Category Archives: Syria

Can Maduro Emulate Castro and Assad to Keep NATO’s Imperialist Hands Off Venezuela?

(Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr., Task Force Currahee Public Affairs Office)

Imperial logic I: External crises distract from internal ones

Empires with internal problems tend to create external crises to distract the public opinion and unite their political and economical ruling class in a fictitious nationalistic fervor. The current United States policy of overt regime change in Venezuela, backed entirely by its NATO vassals, follows an evergreen imperial playbook of creating new crises to obscure failures and divisions.

In addition to the administration’s overall incompetence, the legal investigations through the Mueller inquiry, and the failure to deliver to its MAGA sycophants their big wall, it has passed unnoticed, and it will never be admitted by US officials or media that the US imperial wars in Afghanistan and Syria are, in fact, lost. Assad will remain in power, and the US administration has publicly admitted that it was negotiating with the Taliban. The temptation for the empire’s ideologues is too strong not to follow the precept: when you have lost a war, you declare victory and you leave. And next time around, you try to pick a weaker target.

Archive of Jakob Reimann

Imperial logic II: A state of war must be permanent

A prime example of this in recent history was the way the events of September 11, 2001 were used internally to justify the emergence of a police state, using far-reaching legislation like the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Externally, 911 was successfully used by the US to trigger, almost immediately, an invasion of Afghanistan with the entire NATO membership under the hospice of the military alliance’s Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This was the very first time, since the creation of NATO in 1949, that Article 5 was put into force.

With the US public opinion still largely revengeful, misinformed by media manipulations, and eager to wage war, two years later, in 2003, it was fairly simple for the Bush administration and its neocons to sell the invasion of Iraq as a war of necessity, and not for what it truly was: a war of choice, for oil and greater control of the Middle East. Cynically, the aftermath of 9/11/2001 gave the empire and its powerful military-industrial complex two wars for the price of one.

Archive of Dawei Ding

Imperial logic III: People are collateral damage of realpolitiks

Great moral principles of altruistic universal humanitarian concerns are almost never at stake in these instances. They are mainly smoke screens to hide the board of a cold, Machiavellian, and complex chess game where innocent bystanders often perish by the millions. They are the acceptable collateral damage of realpolitik’s grand strategists. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the true guiding principle of US imperial realpolitik, and all US foreign policy decisions that derived from it, was to stop the so-called communist domino effect.

Communist domino effect: three simple words for a game that killed millions of innocent people worldwide, first in Korea in the early 1950s, then in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, and later, under the tutelage of some of the very same criminal architects, in Central and South American countries like Chile. Now in their golden years, most of these murderous policymakers, like Henry Kissinger, enjoy an active retirement with honors, respect and, unlike their colleague Robert McNamara, not a hint of remorse.

One of these policymakers, a veteran of US imperialism in Central America and also one of the staunchest advocates of Iraq’s invasion in 2003, has made a come back. He is neocon extraordinaire Elliot Abrams. Abrams has been rewarded for his actions in the Iran-Contra affair, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with a nomination as Special Envoy of the Trump administration for Venezuela. In other words, Abrams is in charge of the US-sponsored coup task force against Venezuela’s legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Archive of Lezumbalaberenjena

Defeating imperial logic: The Cuban and Syrian lessons

There are many others examples in history where in a David versus Goliath fight, the little guy who, on paper, did not stand a chance eventually through sheer determination, organization and vast popular support, won on the battlefield. Vietnam is obviously a special case in this regard, as the Vietcong of Ho Chi Minh managed to defeat, almost back to back, the old colonial masters of the French empire in the 1950s, and, of course. soon thereafter, the US empire.

In the early 1960s, during the Cuban missile crisis, Castro’s days seemed to be numbered. More recently, in Syria, all the lips of the NATO coalition, Israel and Gulf State allies were chanting in unison that as a precondition for resolving the Syrian crisis, “Assad must go!” By 2017, however, some coalition members such as Qatar, France and Germany were not so adamant about the “Assad must go” mantra. Not only did Bashar al-Assad not go, but also, as matter of fact, he is regaining control of his entire country, on his own terms.

AFP PHOTO/www.cubadebate.cu/

Castro outsmarted the empire’s CIA hitmen 600 times

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, had in Fidel Castro a source of inspiration and the guidance of a father figure. Chavez, like other neo-Marxists, looked up to Fidel for leading a successful revolution, through military action, which had toppled the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. This regime was not only a docile servant of the US government but was also directly associated with the Mafia’s criminal activities in Cuba in the era of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. With Batista’s complicity, American gangsters had turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise where the US’ unscrupulous rich went to play. Castro shut down the bordello that had become Cuba and proudly rebuilt his island, and he consciously set out to transform Cuba slowly and steadily into a socialist country.

Needless to say, the shutdown of their depraved and lucrative tropical paradise was unacceptable for the US empire’s ruling elites. Against all odds, the Cuban communist leader managed to defy one US administration after another, and without compromise remained at the helm of the Cuban revolution. It was not for a lack of trying either to invade Cuba, as in the Bay of Pigs botched invasion episode, or to cook up countless assassination attempts on Castro’s person. Starting almost immediately after he took power in 1959, Castro was the target of CIA assassination attempts. From the Kennedy era all the way to the Clinton administrations, Fidel Castro survived more than 600 plots to kill him. Some of the attempts involved collaborations of the Mafia with the CIA. Castro once said, “if surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal!” It has to be added that, at least so far, Fidel Castro has also won a posthumous gold medal for ensuring the legacy of the Cuban revolution.

Damascus, Syria. 15th March 2012 — Loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad attend the rally at the Umayyad Square and hold the Syrian flag and a picture of Bashar al-Assad.

Assad: military might and striking the right alliances

Almost eight years ago, some people in quiet mansions, regal palaces or discrete offices in Washington, Riyadh, Doha, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv or undisclosed locations came up with what appeared to be an excellent plan. They would hijack some of the genuine energy of the Arab Spring then quickly sponsor it with a huge arsenal, while hiring some supposed good Djihadists soldiers-of-fortune as the main muscle to get rid of the uncooperative Bashar al-Assad. In what I called in May 2013, an “unholy alliance to wreck and exploit,” the Western and Gulf States coalition to topple Assad was born. In the US, the late Senator John McCain was one of the cheerleaders of the so-called Free Syrian Army.

Eight years later, with Syria in ruins, 350,000 people dead, around 4.5 million refugees still scattered principally in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, Assad has prevailed in a bittersweet victory, considering that his country has been wrecked as a battleground for proxy wars. Bashar al-Assad did not win on his own. He managed to retain complete loyalty from the Syrian army during the past eight gruesome years. Assad also could count on the military involvement of dependable allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran and, of course, a critical impact of Russia once Putin’s administration decided to commit military assets and troops.

Maduro can keep Uncle Sam’s hands off Venezuela

One can only hope that Venezuela’s US-sponsored coup attempt using the subterfuge of a phony revolution does not follow the track of Syria in terms of the mayhem. However, the analogies are numerous between Maduro’s situation today and that of Assad in 2011. First, Maduro has at his disposal a reasonably well-equipped military as well as the Chavista militia. To defeat the unfolding coup attempt, the loyalty of the armed forces has to be ironclad. Second, just as Assad has done, Maduro must work to cultivate, in pragmatic ways, both regional and worldwide alliances.

Cuba will do a lot to help and might turn out to be Maduro’s Hezbollah. But will Mexico, Bolivia, and Uruguay go beyond diplomatic posturing in their solidarity with Maduro against NATO’s imperialism? How involved and how far, either economically or, in a worse-case scenario, militarily are Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran willing to go? In geopolitics, unlike diplomacy, only actions talk. Venezuela has a massive bargaining chip in the form of the mostly untapped biggest oil reserve in the world. This is Maduro’s ultimate ace in this game, and it should be used shrewdly. In realpolitiks, friends might be temporary, and they always want something. This is not an altruistic environment.

Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow

The Russian-sponsored Palestinian unity talks in Moscow on February 11 were neither a success nor failure. Uniting Palestinian factions was not the main objective of the Moscow conference in the first place.

Instead, the nature of the event, the host country and the clear messages sent to Washington and Tel Aviv were all meant to communicate something else entirely. And they did.

The head of the Fatah delegation to the conference, Azzam al-Ahmed, apologized to his hosts on behalf of Palestinians for failing to achieve political reconciliation.

But that apology could have been prepared in advance. It would not have been rational to expect that a conference organized in such haste, with few preliminary meetings or intense prior consultations, could have achieved the coveted unity.

If one is to also consider the various unity agreements, signed between Fatah and Hamas in the past – but never honored – and bearing in mind the additional punitive measures slapped by the Palestinian Authority against Gaza recently, a unity deal in Russia would be nothing less than a miracle.

So why did the Russians hold the conference in the first place and why did the Palestinians agree to attend, if its failure was a foretold conclusion?

The answer lies elsewhere, specifically in Warsaw, Poland.

Around the same time that Palestinians met in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, the US was holding its own conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The Warsaw meet was the US’ attempt at drawing a new political paradigm to replace the defunct ‘peace process’, which, itself, was an American political invention.

While the ‘peace process’, thanks to US blind support of Israel, has failed terribly, Warsaw, too, is unlikely to deliver any meaningful or long-term political vision in the Middle East. The conference was the equivalent of a public American declaration that only Israel matters and that Washington’s commitment to Tel Aviv is paramount to all else.

Even the Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, known for its political subservience to Washington, was repulsed by the US’ new, brazen political approach. Time and again, the Donald Trump Administration has made it clear to its former Palestinian ally that Palestinian political aspirations are no longer a subject worthy of even mere consideration by the US. The relocating of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Washington in May last year was one of many such signs.

Abbas, who is now increasing pressure on his Hamas rivals in Gaza, and is plotting against his own Fatah rivals in the West Bank, agreed to allow Fatah participation in the Moscow conference because he, too, has a message for the US, the gist of which is “we too have a new strategy and political alternatives.’

Knowing in advance that Trump’s so-called “deal of the century’ is likely to be consistent with the new, more aggressive US foreign policy approach to the Middle East, Fatah is keen to preclude the announcement of the ‘deal’ by seeking different routes that do not  necessarily go through Washington.

For Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions, freeing Fatah from Washington’s grip is something they can also all agree on.

A Hamas official, Hussam Badran, was very clear regarding the consensus of all Palestinian participants in denouncing the “deal of the century (and) all conspiracies to eliminate the Palestinian cause.”

Musa Abu Marzouk, who led the Hamas delegation, declared from Moscow that all Palestinians factions will work together to “confront the deal of the century.”

Fatah’s position was of one and the same.

For Russia, a unified Palestinian call to defeat the latest US political stratagem in the region is consistent with Moscow’s ongoing efforts to undermine Washington’s once uncontested role in the Middle East.

True, the Palestinian factions failed to agree on a final statement written on behalf of all parties, but the disagreements were of little relevance to their political outlook concerned with Washington’s political ploys. The Islamic Jihad refuses to consider a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and, along with Hamas, does not see the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the one and only representative of all Palestinians, as the draft of the final statement proposed.

These positions are hardly new, especially since Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are not yet part of the PLO. Palestinian factions would need more than a two-day conference in Moscow to iron out the numerous details of such complex issues.

Russia, too, had its own messages to send. Aside from a message to the US-led Warsaw conference that Russia is ready to fill the gap left open by the US departure from the ‘peace process’, another Russian-hosted political summit in Sochi carried layers of direct and subtle meanings.

The tripartite Sochi summit brought Russia, Turkey and Iran together to discuss the future of Syria following the US withdrawal.

For Russia to be heavily involved in two major political processes and conflicts concerning the Middle East at the same time is unprecedented since the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Russian-Soviet led socialist bloc.

Those in Washington who see Moscow as an adversary must have been particularly unpleased by the new developments. The US-Russian rivalry is definitely at its highest point in many years.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions, save Fatah, would have welcomed Russia’s re-engagement, regardless of any specific political contexts. Hamas has been under massive pressure and near-complete isolation in Gaza for many years, and a political outlet of this nature is, for the Movement, a welcome development.

Hamas is now ready to upgrade its ties with Russia, especially after the Movement’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, received an official invitation to include Russia on his next trip outside of besieged Gaza.

The major change in the political equation, however, is that Fatah has been recently dropped from the US political sponsorship list, and is desperately seeking new political and financial patrons.

Mahmoud Abbas is likely to wait for further indications of the changing American position before completely abandoning his quest of an American sponsored ‘peace’ with Israel.

All three conferences – Warsaw, Moscow and Sochi – should be enough of an indication that the new political paradigm, which has been in the making for years, is unlikely to be reversed, at least, not any time soon.

What the Press Hides From You About Venezuela

Introduction

This news-report is being submitted to all U.S. and allied news-media, and is being published by all honest ones, in order to inform you of crucial facts that the others — the dishonest ones, who hide such crucial facts — are hiding about Venezuela. These are facts that have received coverage only in one single British newspaper: the Independent, which published a summary account of them on January 26th. That newspaper’s account will be excerpted here at the end, but first will be highlights from its topic, the official report to the U.N. General Assembly in August of last year, which has been covered-up ever since. This is why that report’s author has now gone to the Independent, desperate to get the story out, finally, to the public:

The Covered Up Document

On 3 August 2018, the U.N.’s General Assembly received the report from the U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, concerning his mission to Venezuela and Ecuador. His recent travel through both countries focused on “how best to enhance the enjoyment of all human rights by the populations of both countries.” He “noted the eradication of illiteracy, free education from primary school to university, and programmes to reduce extreme poverty, provide housing to the homeless and vulnerable, phase out privilege and discrimination, and extend medical care to everyone.” He noted “that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Ecuador, both devote around 70 per cent of their national budgets to social services.” However, (and here, key paragraphs from the report are now quoted):

22. Observers have identified errors committed by the Chávez and Maduro Governments, noting that there are too many ideologues and too few technocrats in public administration, resulting in government policies that lack coherence and professional management and discourage domestic investment, already crippled by inefficiency and corruption, which extend to government officials, transnational corporations and entrepreneurs. Critics warn about the undue influence of the military on government and on the running of enterprises like Petróleos de Venezuela. The lack of regular, publicly available data on nutrition, epidemiology and inflation are said to complicate efforts to provide humanitarian support.

23. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Tarek Saab, has launched a vigorous anticorruption campaign, investigating the links between Venezuelan enterprises and tax havens, contracting scams, and deals by public officials with Odebrecht. It is estimated that corruption in the oil industry has cost the Government US$ 4.8 billion. The Attorney General’s Office informed the Independent Expert of pending investigations for embezzlement and extortion against 79 officials of Petróleos de Venezuela, including 22 senior managers. The Office also pointed to the arrest of two high-level oil executives, accused of money-laundering in Andorra. The Ministry of Justice estimates corruption losses at some US$ 15 billion. Other stakeholders, in contrast, assert that anti-corruption programmes are selective and have not sufficiently targeted State institutions, including the military.

29. Over the past sixty years, non-conventional economic wars have been waged against Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to make their economies fail, facilitate regime change and impose a neo-liberal socioeconomic model. In order to discredit selected governments, failures in the field of human rights are maximized so as to make violent overthrow more palatable. Human rights are being “weaponized” against rivals. Yet, human rights are the heritage of every human being and should never be instrumentalized as weapons of demonization.

30. The principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States belong to customary international law and have been reaffirmed in General Assembly resolutions, notably [a list is supplied].

31. In its judgment of 27 June 1986 concerning Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice quoted from [U.N.] resolution 2625 (XXV): “no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State”.

36. The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs. To the extent that economic sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths, sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. Moreover, sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An investigation by that Court would be appropriate, but the geopolitical submissiveness of the Court may prevent this.

37. Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means.

39. Economic asphyxiation policies are comparable to those already practised in Chile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua and the Syrian Arab Republic. In January 2018, Middle East correspondent of The Financial Times and The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, wrote on the sanctions affecting Syria:

There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them. An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions … makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible”.

In short: economic sanctions kill.

41. Bearing in mind that Venezuelan society is polarized, what is most needed is dialogue between the Government and the opposition, and it would be a noble task on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to offer his good offices for such a dialogue. Yet, opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Julio Borges, during a trip through Europe to denounce the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called for further sanctions as well as a military “humanitarian intervention”.

44. Although the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not yet reached the humanitarian crisis threshold, there is hunger, malnutrition, anxiety, anguish and emigration. What is crucial is to study the causes of the crisis, including neglected factors of sanctions, sabotage, hoarding, black market activities, induced inflation and contraband in food and medicines. 

45. The “crisis” in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is an economic crisis, which cannot be compared with the humanitarian crises in Gaza, Yemen, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Haiti, Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, or Myanmar, among others. It is significant that when, in 2017, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requested medical aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the plea was rejected, because it ”is still a high-income country … and as such is not eligible”.

46. It is pertinent to recall the situation in the years prior to the election of Hugo Chávez. 118 Corruption was ubiquitous and in 1993, President Carlos Pérez was removed because of embezzlement. The Chávez election in 1998 reflected despair with the corruption and neo-liberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and rejection of the gulf between the super-rich and the abject poor.

47. Participatory democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called “protagónica”, is anchored in the Constitution of 1999 and relies on frequent elections and referendums. During the mission, the Independent Expert exchanged views with the Electoral Commission and learned that in the 19 years since Chávez, 25 elections and referendums had been conducted, 4 of them observed by the Carter Center. The Independent Expert met with the representative of the Carter Center in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who recalled Carter’s positive assessment of the electoral system. They also discussed the constitutional objections raised by the opposition to the referendum held on 30 July 2017, resulting in the creation of a Constitutional Assembly. Over 8 million Venezuelans voted in the referendum, which was accompanied by international observers, including from the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America. 

48. An atmosphere of intimidation accompanied the mission, attempting to pressure the Independent Expert into a predetermined matrix. He received letters from NGOs asking him not to proceed because he was not the “relevant” rapporteur, and almost dictating what should be in the report. Weeks before his arrival, some called the mission a “fake investigation”. Social media insults bordered on “hate speech” and “incitement”. Mobbing before, during and after the mission bore a resemblance to the experience of two American journalists who visited the country in July 2017. Utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, critics questioned the Independent Expert’s integrity and accused him of bias, demonstrating a culture of intransigence and refusal to accept the duty of an independent expert to be neutral, objective, dispassionate and to apply his expertise free of external pressures.

67. The Independent Expert recommends that the General Assembly: (g) Invoke article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations and refer the following questions to the International Court of Justice: Can unilateral coercive measures be compatible with international law? Can unilateral coercive measures amount to crimes against humanity when a large number of persons perish because of scarcity of food and medicines? What reparations are due to the victims of sanctions? Do sanctions and currency manipulations constitute geopolitical crimes? (h) Adopt a resolution along the lines of the resolutions on the United States embargo against Cuba, declaring the sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela contrary to international law and human rights law.

70. The Independent Expert recommends that the International Criminal Court investigate the problem of unilateral coercive measures that cause death from malnutrition, lack of medicines and medical equipment.

72. The Independent Expert recommends that, until the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court address the lethal outcomes of economic wars and sanctions regimes, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, the Russell Tribunal and the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission undertake the task so as to facilitate future judicial pronouncements.

On January 26th, Britain’s Independent headlined “Venezuela crisis: Former UN rapporteur says US sanctions are killing citizens“, and Michael Selby-Green reported that:

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law.

Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.

The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him.

The US Treasury has not responded to a request for comment on Mr de Zayas’s allegations of the effects of the sanctions programme.

US sanctions prohibit dealing in currencies issued by the Venezuelan government. They also target individuals, and stop US-based companies or people from buying and selling new debt issued by PDVSA or the government.

The US has previously defended its sanctions on Venezuela, with a senior US official saying in 2018: “The fact is that the greatest sanction on Venezuelan oil and oil production is called Nicolas Maduro, and PDVSA’s inefficiencies,” referring to the state-run oil body, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA.

Mr De Zayas’s findings are based on his late-2017 mission to the country and interviews with 12 Venezuelan government minsters, opposition politicians, 35 NGOs working in the country, academics, church officials, activists, chambers of commerce and regional UN agencies.

The US imposed new sanctions against Venezuela on 9 March 2015, when President Barack Obama issued executive order 13692, declaring the country a threat to national security.

The sanctions have since intensified under Donald Trump, who has also threatened military invasion and discussed a coup.

Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.

He believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.

The then UN high commissioner, Zeid Raad Al Hussein1, reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit, and the Venezuela desk of the UN Human Rights Council also declined to help with his work after his return despite being obliged to do so, Mr de Zayas claimed.

Ivan Briscoe, Latin America and Caribbean programme director for Crisis Group, an international NGO, told The Independent that Venezuela is a polarising subject. … Briscoe is critical of Mr de Zayas’s report because it highlights US economic warfare but in his view neglects to mention the impact of a difficult business environment in the country. … Briscoe acknowledged rising tensions and the likely presence of US personnel operating covertly in the country.

Eugenia Russian, president of FUNDALATIN, one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela, founded in 1978 before the Chavez and Maduro governments and with special consultative status at the UN, spoke to The Independent on the significance of the sanctions.

“In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States,” Ms Russian said.

She said there may also be causes from internal errors, but said probably few countries in the world have suffered an “economic siege” like the one Venezuelans are living under.

In his report, Mr de Zayas expressed concern that those calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” are trying to justify regime change and that human rights are being “weaponised” to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more “palatable”….

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and an abundance of other natural resources including gold, bauxite and coltan. But under the Maduro government they’re not easily accessible to US and transnational corporations.

US oil companies had large investments in Venezuela in the early 20th century but were locked out after Venezuelans voted to nationalise the industry in 1973.

Other than readers of that single newspaper, where has the public been able to find these facts? If the public can have these facts hidden from them, then how much trust should the public reasonably have in the government, and in the news-media?

• Here is the garbage that a reader comes to, who is trying to find online Mr. de Zayas’s report on this matter:  As intended, the document remains effectively hidden to the present day. Perhaps the U.N. needs to be replaced and located in Venezuela, Iran, or some other country that’s targeted for take-over by the people who effectively own the United States Government and control the U.N.’s bureaucracy. The hiding of this document was done not only by the press but by the U.N. itself.

• On January 23rd, Germany’s Die Zeit headlined “Christoph Flügge: ‘I am deeply disturbed’: The U.N. International Criminal Court Judge Christoph Flügge Accuses Western Nations of Threatening the Independence of the Judges“. Flügge especially cited U.S. President Trump’s agent, John Bolton. That same day, the Democratic Party and Labour Party organ, Britain’s Guardian, bannered “International criminal court: UN court judge quits The Hague citing political interference“. This news-report said that, “A senior judge has resigned from one of the UN’s international courts in The Hague citing ‘shocking’ political interference from the White House and Turkey.” The judge especially criticised Bolton: “The American security adviser held his speech at a time when The Hague was planning preliminary investigations into American soldiers who had been accused of torturing people in Afghanistan. The American threats against international judges clearly show the new political climate. It is shocking. I had never heard such a threat.” Flügge said that the judges on the court had been “stunned” that “the US would roll out such heavy artillery”. Flügge told the Guardian: “It is consistent with the new American line: ‘We are No 1 and we stand above the law’.”)

• On February 6th, a former UK Ambassador to Syria vented at an alt-news site, 21st Century Wire (since he couldn’t get any of the major-media sites to publish it), “A Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria“, and he brazenly exposed there the Doublespeak-Newspeak that the U.S. Government and press (what he called America’s “frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers”) apply in order to report the ‘news’ about Syria. So: how can the public, in a country such as the U.S., democratically control the Government, if the government and its press are lying to them, like that, all the time, and so routinely?)

  1. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who “reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit,” is Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, a Jordanian Prince. Jordan is a vassal-state in the U.S. empire. But Prince Hussein is a Jordanian diplomat who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018 — hardly an unbiased or independent person in such a supposedly nonpartisan role.

Mobilize and Defend Venezuela

It is new and it is not new, but it is tremendously wicked and deadly – the latest type of coup the US invented and is now applying against Venezuela.

Of course, coups and attempted coups are what could be described as the ‘West’s specialties’, and have been utilized by the U.S., U.K. and other imperialist countries against innumerable unfortunate nations on all continents. In Latin America, basically each and every country has suffered from them, from the Dominican Republic to Chile and Argentina; in Asia, from Indonesia to Thailand, and in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt and Syria. Whenever people of some country dared to vote in the socialists, Communists, anti-colonialists or simply some decent bunch of people who were determined to serve their own population, the West corrupted and deployed local elites and military, overthrew elected or revolutionary governments and installed brutal servile regimes. Thousands died, sometimes millions, but the Empire couldn’t care less; as long as it got its way.

There has been a clear pattern to how the West constructed its terror acts against almost all truly freedom-loving nations.

But what the West is now doing to Venezuela is something else, and totally extreme; the hostile acts against President Maduro and his comrades are stripped of all the scruples and cosmetic “refinements” of the past. They supposed to demonstrate in the cruelest terms who the real ruler of the world is, and who is ‘in charge’. This is ‘Western democracy at its best’!

In the past, the US tried to overthrow Chavez, it attempted to starve Venezuela, to make its medical system collapse, then to assassinate Maduro. It produced a ‘deficit’ of food, even toilet paper. It ordered its lapdogs in Latin America to antagonize the Bolivarian revolution.

Now, in the latest development, the regime in Washington has simply hand-picked its favorite traitor inside the socialist republic of Venezuela – a treasonous cadre named Juan Guaido, (who served, briefly, as President of the National Assembly of Venezuela), “recognizing him” as the “interim President of the country”.

Of course, before Guaido first declared himself, pompously, President of Venezuela, he was almost immediately put into his place by the Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which disavowed him as the chief of the National Assembly. So, let us call him former chief.

But the Western mass media propaganda campaign kicked into top gear, and overnight became utterly unscrupulous. As a result, it is now becoming almost impossible to read any information about the Supreme Court ruling, unless one goes to non-Western sources.

So, let’s go ‘there’. As reported by Iranian Tasnim, on January 22, 2019:

Venezuela’s Supreme Court head Maikel Moreno announced on Monday that the judges had disavowed Juan Guaido as the chief of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

And the RT, just one day earlier:

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has declared all acts of the country’s National Assembly null and void, days after the opposition-held assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro’s election illegitimate.

Also, the Venezuelan foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, snapped at Guaido on 21st January, 2019:

You see this man, who nobody knows in Venezuela—you ask in the streets, “Who is Juan Guaidó?” and nobody knows him—but he’s being pushed to say that he is the new president, by the U.S.

And he did say that! On the 23rd of January 2019, in front of his mob of supporters in Caracas.

And then, a day later, President Trump ‘recognized him’ as the country’s interim president. Canada did the same. The same did France, now a second-rate but increasingly rejuvenated imperialist and neo-colonialist power. Followed by that U.S. puppet – the Organization of American States (OAS), with such fascist countries on board, like Brazil, and Colombia now leading the pack.

Today, the world is clearly divided, as China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and many others are firmly on the side of the legitimate revolutionary government of President Maduro.

Confrontation is inevitable.

Venezuela ordered all US diplomats to leave and it cut off all diplomatic ties with Washington. US refused to make its embassy staff depart from Caracas, declaring that the Venezuelan government is ‘illegitimate’.

This amounts to a declaration of war. The US refuses to recognize the sovereignty of Venezuela. It reserves the right to tell the Venezuelan people who their real president is! It only recognizes its own, supreme control over the hemisphere and the Planet, showing spite for international law.

It is childish, arrogant, outrageous, and surreal. But it is really happening. And unless it is stopped, right there, in Caracas, this new form of ‘spreading coups’, and enforcing global dictatorship, may spread to all other parts of the world.

Although there are many ‘new elements’ at play, the situation, to a great extent, resembles the ‘Syrian scenario’, as was conveyed to TASS, on January 24, 2019, by Venezuela’s Ambassador to Russia Carlos Rafael Faria Tortosa:

The Venezuelan authorities know that the US is trying to stage a Syrian scenario with “government in exile” in Caracas… After US Vice President Michael Pence called for overthrowing our government, our president decided to sever diplomatic relations with the US authorities and asked US diplomats to leave Caracas in the next 72 hours. This is an adequate response which our brave president provided to flagrant interference… No country can allow any other country to state their opinions about the internal affairs of the state, especially when it comes to calls for overthrowing [the authorities].

We know what the next steps will be. The US will now have a justification [for their actions] that there are two governments in the country, like they did in our fraternal Syria with President Bashar Assad and its people. They created a government in exile, which led to great losses, to casualties, to demolition of the country’s infrastructure.

Will Caracas ask Moscow directly for help, as Syria did years ago, while fighting for its survival? It is not certain, yet, although this possibility certainly exists. Venezuela is counting on increasing support from Russia, Iran, China, Cuba and other socialist or independent countries.

For Venezuela, the only way to survive, is to cut off all its dependency on the West, immediately. Washington is threatening Caracas with further sanctions and even with an oil embargo.

There is no reason to panic. But Maduro’s government has to rapidly and fully realign itself. There are many countries outside the NATO realm which are willing to buy Venezuelan oil, and/or fairly invest in its infrastructure and industry. Russia, Iran, China and Turkey are the most important ones, but there are many others.

There has to be new strategy on how to alleviate the pain of the ordinary Venezuelans. This, too, has to come from ‘outside the Western sphere of control’, even outside Latin America; a continent known for its brutal European-descendant elites, consistent lack of solidarity, courage, and acceptance of the West’s rule (the greatest modern-day hero of South America, Hugo Chavez, died attempting to build an united, proud, socialist Latin America, just to be stabbed in his back and spat at by many of the servile Latin American nations. Cuba was fully abandoned after the destruction of the Soviet Union, and had to be saved by China).

The country has to mobilize; it has to fight. Fight for its survival. With all its allies united, ready to defend Venezuela, the same as it has been happening in Syria.

Venezuela suffers and struggles for humanity, not just for itself. With the name of Chavez and socialism on its lips.

Russia is standing by its ally, Venezuela. On 24 January, 2019, Sputnik reported:

Russia warns the United States against military interference in Venezuela’s affairs, it would be a disaster, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday:

As we see how the situation in Venezuela develops, we note the willingness of a certain group of countries, including the United States, to use different platforms such as the Organization of American States, to increase pressure on our ally Venezuela under different pretexts… But we have always supported and will support friendly Venezuela that is our strategic partner.

From the country devastated by a similar destabilization campaign as the one that is taking place in Venezuela, the Syrian official press agency SANA carried a message of support for the legitimate Venezuelan government:

The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in strongest terms going to extremes by the US and its blatant interference in the affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela which constitutes a flagrant violation of all international norms and laws and a brazen attack against the Venezuelan sovereignty,” a source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said on Thursday.

The source added that the destructive policies adopted by the US in different parts of the world and its disregard of the international legitimacy represents the main reason behind the tensions and the state of instability in our world…

The Syrian Arab Republic affirms its categorical rejection of the blatant US interferences, and it renews full solidarity with the Venezuelan leadership and people in preserving the sovereignty of the country and foiling the hostile schemes of the US administration…

In the past, countries accepted the Western terror unleashed against them as something inevitable. But now, the situation is changing. Russia, Cuba and Syria, Iran and China, and now Venezuela, are refusing to surrender, or even to “negotiate with the terrorists”.

Aleppo, which I described as “the Middle Eastern Stalingrad”, stood tall, fought, resisted and defeated vicious enemies. Now Caracas, the Latin American Leningrad, is under siege, starving, but determined to fight against foreign invasion and treasonous cadres.

All over the world, people have to mobilize and fight, by all means, against fascism and for Venezuela!

Syria, Then and Now

In a surprise turn of events, last month U.S. President Donald J. Trump made the abrupt unilateral announcement that American troops would begin to withdraw from Syria. The unexpected decision provoked the wrath of the foreign policy establishment and bipartisan ‘war party’ in Washington who immediately denounced it as a premature, reckless move that would lead to a resurgence of ISIS. As anticipated, the Beltway blob also claimed it was another sign of Trump’s perceived untold allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin. None of the warmongers in Washington would dare admit that the real gains made against ISIS were by the Syrian army with Russian air support, let alone that their own policies were responsible for its manifestation. Sure enough, a suicide bombing in Kurdish-controlled Manbij killed four American personnel just a month later and Daesh, which has a history of taking credit for attacks perpetrated by others, immediately claimed responsibility. It is almost as if the strategic asset themselves did not desire an American pullback— could it be another ‘false flag’ to keep the war machine in Syria going?

The neocons within the administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, contradicted Trump’s statements on the pullout citing the need to ‘protect the Kurds’ before any such removal. The degree of sincerity behind Trump’s decision has drawn a range of speculation — is it a superficial appeasement of his base to whom he made ‘anti-interventionist’ pledges as a candidate, when the U.S. is conducting a bait-and-switch with no plans to really leave Syria? Perhaps Blackwater private contractors will be taking their place. If Trump is genuine, then his decision-making is being circumvented by the Pentagon who Pompeo and Bolton arguably have demonstrated more allegiance to than their Commander-in-Chief, as not a single U.S. soldier has left Syria since Trump stated his intentions. The ‘deep state’ strikes back.

Meanwhile, increasingly difficult to differentiate from the neocons are the ‘humanitarian interventionists’ of the Democratic Party. A recent poll by Politico and the marketing research firm Morning Consult indicates that 30% less Democrats than Republicans favor the removal of U.S. forces from Syria, while just as many are opposed to an end to the nearly two decade occupation of Afghanistan as well. For years, the American people have been sold a bill of goods that the U.S. has been divinely appointed as the world’s policeman in order to protect ‘human rights’ in sovereign states around the globe. Despite military aggression being its essential feature, such newspeak enables many self-declared progressives to support U.S. interventionism abroad. A quote attributed to comedian George Carlin comes to mind based on protest signs against the Vietnam War that read “fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”

The suffering of populations under governments deemed enemies of the United States, usually exaggerated or invented, is the go-to method of persuasion rallying support for such militarism. The liberal opposition to the troop withdrawal is a testament to the power of the Syria propaganda campaign where the lengths the West has gone to invert reality is without precedent. Since the conflict began, mainstream reports of the war have repeated verbatim disinformation from dubious organizations that heavily favor the Syrian opposition, like the MI6-sponsored Syrian Observatory for Human Rights run by a single individual based in the UK that is somehow relied upon for ‘on the ground’ fact-gathering.

Even more sickening has been the media’s love affair with the Syrian Civil Defense, AKA the “White Helmets”, a shady organization purported by the yellow press to be neutral first-responders volunteering to save civilians. Anything but impartial, the White Helmets operate exclusively in opposition-controlled territory, specifically that of Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria),while receiving tens of millions of dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Some of its members may even be combatants themselves, splitting time between waging jihad and crisis acting as humanitarian aid workers. Founded by an ex-British intelligence officer and Blackwater-affiliated mercenary, they dispense staged footage of their activities to the fourth estate for circulation who invariably never bother to ask — what kind of search and rescue group travels everywhere they go with a movie crew ready for use? Disturbingly, the Netflix-produced “documentary” on the White Helmets even received an Academy Award and its members a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

Recently, even the Western art sphere has gotten in on the act. Saudi soft power and the U.S. art elite have joined forces in a troubling alliance for a cultural campaign of disinformation aimed at U.S. art-going audiences. From this past October until January 13th, on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York was the exhibition “Syria, Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart,| featuring the work of three contemporary artists centered on Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. On the surface, the display championed the plight of the millions of displaced Syrian citizens who fled the conflict to both surrounding countries in the region and the West. Unfortunately, the showcase featured a heavily biased pro-opposition and Russophobic narrative while the enormous conflict of interest behind the organization and sponsorship of the exposition was undisclosed to visitors.The exhibit is one of several ventures organized by the Arab Art Education Initiative (AAEI), a huge project in collaboration with some of the wealthiest and most illustrious art institutions in New York City, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and Columbia University. The AAEI’s anodyne endeavor is to “connect contemporary Arab culture with diverse audiences across the five boroughs of New York City, bringing together a coalition of artists and institutions to build greater understanding between the United States and the Arab world.” It may sound innocuous, but unmentioned in the gallery text is the Saudi government’s funding of the AAEI and visitors would have to look elsewhere to learn of the incompatibility between its stated aims and subsidies.

The primary donor to the AAEI is the arts initiative Edge of Arabia and its subsidiary the Misk Institute, an art-centered cultural diplomacy organization founded by none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself. The AAEI’s program was organized in 2017 at the the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as ‘Ithra’, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and was financially developed by its state-owned petroleum and gas enterprise, Aramco, officially the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. The initiative was anticipated to be a success until an inconvenient controversy suddenly stirred, though not by the abysmal human rights record of the gulf state theocracy or its ongoing war on Yemen that has killed tens of thousands in the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. No, the establishment and media were unmoved by those atrocities and saved their feigned concern about human rights for Syria.

It was only the untimely torture, killing, and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post, allegedly ordered by MBS himselfat the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey which unexpectedly embroiled the absolute monarchy in scandal and brought embarrassment to anyone connected to the dictatorship. In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s grisly murder, the dozens of political and financial figures who had championed MBS as a ‘reformer’ immediately began to distance themselves from the 33-year-old presumptive heir to the throne. Immediately, the museums involved in the AAEI’s program went into damage control mode, stating they would no longer be accepting Saudi funds in the wake of the fallout. However, it is unclear how this is even possible in the case of the Brooklyn Museum, considering Khashoggi was killed just a week prior to the exhibition debut and the entire coordination of the display was by the AAEI.

The art on view itself is a combination of ceramic artifacts from the Northern Syrian city of Raqqa dating back to the 13th century and modern three-dimensional sculptures depicting the refugee crisis. However, the artistic billing is misleading as the three artists featured are only loosely connected to Syria today— artist Mohamed Hafez was born in Damascus but raised in Saudi Arabia, designer Hassam Kourbaj has not lived in Syria since 1985 and is a UK-based artist, while the third — sculptor Ginane Makki Bacho, is Lebanese. The curators begin by reducing the enormously complex conflict to a single sentence for an explanation of its cause:

Today, a new generation of refugees seeks to escape Syria itself, after the regime of Bashar al-Assad used violence to put down pro-democracy protests and civil war broke out in 2011.

Taking a cue from its House of Saud paymasters, according to the curatorial account it was the Syrian government’s enlarged response alone that transformed protests calling for democratic improvements into a sectarian, violent insurrection led by religious extremists denouncing Alawites and Shias as heretics to be forcibly converted or slaughtered. We are then supposed to believe a conflict where CIA operatives trained Syrian ‘rebels’ with weapons supplied by the Saudis, Israel, Turkey and the other Gulf monarchies at the cost of billions of dollars per year is a ‘civil war’, not a proxy war. Sure, some of the insurgency have been ‘moderate’ in the beginning, such as the short-lived Free Syrian Army composed of AWOL Syrian soldiers, but most quickly defected back to the government or became radicalized as the Islamist influence grew. Consequently, credulous museum visitors would have no idea the destabilization of Syria using religious-fundamentalist auxiliaries was carefully prepared by Pentagon strategists for decades and that most Syrians actually support Assad.

More interesting is the inclusion of the exhibit focus on Syria’s ethnic Circassian population, who allegedly discovered the medieval ceramics on display when they arrived in the Levant and present-day Syria following their expulsion from the North Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire after Tsarist Russia’s victory in the Caucasian Wars in 1864. Regrettably, the gallery text disingenuously attempts to draw a historical parallel between Circassians expelled from the Russian Empire in the 19th century to Syrian refugees fleeing the current war:

Syria, Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart recounts the changing stories of refugees in Syria over time — then and now — and places their differing experiences, a century apart, in a global context. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Syria gave shelter to refugees from Russia — ethnic Circassians, displaced by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus.

If it isn’t completely obvious, the political implication is that the conflict in Syria is another case of ‘conquest’ by Moscow — or as Joseph Goebbels allegedly said, “accuse the other side of that which you are guilty.

The war in Syria has given the West another opportunity to utilize propaganda to vilify Russia, including for the “Circassian question.” Circassian is an umbrella term for the interrelated language and cultures of the Kabardians, Cherkess, Adygs and Shapsug peoples of the North Caucasus region who are predominantly Sunni Muslim. There are actually twelve different Circassian tribes, but during the Soviet era the official designation was reduced to four groups. Many within the diaspora around the world have expressed their desire to eventually return to the region, including the 80–120,000 based in Syria. Some Circassians (or Adyghes) have unofficially labeled their mass deportation by the Russian Empire as a case of ethnic cleansing and even ‘genocide.’ The g-word is a heavily politicized term and for this reason in 2011 the parliament of the U.S. client state of Georgia under the puppet government of Mikheil Saakashvili made the declaration that the Russian Empire was guilty. Circassian nationalists who have advocated its qualification for their forced migration over a century ago have been exploited by anti-Russian neoconservative organizations in the West who represent the interests of oil conglomerates seeking to gain a monopoly on the more than $4 trillion worth in oil beneath the Caspian Sea basin.

In The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives,former National Security advisor and ex-board member of the Jamestown Foundation, Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted:

For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia. For half a millennium, world affairs were dominated by Eurasian powers and peoples who fought with one another for regional domination and reached out for global power. Now a non-Eurasian power is preeminent in Eurasia — and Americas global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.

The primary neocon organization tasked with destabilizing the Caucasus is the Jamestown Foundation, an NGO co-created by former CIA director William Casey in 1984 during the Reagan administration. Its original stated purpose was to assist defectors after high-ranking Soviet diplomats had turned traitor. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, like all outdated Cold War organizations it had to reinvent itself, though its objective remains the same — to undermine what anti-communist hardliners once labeled ‘captive nations’ behind the Iron Curtain. Most of the former Soviet republics were granted their independence, but one exception was the North Caucasus which remained within the Russian Federation to the dissatisfaction of the West which seeks a complete balkanization of post-Soviet Eurasia. Jamestown and other right-wing NGOs like the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya have spent the last thirty years stirring-up Wahhabist-oriented ethnic separatism in the region, which produced two wars in the Chechen Republic that only officially ended after the ascension of Vladimir Putin. Jamestown is the owner of several Eurasia-oriented publications such as Caucasian Knotwhich peddles anti-Russian propaganda to instigate secessionist turmoil.

Vladimir Lenin reputably once called the Russian Empire ‘a prison house of nationalities’. In the Soviet Union, to address the ‘national question’ the second chamber of the legislative body guaranteed representation for all of the different ethnic groups in the federation, including the more than 50 residing in the Caucasus. Those with social vestiges and low literacy rates like the Circassians were even provided preferential treatment by the People’s Commissariat for Education. Since the reinstatement of the free market in Eastern Europe, the U.S. has fomented separatist and nationalist causes across Eurasia and attempted to undo the progress made during the Soviet era. The neocon effort to exploit the Circassian issue is a pretext for advocating their repatriation to the region and use of them as a geopolitical chess piece.

This culminated in protests by Circassian nationalists against the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on the basis that the games would be taking place on top of the graves of their ancestors during the 150th anniversary of their exiling. Few would doubt the brutality of the Tsarist absolute monarchy, which was just one of the many reasons it was overthrown in the Russian Revolution. However, whether or not what happened over a century and a half ago to the Circassians, a nationality so culturally backwards their marriage practice consists of bride kidnapping, was genocide is irrelevant considering another infamous holocaust in the Caucasus perpetrated upon the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks is still unrecognized by the U.S. and Georgia to this day. Their deceitfulness could not be more obvious and the West has a long history of mobilizing the grievances of ethnic groups for its own political gain against Moscow.

To give it perspective, the U.S. interference in the Caucasus is akin to Moscow advocating separatism for the dozens of federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, as well as independence for territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Washington would surely stand up to such outside meddling and any country which supported it. Nonetheless, the dangerous ideological myth of American exceptionalism permits the United States to support factionalism in Russia and other countries around the world to the detriment of international peace. The U.S. is already experiencing blowback from this interference with the Boston Marathon bombings, as suspected Chechen perpetrator Tamerlan Tsarnaev was reportedly radicalized at a Jamestown-sponsored program while traveling abroad in Tblisi, Georgia.

The Russian intervention was at the request of the Syrian government and unlike the American foray was not in violation of international law. Moscow’s participation turned the war back in Assad’s favor, from the liberation of Aleppo from al-Nusra to the defeat of ISIS in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor. The close proximity of Russia to the Middle East coupled with the history of terrorism exported to the Caucasus by the Saudis made Russian involvement in Syria an obligation in order to prevent a resurgence of jihadist-led breakaway violence in its southern border region. One can argue over the degree of the bombing campaign to rescue areas under militant control, but what is indisputable is that today Syria’s many religious minority groups, including Circassians who generally support Assad, are back under the protection of a secular state that is tolerant of all sects. It surely would have ended up just like Libya as a lawless failed state overrun by salafists if Moscow hadn’t interceded, and the oil-rich Caucasus once again in danger of being fragmented.

Perhaps no issue has been more divisive in recent years than the war in Syria. The propaganda barrage has misled many into forgetting that we are still living in the highest stage of capitalism, imperialism, where to generate profits wealthier nations are driven to conquer others on a global scale in order to have dominion over their markets and subjugate the labor power within them. In this context, the national question takes center stage and so does defending the right of individual nations to self-determination, even if that country is under a government that is less than ideal. While no one can deny the extremism of the opposition at this point, instead of supporting Syria itself some have naively chosen to throw their support behind Kurdish nationalist militias in Northern Syria that have established an ‘autonomous federation’ based on a self-proclaimed ‘libertarian socialist direct-democracy’ style of government that it somehow reconciles with its participation in the U.S.-created Syrian Democratic Forces and permitting the occupation of nearly a dozen American military facilities in its territory. It is clear that the Kurds are being used as pawns to establish a Kosovo-like protectorate bound to U.S. interests in balkanizing Syria, and Rojava supporters on the Western left are suffering from what Lenin called an infantile disorder.

The establishments collaborating with the medieval Saudi regime in its artistic scheme are disguising their lucrative motivations as building bridges between civilizations. In the case of the Brooklyn Museum, a simulated concern for refugees which is liberal politics at its worst. The art world has long been tainted by the power structures it is situated in and the museums involved have allowed their space to be occupied by war propagandists in exchange for blood money from the military-industrial complex and a totalitarian theocracy. Coincidentally, recently a controversy was generated over an art installation in lower Manhattan featuring sculptures of pieces of candy draped in the flags of the G20 nations, including that of Saudi Arabia which provoked anger due to its proximity to Ground Zero. It is no secret that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11th attacks were of Saudi origin and hundreds of American families have been mired in a long legal battle to sue the kingdom for damages for its alleged role in 9/11. The installation is appropriately due for removal and one wishes the same level of outrage had been elicited by Syria: Then and Now.

Marie Colvin, Homs and Media Falsehoods about Syria

Introduction

In April 2014 I was part of an international delegation which visited Syria for five days. The delegates came from many different countries. Among the notables were the Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, a Syrian-British heart surgeon and Julian Assange’s father. We spent time in Damascus, then traveled by bus to Latakia and then Homs. In each city we had meetings with political, religious and social leaders but also had time to wander about and talk with people on the streets.

In Latakia, I met Lilly Martin, an American woman who married a Syrian and has lived there, raising a family for the past twenty-five years. She told me how wrong the western media coverage was. Contrary to media claims, she said protests in Latakia were violent from the start. After the first outbreak of violence, Syrian police and military were ordered to not carry weapons. Protesters continued to burn and destroy government offices with incidents of knifing and shooting unarmed police.

Peaceful Homs Street (Photo:  Rick Sterling)

When we visited Homs I was struck by how normal it looked. The streets were full of people and the city looked fine. It was dramatically different than the images portrayed in western media. It was only when we were driving out of Homs that we passed an area where there was widespread destruction and battle damage. There was a sharp contrast between most of the city and the few neighborhoods where battle had raged.

Homs (Photo: Rick Sterling)

The American journalist Marie Colvin died in February 2012 in one of those neighborhoods. It was called Baba Amr. Ten days after her death, the militants and remaining civilians had all departed Baba Amr. It’s unfortunate that Marie Colvin did not talk with Lilly Martin or visit the majority of Homs where the war was not raging. It could have provided much needed balance to her perspective.

Marie Colvin and Homs

According to many of her colleagues, Marie Colvin was charming and courageous, ambitious and fun to be with. She had a knack for including personal details, descriptions and emotions that engaged the reader. Unfortunately, Colvin’s reports and interviews from Syria were inaccurate and a huge distortion of the situation.

It is useful to examine Colvin’s reporting now, seven years later, because there is a wave of new articles, books and movies about her and how she died in Syria.

Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy were smuggled into Syria from Lebanon in February 2012. They spent some days in the town of Al Buwaydah and then were taken into the city of Homs using a drainage culvert to avoid Syrian Army checkpoints. Their guides and minders for the trip were from the Farouq Battalion associated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Beginning in the Fall 2011, militants from the Farouq Battalion set up checkpoints, killed security and soldiers and gradually took control of the Homs neighborhood called Baba Amr. They called it a “liberated zone”. By the time Marie Colvin and other journalists arrived, most of the civilians had fled the fighting to stay with friends and family in other parts of the city.

Colvin and Conroy spent a few days in Baba Amr but then left through the tunnel when it was rumored that Syrian forces were going to attack. After learning that the attack did not take place, the journalists made the difficult journey back into Baba Amr. The second morning after returning, Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Olchik died as the Syrian forces launched mortar and missile attacks.

Biased and Inaccurate Reporting from Syria

Marie Colvin’s reports and interviews from Syria were broadcast widely in the UK and USA. She wrote an article titled “A vet is only hope for Syrian wounded“. The article begins “Wounded civilians arriving at a makeshift clinic in the Syrian city of Homs are relying on a vet to save their lives because there is no doctor to treat them.” As documented in Conroy’s book, they were not in Homs; they were in the town Buwaydah when they observed a vet working as a medic. Actually, there were hundreds of doctors performing medical duties and treating civilians and soldiers injured in the conflict in Homs.

Colvin’s major story for the Sunday Times was titled “Final dispatch from Homs, the battered city“.  It begins  by describing a “widows basement” with 300 “frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs”.  The report of 300 women and children is an exaggeration. Another journalist estimated half that number which is likely an exaggeration itself, since the photos and video show fewer than 50 women and children.

Colvin continued her report saying, “The widows’ basement reflects the ordeal of 28,000 men, women and children clinging to existence in Baba Amr.” This is a huge falsehood; there was a tiny fraction of that number of civilians remaining in the neighborhood. Paul Conroy wrote as follows: “It became increasingly unbelievable that there were an estimated 28,000 people still living in Baba Amr. I hadn’t seen a single one.” (page 188, “Under the Wire”)

The night before her death, Marie Colvin did live interviews on BBC, Channel 4 and CNN. The CNN interview began by showing video of a baby dying from a shrapnel wound. CNN believed Marie Colvin was an eye-witness to the baby’s death. Anderson Cooper asked Colvin what it was like to be in the room. Marie Colvin replied that the room was chaotic and the baby’s death heartbreaking. She dramatized the situation by speaking about the baby’s grandmother being a volunteer in the room when the baby arrived. However, Colvin was not in the room at all. Marie Colvin and the media activists were shown the video on a laptop computer by their FSA guide. (page 155, “Under the Wire”).

In her CNN interview Colvin described Baba Amr as “28,000 civilians, men, women and children, hiding, being shelled, defenseless…. There are no military targets here…. So it’s a complete and utter lie that they (Syrian military) are only going after terrorists…. The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” In reality, Baba Amr was the primary base for militants of the Farouq Battalion. If there was an “utter lie”, it was pretending that this was primarily a civilian neighborhood.

The Syrian Reality Which Colvin Did Not Report

Like most western coverage of Syria, Colvin’s reporting did not provide important context such as the following:

* How the conflict began in Homs. An eyewitness reported “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

* How Baba Amr was taken over. In October 2011 militants from the Farouq Battalion set up checkpoints within Baba Amr, attacked and killed Syrian Army soldiers and other security forces, and killed or expelled government supporters. The process was similar to what was documented by a civilian in Aleppo: “Nine days from my window in Aleppo“.

* Attacks on infrastructure. In December 2011, militants blew up the pipeline to Homs’ oil refinery, a major source of oil for the country.

In mid January, an Arab League report documented the results of their investigation. They said:

The Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of these acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.

Militants in Baba Amr destroyed government tanks and used their own tank to attack government forces.

Abu Sa’eed, Free Syrian Army Unit Commander

On 2 February 2012, FSA militants attacked a government checkpoint, killing ten soldiers and taking another 19 as prisoners. That was evidently the last straw for the government. The next day, February 3, the intense bombardment of Baba Amr began.

Promoting External Intervention

Marie Colvin’s reports from Baba Amr had a political goal of spurring Western intervention. This is made clear in emails to her Sunday Times editor. “It is sickening that the Syrian regime is allowed to keep doing this …. I think again to focus on Baba Amr, 28,000 defenceless under shelling….” (pp 196-197, “Under the Wire”).

Her reports were missing crucial facts, sensationalized the suffering on one side, ignored the suffering on the other side and demonized the government which was the target for overthrow.

Amateur Video Homs

In her interview with CNN, Colvin used the video of the dying little baby to urge western intervention. “That baby probably will move more people to think, ‘What is going on, and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day?”

In her final article for the Sunday Times Colvin says, “In Baba Amr, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)…. have virtually unanimous support from civilians who see them as their defenders.” This claim is highly dubious. The vast majority of civilians had left Baba Amr. All that were left were family members of FSA militants and others who had nowhere to go.

The bias in Marie Colvin’s reports and interviews was not unique. On the contrary, nearly all NATO and Gulf state reporting on Syria has been biased. Stephen Kinzer would later write “The media are misleading the public on Syria.” Patrick Cockburn would later write that “Nearly everything you have read about Syria and Iraq could be wrong“.

How Marie Colvin Died

It is claimed that Marie Colvin was intentionally targeted by the Syrian government. This is unlikely. Her death brought opprobrium on Damascus and helped the militant opposition. A few months after Marie Colvin’s death, a prominent British journalist reported that the same Syrian rebels tried to get him and his team killed. “I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.”

It is also claimed that Syrian intelligence determined the location of Marie Colvin by identifying a satellite phone signal used in her interviews. This is false. Colvin told her editor at the Sunday Times that the Thuraya satellite phones did not work. For her Skype interviews she used the same antenna uplink used night and day by media activists in Baba Amr.

Marie and Remi were working in a battle zone, guided and effectively embedded with armed insurgents. Their deaths were another tragic consequence of the war.

Ten days after Colvin’s death, the militants and remaining civilians withdrew from Baba Amr. There was no massacre, just a street parade and celebration in other parts of Homs.

Syrian Journalists Killed (Photo: Rick Sterling)

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Olchik sparked many tributes and widespread publicity. Largely unknown in the West, hundreds of Syrian journalists have also died in the conflict. In a sense, they are all victims of the proxy war on Syria. In another sense, the equivalence is not fair. The war has been encouraged by some and imposed on others.

Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The president had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom.  “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that, “We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”  To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different. “We re pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.”  Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others.  The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones.

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey.  “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”.

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.”  In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states.  In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal.  “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.”  If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job.  “I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.

Israel and the Golan Heights: A Wider Geopolitical Game

In the recent autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly a number of resolutions involving the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel came up for debate and voting. A familiar pattern emerged. The first of the votes to be noted was UNGA Resolution A/C.4/73/L.20. The wording of this resolution was that the general Assembly “reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are illegal and an obstacle to peace and social development”.

The second resolution, A/C.4/73/L.22 said that the General Assembly “determines that all legislation and administrative measures taken by Israel, the occupying Power, that purport to alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights are null and void.”  The wording of this resolution echoed the wording of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 of 17 December 1981, which was 37 years previously. That earlier resolution was passed unanimously; i.e. the United States included.

The third resolution, L/73/L.30 expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern “that Israel has not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, which has been under occupation since 1967” (i.e. 51 years).

The voting on each resolution respectively was 154 in favour (with 6 No votes and 15 abstentions; 149: 2: and 22; and 99: 10: 66.

The United States, which was part of a unanimous Security Council vote in 1981 condemning Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights as “null and void” was one of the two ‘No’ votes in the second resolution referred to above. The other No vote, unsurprisingly, was Israel. The United States and Israel both voted ‘No’ to the other two resolutions as well. Australia abstained in respect of each of the three votes.

This voting pattern and the debate that surrounded them is significant for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that it unequivocally demonstrates that where Israel is concerned there is a different standard applied by the United States (and Australia) where breaches of international law are concerned.

It is indisputable that land occupied by conquest cannot be returning by the occupying power, much less incorporated into the administrative regime of the occupying power. Yet this is precisely what Israel has done, first by maintaining its occupation post the 1967 Six Day War, and then in 1981 purporting to incorporate the Golan Heights into its own administrative territory.

It is not difficult to envisage the rhetoric from the United States if Russia or China had made any similar moves. One has only to recall the incessant barrage of propaganda from the United States and its allies about “Russian aggression” when Crimea was reincorporated into the Russian Federation following an overwhelming popular vote.

The United States is similarly making threats against China after President Xi made a speech recently pointing out that Taiwan was part of China and that reunification was a goal for the near future. The United States accepted that Taiwan was part of China until 1949 when the Nationalists were defeated in the civil war.

As the Americans showed by voting against a resolution that they had previously been part of a unanimous Security Council in accepting, consistency is not their strong suit. The withdrawal from the antiballistic missile treaty in 2001, and from an INF treaty in 2018, and their abandonment of the JCPOA in 2018 are further illustrations of that point.

It also lays bare, yet again, the hypocrisy of western political leaders, notably in the United States and Australia, who forever trumpet their alleged commitment to the “rules based international order”.

There is no clearer example over a sustained period of time of Israel’s total disregard for international law than in their treatment of the Palestinians and the continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights. Neither of these examples is the subject of public criticism by American or Australian politicians, and judging by their voting behaviour in the United Nations, support for Israel’s actions is either tacit or explicit.

Earlier in January 2019 two United States Republican Senators, Cruz and Cotton, went public in a joint statement that was remarkable for its complete disregard for international law, its equally cavalier disregard for the factual situation in the Middle East, and for its display of what is best described by the Hebrew word “chutzpah” (insolence, cheek or audacity).

Cruz and Cotton’s statement said, in part:

Responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attack. To support Israel’s right to self defence, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

This is a frankly bizarre departure from reality and a number of commentators have already pointed this out.1  It came at the same time as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were making equally absurd statements on their recent foray to Middle Eastern capitals.2

Even if Israel had legitimate self-defence concerns, occupying the territory of a neighbouring state is neither feasible nor legal. There must therefore be an alternative explanation for Israel’s continued disregard for international law, the extraordinary public comments of two senior members of the Trump administration, and the pattern of behaviour of United States in the region, notwithstanding the recent erratic and contradictory behaviour of its leadership.

One possible explanation that fits the known facts, and which incidentally also helps explain the extraordinary lack of criticism by Western nations of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Golan Heights, can be found in the activities of an American company called Genie Energy.

This little-known company is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. Its strategic advisory board includes such luminaries as Dick Cheney (former US vice president under Bush Jr); James Woolsey (former CIA director); Larry Summers (former head of the US Treasury); Rupert Murdoch (chairman of News Corporation among other media interests); and Jacob Rothschild. It would be hard to nominate a better-connected group of people, all of them noted for a strong pro-Israel bias.

Genie Energy, through its subsidiary Afek Oil and Gas, was granted an oil exploration license for the occupied Golan Heights by the Israeli government. Needless to say, the Syrian government was not consulted.

As far back as October 2015 Afek discovered oil reserves in the Golan Heights, with a potential yield estimated at billions of barrels3 Actually developing those vast reserves would require the solidification of Israel’s control over the occupied territory.

It cannot legally do that, although lack of legality has never been a hindrance to Israel since 1948. Its de facto control of the Golan Heights, however, is key to understanding Israel’s moves in the Middle East since 1967. In recent years Israel’s support for terrorist groups fighting the Assad Government in Syria is destined in part to keep the Syrian army and Iranian supported Hezbollah from challenging Israel’s control of the Golan Heights. It is not a coincidence that Israeli territory proper has not suffered a single ISIS inspired attack although prima facie one might have thought that a Jewish state would be anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

The evidence is now overwhelming that Israel has been one of the main supporters of ISIS because it suited their own wider geopolitical ambitions.4  When a jihadist group occupied some small towns in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights in February 2017, the Israeli army and air force took no steps to oppose them.

Israel’s ambitions for the Golan Heights are matched by the United States in northern Syria where the area it occupies (also illegally) provided 90% of Syria’s pre-war oil production. Both the United States and Israel have long intended to build a pipeline to provide gas to Europe, supplanting Russia as Europe’s principal supplier.

As Robert Kennedy Jr pointed out5 US plans began in 2000 with a $10 billion 1500 km pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. It was when Syria rejected their proposed role in the plan in 2009 (as it would jeopardise their relationship with Russia) that the CIA began funding terrorist groups in Syria.

Seen in this broader context, the blatant ongoing illegality of Israel’s occupation of the Golan, the US deep state’s strong desire to remain in northern Syria, the sanctions against Russia, the overt threats against German companies involved in Nord Stream 2,6 and the suppression of most of this material in the western mainstream media (in which Murdoch is a dominant figure) all form part of a long-term set of plans hatched in Washington and Tel Aviv that have nothing to do with the rights and freedoms of the Syrian people.

As courageous independent journalists on the ground in Syria such as Vanessa Beeley have amply demonstrated7, the ordinary people of Syria are but pawns in a wider geopolitical game. In the extraordinary chaos and destruction that the illegal western intervention in Syria has caused, Australia has played a small but significant role.

Actually detecting a benefit to Australia in all of this is more than elusive, but as John Menadue recently pointed out8 for all their protestations about the rule of law and shared western values, the reality is that western politicians have always sacrificed principle for geopolitical expediency.

In the rapidly changing geopolitical framework brought about by Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 and a consequent shifting of alliances by key players such as Turkey, it remains to be seen whether the untenable ambitions of Israel and the United States can be brought to fruition. 2019 looks to be no less dangerous than the year just past.

  1. Moon of Alabama 10 January 2019.
  2. See, for example, Strategic Culture Foundation 15 January 2019.
  3. The Economist, ‘Black Gold Under the Golan, 7 November 2015.
  4. Haaretz, 8 September 2018.
  5. Ecowatch, 25 February 2016, Another Pipeline War.
  6. DW, 14 January 1019.
  7. 21st Century Wire, 17 October 2018.
  8. John Menadue, 15 January 2019.

Why Are the Media So Eager to Declare Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Dead?

Virtually from the moment Donald Trump announced that he would be removing U.S. troops from Syria, corporate media have converged around a narrative that the president has been forced to walk back his decision. But while a withdrawal will undoubtedly prove more challenging than the president originally anticipated, this verdict simply does not reflect the facts on the ground.

When John Bolton spoke in Jerusalem earlier this month, leading news outlets reported that Trump’s national security adviser had declared that withdrawal would not be completed unless and until specific conditions had been met or objectives achieved. The New York Times announced that “Bolton Puts Conditions on Syria Withdrawal, Suggesting a Delay of Months or Years,” claiming that he “told reporters that American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic State were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the United States.”

The Associated Press story, which was picked up by the Washington Post, proved similarly categorical. “U.S. troops will not leave northeastern Syria until Islamic State militants are defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected,” a top White House aide is quoted as saying. The article also notes that Bolton was “signaling a pause to a withdrawal abruptly announced last month and initially expected to be completed within weeks.”

Those stories were written on the assumption that Bolton was enunciating yet another policy on Syria withdrawal. There is now good reason to believe that no such new policy decision has been made. The Wall Street Journal has quoted a defense official as saying, “Nothing has changed. We don’t take orders from Bolton.”

The Times and AP failed to provide the actual text of Bolton’s statement, much less any analysis of it in context of his statements.

Bolton’s statement was extraordinarily indirect and didn’t necessarily mean what it appeared to mean at first glance. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, one of the few places where the text could be found, Bolton said, “Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. It’s not the establishment of an arbitrary point for the withdrawal to take place as President Obama did in the Afghan situation … the timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

On closer examination, it seems more likely that Bolton was attempting to differentiate Trump’s withdrawal policy from that of President Obama in Iraq. Such an interpretation is reinforced by a statement from an unidentified “senior official” traveling with Bolton, who has indicated that the administration believes that the remaining pockets of ISIS control can be neutralized within a matter of weeks.

This, in turn, suggests that the Trump administration is planning to define the defeat of ISIS in conventional military terms—not as the elimination either of its presence in Syria or the possibility of its future revival in the region, both of which Secretary of Defense James Mattis had sought unsuccessfully.

The Pompeo Interview the Media Ignored

That leaves the question of how Trump’s plan will deal with other policy objectives, including the protection of our Kurdish allies and the United States’ demands for the withdrawal of Iranian and Iran-backed forces from Syria. But there is evidence the administration plans to pursue these objectives both during and after the withdrawal.

“Our troops are coming out,” Secretary of State Pompeo told Newsmax more than a week ago. “The President also made it clear that we need to continue the counter-ISIS campaign, and we needed to continue to create stability throughout the Middle East. The counter-Iran campaign continues. We’ll do all these things.”

Pompeo also indicated the president’s recommendation on Syria includes “not only the withdrawal but all the other elements that the President laid out: the importance of ensuring the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds; the protection of religious minorities in Syria. All those things are still part of the American mission set.”

Pompeo thus gave away the premise that Bolton managed to obscure: “We will simply do it at a time when the American forces have departed Syria.” Had the secretary of state intended to describe a “conditions-based withdrawal” policy—a term used consistently by the U.S. military and employed by Obama in both Iraq and Afghanistan—he could very easily have made that clear. Instead, he said the actions required to advance the administration’s policy objectives would be taken “when the American forces have departed Syria.” In other words, they would have to continue well beyond the withdrawal.

The Danger of a Bolton-Israeli Scheme

Even though there is reason to believe that Trump still plans to remove all troops from Syria in a matter of months rather than years, there are certainly potential pitfalls ahead. One of them is Bolton’s greater involvement in the withdrawal process. After all, it was Bolton who declared last September that the Trump administration policy was to keep troops in Syria until all Iranian troops had gone home.

What authority Bolton had obtained to make such a pronouncement remains unclear, but Trump rejected that position decisively in December.

Because the president has a well-known aversion to detailed policy papers, and because Bolton has successfully limited Trump’s exposure to them, the national security adviser has gained unusual latitude in representing administration policy. And Bolton is well known to be a master at bureaucratic maneuvering to advance an agenda that doesn’t necessarily reflect that of the president he’s serving. To date, however, there is no indication that Bolton aims to undercut Trump’s plan to withdraw the 2,000 or more U.S. troops working in conjunction with Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

But the base at Al-Tanf in the south near the Syrian border with both Jordan and Iraq is another story. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like the U.S. to keep its few hundred Special Forces at Al-Tanf, and Bolton may be hoping to exempt it from the withdrawal. That base, which sits astride the main highway between Baghdad and Damascus, has long been touted by those seeking to justify U.S. and Israeli military intervention in the region as a key to blocking successful transport from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

Israel has argued that it needs to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining modern, highly accurate weaponry via that route, but Hezbollah had already secured such weapons long before the U.S. established its base in 2016. The Israelis ultimately recognize that those several hundred U.S. troops serve no real tactical purpose. Instead, they believe their presence could be used to justify further intervention in the future.

So during Bolton’s visit to Jerusalem, “a senior administration official” in his party told reporters that Bolton planned to discuss with Israeli officials possible continued stationing of some U.S. forces at Al-Tanf for an indeterminate period. The same official said the U.S. would decide how important the base is and whether it would have to stay in its current location after talks with the Israelis and Jordanians.

The official in question, who was almost certainly Bolton himself, may have been merely stating a theoretical possibility for the sake of completing the necessary consultations with Israel and Turkey in connection with the withdrawal. But Bolton is also capable of scheming with the Israelis to create a new excuse for keeping U.S. troops at that location.

The Trump administration is still committed to the aim of getting all Iranian personnel out of Syria, and it should not be forgotten that during the George W. Bush administration Bolton worked closely with the Israelis on creating the political preconditions for the U.S. use of force against Iran. By comparison, a scheme hatched jointly with the Israelis for reducing Trump’s freedom of action on that issue would be relatively easy for Bolton.

  • First published at Truthdig.
  • Seven Gates of Damascus and Concrete Walls of Kabul

    Syria and Afghanistan.

    Two terrible wars, two mighty destructions, but two absolutely opposite outcomes.

    In Syria, it may be autumn now, but almost the entire country is blossoming again, literally rising from ashes. Two thousand miles east from there, Afghanistan is smashed against its ancient rocks, bleeding and broken. There, it does not really matter what season it is; life is simply dreadful and hope appears to be in permanent exile.

    Historic Damascus

    Damascus, the ancient and splendid capital of Syria, now the Syrian Arab Republic, is back to life again. People go out until late at night, there are events; there is music and vibrant social life. Not all, but many, are smiling again. Checkpoints are diminishing, and now one does not even have to go through metal detectors in order to enter museums, cafes and some of the international hotels.

    Just eating out at night in Damascus

    The people of Damascus are optimistic, some of them are ecstatic. They fought hard, they lost hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, but they won! They finally won, against all odds, supported by their true friends and comrades. They are proud of what they have achieved, and rightly so!

    Humiliated on so many occasions, for so long, the Arab people suddenly rose and demonstrated to the world and to themselves that they can defeat invaders, no matter how powerful they are; no matter how canny and revolting their tactics are. As I wrote on several previous occasions, Aleppo is the ‘Stalingrad of the Middle East’. It is a mighty symbol. There, fascism and imperialism were stopped. Unsurprisingly, because of its stamina, courage and aptitude, the center of Pan-Arabism – Syria – has become, once again, the most important country for the freedom-loving people of the region.

    Syria has many friends, among them China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. But the most determined of them, the most reliable, remains Russia.

    The Russians stood by its historical ally, even when things looked bad, almost hopeless; even when the terrorists trained and implanted into Syria by the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, were flattening entire ancient cities, and millions of refugees flowing out of the country, through all seven gates of Damascus, and from all major cities, as well as towns and villages.

    In front of the National Museum in Damascus

    The Russians worked hard, often ‘behind the scenes’; on the diplomatic front, but also on the frontlines, providing essential air support, de-mining entire neighborhoods, helping with food supplies, logistics, strategy. Russians died in Syria, we do not know the precise numbers, but there definitely were casualties; some even say, ‘substantial’. However, Russia never waved its flag, never beat its chest in self-congratulatory gestures. What had to be done, was done, as an internationalist duty; quietly, proudly and with great courage and determination.

    The Syrian people know all this; they understand, and they are grateful. For both nations, words are not necessary; at least not now. Their deep fraternal alliance is sealed. They fought together against darkness, terror and neo-colonialism, and they won.

    When Russian military convoys pass through Syrian roads, there is no security. They stop at local eateries to refresh themselves, they talk to locals. When Russian people walk through Syrian cities, they feel no fear. They are not seen or treated as a ‘foreign military force’. They are now part of Syria. They are part of the family. Syrians make them feel at home.

    *****

    In Kabul, I always face walls. Walls are all around me; concrete walls, as well as barbed wire.

    Roads cut by military in Kabul

    Some walls are as tall as 4-5 storey buildings, with watchtowers on every corner, outfitted with bulletproof glass.

    Local people, pedestrians, look like sleep-walkers. They are resigned. They are used to those hollow barrels of guns pointed at their heads, chests, feet, even at their children.

    Almost everyone here is outraged by the occupation, but no one knows what to do; how to resist. The NATO invasion force is both brutal and overwhelming; its commanders and soldiers are cold, calculating, and merciless, obsessed with protecting themselves and only themselves.

    Heavily armored British and US military convoys are ready to shoot at ‘anything that moves’ even in a vaguely hostile fashion.

    Afghan people get killed, almost all of them ‘surgically’ or ‘remotely’. Western lives are ‘too precious’ for engaging in honest man-to-man combat. Slaughtering is done by drones, by ‘smart bombs’, or by shooting from those monstrous vehicles that crisscross Afghan cities and the countryside.

    During this outrageous occupation, it matters nil how many Afghan civilians get killed, as long as the US or European lives get spared. Most of the Western soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are professionals. They are not defending their country. They are paid to do ‘their job’, efficiently, at any price. And, of course, “Safety First”. Safety for themselves.

    After the West occupied Afghanistan in 2001, between 100,000 and 170,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Millions were forced to leave their country as refugees. Afghanistan now ranks second from the bottom (after Yemen) in Asia, on the HDI list (Human Development Index, compiled by UNDP). Its life expectancy is the lowest in Asia (WHO).

    *****

    I work in both Syria and Afghanistan, and consider it my duty to point at the differences between two countries, and these two wars.

    Both Syria and Afghanistan were attacked by the West. One resisted and won, the other one was occupied by mainly North American and European forces, and consequently destroyed.

    After working in some 160 countries on this planet, and after covering and witnessing countless wars and conflicts (most of them ignited or provoked by the West and its allies), I can clearly see the pattern: almost all the countries that fell into the ‘Western sphere of influence’ are now ruined, plundered and destroyed; they are experiencing great disparities between the tiny number of ‘elites’ (individuals who collaborate with the West) and the great majority of those who live in poverty. Most of the countries with close ties to Russia or China (or both), are prospering and developing, enjoying self-governance and respect for their cultures, political systems, and economic structures.

    It is only because of the corporate mass media and biased education system, as well as the almost fully pro-Western orientation of the ‘social media’, that these shocking contrasts between two blocs (yes, we have two major blocs of countries, again) are not constantly highlighted and discussed.

    *****

    During my recent visit to Syria, I spoke to many people living in Damascus, Homs, and Ein Tarma.

    What I witnessed could be often described as “joy through tears”. The price of victory has been steep. But joy it is, nevertheless. The unity of the Syrian people and their government is obvious and remarkable.

    Anger towards the ‘rebels’ and towards the West is ubiquitous. I will soon describe the situation in my upcoming reports. But this time, I only wanted to compare the situation in two cities, two countries and two wars.

    In Damascus, I feel like writing poetry, again. In Kabul, I am only inspired to write a long and depressing obituary.

    I love both of these ancient cities, but, of course, I love them differently.

    Frankly speaking, in the 18 years of Western occupation, Kabul has been converted into a militarized, fragmented and colonized hell on earth. Everybody knows it: the poor know it, and even the government is aware of it.

    Drug addicts and pushers in Kabul

    In Kabul, entire neighborhoods already ‘gave up’. They are inhabited by individuals who are forced to live in gutters, or under bridges. Many of those people are stoned, hooked on locally made narcotics, the production of which is supported by the Western occupation armies. I saw and photographed a US military base openly surrounded by poppy plantations. I heard testimonies of local people, about the British military engaging in negotiations, and cooperating with the local narco-mafias.

    Afghanistan – Bagram Air Force Base of NATO – Poppies fields

    Now the Western embassies, NGO’s and ‘international organizations’ operating in Afghanistan, have managed to intellectually and morally corrupt and indoctrinate a substantial group of local people, who are receiving scholarship, getting ‘trained’ in Europe, and are tugging the official line of the occupiers.

    They are working day and night to legitimize the nightmare into which their country has been tossed.

    But older people who still remember both the Soviet era and socialist Afghanistan, are predominantly ‘pro-Russian’, mourning in frustration those days of Afghan liberation, progress, and determined building of the nation. ‘Soviet’ bread factories, water channels, pipelines, electric high-voltage towers, and schools are still used to this day, all over the country. While, gender equality, secularism, and the anti-feudalist struggle of those days are now, during the Western occupation, de facto illegal.

    Afghans are known to be proud and determined people. But now their pride has been broken, while determination has been drowned in the sea of pessimism and depression. The Western occupation did not bring peace, it did not bring prosperity, independence of democracy (if democracy is understood as the ‘rule of the people’).

    These days, the biggest dream of a young man or woman in Kabul is to serve the occupiers – to get ‘educated’ in a Western-style school, and to get a job at a US embassy or at one of the UN agencies.

    *****

    In Damascus, everyone is now talking about the rebuilding of the nation.

    ‘How and when will the damaged neighborhoods be rebuilt? Is the pre-war construction of the metro going to resume anytime soon? Is life going to be better than before?’

    People cannot wait. I witnessed families, communities, restoring their own buildings, houses and streets.

    Yes, in Damascus I saw true revolutionary optimism in action, optimism which I described in my recent book Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism. Because the Syrian state itself is now, once again, increasingly revolutionary. The so-called ‘opposition’ has been mostly nothing else other than a Western-sponsored subversion; an attempt to take Syria back to the dark days of colonialism.

    Damascus and the Syrian government do not need tremendous walls, enormous spy blimps levitating in the sky; they do not need armored vehicles at every corner and the omnipresent SUV’s with deadly machine guns.

    On the other hand, the occupiers of Kabul need all those deadly symbols of power in order to maintain control. Still they cannot scare people into supporting or loving them.

    In Damascus, I simply walked into the office of my fellow novelist, who happened to be the Syrian Minister of Education. In Kabul, I often have to pass through metal detectors even when I just want to visit a toilet.

    Young people of Damascus – confident, optimistic and kind

    In Damascus, there is hope, and life, at every corner. Cafes are packed, people talk, argue, laugh together, and smoke waterpipes. Museums and libraries are full of people too. The Opera House is performing; the zoo is flourishing, all despite the war, despite all the difficulties.

    Destroyed drug addicts in Kabul

    In Kabul, life stopped. Except for the traffic, and for traditional markets. Even the National Museum is now a fortress, and as a result, almost no one can be found inside.

    People in Damascus are not too familiar with what goes on in Kabul. But they know plenty about Baghdad, Tripoli and Gaza. And they would rather die than allow themselves to be occupied by the West or its implants.

    Two wars, two fates, two totally distinct cities.

    The seven gates of Damascus are wide open. Refugees are returning from all directions, from all corners of the world. It is time for reconciliation, for rebuilding the nation, for making Syria even greater than it was before the conflict.

    Kabul, often rocked by explosions, is fragmented by horrid walls. Engines of helicopters are roaring above. Blimps with their deadly eyes monitoring everything on the ground. Drones, tanks, huge armored vehicles. Beggars, homeless people, slums. Huge Afghan flag flying above Kabul. A ‘modified flag’, not the same as in the socialist past.

    In Syria, finally the united nation has managed to defeat imperialism, fanaticism and sectarianism.

    In Afghanistan, the nation got divided, then humiliated, then stripped of its former glory.

    Damascus belongs to its people. In Kabul, people are dwarfed by concrete walls and military bases erected by foreign invaders.

    In Damascus, people were fighting, even dying for their country and their city.

    In Kabul, people are scared to even speak about fighting for freedom.

    Damascus won. It is free again.

    Kabul will win, too. Perhaps not today, not this year, but it will. I believe it will.

    I love both cities. But one is now celebrating, while the other one is still suffering, in unimaginable pain.

    • Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

    • Photos by Andre Vltchek