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Why Mattis’ exit is a defining moment in US foreign policy

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | NewsClick | December 24, 2018

Within the week, President Trump’s sudden announcement of “total” troop withdrawal from Syria has ripped apart the American political system and exposed its fault lines. Trump’s decision is intrinsically a sound one. He didn’t start the Syrian conflict and he has been on record repeatedly that the US had no business to intervene in it militarily. But his writ as president and commander-in-chief didn’t run large. Astoundingly enough, we know now that the Pentagon defied the president who is also the commander-in-chief.

We also know that Trump’s defence secretary James Mattis set the scale and scope of the US intervention in Syria. From what was meant to be a limited intervention, Mattis turned it into an open-ended military occupation of Syria. This was despite the fact that the US carries no UN mandate to send forces to Syria. The repeated protests by Damascus, including at the UN, were ignored.

Indeed, the military mission that was originally geared to fight the ISIS morphed into a geopolitical one to counter Iran (and Russia’s) presence in Syria. Above all, the US military virtually occupied one-third of Syrian territory and declared it an exclusive region that even Syrian government forces were barred from entering and imposed a “no-fly zone” there. All this constituted a gross violation of international law and UN Charter.

While resigning in protest, Mattis took care to turn it into a first-rate political scandal. This has put Trump’s back up. If Mattis was hoping to keep his job till end-February with an intention to continue to undermine the president’s foreign policies, an unforgiving Trump has other plans. Trump has announced the appointment of an acting defence secretary w.e.f. Jan 1, which defangs Mattis overnight. Trump thereby ensures that his decision on troop withdrawal in Syria will be implemented on the ground.

The really stunning part is that the bulk of America’s political class, think tanks and the media have rallied to support Mattis in an astounding display of defiance and spite toward their elected president. Suffice to say, there has been an insurrection against Trump’s foreign policy agenda and Mattis was a key figure in that enterprise. Quintessentially, the established American political system – what Trump calls the “Swamp” – refuses to make way for the elected president, his mandate from the people for his political platform notwithstanding. Isn’t it a sham that the US claims to have a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”?

Quite obviously, Syria is only the tip of the iceberg. Looking back, Mattis had a virtual free run through the past two-year period, to undermine Trump’s foreign policy agenda across the board. Mattis had the great advantage of serving at NATO Headquarters as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. His president, on the other hand, was a novice in alliance politics. Mattis knew precisely how consensus opinion is forged in Brussels around decisions taken in Washington, how those decisions get formally adopted by alliance partners and how Washington’s projects invariably get implemented. Thus, Trump’s role got incrementally reduced to ranting and raving about the NATO budget. Trump talks no longer about NATO being “obsolete”.

Simply put, Mattis has brilliantly revived the NATO. He did this knowing fully well that a transatlantic alliance raring to go cannot do without an “enemy”. And Mattis also knew that that “enemy” has to be Russia. Thus, the reboot of NATO and the ratcheting up of tensions with Russia became mutually reinforcing endeavors. The result is plain to see: NATO has come closer to Russia’s borders than at anytime before and is creating threatening military infrastructure there. Moscow is in a quandary because it is well aware that the NATO project is a de facto Pentagon project and Trump himself probably had little to do with it.

Moscow keeps hoping that a Russian-American summit would help matters, but then, Trump’s plans for meeting with Vladimir Putin runs into strong headwinds whenever the idea surfaces. The “Russia collusion” inquiry keeps Trump off balance (although Robert Mueller has so far failed to produce a shred of evidence that Moscow promoted Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election.) Put differently, for the “Swamp” the Robert Mueller inquiry becomes critically important precisely for the reason that Trump is prevented from making any concerted attempt to improve US-Russia relations.

Syria and Afghanistan are only illustrative examples of how the Pentagon has a corporate interest in fighting open-ended wars. In both cases, a military victory is no longer regarded as feasible, and it is the hidden geopolitical agenda that matters to the Pentagon. Equally, cascading tensions with Russia or the open-ended wars translate as bigger budgetary allocation for the Pentagon, which of course largely goes to fund the military-industrial complex. One can take a safe bet that it is a matter of time before Mattis himself gets re-employed in the corporate board of some big arms manufacturing enterprise. The passion with which he has been advocating Saudi Arabia’s cause in the downstream of the Jamal Khashoggi affair speaks volumes about the unholy nexus at work involving the sheikhs, the Pentagon and the arms vendors – and the US lawmakers.

This sort of nexus has spawned a powerful coalition of interest groups who are viscerally opposed to a “demilitarization” of the US foreign policies, which is at the core of Trump’s agenda. Their favorite candidate in the 2016 election was Hillary Clinton. Their focus today is on debilitating the Trump presidency in any whichever way they can and to work toward ensuring that Trump doesn’t win a second term.

In this holding operation, Mattis played a stellar role by systematically undermining the Trump agenda. Mattis is a skilled operator in the military bureaucracy and his departure leaves a void for the Swamp. But his exit is not going to be the end of the vicious struggle going on in American politics. The good part is that Trump seems to understand that it will be a downhill slope ahead of him unless he took a last-ditch stance and dug in now to assert his constitutional prerogative as the president to push his foreign policy agenda. The point is, that agenda also happens to be linked to Trump’s campaign platform for the 2020 election.

December 27, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Mattis just doesn’t understand how US operates around the world

By Nebojsa Malic | RT | January 25, 2018

US Defense Secretary James Mattis is a Marine’s Marine and a respected military scholar. Yet his recent remarks to reporters about US conduct around the world smack of either hypocrisy or woeful misinformation.

Mattis is visiting Indonesia and Vietnam this week, as part of a US effort to expand alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. On his way over to Jakarta on Monday, he held a “press gaggle” on board the plane and, according to transcripts provided by the Pentagon, said this:

I think that what we’re looking for is a world where we solve problems, and we don’t shred trust. We don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters. We don’t invade other countries, in Russia’s case ‒ Georgia, Ukraine. That we settle things by international rule of law, you know, this sort of thing.

Mattis was elaborating on the new US National Defense Strategy, which prioritized “inter-state strategic competition,” over terrorism and called out Russia and China as “revisionist powers” threatening the “free and open international order” created by the US and its allies after World War II.

If anything, Russia and China are actually “reactionary” powers. Both countries have repeatedly said that they seek only to apply the existing rules of international order equally to everyone – including the US, which has held itself exempt from them.

That belief in American exceptionalism is evident in Mattis’s own words, aimed at Beijing and Moscow.

“We don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters”

Here, Mattis is clearly referring to the islands in the South China Sea, claimed by China and a number of nearby nations. China has built military installations on a number of previously uninhabited islands and reefs, and sent naval forces into the area in response to repeated US overflights and maritime patrols.

However, while the People’s Liberation Army Navy operates in its home waters, the US Navy operates around the world – with bases in places like Japan, Bahrain, Spain and Italy, among others.

In pursuit of military bases around the globe, Washington has gone so far as to approve the forcible relocation of Chagos Islands residents so the US could build and maintain a massive base on Diego Garcia. A number of Marshall Islanders were also relocated from atolls in the Pacific because of nuclear tests (e.g. Bikini).

“We don’t invade other countries”

Where to even begin with this one? What was Libya in 2011, then? What happened in Iraq in 2003? Or the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, which violated both the UN Charter, the NATO Charter, and US law?

In Libya, the US and its NATO allies grossly abused a UN resolution allowing certain humanitarian actions to launch a full “regime change” operation against the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Nearly seven years later, Libya is a chaotic failed state, with open-air slave markets and terrorists staking claim on territory “liberated” by US-backed rebels.

Iraq was invaded without any legal justification whatsoever, with George W. Bush’s regime-changing “coalition of the willing” acting in stark contrast with his father’s multinational force, which invoked the UN Charter for the 1991 intervention to liberate Kuwait.

Yugoslavia was bombed by NATO for 78 days, until the UN found a fig leaf in the shape of Security Council Resolution 1244 to allow the alliance to occupy Serbia’s Kosovo province. Except that, too, was trampled in 2008, when the US backed an ethnic Albanian government that declared the occupied province an independent state.

Mattis holds up Georgia and Ukraine as examples of Russian “invasions.” Yet it was the US-backed government in Georgia that started the hostilities in August 2008, launching an attack on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia that killed Russian peacekeepers. It’s understandable the Pentagon might be sore that a Russian border army managed to dismantle the entire NATO-trained Georgian military in less than a week, but that doesn’t change the fact that Tbilisi started the war, as even the EU fact-finding mission admitted in 2009. The warmongering president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has since been stripped of citizenship and charged with corruption. He is now in Ukraine.

What of Ukraine, then? Washington has accused Russia of invading and occupying Crimea in 2014. The overwhelmingly ethnic Russian region, reassigned to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, reunited with Russia in 2014, after a US-backed coup in Kiev brought into power a government that included neo-Nazis.

That government, “midwifed” by US diplomats and directed by Washington ever since, responded to popular discontent in several regions by sending tanks against its own civilians. In Odessa, neo-Nazi activists backing the government even set dissenters on fire. The US has sent weapons to neo-Nazi militias fighting the “Russian invaders” in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, while Moscow sent humanitarian aid.

Kiev has claimed, and Washington echoed, that regular Russian troops were on the ground in Donetsk and Lugansk. As “evidence” of this, they offered photos of Russian tanks – taken in 2008 in Georgia.

Trying to argue against the Crimean referendum, US President Barack Obama claimed there had been an internationally recognized referendum in Kosovo. That was simply not true.

“…we respect these as sovereign nations”

Another thing Mattis argued was that the US respected national sovereignty and opposed “veto authority” over their decision-making:

One point I want to make is we respect these as sovereign nations with a sovereign voice and sovereign decisions, and we don’t think anyone else should have a veto authority over their economic, their diplomatic or their security decisions.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentiment in theory. In practice, however, the US routinely tramples the sovereignty of other countries, and exercises veto powers over their economic and security decisions.

Ukraine has already been mentioned as one example. The US is also pressuring the EU to find a way to stop Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that in a recent anti-Russian report, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said would deprive Ukraine of transit fees. What he left out was that it would also remove Kiev’s ability to hold Europe hostage by controlling the flow of Russian gas. Also, does anyone actually believe that Bulgaria decided on its own to back out of the Russian-sponsored South Stream pipeline project?

More recently, in the supposedly “independent” state of Kosovo, the US and UK ambassadors threatened “harsh consequences” if the government there dared vote against an internationally imposed war crimes court. US ambassadors in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia routinely dictate to local authorities what laws they need to adopt and when. Local leaders who refuse to obey are sanctioned.

‘Mad Dog’ or ‘Warrior Monk’?

It was the American media that dubbed Mattis “Mad Dog” during the operations in Iraq, when he commanded the Marines that fought insurgents in Fallujah and destroyed the city in order to save it, to paraphrase that one US officer from Vietnam.

Mattis himself reportedly resents the nickname, preferring to be known as a “Warrior Monk,” a scholar with no family who has dedicated his life to the US Marine Corps. What is one to make, then, of his quotes from the flight to Jakarta, which deny observable reality in favor of wishful thinking embraced by his predecessors?

When Mattis was up for confirmation, a number of media outlets published a story about how he took guard duty at Christmas one year in order to have the junior Marine officer spend time with his family. He is clearly someone who cares about the lives of his troops. Yet his misconceptions about US conduct around the world are more likely to get them killed than faulty weapons or the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy, both of which he has set out to fix.

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 3 Comments

Mattis claims UN let US intervene in Syria, although it never did

A picture taken on September 5, 2017 shows smoke billowing out following a coalition air strike in the western al-Daraiya neighbourhood of the embattled northern Syrian city of Raqa. © Delil Souleiman

RT | November 14, 2017

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has recently claimed that Washington received a mandate to operate in Syria from no less than the UN itself. The problem is the UN never did any such thing as it does not even have any legal capacity to do so.

The UN cannot sanction a foreign invasion of Syria or any other country because it is absolutely impossible under international law, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, commenting on the issue. “The UN cannot do such things,” he told the Russian media.

He went on to say that “Syria is a sovereign independent state,” adding that “only the Syrian government can invite armed forces of the third countries onto its territory” while “the UN has no such right,” as reported by Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. The diplomat also said that “the fight against terrorism does not give any states or coalitions a free hand to establish their presence on Syrian territory.”

International law indeed envisages no way for the UN or any other international body to sanction an invasion of one state’s armed forces on the territory of another state. In fact, such actions are regarded as aggression under international law and are strictly prohibited.

UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 on the definition of aggression explicitly states that an “invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State” as well as “any military occupation, however temporary” or “bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State” is what particularly constitutes aggression.

However, all these facts did not prevent Mattis from claiming that it was the UN that sanctified the presence of the US troops on the Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian government. “You know, the UN said that … basically we can go after ISIS. And we’re there to take them out,” the US defense secretary said, referring to the US actions in Syria as he answered a journalist’s question on Monday.

Apparently, he implied that a call by UN on the international community and the US in particular to take action was more than enough to justify the US military’s presence in Syria. Actually, the UN did issue such a call – in Resolution 2249 adopted by the Un Security Council in November 2015.

Resolution 2249 called on UN member states “that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures” and “to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL [Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL)]” as well as other terrorist groups.

However, it urged the states to do so “in compliance with international law” – something that the US officials often neglect when they assess the actions of the US military abroad.

The statements of the US defense secretary also provoked an angry reaction in Damascus. The Syrian government once again stated that the US troops are operating on Syrian territory without its consent and in violation of international law.

“The presence of the US forces or any foreign military presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government constitutes an act of aggression and an attack on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a gross violation of the Charter and principles of the United Nations,” Syria’s Foreign Ministry said, as cited by the SANA news agency.

It further said that the US presence “only leads to prolonging the crisis and further complicating it,” adding that the real goal of the US in Syria apparently lies in obstructing the peace process. The ministry then once again called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US forces from Syrian territory.

The statements made by Mattis are “absolutely baseless” and “irresponsible,” Vyacheslav Matuzov, a political scientist and the head of the Russian-Arab Friendship and Business Cooperation Society, told RT, commenting on the issue. He went on to say that any foreign military presence on the territory of any state can be authorized solely by the legitimate government of that state.

“There is a clear position of the Syrian authorities, according to which the US troops are stationed on the Syrian territory illegally,” he said, adding that there can be “no argument” about the legal status of US forces in Syria.

November 15, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

US can’t take pressure anymore in Afghanistan

By M K Bhadrakumar | IndianPunchline | April 25, 2017

The seething US-Russia rivalry in Afghanistan took a sharp turn with the explosive threat held out by the visiting US Defence Secretary James Mattis in Kabul on Monday that Washington “will confront Russia” for violating international law by sending arms to the Taliban. Mattis said this while answering what appears to have been a planted question by a Washington Post correspondent who asked him about Russian weapons “showing up in Taliban hands in Helmand, Kandahar and Urozgan” (provinces bordering Pakistan.)

General John Nicholson, US commander in Afghanistan, who stood beside Mattis refused to refute the reports on Russian weapons but couldn’t provide details, either. He merely noted, “we continue to get reports of this assistance.” However, Mattis went ahead nonetheless to threaten Moscow:

  • Russians seem to be choosing to be strategic competitors in a number of areas. The level of granularity and the level of success they’re achieving — I think the jury is out on that… I would say that we will engage with Russia diplomatically. We’ll do so where we can. But we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries. For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be — would be a violation of international law, unless they’re coming through the government of Afghanistan for the — for the Afghan forces. And so that would have to be dealt with as a violation of international law.

This is a dramatic escalation in rhetoric. What accounts for it? Indeed, I can visualize a backdrop with three likely vectors. (After all, Mattis is reputed to be a “thinking general” himself.) First, of course, the immediate context of his visit was the devastating Taliban attack on the Afghan army corps headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif in which 200 soldiers were killed, leading to the exit of the Afghan defence minister and army chief.

Although there was no American casualty as such, it was a big blow to the Pentagon generals, who constantly claim to be doing a masterly job in the “capacity-building” of Afghan armed forces. Simply put, Mattis and Nicholson probably tried to change the narrative.

Indeed, it wouldn’t have been far from Mattis’ mind that Russian weapons are reportedly “showing up” in Taliban’s hands in Helmand when a deployment of Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to that province “quietly” got under way last week, which is the first such deployment of Marines since 2014 when President Barack Obama announced the termination of the US’ combat mission in Afghanistan. The last thing Trump would want is body bags arriving from Helmand (which borders Pakistan’s Baluchistan.)

Second, Russia’s regional initiative to kickstart a political process in Afghanistan must be driving the Americans crazy.

The Pentagon has reason to worry that continued US occupation (military bases in Afghanistan) may become untenable if the political process made headway and a regional consensus favoring intra-Afghan reconciliation sought the restoration of Afghanistan’s sovereignty. (By the way, Taliban representatives based in Qatar travelled to China recently.)

Washington’s biggest worry would be that the Afghan opinion itself may come to view the Moscow-led regional initiative as the best (and only) available platform today to somehow bring the senseless bloody war to an end.

Third, if Matti’s idiom toward Russia has become distinctly hostile, it is also reflective of the deepening US frustration that Moscow is challenging its geo-strategies across the board – over Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, Turkey, Syria and so on. The chessboard is increasingly posing a “check-and-checkmate” scenario for the US, which in turn exposes the limits to America’s global hegemony.

Specifically, Mattis might have hit out in the wake of reports that Moscow has drawn up plans to deploy Special Forces to the key battle zones in Syria to vanquish the extremist groups (which enjoy US-Israeli backing). Mattis’ allegation of Russia violating “international law” in Afghanistan becomes curious because that is precisely what Moscow accuses the US of doing in Syria.

Interestingly, there are also a few sub-plots to Mattis’s press conference in Kabul: A) He was evasive about President Donald Trump deploying “thousands more” troops in Afghanistan, which was what Pentagon had recommended. Mattis said blithely, “our review in Washington is a dialogue with Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson and the president and his staff in the White House. And I’d say that we’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission.”

B) Mattis parried a direct question as to the US’ war objective in Afghanistan. C) He touched on reconciliation with Taliban – “If the Taliban wished to join the political process…, they need only to renounce violence and reject terrorism. It’s a pretty low standard to join the… political process.”

Significantly, Mattis made his visit to Kabul within a week of the fact-finding mission by NSA Lt. Gen. HR McMaster who reports directly to Trump. The transcript of Mattis’ press conference is here.

April 25, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 2 Comments

White House claims on Syria chemical attack ‘obviously false’ – MIT professor

RT | April 12, 2017

A professor who challenged the 2013 claims of a chemical attack in Syria is now questioning the Trump administration’s narrative blaming the Assad government for the April 4 attack in the Idlib province town of Khan Shaykhun.

On Tuesday, the White House released a declassified intelligence brief accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of ordering and organizing the attack, in which Syrian planes allegedly dropped chemical ordnance on civilians in the rebel-held town.

The report “contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft,” wrote Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Theodore Postol, who reviewed it and put together a 14-page assessment, which he provided to RT on Wednesday.

“I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun,” wrote Postol.

A chemical attack with a nerve agent did occur, he said, but the available evidence does not support the US government’s conclusions.

“I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report. But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct,” Postol wrote.

It is “very clear who planned this attack, who authorized this attack and who conducted this attack itself,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer also said that doubting the evidence would be “doubting the entire international reporting crew documenting this.”

The report offered by the White House, however, cited “a wide body of open-source material” and “social media accounts” from the rebel-held area, including footage provided by the White Helmets rescue group documented to have ties with jihadist rebels, Western and Gulf Arab governments.

Postol was not convinced by such evidence.

“Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”

Instead, “the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.”

“We again have a situation where the White House has issued an obviously false, misleading and amateurish intelligence report,” he concluded, recalling the 2013 situation when the Obama administration claimed Assad had used chemical weapons against the rebels in Ghouta, near Damascus.

“What the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true,” Postol wrote, “and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.”

April 12, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment