Friday, September 19, 2014

Kerry Reprises Syria Chemical Weapons Song

US lays new chemical weapon allegations against Syria

by Peter Symonds - WSWS.org

19 September 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday laid fresh allegations of chemical weapons use against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, thereby establishing another pretext for turning the imminent US air war in Syria against the regime in Damascus. A year ago, the Obama administration exploited the now discredited claims that the Syrian military had carried out a gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in order to prepare a devastating aerial assault on the country’s armed forces, infrastructure and industry.

While the attacks were called off at the last minute, the US has never relinquished its aim of regime-change and has seized on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) atrocities to justify a new, illegal war of aggression.

Speaking in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry renewed the claim that the Syrian military was using chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. “We believe there is evidence of Assad’s use of chlorine, which when you use it—despite it not being on the list—it is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he said.

Last September, the Syrian government agreed to the destruction of its stockpiles of chemical weapons and the facilities used to manufacture and store them. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced last month that it had completed the task of supervising the destruction of the materials and facilities. Yet, at the time, Kerry continued to press the issue, claiming that “much more work must be done” to deal with “discrepancies and omissions” in Syria’s chemical weapons’ declaration last year.

Now, as the US is about to launch air strikes on ISIS militias in Syria, Kerry has publicly revived the issue. Chlorine was never part of last year’s agreement because it is a basic chemical with many industrial applications. As such it also provides a convenient device for making further lurid allegations against the Assad regime.

Claims that the Syrian military used chlorine against opposition-held villages can be traced to an “independent investigation” carried out by the right-wing British newspaper, the Telegraph, in April. The Telegraph, which has links to the British military and intelligence establishment, passed on soil samples from the villages to the OPCW, which issued a report last week confirming strong traces of chlorine and ammonia. The UN body could not and did not, however, determine who used the gas.

Just as the US exploited the Ghouta gas attack last year as a casus belli for war on Syria, so Kerry used the latest chemical weapons claims to make clear that the US is still gunning for Assad. He declared that there was no “long-term future” for Assad in power, adding:

“The Syrian opposition is not going to stop fighting Assad. We recognise that reality.”

Kerry’s comments underline the real purpose of Washington’s plans to train and arm at least 5,000 “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters. While nominally aimed against ISIS, these militias would form the core of armed forces to oust Assad and establish a pro-Western regime in Damascus. Yesterday the US Senate, following a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, overwhelmingly approved—78 to 22—the Obama administration’s plan to build up anti-Assad forces in Syria.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee that he and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey had signed off on detailed plans for air strikes on ISIS targets inside Syria. Referring to the US Central Command, Hagel said: “CENTCOM’s plan includes targeted actions against ISIL [ISIS] safe havens in Syria, including its command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure.” He added: “Our actions will not be restrained by a border that exists in name only.” All that is now required is Obama’s approval.

According to a SyriaDeeply report this week, civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa, currently held by ISIS, are already fleeing. Abu Ahmad, who left with his family, said: “We will not stay in our homes waiting for death to find us because of some targeting error.” A shop keeper inside Raqqa told the Guardian:

“I believe most of the casualties will be civilian. The majority will be from Raqqa and very few from ISIS.”

The timing of the stepped-up war inside Iraq and air strikes in Syria is likely to be determined during next week’s UN General Assembly meeting. The Australian Financial Review reported today: “The final plans to wage war against Islamic State will be co-ordinated in private meetings between world leaders in New York… clearing the way for action to start.” Obama is due to address the General Assembly and chair a meeting of the UN Security Council.

The Obama administration is still trying to consolidate its “coalition of the willing” to wage war in the Middle East. President Francois Hollande announced yesterday that France was prepared to carry out air strikes in Iraq, but not in Syria, citing concerns that extending the air war would strengthen the Assad regime. The British government has held off making detailed commitments until the results of the Scottish referendum are finalised.

Kerry declared on Wednesday that some Arab countries were committed to military action, saying: “We have significant levels of support to conduct military operations.” He did not name specific nations, however. Turkey has refused to allow US war planes to operate from its military bases but this week revived plans to establish a buffer zone along its border with Syria as a possible staging area for pro-Western, anti-Assad militias.

Obama has repeatedly declared that the US will not commit ground troops to combat in Iraq and Syria. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has sent war planes and 600 military personnel to Iraq, including 150 SAS special forces, repeats the same mantra.

The worthlessness of such statements was underscored by an Australian “retired senior defence insider” who commented in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald: “You don’t send in the SAS to run seminars and give white-board presentations back at headquarters. These guys are our most highly trained killers, and that’s what they will be doing.”

The determination of the US and its allies to play down their involvement in a war in the Middle East stems from real fears of the emergence of anti-war opposition on a scale beyond that which erupted against the criminal US-led invasion on Iraq in 2003.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Chronicles of ISIS: Stranger than Fiction, or Just Fiction?

Foreign Affairs as Opera Buffa: The Global Fight Against ISIS

by John Chuckman - Chuckman Blog

There is a forgotten 1933 movie serial called The Three Musketeers in which three members of the French Foreign Legion are rescued by an American, a young John Wayne, using the machine gun on his biplane to mow down Arab bad guys threatening the Legionnaires in the Sahara.

What was John Wayne doing flying around the French Sahara? He had flown over from France to visit his girlfriend. Why did he have a machine gun mounted on his plane? There wouldn’t be a story otherwise.

Like all such series, it is silly, but it is notable for a plot which includes a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle led by a mysterious and evil figure called El Shaitan, someone who wants to destroy the Legion and, after many false leads, turns out in the last reel to be a western merchant rather than an Arab.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Substitute al-Qaeda for the Devil’s Circle, substitute Osama bin Laden for El Shaitan, and substitute the Mideast for North Africa. John Wayne remains John Wayne, symbol as they used to say on the voiceover for the 1950s Superman television show, “for the American way of life.” It does sound as though the script for al-Qaeda was lifted from the old serial. I’m sure someone at Langley would be able to confirm that. With all its twists and turns around the identity of El Shaitan, the story would make a great libretto for an extravagant opera buffa, or a Broadway comedy musical.

Of course, we had indisputable proof years ago, in the testimony of a former British Foreign Minister and several other significant world figures, that there was indeed no such organization as al-Qaeda, the Arab word commonly meaning “hole” or “toilet,” hardly the choice of cutthroats. The term was a convenient Washington insider shorthand to designate scattered, unrelated populations of Islamic bad guys, as Washington saw them, lurking in deserts and on mountain redoubts or maybe even hiding in Western cities, ready to spring into action at a signal from El Shaitan, I mean, Osama bin Laden. But the fact that al-Qaeda does not exist, as is the case so many times with facts, made no impression on Americans, and especially not on their ever-vigilant press, and certainly had no influence on a lunatic policy called the War on Terror.

Of course, the root cause of 9/11 and so many other acts of angry, frustrated, and powerless people is America’s embrace of the seemingly never-ending injustice and brutality of Israel towards millions of Arabs. But Washington doesn’t deal with hard realities; it is too busy always dealing with self-created fantasies like al-Qaeda. After all, it is the same in its own society. Police brutality, corrupt elections, massive abuses of lobbyists, crying need for reform of a truly sick democracy, massive urban poverty, poor public education, and a dark and overwhelming military-intelligence influence are not topics of discussion in America’s government. No, American politicians’ ideas of domestic issues are proposed flag-desecration amendments, The Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish, the role of drones in cities, supplying the nation’s police forces with surplus armored vehicles and gear from all the nation’s wars, stopping the flow of poor refuges, especially children, from all the horrors America has helped create in Central America and Mexico, maintaining the world’s largest prison population at minimum cost, and paying less taxes.

Well, as al-Qaeda fades into the sunset, we are suddenly flooded with media noise about an even more bizarre organization called ISIS (or ISIL) which honorable and honest Western leaders – try not laugh: Obama, Cameron, and Hollande - insist is ready to attack us in city streets, sabotage power grids, and poison water supplies if we don’t start bombing the crap out of them in Iraq and Syria. Some of America’s more bizarre congressmen are also blubbering about an ISIS invasion from Mexico, calculatingly dragging in paranoid fears over the widely disliked situation on America’s southern border concerning refugees.

What’s that about Syria? Don’t all the chilling tales of ISIS come from Iraq? Well, pretty much so, but ISIS is said to be very ambitious. Tales of its growth and spread resemble lines from the script of a cheap 1950s science fiction film called The Blob. And besides, Syria is what the United States really cares about, now that Iraq drags itself around almost like a veteran with three limbs nearly severed.

We have indisputable proof in the testimony from a certain former NSA employee, that ISIS is the creation of Mossad and American intelligence. As with so many of America’s recent ghastly projects in the Middle East, financing comes from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis having spent the last 13 years desperately repenting their (still undefined) role in events around 9/11, even to the point of secretly embracing Israel in their regional plans and plots. The Saudis remain under great pressure to cough up wads of cash whenever America now beckons with a new bone-headed project.

All the creeps - various collections of mindless fundamentalists, soldiers of fortune, just plain opportunists, and CIA thugs - working to overthrow Assad’s government in Syria also receive their bounty, just as they receive weapons and refuge in Turkey. 

ISIS first worked in Syria as just one of several rag-tag armies assembled by the United States and its helpers to destroy a peaceful nation which has had the temerity to oppose some of American policy, especially with regard to Israel. Again, to remind readers, the incident at Benghazi, Libya, involving the killing of an American ambassador and a great deal of embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was precisely about gathering up violent people and arms in the wasteland created there and shipping them off to Turkey in order to create hell in Syria.

But ISIS is just too over-the-top even for opera buffa. Its creation served several dark aims. First, it serves as a lure for malcontents from many places, many of its recruits being American or English, drawing them together at one location. The leadership of ISIS, associated to a certainty with Israel and the United States, can gather information from these recruits about their associates or organizations in various countries. Effectively, after doing any dirty work assigned to them, the recruits are being set up to be killed, either by American air strikes or by the opponents they face in their work. Few in ISIS would know who the “undercover cops” are and who the bad guys are to be used and disposed of like so much toilet paper. The method reflects Israel’s secret services’ long, ugly use of Palestinians to undermine Palestinians.

Second, ISIS served as a mechanism to topple Nouri al-Maliki, recently prime minister of Iraq, a figure with whom Washington had become very unhappy, chiefly owing to his friendliness with Iran, yet another target of the American/Israeli Axis. Maliki proved lucky compared to most leaders Washington sets up and with whom it becomes disenchanted: they generally end up as the proverbial Mafia figures fitted with cement overshoes at the bottom of a river. Maliki was given a good scare with the advancing blood-curdling hordes of ISIS and wisely understood it as his cue to exit.

Third, ISIS has served as an excuse to work with the Kurdish population in Iraq, more or less separately from the national government. This involves giving weapons and intelligence to Kurds and furthering their de facto separation from Iraq, thus greatly weakening any future Iraq since the Kurdish areas have a great portion of the country’s crude oil. After all, the most basic reason for America’s invasion of Iraq was to eliminate it as even a potential enemy of Israel. There also have been some mysterious disappearances of Iraqi crude shipments, which may well have ended up in Israel.

Fourth, the ISIS move back into Syria provides the perfect excuse for American bombing there, something President Putin of Russia managed to prevent earlier with some deft statesmanship. America has already warned President Assad, busy fighting an engineered civil war created by the same folks who created ISIS, that they will attack his defences if he interferes with their bombing his country. Incidentally, no one consulted the Syrian government on any of this, America having already recognized the collection of rabble and criminals called the Free Syrian Army as legitimate.

American air power and perhaps ground troops, while using the excuse of fighting ISIS, will attempt to swing the engineered civil war back in favor of the “rebels,” Assad’s national forces having had considerable success in defeating them recently. The failure to achieve Assad’s overthrow is one of the more worrying developments in America’s bloody scheme for a re-birth of the Middle East, a plan which seeks to surround Israel with a giant cordon sanitaire, albeit at the cost of more than a million innocent lives. Never mind death or homelessness, such matters never are never concerns of American policy except where there is an advantage to be gained. Look at their filthy work in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt.

It is of course remotely possible that ISIS, in attempting to set up “an Islamic state” comprising parts of both Iraq and Syria, has gone rogue, out of the control of its handlers – that kind of event being called blowback in the dirty intelligence business – but I think likely it was always in the script. Most ISIS recruits are destined to die after doing what their handlers told them to do, and along the way President Assad’s country is to be further destroyed and if possible reduced to the kind of paraplegic-like nation Iraq has become.

ISIS started as no more than a couple of thousand guys in pick-up trucks with rifles and grenade launchers. It grew, drawing bizarre recruits from many countries, as its reputation for ferocity was artificially played up by the western press. There are after all always and everywhere a fair number of individuals drawn to violence and dangerous adventure. You might call its wanderings in Iraq a gestation period for bigger things, the ultimate goal being an acceptable way to help topple Assad while disposing of a collection of unwanted people. This all amounts to a giant-scale police entrapment scheme, something our courts consistently strike down, but this is entrapment played for keeps on a scale of thousands of lives.

The pick-up truck brigade proved enough to scare off group after group of well-armed units of the Iraqi army – especially with bags of loot from the Saudis tossed into tents at night. Of course, gradually, ISIS did manage to collect some vehicles and tanks left behind by Iraqi forces and present something more threatening.

If you just think about it, how would unprofessional recruits have the least idea of how to operate sophisticated weapons? Imagine operating modern tanks or artillery without expert training? But ISIS has plenty of undercover experts to train them and make them seem more formidable. The head of ISIS is a man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an American prisoner for a time. He seems to know America’s greatest pug-ugly senator and roaming unofficial ambassador for killing, John McCain (judging from a number of photos on the Internet showing them together), and he is, according to a number of sources, actually a former Jewish actor named Elliot Shimon, trained by Mossad for a different kind of theater.

Now we’ve had a crescendo of beheadings supposedly captured live on video, only each of these is a patent fraud. Even the mainstream press, the last to discover almost anything worth knowing these days, have now admitted the first one was a fraud, although not before many columnists and commentators spewed great quantities of self-righteous outrage on the subject.

Not that the victims probably haven’t died somehow or other, but they were not beheaded by a mysterious eight-foot British giant dressed in black and armed with a paring knife.

Staged beheadings of course are intended to revolt people and rouse support for Western governments to act. The real beheadings which occur regularly in Saudi Arabia - there was a batch of 19 only recently - are never shown on American news, nor are they even discussed. But a single video of a fake terrorist beheading is played and replayed and commented on endlessly with indignation over such horror.

And the hundreds of Palestinians, including children, whom Israel has beheaded with bombs and artillery never make an appearance on television or rate any commentary.

A Shale Boom for Canada's Montney Basin

Canada's Shale Boom: More To Come In Montney

by James Burgess - Oilprice.com

In the world of a constantly changing oil and gas environment, the Montney shale basin is the sleeping giant that holds the key to accelerating Canada's shale oil and gas boom, but the real treasure within this giant is a tight liquids-rich zone (approximately 15-20 miles wide) that has big and small players alike narrowing their focus for the potential of a giant payout.

A pervasive hydrocarbon system in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) in Alberta and British Columbia, the Montney is estimated to hold 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas, almost 29 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and over 136 billion barrels of oil.

But it is the tight liquids rich fairway (approximately 15-20 miles wide) that contains high concentrations of both free condensate and natural gas liquids that everyone is pursuing in what may very soon be one of the largest commercially viable plays in the world.

Investors aren't exactly shying away from the challenge, and the overall trend within this large basin is a shift towards liquids-rich areas, which is what the Middle Montney (the middle portion of the Montney resource) is all about.

Initially, companies targeted the Upper Montney, and the entire formation was viewed more as a dry gas play with high productivity and immense gas in place. Through the technological advances that have begun to move up to Canada and a general de-risking of the play, the Middle Montney is proving that there is a very large liquids-rich fairway available with a potential for incredible returns and economics.

Canadian supermajor Encana (NYSE:ECA) - a Montney shale heavyweight-is focusing its drilling to the east of the formation. Last year, Encana announced it would spend over 25 percent of its capex for 2014 on the Montney, and the liquids-rich plays in the eastern area will get the lion's share of this, with 80-85 new wells planned for this year alone.

There are also a number of growing mid-cap players and one micro-cap honing in on this liquids-rich scene and benefitting from supermajor drilling, including mid-cap NuVista (NVA.TO) and micro-cap Blackbird Energy (BBI.V).

Earlier this month, NuVista signed a deal to purchase another 12.5 gross sections of undeveloped land in the Montney's liquids-rich zone, which puts its total at over 220 gross sections, while Blackbird has 117 sections of multi-zone Montney rights-again, with a focus on the liquids-rich zone.

It's a very fast-paced game of follow the leader


When Encana drilled a well in a previously unproven Middle Montney area and came up with two very economic middle Montney wells that both had condensate gas ratios of approximately 100 barrels of oil per million feet of gas, Navistar responded by immediately buying up land in the vicinity, driving prices up over $2.9 million per section. Blackbird followed suit, capturing a 36-section land position right between Shell and Encana and next to NuVista, which drilled a well with 2,195 boe/d.

And while there is still land available here, prices are rising fast, which makes the situation interesting for the small player like Blackbird Energy, which finds that its land value alone is higher than its current market cap.

Explorers and producers are surrounding the Middle Montney in a pincer movement, and liquids-rich sweet spots are shaping up to be the key to unlocking this next North American treasure chest. And the end of the day, the amount of shale gas under Montney's surface would be enough to supply Canada's needs for 145 years, making it one of the top basins in the world, outdone only by Qatar.



Source: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/Canadas-Shale-Boom-More-To-Come-In-Montney.html

Genocides Convenient and Otherwise: Going to Noah's Mountain

Convenient Genocide: Another Failed War to Re-Arrange the Middle East

by Ramzy Baroud - Palestine Chronicle

A few months ago, not many Americans, in fact Europeans as well, knew that a Yazidi sect in fact existed in northwest Iraq. Even in the Middle East itself, the Yazidis and their way of life have been an enigma, shrouded by mystery and mostly grasped through stereotypes and fictitious evidence. Yet in no time, the fate of the Yazidis became a rally cry for another US-led Iraq military campaign.

It was not a surprise that the small Iraqi minority found itself a target for fanatical Islamic State (IS) militants, who had reportedly carried out unspeakable crimes against Yazidis, driving them to Dohuk, Irbil and other northern Iraqi regions. According to UN and other groups, 40,000 Yazidi had been stranded on Mount Sinjar, awaiting imminent “genocide” if the US and other powers didn’t take action to save them.

The rest of the story was spun from that point on, as the Yazidis - whose very existence was rarely acknowledged in most international media - became a rally cry for US-western intervention in Iraq. The logic for intervention that preceded the latest US bombing campaign of IS targets, which started in mid-June, is similar to what took place in Libya over three years ago. Early 2011, imminent “genocide” awaiting Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi was the rally cry that mobilised western powers to a war that wrought wanton killings and destruction in Libya. Since NATO’s intervention in Libya, which killed and wounded tens of thousands, the country has fallen prey to an endless and ruthless fight involving numerous militias, armed, and financially and politically-backed by various regional and international powers. Libya is now ruled by two governments, two parliaments, and a thousand militia.

When US special forces arrived to the top of Mount Sinjar, they realized that the Yazidis had either been rescued by Kurdish militias, or were already living there. They found less than 5,000 Yazidis there, half of them refugees. The mountain is revered in local legend, as the final resting place of Noah’s ark. It was also the final resting place for the Yazidi genocide story. The finding hardly received much coverage in the media, which used the original claim to create fervour in anticipation for Western intervention in Iraq.

We all know how the first intervention worked out. Not that IS’ brutal tactics in eastern, northern and central Iraq should be tolerated. But a true act of genocide had already taken place in Iraq for nearly two decades, starting with the US war in 1990-91, a decade-long embargo and a most destructive war and occupation starting in 2003. Not once did a major newspaper editorial in the US bestow the term “genocide” on the killing and maiming of millions of Iraqis. In fact, the IS campaign is actually part of a larger Sunni rebellion in Iraq, in response to the US war and Shite-led government oppression over the course of years. That context is hardly relevant in the selective reporting on the current violence in Iraq.

It goes without saying, US policymakers care little for the Yazidis, for they don’t serve US interests in any way. However, experience has taught that such groups only become relevant in a specially tailored narrative, in a specific point in time, to be exploited for political and strategic objectives. They will cease to exist the moment the objective is met. Consider for example, the fact that IS has been committing horrific war crimes in western and northern Syria for years, as did forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and militants belonging to the various opposition groups there. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and wounded. Various minority groups there faced and continue to face genocide. Yet, somehow, the horrifying bloodshed there was not only tolerated, but in fact encouraged.

For over three years, little effort was put forward to find or impose a fair political solution to the Syria civil war. The Syrians were killing each other and thousands of foreigners, thanks to a purposely porous Turkish borders were allowed to join in, in a perpetual “Guernica” that, with time, grew to become another Middle Eastern status quo. In fact, all of us are guilty in permitting the Syrian genocide to perpetuate with all of its barbarity and gruesomeness to this day. It is as if we learned to co-exist with some acts of genocide, but not others. Many fortified themselves behind a mountain of self-tailored evidence that one party was committing all the crimes, and the others and their supporters were, in fact, innocent or in a state of self-defence.

Weren’t the massacres of Aleppo in fact genocide? The siege of Yarmouk? The wiping out of entire villages, the beheading and dismembering of people for belonging to the wrong sect or religion?

Even if they were, it definitely was not the kind of genocide that would propel action, specifically western-led action. In recent days, as it was becoming clear that the US was up to its old interventionist games, countries were being lined up to fight IS. US Secretary of State John Kerry was shuttling the globe once more, from US to Europe, to Turkey, to Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and still going. "We believe we can take on ISIL (previous name for IS) in the current coalition that we have," he said. But why now?

The French are also keen on fighting IS. After all, France was one of the two main parties in the Asia Minor (Sykes-Picot) Agreement in 1916, which divided Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between France and Britain. Major wars and upheavals didn’t alter the old colonial borders imposed on the Arabs since then, as much as the IS, whose numbers are being artfully overstated from 10 thousand up to 31 thousand, according to the CIA. Francois Hollande flew to Baghdad in a reported show of support for Iraq’s new government. In actuality, he was there, ahead of a Paris conference on Iraq, to show a united western front, and that the Obama administration was not alone in this war. France, of course, has its own calculations in Syria and Lebanon, and will find the right moment to cease in its support of the US war.

In his speech on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Obama declared war on IS. Obama’s tangled foreign policy agenda became even more confused in his 13-minute speech from the White House. He promised to “hunt down” IS fighters “whenever they are” until the US ultimately destroys the group, as supposedly, it has down with al-Qaeda. IS, of course, is a splinter al-Qaeda group, which began as an idea, and thanks to the US global “war on terror”, has morphed into an army of many branches. The US never destroyed al-Qaeda; but it inadvertently allowed the creation of IS.

"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," Obama said. 

Of course, he needed to say that, as his Republican rivals have accused him of lack of decisiveness and his presidency of being weak. His democratic party could possibly lose control over the Senate come the November elections. His fight against IS is meant to help rebrand the president as resolute and decisive, and perhaps create some distraction from economic woes at home. Obama is using the same language that his predecessor, George W. Bush used, and is appealing to the same fear and trepidation of the foreign menace created by the media and fed to the US public for many years.

That same media has also cleverly devalued and branded conflicts, and acts of genocide in ways consistent with US foreign policy agendas. While the Yazidis were purportedly stranded on mount Sinjar, Israel was carrying out a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Over 2,150 were killed, mostly civilians, hundreds of them children, and over 11,000 wounded, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Not an alleged 40,000 but a confirmed 520,000 thousand were on the run, and along with the rest of Gaza’s 1.8 million, were entrapped in an open-air prison with no escape. But that was not an act of genocide either, as far as the US-western governments and media were concerned. Worse, they actively defended, and, especially in the case of the US, UK, France and Italy, armed and funded the Israeli aggression. Just as the Israeli army was running out of badly needed ammunition to carry out its war crimes, the US was quick to ship more weapons to Israel. Thanks to US aid and backing, the Gaza genocide was finalised to perfection.

Experience has taught us that not all “acts of genocide” are created equal: Some are fabricated, and others are exaggerated. Some are useful to start wars, and others, no matter how atrocious, are not worth mentioning. Some acts of genocide are branded as wars to liberate, free and democratize. In that case, body count is not important. Other acts of genocide are to be encouraged, defended and financed.

But as far as the US involvement in the Middle East is concerned, the only real genocide is the one that serves the interests of the west, by offering an opportunity for military intervention, followed by political and strategic meddling to re-arrange the region. The first Bush Administration tried but failed, the second Bush Administration flirted with the “New Middle East” idea and also failed, and now, Obama.

The US experience in Iraq also taught us that its effort will only succeed in exacerbating an already difficult situation, yielding yet more disenfranchised groups, political despair and greater violence. If the US war on Iraq and Afghanistan failed so miserably to achieve any long term political objectives, despite the trillions of dollars spent there and the hundreds of thousands of lives taken, Obama’s chances of success now are close to nil.

Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People's History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A picture taken on 13 September, 2014 shows a box of 50 cal ammunition for machine guns which was offered to Kurdish forces by French President Francois Hollande during his visit to Iraq (AFP)
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Humanitarian War's Homelessness Problem

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

by David Swanson - World Beyond War

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live. (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.)

Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees.

Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem


Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers. The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.





 

Teachable Moments at the Bucca Camp

Lessons Learned in the Bucca Camp

by Kathy Kelly - ICH 

In January of 2004 I visited “Bucca Camp,” a U.S.-run POW camp named for a firefighter lost in the 2001 collapse of New York’s World Trade Center. Located near the isolated port city of Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq, the network of tent prisons had been constructed by U.S. Coalition authorities. Friends of five young men thought to be imprisoned there had begged our three-person Voices delegation to try and visit the camp and find out what had happened to their loved ones.

This was a year before the capture of Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, who, starting in 2005, would spend four years in the camp under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, on his way to becoming the head of the recently founded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Our friends with the Christian Peacemaker Teams had developed a database of people thought to be held by the U.S. military. They assembled their list of 6,000 prisoners as much through contact with terrified loved ones as through tireless and persistent correspondence with U.S. authorities.

They were able to find the “Capture Tag” numbers for two of the prisoners. These two people, at least, were still alive and at the camp.

With a translator, our small Voices delegation headed from Baghdad to Basra and then on to Umm Qasr, assuredly one of the bleakest spots on the planet. It was Saturday afternoon. At the outskirts of the prison, a U.S. soldier politely told us that we were too late. Saturday visiting hours were over, and the next visiting day would be the following Thursday. Reluctant to leave, we explained that we’d come a long way, along a dangerous road, and that we wouldn’t be able to come back a second time. An hour later, jostling on the benches of an army jeep, we were taken over bumpy desert terrain to the prison visitor’s tent.

There we met with four of the five young men, all in their early twenties, and listened as they shared stories of humiliation, discomfort, monotony, loneliness and great fear born of the uncertainty prisoners face held on zero credible evidence by a hostile power with no evident plans to release them. They seemed immeasurably relieved that we could at least tell their relatives they were still alive.

Upon leaving, we asked to speak with an officer in charge of the Bucca Camp. She said that the outlook for the young men being released wasn’t very positive, but she thought it would be worthwhile to try approaching the International Commission of the Red Cross. “Be glad they’re here with us and not in Baghdad,” she said, giving us a knowing look. “We give them food, clothes, and shelter here. Be glad that they’re not in Baghdad.” I was surprised. At least in Baghdad it wouldn’t be so difficult to visit them. She repeated herself, “I’m just telling you, be glad they’re not in Baghdad.”

Later, in May of 2004, I began to understand what she meant. On May 1, CNN released pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison: The hooded man. The man on a leash. The pyramid. These pictures are now burned into people’s minds. Suddenly there were very few places that seemed as horrible as that prison. Yes, we were very glad the young men we visited were not in Baghdad.

To be very clear, these men at Bucca had been marched naked in front of women soldiers. They’d been told to say “I love George Bush” before they could receive their food rations. They’d slept on the open ground in punishingly cold weather with no mat beneath them and only one blanket. The guards had taunted them and they had had no way of telling their friends they were still alive. But worse humiliation and torture were inflicted on detainees in other U.S. prison centers throughout Iraq.

The November 3, 2005 issue of the New York Review of Books quoted three officers, two of them non-commissioned, stationed with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury in Iraq.

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief… Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs. The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief, where soldiers would go to the PUC tent on their off-hours to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC.” 

“Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

“Smoking” was not limited to stress relief but was central to the interrogation system employed by the 82nd Airborne Division at FOB Mercury. Officers and NCOs from the Military Intelligence unit would direct guards to “smoke” the detainees prior to an interrogation, and would direct that certain detainees were not to receive sleep, water, or food beyond crackers. Directed “smoking” would last for the twelve to twenty-four hours prior to an interrogation. As one soldier put it: “[The military intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate.

Maybe half of the detainees at Camp Mercury, released because they were clearly uninvolved in the insurgency, were nonetheless bearing memories and scars of torture. As one sergeant told Human Rights Watch, “If he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.”

When U.S. politicians want to sell a war, their marketing is top notch: they can count on the U.S. public to buy that war at least long enough to become irretrievably committed to it, as long as the advertising for that war leaves them feeling threatened. And no brand, in quite a long time, has been as frightening as the Islamic State.

The violence that brought the Islamic State into being, and which now promises to extend its legacy into ever wider regional violence and polarization, has a long history.

In between the first two Iraq wars, in numerous trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, our Voices delegation members grew to understand the unbearable weariness and suffering of Iraqi families eking out an uncertain existence under punishing economic sanctions.

Between the wars, the death toll in children’s lives alone, from externally imposed economic collapse and from the blockade of food, medicine, water purification supplies and other essentials of survival, was estimated by the U.N. at 5,000 children a month, an estimate accepted without question by U.S. officials.

The most shocking death figures from our 2003 invasion, estimating the eventual toll from war and social breakdown at credibly more than one million, were underestimates as they inevitably took as baseline the inhuman conditions under our years of economic warfare in Iraq.

On September 16, 2014, the New York Times reported on a newly released UN report which notes that in Iraq, “the share of hungry people has soared: Nearly one in four Iraqis are undernourished, according to the report, up from 7.9 percent of the population in the 1990-92 period.”

And now, the U.S. government says that U.S. intervention is once again needed to improve and civilize the nation of Iraq,

It’s widely acknowledged that the 2003 invasion of Iraq radicalized Al-Baghdadi, with his humiliation at Camp Bucca further hardening him. Then the haphazard flood of weapons and easy cash into both Iraq and Syria fueled potential for further war.

This will not be our third Iraq invasion. U.S. assaults, achieved through munitions, through children’s forced starvation, through white phosphorous, through bullet fire, through blockaded medicines, emptied reservoirs and downed power lines, through disbanded police forces and abandoned state industries and cities left to dissolve in paroxysms of ethnic cleansing – it is all one continuous war, beginning long before we finally turned on our former client Saddam in 1991, the longest war in U.S. history, continued now, extending into the future until it has no end that we can plausibly foresee.

One year to the day before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King urged a turn away from the war in Vietnam and a desperately needed rebirth, a “revolution of values” that was all that could free America from future such commitments. It would be so much better for the world if, instead of hearing President Obama’s September 10 speech justifying renewed U.S. military offensives in the region, we could have heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. In it, he begs us to see ourselves as we are seen by our so-called enemies. It’s not easy to look in that mirror, but understanding the history of previous U.S. wars and policies, against Iraq, would help us look for alternatives.

We need not choose blindness, or the hatred that lets us be herded in fear. We can reach out with truth, with compassion, with the activist courage that leaps from heart to heart, rebuilding sanity, civility, community, humanity, resistance. We can find hope in our own active work to prove that humanity persists, that history can yearn toward justice and that a love which is in no way comfortable, sentimental bosh remains vigorously at work in a world with such need of it.

Kathy Kelly ( Kathy@vcnv.org ) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( www.vcnv.org )



This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Putin to Obama's Rescue: Russia Secures US Air Strike Accord with Syria

Reported US-Syrian Accord on Air Strikes

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

The Obama administration, working through the Russian government, has secured an agreement from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to permit U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in parts of Syria, according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.


President Barack Obama in his weekly address 
on Sept. 13, 2014, vowing to degrade and 
ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and 
Syria. (White House Photo) 

The reported agreement would clear away one of the chief obstacles to President Barack Obama’s plan to authorize U.S. warplanes to cross into Syria to attack Islamic State forces – the concern that entering Syrian territory might prompt anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian government’s missile batteries.

The usual protocol for the U.S. military – when operating in territory without a government’s permission – is to destroy the air defenses prior to conducting airstrikes so as to protect American pilots and aircraft, as was done with Libya in 2011. However, in other cases, U.S. intelligence agencies have arranged for secret permission from governments for such attacks, creating a public ambiguity usually for the benefit of the foreign leaders while gaining the necessary U.S. military assurances.

In essence, that appears to be what is happening behind the scenes in Syria despite the hostility between the Obama administration and the Assad government. Obama has called for the removal of Assad but the two leaders find themselves on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State terrorists who have battled Assad’s forces while also attacking the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and beheading two American journalists.

In a national address last week, Obama vowed to order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. So, in this case, Syria’s behind-the-scenes acquiescence also might provide some politically useful ambiguity for Obama as well as Assad.

Yet, this secret collaboration may go even further and include Syrian government assistance in the targeting of the U.S. attacks, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. That is another feature of U.S. military protocol in conducting air strikes – to have some on-the-ground help in pinpointing the attacks.

As part of its public pronouncements about the future Syrian attacks, the Obama administration sought $500 million to train “vetted” Syrian rebels to handle the targeting tasks inside Syria as well as to carry out military ground attacks. But that approach – while popular on Capitol Hill – could delay any U.S. airstrikes into Syria for months and could possibly negate Assad’s quiet acceptance of the U.S. attacks, since the U.S.-backed rebels share one key goal of the Islamic State, the overthrow of Assad’s relatively secular regime.

Just last month, Obama himself termed the strategy of arming supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels “a fantasy.” He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Obama’s point would seem to apply at least as much to having the “moderate” rebels face down the ruthless Islamic State jihadists who engage in suicide bombings and slaughter their captives without mercy. But this “fantasy” of the “moderate” rebels has a big following in Congress and on the major U.S. op-ed pages, so Obama has included the $500 million in his war plan despite the risk it poses to Assad’s acquiescence to American air attacks.

Neocon Wish List


Without Assad’s consent, the U.S. airstrikes might require a much wider U.S. bombing campaign to first target Syrian government defenses, a development long sought by Official Washington’s influential neoconservatives who have kept “regime change” in Syria near the top of their international wish list.

For the past several years, the Israeli government also has sought the overthrow of Assad, even at the risk of Islamic extremists gaining power. The Israeli thinking had been that Assad, as an ally of Iran, represented a greater threat to Israel because his government was at the center of the so-called Shiite crescent reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut and southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah.

The thinking was that if Assad’s government could be pulled down, Iran and Hezbollah – two of Israel’s principal “enemies” – would be badly damaged. A year ago, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren articulated this geopolitical position in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

More recently, however, with the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front having seized Syrian territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – forcing the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers – the balance of Israeli interests may be tipping in favor of preferring Assad to having Islamic extremists possibly penetrating directly into Israeli territory.

Direct attacks on Israel would be a temptation to al-Nusra Front, which is competing for the allegiance of young jihadists with the Islamic State. While the Islamic State, known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, has captured the imaginations of many youthful extremists by declaring the creation of a “caliphate” with the goal of driving Western interests from the Middle East, al-Nusra could trump that appeal by actually going on the offensive against one of the jihadists’ principal targets, Israel.

Yet, despite Israel’s apparent rethinking of its priorities, America’s neocons appear focused still on their long-held strategy of using violent “regime change” in the Middle East to eliminate governments that have been major supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, i.e. Syria and Iran.

One reason why Obama may have opted for a secretive overture to the Assad regime, using intelligence channels with the Russians as the middlemen, is that otherwise the U.S. neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would have howled in protest.

The Russian Hand


Besides the tactical significance of U.S. intelligence agencies arranging Assad’s tacit acceptance of U.S. airstrikes over Syrian territory, the reported arrangement is also significant because of the role of Russian intelligence serving as the intermediary.

That suggests that despite the U.S.-Russian estrangement over the Ukraine crisis, the cooperation between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been extinguished; it has instead just gone further underground.

Last year, this subterranean collaboration between Obama and Putin represented a potential tectonic geopolitical shift in the Middle East. In the short term, their teamwork produced agreements that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria last September (by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal) and struck a tentative deal with Iran to constrain but not eliminate its nuclear program.

In the longer term, by working together to create political solutions to various Mideast crises, the Obama-Putin cooperation threatened to destroy the neocons’ preferred strategy of escalating U.S. military involvement in the region. There was the prospect, too, that the U.S.-Russian tag team might strong-arm Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

So, starting last September – almost immediately after Putin helped avert a U.S. air war against Syria – key neocons began taking aim at Ukraine as a potential sore point for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explaining how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.

By early 2014, American neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals were conspiring “to midwife” a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a phrase used by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in an intercepted phone conversation with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was busy handpicking leaders to replace Yanukovych.

A neocon holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, Nuland had been a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which prepared the blueprint for the neocon strategy of “regime change” starting with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The U.S.-backed coup ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and sparked a bloody civil war, leaving thousands dead, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But the Gershman-Nuland strategy also drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin, seeming to destroy the possibility that their peace-seeking collaboration would continue in the Middle East. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]

New Hope for ‘Regime Change’


The surprise success of Islamic State terrorists in striking deep inside Iraq during the summer revived neocon hopes that their “regime change” strategy in Syria might also be resurrected. By baiting Obama to react with military force not only in Iraq but across the border in Syria, neocons like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put the ouster of Assad back in play.

In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, McCain and Graham used vague language about resolving the Syrian civil war, but clearly implied that Assad must go. They wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda was a distortion at best – in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement – the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: a necessary step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.

That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran always meant to follow. The idea was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. But the neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.

Still, the neocons retained their vision even after Bush and Cheney departed. They remained influential by holding onto key positions inside Official Washington – at think tanks, within major news outlets and even inside the Obama administration. They also built a crucial alliance with “liberal interventionists” who had Obama’s ear. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]

The neocons’ new hope arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But it was hard to envision expanding the war into Syria without ousting Assad.

Now, however, if the source’s account is correct regarding Assad’s quiet assent to U.S. airstrikes, Obama may have devised a way around the need to bomb Assad’s military, a maneuver that might again frustrate the neocons’ beloved goal of “regime change.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Killing Jokes - Dubya and Bill's Excellent Road Trip

Killing Joke: The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

And I was like, I killed 500,000 Iraqi children with my sanctions! And George here, yuk yuk, he was like —”

“And I was like, 500,000? Hellfire boy, I can do better than that! We bagged us more than a million of them ‘Rackies, har har har!”

“Yeah — haw haw haw — you bigged it up, Texas style! And now Obama’s gonna get him some of his own!”

“Well, there’s plenty to go around, hee hee hoo! Them folks breed like jackrabbits! Hey, Bill, you were a bit of a jackrabbit yourself in your day, weren’t you, ha ha ha?

“Now don’t start with that stuff, George, hee-haw, har-har! Hillary might be in the audience, yuckity yuk yuk!”

“Reckon how many ‘Rackies she’ll rack up when she’s Prez, Bill? — Did you see what I did there? ‘Rackies, rack up? Ho ho ho!”

“Yee hee hee! This old boy’s a card, ain’t he folks? Well, I imagine she’ll get a passel of ‘em, George, don’t you worry! Har har hee hee ho!”

“As long as she leaves a few for Chelsea in 20 years, ha ha ha ha ha! Say, Bill, I’m a bit thirsty. Could you pass me some of that water?”

“Sure, George! Just lean your head back and I’ll pour it right down your gullet, haw haw heee-haw!”

“You know, Bill, I sure am BOARD of that joke, snickety snicker guffaw guffaw!”

“You slay me, George, you really do, hur hur ha ha! But seriously folks ...”

***

Certainly the one word that comes to mind when you think of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is “leadership.” That’s why the world is so lucky that these two sages for the ages have joined together to teach the secrets of their success to a whole new generation of leaders, as the NY Times reports.

The “Presidential Leadership Scholars Program" is a combined effort of the two men’s Presidential Libraries (those marble mausoleums where history goes to die), plus the libraries of two other great, great leaders: one-term wash-outs George Herbie Walkies Bush and Lyndon Bellyflasher Johnson.

With all expenses paid by corporate donors, participants — restricted to “mid-career professionals who generally have at least 10 years of experience and a strong record of professional achievement”. (“Yeah, I used to run a Radio Shack store at the West End Mall, then I managed a couple of Chik-Fil-As in the greater Tuscaloosa area, but lately I’ve sort of branched out into the development and export of cutting-edge crowd-management technologies to police forces here in the Homeland and to our counterterrorism allies abroad, particularly in the volatile Middle East. Reckon I could sign up?” “Say, we like the cut of your jib! Just hold on a second while I write you a check!”)

In addition to offering carefully selected mid-career professionals the unique “insights from how each president addressed pressing challenges” — including the thrilling “participation of President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton” — the programme also places a “strong emphasis on cultivating a lifelong network of participants, faculty and staff.” In other words, yet another corporate-paid vehicle for wanna-be courtiers to schmooze their way into the blood-stained porticos of the Beltway elite.

And thus do our mediocre murderous masters replicate themselves, generation after generation ….





Laughing themselves -- and us -- to hell ...

Never Ceasing: Peace As Israel Understands It

A Peace That Passeth Understanding

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

At the London Review of Books blog, Omar Hamilton outlines the many confidence-building efforts being undertaken by Israel to construct a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, following the recent spat in Gaza. Below is Hamilton's piece in full, but do see the original for links detailing the flowers of peace that Israel is planting amongst its Palestinian brothers and sisters.

On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire.
Israel has done the following:

1. Annexed another 1500 acres of West Bank land

2. Seized $56 million of PA tax revenue
3. Not lifted the illegal blockade (as required by the ceasefire)

4. Broken the ceasefire by firing at fishermen on four separate occasions
5. Detained six fishermen
6. Killed a 22-year-old, Issa al Qatari, a week before his wedding

7. Killed 16-year-old Mohammed Sinokrot with a rubber bullet to the head

8. Tortured a prisoner to the point of hospitalisation

9. Refused 13 members of the European Parliament entry into Gaza
10. Detained at least 127 people across the West Bank, including a seven-year-old boy in Hebron and two children, aged seven and eight, taken from the courtyard of their house in Silwad – and tear-gassed their mother

11. Continued to hold 33 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in prison

12. Continued to hold 500 prisoners in administrative detention without charge or trial

13. Destroyed Bedouin homes in Khan al Ahmar, near Jerusalem, leaving 14 people homeless, and unveiled a plan to forcibly move thousands of Bedouin away from Jerusalem into two purpose-built townships

14. Destroyed a dairy factory in Hebron whose profits supported an orphanage

15. Destroyed a family home in Silwan, making five children homeless

16. Destroyed a house in Jerusalem where aid supplies en route to Gaza were being stored
17. Destroyed a well near Hebron

18. Set fire to an olive grove near Hebron

19. Raided a health centre and a nursery school in Nablus, causing extensive damage

20. Destroyed a swathe of farmland in Rafah by driving tanks over it

21. Ordered the dismantling of a small monument in Jerusalem to Mohamed Abu Khdeir, murdered in July by an Israeli lynch mob
22. Continued building a vast tunnel network under Jerusalem

23. Stormed the al Aqsa mosque compound with a group of far right settlers
24. Assisted hundreds of settlers in storming Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus

25. Prevented students from entering al Quds University, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at those who tried to go in

26. Earned unknown millions on reconstruction materials for Gaza, where 100,000 people need their destroyed homes rebuilt. The total bill is estimated at $7.8 billion

Penetrating Shadows: Living Mysteries in a Helter Skelter Reality


Power Drain: Mysteries of the Twenty-First Century in a Helter-Skelter World

by Tom Engelhardt  - TomDispatch

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet -- and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder.

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. 
That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Great Concentration or the Great Fragmentation?

[Note for TomDispatch readers: You’ll see that, for the first time, the spectacular cover for my new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World (with a preface by Glenn Greenwald!), is embedded in today’s post. It won’t be published for a couple of weeks yet, but can be preordered. Let me just mention that, among the several wonderful blurbs on the book's cover, one came in too late to make it, but I couldn’t be prouder of it. So let me launch the book at this site with what Noam Chomsky has to say about it: “In his regular, incisive, and often searing columns, Tom Engelhardt has uncovered layer after layer of deceit, fraud, and distortion to reveal to us harsh truths about power and its exercise that we must comprehend, and resist, and reverse, if there is to be any hope of decent survival.Shadow Government is essential reading.” If over time, TD readers buy enough copies, we’ll go into a second printing and be able to proudly add it to the cover!
In the meantime, I actually have the first copies of the book, so here's an offer to consider: for a donation of $100 to this site, the sort of thing that keeps us rolling along, I'll send you a personalized, signed copy of Shadow Government and you can be the first on your block to have one! Check out our donation page for the details. Tom

 

Power Drain: Mysteries of the Twenty-First Century in a Helter-Skelter World

by Tom Engelhardt

 After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed -- great inland empires -- that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it.

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter. And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet. It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”

Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet


As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone. Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted.

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached -- and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

For almost a decade, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were, no bones about it, in the era of “the Washington consensus” and “globalization.” The Earth was flat and we were all One, swimming in a sea of giant swooshes, golden arches, action movies, and Disney princesses. What a moment to dream -- and though it took a decade, you’ll remember the dreamers well. Having prepared the way as a kind of shadow government, in 2000 they took over the White House (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court). After a single devastating terrorist attack (the “Pearl Harbor” of the twenty-first century), they were soon dreaming on a global scale as befit their new vision of power. They imagined a “wartime” that would last for generations -- some of them even called it World War IV -- during which they would establish a full-scale military protectorate, including monster bases, in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and a Pax Americana globally aimed at preventing any other great nation or bloc of nations from arising to challenge the United States -- ever.

And that should have surprised no one. It seemed like such an obvious concluding passage to the Great Concentration. What else was there to dream about when “The End” had come up onscreen and the logic of history was theirs to do with what they would? After all, they had at their beck and call a military the likes of which no other 10 nations could match and a national security state, including surveillance and intelligence outfits, whose post-9/11 reach was to be unparalleled among countries or in history. They sat atop a vast and wealthy state then regularly referred to as the planet’s “sole superpower” or even its “hyperpower,” and no less regularly called its “sheriff.”

Where great powers had once been, only a few rickety “rogue states” remained: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. And with the help of a clever speechwriter, George W. Bush was soon to pump those three countries up into a convenient “Axis of Evil,” a phrase meant to combine the fearsomeness of World War II’s Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Ronald Reagan’s famous Star Wars-style moniker for the Soviet Union, “the Evil Empire.” No matter that two of the three powers in question had been at each other’s throats for a decade and the third, a half-nation with a population regularly on a starvation diet, was quite unrelated.

Beyond that, when it came to enemies, there were relatively small numbers of jihadi bands, mostly scattered in the tribal backlands of the planet, and a few poorly armed minority insurgencies. A “unipolar” planet? You bet, hands down (or rather, as the Bush administration then saw it, hands up in the classic gesture of surrender that it quickly expected from Iraq, Iran, and Syria, among other places). The future, according to the prevailing script, couldn’t have been more obvious. Could there be any question that dominance, or even as the U.S. military liked to put it, “full-spectrum dominance,” was the obvious, uncontested, and only possible result?

A Jihadist Paradise on Earth


As the present chaos across large swathes of our world indicates, however, it didn’t turn out to be so. The planet was telling quite a different story, one focused not on the concentration of power but on a radical form of power drain. In that story, the one for which the evidence kept piling up regularly in the post-9/11 years, no application of power seemed to work for Washington. No enemy, no matter how minor, weak, ill armed, or unpopular could be defeated. No jihadist group wiped out. Not one.

Jump 13 years and they are all still there: the original al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and a whole befuddling new range of jihadist groups, most of them bigger than ever, with one now proclaiming a “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East; in Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent (and a growing new Taliban movement is destabilizing Pakistan); the Shia militias the U.S. couldn’t take down in Iraq during its occupation of the country are now fighting the followers of the Sunni military men whose army Washington demobilized in 2003. The fundamentalists in Iran, despite endless years of threat and pressure, are still in power, their regional influence enhanced. Libya, which should have been a nation-building miracle, has instead become an extremist battleground, while (like Syria) losing a significant percentage of its population; Africa is increasingly destabilized, and Nigeria in particular faces one of the more bizarre insurgencies in modern history; and so on.

Nowhere is there a hint of Washington’s Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East, no less globally. In fact, across a vast and growing swath of the planet, stretching from South Asia to Africa, from Iraq to Ukraine, the main force at work seems not to be the concentration of power, but its fragmentation, its disintegration, before which Washington has proven remarkably helpless.

Thirteen years later, on the eve of another 9/11 anniversary, the president found himself, however reluctantly, on television addressing the American people on the launching of another hapless Iraq war, the third since 1991 -- and the first in which those announcing it visibly no longer had any expectation of victory or could even imagine what the endpoint of all this might be. In fact, before Barack Obama appeared on our home screens, word was already leaking out from official precincts in Washington that this new war would last not a decisive few weeks or even months, but years. At least “36 months” was the figure being bandied about.

In other words, as he launched Iraq 3.0, the president was already essentially conceding a kind of defeat by willing it to his successor in the Oval Office. Not getting out of Iraq, as he had promised in his 2008 presidential campaign, but getting in yet again would now be his “legacy.” If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the deep-sixing of the dream of global domination, what does?

Nor was the new enemy some ghostly jihadist group with small numbers of followers scattered in the backlands of the planet. It was something new under the sun: a mini-state-building, war-fighting, revenue-generating, atrocity-producing machine (and yet anything but the former “Evil Empire”). Against it, the drones and bombers had already been called in and Washington was now to lead -- the phrase, almost a quarter-century old, was making a reappearance in the general babble of reporting about, and punditry on, the new conflict -- a “coalition of the willing.” In the first such coalition, in 1991, 35 nations were gathered under the American wing to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (which, of course, didn’t quite happen). And the Saudis, the Japanese, and the Germans agreeably anted up $52 billion of the cost of that $61 billion conflict, making it a near freebie of a (briefly) triumphant war for Washington.

This time, however, as befit the moment, the new “coalition” was to consist of a crew so recalcitrant, unwilling, and ill-matched as to practically spell out disaster-in-the-making. Inside Iraq, a unification government was already being formed and it looked remarkably like previous not-so-unification-minded governments. The Kurds were playing it cagy on the question of support; Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose militias had once fought the Americans and were now fighting the forces of the new Islamic State (IS), was warning against cooperation of any sort with the former “occupier”; and as for the Sunnis, well, don’t hold your breath.

And don’t even start in on the Turks, the Egyptians, and others in the region. In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Iraq and promised that the U.S. would ante up $48 million to stand up a new Iraqi “national guard.” It was assumedly meant as a home for disaffected Sunni fighters to bolster the American-financed, -armed, and -trained Iraqi army that had collapsed in a heap when the warriors of the Islamic State descended on them led by former officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. And oh yes, with the help of the Saudis (who had previously funneled money to far more extreme groups of rebels in Syria), the U.S. was now planning to arm and train the barely existent “moderate” rebels of that country. If that isn’t a description of a coalition of the shaky, what is?

Is American Leadership “the One Constant in an Uncertain World”?


From that “new” Iraqi military force to the usual set of op-eds, comments, and critiques calling for yet more military action by the usual crowd of neocons and Republicans in Washington, it’s felt distinctly like déjà vu all over again. This time, however, it seems as if we’re watching familiar events through some funhouse mirror, everything half-recognizable, yet creepy as hell. Ever more of the world seems this way, as for instance in the “new Cold War” that’s played out in recent months in Ukraine.

And yet it’s worth noting that some things are missing from that mirror's distorted view. When was the last time, for instance, that you heard the phrase “sole superpower” or the word “unipolar”? Not for years, I suspect. Yet the talk of “multi-polarity” has, like the Brazilian economy, faded, too, and for good reason.

On the face of it, the United States remains the unipolar power on planet Earth, or as the president put it in his TV address, speaking of American leadership, “the one constant in an uncertain world.” Its military remains uncontested in any normal sense, with something approaching that long-desired goal of full-spectrum dominance. No other concentration of power on the planet comes close to matching it. In fact, even for the European Union, once imagined as a future power bloc of immense possibility, fragmentation of various sorts now seem to hover in the air.

Admittedly, two regional powers have begun flexing their military muscles along their borders (and sea lanes). Vladimir Putin, the autocratic ruler of what is essentially a hollowed out energy state, has been meddling in Ukraine, as he did previously with Georgia, in situations where he’s felt the pressure of the U.S. and NATO pushing against his country’s former borderlands. In the process, he has effectively brought power drain and fragmentation to the heartlands of Eurasia in a way that may prove far less amenable to his control than he now imagines.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea and nearby waters, China, the world’s rising economic juggernaut and increasingly a regional military power, has been pushing its neighbors’ buttons as it grabs for undersea energy rights and generally tries to reverse a long history of what it considers “humiliation,” while taking its place as a regional hegemon. As in Ukraine with NATO, so here, in its announced “pivot” to Asia, the U.S. has played its own part in this process. Once again, division and fragmentation of various sorts shimmer on the horizon. And yet these challenges to America’s status as the globe’s hegemon remain local and limited in nature. The likelihood that either of them will develop into some version of the great power struggles of the nineteenth century or of the Cold War era seems remote.

Still, the conundrum for Washington remains. For the last 13 years, it’s had access to unparalleled powers of every kind, concentrated in all sorts of ways, and yet in what has to be considered a mystery of the twenty-first century, everywhere, even at home, fragmentation and gridlock, not decisive, effective action are evident, while the draining (or paralysis) of power seems to be the order of the day.

Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. On much of the planet, Latin America (but not Central America) excepted, power vacuums, power breakdowns, power drains, and fragmentation are increasingly part of everyday life. And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.

The Greatest Concentration of Literal Power in History


Since World War II, we’ve generally been focused on the Great Concentration, while another story was developing in the shadows. Its focus: the de-concentration of power in what the Bush administration used to call the Greater Middle East, as well as in Africa, and even Europe. Just how exactly this developed will have to await a better historian than I and perhaps the passage of time. But for the sake of discussion, let’s call it the Great Fragmentation.

Perhaps it started in the twentieth century with the decolonization movements that swept across so much of the globe and took down a series of already weakening European empires. One of its latest manifestations might have been the Arab Spring and the chaos and disintegration that seemed to follow from it. The undermining or neutralizing of imperial power and the systems of alliance and dependency it builds seems at its heart. With it has gone the inability of militaries anywhere to achieve the sorts of victories against even the least impressive of enemies that were once the meat and potatoes of imperial power.

The Great Fragmentation has accelerated in seemingly disastrous ways in our own time under perhaps some further disintegrative pressure. One possibility: yet another development in the shadows that, in some bizarre fashion, combines both the concentration of power and its fragmentation in devastating ways. I’m thinking here of the story of how the apocalypse became human property -- the discovery, that is, of how to fully exploit two energy sources, the splitting of the atom and the extraction of fossil fuels for burning from ever more difficult places, that could leave human life on this planet in ruins.

Think of them as, quite literally, the two greatest concentrations of power in history. One is now embedded in the globe’s nuclear arsenals, capable of destroying numerous Earth-sized planets. The other is to be found in a vast array of oil and natural gas wells and coal mines, as well as in a relatively small number of Big Energy companies and energy states like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and increasingly these days, the United States. It, we now know, is capable of essentially burning civilization off the planet.

From this dual concentration of power comes the potential for the kinds of apocalyptic fragmentation it was once thought only the gods or God might be capable of. We’re talking about potential exit ramps from history. The pressure of this story -- which has been in play in our world since at least August 6, 1945, and now in its dual forms suffuses all our lives in hard to define ways -- on the other two and on the increasing fragmentation of human affairs, while impossible to calibrate, is undoubtedly all too real.

This is why, now in my eighth decade, I can’t help but wonder just what planet I’m really on and what its story will really turn out to be.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, to be published in October, is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

[Note: Special thanks go to my friend Jonathan Cobb for talking me through this one.]

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Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt