Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Today's Links

1--Resisting Calls to ‘Do Something’ About Syria

Bashar al-Assad also launched what he called his “Five Seas Vision” in 2004, a strategy to use Syria’s supreme geographic location to become an economic superpower. Such a plan wouldn’t sit well with the U.S. hegemon, which can only maintain its dominance by keeping other nations down.

“Once the economic space between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran becomes integrated, linking the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Arabian Gulf, will not only be important in the Middle East,” Assad once famously said in 2009. “When these seas are connected, we will become the inevitable intersection of the whole world in investment, transportation, and more.”...

Last October, former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani admitted on television that the U.S. and its allies were actively involved in shipping weapons to violent extremist groups in Syria from the very beginning of the war there in 2011. In an article titled “The day before Deraa,” the American Herald Tribune’s Steven Sahiounie documents how CIA-backed foreign mercenaries/terrorists were already in place ready to go prior to the outbreak of violence in Deraa in March 2011. It is now an openly admitted fact that the CIA and U.S. allies have been arming known terrorist factions in Syria. If you know anything about the CIA and the Western war machine, none of this will surprise you.

The violence in Syria that you see today is the direct result of a deliberate and ongoing destabilization campaign by the Western empire against a nation it has had marked for regime change for a very long time. The war machine that ignited this fire is working to manufacture public support for hosing it down with gasoline....

The fact that the U.S. and its allies are now openly admitting to having armed known terrorist factions in Syria and are still somehow asking you to trust them should elicit nothing other than a full belly laugh right in their face. Anyone in a NATO-allied country saying “we need to do something in Syria” should receive the same instant recoil as a known child rapist asking you to let him babysit your kids. No, Western empire, you do not need to “do something” in Syria.
You need to get the fuck out and stay out.

Syrian President Bashar Assad launched his “Five Seas Vision” officially in 2004, a vision aimed at taking advantage of Syria’s geographic position to put it at the center of a regional energy and transportation network. Before the foreign-orchestrated war on Syria began in 2011...

3--Turks face uphill slog in Afrin

On January 20, Turkey announced the beginning of Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish forces in Syria's northwestern Afrin district. Ankara considers the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political party in northern Syria, and Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia affiliates of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara. Damascus has expressed its opposition to the Turkish operation, saying that such actions violated Syrian sovereignty....

"Despite the power and military equipment that Turkey has, it is already 40 days that the Kurds and YPG do not give up, continue fighting and do not let the Turkish forces to advance to the center. Afrin is now demonstrating a great resistance. Yugoslavia could withstand only several days against NATO. Same military equipment is now being used against the Kurds in Afrin," Huso said.....

In mid-February, the Kurds and the Syrian government were reported to have reached an agreement to deploy Syrian troops in Afrin, and the Kurdish militias stated they were not against the participation of the government troops in the defense of the country's northern city.
"Those forces of the Syrian government who came to Afrin to help the Kurds are not official, they are just popular forces who came to help under the deal between the Kurds and Damascus. They fight together to protect the Syrian territory. They have victims as well," Huso said.

4--US General worried about Russian air defense in ME

The statement, entitled "Terrorism and Iran: Defense Challenges in the Middle East," by General Votel covers not only Iran, but also Russia's impact on US operations. Specifically, the US general claims that the growing number of Russian surface-to-air missile systems in the region threatens their "ability to dominate the airspace." According to him, Russia is allegedly using the conflict in Syria to test new weapons and tactics "with little regard for collateral damage or civilian casualties."

Votel went on to note the significant influence Russia has on states in Central Asia, which can possibly limit US military capabilities in Afghanistan, as their operations depend on logistical support from those countries.

5--Ex-CIA head John Brennan hired as news analyst by NBC

The infiltration and co-opting of American news outlets by the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies is not a new phenomenon and has been official (though unstated) policy since the late 1940s, when CIA chief Allen Dulles began a program to secure the cooperation of powerful media bosses in advancing the interests of American foreign policy. Dulles developed a personal relationship with a number of network heads, including CBS’s William Paley.
Paley was an eager collaborator, making sure that information deemed unfavorable to the CIA went unreported and providing cover for numerous paid CIA operatives to work as “journalists” and “correspondents” at the network. Arthur Hays Sulzberger, editor of the New York Times in the 1950s, developed a similar relationship with Dulles. Through the CIA’s sustained campaign for influence and editorial control, the mainstream media was made to function to a large degree as an arm of the agency.

The further integration of the US corporate-controlled media with the American intelligence apparatus was signaled by the recent announcement that the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a subsidiary of the cable TV giant Comcast, has hired former CIA Director John Brennan as a news analyst. Brennan will be a paid contributor and “senior national security and intelligence analyst” for NBC News.
Brennan is implicated in some of the most criminal policies enacted under the Bush and Obama administrations, including the CIA torture program and the drone assassination program. The latter, under Brennan’s tenure first as Obama’s deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism and then as CIA director, was used to kill thousands of innocent civilians along with alleged terrorists, including US citizens. It continues to operate in at least half a dozen countries in Africa and the Middle East.
As director of the National Counterterrorism Center under George W. Bush, Brennan played a major role in the “extraordinary rendition” program, whereby suspected terrorists were kidnapped and sent to CIA “black sites,” where they were systematically tortured.
One would be hard pressed to find any figure in the intelligence establishment with more open disdain for human rights, the rule of law, civil liberties and the framework of checks and balances between the three branches of government—executive, legislative and judicial—laid down in the US Constitution.
In 2014, Brennan became embroiled in a major scandal that pointed to the increasing tendency of the CIA to act unchecked as a law unto itself. With Obama’s support, he had worked to block the release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the results of its investigation into the post-9/11 torture program initiated by the Bush administration.
In March of 2014, then-Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein took to the floor of the Senate to denounce Brennan and the CIA for hacking into the computers of committee staffers working on the torture report, calling it a flagrant attack on Congress, which is tasked with overseeing the CIA, and a direct violation of the Constitution. Obama, who had blocked any prosecution of Bush officials involved in the torture program, sided with Brennan, who responded to Feinstein’s denunciation by filing a criminal referral with the Justice Department to prosecute Intelligence Committee investigators for allegedly stealing classified CIA material.
In December of 2014, the committee released a 600-page declassified version of its 8,000-page report, which contained horrific and damning details about the CIA torture program. Feinstein quickly dropped her criticisms of Brennan and the media almost immediately buried the torture report.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Today's links

1---Gallup: Putin

-- Americans see Russian President Vladimir Putin in a better light than two years ago. Twenty-two percent now say they have a favorable opinion of Putin, up from 13% in 2015 and the highest percentage with a favorable view of the Russian leader since 2003. His unfavorable rating is unchanged at 72%, while fewer Americans say they have no opinion of him....

Americans' negative opinion of Putin is a relatively recent phenomenon. When Gallup first asked about Putin in 2002 during his first term as president, 41% of Americans had a favorable view of him, 18% had an unfavorable view, and 41% had never heard of him or had no opinion. In 2013 when Gallup resumed asking this question during Putin's third term, far more Americans viewed him negatively than positively.

Republicans Fuel Rise in Putin's Favorable Ratings
A major reason for the overall rise in Putin's favorable rating this year is Republicans' more positive views of the Russian leader, from 12% in 2015 to 32% today. This comes at a time when President Donald Trump wants to improve relations with Russia, after somewhat frosty relations between the two countries during Barack Obama's presidency. Independents' opinions of Putin also have grown more positive in the last two years, but to a lesser extent than Republicans'. Democrats' views have become slightly less positive, with just 10% viewing Putin favorably today.
80% of Russians approve of Putin's leadership

Trump’s presidency has seen Republicans following their leader and warming to Russia and Vladimir Putin, as Democrats report more strongly negative views.
The trends we found are stark. Here’s what has happened to Putin’s favorability rating among Democrats and Republicans during the campaign and Trump’s early presidency...
In the last pre-campaign survey in December 2014, the American public as a whole, still shocked by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that spring and summer, was very anti-Putin. Only 11 percent of the public had favorable feelings about the Russian leader, including 8 percent of Republicans. ...But by September 2016, as Russia’s favoritism for Trump became more and more obvious, Republicans started to flock to Putin.

The New York Times reported the position, laid out in letters to Senator Tim Kaine from the Pentagon and the State Department, in a news article buried in its inside pages on Friday under the headline “Administration Says Syria Forces Don’t Need New Approval.” The letters underscore the dimensions of the assault on the Constitution by the White House, which is asserting inherent executive power to wage war not only in Syria, but by implication all over the world.
Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, has advanced a pro forma and hypocritical call for passage of a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to provide a legal fig leaf for war in Syria directed at bringing down the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The current US military escalation in Syria is the realization of a principal demand of the Democratic Party. It was at the center of the foreign policy agenda of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign—Kaine was Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate—and would have been one of Clinton’s first acts as president. Just this past week, the Times published an editorial demanding an escalation of the war, complaining that Syria, Russia and Iran “have exploited the battlefield successes against ISIS…as the leaders of the United States and other world powers largely stand by, unwilling or unable to do anything to stop it.”...
two Democratic administrations that engaged in full-scale war without even a pretense of congressional approval. President Bill Clinton ordered the US-NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 but failed to win the support of a Republican-controlled Congress. President Barack Obama launched the US-NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 without even attempting to secure a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Both Democrats claimed inherent presidential powers

In its warrant application to the secret court, the FBI used information alleging Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and collusion by the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump that was solicited by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, without informing the court that the source for the information, former British spy Christopher Steele, had been paid by Trump’s election opponents.
This revelation was highly damaging to the fabricated narrative of Russian “meddling” in the election in support of Trump. This unsubstantiated claim has become the axis of the Democratic Party’s efforts to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in preparation for war with Moscow, and to oppose Trump not from the standpoint of his warmongering, his tax windfall for the rich or his attacks on democratic rights and social programs, but rather for his insufficiently aggressive posture toward the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin

The Nunes memo, notwithstanding the partisan motives of its authors and the absurdity of the attempt by Trump to posture as a defender of due process and democratic rights, exposed the partisan and politically motivated basis of the entire anti-Russia campaign and the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian “meddling” and alleged collusion by Trump officials.
It documented the existence of a conspiracy between the Obama administration, the Clinton campaign and the FBI, using the Star Chamber auspices of the FISA court, to manipulate the election in support of Clinton, the favored candidate of Wall Street and the dominant factions of the military and intelligence establishment.
The Schiff memo released Saturday is in every respect a right-wing document. It graphically illustrates the fact that the Democratic Party has shifted so far to the right that it has become the most subservient defender of the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and the entire repressive apparatus of the American capitalist state....
the Schiff memo begins with a condemnation of the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee for criticizing the FBI, the Justice Department, the Special Counsel and the FISA court. It calls the Nunes memo “a transparent effort to undermine these agencies” and refers to the FISA court as a “vital tool.”
These are agencies that throughout their history have engaged in mass surveillance, conspiracy, frame-up and assassination directed against the working class and socialist opponents of the capitalist system. The FISA court, supposedly a pillar of American democracy, rejected a total of 12 out of 34,000 surveillance warrant requests between 1970 and 2013...
Schiff’s memo is notably silent on one of the most damning allegations from the Nunes document: That acting FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee in December of last year that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.”

US to silence people with the "wrong" opinions

7-- How I miss the simplicity and serenity of blind patriotism and jingoistic nationalism.

U.S. troops are now in 70 percent of the world’s countries and engaged in active conflict—what we used to call war—in, by even a modest count, some seven countries. In 2017-18, we’ve killed and been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Niger and Pakistan. At least for starters.
Chalk up the first three as outright, though ongoing, defeats or stalemates. The other four are deadlocked, and, in the case of Pakistan, slipping ever further from American influence. When a society wages war on a tactic—terrorism—don’t expect decisive outcomes or victory parades (though our current president sure wants one). No; America—and Americans—have both signed up for eternal quagmire, and its beloved warriors (and their countless victims) will foot the bill.

Sergey Lavrov: You asked me what else there is that Russia can do in Syria. I think that the success of a settlement in Syria does not depend on what else Russia can contribute, but rather on what the US refrains from doing. The US should have stopped playing dangerous games that could result in the partition of the Syrian state. The US creates on the territories under its responsibility to the east of the Euphrates and up to the Syrian state border, authorities that are intentionally formed in such a way as not to have any communications with Damascus, and provides various forms of “assistance” to them. This could be a major obstacle in terms of ensuring Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as required by the UN Security Council.

What we did not agree upon was the unilateral initiative by the US to designate an area within 55 kilometres from At-Tanf as a safe zone, a zone of its influence. The Rukban refugee camp is nearby. There are regular reports about the presence of jihadists within the safe zone created unilaterally by the US in At-Tanf, as well as in the Rukban refugee camp. They use these areas to recover their moral and physical strength, as well as a base for carrying out attacks across the Syrian Arab Republic.

This zone should be dismantled immediately, and humanitarian access provided to the refugee camp. ...

Provocations by Jabhat al-Nusra fighters continue unabated in this region. Specifically, they are shelling residential neighbourhoods of Damascus, including where the Russian Embassy and Trade Mission are located. Nevertheless, for some reason our Western partners prefer making a row about these two areas, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, failing to mention that what is happening there has to do with provocations by Jabhat al-Nusra. I have said it on numerous occasions, and I will say it once again: there is growing evidence to cast doubt on whether our Western colleagues from the US-led coalition are serious about fighting Jabhat al-Nusra, even though this group is recognised as a terrorist organisation in all the UN Security Council resolutions.

We have repeatedly stated (this is our principled position) that we fully support the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people to live in accordance with their traditions and customs, and their centuries-old glorious history. At the same time, we believe it is wrong when these aspirations of the Kurdish people are used by someone in their geopolitical games, which have nothing to do with the interests of the Kurds and regional security.
I’m not going to get into any details, but in order to defuse the situation in Afrin and not to create reasons for speculating on the Kurdish factor, there were contacts between the representatives of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian government with the Kurds who reside there. Unfortunately, as you said, no one is perfect. In that situation, this principle also worked. We are now witnessing an attempt to use the Kurds in a game that has nothing in common with their interests. We call upon everyone who is now involved in these processes to stop and start talks based on the balance of interests rather than the attempts to outsmart someone by speculating on Kurdish aspirations