Category Archives: France

Life-giving Light and Those Who Would Snuff it Out

The concluding sentence of Roy Medvedev’s superb account of Russia during the Stalin years reads:

When the cult of Stalin’s personality was exposed [in the XXth and XXIInd Congresses in 1956 and 1961 respectively] a great step was made to recovery.1

It’s a vital point, similar to that made by the incredible truth and reconciliation commission event that followed the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and that point is this: before any society can really advance it must recognise and admit to itself the mistakes and crimes perpetrated by its own trusted leaders. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg once put it:

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.2

Yet self-criticism of our own governments is almost impossible. Infinitely more effective than state censorship – which can restrict criticism – is self-censorship, and that’s pretty much what we have: a society which is incapable of seriously challenging those in power, let alone calling them to account for any wrongdoing – not through any state-imposed censorship, but through creating a culture that’s utterly brainwashed into believing the perfection of their constitution and therefore refusing to even imagine its very considerable imperfections. Whilst we do not have the domestic death squads and concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to enforce domestic obedience, we still have loyal populations that are almost as effectively programmed to believe the perfections of their state leaders and their institutions as many Germans and Russians were during the Hitler and Stalin years.

In Britain, for example, in 2015 when the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was provocatively questioned about the Party’s well-known opposition to monarchy she remarked,

I can’t see that the Queen is ever going to be really poor, but I’m sure we can find a council house for her — we’re going to build lots more.

This obviously whimsical comment, although factually reasonable, provoked the following headline in The Independent: ‘We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,’ say Greens

Similar sensationalist headlines led in almost every newspaper and TV news broadcast. Green Party membership, which had been surging until that moment, immediately fell off a cliff. I was a membership secretary for our local Green Party branch at the time and had been signing up new members at the rate of about two a week. New memberships not only stopped completely, but some who had just joined us immediately cancelled their memberships. And this from people who would see themselves as progressives. No need to guess how Tory voters, who comprise most voters, reacted to Bennett’s quip. Such is the level of brainwashing in a supposedly democratic country about the perfection of the British monarchy, and its unchallengeable position as unelected head of state.

But it’s not just Britain that has to endure a majority of brainwashed citizens. I remember seeing a TV documentary about the time of the illegal Iraq War in 2003. The programme was about heroic US marines bravely defending western freedom, by helping to kill defenseless Iraqi civilians. Some of the heroes were interviewed about the hard time they were having, and the one that will forever stick in my mind implied that no amount of personal suffering was too great for him. “I would slit my own throat for my president”, he said. So Iraqi civilians didn’t have much chance.

The marine’s remark reminded me of a quote in Medvedev’s book, showing the similarity between modern US citizens and the brainwashed Russians of Stalin’s day:

Just as [religious] believers attribute everything good to god and everything bad to the devil, so everything good was attributed to Stalin and everything bad to evil forces that Stalin himself was [supposedly] fighting. “Long live Stalin!” some officials shouted as they were taken to be shot.3

When, very occasionally, some of the major crimes of our great trusted leaders are brought to our attention, there is never any clamouring for justice, no national outrage that the public’s trust could be so cheaply squandered. Whilst some newspapers might print a subdued story or two, located somewhere towards the bottom of page thirty nine, and whilst national TV stations may record a few words tucked away deeply buried somewhere on their websites, in the sacred name of “balance”, the real gravity of the misdeeds of our trusted leaders are otherwise routinely ignored, and the revelations are quickly lost in the usual myriad of trivial distractions.

For example, when, after many years and thirteen million pounds of treasure, the Chilcot Report was eventually published, effectively providing sufficient evidence for Tony Blair and other establishment leaders to be indicted for war crimes, no such calls from our trusted leaders were heard – just a deafening silence, followed almost immediately by business as usual.   But those who dare to provide the evidence of our rulers’ misdeeds are quickly and viciously victimized – as any whistleblower could easily confirm; with the better-known of whom, such as Daniel Ellsberg, Mordechai Vanunu, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden standing as fine examples of the terrible consequences of speaking the truth about power. This is how Rosa Luxemburg’s ruthless self-criticism is rendered impossible in our “free” societies where official censorship doesn’t exist, but where official “news” isn’t worth censoring.

One of the holiest cows of the establishment, the institution which, almost above any other, will not tolerate any form of criticism, are our so-called “defence” forces. The word “hero” has been re-defined to mean absolutely anyone wearing a military uniform. TV commercials encouraging young people to join the armed forces appear almost every night. TV programmes depicting the military as brave heroes resisting overwhelming odds in the sacred name of freedom and democracy appear almost every night. Every year people adorn themselves in little plastic poppies and stand in silence for two minutes on the 11th November, not so much to recall those who were needlessly slaughtered for the supposed “war to end all war”, but to serve as a subliminal recruitment aid. Criticising the armed forces is always strictly off limits.

The Annihilation of Raqqa

Yet a recent report by Amnesty International (AI), who investigated the devastating attack by western coalition forces on the Syrian city of Raqqa, is so damning that anyone who does not criticise those responsible is guilty by association of war crimes.4 They are in a similar position to those who silently stood by as their neighbours were carted-off to Nazi concentration camps. Although AI has a somewhat dubious reputation, earned mainly by its very tepid response to the multitude of horrors perpetrated over many years by the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine, its latest report on Raqqa has some merit.

Raqqa, Syria, February 2018 (AI Photo)

No one will ever know how many civilians perished in last year’s battle for Raqqa. However, estimates for the numbers of people living in the city prior to the war are given at around 220,000, whilst the number estimated to be living there earlier this year is around 61,000.  Some civilians managed to flee the city, but many did not, as they were prevented from doing so by IS. Amnesty summarised the terrible situation for civilians as follows:

The four-month military operation to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa, the Syrian city which IS had declared its capital, killed hundreds of civilians, injured many more and destroyed much of the city. During the course of the operation, from June to October 2017, homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure were reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.

Residents were trapped, as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, and US-led Coalition’s air and artillery strikes rocked the city. With escape routes mined by IS and the group’s snipers shooting at those trying to flee, civilians fled from place to place within the city, desperately seeking refuge or escape. Some were killed in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge, and others as they tried to flee.5

If Amnesty was referring to North Korea, say, or Iran, Russia, China, or the Syrian government, almost certainly its report would have been leading the western world’s news broadcasts. Outraged politicians and their tame propagandists in the mainstream media would have been demanding that “something should be done”. But those countries were not the subjects of the Amnesty report. It was referring instead to the biggest villains in the world — the US and British governments, joined on this occasion by France. Although other countries were implicated in this particular “coalition of the willing”, their roles were relatively minor. Consequently our politicians and their lackeys in the mainstream media seem hardly to have noticed AI’s report. Once again the truth is available, but has been conveniently self-censored by all the usual tricks of state.

Entire neighbourhoods in Raqqa are damaged beyond repair (AI Photo)

Two investigators from AI spent two weeks in February 2018 visiting the ruins of Raqqa. They went to 42 different locations and interviewed 112 civilian residents. About half of the report focuses mainly on the personal stories of four families whose lives were devastated by the “liberation” of Raqqa from IS occupation by the combined efforts of western firepower, and ground-troops supplied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a mainly Kurdish militia.

Although the so-called global coalition:

boasts membership of 71 countries and four inter-governmental organisations; an eclectic alliance including nations as diverse as Panama and Poland, Australia and Afghanistan. Some Coalition members, Chad, for example, or Niger, are likely to have given support in name only. Others, particularly European states, were more deeply involved, although the exact extent of their actions is not always clear.6

Whilst most people are probably aware that US, British and French air forces bombed countless targets in Syria generally, and specifically here, in Raqqa, fewer people know about the involvement of western ground troops. But AI tells us:

[T]he US deployed some 2,000 of its own troops to north-eastern Syria, many of whom were engaged in direct combat operations, notably firing artillery into Raqqa from positions outside the city. In addition, a smaller number of special forces were operating close to front lines alongside SDF members. British and French special forces were also deployed to the area, but in much smaller numbers.

Among the US deployment were Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with GPS-directed 227mm rockets, which could be fired from 300km away, as well as hundreds of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the 24th MEU equipped with M777 howitzers, which they used to rain down 155mm artillery fire upon the city from a distance of up to 30km.6

Children riding a bicycle among destroyed buildings in Raqqa. (AI Photo)

AI concludes its summary of the involvement of “coalition” forces as follows:

The Coalition launched tens of thousands of strikes on Raqqa during the military campaign. Of these, more than 4,000 were air strikes, almost all of them carried out by US forces. British forces carried out some 215 air strikes, while the French military was responsible for some 50 air strikes with the overwhelming majority – more than 90% – carried out by US piloted aircraft and drones. No other members of the Coalition are known to have carried out air strikes in Raqqa. At the same time, US Marines launched tens of thousands artillery shells into and around Raqqa…

While Coalition forces operated mostly from positions several kilometres outside the city, a small number of special operation forces from Coalition member states – notably the US, UK and France – operated alongside the SDF close to front line position in/around the city, reportedly mostly in an advisory rather than combat role.

The SDF were partly responsible for locating targets for Coalition air and artillery strikes. It is not clear what percentage of the Coalition air and artillery strikes were carried out based on co-ordinates provided by the SDF – as opposed to strikes on targets identified by Coalition forces themselves through air surveillance or other means – and the extent to which Coalition forces verified targets identified by the SDF prior to launching strikes on those targets.7

Although Kurdish militia were reportedly too lightly-armed to be physically accountable for the destruction of Raqqa, their target identification function was clearly significant.

It has long been routine for the military’s propaganda machine to dismiss concerns about civilian casualties inside war zones, and the carnage wreaked on Raqqa was no exception. Furthermore, the military’s word is always accepted at face value.

[A]t the height of conflict in Raqqa, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend wrote that ‘… there has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict’.8

But the alleged accuracy of the ordnance used by the military is not the point. The point is that no matter how smart the smart bombs are, they’re still killing civilians – and that’s a war crime. An estimated 4,000 bombs were dropped on the defenceless civilians of Raqqa by “coalition” warplanes. Given that many of those are only accurate, on a good day, to within ten metres of their target, it’s very clear to see that these alone must have accounted for considerable civilian casualties. But they may not have been the main problem.

Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell (senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), suggests that the Coalition operation was far from precise: ‘In five months they fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets… They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War.’8

But legitimate ISIS targets must have been almost negligible, as IS had immersed themselves amongst the civilian population. Given also that most artillery shells are considerably less accurate than guided missiles, and can only be expected to strike within a hundred metres of their targets, and given that tens of thousands of these things rained down on the trapped and defenceless civilians of Raqqa, the claims by the military’s propagandists that they tried everything possible to minimise civilian casualties are obviously ludicrous.

There has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict [than in Raqqa]
— Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend

The ruins of the destroyed house where 28 members of the Badran family and five neighbours were killed in a Coalition strike on 20 August 2017 in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Isis withdraws, undefeated, from Raqqa

Sometime in October some sort of deal was suddenly worked out which allowed Isis to simply pack up and leave Raqqa, in a convoy of trucks, together with most of their weaponry. According to a BBC report, the deal:

enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.  Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal…

[T]he convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles…

Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the [IS] group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

War crimes

The US-led “coalition” undoubtedly committed a vast number of war crimes in the “liberation” of Raqqa, and the considerably-referenced AI report summarises the particular breaches of law applicable:

(a) The Principle of Distinction

This requires parties to conflict to at all times, ‘distinguish between civilians and combatants’ and to ensure that ‘attacks may only be directed against combatants’ and ‘must not be directed against civilians’. Parties to conflict must also distinguish between ‘civilian objects’ and ‘military objectives’. Anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict is a civilian, and the civilian population comprises all persons who are not combatants. Civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. In cases of doubt, individuals should be presumed to be civilians and immune from direct attack. Making the civilian population, or individual civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack (direct attacks on civilians) is a war crime (My emphasis).9

It isn’t clear how hard the “coalition” tried to distinguish combatants from non-combatants, but in the four detailed case studies that Amnesty supplied – which were the tragic stories of just four families from a city of tens of thousands – it would appear they didn’t try very hard at all. One such piece of evidence was supplied by “Ammar”, who

told Amnesty International that on ‘the second or third day of Eid” [26-27 June 2017] an air strike killed 20-25 people, mainly civilians but some IS too, at a communal water point, around the corner from Abu Saif’s house.’10

So, clearly essential water supplies were either deliberately targeted by the “coalition”, or some “legitimate” target was so near that the likely presence of defenceless civilians was simply ignored.

(b)  Proportionality

The principle of proportionality, another fundamental tenet of IHL, also prohibits disproportionate attacks, which are those “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack (that is, knowing that the attack will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage) constitutes a war crime. The Commentary on the Additional Protocols makes clear that the fact that the proportionality calculus requires an anticipated “concrete and direct” military advantage indicates that such advantage must be “substantial and relatively close, and that advantages which are hardly perceptible and those which would only appear in the long term should be disregarded (my emphasis).11

Whilst it is undeniable that the head-chopping organ-eating occupiers of Raqqa were about as vile a group of psychopaths as it’s possible to get, and that their removal from Raqqa would no doubt be extremely difficult to accomplish, it’s deeply questionable that the total destruction of a civilian-occupied city could be considered proportional to the reign of terror it was supposed to terminate. The fact that IS were eventually cleared out of Raqqa, very much alive and well, shows that they were not committed kamikaze warriors and suggests that alternative methods for bringing to an end their repulsive occupation may have been possible.

(c) Precautions

In order for parties to an armed conflict to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality they must take precautions in attack. “Constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects”; “all feasible precautions” must be taken to avoid and minimise incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The parties must choose means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding or at least minimising to the maximum extent possible incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. As well as verifying the military nature of targets and assessing the proportionality of attacks, the parties must also take all feasible steps to call off attacks which appear wrongly directed or disproportionate. Parties must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. When a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the parties must select the target the attack on which would be expected to pose the least danger to civilians and to civilian objects.

The limited information available on the precautions in attack taken by the Coalition suggests that they were not adequate or effective. The cases examined in detail indicate that there were serious shortcomings in verification that targets selected for attack were in fact military, with disastrous results for civilian life. Further, several attacks examined by Amnesty International suggest that the Coalition did not, at least in those instances, select weapons that would minimise harm to civilians. Also, the warnings that were given to civilians were not effective. They did not take into account the reality that civilians were blocked from leaving Raqqa, and did not include specific information (such as warning civilians to stay away from tall buildings).11

Amnesty claim that up to the point of publication of their report repeated approaches to “the coalition” for specific details regarding their attacks on Raqqa were either inadequately answered or had not been answered at all. Therefore questions relating to whether sufficient precautions were taken remain unanswered, and could imply breaches of international law.

(d) Joint and individual responsibility of coalition members

One of the attractions to “coalition” actions is the difficulty in attributing specific responsibility for possible crimes after the event, and Amnesty states:

It is concerned that this lack of clarity may enable individual Coalition members to evade responsibility for their actions. The UK Government, for example, maintained until May 2018 that it had not killed a single civilian in Syria or Iraq, despite carrying out thousands of air strikes across the two countries. On 2 May 2018 it admitted for the first time that one of its drone strikes had caused one civilian casualty in Syria in March 2018.11

However, there is very limited wriggle-room in attempting to evade responsibility by trying to divert attention to others. International Humanitarian Law (IHL):

Requires all states to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for its provisions under Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. This includes both positive and negative obligations on states providing assistance to another state which is then used to commit a violation of international humanitarian law. The negative obligation is not to encourage, aid or assist in violations of IHL by parties to a conflict. The positive obligation includes the prevention of violations where there is a foreseeable risk they will be committed and prevention of further violations where they have already occurred.

The USA, UK, France, and other states involved in military operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve therefore may be legally responsible for unlawful acts carried out by Coalition members.12

(e) Duty to investigate, prosecute and provide reparation

States have an obligation to investigate allegations of war crimes by their forces or nationals, or committed on their territory and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute the suspects. They must also investigate other war crimes over which they have jurisdiction, including through universal jurisdiction, and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects.12

A young man holding a child staring at the ruins of bombed buildings in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Life-giving light – and those who would snuff it out

The Amnesty International report provides compelling evidence that, at the very least, there are legitimate questions to be answered regarding the attacks on Raqqa by the USA, Britain and France. And it must never be forgotten that the whole IS phenomenon is mostly a creation of the west, that without the deeply cynical plotting of the US, British and possibly French deep states, IS would likely never have come into existence. The words of French foreign minister Roland Dumas should be recalled:

I’m going to tell you something,” Dumas said on French station LCP. “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business [in 2009]. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.

So Dumas may have said – but the French were involved in the destruction of Raqqa.

Raqqa’s residents surveying the destruction in the city centre (AI Photo)

If similar probable war crimes had been carried out in some other country by Russia, say, or China, or Iran, or any other nation to which the west is routinely hostile, almost certainly outraged voices would be heard caterwauling in Westminster and Washington. Front pages of newspapers, together with TV and radio news programmes would be howling that “something must be done”. Yet in Westminster and Washington the silence is deafening. Not a single word of protest appears on the front pages of our newspapers, and our TV and radio stations appear to be looking the other way. Why? Because our “heroes” are personally involved, and personally responsible for the terror, and that is the terrible truth that cannot be admitted.

The cold hard fact is that far from being heroic, many people in the military are de facto war criminals. From at least as far back as the second world war, when defenceless civilians were bombed to death and incinerated in their homes in the pointless bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, for example, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the slaughter of countless defenceless civilians in later wars, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the more recent civilian killing fields of Iraq, Libya and now Syria, our so-called heroes have just as much innocents’ blood on their hands as any Nazi war criminal ever had.

With very few exceptions, the military seldom do anything heroic. The very last thing that senior officers want, the generals, admirals, air marshals and so on, is a peaceful world – for the very obvious reason that they would all be out of work, vastly overpaid work requiring very little real and useful effort, work that not only pays these people far more than they’re worth, but also, which is far worse, gives them far too much power in our societies. Consider, for example, the words of an unnamed general in a recent Observer interview that if Jeremy Corbyn – a lifelong pacifist – was to win a general election:

There would be a mutiny in the armed forces… unless he learnt to love NATO and the nuclear bomb.13

The cold hard fact is that these people, those who run our so-called “defence” forces are out of control. They are more interested in protecting their own careers than doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and which so many people mistakenly believe they are doing – protecting us. We are not made safer by the ruthless and illegal destruction of civilian cities such as Raqqa. The people that carry out these war crimes should be brought to account and charged like the common war criminals they really are, which is pretty much the same conclusion reached by Amnesty International:

Where there is admissible evidence that individual members of Coalition forces are responsible for war crimes, ensure they are prosecuted in a fair trial without recourse to the death penalty.14

We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve.
— V.I. Ulyanov, (Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface.))

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.
— Rosa Luxemburg15

Sometimes I think we biologists may find ourselves coming into politics from our own angle. If things go on as they are going – We may have to treat the whole world as a mental hospital. The entire species is going mad; for what is madness but a complete want of mental adaptation to one’s circumstances? Sooner or later, young man, your generation will have to face up to that.…

I have an idea, Father, a half-formed idea,that before we can go on to a sane new order, there has to be a far more extensive clearing up of old institutions… The world needs some sort of scavenging, a burning up of the old infected clothes, before it can get on to a new phase. At present it is enormously encumbered… This is just a shadowy idea in my mind… Something like breaking down condemned, old houses. We can’t begin to get things in order until there has been this scavenging.

— HG Wells, The Holy Terror, Simon and Schuster, 1939.

  1. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, p. 566.
  2. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, Preface.
  3. Medvedev, p. 363.
  4. Amnesty International Report, p. 9.
  5. AI Report, p. 5.
  6. AI Report, p. 48.
  7. AI Report, p. 49.
  8. AI Report, p. 53.
  9. AI Report, p. 62.
  10. AI Report, p. 44.
  11. AI Report, p. 63.
  12. AI Report, p. 64.
  13. How the Establishment lost control, Chris Nineham, p. 93.
  14. AI Report, p. 67.
  15. Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface

Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and France against the Houthis in Yemen

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have attacked the Houthi forces in Yemen in the region of Hodeïdah. According to Le Figaro, the Coalition is supported by French Special Forces. The newspaper specifies that France will also be in charge of demining the ports at the end of battle; help that the United States has refused to provide. Saudi Arabia is trying to reunify Yemen under its control whilst its Emirates ally is bent on having the country divided once again. We do not know how (...)

Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and France against the Houthis in Yemen

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have attacked the Houthi forces in Yemen in the region of Hodeïdah. According to Le Figaro, the Coalition is supported by French Special Forces. The newspaper specifies that France will also be in charge of demining the ports at the end of battle; help that the United States has refused to provide. Saudi Arabia is trying to reunify Yemen under its control whilst its Emirates ally is bent on having the country divided once again. We do not know how (...)

End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis

Europe is facing the most significant refugee crisis since World War II. All attempts at resolving the issue have failed, mostly because they have ignored the root causes of the problem.

On June 11, Italy’s new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, blocked the Aquarius rescue ship, carrying 629 refugees and economic migrants, from docking at its ports.

A statement by Doctors without Borders (MSF) stated that the boat was carrying 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

“From now on, Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration,” said Salvini, who also heads the far-right League Party.

The number of refugees was repeated in news broadcasts time and again, as a mere statistic. In reality, it is 629 precious lives at stake, each with a compelling reason why she/he has undertaken the deadly journey.

While the cruelty of refusing entry to a boat laden with desperate refugees is obvious, it has to be viewed within a larger narrative pertaining to the rapidly changing political landscape in Europe and the crises under way in the Middle East and North Africa.

Italy’s new government, a coalition of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the far-right League party, seems intent on stopping the flow of refugees into the country, as promised on the campaign trail.

However, if politicians continue to ignore the root causes of the problem, the refugee crisis will not go away on its own.

The disturbing truth is this: Europe is accountable for much of the mayhem under way in the Middle East. Right-wing pundits may wish to omit that part of the debate altogether, but facts will not simply disappear when ignored.

European politicians should honestly confront the question: what are the reasons that lead millions of people to leave their homes? And fashion equally honest and humane solutions.

In 2017, an uprising-turned-civil-war in Syria led to the exodus of millions of Syrian refugees.

Ahmed is a 55-year old Syrian refugee, who fled the country with his wife and two children. His reason for leaving was no other than the grinding, deadly war.

He told the UN Refugees Agency: “I was born in Homs and I wanted to live there until the end, but this vicious war left us no other choice but to leave all behind. For the sake of my children’s future we had to take the risk.”

“I had to pay the smuggler eight thousand US dollars for each member of my family. I’ve never done anything illegal in my whole life, but there was no other solution.”

Saving his family meant breaking the rules; millions would do the same thing if confronted with the same grim dilemma. In fact, millions have.

African immigrants are often blamed for ‘taking advantage’ of the porous Libyan coastline to ‘sneak’ into Europe. Yet, many of those refugees had lived peacefully in Libya and were forced to flee following the NATO-led war on that country in March 2011.

“I’m originally from Nigeria and I had been living in Libya for five years when the war broke out,” wrote Hakim Bello in the Guardian.

“I had a good life: I was working as a tailor and I earned enough to send money home to loved ones. But after the fighting started, people like us – black people – became very vulnerable. If you went out for something to eat, a gang would stop you and ask if you supported them. They might be rebels, they might be government, you didn’t know.”

The security mayhem in Libya led not only to the persecution of many Libyans, but also millions of African workers, like Bello, as well. Many of those workers could neither go home nor stay in Libya. They, too, joined the dangerous mass escapes to Europe.

War-torn Afghanistan has served as the tragic model of the same story.

Ajmal Sadiqi escaped Afghanistan, which has been in a constant state of war for many years, a war that took a much deadlier turn since the US invasion in 2001.

Sadiqi told CNN that the vast majority of those who joined him on his journey from Afghanistan, through other countries to Turkey, Greece and other EU countries, died along the way. But, like many in his situation, he had few alternatives.

“Afghanistan has been at war for 50 years and things are never going to change,” he said.

“Here, I have nothing, but I feel safe. I can walk on the street without being afraid.”

Alas, that sense of safety is, perhaps, temporary. Many in Europe are refusing to examine their own responsibility in creating or feeding conflicts around the world, while perceiving the refugees as a threat.

Despite the obvious correlation between western-sustained wars and the EU’s refugee crisis, no moral awakening is yet to be realized. Worse still, France and Italy are now involved in exploiting the current warring factions in Libya for their own interests.

Syria is not an entirely different story. There, too, the EU is hardly innocent.

The Syria war has resulted in a massive influx of refugees, most of whom are hosted by neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but many have sailed the sea to seek safety in Europe.

“All of Europe has a responsibility to stop people from drowning. It’s partly due to their actions in Africa that people have had to leave their homes,” said Bello.

“Countries such as Britain, France, Belgium and Germany think they are far away and not responsible, but they all took part in colonizing Africa. NATO took part in the war in Libya. They’re all part of the problem.”

Expectedly, Italy’s Salvini and other like-minded politicians refuse to frame the crisis that way.

They use whichever discourse needed to guarantee votes, while ignoring the obvious fact that, without military interventions, economic exploitation and political meddling, a refugee crisis – at least one of this magnitude – could exist in the first place.

Until this fact is recognized by EU governments, the flow of refugees will continue, raising political tension and contributing to the tragic loss of lives of innocent people, whose only hope is merely to survive.

(Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer contributed to this article) 

G7 vs. G6+1: The War of Words

Background

The war of words has intensified between the U-S and G-7 allies after President Donald Trump retracted his endorsement of the communiqué of the once-united group.

The German chancellor called Trump’s abrupt revocation of support for a joint communiqué sobering and depressing. Angela Merkel, however, said that’s not the end. France also accused Trump of destroying trust and acting inconsistently. Trump pulled the U-S out of the group’s summit statement after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on the U-S.  The White House said Canada risked making the U-S president look weak ahead of his summit with the North Korean leader. But, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland later reiterated that her country will retaliate against U-S tariffs in a measured and reciprocal way.

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PressTV: What do you make of Mr. Trump’s decision to renege on the G7’s final statement?

Peter Koenig: Trump pulling out from the final G7 statement is just show; the usual Trump show. He signed it, then he pulled out. We have seen it with the Iran Nuclear Deal, with the North Korea meeting, on and off, with the tariffs first. About two months ago the tariffs were on for Europe, Mexico and Canada, as well as China. Then they were off for all of them, and now they are on again…

How serious can that be? Trump just wants to make sure that he calls the shots. And he does. As everybody gets nervous and talks about retaliation instead of practicing the “politics of silence” strategy.

In the case of Europe, the tariffs, or the equivalent of sanctions, as Mr. Putin recently so aptly put it, may well serve as a means of blackmailing Europe, for example, to disregard as Trump did, the Iran Nuclear Deal, “step out of it – and we will relieve you from the tariffs.”

In the case of Canada and Mexico, it’s to make sure Americans realize that he, Mr. Trump, wants to make America Great again and provide jobs for Americans. These tariffs alone will not create one single job. But they create an illusion and that, he thinks, will help Republicans in the up-coming Mid-term Elections.

In China tariffs are perhaps thought as punishment for President Xi’s advising President Kim Jong-Un ahead of the June 12 summit and probably and more likely to discredit the Yuan as a world reserve currency, since the Chinese currency is gradually replacing the dollar in the world’s reserve coffers. But Trump knows that these tariffs are meaningless for China, as China has a huge trade surplus with the US and an easy replacement market like all of Asia.

PressTV:  How could the silence strategy by the 6 G7 partners have any impact on Trump’s decision on tariffs?

Peter Koenig: Well, the G6 – they are already now considered the G6+1, since Trump at the very onset of the summit announced that he was considering pulling out of the G7- so, the remaining 6 partners could get together alone and decide quietly what counter measures they want to take, then announce it in a joint communiqué to the media.

It does not have to be retaliation with reciprocal tariffs.  It could, for example, be pulling out of NATO.  Would they dare? That would get the world’s attention. That might be a much smarter chess move than copying the draw of one peon with the draw of another one. Because we are actually talking here about a mega-geopolitical chess game.

What we are actually witnessing is a slow but rapidly increasing disintegration of the West.

Let’s not forget, the G7 is a self-appointed Group of the “so-called” world’s greatest powers. How can that be when the only “eastern power”, Russia, and for that much more powerful than, for example, Canada or Italy, has been excluded in 2014 from the then G8?

And when the world’s largest economic power – measured by the real economic indicator, namely, purchasing power parity – China has never been considered being part of the G-Group of the greatest?

It is obvious that this Group is not sustainable.

We have to see whatever Trump does, as the result of some invisible forces behind the scene that direct him. Trump is a convenient patsy for them, and he plays his role quite well. He confuses, creates chaos, and on top of it, he, so far single-handedly wants to re-integrate Russia in the G-7; i.e., the remaking of the G-8.

So far the G6’s are all against it. Oddly, because it’s precisely the European Union that is now seeking closer ties with Russia. Maybe because they want to have Russia all for themselves?

If that is Trump’s strategy to pull Europe and Russia together, and thereby create a chasm between Russia and China, then he may succeed. Because the final prize of this Trump-directed mega political chess game is China.

Trump, or his handlers, know very well that they cannot conquer China as a close ally of Russia. So, the separation is one of the chess moves towards check-mate. But probably both Presidents Putin and Xi are well aware of it.

In fact, the SCO just finished their summit in China’s Qingdao on 9 June, about at the same time as the G7 in Canada’s Charlevoix, Quebec Province, and it was once more very clear that this alliance of the 8 SCO members is getting stronger, and Iran is going to be part of it. Therefore, a separation of Russia from the Association is virtually impossible. We are talking about half the world’s population and an economic strength of about one third of the world’s GDP, way exceeding the one of the G7 in terms of purchasing power.

This, I think is the Big Picture we have to see in these glorious G7 summits.

Relations between President Trump and Macron deteriorate

While the Elysee restricts itself to communicating that a telephone conversation had taken place between the French President and the US President on 1 June 2018, the White House has started leaking bits of it. It seems that the conversation did not go very well: Emmanuel Macron started by making a “frank” criticism of US policy, and Donald Trump made withering comments to him in return. The interview probably ended with insults in both directions. We need to go a long way for the French (...)

Relations between President Trump and Macron deteriorate

While the Elysee restricts itself to communicating that a telephone conversation had taken place between the French President and the US President on 1 June 2018, the White House has started leaking bits of it. It seems that the conversation did not go very well: Emmanuel Macron started by making a “frank” criticism of US policy, and Donald Trump made withering comments to him in return. The interview probably ended with insults in both directions. We need to go a long way for the French (...)

French-Canadian statement

France and Canada maintain a solid relationship founded on common values, which are liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the primacy of the rule of law. This relationship is based on strong ties between our peoples and cultures, the shared French language, and our ever closer and developed cooperation on economic, social and societal issues and in areas of defence, peace and security. In a complex geopolitical context, marked by issues crucial to the future of the globe and (...)

US Using “ethnic cleansing” to Set up Compliant State in Syria

The US is trying to ethnically cleanse Syria in order to kill off Syrian nationalism and create an obedient state, journalist Vanessa Beeley told RT following a damning report on the US coalition’s military activities in Raqqa.

“They bombed trapped civilians”.  Amnesty’s damning report on US,UK, and France destruction in Raqqa

Beeley, an independent journalist who has covered the war in Syria extensively, told RT that the US, UK and French coalition is using proxy forces to cleanse certain areas of land in the war-torn country in an effort “to replace them with a proxy that will essentially create a US controlled state.”

She was responding to a new Amnesty International report that strongly criticizes the actions of the US-led coalition in its campaign to liberate the previously Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL)-controlled city of Raqqa.

A woman stands on rubble of damaged buildings in Raqqa © Aboud Hamam / Reuters

The Amnesty report accused the coalition and its Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) proxies of creating “a level of destruction comparable to anything we’ve seen in decades of covering the impact of wars,” and it says that the coalition’s claims that the bombings were “precise” and caused few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny.

Beeley said that the Amnesty report put “meat on the bones” of previous analysis from on-the-ground journalists and some Russian analysts and commentators. She said that despite the US-led campaign ostensibly being about ridding the area of IS terrorists, it was the terrorists “who were evacuated as priority over the civilians.”

“Civilian property and infrastructure, essential infrastructure like water taps, like water supply units that were keeping civilians alive during the campaign were also being targeted,” she said, adding that it was the SDF forces designating the targets for the US coalition.

“So there’s a degree of collusion here between the US coalition and its proxies forces on the ground,” she said.

Beeley also criticized the reluctance of the British government, in particular, to admit to causing civilian deaths during its military campaign. The UK Ministry of Defense, she said, “did not even admit one civilian death as a result of their “precision” bombing — and then they only reluctantly admitted that they believe one civilian was killed by one of their drone strikes.”

Comparing the American-led military campaign in Raqqa to the Russian and Syrian-led military campaign to liberate east Aleppo, Beeley said that there were different standards set and attempts were made to protect Aleppo civilians.

“What we saw there were the provision of humanitarian corridors for civilians to be able to leave under the cover of the Syrian Arab Army and with the help of the Russian reconciliation teams negotiating with the terrorist and militant extremist factions to allow civilians to leave,” Beeley said. “What we’ve seen in Raqqa is civilians paying smugglers to try and leave during the military campaign, having to cross minefields, being unable to afford the cost of those smuggling groups.”

Beeley also said that Syrian civilians were being forced to return to buildings and areas of Raqqa that had not yet been cleared of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), booby traps and mines left by IS militants.

In contrast, the journalist said that Russian forces “cleared thousands of hectares of those IEDs and booby traps” following their campaigns to liberate Aleppo and Ghouta from IS.

“What we’re seeing here is a disgusting despicable disregard for human life both during the military campaign and even more importantly after the military campaign by the US coalition,” Beeley said.

Watch Vanessa Beeley’s full interview with RT below:

US Trade War with the European Union

Background

The EU on Wednesday said a raft of retaliatory tariffs, including on whiskey and motorcycles, against painful metals duties imposed by the US would be ready as early as July.

The European Commission, which handles trade matters for the 28-country bloc, “expects to conclude the relevant procedure in coordination with member states before the end of June,” said European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic at a news briefing.

This would allow “that the new duties start applying in July,” he added.

“It is a measured and proportionate response to the unilateral and illegal decision taken by the US to impose tariffs on the European steel and aluminum exports which we regret,” said the former Slovak prime minister.

From blue jeans to motorbikes and whiskey, the EU’s hit-list of products targeted for tariffs with the US reads like a catalogue of emblematic American exports.

The European Union originally drew up the list in March but pledged not to activate it unless US President Donald Trump followed through on his threat to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum.

The Trump tariffs came into effect on June 1 and the EU now joins Mexico and Canada and other close allies that have announced their own wave of counter-duties against Washington.

The EU commission must now take their proposal to be signed off by the bloc’s member states amid divisions over what path to take against Trump’s unpredictable policies.

France and the Netherlands back a tough line against the US, while export powerhouse Germany has urged caution towards Trump’s “America First” policies.

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PressTV: How do you think this will affect the US? Wouldn’t it create more unemployment in America?

Peter Koenig: First, I think we have to distinguish between the various trade blocks and trade wars, like China, Russia, the NAFTA partner countries, Mexico and Canada – and the European Union – the EU. They are all different in as much as they have different motives.

Second, there is much more behind the so-called trade wars than trade. Much of this trade war is propaganda, big style, for public consumption and public debate, whereas in reality there are other negotiations going on behind closed doors.

And thirdly, there are mid-term elections coming up in the US this fall, and Trump must satisfy his home base, all the workers to whom he promised “Let’s Make America Great Again” – meaning bring back jobs, use US-made metals. So, Trump is also addressing those Americans who wait for jobs. As you know the unofficial but real figure of unemployment in the US is about 22% – and that does not even include the large segment of underemployed people, mostly youth.

I think we have to see the Big Picture here. And Trump, or rather those who give him orders, may not see all the risks that this complex multi-polar tariff war implies.

But for now, let’s stick to Europe.

It is very well possible that the EU will also impose import duties on US goods. But if it stays at that, it is very likely that this so-called trade war with the US is pushing Europe even faster than is already happening towards the East, the natural trading partners – Russia and China. As I said, it’s already happening.

But the Big Picture, in the case of Europe, I believe is IRAN. With tariffs on steel and aluminum – quite sizable tariffs, European producers of these metals, the second largest after China, would hurt. There may not be an immediate replacement market for America.

So, Trump may want to blackmail Europe into accepting his new sanctions on Iran. In other words, “either tariffs or you follow my dictate – abandon the Nuclear Deal and impose sanctions”.

Frankly, I doubt very much that this will work, since EU corporations have already signed billions worth of contracts with Iran. On the other hand, Germany in particular, is keen in renewing political as well as trade relations with Russia.

And the recent remark of the new US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, that he will support conservative right-wing movements in Germany and in Europe did certainly not go down well in Germany, with already a Parliamentary movement to expulse him, which certainly doesn’t help US-German relations.

As we speak, most likely this type of “blackmail” negotiations, “either tariffs or you go with us against Iran”, are going on with the EU behind closed doors. Of course, nobody knows the outcome.  Trump is like a straw in the wind, bending to whatever seems to suit him best at the moment.

Remember, a couple of months ago he already imposed tariffs on Europe, along with everybody else, on steel and aluminum, then he lifted them again – and now we are on again. It’s like with most everything he does. It’s probably his business negotiation strategy.

But, this would just confirm that this trade war is much more than meets the eye, more than a trade war – it’s about geopolitics – like “show me your card – which camp are you in?”

Trump and those who manage him may still be under the illusion of the last 70 years, that the whole world, especially Europeans, have to bend over backwards to please the US of A, because they saved Europe – and the world – from the Nazi evil.

Not only is it time to stop the vassalage and become autonomous again, but also, many European start understanding that whom they really have to thank for liberating them from the Nazis – is Russia.