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Failed Oregon Solar Equipment Plant Leaves Behind Millions in Taxpayer Losses

By Bonner R. Cohen | The Heartland Institute | November 26, 2018

A multi-year effort by federal, state, and local agencies to prop up an Oregon solar-panel manufacturer has ended in a shuttered factory, millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, and a heavily polluted manufacturing site.

In 2010 SoloPower Systems (SoloPower) claimed it could manufacture “flexible” solar PV cells and modules that were light and thin enough to be installed on buildings that couldn’t support regular solar panels. Promising to employ hundreds of people at its 225,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, SoloPower attracted millions of dollars in loans and tax credits from government agencies.

Governments Provide Funding

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Energy loaned SoloPower $10 million. Business Oregon, a state agency, granted SoloPower $20 million in tax credits. The City of Portland agreed to cover half of SoloPower’s debt to the state, provided the solar-panel factory was located within the city’s limits, while Multnomah County, where Portland is located, declared the company’s factory site was in an enterprise zone, freeing the company from paying property taxes as long as it met certain job creation requirements.

By August 2011, the Obama administration increased is commitment to the project, furnishing $197 million in DOE loan guarantees to the company, and the California Energy Commission loaned the company nearly $5 million.

Company Falters

SoloPower’s prospects yielded relatively quickly to marketplace realities with the company’s largely untested technologies proving unreliable and more expensive than those offered by its competitors.

In April 2013, the company shut down its factory and laid off most of its workforce. By July 2013 it stopped making payments on its state loans and shortly thereafter, California sued the company for failing to make payments on its loan.

Subsequently, the U.S. Energy Department withdrew its $197 million in loan guarantees, and in the fall of 2017, the Trump Energy Department declared SoloPower in default of its original $10 million loan.

Also in 2017, Multnomah County sued the company for $1.8 million in back property taxes the county says the company owes for failing to meet the job commitments necessary to qualify for the property tax breaks it received, and SoloPower ceased making to the state of Oregon, saddling Portland with repaying the company’s entire $5 million loan guarantee from the state.

Toxic Waste Site

In an audit of the company Oregon’s Secretary of State pointed out although “Multnomah County had the legal right to seize the borrower’s equipment for delinquent taxes,” it was unlikely to do so because the plant was heavily polluted with cadmium and hydrochloric acid.

Seizing the equipment may not be an option given the level of pollution at the plant.

This stuff is very caustic,” Michael Vaughn, Multnomah County accessor told Oregon Live. “And there’s lots of it. It’s one big mess.”

Cleaning up the plant is estimated to cost more than $500,000.

Read the rest of the story here.

November 30, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , | 1 Comment

We want to believe: ‘Russian hacking’ memo REVEALS how US intel pinned leaks to Kremlin

By Nebojsa Malic | RT | November 10, 2018

A newly-out memo containing the Obama admin’s talking points about “Russian hacking” in the 2016 election reveals how US spy agencies attributed email leaks to the Kremlin by saying it’s “consistent” with what they think Russia does.

The seven-page document was contained within the 49 pages published on Friday by BuzzFeed, which obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in late October. At the root of it is a November 29 letter by several Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, asking then-President Barack Obama to declassify documents concerning “Russian Active Measures.”

The claim that Russia directly interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections – by first hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta, and then releasing them through DCLeaks, WikiLeaks and the hacker known as “Guccifer 2.0” – was all the rage in Washington at the time, as Democrats sought to explain the fact that Clinton just lost to Donald Trump.

Obama did not declassify the documents. Instead, he apparently instructed DNI James Clapper to respond to the senators. Moving at the speed of government, the ODNI responded on January 27 – a week after Trump’s inauguration – saying that their inquiry resulted in the January 6 release of the intelligence community assessment (ICA) on “Russian activities and intentions.”

This ended up as the infamous report making all sorts of claims and accusations but offering no evidence – and prominently featuring an annex about RT dating back from 2012.

The talking points memo sent by ODNI to the Senate Democrats has not been previously published. Reading through it, one is struck by the circular reasoning of the US “intelligence community” – or rather, Clapper’s hand-picked group of CIA, FBI and NSA people charged with coming up with the assessment.

The US intelligence community is “confident” that the Russian government was behind the “compromises” of emails, because their release is “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” the talking points say. In other words, this fits what US spies believe are Russian objectives, therefore it had to be the Kremlin doing it!

“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the memo goes on to say. Again, inference based on assumption, not evidence.

Blaming Russia for the hack of the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCC) was based on “the forensic evidence identified by a private cyber-firm” – meaning CyberStrike, a DNC contractor led by Atlantic Council fellow Dmitry Alperovich – and the spies “own review and understanding of cyber activities by the Russian Government.”

In plain English, the evidence CrowdStrike gave the intelligence community fit its preconceived notions about Russian cyber operations, which sounds quite convenient.

Remember the accusations that several state election systems were also “hacked” by the Russians? Here is the ODNI, saying that they “are not definitively attributing the intrusions into state elections systems to the Russian Government.” But “the fact that they are consistent with Russian motivations and intent behind the DNC and DCCC intrusions, strongly suggests that Russia is responsible.”

Answering its own question whether Russia is trying to alter the outcome of the election, the ODNI says: “The Kremlin probably expects that publicity surrounding the disclosures will raise questions about the integrity of the election process and would undermine the legitimacy of the President-elect.”

At this point, any TV legal drama would have a charming courtroom lawyer shout out “Objection, speculation!” Except that passage is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t the disclosures of Democrat emails, however, that sowed doubts about the legitimacy of US elections, but rather the absurd conspiracy theory about Trump’s “collusion” with the Kremlin and “Russian hacking,” which the ODNI memo reveals was based on nothing more than the spies wanting to believe it was true.

November 10, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Russophobia | , , , , | 1 Comment

Ex-Pentagon Analyst: US Exit From INF Treaty Could Boost US Nuke Arms Industry

Sputnik – 23.10.2018

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty will be welcomed by the US nuclear weapons industry and major defense contractors, veteran Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney told Sputnik on Monday.

“The trashing of the INF treaty is simply another step down a slippery slope that is being greased by the nuclear arms contractors,” said Spinney, a senior Department of Defense analyst for more than 30 years.

Trump said on Saturday that his administration was preparing to withdraw from the INF.

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Monday, the US president also claimed that Russia had not done enough to adhere to the treaty. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied on Monday that Moscow was in violation of the landmark agreement.

Spinney said Trump’s decision to scrap the INF was an anticipated and expected consequent of his predecessor, President Barack Obama’s approval of a colossal $1.5 trillion US nuclear modernization and expansion weapons program over the next 30 years.

“In my view, this evolution was almost inevitable. We unilaterally pulled out of the missile defense treaty and effectively launched a new arms race when Obama caved into the nuclear weapons industry and launched his across the board nuclear modernization plan,” he said.

Spinney recalled that Obama had been praised for negotiating the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after only one year in office, but that his huge nuclear weapons program contradicted those claimed achievements.

“Trump’s strategy and nuclear posture review essentially sealed Obama’s actions,” he said.

Trump has also refused to acknowledge Russia’s legitimate concern about the potential offensive capabilities of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems that the United States has deployed in Poland and was also setting up in Romania, Spinney pointed out.

“Russians claim the BMD capabilities placed in Eastern Europe could be used to offensive purposes and their ‘new’ missile may well be a response to that,” he said.

Terminating the INF treaty would be a heavy blow for the entire international legal system of nonproliferation and arms control, the Russian Security Council said on Monday.

The INF was signed in 1987 and was pivotal in eliminating thousands of missiles from the American and Russian arsenals. Ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty along with then-US leader Ronald Reagan called Trump’s planned withdrawal from it very irresponsible.

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

What Trump’s pullout from IMF treaty means

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | October 21, 2018

President Donald Trump’s confirmation that the US is terminating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) with Russia will be regarded as a defining moment in international security. The INF, which was signed by then US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington in December 1987, has been a flagship of the disarmament process leading to the elimination of around 2,700 short and medium range ballistic missiles and preventing a US-Russia nuclear standoff in Europe.

A first-rate crisis is appearing in nuclear arms limitations and reduction processes. Now, let it be clarified this is not a temper tantrum by Trump but stems from the US policy to place accent on developing new nuclear weapons and aiming at securing a strategic dominance in the global arena. It was during the Obama administration, in 2014, that the US first alleged that Russia violated the INF treaty, but despite persistent requests from Moscow to provide substantiation of the allegation or at least to discuss the discord, Washington failed to respond.

The US has vaguely pointed the finger at the index of a Russian missile research project, but Moscow has refuted it pointing out that the US can easily see on its satellite images during field tests that these charges are totally unfounded and not substantiated by either the technical characteristics of the launcher that allegedly is at variance with the INF Treaty or in-flight telemetry data.

The plain truth is that it no longer suits the US to be constrained by the INF Treaty in the emerging New Cold War conditions where it has bracketed Russia and China as “revisionist powers” whom it must counter. In fact, contrary to the INF Treaty, Washington has already deployed launchers at the US antimissile base in Romania and Poland, whose specifications enable them to launch not only interceptor missiles but also strike missiles like Tomahawks.

One urgent compulsion for the US today is that the need arises for it in the downstream of the 2017 decision by Japanese government to buy two Aegis Ashore systems, as the deployment of the system in Japan will be a violation of the INF obligations – although the deployment will be in the Asia-Pacific.

Fundamentally, the US objective is nothing other than attaining nuclear superiority, which has been an elusive dream through the Cold War era. In the present context, Russian conventional forces are not a match for the US’ capability but nuclear deterrence gives Russia the status of a great power and enables it to maintain global strategic balance. Equally, China’s growing nuclear capabilities are an added factor in the American calculus. Simply put, the jettisoning of the INF will free the hands of the US to develop new weapons systems and to make large-scale deployments along the borders of Russia and China to contain them.

Russia has military-technical capabilities to respond to the challenge posed by US walking out of IMF Treaty. The hypersonic missile that it has developed is an example. Besides, Russia can also respond by deploying intermediate- and short-range missiles at its borders. To be sure, all this will directly affect European security and it may even create, hopefully, a convergence of interests between Russia and European countries to preserve the INF treaty. But the US may circumvent such a possibility by wearing down the European opposition by moving the discussion onto the multilateral NATO format.

Most importantly, the US pullout from INF treaty may bring the roof down on the New START treaty of 2010 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In fact, the likelihood is high that the New START treaty may not be renewed by 2021, as is required, or that the NPT can survive. All in all, what is in the cards is the frightening scenario of a seamless, uncontrollable nuclear race – and the growing likelihood of a nuclear conflict.

Without doubt, the stakes are very high for India. The impact of the US decision on INF on the Asia-Pacific security would vitally affect Indian interests, especially in the context of the US-China rivalry where Japan (with which India has striven to forge a strong relationship) also happens to be a crucial participant. The US and Japanese pressure on India will increase to be ‘on the right side of history’ – that is, by becoming part of the US-led alliance system against China. Japan and Australia are figuring as the US’ main partners in the Indo-Pacific.

On the contrary, China will deepen its military cooperation with Russia and the two countries may be edging toward an alliance. (See my blog Military cooperation is the highlight and pillar of China-Russia strategic cooperation.) Ironically, the US will be achieving what it all along wanted, namely, injecting ‘bloc mentality’ among the countries of the Indo-Pacific, which would help consolidate its long-term presence in the region. All this means that unlike in the Cold War era, Asia is inexorably turning into the principal theatre of big-power rivalries.

October 21, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

While all eyes are on Syria’s Idlib, US continues to decimate Yemen

By Darius Shahtahmasebi | RT | September 14, 2018

The US is ready to defend Syria from a brutish assault launched by Syria’s own government and its allies – or so Washington wants you to believe. In the backdrop, Yemen continues to burn in silence.

On September 3, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley – eloquent diplomat that she is –  retweeted a tweet from the warmonger in chief that is the US president, with the caption “All eyes on the actions of Assad, Russia and Iran in Idlib.” This is the same US administration who just facilitated the bombing of a school bus in Yemen, slaughtering at least 40 children in the process.

Maybe, just maybe, Nikki Haley should keep her eyes on herself.

If the world did direct its eyes to what is taking place in Yemen, they would know that the United Nations has just warned of an “incalculable human cost” in the works, as the US and its allies press forward with an offensive to retake the Yemeni port city of Hodeida from the Houthi rebels.

That’s right. The US, currently waving its arms in despair about human rights abuses and chemical weapons attacks that have not even taken place in Syria yet, is supporting a major offensive of its own that will lead to a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions.

Yemen, a country already deeply in crisis, relies on the port of Hodeida for at least 70 percent of its humanitarian aid. It therefore makes sense from a humanitarian perspective to turn its location into a major war zone, am I right?

The small minority of people who are inclined to care about innocent Yemenis need not fret though. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just this week certified that the Saudi-led coalition is taking sufficient steps to protect civilians. According to Pompeo, the Gulf nations involved are “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”

“They are taking steps, in the view of the US government and this administration, in the right direction,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing, according to Reuters. “We see them taking steps. Is it perfect? No absolutely not. Do we see them doing what they can to mitigate civilian casualties? Absolutely we do.”

Thank God – I was getting worried there for a second. The US-backed Saudi-led coalition may be killing children as if they were ants, but they are taking steps to mitigate the number of children they are killing at the same time.

A seven-page memo sent to Congress and obtained by the Intercept further confirmed Pompeo’s delusional thinking, as the memo called Saudi Arabia and the UAE “strong counterterrorism partners.” Never mind that just last month, the Associated Press reported the US and its allies were actually recruiting Al-Qaeda fighters to join the coalition.

Oops.

While the Trump administration is taking a horrifying and bloody war and taking it to new depths, the truth of the matter is that this war did not begin under Donald Trump. The war in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, fast becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, was started by none other than peace-prize laureate Barack Obama himself.

But why did this war start, and why has the US continued to support it?

In an overlooked interview with the Real News’ Aaron Maté, Rob Malley, President of the International Crisis Group and former Special Assistant to President Obama, gave a disturbing glimpse into who actually pulls the strings on US foreign policy.

According to Malley:

“To try to understand what the Obama administration was about, and I’ve tried to- just to try to, to explain it to myself, to try to understand how we got to where we are, let’s not forget at the time we were in the middle of these negotiations with Iran, trying to reach a nuclear deal which was extremely unpopular with our traditional allies in the region, from Israel to Saudi Arabia to the UAE and others. And the Saudis came to us and said that they were about to intervene in Yemen, to attack the Houthis that had toppled the legitimate government of the internationally recognized government at the time. And they asked for our assistance…”

“So there was on the one hand a number of voices expressing concern about that. But on the other hand were many people saying the relationship with Saudi Arabia is almost at breaking point. They believe we’d betrayed their trust for a number of reasons. But Iran, Iran negotiating the Iran deal, or the negotiations over the Iran deal was one of them. We needed to protect that deal and make sure that we could get it done, because if we didn’t have a deal there was a risk of a war with Iran. And so I think the decision was made in the end by President Obama to say we’re going to be, to support parts of this war…”

Only a peace prize laureate could pull off a feat like that. But all joking aside, the human cost of the war in Yemen is nothing short of shameless.

On October 8, 2016, an aerial bombardment targeted a crowded funeral in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, the aftermath of which was aptly described as a “lake of blood.” According to the UN, more than 140 Yemenis were killed and at least 525 others were injured.

To date, the US-backed Saudi-led coalition has struck well over 100 hospitals, as well as wedding parties, refugee camps, food trucks, factories, transport routes, agricultural land, residential areas, and schools, to name a few. Yes, you read that right. Yemen, with only 2.8 percent of its land being cultivated, is actively targeted by the US-backed coalition. According to Martha Mundy, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, “to hit that small amount of agricultural land, you have to target it.”

Prior to spiralling into chaos, Yemen was already dependent on imports for 90 percent of its staple foods and almost all of its fuel and medical supplies. Putting aside the mass amount of violence that the US-backed coalition has enacted, the rest of Yemen’s population is suffering due to the Saudi-imposed blockade, which has put half the population at risk of starvation. According to the UN, over 462,000 children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

This is done completely on purpose. At the end of August this year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, threatened that he would continue targeting women and children in Yemen and allegedly said that he wants to “leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemeni generations.”

“We want their children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned,” the Crown Prince reportedly said.

The idea, advanced by Pompeo and his cohorts at the State Department, that the coalition has taken steps to avoid civilian casualties is by all accounts, complete nonsense. As the New York Times openly acknowledged:

“The first problem was the ability of Saudi pilots, who were inexperienced in flying missions over Yemen and fearful of enemy ground fire. As a result, they flew at high altitudes to avoid the threat below. But flying high also reduced the accuracy of their bombing and increased civilian casualties,” American officials said.

“American advisers suggested how the pilots could safely fly lower, among other tactics. But the airstrikes still landed on markets, homes, hospitals, factories and ports, and are responsible for the majority of the 3,000 civilian deaths during the yearlong war, according to the United Nations.”

In addition to supplying billions of dollars’ worth of arms to the Saudi kingdom, US personnel provide overwhelming assistance to the Saudi-led coalition to help bring Yemen to its knees by sitting in the Saudi’s command and control center, providing lists of targets, refuelling planes, running intelligence missions, and so forth.

If Donald Trump is so concerned with migrants and refugees, perhaps he should stop creating them. If he really cares about ‘America first’ and making America great again, perhaps racking up notches to America’s war crime belt is not the way to go. Legal experts have already warned the US government that its complicity in these attacks can make them a co-belligerent in Saudi Arabia’s vast, extensive list of war crimes. This warning has fallen completely on deaf ears and has not helped at all in deterring the Trump administration from continuing some of Barack Obama’s worst policies; and even now the US continues to shelter the Saudi-led coalition so that it can continue its bloodthirsty policies unabated.

Make no mistake, if the US pulled its support for Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s suffering could stop tomorrow.

Watch out for Assad though; I heard he was about to retake a Syrian city from an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Remember Al-Qaeda, the notorious terror group the US claimed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks? Apparently, the entire US government doesn’t, as it allies itself with Al-Qaeda in just about every battlefield that counts.

In the meantime, ordinary Yemenis continue to suffer by the millions. If you can absorb all of this and still believe the US is genuinely concerned about human rights abuses in places like Syria, then you probably deserve what’s to come next.

September 14, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama Marries the Liberals to the Neocons

By Patrick ARMSTRONG | Strategic Culture Foundation | 22.08.2018

When President Bush decided to attack Iraq in 2003 there were enormous protests in the United States and around the world. Not, of course, that they stopped the attack or even slowed it, but people did protest in large numbers. When Obama – “leading from behind” – and some NATO members decided to attack Libya in 2011 there were, as far as I know, no protests anywhere. Nor were there protests as wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and a secret war in Syria dragged on for nearly his whole eight years.

The surface explanation is that Obama, as a Democrat, the First Black President, an “intellectual” and a Nobel Prize winner, got the free pass that Bush as a Republican and an “incurious idiot” did not get. But there was another factor at work, I believe.

In the Obama years the marriage of the neocons and the humanitarian interventionists was effected. The neocons, with their doctrine of American Exceptionalism are always ready for an intervention and their justification is always the same: “American moral leadership” :

Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.

So there was never any difficulty getting neocons and their ilk to support another bombing campaign to do a bit of “morally exceptional police work”. The Obama change is that liberals, whose historic tendency is to oppose another war, are now in the War Party. And so there was hardly anyone was left to go out on protest.

Their first date, as it were, was NATO’s intervention in Kosovo/Serbia in 1999. That experiment proved that liberals would happily agree to go to war if the intervention could be coloured as morally acceptable: “genocide” and “rape” being especially powerful words. And, on command, it happened. “Serbs ‘enslaved Muslim women at rape camps‘”. Hundreds of thousands missing, feared murdered10,000 in mass graves. But the ur-source was the official NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea. (The following quotations are from NATO press briefings I collected at the time. I do not know whether they are still available on the NATO website, although, like the first one, many are still visible.) In March he told us that “we are on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in Kosovo the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the closing stages of World War II.” The NATO operation was conducted to “stop human suffering” (15 April). On 20 April he gave us a catalogue of Serb horrors: hundreds of Kosovar boys possibly preserved as living “blood banks for Serb casualties”; Kosovar human shields tied to Serb tanks; “chain gangs of Kosovars” digging mass graves; “systematic destruction of civilian homes”; rape camps. On 4 May “at least 100,000 men of military age are missing”. And so on: how could you not support the “alliance of civilised nations” (his description) intervening to stop these horrors? And CNN was there every step of the way; later we learned that US military psyops personnel had “helped in the production of some news stories“. Other media outlets were equally quick on board, again with occasional “help” from US intelligence:

In the case of Yugoslavia, the gullibility quotient has been breathtakingly high: Only material that conformed to the reigning victim-demon dichotomy would be hunted down with tenacity and reported; material that contradicted it, or that served to weaken and disconfirm it, would be ignored, discounted, excluded, even attacked.

Entirely one-sided with the media (predominantly liberal in sympathy) following the choir leader.

Later, too late in fact, we learned that it wasn’t so simple. A UN court ruled that it wasn’t “genocide” after all. Milosevic, dead in prison, was exoneratedNot so many mass graves after all. And, after all those deaths, whom did NATO put in power and give a whole country to? Organ harvesters and arms smugglers. And yes, the CIA was in there from the get go. A completely manipulated discussion. And the Serbs have been driven out of Kosovo right under NATO’s nose. Too late indeed.

In his essay, “Hidden in Plain View in Belgrade“, Vladimir Goldstein discovers, under the heading “What For?”, a memorial to the people killed in the attack on the TV centre. His conclusion, with which I agree, is:

Thus was R2P implemented—with no protection for Yugoslav Serbs. They had to die in the experiment to explore the limits of US power and the limits of its resistance.

The experiment worked: it showed that an aggressive war could be packaged so that liberals signed on: all you had to do was push the war crimes/humanitarian/genocide button. And, as a bonus, it was discovered that when the truth finally came out, no one remembered and you could sell the same shabby story again; and so, Serb-run “rape camps” became Qaddafi’s men with Viagra.

It was around this time and these circumstances that the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) idea began to gain traction. Finally formalised at the UN in 2005, the essence was that governments are obliged to protect their populations from atrocities and that the “international community, through the United Nations” may intervene. That was the magic potion: if the war party could make a case for R2P (and, as Kosovo showed, the case didn’t have to last any longer than the war did) liberals would cheerfully sign on.

Obama celebrated the liberal-interventionist/neocon marriage at West Point in 2014. Starting with the neocon foundation on which all their wars are erected, that America will and must lead, comes the liberal deal-clincher: “not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.” And that leading involves a “backbone”, not of example or persuasion, but of bombs: “The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership”. When should the USA use “that awesome power”? Certainly when “core interests” demand it but also when “crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction”.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership: Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.

And, he assured us, it all works out for the best in the end:

remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.

And, finally, this paladin of liberalism declared:

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.

When the “victim-demon dichotomy” media siren is turned on, any war, any bombing campaign, can be massaged to fit “core interests” and/or “human dignity”. We’re all exceptionalists now.

Despite a successful movie showing us, step by step, how to do it, the scam still pulls in the suckers: justifying the attack on Libya,Obama said (note he combines leadership and atrocities):

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action. [My italics]

The atrocities? In September 2013, after Qaddafi had been murdered and Libya destroyed, Harvard’s Belfer Center said the “model intervention” was based on false premises:

  • The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. Libya’s 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Muammar al-Qaddafi did not target civilians or resort to indiscriminate force. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO’s intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans.
  • The Intervention Backfired. NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors.

The cynic would say, the real lesson is get the intervention over before anybody notices the atrocity stories have been “sexed up“. When they do, it’s too late and few remember. And it will work the next time around. And so the happily-married couple proceeds: “The West cannot stand by in Syria as we did for too long in Bosnia.

That is Obama’s real legacy: the union – marriage – of the neocon assumption that America must “lead” with the liberal desire to “do good”. And the issue from the happy marriage? “The US is running out of bombs — and it may soon struggle to make more.”

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump Strikes Back at ‘Ringleader’ Brennan

By Ray McGovern • Consortium News • August 15, 2018

There’s more than meets the eye to President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearances that ex-CIA Director John Brennan enjoyed as a courtesy customarily afforded former directors. The President’s move is the second major sign that Brennan is about to be hoist on his own petard. It is one embroidered with rhetoric charging Trump with treason and, far more important, with documents now in the hands of congressional investigators showing Brennan’s ringleader role in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to derail Trump both before and after the 2016 election.

Brennan will fight hard to avoid being put on trial but will need united support from from his Deep State co-conspirators — a dubious proposition. One of Brennan’s major concerns at this point has to be whether the “honor-among-thieves” ethos will prevail, or whether some or all of his former partners in crime will latch onto the opportunity to “confess” to investigators: “Brennan made me do it.”

Well before Monday night, when Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani let a small bomb drop on Brennan, there was strong evidence that Brennan had been quarterbacking illegal operations against Trump. Giuliani added fuel to the fire when he told Sean Hannity of Fox news:

“I’m going to tell you who orchestrated, who was the quarterback for all this … The guy running it is Brennan, and he should be in front of a grand jury. Brennan took … a dossier that, unless he’s the biggest idiot intelligence agent that ever lived … it’s false; you can look at it and laugh at it. And he peddled it to [then Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, and that led to the request for the investigation. So you take a false dossier, get Senators involved, and you get a couple of Republican Senators, and they demand an investigation — a totally phony investigation.”

The Fix Brennan Finds Himself In

After eight years of enjoying President Barack Obama’s solid support and defense to do pretty much anything he chose — including hacking into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Brennan now lacks what, here in Washington, we refer to as a “Rabbi” with strong incentive to advance and protect you. He expected Hillary Clinton to play that role (were it ever to be needed), and that seemed to be solidly in the cards. But, oops, she lost.

What needs to be borne in mind in all this is, as former FBI Director James Comey himself has admitted: “I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president.” Comey, Brennan, and co-conspirators, who decided — in that “environment” — to play fast and loose with the Constitution and the law, were supremely confident they would not only keep their jobs, but also receive plaudits, not indictments.

Unless one understands and remembers this, it is understandably difficult to believe that the very top U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials did what documentary evidence has now demonstrated they did.

So, unlike his predecessors, most of whom also left under a dark cloud, Brennan is bereft of anyone to protect him. He lacks even a PR person to help him avoid holding himself up to ridicule — and now retaliation — for unprecedentedly hostile tweets and other gaffes. Brennan’s mentor, ex-CIA Director George Tenet, for example, had powerful Rabbis in President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as a bizarrely empathetic Establishment media, when Tenet quit in disgrace 2004.

The main question now is whether the chairs of the House oversight committees will chose to face down the Deep State. They almost never do, and the smart money says that, if they do, they will lose — largely because of the virtually total support of the Establishment media for the Deep State. This often takes bizarre forms. The title of a recent column by Washington Post “liberal” commentator Eugene Robinson speaks volumes: “God Bless the Deep State.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he served under nine CIA directors and seven Presidents. He is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

August 16, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , | 5 Comments

‘US Creating Huge Amount of Antagonism Toward Itself in Iran’

Sputnik – August 13, 2018

Last week the US reimposed its first round of sanctions on Iran with more economic sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil industry to follow in November. This comes after US President Donald Trump announced his decision in May to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement.

Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, from the University of Tehran, told Sputnik that the US will isolate itself on the international stage by introducing more anti-Iranian sanctions.

Sputnik: I’d like to begin by asking you about the effect these new sanctions are likely to have on Iran, on Iran’s economy?

Seyed Mohammad Marandi: They will have a substantial effect, especially in November. The sanctions that take effect today (last week) have a more limited impact and the psychological impact has already shown itself over the past two weeks. So I don’t think that today is a major event, but in general I think, though, that the United States is miscalculating because by trying to strangle the Iranian economy and by trying to make ordinary Iranians suffer: men, women, children, young, old, the United States is creating a huge amount of antagonism towards itself.

Contrary to what the Americans would like to think it has unified not only the political establishment but the population as a whole. There is, of course, dissatisfaction among people because of the economic situation, the fall of the Iranian rial but a lot of blame is being directed towards Trump.

I also think that at the international level the United States has isolated itself because the international community sees the United States weaponizing financial institutions and the dollar. This is the sort of new way the United States carries out warfare.

In the past, they would bomb countries, they’d destroy countries, they’d kill hundreds of thousands of people through airstrikes, and through invasion. Now they no longer have that capability because of the sheer amount of money that they have to spend and the damage that it causes to the US economy, so they’re using financial warfare, but financial warfare has its own problems, and that is that gradually countries begin to create defense mechanisms.

The more they’re used, the more countries are encouraged to move away from the US dollar and to use alternative methods of trade and financial transaction to become less vulnerable.

Sputnik: When the November sanctions hit, what do you see happening? What industries will be affected the most?

Seyed Mohammad Marandi: Well it depends, I think that in some respect some industries will benefit because one of the mistakes that the Iranian administration, the current administration made, and it’s not just their mistake, previous administrations have done the same, (is to depend on oil revenues).

Because of Iran’s addiction, the addiction of all oil-producing countries to oil and oil wealth, they regularly use oil money to boost up the local currency, and the Iranian currency has always been boosted or supported by this oil wealth. So while people’s wages increase and liquidity rises, the rate between the Iranian currency and the dollar stays about the same, and this gradually creates a bigger and bigger bubble. Not only does it create a bubble, it also makes local production very difficult.

Many factories over the past few years, because of this bubble in Iran, have been shut down or they’re facing major problems. Iranian goods have been becoming more expensive than imported goods, so the fall of the rial to a more realistic rate does have its benefits, it hurts Iranians, obviously, and it creates inflation but it has made Iranian products more competitive, much more competitive. So if the government manages the situation, there could be a rise in employment and the local industries could benefit enormously from it.

The industries that will be hit are those that are linked to foreign investment, especially, from Europe and South Korea, and Japan, but their investments really haven’t been all that great, because ever since the JCPOA was signed, the United States never really implemented it. So the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, wasn’t even implemented under Obama.

So, for example, in the last three years, if I wanted to send you a single dollar to your bank account or you wanted to send me a single dollar, you couldn’t, even though Iran was supposed to be re-integrated into the global banking system. Obama prevented this from happening. So the JCPOA was never implemented in full and therefore it was very difficult for foreign investors to come in, and the United States behind the scenes was also putting pressure on foreign companies not to do trade or business, or to carry out investment in the country. So there wasn’t a great deal of investment in the first place, but this is one sector that will be hit.The second, of course, is the oil industry, where the United States will attempt to prevent Iran from exporting oil. I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but the Iranians are trying to devise mechanisms where they will continue to be able to export oil, and that is by selling oil to private companies.

As oil goes through these companies it would be more difficult for the United States to monitor where it goes and also the Iranians will be using, I think, the yuan more extensively, so they will not be reliant on the US dollar, and probably to a degree they’ll be trying to be less reliant on the euro as well, because to the Europeans it’s not clear how capable they are in standing up to the United States.

I think the Iranians will, probably, be trying to keep their oil production as high as possible, or they will probably will be able, to a large degree, to keep exporting oil at a relatively significant high amount, perhaps, closer to the current levels, but they’ll probably have to give discounts to those private companies who want to take the oil.

For more information listen to this edition of Weekend Special with Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi:

READ MORE:

China’s Energy Giant CNPC Takes Over Total’s Share in Iran Gas Project — Reports

August 13, 2018 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Building a Russian Bogeyman

Washington Intentionally ‘Overcharged’ Relations with Moscow for Strategic Advantage

By Robert BRIDGE | Strategic Culture Foundation | 30.07.2018

Last week, we considered how the Bush and Obama administrations worked in tandem – wittingly or unwittingly, but I’m betting on the former – to move forward with the construction of a US missile defense system smack on Russia’s border following the attacks of 9/11 and Bush’s decision to scrap the ABM Treaty with Moscow.

That aggressive move will go down in the (non-American) history books as the primary reason for the return of Cold War-era atmosphere between Washington and Moscow. Currently, with the mainstream news cycle top-heavy with 24/7 ‘Russiagate’ baloney, many people have understandably forgotten that it was during the Obama administration when US-Russia relations really hit rock bottom. And it had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s home computer getting allegedly compromised by some Russia hackers.

The year is 2008; welcome to the international peace tour – although ‘farce tour’ would be much more accurate. Fatigued by 8 long years of Bush’s disastrous war on terror, with over 1 million dead, maimed or on the run, the world has just let out a collective sigh of relief as Barack Obama has been elected POTUS. Due to Obama’s velvety delivery, and the fact that he was not George W. Bush, he was able to provide the perfect smokescreen as far as Washington’s ulterior motives with regards to Russia were concerned; the devious double game America was playing required a snake-oil salesman of immeasurable skill and finesse.

Just months into his presidency, with ‘hope and change’ hanging in the air like so many helium balloons, Obama told a massive crowd in Prague that, “To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold (Applause!).”

It would take another 8 years for the world – or at least the awakened part – to come to grips with the fact that America’s ‘first Black president’ was just another smooth-talking, Wall Street-bought operator in sheep clothing. In the last year of the Obama reign, it has been conservatively estimated that some 26,000 bombs of various size and power were duly dropped against enemies in various nations. In other words, nearly three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

But more to the point, US-Russia relations on Obama’s watch experienced their deepest deterioration since the days of the US-Soviet standoff. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the 44th US president picked up almost seamlessly where Bush left off, and then some. Initially, however, it looked as though relations with Russia would improve as Obama announced he would “shelve” the Bush plan for ground-based interceptors in Poland and a related radar site in the Czech Republic. Then, the very same day, he performed a perfect flip-flop into the geopolitical pool, saying he would deploy a sea-based variety – which is every bit as lethal as the land version, as then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted – instead of a land-locked one.

Following that announcement, Obama appeared intent on lulling Moscow into a false sense of security that the system was somehow less dangerous than the Bush model, or that the Americans would eventually agree and cooperate with them in the system. In March 2009, a curious thing happened at the same time relations between the two global nuclear powers were hitting the wall. A meeting – more of a photo opportunity than any significant summit – took place between then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. To the delight of the phalanx of photographers present, Clinton, in a symbolic gesture of “resetting relations” with Russia, produced a yellow box with a red button and the Russian word “peregruzka” printed on it.

“You got it wrong,” Lavrov said to general laughter. “It should be “perezagruzka” [reset],” he corrected somewhat pedantically. “This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.’”

Clinton gave a very interesting response, especially in light of where we are today in terms of the bilateral breakdown: “We won’t let you do that to us, I promise. We mean it and we look forward to it.”

As events would prove, the US State Department’s ‘mistaken’ use of the Russian word for ‘overcharged’ instead of ‘reset’ was far closer to the truth. After all, can anybody remember a time in recent history, aside from perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis, when US-Russia relations were more “overcharged” than now? In hindsight, the much-hyped ‘reset’ was an elaborate ploy by the Obama administration to buy as much time as possible to get a strategic head start on the Russians.

It deserves mentioning that the fate of the New START Treaty (signed into force on April 8, 2010), the nuclear missile reduction treaty signed between Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, hung in the balance on mutual cooperation between the nuclear powers. Nevertheless, it became clear the Obama sweet talk was just a lot of candy-coated nothing.

What is truly audacious about the Obama administration’s moves is that it somehow believed Moscow would radically reduce its ballistic missile launch capabilities, as prescribed in the New START treaty, at the very same time the United States was building a mighty sword along the entire length of its Western border.

The Obama administration clearly underestimated Moscow, or overestimated Obama’s charm powers.

By the year 2011, after several years of failed negotiations to bring Russia onboard the system, Moscow’s patience was clearly over. During the G-8 Summit in France, Medvedev expressed frustration with the lack of progress on the missile defense system with the US.

“When we ask for the name of the countries that the shield is aimed at, we get silence,” he said. “When we ask if the country has missiles (that could target Europe), the answer is ‘no.’”

“Now who has those types of missiles (that the missile defense system could counter)?”

“We do,” Medvedev explained. “So we can only think that this system is being aimed against us.”

In fact, judging by the tremendous strides Russia has made in the realm of military technologies over a very short period, it is apparent the Kremlin understood from the outset that the ‘reset’ was an elaborate fraud, designed to cover the administration’s push to Russian border.

As I wrote last week on these pages: “In March, Putin stunned the world, and certainly Washington’s hawks, by announcing in the annual Address to the Federal Assembly the introduction of advanced weapons systems – including those with hypersonic capabilities – designed to overcome any missile defense system in the world.

These major developments by Russia, which Putin emphasized was accomplished “without the benefit” of Soviet-era expertise, has fueled the narrative that “Putin’s Russia” is an aggressive nation with “imperial ambitions,” when in reality its goal was to form a bilateral pact with the United States and other Western states almost two decades ago post 9/11.

As far as ‘Russiagate’, the endless probe into the Trump administration for its alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, not a shred of incriminating evidence has ever been provided that would prove such a thing occurred. And when Putin offered to cooperate with Washington in determining exactly what happened, the offer was rebuffed.

In light of such a scenario, it is my opinion that the Democrats, fully aware – despite what the skewed media polls erringly told them – that Hillary Clinton stood no chance of beating the Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential contest, set about crafting the narrative of ‘Russian collusion’ in order to not only delegitimize Trump’s presidency, possibly depriving him of a second term in 2020, but to begin the process of severely curtailing the work of ‘alternative media,’ which are in fact greatly responsible for not only Trump’s victory at the polls, but for exposing the dirt on Clinton’s corrupt campaign.

These alternative media sites have been duly linked to Russia in one way or another as a means of silencing them. Thus, it is not only Russia that has been victimized by the lunacy of Russiagate; every single person who stands for the freedom of speech has suffered a major setback one way or another.

Part I of this story is available here.

July 30, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Western Collapse… Scapegoating Trump & Putin

By Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation | 29.07.2018

Former US President Barack Obama was in South Africa last week for the centennial anniversary marking the birth of the late Nelson Mandela. Obama delivered a speech warning about encroaching authoritarianism among nations and the “rise of strongman politics”.

Coming on the heels of the summit in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, media reports assumed that Obama was taking a swipe at these two leaders for supposed growing authoritarianism.

Obama’s casting of the “strongman” as a foreboding enemy to democracy is a variant of the supposed threat of “populism” that Western political establishments also seem concerned about.

Trump, Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, Italy’s Salvini, Victor Orban in Hungary and Sebastian Kurz in Austria, among many others, are all lumped together as “strongman politics”, “populists” or “authoritarians”.

Here we are not trying to defend the above-mentioned political leaders or to make out that they are all virtuous democrats.

The point rather is to debunk the false narrative that there is some kind of dichotomy in modern politics between those who, on one hand, are supposedly virtuous, liberal, democratic, multilateralists, and on the other hand, the supposedly sinister “strongman”, “authoritarian”, or “populist”.

In Obama’s pompous depiction of world political trends, people like him are supposedly the epitome of a civilized, democratic legacy that is now under threat from Neo-fascists who are darkly rising to destroy an otherwise happy world order. That world order, it is presumed, was up to now guided by the magnificence of American political leadership. In short, the “Pax Americana” that prevailed for nearly seven decades following the Second World War.

Following the Helsinki summit, the Western media went full-tilt in hysterics and hyperbole. Trump was assailed for “embracing a dictator” while repudiating Western democratic allies.

In a Washington Post article, the headline screamed: “Is Trump at war with the West?” It was accompanied by a photograph of Trump and Putin, bearing the caption: “The New Front”.

Meanwhile, a New York Times piece editorialized: “His [Trump’s] embrace of Putin is a victory dance on the Euro-American tomb.”

Another NY Times op-ed writer declared: “Trump and Putin vs. America”.

The Western establishment political and media commentary promulgates the notion that the US-led Western order is breaking down because of “populist”, “strongman” Trump. In this alleged assault on the pillars of democracy and rule of law, Trump is being aided and abetted by supposedly nasty, like-minded authoritarians like Russian leader Vladimir Putin, or other nationalistic European politicians.

The premise of this establishment narrative is that all was seemingly salubrious and convivial in the US-led order until the arrival of various renegade-type politicians, like Trump and Putin.

That premise is an absolute conceit and deception. If we look at Obama’s presidency alone, one can see how the supposed guardians of democracy and international order were the very ones who have actually done the most to decimate that order.

Obama, you will recall, was the US president who notched up seven simultaneous overseas wars conducted by American military, arguably without a shred of international legal mandate. Under international law, Obama and other senior officials in his administration should face prosecution for war crimes. He also greatly expanded the executive use of assassination with aerial drones, reckoned to have killed thousands of innocent civilians in several countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia, merely on the suspicion of being terrorists.

It was Obama who ramped up the covert war policy of his predecessor GW Bush in Syria, arming and directing terrorist proxies in a failed bid to overthrow the elected government of President Assad. That US-backed covert war in Syria, along with Obama’s overt regime-change war in Libya, largely contributed to the refugee crisis that has destabilized the politics of the European Union.

So here we have the supremely bitter irony. Obama now lectures audiences with his pseudo-gravitas about the specter of strongman politics and xenophobic populism, when in fact it was politicians like Obama who created much of the refugee problems that have given rise to anti-immigrant politics in Europe.

It really is a conceited delusion among US and European establishment politicians, pundits and media that somehow a once virtuous, law-abiding US-led Western order is being eroded by rabble rousers like Trump, Salvini, Orban and so on, all being orchestrated by a “strongman dictator” in the Kremlin.

For the record, Putin, the supposed “strongman” in the Kremlin, warned more than a decade ago in a seminal Munich speech that the international order was being eroded by rampant American unilateralism and disregard for law in its pursuit of illegal wars for US hegemony. That was at the height of US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which killed more than one million civilians and forced millions more into infernal destitution.

In truth, the Pax Americana that is presumed to have prevailed over the past 70 years was never about order, peace or justice in the world. The notion that the US guided the world with its “moral authority” and maintained stability throughout is one of the most fatuous delusions of modern history.

From the atomic holocaust in Japan and during subsequent decades, the US has waged wars non-stop in almost every year, whether from covert operations in Latin America and Africa, to full-on genocidal wars in Indochina. The past quarter-century has seen an acceleration and expansion of these US wars, sometimes with the assistance of its military axis in NATO, largely because Washington viewed that its license to kill for mass murder was unchecked after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is the real dynamic underlying why the Western order is now seen to be collapsing. The US and its minions among European allies have destroyed any foundations of international order from their unabated wars and campaigns of mass murder. Their corporate-capitalist plunder has eviscerated the planet.

The chaos from these wars, including economic impacts of gargantuan costs to Western populations, has created social conditions which engender politics of protest, anti-establishment, anti-austerity, anti-war, anti-immigration, and so on.

If the supposed order is shaking for the establishment political class and its flunkies like Barack Obama it is because of their own criminal depredations – depredations which have been going on for decades under the guise of Pax Americana.

The writers at Monthly Review had it so presciently right years ago, when they analyzed the actual Western order as “Pox Americana” – a diseased affliction.

This is the historical context which accounts for why US and European establishments are decrying “strongmen” and “populists”. They are essentially scapegoating others for the historic failure of institutionalized Western criminality led primarily by “democratic” regimes in Washington.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands out as the one international leader who put a brake on the US-led criminal assault on global peace. Putin’s stand first emerged with his landmark speech in Munich in 2007, and then came into clear expression when he helped put an end to the US-led covert criminal war on Syria.

That is why Putin is so vilified and demonized by the Western establishment. The poachers have been stopped from raiding the globe, and in their exasperation, they have whipped up all sorts of disparaging epithets like “strongman” and “authoritarian”.

No one has practiced more fascist-style criminality and brutality towards law and peace than the polite-sounding pseudo-democrats who have been in office for the past 70 years in the US and Europe.

The Western political establishment and its elite-driven capitalism is rotten to the core. Always has been. Its own erosion and oozing corruption is the source of the putrid smell that it now wishes to waft away by scapegoating others.

July 29, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, War Crimes | , , | 3 Comments

The Myth of US ‘Inaction’ in Syria

By William Van Wagenen – The Libertarian Institute – July 8, 2018

Introduction

When the Russian military intervened in the Syrian war in October 2015, many in the Western press complained bitterly, demanding that US planners intervene directly in Syria on behalf of the anti-government rebels in response. Reuters alleged that “The Middle East is angry and bewildered by US inaction in Syria,” arguing that “The question on everyone’s mind is: will the United States and its European and regional Sunni allies intervene to stop President Vladimir Putin from reversing the gains made by mainstream Syrian rebels after more than four years of war? Few are holding their breath.” The Washington Post similarly argued that Russian president Vladimir Putin was “exploiting America’s inaction,” while the Guardian lamented the “western inability to care enough about the plight of Syrians.” As Russian and Syrian forces battled rebels one year later in Aleppo, more dramatic accusations of US inaction emerged, with Foreign Policy describing US policy in Syria under Obama as “inaction in the face of genocide.”

The idea that the United States has not intervened in Syria and is guilty of “inaction,” is a myth however. The United States and its Western and Gulf Allies have intervened in the Syrian conflict from early on. US planners have been fighting what the New York Times described as a “$1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria” while providing weapons to rebels through a program considered “one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A.” Starting in the fall of 2012, the US and its Gulf partners, under the direction of then CIA director David Petraeus, were openly sending “a cataract of weaponry” into Syria. It is likely that such shipments began much earlier without public acknowledgment, via the “rat line” from Libya, as reported by journalist Seymour Hersh. US Special Envoy to Syria Michael Ratner, in a meeting with members of the Syrian opposition, explained that “The armed groups in Syria get a lot of support, not just from the United States but from other partners,” while Secretary of State John Kerry added in the same meeting, “I think we’ve been putting an extraordinary amount of arms in,” and “Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, a huge amount of weapons [are] coming in. A huge amount of money.”

Also a myth is the idea that any US intervention in Syria would seek to protect civilians. While allegations that Syrian and Russian forces were committing genocide in Aleppo proved baseless, US planners have themselves supported rebels intent on committing genocide and sectarian mass murder. This was clearly evident in the Syrian city of Latakia, which by the time of the Russian intervention in October 2015 was on the verge of falling to a coalition of Syrian rebel groups including al-Qaeda (known in Syria as the Nusra Front) and the US-armed and funded Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Robert Worth of the New York Times writes that “In Latakia, some people told me that their city might have been destroyed if not for the Russians. The city has long been one of Syria’s safe zones, well defended by the army and its militias; there are tent cities full of people who have fled other parts of the country, including thousands from Aleppo. But in the summer of 2015, the rebels were closing in on the Latakia city limits, and mortars were falling downtown. If the rebels had captured the area — where Alawites are the majority — a result would almost certainly have been sectarian mass murder. Many people in the region would have blamed the United States, which armed some of the rebels operating in the area. . . Andrew Exum, who worked in the Pentagon at the time, told me that the military drew up contingency plans for a rapid collapse of the regime. The planning sessions were talked about as ‘catastrophic success [emphasis mine].’”

Alawite civilians in Latakia faced the prospect of being massacred if rebels had been able to capture the city, due to the virulently anti-Alawite views of Nusra Front members. Nusra religious clerics draw on the writings of the fringe 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya to argue that Alawites are “infidels” deserving of death. Syria analyst Sam Heller described Nusra clerics as promoting “toxic — even genocidal — sectarianism.” Rebels from the FSA, which have fought alongside and “in the ranks” of the Nusra Front throughout the conflict, also posed a threat to Alawite civilians in Latakia. While typically considered moderate in the Western press, many FSA battalions have been armed and funded by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Thanks to the influence of Brotherhood ideologue Said Hawwa, the Syrian Brotherhood strongly promoted the anti-Alawite sectarian views of Ibn Taymiyya from the 1960’s until the 1980’s. This anti-Alawite sectarianism re-emerged in segments of the Syrian opposition, including in elements of the FSA, when peaceful protests and armed insurrection against the Syrian government simultaneously erupted in Syria in the spring of 2011.

While the Syrian and Russian militaries managed to protect Latakia and prevent a massacre of the city’s Alawite civilians, the broader effort to prevent the fall of the country to al-Qaeda and its FSA allies exacted a huge toll on Syria’s Alawites. The Telegraph noted that already by April 2015, “The scale of the sect’s losses is staggering” and that of some 250,000 Alawite men of fighting age “as many as one third are dead” and that “Alawite villages nestled in the hills of their ancestral Latakia province are all but devoid of young men. The women dress only in mourning black.”

While arming rebels threatening the massacre of Alawite civilians in Latakia, US planners were at the same time welcoming the potential massacre of Syrian civilians in Damascus. The Syrian capital was on the verge of falling to the Islamic State (ISIS) in the summer of 2015 after ISIS, with the help of Nusra, captured all of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the southern Damascus suburbs. The New York Times acknowledged the ISIS threat to Damascus at this time, observing that “By seizing much of the camp” ISIS had “made its greatest inroads yet into Damascus,” while the Washington Post noted that “Their new push puts [ISIS] within five miles of the heart of the capital . . . even as they are on the retreat in Iraq.”

In a private meeting with members of the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that US planners had actually welcomed the ISIS advance on Damascus, in an effort to use it as leverage to force Assad to give up power. Kerry explained that, “the reason Russia came in is because ISIL [ISIS] was getting stronger. Daesh [ISIS] was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus. And that is why Russia came in. They didn’t want a Daesh [ISIS] government and they supported Assad. And we know this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh [ISIS]was growing in strength. And we thought Assad was threatened. We thought we could manage that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got Putin to support him [emphasis mine].”

Because the US was bombing ISIS in defense of its Kurdish allies in Northeastern Syria and its Iraqi government allies in Northwestern Iraq, the fact that US planners at the same time welcomed the ISIS push on Damascus against the Syrian government was largely obscured.

Had Damascus fallen to ISIS, it is clear that many civilians in the city, including Christians, Alawites, Shiites, members of the LGBTQ community, and pro-government Sunnis, would have been killed. While commenting on the Russian intervention, Michael Kofman of the Wilson Center acknowledged that “Assad may be irredeemable in the eyes of the United States, but it is equally clear that a high human price would be paid when the Islamic State [ISIS] or al-Nusra seizes the major population centers in Syria that he still controls.”

It is also clear that US planners were deliberately supporting al-Qaeda (Nusra), despite its genocidal intentions towards Syria’s Alawites, by flooding Syria with weapons. Because FSA brigades that received funding and weapons from the US and its Gulf Allies were fighting side by side with militants from Nusra throughout the country, in practice much of the money and weapons sent to the FSA ultimately benefited al-Qaeda.

For example, US-made TOW anti-tank missiles sent by US planners to FSA groups in Idlib played a crucial role in helping Nusra conquer the entire province in the spring of 2015. Syria analyst Hassan Hassan observed in Foreign Policy during this period that “The Syrian rebels are on a roll” and that “The recent offensives in Idlib have been strikingly swift — thanks in large part to suicide bombers and American anti-tank TOW missiles,” which the FSA and Nusra deployed in tandem. Syria analyst Charles Lister, also writing in Foreign Policy, described how US planners explicitly encouraged the FSA groups they were arming to fight alongside Nusra in Idlib. Rebel victories in Idlib, in particular the town of Jisr al-Shughour, allowed Nusra and the FSA to then threaten the massacre of Alawites in Latakia.

When Russia intervened militarily in Syria in October 2015, US planners responded by immediately increasing shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles to FSA groups, some of which then helped Nusra capture the strategic town of Murek in central Syria one month later in November 2015.

This prompted Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) to observe that “it is impossible to argue that U.S. officials involved in the CIA’s program cannot discern that Nusra and other extremists have benefited” from CIA weapons shipments to Syrian rebels, “And despite this, the CIA decided to drastically increase lethal support to vetted rebel factions following the Russian intervention into Syria in late September.”

Nusra did not only benefit from fighting alongside FSA rebels armed with US-supplied weapons, but acquired many of these weapons themselves. That Nusra regularly purchased weapons from the Western-backed military councils supplying the FSA was confirmed in October 2014, when the New York Times reported that Shafi al-Ajmi, a Nusra fundraiser, told a Saudi news channel that “When the military councils sell the weapons they receive, guess who buys them? It’s me.”

That al-Qaeda was purchasing US supplied weapons seemed of little concern to US planners. When journalist Sharmine Narwani asked why US-supplied weapons allegedly meant for FSA groups were showing up in Nusra hands, CENTCOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Kyle Raines responded: “We don’t ‘command and control’ these forces—we only ‘train and enable’ them. Who they say they’re allying with, that’s their business.”

Obama administration officials themselves acknowledged tacit US support for al-Qaeda, admitting in November 2016 to the Washington Post that they had struck “a deal with the devil,” years before, “whereby the United States largely held its fire against al-Nusra because the group was popular with Syrians in rebel-controlled areas and furthered the U.S. goal of putting military pressure on Assad,” thereby confirming long standing Russian accusations that the US had been “sheltering al-Nusra.”

More recently, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor under the Obama administration, acknowledged providing military support to Syrian rebels, even though it was clear that Nusra comprised a good portion of the Syrian opposition as a whole. Rhodes explained that “there was a slight absurdity in the fact that we were debating options to provide military support to the opposition at the same time that we were deciding to designate al-Nusra, a big chunk of that opposition, as a terrorist organization.”

Despite designating Nusra as a terror group already in 2012, US planners nevertheless provided weapons to the Syrian rebels, of which Nusra comprised a “big chunk,” for the next 7 years. As Sharmine Narwani observes, “U.S. arms have been seen in Nusra’s possession for many years now, including highly valued TOW missiles, which were game-changing weapons in the Syrian military theater. When American weapons end up in al-Qaeda hands during the first or second year of a conflict, one assumes simple errors in judgment. When the problem persists after seven years, however, it starts to look like there’s a policy in place to look the other way.”

US planners welcomed rebel gains in Syria, including by rebel groups advocating genocide against Syria’s Alawite population, such as ISIS and Nusra, because these gains bolstered the broader US goal of toppling the Syrian government, in an effort to weaken its close allies, Iran and Hezbollah. US planners wished to see rebel gains in Syria, in spite of the obviously catastrophic consequences for Syrian civilians, including for Syria’s Sunnis, which rebel success would bring. US support for the rebels belies the myth of US “inaction” in Syria, and the myth that any US intervention would be for the sake of preventing massacres and even genocide, rather than in support of it.

In the remainder of this essay, I will review the US support for rebel advances in the spring and summer of 2015 in Idlib, Latakia, Palmyra, Yarmouk, and Homs. I will describe how these rebel advances nearly led to the massacre of Syrian civilians in two of the country’s main population centers, Latakia and Damascus, if not for the Russian intervention which halted the rebel advance.

Idlib

In March of 2015, rebels from the Jaish al-Fatah coalition, which included Nusra and the jihadist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, launched a coordinated assault along with brigades from the FSA on Idlib province, leading to the capture of the province as a whole from Syrian government forces two months later.

Rebels captured Idlib city itself on March 29. Al-Jazeera quoted the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) as declaring “Al-Nusra Front and its allies have captured all of Idlib,” in a battle that led to some 130 deaths. Al-Jazeera also quoted representatives of the Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) as declaring the capture of Idlib city as “an important victory on the road to the full liberation of Syrian soil from the Assad regime and its allies,” showing the close relationship between the US-supported Syrian political opposition in exile and al-Qaeda affiliated militants on the ground in Syria. Rebels captured the last major Syrian army base in the province on March 19 near the town of Mastouma. Rebel control of Idlib was completed with the ouster of the Syrian army from the town of Ariha at the end of May, causing government forces to retreat to bases on the coast in Latakia.

The rebel offensive in Idlib succeeded largely due to the lethal combination of Nusra suicide bombers and US-provided TOW anti-tank missiles. FSA commander Fares Bayoush from the Fursan al-Haq brigade explained to the LA Times “that his group’s TOW missiles played an important role in repelling government tanks during a March offensive in Idlib province spearheaded by an Islamist coalition called the Army of Conquest, which includes Al Nusra Front.” It was during this period that Syria analyst Hassan Hassan observed in Foreign Policy that, “The Syrian rebels are on a roll,” and that “the recent offensives in Idlib have been strikingly swift — thanks in large part to suicide bombers and American anti-tank TOW missiles,” as well as that,“For the first time since the conflict began, Assad’s heartlands in the Western region [Latakia] seemed exposed.”

The close cooperation between FSA brigades and rebels from the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front in Idlib was encouraged by US planners. Syria analyst Charles Lister, also writing in Foreign Policy, observed that “The involvement of FSA groups, in fact, reveals how the factions’ backers have changed their tune regarding coordination with Islamists. Several commanders involved in leading recent Idlib operations confirmed to this author that the U.S.-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups, was instrumental in facilitating their involvement in the operation from early April onwards. That operations room — along with another in Jordan, which covers Syria’s south — also appears to have dramatically increased its level of assistance and provision of intelligence to vetted groups in recent weeks [emphasis mine].”

Lister, who has testified several times before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee to make policy proscriptions for US planners in Syria, argued at that time that US cooperation with al-Qaeda (Nusra) is the best option: “[T]here still remains no better alternative to cooperating with al Qaeda, and thus facilitating its prominence. If the West wants a better solution, it must broaden and intensify its engagement with Syria’s insurgent groups and considerably expand its provision of assistance to a wider set of acceptable groups” echoing a popular view among Western and Gulf think tank analysts that al-Qaeda was worthy of US support.

Predictably, US efforts to help al-Qaeda conquer Idlib had grim consequences for many of its residents, large numbers of whom fled after rebels took control of the city and province. The Guardian reported that while under Syrian government control, Idlib city, with a population of some 165,000 before the war, “had been swollen by hundreds of thousands of displaced people, who had fled there to escape fighting elsewhere.” In contrast, when the rebels came, many civilians fled. The New York Times reported that although “some Idlib residents celebrated Saturday, cheering as fighters ripped down posters of Mr. Assad or embracing insurgent relatives who returned to the city for the first time in years, others streamed out of the city, with convoys of loaded cars and trucks blocking roads.” Citing the United Nations, the NYT reported that already by April 1, just two days after the rebel arrival, at least 30,000 residents had fled the city. One Idlib resident who fled when the rebels arrived explained that “The rebels that attacked Idlib at the end of March 2015 came from all sorts of countries. I even saw children carrying weapons. The rebels had a list of names of people who were to be killed, in the majority of cases because they held pro government views. One of my friends, a teacher, was on the list and was shot. . . . I left Idlib with my cousin who had a car. Afterwards, my house was occupied and looted by the rebels. I had planned to sell my house to enable my daughter to study medicine. Now it’s too late. I also worry about our old Christian neighbors. I am a Muslim but the religion of these rebels is not my Islam. I detest Salafism, and do not want to live under it.”

On April 25, rebels from the Jaish al-Fatah coalition, which included the jihadist rebel groups Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa, captured the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, which lies on the highway connecting Latakia to Aleppo. The rebel capture of the town came one month after the capture of Idlib city. The Guardian quoted one senior opposition member who had supplied weapons to the rebels taking Jisr al-Shughour as noting, “I would put the advances down to one word . . .Tow,” referring to missiles made in the US and purchased by Saudi Arabia for supply to the rebels. The opposition member noted as well that “Saudi is not as concerned as it was by who among the rebel groups is winning, as long as it’s not [Isis]. They’ve convinced everyone involved in Syria that the real enemy is Iran,” suggesting Saudi comfort in militarily supplying jihadist rebels from al-Qaeda. Rebel media posted video of civilians fleeing Jisr al-Shughour after its capture, claiming they wished to escape in anticipation of a pending regime bombardment now that the city had fallen. The Guardian also quoted one resident as noting that FSA groups participated alongside the Nusra-led Jaish al-Fatah coalition in taking the city, in accordance with the familiar pattern: “There were people from the normal opposition there. They were strong too, but the jihadists were stronger.”

Though the city fell on April 25, hundreds of Syrian army soldiers and some women and children fled to the National Hospital complex, which remained under siege by rebels for the next month. The soldiers managed to repel multiple suicide car bombs, targeting them with rocket propelled grenades. Rebels then began preparing to detonate a large tunnel bomb below the hospital to destroy it and kill the soldiers inside. The soldiers then attempted to flee the hospital under air cover from the Syrian air force. Of this incident, the Telegraph reports, “Syrian rebel leaders have described massacres of hundreds of Assad troops and fighters in grim detail as the regime’s defenses begin to crumble in the face of revived attacks on several fronts. President Bashar al-Assad had promised to rescue hundreds of his men who were surrounded in a last stand at a hospital in the key north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour. Eventually, the men tried to run for it under the cover of a regime aerial attack, pre-empting a final assault by rebels including Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and other Islamist groups. Instead, many of the soldiers were shot down as they were cornered in orchards on the edge of town, a rebel spokesman said.” Rebels claimed to have killed 208 Syrian soldiers, including several high ranking officers, while pro-government sources claimed up to 80 soldiers managed to escape. One soldier who managed to escape alive described the ordeal to Chinese state media, adding that a number of civilians escaped with the soldiers.

Jisr al-Shughour fell four years after rebels initially attempted to take the city in June 2011, just three months after the beginning of anti-government protests. Several hundred rebels attacked the local police station with dynamite, killing a number of soldiers inside, and then ambushed and killed as many as 120 Syrian army soldiers sent as reinforcements. This event was known as the “massacre” of Jisr al-Shughour. The killings were widely attributed to the Syrian army itself at the time, as activists implausibly blamed the Syrian army for the killing of its own soldiers. The story of government responsibility for the killings was widely believed, and reported as such in the Western press, as the rebel attacks took place at a time before armed rebel activity in Syria was widely acknowledged. This was despite correct reporting on the killings at the time by Syria expert and University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis. Rebel responsibility for the killings was later confirmed by journalist Rania Abouzeid, who was able to return to Jisr al-Shughour years later and interview witnesses who confirmed rebels had killed the soldiers, as recounted in her book, “No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria (pages 55-60).”

Latakia

The defeat of government forces in Idlib, in particular in Jisr al-Shughour, allowed rebels to then push on toward Latakia province on the Western coast of Syria, and to threaten the massacre of the large Alawite population there, as discussed above. A representative from the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham explained to Reuters that “Jisr al-Shughour is more important than Idlib itself, it is very close to the coastal area which is a regime area [Latakia], the coast now is within our fire reach.”

Alawites, which comprised some 50% of the population in Latakia, faced the prospect of being massacred if rebels from Nusra had been able to capture the city, due to the virulently anti-Alawite views of Nusra members, who draw on the writings of the fringe 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya in order to deem Alawites “infidels” deserving of death.

Syrian analyst Sam Heller cites the views of the supreme Nusra religious official Sami al-Oreidi to show that Nusra promotes “toxic — even genocidal – sectarianism” against Syria’s Alawite population. Heller writes that “[T]he verdict on Syria’s Alawites, Oreidi makes clear, is death. Oreidi cites medieval Islamic jurist Imam al-Ghazali, who wrote, ‘Proceed with [the Alawites] as you would with apostates…. The land must be purged of them.’ He also quotes Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, himself Syrian and among the formative influences on modern Salafism: This people called the ‘Nuseiriyyah [Alawites] . . . are more infidels than the Jews and the Nasara [Christians]; more infidels, in fact, than many polytheists. Their harm to the nation of Muhammad, peace be upon him, is greater than the infidels waging war on it.’”

But it was not only jihadist fighters from the Nusra Front that held strongly sectarian, anti-Alawite views, but also many fighters from the FSA as well, due to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) roots of many FSA battalions. Thanks to the influence of Brotherhood ideologue Said Hawwa, the Syrian MB promoted the anti-Alawite sectarian views of Ibn Taymiyya from the 1960’s until the 1980’s.

Islam scholar Itzchak Weismann of the University of Haifa writes that “In defining his attitude toward the ‘Alawis, Hawwa alludes to a fatwa of Ibn Taymiya, which although it concerns a particular Ismal’ili sect can be applied, in his opinion, to any analogous sect in the Muslim world. According to this fatwa jihad against this sect precedes jihad against polytheists (musbrikun) or against ahl al-kitab, as it belongs to the category of jihad against murtaddun [apostates]. Thus, in Hawwa’s view, Syria is a unique case of a Muslim state that is ruled by a heretical batini government, and in such a case he sees no escape from a violent confrontation. The Sunni majority, led by the Islamic movement, must wage an uncompromising war against Assad’s regime and against ‘Alawi dominance in Syria.”

This view helped inspire some Brotherhood members, such as Marwan Hadid, to split from the broader Syrian MB organization and initiate an armed insurrection against the Syrian government in Hama in 1964. Upon Hadid’s death in government custody in 1976, his followers, known as the Fighting Vanguard, initiated an assassination campaign targeting Alawite members of the Syrian government bureaucracy and security forces. As part of this campaign, Fighting Vanguard militants massacred 83 Alawite army cadets in Aleppo in June 1979, while attempting to assassinate President Hafez al-Assad himself in June 1980. In response, Assad ordered the massacre of some 500 MB members then being held in Tadmur prison. The Syrian MB joined the Fighting Vanguard in launching an armed insurrection (which they called a jihad) against the Syrian government in Hama in 1982. Islamist militants attacked police stations, Ba’ath party offices and Syrian army units, forcing the army to withdraw from the city. The army regrouped however, and (in)famously suppressed the insurrection, with the use of considerable violence, leaving thousands dead and much of the city in ruins (for a review of this period, see “Ashes of Hama” by Rafael Lefevre and “The Struggle for Power in Syria” by Nikolaos van Dam).

While the Syrian MB has espoused more moderate positions after the group was defeated in Hama, anti-Alawite sectarianism which colored its conflict with the Syrian government in the 1980’s re-emerged in some segments of the Syrian opposition at the outset of anti-government protests in 2011, and was taken up by some FSA rebel groups.

In some anti-government protests in the spring of 2011, protestors chanted the slogan “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave,” while in June 2011, Syrian opposition cleric and FSA supporter Adnan Arour threatened to put Alawites supporting the government in “meat grinders” and “feed their flesh to the dogs.”

In the summer of 2011, Lebanese Sunnis from the city of Tripoli were entering Syria to fight for the FSA-affiliated Farouq Brigade in Homs, with encouragement from Lebanese cleric Masen al-Mohammed, who insisted that “Assad is an infidel,” because he is a member of the Alawite faith and that “It is the duty of every Muslim, every Arab to fight the infidels.”

FSA groups inquired of Islamic scholars in March 2012 whether it was allowed to raid Alawite villages and kill their women and children in response to alleged crimes committed by the Syrian army.

On April 10, 2011, just weeks after the first anti-government protests in Syria, anti-government activists loyal to local Salafi cleric and protest leader Anas Ayrout murdered an Alawite farmer in Banias named Nidal Janoud. Video emerged of the activists stabbing Nidal to death in the street. In July 2013, Ayrout, by then a rebel commander and member of the Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) told Reuters that “We have to drive them [Alawites] out of their homes like they drove us out. They have to feel pain like we feel pain,” and that “(Alawites) are relaxed while areas that have slipped out of regime control are always under shelling (by government forces), always in pain. . . If you do not create a balance of terror, the battle will not be decided.”

Similarly, in September 2013, Zahran Alloush, a Salafi preacher and founder of the Saudi-supported opposition rebel group Jaish al-Islam, called for “cleansing Damascus” of all Alawites, while calling Shiite Muslims, of which Alawites are considered an offshoot, “unclean” and threating to “destroy your skulls” and “make you taste the worst torture in life before Allah makes you taste the worst torture on judgment day.” Proof that Jaish al-Islam was welcomed by the mainstream and Western-backed political opposition became clear when Zahran’s cousin and co-founder of Jaish al-Islam, Mohammad Alloush, was appointed as the lead negotiator for the Syrian opposition at the Geneva peace negotiations in January 2016.

The anti-Alawite incitement promoted by opposition clerics such as Alloush, al-Mohammed, Arour, and Ayrout was at times translated into action. In December 2012, FSA battalions carried out a mass kidnapping of Alawite civilians in the town of Aqrab. Alex Thomsen of Channel 4 News reported that according to residents of the town who had escaped, “rebels wanted to take the women and children to al-Houla to use them as human shields against bombardment from government forces, and they believed they would kill the remaining men.”

In August 2013, one month after Ayrout’s threats against Alawites, fighters under the command of FSA head Salim Idriss participated alongside Nusra and ISIS in the massacre and kidnapping of Alawite civilians in 10 villages in Latakia, according to the BBC. Human Rights Watch (HRC) investigated the massacre further, and reported that on August 4, rebels overran a Syrian army position, killing some 30 Syrian soldiers. Rebels then massacred 190 civilians, including 57 women and 18 children and 14 elderly men. Rebels also kidnapped and held hostage some 200 additional civilians, the majority women and children. Many of the hostages were released 9 months later as part of a ceasefire deal to end fighting between the Syrian army and rebels in Homs, and victims were able to recount horrific details of their captivity to the pro-Syrian government Lebanese newspaper, al-Akhbar.

The massacre came as part of a rebel offensive, led by ISIS, to capture Tartous, a port town crucial for the Syrian army receiving weapons shipments by sea from its Iranian allies. The Telegraph reported that Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) denied that rebels were targeting civilians based on their religious identity, but that the SNC nevertheless “praised” the ISIS led-offensive “stating that the villages had been used as launching posts from which pro-government militias had shelled rebel held villages in the north of the province.” At the same time, the Telegraph reported that “Video footage posted showed rebel groups indiscriminately launching rockets in the direction of Qardaha, the Assad village, and many of the comments made in the footage were clearly sectarian.”

In November 2015, Jaish al-Islam placed Alawite prisoners, both kidnapped civilians and captured Syrian soldiers, in metal cages in public squares. The Telegraph cited SOHR reporting that “Jaish al-Islam is using these captives and kidnapped people – including whole families – as human shields,” allegedly in an effort to prevent Syrian government bombing.

Christians in Latakia also feared the rebels. In March 2014, the Armenian Christian village of Kassab in northern Latakia province was overrun by rebels crossing the Syrian border from Turkey. Saudi owned al-Arabia reports that “Kassab’s residents fled after rebels seized their village on March 23, as part of a rebel offensive in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia, Assad’s ancestral heartland.” One resident who fled when the rebels came told al-Jazeera that “There was no obvious reason to invade, no heavy Syrian military presence. . . But that morning, shelling was pouring down like hail.” Once the residents fled, rebels looted their homes and farm equipment. “They have taken the televisions, radios and microwaves to Kassab Square, and they’ve gathered all the tractors at the Kassab Tourist Resort,” a media representative for the Armenians in the town told al-Jazeera. The Washington Post reported that a “mother of three said that after she arrived in Latakia with her children, she called home, and a man who identified himself as a member of Jabhat al-Nusra answered” and told her “Come back, why did you leave your home? We have come here to protect you,” before also telling her “she should convert to Islam before returning.” The mother described how “I pleaded with him, ‘Eat and drink whatever you like, but please don’t destroy the house.’” American celebrity personality Kim Kardashian, herself Armenian, attempted to bring attention to the plight of Kassab’s residents and the danger they faced from al-Qaeda rebels. In response, the Daily Beast published an article making light of her concerns, suggesting Kardashian was simply an apologist for dictators.

Despite rebel attacks on various villages in Latakia province as described above, Latakia city and its some 400,000 residents had largely been spared the violence engulfing much of the country, with some 200,000 displaced persons finding refuge in Latakia, many of whom were housed in tents and pre-fabricated homes in the city’s sports stadium complex.

By the spring of 2015, however, rebels were encroaching closer and closer on Latakia city. In March 2015, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya reported that rebels had detonated a car bomb in Qardaha, President Assad’s hometown, located just 30 kilometers Latakia city, and that the Syrian army was conducting operations in an effort to “put to an end the frequent shelling of loyalist villages and towns on the coasts. Morale is reportedly cracking in the regime strongholds due to repeated artillery shelling.”

When Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province fell to the rebels in April 2015, pro-opposition Orient News reported that the coming rebel advance on Latakia would be considerably more difficult and complicated, not just for military reasons, but due to demographic ones as well, as Latakia is primarily populated by supporters of the government. Orient News also acknowledged that many towns and cities in Latakia taken by the rebels would be depopulated, explaining that the “entry of the opposition to these regions will cause a large wave of displaced persons, as occurred when the opposition took control of the villages of Ishtabrak and al-Rasmania and Ghania, which are villages surrounding Jisr al-Shughour and whose residents support the government,” noting as well that the capture of these towns by the opposition “led to residents of these towns fleeing to areas under government control in the Sahel [Latakia].”

In June 2015, one Latakia resident told Syria Deeply that, the “opposition’s proximity to Latakia is what everyone talks about these days. People expect that Latakia is next, after Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour. When the opposition took over Idlib, people in Latakia were disappointed, but when they took over Jisr al-Shughour, people were scared.” The resident noted that many young men from Latakia had already died fighting with the Syrian army against rebels elsewhere in Syria: “Many Latakians were killed fighting with the army and serving their country. More than 150 people from my neighborhood were killed in service. Their pictures are hung along the main street. All streets in Latakia are like this.” Despite the fear of a rebel takeover of Latakia, the resident suggested many were encouraged by the fact that prominent Syrian general Suhail al-Hassan, who had had considerable success in defeating rebels elsewhere, had been appointed to re-take Jisr al-Shughour. The resident concluded his comments by stating that “The army is our only hope that Syria would become peaceful again.”

While the threat of the massacre of Alawite civilians in Latakia city loomed in the summer of 2015, Syria’s Alawite community had already suffered terrible losses at the hands of the rebels elsewhere. In April 2015 the Telegraph had noted that “The scale of the sect’s losses is staggering: with a population of around two million, a tenth of Syria’s population, the Alawites boast perhaps 250,000 men of fighting age. Today as many as one third are dead, local residents and Western diplomats say. Many Alawite villages nestled in the hills of their ancestral Latakia province are all but devoid of young men. The women dress only in mourning black [emphasis mine].” The Telegraph quotes a Latakia resident as explaining that “Every day there at least 30 men returned from the front lines in coffins. In the beginning of the war their deaths were celebrated with big funerals. Now they are quietly dumped in the back of pick-up trucks,” which caused some Alawite mothers to “set up ‘road blocks’ at the entrances to some of the mountain villages to prevent the army from forcibly taking their sons to the military draft” and to tell military commanders to “Go and bring the sons of the big shots to war and after that we will give you our children.” Resentment due to the high casualties among Alawite army conscripts had begun years before. The Telegraph reported in October 2012 that “as families see their young soldiers coming home in body bags ‘everyday’ that support [for Bashar al-Assad] is cracking” in his hometown of Qardaha, where “The walls are covered in posters showing the faces of the young men that have been killed.”

On September 2, 2015 rebels detonated a car bomb outside a school in Latakia city, killing 12. In providing context for the bombing, the BBC noted that “Latakia has largely escaped the conflict that has devastated most of Syria and left 250,000 people dead. But a rebel alliance that includes al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, al-Nusra Front, has been advancing on the city and within its surrounding province after driving government forces out of much of neighboring Idlib province earlier this year.” The BBC chose not acknowledge the threat to civilians of the rebel advance, characterizing it instead as simply “the latest in a series of setbacks for the president.” Al-Jazeera cited SOHR as reporting this was “the biggest car bomb attack in Latakia since the war began” and that “This is rare for Latakia city, which is usually hit by rockets.” Al-Jazeera added that “Rebel fighters entrenched in the hilly terrain around Latakia regularly fire rockets and other missiles into the city.”

Robert Worth of the New York Times writes of this period that “the rebels were closing in on the Latakia city limits, and mortars were falling downtown. If the rebels had captured the area — where Alawites are the majority — a result would almost certainly have been sectarian mass murder. Many people in the region would have blamed the United States, which armed some of the rebels operating in the area. . . Andrew Exum, who worked in the Pentagon at the time, told me that the military drew up contingency plans for a rapid collapse of the regime. The planning sessions were talked about as ‘catastrophic success [emphasis mine].’”

The phrase “catastrophic success” is an odd one. Presumably, the rebel takeover of Latakia and possible collapse of the Syrian government would be catastrophic, given the large numbers of people that would have been massacred. Such an outcome would have nevertheless constituted a success, from the perspective of US planners, as the fall of the Syrian government was long a strategic US goal, due to the desire to weaken Syria’s close allies, Iran and Hezbollah.

For example, Flynt Leverett, the former Middle East specialist for the State Department, CIA and National Security Council during the Bush Administration described how, “The unrest in Syria started in March 2011. . . . and by April of 2011, just one month into this the Obama administration was backgrounding David Sanger from the New York Times and other sympathetic reporters that they were looking at the situation in Syria as a way of pushing back and undermining Iran. That if you could bring about regime change in [Syria] the argument was that this would really weaken Iran’s regional position and reignite the Green Movement and produce regime change in Iran. . . This has been very much the real strategic driver for American policy toward the situation.”

Central Syria (Homs and Hama)

In late March 2015, ISIS fighters moved south and west from their stronghold in Raqqa to initiate an offensive to take control of territory in central Syria, in Homs and Hama provinces. Both provinces are strategically important as the M5 highway, which connects Damascus to the major population centers in the north, in particular Aleppo, runs directly through both Homs and Hama and constitutes Syria’s economic and military lifeline. ISIS gains in Homs and Hama, in particular in the ancient city of Palmyra, also helped open the road toward Damascus.

On March 23, 2015 ISIS fighters assaulted the town of Sheikh Hilal, in an effort to control the larger Salamiya area in Hama. Reuters cited the SOHR as reporting that ISIS had killed 74 Syrian government soldiers during the assault, which according to Syrian government officials were either off-duty soldiers or members of the locally formed defense groups. ISIS released photos of five Syrian soldiers its militants had beheaded. On June 27, ISIS raided Sheikh Hilal once again. Al-Arabiya quotes SOHR as reporting that ISIS fighters killed “40 government loyalists, including soldiers and members of the National Defense Forces,’ a local pro-regime militia.” Sheikh Hilal was an important target for ISIS because according to SOHR, “If they seize control of this road, they’ll cut off the regime forces in Aleppo, since the government won’t be able to send reinforcements or supplies there.”

On March 30, 2015 ISIS fighters assaulted the town of Mabouja, 30 km west of Sheikh Hilal. Al-Jazeera cites the SOHR as reporting that “ISIL [ISIS] had killed entire families and that the dead included people who were burned alive. The population of Mabouja includes Alawites and Ismailis — sects deemed heretical by the radical brand of Sunni Islam espoused by ISIL [ISIS], said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory. But he said that Sunni residents were among the dead, too [emphasis mine].” Al-Jazeera also observed that, “ISIL [ISIS] fighters have mounted numerous attacks in government-held areas in the provinces of Hama and Homs in recent weeks, even as it has lost ground in the north and northeast under pressure from a Kurdish militia backed by U.S.-led airstrikes.” The New York Times reports that according to a journalist from the area near Mabouja, “48 bodies had been buried on Wednesday, and that residents were angry that the government had not sent ‘real army, tanks and heavy weapons’ to back up lightly armed pro-government militias” from the National Defense Forces (NDF) which had been tasked with protecting the town. According to pro-Syrian government al-Masdar News, fighters from the NDF were able to finally repel the ISIS assault with help from the “Syrian Arab Air Force’s (SAAF) Hind Helicopters,” while the “NDF was successful in retaking all lost territory in Al-Maba’ouji, while also killing over 40 enemy combatants from ISIS, including a number of foreigners from Tunisia, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bosnia,” while the NDF suffered 31 dead and 23 injured.

On May 20, 2015 ISIS conquered the city of Tadmur at the site of ancient Palmyra, famous for its Roman ruins, and which lies in Homs province on the road between Deir Ezzour and Damascus. CNN reported of the ISIS assault to take Palmyra that “After at least 100 Syrian soldiers died in fighting overnight, Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes Thursday in and around Palmyra.”

Shortly after capturing the city, ISIS released video of its fighters throwing two allegedly gay men from the top of a building, and then stoning them. CBS News cites an eyewitness as claiming that “ISIS militants blared on loudspeakers for men to gather. Then a black van pulled up outside the Wael Hotel, and Mallah and Salamah were brought out. The first to be thrown off was Mallah. He was tied to a chair so he couldn’t resist, then pushed over the side. He landed on his back, broken but still moving. A fighter shot him in the head. Next was Salameh. He landed on his head and died immediately. Still, fighters stoned his body, Omar said. The bodies were then hung up in Palmyra’s Freedom Square for two days, each with a placard on his chest: ‘He received the punishment for practicing the crime of Lot’s people.’” ISIS also released video of teenage boys carrying out the mass execution of 25 captured Syrian soldiers in the city’s ancient amphitheater. Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that ISIS executed as many as 200 people after taking the city. ISIS militants also murdered Khalid al-Asaad, the 83 year old retired director of antiquities for Palmyra. The New York Times reports that “After detaining him for weeks, the jihadists dragged him on Tuesday to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd, Mr. Asaad’s relatives said. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on, according to a photo distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters.”

CNN commented that despite these atrocities, “there’s no indication that Syrian ground forces will try to take back the city, 150 miles northeast of Damascus, the capital. Nor that any other countries such as the United States will come to the rescue. ‘The world does not care about us,’ the Palmyra resident said. ‘All they are interested in is the stones of ancient Palmyra.’”

US planners could have indeed bombed convoys of ISIS fighters moving across the open desert from Raqqa to assault Palmyra, but chose not to. The LA Times reported of this period that “as Islamic State [ISIS] closed in on Palmyra, the U.S.-led aerial coalition that has been pummeling Islamic State in Syria for the past 18 months took no action to prevent the extremists’ advance toward the historic town — which, until then, had remained in the hands of the sorely overstretched Syrian security forces. The U.S. approach in Palmyra contrasted dramatically with the very proactive U.S. bombardment of Kobani during 2014-15 on behalf of U.S.-allied Kurdish militias fending off a furious Islamic State offensive [Emphasis mine].” US planners were willing to come to the aid of their Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria against ISIS, but refused to do the same for residents in Palmyra, as the city had been under Syrian government control.

One year later, in March 2016, Russian and Syrian forces were able to retake Palmyra and liberate it from ISIS, to the displeasure of US planners. The LA Times noted that White House officials have “difficulty publicly lauding advances against Islamic State by Assad and his allies, including the Russians and Iranians, after years of calling for Assad’s fall” and that the Russian success in combating ISIS created a “dilemma” for US planners, because “Washington has endeavored to portray the battle against Islamic State as a project of the United States and its allies, while accusing Moscow of attacking ‘moderate’ rebels instead of the extremists. Palmyra seems to embody an alternative narrative.” US dissatisfaction at the defeat of ISIS in Palmyra was also expressed by State Department spokesperson Mark Toner at a press briefing in March 2016, when Toner refused “to laud” the Syrian and Russian effort to liberate the city.

The fall of Palmyra in May 2015 resulted in ISIS control of some 50% of Syrian territory, and constituted “another strategic defeat that could expose Homs and Damascus to the terror group’s advances,” according to the Guardian. Al-Jazeera acknowledged the same, explaining that the “fall of the city potentially opens the way for ISIL [ISIS] to advance towards key government-held areas, including the capital and Homs.”

After capturing Palmyra, ISIS militants attempted multiple times to assault the nearby T4 airbase, located 40 km west to the west of the ancient city in Homs province. Crowd-sourced journalism site Bellingcat reported that “The Islamic State’s [ISIS] offensive in Central Syria has not only allowed the fighters of the Islamic State [ISIS] to expand their operations into areas previously out of reach, but it now also threatens the regime’s gas supplies, its presence on numerous fronts, its control over the only road leading to the vitally important T4 airbase and the airbase itself, the largest of its kind in Syria.”

On August 6, 2015 ISIS advanced further toward the Damascus by capturing the town of al-Qaryatain, which lays roughly half way between Palmyra and the Syrian capital. United Press International (UPI) reports that “37 pro-government forces were killed, as were 23 IS militants. The battle began with suicide bombings at checkpoints of the town of about 40,000; the population of the community, a mix of Sunni Muslims and Christians, has been reduced by the flight of refugees. The capture of al-Qaryatain indicates IS [ISIS] can move troops and supplies across central Syria without interference, from Palmyra in the east and southwestward to al-Qaryatain.” CNN cited SOHR as reporting that “The Islamic extremists [ISIS] have abducted more than 200 people, said Rami Abdurrahman, the observatory’s executive director. Up to 500 people are unaccounted for, but Abdurrahman said the observatory has confirmed that at least 230 people have been taken hostage. He said that ISIS militants targeted Christians, some of whom were abducted from the town’s Dar Alyan monastery, as well as people believed to have alliances with the Syrian regime.” To be considered a collaborator or as having “alliances with the regime” by ISIS, it was often enough to simply have a picture of Bashar al-Assad on one’s phone, despite the fact that “lots of people have a picture of Bashar on the phone because it helps them get through checkpoints,” according to one former ISIS captive. ISIS militants then bulldozed the 1,500 year old monastery and its church, while the senior priest, Father Jacques Mouraud, was among the kidnapped.

The capture of Qaraytain also allowed ISIS forces to threaten to take control of the strategic M5 highway on month later. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reported in September 2015 that “Islamic State (Isis) forces in Syria are threatening to capture a crucial road, the loss of which could touch off a panic and the exodus of several million refugees from government areas, in addition to the four million who have already fled. Isis fighters have advanced recently to within 22 miles of the M5 highway, the only major route connecting government-held territory in Damascus to the north and west of the country. . . The four million Syrians who are already refugees mostly came from opposition or contested areas that have been systematically bombarded by government aircraft and artillery, making them uninhabitable. But the majority of the 17 million Syrians still in the country live in government-controlled areas now threatened by Isis. These people are terrified of Isis occupying their cities, towns and villages because of its reputation for mass executions, ritual mutilation and rape against those not obedient to its extreme variant of Sunni Islam. Half the Syrian population has already been displaced inside or outside the country, so accurate figures are hard to estimate, but among those particularly at risk are the Alawites (2.6 million), the Shia heterodox sect that has provided the ruling elite of Syria since the 1960s, the Christians (two million), the Syrian Kurds (2.2 million), and Druze (650,000) in addition to millions of Sunni Arabs associated with the Syrian government and its army [emphasis mine].”

Yarmouk

By April 2015, ISIS and Nusra had also captured the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, known as the capital of the Palestinian diaspora, in the southern suburbs of Damascus, and just kilometers from the presidential palace. This allowed ISIS and Nusra to control territory that could be used as a base to assault the heart of the Syrian capital itself.

Flush with newly delivered weapons supplied by the CIA and its Saudi partners, rebels from the FSA and Nusra had invaded and occupied Yarmouk camp two and a half years previously, on December 15, 2012. Rebels entered the camp against the will of Yarmouk’s resident’s, despite explicit requests from the PLO that the rebels not invade, as Palestinians wished to remain neutral in the conflict.

Some 800,000 Yarmouk residents, both Palestinian and Syrian, fled the camp to escape the dangers of the subsequent fighting. Residents, fearing both the rebel mortars and Syrian government MiG airstrikes, sought refuge in other Damascus neighborhoods, in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, in Turkey, and even in Europe, with the scale of the displacement numerically rivaling that of the 1948 Nakba.

Rebels soon began looting homes, taking over hospitals and stealing medicine. The Syrian government imposed a siege on Yarmouk, which prevented the rebels from advancing further toward Damascus, but which made food, water, and basic necessities scarce, forcing residents to depend heavily on intermittent UNRWA humanitarian aid deliveries. Government and rebel use of heavy artillery and mortars while fighting one another led to significant destruction in the camp, and scores of civilian deaths.

The few remaining civilians, roughly 20,000, became trapped in the camp because, as one Yarmouk resident told the Guardian, “rebel groups were eager to keep people in the camp, she said, particularly men and boys. Their departure was seen as defection from the opposition cause as well as potentially making it easier for government troops to enter the camp by force and regain control.” While the Syrian government encouraged civilians to leave, many nonetheless feared being detained by the Syrian security forces which were screening exiting civilians for fighters. The rebel occupation and government siege continued for years, causing hundreds of deaths due to starvation and lack of medical care.

In April 2015, Nusra fighters facilitated the entry of ISIS fighters into Yarmouk. The BBC reported that “Monitors say IS [ISIS] and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, who have fought each other in other parts of Syria, are working together in Yarmouk.”

Several thousand residents who managed to escape the camp and take shelter in a school in an area under Syrian army control told of ISIS atrocities, including one boy who saw ISIS fighters using a severed head as a soccer ball, and a woman who described how “’Daesh’s [ISIS] arrival meant destruction and massacre. Their behavior’s not human and their religion is not ours.”

Clashes between ISIS and local Palestinian rebels (who were loyal to Hamas and had previously supported Nusra’s initial invasion of the camp) exacerbated the humanitarian situation, forcing UNRWA to cease the already limited aid deliveries to Yarmouk. The Guardian quoted one Yarmouk resident as stating, “There is no food or electricity or water, Daesh [ISIS] is killing and looting the camp, there are clashes, there is shelling. Everyone is shelling the camp. . . As soon as Daesh entered the camp they burned the Palestinian flag and beheaded civilians.”

The Syrian government tightened the siege, reaffirming their concern that ISIS fighters controlled territory so near the heart of the Syrian capital. Al-Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker explained that “It is a complex situation. The government forces control the northern part [of the camp] towards Damascus. It is their priority to keep the capital safe. . . The fact that ISIL [ISIS] fighters are less than 10km away is of a huge concern. If they allow a humanitarian corridor, who will be coming out?” Despite these concerns, al-Jazeera reported that the Syrian government did indeed allow residents to leave, as some 2,000 were able to be evacuated at this time, with many finding shelter in government schools in neighboring areas.

Fighters from the pro-government Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) confronted ISIS fighters at the northern edge of the camp to stop their advance, while the Syrian military bombed ISIS positions. Foreign Policy quoted one PFLP-GC fighter originally from Yarmouk as saying “I will not stop until they [ISIS] leave the camp. . . I have no problem staying here in this position, not sleeping, digging out tunnels, and fighting. We need to do this,” while quoting another PFLP-GC fighter who felt that “If we weren’t here fighting, [the militants] would be able to access Damascus. . . We’re here to protect the camp and Damascus.”

The New York Times acknowledged the ISIS threat to Syrian capital at this time, observing that “By seizing much of the camp” ISIS had “made its greatest inroads yet into Damascus,” while the Washington Post noted that “Their new push puts [ISIS] within five miles of the heart of the capital . . . even as they are on the retreat in Iraq.”

As a result of this threat, 14 Palestinian factions agreed to form a joint operations room with the Syrian army to try defeat ISIS militarily and purge its militants from the camp. PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani told a press conference that “The decision will be jointly made by the two sides to retake the camp from the obscurantist terrorists who seize it now.” However, the PLO soon reversed course, claiming the Palestinians should not be dragged into any conflict, allegedly as a result of pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The US preference for the advance of ISIS toward Damascus, even as US warplanes were bombing the terror group in Eastern Syria and Iraq, was explained by Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry shockingly admitted that US planners actually welcomed the ISIS push toward Damascus, which they felt they could leverage to put pressure on Assad to give up power to the US-backed opposition. As discussed above, Kerry explained that, “We were watching. We saw that Daesh [ISIS]was growing in strength. And we thought Assad was threatened. We thought we could manage that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got Putin to support him.” The New York Times reported in detail on the meeting, an audio recording of which was leaked, as did the Guardian and CNN. Despite Kerry’s shocking comments, none of these three news outlets mentioned his admission that US planners welcomed the ISIS advance on Damascus, presumably due to requests by US intelligence officials. CNN initially posted the full audio of the leaked tape, but later took it down, claiming in an editor’s note to have done so for the safety of participants in the meeting.

Russia Intervenes

The Nusra/FSA advance on Latakia and ISIS advance on Damascus and the M5 highway provides the context in which Russian forces intervened in Syria in September 2015. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Charles Glass confirmed Secretary of State Kerry’s view that Russia intervened in the conflict to prevent the fall of the Syrian government to jihadists from Nusra and ISIS. Glass quoted “one analyst familiar with Russian decision making” as noting that by autumn 2015, “it was clear Damascus could fall,” which was a “red line” that “Russia could not abide.” As a result, Russia “increased air support and sent ground forces to guarantee the survival of Syria’s government, army, and institutions. Its action saved Damascus from an insurgent onslaught and gave the Syrian army the upper hand in the long seesaw war.”

US planners responded to Russian efforts to save Damascus and Latakia from Nusra and ISIS respectively by immediately increasing shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles to the FSA, despite their knowledge these weapons had helped Nusra conquer Idlib and threaten Latakia.

The New York Times reported on October 12, 2015, just two weeks after the start of the Russian intervention, that rebels were now receiving as many TOW missiles as they asked for. One FSA commander explained, “We get what we ask for in a very short time,” while another rebel official in Hama called the supply “carte blanche,” suggesting, “We can get as much as we need and whenever we need them.” The NYT also acknowledged that FSA cooperation with Nusra constituted a “tactical alliance that Free Syrian Army commanders describe as an uncomfortable marriage of necessity, because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front.”

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) observed that “at this point it is impossible to argue that U.S. officials involved in the CIA’s program cannot discern that Nusra and other extremists have benefited” from CIA weapons shipments to Syrian rebels, “And despite this, the CIA decided to drastically increase lethal support to vetted rebel factions following the Russian intervention into Syria in late September.”

TOW Missiles Just “Rhetoric”

Understanding that TOW shipments were benefitting al-Qaeda, US planners stopped short of also providing anti-aircraft missiles to FSA groups. US planners have strongly supported Syrian rebel groups, but not at any cost. The New York Times noted that the Russians “appear to be using techniques honed in Afghanistan, where the occupying Soviet Army fought insurgents who were eventually supplied with antiaircraft missiles by the United States. Some of those insurgents later began Al Qaeda. That specter hangs over American policy, and has kept Syrian insurgents from receiving what they most want: antiaircraft missiles . . .”

Opposition supporters, including many oddly identifying as socialists, complained bitterly that US planners were not willing to take the step of providing anti-aircraft missiles to the FSA, for the ultimate benefit of al-Qaeda. Author and opposition supporter Leila al-Shami bizarrely suggested the US refusal to provide anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels proves that “The United States support for Free Syrian Army militias on the ground has never really been any more than rhetoric. It’s never really given any serious support to them.” Al-Shami ignores the over $1 billion of weaponry and assistance provided by the CIA to the rebels directly, not to mention the much larger amounts of aid provided by America’s Gulf partners to both the FSA and Salafi rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam since the start of the Syrian conflict, with US approval. Some opposition supporters expressed to Secretary of State Kerry that they would not be satisfied unless the US military intervened directly on behalf of the rebels to depose Assad, despite the illegality of doing so under international law, and potential that such an intervention could trigger a direct conflict between the US and Russia. Rebel-affiliated media activists tweeting under the guise of the young girl, Bana al-Abed, suggested the US should come to the aid of the al-Qaeda-dominated rebels in Aleppo even at the risk of starting World War III with Russia.

Conclusion

US planners welcomed rebel gains in Syria, including by jihadist groups advocating genocide against Syria’s Alawite population such as ISIS and Nusra, because these gains bolstered the broader US goal of toppling the Syrian government, in an effort to weaken its close allies, Iran and Hezbollah. US planners wished to see rebel gains in Syria, in spite of the obviously catastrophic consequences for Syrian civilians that rebel success would bring. US support for the rebels belies the myth of US “inaction” in Syria, and the myth that any US intervention would be for the sake of preventing massacres and even genocide, rather than in support of it.

The Syrian government is an authoritarian police state that has long been in need of drastic reform. Like all governments fighting a war, the Syrian government has killed civilians and committed crimes against innocent people during the course of the Syrian conflict (though the extent of these crimes has been massively inflated and often even fabricated in the Western press). Similarly, the Russian military deserves harsh criticism, as it has undoubtedly killed civilians unnecessarily during air strikes against the rebels. The deaths of these civilians are tragic, as are the deaths of civilians in Raqqa and Mosul killed by US bombs in the effort to defeat ISIS in those cities.

It is unclear however, how Syrian civilians generally would have benefited if US planners had succeeded in accomplishing their goal of helping the predominantly jihadist Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, topple the Syrian government. One Syrian fighting for a pro-government militia articulated why he and many Syrians in general oppose the rebels and the Syrian political opposition which supports them: “At first, my family sympathized with the protesters. But then it became obvious that the hardliners among the secular opposition work in the interests of Turkey and the Arab monarchies. Plus the course for Islamization was visible early on, and that was a concern. Like pretty much all normal people, my family, my friends and everyone I know in Syria are strongly against Wahhabis and religious extremism in general [emphasis mine],” with Wahhabism referring to the state ideology of Saudi Arabia, from which al-Qaeda and ISIS draw much of their inspiration.

In Syria’s major population centers, civilians are terrified that the rebels will come, and look to the Syrian army to protect them. Large numbers of civilians leave any city where rebels gain a foothold and seek refuge primarily in government controlled areas of the country or outside of Syria itself. The threat of Syrian and Russian bombing certainly plays a role in this, but it is clear that rebel looting, the murder of minorities and those sympathetic to the government, and the imposition of extremist religious rule do not endear the rebels to Syria’s civilian population.

Contrary to most reporting on Syria, which suggests the civil war has pitted Syria’s entire Sunni population against its Alawite, Christian, Druze, Shia and other minorities, in fact many Syrian Sunnis support the government and oppose Salafi-Jihadism, the extremist religious ideology undergirding most rebel groups in Syria. The Syrian government would have fallen long ago, if not for Sunni support. For example, the rebels were hated even in the majority Sunni city of Aleppo and many Sunnis continue to fight in the Syrian army against the rebels, while many Syrian Sunnis have been killed by the rebels for this support of the government. For this reason, describing the rebels as “Sunni” is misleading. A more accurate description of Syria’s rebels would be “Salafi-Jihadi” or “Wahhabi,” or “Takfiri,” or “religious fundamentalist” rather than “Sunni.”

Had Damascus and Latakia fallen to the rebels, not only Alawites and Christians, but also pro-government Sunnis and Sunnis opposed to Salafi-Jihadi ideology would have been massacred, not to mention members of Syria’s LGBTQ community. The Russian intervention in Syria then, by all indications, prevented this horrific outcome for Syrians of all ethnic and religious identities, despite the best efforts of US planners to achieve the “catastrophic success” in Syria they had hoped for.

July 23, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment