One of the reasons that Syria is ‘on hold’ is that the Russians are now leveraging the President with the connections formed in his campaign prior to the election. Paul Manafort, onetime manager of President Trump’s campaign apparently has received payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. An article covering it entitled Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout by Jack Gillum, Chad Day, and Jeff Horwitz was released on Thursday by the Associated Press. The bad news is that the ledger is substantiated by records booked by Manafort’s consulting firm in the U. S., already under a corruption investigation by the FBI with even more overlap. Apparently, the FBI and Congress are investigating Manafort’s activities with Russia and possible ties to Vladimir Putin regarding the President’s campaign. These activities which could have included payoffs allegedly occurred in 2016. But a distinct pattern is observable here. Tillerson is still ‘on the attack,’ today demanding that Russia oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad…and the President in the meantime has announced we wouldn’t be sending troops into Syria. Perhaps he is hesitant, as (if they have such evidence) Russia would certainly not shirk from releasing information that could be damaging to the President. At this stage, the threat of such a release appears to be keeping things in check: we haven’t launched another Tomahawk strike yet.
This post was published at shtfplan on April 14th, 2017.
Three years ago, when a reluctant President Barack Obama was about to launch an attack on Syria, supposedly in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad crossing a ‘red line’ against using chemical weapons, Obama smelled a rat – or rather he sensed a mousetrap. Advised by some of his intelligence advisers that the evidence blaming the Syrian government for the lethal sarin attack was weak, Obama disappointed many of Washington’s neocons and liberal war hawks, including those in his own administration, by deferring action. He tossed the issue to Congress, thus guaranteeing a delay. Precisely at that key juncture, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the pressure off Obama by persuading the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons, which Assad did – while still denying any role in the attack at Ghouta, just outside Damascus, on Aug. 21, 2013. Washington’s hardliners were left aching for their lost opportunity to attack Syria by citing the Ghouta attack as a casus belli. But the evidence suggested, instead, a well-orchestrated Syrian rebel false-flag operation aimed at fabricating a pretext for direct U. S. intervention in the war on Syria. With Putin’s assistance in getting Assad to surrender the chemical weapons, Obama was able to extricate himself from the corner that he had rather clumsily painted himself into with his earlier bravado talk about a ‘red line.’
We all saw the little Syrian boy in besieged Aleppo, wiping blood from his forehead, covered in dust and clearly in shock. How could we help it? Practically every newspaper in the country printed his photo, along with a caption blaming the Syrian military and/or the Russians for his plight. The video is all over the Internet. By the way, little Omran Dagnish is still alive, and is fine physically. But there’s another little boy, a prepubescent child, who hasn’t been dignified with a name, who is also a victim of this war – and he’s dead, beheaded by US-backed Islamist rebels of the ‘al-Zenki’ movement. And the rebels didn’t try to hide this atrocity: they filmed it and put it on the Internet. These are the people who are defending Aleppo, the rebels we are being told are fighting for ‘freedom’ against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and those dastardly Russians. The video of Omran went ‘viral,’ while the video of the nameless beheaded boy didn’t. Why is that? The US media isn’t very interested in publicizing the latter atrocity – because in the information war to provoke US intervention in Syria on behalf of head-chopping Islamists, some children are more equal than others. And make no mistake: the propaganda campaign is now in full swing, being pushed by the same media outlets openly campaigning for Hillary Clinton – who is on record as calling for funding of Islamist groups in Syria and overthrowing Assad. If she is elected, we’re very likely to see a full-scale US intervention, with US forces openly and aggressively confronting not only Syrian government forces but also facing off with the Russians.
Over the past several decades, the U. S. State Department has deteriorated from a reasonably professional home for diplomacy and realism into a den of armchair warriors possessed of imperial delusions, a dangerous phenomenon underscored by the recent mass ‘dissent’ in favor of blowing up more people in Syria. Some 51 State Department ‘diplomats’ signed a memo distributed through the official ‘dissent channel,’ seeking military strikes against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad whose forces have been leading the pushback against Islamist extremists who are seeking control of this important Mideast nation. The fact that such a large contingent of State Department officials would openly advocate for an expanded aggressive war in line with the neoconservative agenda, which put Syria on a hit list some two decades ago, reveals how crazy the State Department has become. The State Department now seems to be a combination of true-believing neocons along with their liberal-interventionist followers and some careerists who realize that the smart play is to behave toward the world as global proconsuls dictating solutions or seeking ‘regime change’ rather than as diplomats engaging foreigners respectfully and seeking genuine compromise. Even some State Department officials, whom I personally know and who are not neocons/liberal-hawks per se, act as if they have fully swallowed the Kool-Aid. They talk tough and behave arrogantly toward inhabitants of countries under their supervision. Foreigners are treated as mindless objects to be coerced or bribed.
The anti-Assad coalition led by the United States continues to stagger toward the supposed objective of beginning peace negotiations between the Syrian government and what has now been blessed as the politically acceptable ‘opposition.’ The first such meeting was scheduled for Jan. 1, but no one on either side believes for a moment that any such negotiations are going to happen any time in the foreseeable future. The notion that negotiations on a ceasefire and political settlement will take place lacks credibility, because the political-military realities on the ground in Syria won’t allow it. Those opposition groups that are prepared to contemplate some kind of settlement with the Assad regime do not have the capacity to make such an agreement a reality. And those organizations that have the capacity to end the war against the Damascus regime have no interest in agreeing to anything short of forcible regime change. On top of those serious contradictions, Russia is openly contesting the U. S. plan for a negotiated settlement. The United States is pushing the line that President Bashar al-Assad must step down, but Russia is insisting that such a demand is illegitimate. The contradiction between the pretensions of the U. S.-sponsored plan and Syrian political-military realities was very much in evidence at the Riyadh conference earlier this month. The conference, which was supported by the United States and the other ‘Friends of Syria,’ including Britain, France, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, was in theory to bring together the broadest possible range of opposition groups – excluding only ‘terrorist’ groups. Belying that claim, however, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (YPD) being armed by the United States in Syria was excluded from the conference at the insistence of Turkey.
In the wake of the ISIS terrorist attack on Paris, President Barack Obama declared that his administration has the right strategy on ISIS and will ‘see it through’. But the administration is already shifting its policy to cooperate more closely with the Russians on Syria, and an influential former senior intelligence official has suggested that the administration needs to give more weight to the Assad government and army as the main barrier to ISIS and other jihadist forces in Syria. Obama’s Europeans allies as well as US national security officials have urged the United State to downgrade the official US aim of achieving the departure of Bashar al-Assad from Syria in the international negotiations begun last month and continued last weekend. Such a shift in policy, however, would make the contradictions between the US interests and those of the Saudis, who continue to support jihadist forces fighting with al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, increasingly clear. Russia had proposed to the United States in September that the United States and Russia share intelligence on ISIS and exchange military delegations to coordinate on joint steps against ISIS. The initial Obama administration response was to reject either intelligence sharing or joint planning with Russia on Syria out of hand. The reasoning was that the Russians were engaged primarily, if not exclusively, to shore up the Assad regime, which was unacceptable to Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry declared on 1 October: ‘What is important is Russia has to not be engaged in any activities against anybody but ISIL. That’s clear. We have made that very clear.’ But that was before Paris. The fallout from that attack has changed the political vectors pushing and pulling Obama administration policy. The most obvious shift came two days after the attacks and just hours after Obama announced new intelligence arrangements with France. CIA director John Brennan reversed the earlier US decision to reject intelligence sharing with Russia on Islamic State. Revealing that he had had several conversations with his Russian counterpart since the beginning of Russia’s air offensive in Syria, Brennan said the ISIS threat ‘demands’ an ‘unprecedented level of cooperation’ among international intelligence services. Brennan said he and his Russian counterpart had begun exchanging intelligence focused primarily on the flow of terrorists from Russia into Iraq and Syria but that now US-Russian cooperation needed to be ‘enhanced’.
War is the great clarifier, and in the case of the battle against Islamist insurgents, including ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria, the downing of the Russian war plane by the Turkish military has demonstrated this principle quite dramatically. The US and its NATO allies, including Turkey, claim to be fighting ISIS, otherwise known as the ‘Islamic State,’ but the Turks’ main fire has beendirected at the Kurds and the Syrian regime itself. Turkey has been the main conduit for aid to the Islamic State, and the Turkish intelligence agency has long collaborated with Islamists in the region. The US, for its part, has attacked ISIS positions, and yet Washington’s insistence that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must go has undermined their ostensible goal of destroying the Islamic State: most of the Americans’ resources have gone into buttressing the ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition. These ‘moderates’ include, incredibly enough, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, who have forged an alliance with US-backed rebels in a joint effort to overthrow Assad. On the other hand, the Russians have been unequivocal about their war aims: the elimination of the jihadists from Syrian territory. This has meant supporting the only viable alternative to jihadist rule: the Assad regime. Working in conjunction with government forces, Russian war planes have devastated jihadist positions and aided the Ba’athist regime in its effort to regain territory.
November 2015 – UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Security Council on Friday adopted a resolution, drafted by France, calling on countries around the world to take ‘all necessary measures’ to fight the Islamic State. The 15-to-0 vote came a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, and just hours after the deadly siege of a hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, by Islamic militants. The French ambassador, Franois Delattre, told the Security Council after the vote that the resolution ‘recognizes the exceptional nature of the Daesh threat,’ using an Arabic acronym for the group. Russia voted for the measure, which signaled a rare diplomatic convergence. For four years, Russia and the West have sparred over the war in Syria, with the Kremlin staunchly backing the government and Western powers backing the opposition. Russia has floated its own counterterrorism proposal, but it would require coordination with the governments of the affected countries – meaning, in Syria, the administration of President Bashar al-Assad. That idea is anathema to the West.
Two years ago, as the War Party was agitating for US intervention in Syria and the President was announcing his capitulation to their demands, Barack Obama told the American people the following: ‘I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.’ Since that time, he and his principal spokespersons have repeated this promise or some variation of it no less than ten times, as the Washington Post has pointed out. But guess what? If you like your ‘no boots on the ground’ you can keep your ‘no boots on the ground’ – because our Dear Leader has turned on a dime. Yes, folks, it has just been announced that US Special Forces are going into Syria in order to ‘advise and assist’ the newly-formed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces,’ yet another alliance of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels whose ‘moderation’ consists mainly of wishful thinking on the part of this administration. The formation of the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ was announced just after the revelation that the Pentagon was giving up its training program to put US-vetted Syrian rebels in the field, and will instead ramp up its ‘covert’ program of aiding existing rebel groups. A key change: while the commanders will be vetted, the fighters under their command will be given a Get Out of Jail Free card. That’s because the jihadists fighting the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad are all Islamist extremists of one sort or another, and connected ideologically if not organizationally either to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
Iraq joined Russia, Iran and Syria in a new agreement to strengthen cooperation against extremist group Islamic State, extending the Kremlin’s reach in the Middle East as it rivals Washington for influence. U. S. and Russian officials held talks Sunday on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in New York to try to forge a common approach to fighting Islamic State, a day before President Barack Obama and Russian PresidentVladimir Putin were to hold their first formal meeting in more than two years at the U. N. The two had an informal encounter in November on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in Australia. Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that the country had signed an intelligence and security cooperation pact with Russia, Iran and Syria, pledging to cooperate in collecting information about Islamic State. The deal effectively formalizes years of military collaboration among the four nations, which have intermittently been allies since the 1980s. The deal is another challenge to U. S. influence in the Middle East at a time when Russia is deploying new military assets – primarily in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including fighter aircraft and attack helicopters in the coastal region of Syria.
Typical of the incoherence now common among U. S. foreign policy pundits discussing the Syrian crisis is Jeffrey Lewis, who took to the pages of the prestigious journal Foreign Policy to venture his opinion. He started out reciting the usual ‘group think’ narrative about the need to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and denounced Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for stepping up support for the Syrian military in the face of gains by Sunni terror groups. But Lewis, who is billed as an arms-control specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, then admitted that he doesn’t have a clue what to do, which at least is an improvement over all the other ‘experts’ who say the U. S. must do something – anything! – to counter Russian intervention. Lewis begins his article with a lot of scary talk about satellite photos confirming that Russia is expanding an air base near Latakia with the goal of increasing military aid to the evil Bashar al-Assad so as to give his doddering regime another lease on life. ‘The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station,’ Lewis observed. ‘It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton … designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and [which] may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces.’
Centuries ago, an Andalusian philosopher known as Ibn Rushd wrote a treatise called Tahafut al-Tahafut, or ‘The Incoherence of the Incoherence.’ He was taking aim at an old rival named Al-Ghazzali, but were he alive today, Averroes, as he was known to the Europeans, might very well have been talking about U. S. policy in Syria instead. Never very sensible to begin with, Washington’s foreign-policy gurus have been piling confusion upon confusion in response to charges that Russia is stepping up military aid for Bashar al-Assad’s besieged government in Damascus. The words began flying over the Labor Day weekend when the Obama administration announced that Moscow was jetting in soldiers and advisers to an airfield south of Latakia on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. It was setting up prefab housing for as many as a thousand personnel and installing a portable air traffic control station, the administration said, while Reutersadded a few days later that Russia had sent two tank landing ships as well. In short order, Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warning him that intervention ‘could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL Coalition operating in Syria.’ All the usual suspects then piled on. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg voiced concern over the alleged escalation, as did Israel, while NATO member Bulgaria quickly bowed to U. S. pressure to bar Russian aircraft from its airspace.
It is difficult to maintain much hope in humanity these days. The Islamic State is on a rampage in Iraq and Syria; Bashar al-Assad’s government continues to massacre its own people; the war in eastern Ukraine grinds on; even in the United States, where war feels like a distant notion, mass shootings have become a regular feature of modern life. More than ever before, peace seems an aberration – and conflict, the norm. But there are bright spots. And there is one development, in particular, that may be a new frontier in humanity’s ability to be humane: The effort by the permanent members of the U. N. Security Council, plus Germany and Iran, to resolve the latter’s nuclear program through peaceful diplomacy. Behind the wonky op-eds about enrichment, breakout capability, and sanctions relief, there is an innovative attempt to find a lasting peace that I believe is unparalleled. If the two sides manage to reach a deal by their June 30 deadline, their achievement will go beyond just preventing a war or blocking Iran’s paths to a bomb. The real achievement may be that a major international conflict – a conflict that has brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war in recent years – has been resolved through a compromise achieved by diplomacy. This may sound unexceptional – isn’t that the work of diplomats, after all? – but if this feat is accomplished, few examples in history will match its magnitude. It is the norm that diplomacy settles a new peace after devastating carnage – not before.
The U. S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash. And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy. Today’s News – and Some History The U. S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U. S. considers a terror outfit. Meanwhile, the U. S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.