

[4] Seymour M. Hersh, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” London Review of Books 36, no. 8 (April 17, 2014).

[5] “Turkish Efforts in Afrin, Idlib Will Allow Syrians to Return Home,” Daily Sabah, February 8, 2018.

[6] Hugh Pope, “Erdoğan’s Decade,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs, March 29, 2012, www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/europe/turkey-cyprus/op-ed/pope-turkey-e….

[7] The mythological “happy valley” in the Altay mountains where Turkish tribes stopped during their migration westward.

[8] Elad Benari, “Erdoğan Accuses Israel of Massacre in Gaza,” March 14, 2012, www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/153740#.T8ES2sWICEc.

[9] See “Full Text of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Speech on Israel’s Attack on Aid Flotilla,” June 2, 2010, www.dissidentvoice.org/2010/06/full-text-of-recep-tayyip-erdogans-speec….

[10] From the address given by Mr. Davutoğlu at the Statesmen’s Forum, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, February 10, 2012, www.csis.org/event-turkeys-foreign-policy-objectives-changing-world.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Erdoğan Urges Mubarak to Heed People’s Call for Change,” Sunday’s Zaman, February 2, 2011.

[13] “Turkey Opposes No Fly Zone over Libya,” Habertürk, March 14, 2011, www.haberturk.com/general/haber/610359-turkey-opposes-no-fly-zone-over-….

[14] “Turkey Calls for Cease-fire in Libya, Opposes Intervention,” Today’s Zaman, March 19, 2011.

[15] Burak Akıncı, “Turkey Reluctantly Joins Libya Military Action,” Defense News, March 24, 2011, www.mobile.defensenews.com/story.php?i=6050807&c=MID&s=SEA.

[16] Rania Abouzeid, “Why Turkey’s Erdogan Is Greeted like a Rock Star in Egypt,” Time, September 13, 2011.

[17] “Recognising Palestinian State ‘an Obligation’: Erdoğan,” Hürriyet Daily News, September 13, 2011, www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=recognising-palesti….

[18] “Turkey’s Erdogan Tells Arabs to Embrace Democracy,” Reuters Africa, September 13, 2011, www.af.reuters.com/article/libyaNews/idAFL5E7KD42M20110913.

[19] “Syria’s Oppressors Will Not Survive, Erdoğan Says in Libya,” Today’s Zaman, September 16, 2011.

[20] Speech made at Statesmen’s Forum, op.cit.

[21] “Erdoğan: Assad Is a Good Friend but He Delayed Reform Efforts,” Today’s Zaman, May 12, 2011. Erdoğan was speaking on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show.

[22] Ernest Khoury, “Davutoglu: Assad Not Reforming despite Our Best Efforts,” Al Akhbar English, January 16, 2012, www.english.al-akhbar.com/node/3411/.

[23] “Syria Rejects Imposed Reforms, Muslim Brotherhood not to Form a Party: Syrian FM to Turkish Newspaper,” Al Arabiya, February 28, 2012, www.english.arabiya.net/articles/2012/02/28/197511.html.

[24]Nada Bakri, “Turkish Minister and Other Envoys Press Syrian Leader,” New York Times, August 9, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/world/middleeast/10syria.html.

[25] Anthony Shadid, “Turkey Warns Syria to Stop Crackdown,” New York Times, August 15, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/world/europe/16turkey.html.

[26] “Turkey Says Ready for ‘Any Scenario’ in Syria,” Haaretz , November 29, 2011, www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/turkey-says-ready-for-any-scenario-in-….

[27] “Turkish Leader and Other Envoys Press Syrian Leader,” op. cit.

[28] Liam Stack, “In Slap at Syria, Turkey Shelters Anti-Assad Fighters,” New York Times, October 27, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/world/europe/turkey-is-sheltering-antigovern….

[29] Ibid.

[30]]Ernest Khoury, “Davutoglu: Assad Not Reforming Despite Our Best Efforts,” Al Akhbar English, January 16, 2012, www.english.al-akhbar.com/node/3411/.

[31] Emre Peker and Nicole Gauoette, “U.S. Supports Turkey Playing a Leading Role on Syria Crisis,” Bloomberg, February 9, 2012, www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-10/u-s-looks-to-ally-turkey-to-build-int….

[32] “PM Erdoğan Warns Assad, ‘You Reap What You Sow,'” Sabah, February 8, 2012. www.english.sabah.com.tr/2012/02/08/pm-erdogan-warns-assad-you-reap-wha….

[33] See “Erdoğan Tells Assad to Draw Lessons from Fate of Gaddafi, Hitler,” Today’s Zaman, November 22, 2011.

[34] Soli Özel, “Turkish Foreign Policy Losing Ground in Syria: Davutoglu Calls Assad a ‘Milosevic,'” Al-Monitor, posted January 31, 2012. Originally published in Habertürk under the title ‘Before Losing the Ball Bearings.’ www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/01/before-losing-the-ball-bearin….

[35] Tha’ir Abbas, “Al Sharq al Awsat Interview: Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoğlu,” Al Sharq al Awsat, April 1, 2012, www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=29084.

[36] “U.S. Supports Turkey Playing a Leading Role on Syria Crisis,” op.cit.

[37] Glen Carey and Elizabeth Konstantinova, “Clinton Calls for ‘Immense Pressure’ on Assad,” Bloomberg, February 6, 2012, www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-05/clinton-calls-for-immense-pressure-on….

[38] These measures included the decree (August 2011) allowing every Syrian to form a political party, the subsequent registration of eight political parties (January-March 2012), the constitutional amendment removing the Baath Party as the “leading party in society and the state,” overwhelming popular support for this amendment through a referendum and parliamentary elections in May 2012.

[39] Sedat Ergin, “Erdoğan and the CHP leader’s Alevi Origin,” Hurriyet Daily News, May 18, 2011. www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=erdogan-and-the-chp….

[40] “Erdoğan Lambasts Opposition, Says Syrian Crisis not Sectarian,” Today’s Zaman, May 15, 2012.

[41] Nazim Can Cicektan, “Turkey and Syria: the Alawite Dimension,” Foreign Policy Association, contained in a blog posted by Akin Unver, March 18,2012, www.foreignpolicyblogs.com.

[42] Soli Özel, “Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurdish Issue,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 26, 2012, www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-syria-iraq-and-the-kurdish-issue.aspx?…ID=449&nID=16842&NewsCatID=396.

[43] “Syria Crisis an International Challenge, Erdoğan says,” Today’s Zaman, May 7, 2012.

[44] “Turkey Owns, Leads, Serves to ‘New Mideast’: Davutoğlu,” Hurriyet Daily News, April 27, 2012, www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-owns-leads-serves-to-new-mideast-davut….

[45] Gökhan Bacik, “The Syrian Revolution in Turkish Foreign Policy,” Today’s Zaman, March 25, 2012. See also the similar criticism of Kadri Gürsel in “Ikinci yeni dış politika [A second new foreign policy],” Milliyet, December 15, 2012. In seeking regime change in Syria, he wrote, Turkey had joined the side of the west in a cold war against the Tehran-Damascus axis, www.dunya.milliyet.com.tr/ikinci-yeni-dis-politika/dunya/dunyayazardeta….

[46] Nuray Mert, “Süriye, ‘güzel ve yalnız ülke'” [“Syria ‘a beautiful and lonely country'”], Milliyet, April 28, 2011, www.gundem.milliyet.com.tr/suriye-guzel-ve-yalniz-ulke/gundem/gundemyaz….

[47] Cengiz Candar, “Arap Baharı, Türk Sonbaharı’na dönüşür mü?” [“Is the Arab spring turning into a Turkish autumn?”] Radikal, November 11, 2011, www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazar&ArticleID=1069159&Ya….

[48] Hakan Yilmaz, quoted by Kadri Gürsel, “Ilımlı Islamcılara 10 puanlık soru” [“A ten point questionnaire for the moderate Islamists”], Milliyet, December 8, 2011, www.dunya.milliyet.com.tr/ilimli-islamcilara-10-puanlik-soru/ddunya/dun….

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Trump Says He Accepts Maduro’s Meeting Invitation

teleSUR | September 26, 2018

Less than a day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro invited U.S. President Donald Trump to a meeting based on mutual respect, the U.S. leader said Wednesday he would be open to meeting his Venezuelan counterpart.

Maduro said he hoped to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Trump. The White House responded to a similar request last year by saying such a meeting would happen when the country returned to democracy.

“I’m even willing to talk to President Trump, I think President Trump and I can speak, we understand each other, hopefully one day … the miracle of a face-to-face conversation will take place, between President Donald Trump of the United States and Nicolas Maduro de Venezuela,” the Venezuelan leader said during his speech in Caracas Tuesday.

“I would certainly be open to it, I’m willing to meet with anybody,” Trump said on Wednesday as he arrived at United Nations headquarters after answering a question by a reporter about Maduro’s invitation to meet. “We’re going to take care of Venezuela, if he’s here and he wants to meet, it was not on my mind, it was not on my plate, but if I can help people that’s what I’m here for.”

The comments come just a day after the United States imposed new sanctions on President Maduro’s wife and several of his top allies on Tuesday as Trump also appeared to back a military coup against Maduro in comments he made to reporters Tuesday shortly after his speech at the UNGA.

The latest sanctions are further extending on the already-brutal economic war Washington has been waging against the socialist country with the help of its right-wing allies in the region in an effort to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

“All options are on the table, everyone,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “The strong ones and the less than strong ones and you know what I mean by strong. Every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela.”

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment