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Category: Global Issues (Page 1 of 3)

Manchester and The Foreign Policy Connection

Theresa May tries to present a ‘prime ministerial’ front after the Manchester bombing. She accuses Jeremy Corbyn of saying that terror attacks in Britain are ‘our own fault’. He didn’t say this of course, in fact Corbyn gave a speech that was rather wonderful and all about bringing the nation together. It was the speech of a national leader and is well worth listening to here,

and listening to and reading on the Mirror website.

In his speech Corbyn promises:

There will be more police on the streets under a Labour Government. And if the security services need more resources to keep track of those who wish to murder and maim, then they should get them.

We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.

He continues:

That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.

But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.

Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.

Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre.

But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.

That’s why I set out Labour’s approach to foreign policy earlier this month. It is focused on strengthening our national security in an increasingly dangerous world.

We must support our Armed Services, Foreign Office and International Development professionals, engaging with the world in a way that reduces conflict and builds peace and security.

Seeing the army on our own streets today is a stark reminder that the current approach has failed.

So, I would like to take a moment to speak to our soldiers on the streets of Britain. You are doing your duty as you have done so many times before.

I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.

That is my commitment to our armed services.

This is my commitment to our country. I want the solidarity, humanity and compassion that we have seen on the streets of Manchester this week to be the values that guide our government. There can be no love of country if there is neglect or disregard for its people.

I think this was a defining speech. It defines Jeremy Corbyn as a leader and it defines a better and more honest vision for Britain. Much of the mainstream media however reacded with a kind of knee-jerk condemnation along the lines of Thresa May, pretending that they believed that Corbyn was an apologist for terrorism or at least arguing that although he might be partially right it was not the right thing to say as it was giving comfort to the enemy.

An assumption that people seemed to be making whether they were supportive of or against Corbyn’s speech is that he was saying that because we bombed Iraq and Libya and are bombing in Syria. Corbyn does not if fact say this at that is not the reality. The reality is that the strain of Islam with political and jihadist aspirations that Isis represents, (Wahabbism/Salafism), has been around for a long time and secular governments like those of Sadaam and Gaddafi were keeping them in check because they were seen to be opposed to secular states. When we bombed Iraq and acted as an airforce for Islamists in Libya we destroyed the infrastructure of those countries and set free the jihadist. We are currently supporting anti-Assad forces in Syria and so doing the same to that country as we did to Libya and Iraq. It is not the people who we bombed who are bombing us, it is the jihadists we set free to destroy their countries that are bombing us.

The West has been supporting jihadists since at least the early 1980’s when the US backed jihadists against the Soviet sponsored secular goverenment of Afghanistan.

As a result of this support Afghanistan eventually fell into the hands of the medievalist Taliban. From 2001 the US and their allies have imposed more suffering on the Afghan people in a supposed war against the terrorist group allegedly responsible for the attacks of 9/11.

In 2003 the US and its allies went to war with the Iraqi government of Sadaam Hussain after alleging that he had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and was a threat to his neighbours. No such weapons were found but Iraq’s political and social infrastructure was destroyed and the country was occupied and exploited by western corporations. In place of a stable, if brutal, secular government keeping a lid on the political aspirations of religionists the Western occupiers turned governance over to a Shia dominated government at odds and at war with a Sunni resistance that came to be dominated by the fanatics that became known as Isis or Isil or Daesh.

In 2011 the US, the UK and France used a pretext of humanitarian concern to get UN authorisation to protect rebels in Libya from Gaddafi against whom they were waging a civil war. The mandate was to protect civilians from Gaddafi but the US, UK and France started bombing Gaddafi forces and effectively acting as an air force for the rebels. After the death of Gaddafi the Western powers handed over control to a government that was not strong enough to keep the country together as different groups vied for power. Salafist elements seem to have flourished in the chaos. The Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was a British born member of a Libyan Salafist family, he and they had connections to the Salafists and to Daesh in Libya.

2011 also marked the beginning of the Syrian conflict, a brutal war in which regional powers, notably Saudia Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have supported an armed and predominently Salafist opposition to the government od Bashar al Assad. This armed opposition also got support from the West and without the intervention of Russia would have overrun the government forces and very likely thrown Syria into the kind of chaos we see in Libya.

Why the West supports Salafist terrorism against secular states is best left to another ramble but there is clear evidence that it does. Why then, if we have been enabling them, do Salafist terrorists attack targets in the UK and Europe? It’s because that’s what they do. They carry within them the virus of hate and intolerance, intolerance not only for the secular states in the Middle East that we have armed them to destroy, but for any secular state.

Complex and Simple

It’s been said that situation in Syria is complex and that there are no ‘good guys’ and I understand that there is corruption and lies on all sides. This however does not mean that all sides are equally corrupt or that they lie equally. More importantly it does not mean that their actions are equally harmful to ordinary people. If I were, for example, a Syrian woman I would much prefer to live under a Ba’athist dictatorship where I wasn’t able to publicly criticise the president but could drive, be educated for any role, practice any religion, show my face and hair as I pleased rather than under a Wahabbist caliphate where I could do none of these things and still not be able to criticise the leadership. It is for this reason that many, I would say the majority of, Syrians support their government and it is why I also support them and their allies rather than the ‘armed opposition’. Although there are complexities there are also simplicities.

I know that not only the mainstream media lies and I try to assess both mainstream and non-mainstream news and commentary by looking at source, internal consistency, evidence and context. One of my main concerns is that we are bombarded with propaganda and do not treat all sources with sufficient scepticism. It is the special power of the mainstream media that makes them deserving of more criticism not their special mendacity though of course there are sources in the mainstream and the non-mainstream media and among politicians that we will trust more than others.

Among the sources that I trust with regard to reporting on Syria are independent journalists Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley, Church of England priest Andrew Ashdown, RT reporter, Lizzie Phelan and researcher Tim Anderson. Truth to be told, I greatly admire these people.

With regard to politicians, I cannot say that I trust any of them. But what is of importance with regard to Syria is not the moral rectitude or democratic credentials of Assad and Putin versus those of Obama, May, Hollande etc. What matters is the degree to which they are helping or harming the Syrian people and in the evidenced judgement of those individuals I have named, it is Assad and his allies who are currently working for the good of the Syrian people while the rebels, foreign mercenaries, and their US, UK and regional backers are working to harm them.

Syria: The Third Time

I was re-reading a BBC article from September 2016 about the findings of a UK parliamentary committee, the foreign affairs committee, criticising ‘the intervention by Britain and France that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011’.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale summarises the report:

This report is effectively Parliament’s attempt at a Chilcot inquiry into the Libyan intervention, only quicker and shorter.
And the criticism is weighty: the government’s poor intelligence about the threat to civilians in Benghazi, its lack of awareness of Islamist elements among the rebels, the policy drift from saving lives to getting rid of Gaddafi, and David Cameron’s lack of strategy for what should happen next.

The subtext is that the lessons of Iraq were ignored.

Yet in truth the report also reveals the uncertainty among policymakers about military intervention, torn between avoiding another Srebrenica-style massacre when the West turned a blind eye to the killings of Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the need to avoid another Iraq-style intervention when Western countries got bogged down in an internal conflict.

What happened in Libya was a half and half policy, of intervention without occupation. And it is a model that did not work.

Crispin Blunt, chairman of the committee, told the BBC: “We were dragged along by a French enthusiasm to intervene, and the mission then moved from protecting people in Benghazi, who arguably were not at the kind of threat that was then being presented…

“Indeed, on the basis of the evidence we took, the threat to the people of Benghazi was grossly overstated.”

The committee said “political options” were available once Benghazi had been secured – including through ex-PM Tony Blair’s contacts with Gaddafi – but the UK government “focused exclusively on military intervention”.

I found this very sad. I had read this before and probably posted a comment about it on Facebook. But let’s look at the enormity of this finding and its implication. To be sure the government rejected the report. We read:

The Foreign Office defended the intervention.

“Muammar Gaddafi was unpredictable and he had the means and motivation to carry out his threats,” a spokesman said.

“His actions could not be ignored and required decisive and collective international action. Throughout the campaign we stayed within the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

“After four decades of Gaddafi misrule, Libya undoubtedly faces huge challenges. The UK will continue to play a leading role within the international community to support the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord.”

Asked whether Prime Minister Theresa May disagreed with the report’s findings, Mrs May’s spokeswoman said: “The PM is clear on the reasons why action was taken in Libya.”
The alternative, she added, “would have been to stand by and witness another massacre of civilians”.

But there was a massacre of civilians, a catalog of atrocities, perpetrated by the ‘rebels’ on the ground and NATO from the air. We read in this March 2016 Salon article:

Today, Libya is in ruins. The seven months of NATO bombing effectively destroyed the government and left behind a political vacuum. Much of this has been filled by extremist groups.

Millions of Libyans live without a formal government. The internationally recognized government only controls the eastern part of the country. Rivaled extremist Islamist groups have seized much of the country.

Downtown Benghazi, a once thriving city, is now in ruins. Ansar al-Sharia, a fundamentalist Salafi militia that is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., now controls large chunks of it. ISIS has made Libya home to its largest so-called “caliphate” outside of Iraq and Syria.

Thousands of Libyans have been killed, and this violent chaos has sparked a flood of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Libyan civilians have fled, often on dangerous smuggling boats. The U.N. estimates more than 400,000 people have been displaced.

The foreign affairs committee report presents this as an error, a ‘half and half policy’ to prevent a massacre while not being bogged down in an occupation, in short, a well-intentioned intervention based on false or dubious premises that went tragically wrong. It was no such thing. The assault on Libya was a cold and deliberate war crime, the murder of a nation that entailed several other deliberate war crimes. The individuals most responsible for this were David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama and, perhaps most culpable of all, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Salon article notes that:

… the facts show that [Clinton] did not just push for and lead the war in Libya; she even went out of her way to derail diplomacy.

Little-discussed secret audio recordings released in early 2015 reveal how top Pentagon officials, and even one of the most progressive Democrats in Congress, were so wary of Clinton’s warmongering that they corresponded with the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in hopes of pursuing some form of diplomacy.

Qaddafi’s son Seif wanted to negotiate a ceasefire with the U.S. government, opening up communications with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clinton later intervened and asked the Pentagon to stop talking to the Qaddafi regime.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich wrote a letter to Clinton and Obama in August 2011, warning against the war. “I have been contacted by an intermediary in Libya who has indicated that President Muammar Gadhafi is willing to negotiate an end to the conflict under conditions which would seem to favor Administration policy,” the Democratic lawmaker said. His plea was ignored.

A Pentagon intelligence official told Seif Qaddafi that his messages were falling on deaf ears. “Everything I am getting from the State Department is that they do not care about being part of this,” he explained.

“Secretary Clinton does not want to negotiate at all,” the U.S. intelligence official added.

And not negotiate is indeed what she did. In fact, after Qaddafi was brutally killed — sodomized with a bayonet by rebels — Clinton gloated live on TV, “We came, we saw, he died!”

No error, but cold, deliberate murder, not of one man, but of a whole nation.

Yet there are those who regret that Hillary Clinton is not the US President Elect. There are those who say that she was not elected because she is a woman or that Trump appealed to white racism. If this were true, and I do not believe it is, then we should all, for once, be grateful to sexists and racists.

Hillary Clinton sought the destruction of Syria on false premises as she had sought and engineered the destruction of Libya on false premises and as she had supported the war against Iraq which was prosecuted under false premises. Listen to her opening statement in this clip of a debate with Trump “Well”, she begins, “the situation in Syria is catastrophic”. She goes on the blame the ‘Assad regime’ and its Russian allies:

When Aleppo was retaken by the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies in December we did not see the massacres of civilians that Clinton and much of the US and UK mainstream media predicted instead we saw people relieved, celebrating their liberation from the oppression of the terrorists that Clinton, Obama, Cameron and Hollande had enabled. I highly recommend that you watch this short French documentary featuring interviews with the people of Aleppo:

Bashar al Assad said, of the liberation of Aleppo, that it was a pivotal moment in history, not just for Syria but for the world. I hope Assad is correct that the Liberation marks the moment when the world, enough of the world, clearly sees the pattern and sees through the lies of the Camerons, Obamas, Sarkozys, Clintons, Hollands and their cohorts. These are not respectable people, they are not at all decent and their intentions are not good, their intentions are evil and their actions are evil and the consequences of their actions are evil. I don’t like saying this because these people are our leaders and are supported by our democratic representatives and our political structures, by our whole political and media establishment. What does this say about our structures, our beliefs?

There is a saying ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.’ The first time I have been fooled, the second time I am a fool. But fool me thrice? The third time I must be an accomplice.

A Rich Man’s Trick

While some may characterise this video as conspiracy nonsense the parts which deals with the early twentieth century up to the assassination of Kennedy are credible and informative. The thesis that American industrialists and bankers financed the rise of Nazism and benefited from both world wars is well evidenced. The following articles support this argument:

A People’s History of the United States (short article on oil)
J P Getty Helped Hitler
Bank of England Helped Hitler
Prescott Bush Helped Hitler

The testimony by General Smedley Butler that there was an attempted coup by industrialists against Roosevelt in 1934 shows the intention of the ‘military-industrial-financial’ complex to control government:

The conspirators included J P Morgan and Prescott Bush the father of G H Bush and grandfather of G W Bush. This article gives more background:

Wall Street’s Failed Coup

‘Rich Man’s Trick’ details the connections between the Military Industrial Complex (MIC), the CIA, politicians and the Mafia and argues that they worked together to end the life of an honest president who wanted to close down the CIA and end the profiteering of the MIC from engineered wars. The film’s thesis regarding Kennedy’s assassination is intricate and is well presented.

The section following the assassination of Kennedy is less detailed in presentation and thus easier to dismiss as speculative. While most thinking people now understand that the official account of what happened on 9/11 is absurd. The argument that London’s 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby in 2013 with raise the hackles of many. However, despite some reservations I recommend this as an informative and thought provoking film.

MH17 Conclusions Challenged

mh15

Not reported in the British press is the challenge to the apparent conclusion of the Dutch Safety Board investigating the MH17 downing that the plane was brought down by a BUK surface to air missile.

Journalist John Helmer writes:

The Australian Federal Police and Dutch police and prosecutors investigating the cause of the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 believe the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) has failed to provide “conclusive evidence” of what type of munition destroyed the aircraft, causing the deaths of 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.

Testifying for the first time in an international court, Detective Superintendent Andrew Donoghoe, the senior Australian policeman in the international MH17 investigation, said a “tougher standard than the DSB report” is required before the criminal investigation can identify the weapon which brought the aircraft down, or pinpoint the perpetrators. Their criminal investigation will continue into 2016, Donoghoe told the Victorian Coroners Court (lead image) on Tuesday morning. He and other international investigators are unconvinced by reports from the US and Ukrainian governments, and by the DSB, of a Buk missile firing. “Dutch prosecutors require conclusive evidence on other types of missile,” Donoghoe said, intimating that “initial information that the aircraft was shot down by a [Buk] surface to air missile” did not meet the Australian or international standard of evidence.

More.

This article from the Irish Times also casts doubts on conclusions reached by the DBS:

The Dutch government has been warned that the criminal case against those who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 could be undermined because the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, which has provided key evidence, is widely regarded as institutionally corrupt.

Both justice minister Ard van der Steur and the Dutch public prosecutor’s office are coming under increasing pressure to make statements about the integrity of the evidence gathered by the SBU following a string of scandals, including the sacking of its boss, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko.

The SBU has played a crucial role in two elements of the MH17 investigation. It has handed over phone conversations between pro-Russian rebels intercepted shortly before the jet, with 298 passengers and crew on board, was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile on July 17th, 2014.

It was also responsible for securing the main elements of the Boeing 777’s shattered fuselage in the hours after it crashed in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, spreading debris over 50sq km.

More.

10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria

I found this article ‘published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence’ by Ian Sinclair on the Open Democracy UK site and decided to republish it here.

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.

With many of the government’s dubious assertions often either repeated or not examined by the media, in addition to the government choosing not to relay inconvenient information, here is a list of ten key facts that are essential to understanding the West’s involvement in Syria.

Fact 1: The West has been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2012

The dominant narrative, repeatedly pushed by the liberal media, is that the West has declined to get involved in the Syrian conflict, its inaction leading to the conflict escalating out of control.

In the real world the US started helping to arm the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government from summer 2012 onwards. By March 2013 the New York Times was quoting experts who said these arms shipments totalled 3,500 tons of military equipment. Citing Jordanian security sources, in the same month the Guardian reported that US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. Later that year the New York Times noted that US and UK intelligence services were secretly working with Saudi Arabia to deliver weapons to the rebels. The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia was covert, the report explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab governments… do not want their support publicly known”. By June 2015 US officials told the Washington Post that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had trained and equipped 10,000 Syrian rebels at a cost of $1bn.

Fact 2: The West has known that extremists were prominent in the Syrian insurgency, and that the arms they sent into Syria have often ended up in the hands of extremists, since 2012

After “extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama Administration” McClatchy’s
Hannah Allam recently noted the Obama Administration “was warned early on [in 2012] that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.”

Despite this, from 2012 the US has given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support the Syrian rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists – a  front page New York Times headline stating ‘Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria’.

What is essential to understand here is that the US already knew Qatar had a predilection for
arming extremists, following the December 2012 New York Times online headline: ‘US-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands’. Quoting US officials and foreign diplomats, the report summarises: “The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants”. US officials were aware of this “Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011”, the New York Times notes.

Fact 3: The US has encouraged ‘moderate’ rebel groups to work with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and has probably knowingly supported jihadis itself

In May 2015, Charles Lister, a leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, wrote about the US-led operations room in southern Turkey which co-ordinates the lethal support given to opposition groups in Syria, noting the US-led operations room “specifically encouraged a closer co-operation with Islamists commanding frontline operations,” including the Nusra Front. Furthermore, in July 2015 the New York Times reported that although the US-trained Division 30 Syrian rebels were attacked by the Nusra Front when they entered Syria after their training, US officials said “they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.”
In addition, a formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012 noted that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI (al-Qaida in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence of the report is as follows: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition”. US support for “the crazies” in Syria was confirmed by General Michael T Flynn, the Director of the DIA from 2012-14, in an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera in July 2015.

Fact 4: The West has prolonged the fighting and blocked a peaceful solution to the conflict

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select
Committee report on UK military action in Syria ,“since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”.

In reality, by arming and training the Syrian opposition the West has helped to intensify and prolong the conflict. In May 2013 Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations warned the “Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its… encouragement of escalation and maximalism”. In the same month Dr Christopher Phillips, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, noted that arming the rebels “will likely exacerbate and prolong the civil war”. More than two years later in October 2015 the New York Times noted that increased levels of US support to the rebels (and Russian support
to the Syrian government) “have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.”

In addition, Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University, recently explained that Western insistence that Syrian president Bashar Assad must step down sabotaged Kofi Annan’s UN efforts to set up a peace deal and forced Kofi Annan to resign. Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, echoes this analysis: “The Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”, he wrote in the London Review of Books. Roberts concludes that “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

Fact 5: The West has helped to create the conditions in Syria and Iraq that have allowed IS to grow and prosper

The role of the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in the rise of IS is relatively well known. But very few people make the connection between Western intervention in Syria and the growth of IS. In August 2014, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, argued that the “US government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

This is because, as two former NATO Secretary-Generals, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned in June 2013: “Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” [my emphasis added] The Executive Director of the women’s human rights organisation MADRE, Yifat Susskind, agrees, noting in May 2013 that: “Funnelling more arms to the [Syrian] opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.”

Fact 6: The West’s allies in the region have been supporting extremists in Syria, including IS

As mentioned above, the West, as well as working closely with its allies in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to arm the rebels, has also allowed them to support the more extreme Syrian rebel groups. US Vice-President Joe Biden said in October 2014: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem”. Referring to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Biden explained “They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially
have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad; except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”.

According to an August 2014 article in the Washington Post, Turkey “rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State and other jihadists fighting the Syrian Government. Wounded jihadists from IS and the Nusra Front were treated
at Turkish hospitals while Turkish border towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms into Syria. IS “were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member – Turkey – as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war”, the Washington Post notes. Similarly, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported in November 2015 that “over the past two years several senior ISIS
members have told the Guardian that Turkey preferred to stay out of their way and rarely tackled them directly.”

Fact 7: Western airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed hundreds of civilians

Speaking to the House of Commons, the prime minister said there has been “no reports of civilian casualties” from the more than 300 UK airstrikes in Iraq on IS. The government’s claim was helpfully repeated by Labour MP Dan Jarvis and the media, with Iain Dale arguing the French airstrikes immediately after the attacks in Paris “targeted the training camps. So they are not targeting civilians. If you look at the number of civilian deaths from American and French airstrikes they are very, very small.”

Contrast Jarvis’s and Dale’s wishful thinking with the recent Mirror report that noted “Anti-ISIS activists in Syria claim a stadium, a museum, medical clinics and a political building have been hit after France launched airstrikes in retaliation for the Paris terror attack”. More broadly, in August 2015 Air Wars, an organisation run by a team of independent journalists, estimated that the 5,700 air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq has killed more than 450 civilians, including more than 100 children.

Fact 8: Western bombing of IS is counterproductive and has likely boosted recruitment to the group

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister stated: “I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL into Syria, as an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us.”

The problem with this argument is that Western bombing, as Professor of Peace Studies Paul Rogers explains, plays into IS’s narrative that it is the guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces. Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author who spent ten days with IS in 2014, argues that Western airstrikes “will fill ISIS fighters with joy”, with the inevitable civilian casualties that come from bombing drawing in fresh recruits for their cause. James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), concurs, telling Congress in September 2014 that US bombing of IS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

This helps to explain why although “the US-led bombing campaign has killed an estimated 20,000 Islamic State fighters”, according to senior US military official quoted in an October 2015 USA Today report, IS’s “overall force… remains about where it was when the bombing started: 20,000 to 30,000 fighters.”

Fact 9: Western airstrikes will likely contribute to the refugee crisis

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria,
the prime minister expressed concern that “Half the population of Syria have been forced to flee their homes” with “over 4 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries” and “a further 6.5 million people are displaced inside the country”.

However, in November 2015 a group of Middle East specialists from the University of Oxford and the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) urged the government to reflect on whether the UK joining the air campaign in Syria will “impact on the refugee crisis.” Neil Quilliam, the acting head of the
Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, was blunter in his warning, noting that “there is a significant risk that, by increasing the violence through airstrikes, the UK will further contribute to the flow of refugees from Syria”. As was Melanie Ward, the Associate Director at the International Rescue Committee, who said an upsurge in air strikes in Syria “inevitably risks” an increase in people fleeing the conflict.

Fact 10: The Government’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West is completely bogus

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select
Committee report on UK military action in Syria “there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”

The Guardian reported that this claim “prompted an awkward stand-off” in the Commons Defence Committee, with the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff refusing to provide a
breakdown of which groups made up the 70,000 figure. Pressed by committee chair Julian Lewis MP to identify the groups, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP replied feebly: “We will certainly reflect on that.” With pressure mounting The Times revealed the Ministry of Defence had warned the prime minister against claiming there were 70,000 moderate rebels ready to fight IS, fearing it would echo Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.

After travelling to Cairo, Amman and Beirut as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi argued that the government figure of 70,000 “must be treated with caution.” According to the military experts she met while on the official trip, there would be a struggle to find 20,000, she said.

Cockburn believes the existence of 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West in fighting IS “is very debatable”. David Wearing, a Lecturer and Researcher on the Middle East at SOAS agrees, calling it “a completely nonsense number”. Professor Joshua Landis, the Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is also dismissive, as is Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum and specialist on the Syrian insurgency. Tamimi, according to Cockburn, warns that rebel groups “commonly exaggerate their numbers, are very fragmented and have
failed to unite, despite years of war.” Furthermore he notes that the rebel groups often pretend to the outside world to be more moderate than they actually are.

Syria Conflict Update – 9 Dec 2015

The clip is from the protest I attended in Parliament Square on Tuesday last week, the day before the UK Parliament’s decision to bomb Daesh in Syria without Syrian government invitation or consent. Here are some stories related to the conflict:

1. Syria on Monday accused the U.S.-led coalition of bombing an army camp in the eastern part of the country, killing three Syrian soldiers and wounding 13, but a senior U.S. military official said the Pentagon is “certain” the strike was from a Russian warplane …
http://dailym.ai/1PW5eZS

This cartoon pretty accurately illustrates the confused situation of two coalitions purported working to defeat a common enemy but at the same time having competing goals. The depiction of the US as an innocent bystander is of course laughable.

coalition1

2. Crowing about the vote in Parliament to bomb Daesh in Syria, George Osborne boasted to the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in the US that Britain has “got its mojo back” after the failure to get agreement to attack the Assad government two years earlier.
http://bit.ly/1R8n7V5

I don’t mean to be crude but isn’t Osborne basically saying that the thought of being able to hurt people makes him horny, and isn’t that pretty much the definition of a dickhead.

3. Germany’s vice-chancellor has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing terrorists in the West.
Sigmar Gabriel claimed the country was funding mosques linked to extremism, which he said were becoming a threat to public security.
http://ind.pn/1m8WiDJ

I agree with the vice-chancellor but must ask why his country is joining a coalition that includes the people who have been sponsoring extremism.

4. According Russian Official’s Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov Two Turkish F-16s penetrated Syrian airspace. Russian Sukhoi SU-34 interceptors were called to intercept Turkish F-16s. The F-16s were warned off by the Russians and left Syrian airspace.
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b75_1449522593

Hilary Benn

Tonight, yesterday evening now, the UK Parliament voted in favour of airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. Hilary Benn’s speech as been lauded by some as one of the highlights of the evening. After the obligatory courtesies Hilary Benn presented eight arguments for military action in Syria:

1. “We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures …”

This is dishonest UNSCR 2249: “Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;”

Ignoring Syrian sovreignty and acting without the consent or invitation of the Syrian government makes the status of UK intervention at best problematic under international law.

2. “All of us understand the importance of bringing and end to the Syrian civil war and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a cease-fire. Now that would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable million of Syrians, who have been forced to flee, to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.”

While agreeing that a cease fire between warring Syrians would be a good thing Benn fails to acknowledge that the Syrian government is fighting a number of terrorist groups, many of whose members are mercenaries and takfiri ‘jihadists’ from foreign countries.

3. “Now Mr Speaker, no-one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do …”

After outlining the horrors of Daesh including the attacks in Tunisia, Beruit, Ankara and Paris, Benn says that we cannot ‘refuse to act fully’ against those who are planning thsese attacks. Now I agree with this but I do not know that the Paris attacks were planned by individuals based in Raqqa, Syria. The terrorists who carried out the attacks were citizens of Europe. It is clear to me, given the support Daesh has received from multiple international sources, that there is a multi-national network behind Daesh and it is likely that the Paris attacks were planned and equipped from outside Syria. Acting fully and effectively against the terror network and the faux state that it sponsors means identifying and dismantling that network and taking down Daesh in the way that is most supportive of the restoration of Syria as a fully functioning state.

4. “Now, France wants us to stand with them and president Holland – the leader of our sister socialist party – has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq where Daersh’s hold has been reduced and undertaking everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria should we not play our full part?”

We are allied with the Iraqi government but not with the Syrian government in fact our allies have been trying to overthrow the Syrian government and the Syrian government have every reason to be mistrustful of their motives. Here we must remember the admissions of US generals Clarke and Flynn and the admission of Vice President Biden that the US and her allies facilitated the establishment of Daesh in Syria and supported other armed anti-government forces.

5. “It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq..”

The issue for me is not the effectiveness of airstrikes in themselves but their effectiveness and appropriateness within specific contexts.

6. “Now, I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh – who target innocent people.”

I presume that Benn would say that when he voted for bombing and invading Iraq in 2003 he did not intend to harm civilians and yet tens of thousands died as a direct result of military action and hundreds of thousands died, and are still dying, as an indirect consequence, and Daesh arose, in part, out of the frustrations and anger of Iraqi Sunnis with a new regime perceived to be following a Shia agenda.

7. “Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I’ll tell you what else we know, is whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number”

Benn talks about the notional 70,000 ‘ground troops’ that Cameron seems to depend on to defeat Daesh. He admits that most of them are engaged in fighting the Syrian government – I will not agree to use Benn’s terminology and say that they are fighting President Assad, more than 90,000 members of pro-government forces, mostly members of the Syrian Arab Army, have died defending their country and compatriots against Daesh and other terrorist groups. We should neither support nor expect support from the people who are fighting Syria’s legitimate government though we should support, as Russia does, groups prepared to accept a cease fire with the SAA and to work with the SAA to defeat Daesh and then take part in free and democratic elections.

8. “The old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary. And that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one if we are serious about defeating Daesh.”

Benn says “the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist .. that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one.” I find this dangerous. Benn is doing what Daesh is doing, attempting to disappear Syria as a country with territorial integrity.

I have heard Benn’s speech described as ‘electrifying’. I do not find it electrifying, I do, however, find it shocking in its dishonesty.

Corbyn’s Seven Questions

Screen-Shot-2015-11-23-at-15.55.09

The Spectator on 26th November published the ‘full text and audio: Corbyn’s seven questions to Cameron on Syria’ and Cameron’s response. These are some of my thoughts on the exchange:

1: Does the Prime Minister believe that extending air strikes to Syria will make a significant military impact on the ground, which has so far seen Isil gain, as well as lose territory?
David Cameron: It is worth listening to our closest allies, the Americans and the French, who want us to take part … because of the capabilities we bring … yes, we would make a military difference.

Cameron says that UK involvement would make a significant military difference but he does not say what that difference would be. Corbyn’s point is probably that given the combined air power of the Americans and the French the addition of British air power would not, in fact, be militarily significant but that British involvement would help maintain a façade of legitimacy.

2: Is the Prime Minister’s view that the campaign … can be successful without ground forces? If not, does he believe Kurdish forces or the Free Syrian Army would be in a position to take back territory?
DC: There are obviously many who want to play down the existence and the role of the Free Syrian Army. Our information and intelligence is that at least 70,000 moderate Sunni forces are able to help.

Neither Corbyn’s question nor Cameron’s answer acknowledges that the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies constitute the most effective force currently fighting Daesh. Neither the Kurds, who have been attacked by NATO member Turkey nor the FSA, which many commentators say does not exist in any effective form, has been shown to be in a position to take territory from Daesh and hold that territory. Cameron’s reference to ‘at least 70,000 moderate Sunni forces’ should be considered at best vague and unverified. That he refers to ‘Sunni forces’ should set alarm bells ringing for anyone hoping for the maintenance of a secular, non-sectarian state after the defeat of Daesh.

3: Without credible or acceptable ground forces, is not the logic of an intensified air campaign mission creep … Can the Prime Minister rule out British ground forces?
DC: Let me give an assurance that we are not deploying British combat forces, and we are not going to deploy British combat forces … western boots on the ground would be counter-productive.

It is not credible for Cameron to rule out the use of ground forces in any military campaign should conditions (or our American allies) require it. Corbyn is right to point out that an effective air campaign requires coordination with ground forces. The US led alliance does not have currently have credible ground forces the Russia led alliance does in the form of the Syrian Arab Army.

4: Does the Prime Minister believe that UN Security Council Resolution 2249 gives clear and unambiguous authorisation for UK air strikes? What co-ordinated action has there been … to cut off funding, oil revenues and armed supplies from Isil?
DC: The fourth question was whether the UN resolution is unambiguous. I believe it is. The Right Honourable gentleman rightly asked what else the UN was doing on sanctions, embargoes and squeezing the finances of Isil. There was a resolution back in February.

Cameron answers Corbyn’s question on whether UNSCR 2249 “gives clear and unambiguous authorisation for UK air strikes” by saying that he believes that 2249 is unambiguous thus introducing a certain ambiguity into his own answer. A relevant paragraph of the resolution says that the Council:

“Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;”

There is an interesting discussion of the resolution here: http://www.ejiltalk.org/the-constructive-ambiguity-of-the-security-councils-isis-resolution/

The second part of Corbyn’s question did not receive anything like an adequate answer from Cameron. Saying that the UN passed a resolution in February is hardly an answer to a question about ‘coordinated action’ to cut off funding for Daesh. Cutting of funding to Daesh must be considered an essential part of defeating the organisation not only in Syria but internationally. When President Putin notes that he has “provided examples based on our data on the financing of different Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) units by private individuals.” and continues that “This money, as we have established, comes from 40 countries and, there are some of the G20 members among them,” ( https://www.rt.com/news/322305-isis-financed-40-countries/)” we must understand that Daesh is or is backed by an international network that must be identified and dismantled in order to both defeat Daesh and prevent its rebirth under some other guise.

5: How does the Prime Minister think extension of UK bombing would contribute to a negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, widely believed to be the only way to ensure defeat of Isil?
DC: The existence of Isil, or Daesh as many call it, with its so-called caliphate, is to deny the territorial integrity of both Iraq and Syria, so we cannot have a future Syria with the existence of this caliphate.

Whoa! I agree with Cameron on this. Talking about a ‘civil war’ in Syria is a misnomer. Daesh is a foreign funded entity that needs to be eliminated and the same can be said of some other so called ‘rebel groups’. Certainly the Syrian government and their legitimate opposition need to have a dialogue and need to put their arguments to the Syrian people in free and fair elections as the alternative to armed conflict but groups that persist in fighting the Syrian people and their government are clearly not amenable to dialogue. I welcome Cameron’s support for the territorial integrity of Syria but I don’t see that this squares with his wish to violate the same territorial integrity by taking military action in that country without the explicit consent of its legitimate government.

6: What assessment has the Prime Minister been given about the likely impact of British air strikes on the threat of terrorist attacks in Britain … on civilian casualties (in Syria) and the wider Syrian refugee crisis?
DC: We are already at the very highest level we could be when it comes to threats from Isil. In a year and three months of action … in Iraq, there have been no reports of civilian casualties. We have some of the most accurate weapons known to man.

I can’t comment on what has or has not happened in Iraq but I do know that the situation there is different because the US led coalition is acting with the consent and cooperation of the Iraqi government and people.

7: In light of the record of western military intervention in recent years, does the Prime Minister accept UK bombing could risk more of what President Obama called ‘unintended consequences’?
DC: We can have a bigger debate, I am sure, about the action we have had to take around the world. We have to recognise, in my view, that this poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism is a battle for our generation.

Corbyn is quite right to question the record of western military intervention. It has clearly led to disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq and Libya and it is a matter of record that the west and its regional allies have been responsible for supporting armed opposition to the Syrian government including opposition that morphed into or merged with Daesh. Western military intervention must be considered suspect in either its competence or its motivation or in both.

Why the UK Should Not Bomb ISIS in Syria

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“Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria shows his newly assertive approach” says the New Statesman. “Against expectations, the opposition leader says shadow ministers will not be permitted to support air strikes against Isis.”

How can it possibly make sense for the UK to bomb Daesh (Isis) in Syria without the cooperation of the Syrian government that is the most effective ground force fighting these terrorists?

As I understand it the US led alliance currently bombing Daesh in Syria has been largely ineffective against them and has often been directed against Syria’s civilian infrastructure.

Additionally it is now understood that the motivations of the US and its regional allies have been at best mixed and that they have been directly responsible for the rise of Daesh either through design or incompetence. This is admitted by former US Intelligence chief General Michael Flynn

Russia is currently working with the Syrian government and Iranian and Hezbollah allies and is very effectively challenging Daesh and other terrorist groups. There is no need, and it is counter-productive and dangerous, for other countries to intervene illegally.

President Putin has shown a willingness to work in cooperation with all anti-Daesh forces including the Kurds and some groups opposing Assad. He is willing to work with anyone in order to get rid of Daesh and restore stability to Syria so that the Syrian people can democratically choose their future government whether that includes Assad or not. We now have to see whether there can be a rapprochement between Russia and the West that will allow cooperation against Daesh and for a diplomatic solution. There appears to have been some progress towards this at the G20 conference.

In this context any vote to get involved with bombing in Syria would be irresponsible, illegal and wrong. I do not expect that Cameron will bring this to Parliament but if he does Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that Labour will not support such a move. I would expect Corbyn to be uncompromising on this one.

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