Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Today's Links

1-- Washington delivers new ultimatum on Iran

The US State Department has issued a fresh ultimatum on the Iran nuclear deal to Washington’s ostensible major allies in Europe, demanding that Germany, Britain and France commit themselves to altering the agreement along the lines demanded by President Donald Trump or face its unilateral abrogation by the US.
A secret State Department cable obtained by Reuters presents what are essentially the same demands made by Trump last January. At that time, he announced that he was prepared to relaunch all-out US economic warfare against Iran unless the European powers joined Washington in imposing a rewritten nuclear accord on Tehran, including provisions that the Iranian government cannot and will not accept.
The occasion for Trump’s threat was his reluctant announcement on January 12 that he had decided to waive the reimposition of US sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He vowed that this would be the last time he issued such a waiver, unless his conditions were met. The next deadline for waiving the sanctions is May 12.
The message from the State Department to the European powers asks for their “commitment that we should work together to seek a supplemental or follow-on agreement that addresses Iran’s development or testing long-range missiles, ensures strong IAEA inspections, and fixes the flaws of the ‘sunset clause.’

Washington has demanded that Iran grant International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors immediate and unlimited access to any site in the country, including military bases; the elimination of “sunset clauses” in the JCPOA, making time-limited restrictions on aspects of Iran’s civil nuclear program permanent; and drastically limiting, if not outlawing, Iran’s ballistic missile program.
While presented by Reuters and other media as a softening of the position outlined by Trump in January, the cable makes it clear that the US is continuing to present its nominal allies in Europe with an ultimatum.
“In the absence of a clear commitment from your side to address these issues, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. If at any time the President judges that such commitment is not within reach, the President indicated he would end US participation in the dea

The cable’s “talking points” for US diplomats to advance Washington’s agenda in Europe stress “the Trump administration’s strategy to counter the Iranian regime’s reckless aggression,” which “addresses the full range of Iranian threats, of which Iran’s nuclear program is only one element.”
The clear implication is that Washington is embarked on a trajectory of war with Iran, either with or without the collaboration of its NATO allies in Berlin, London and Paris. Should they join with the US in ripping up the nuclear accord, it will set them on a collision course not only with Iran, but also with Russia and China, the two other signatories to the JCPOA.
The US has spelled out its own intentions in the Trump administration’s recent National Security Strategy, lumping Iran together with North Korea under the category of “rogue states” that represent a threat to US “national interests” and are to be confronted and defeated...

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, US national security advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster declared it was necessary to “act against Iran,” which he accused of arming a “network of proxies” that is “becoming more and more capable as Iran seeds more and more...destructive weapons into these networks.”

The editorial board of the New York Times—whose reporter Judith Miller was at the center of the Bush administration’s campaign of lies—declared one week later that there “is ample evidence that Iraq has produced highly toxic VX nerve gas and anthrax and has the capacity to produce a lot more. It has concealed these materials, lied about them, and more recently failed to account for them to the current inspectors.”
Subsequent developments would prove who was lying. The Bush administration and its media accomplices conspired to drag the US into a war that led to the deaths of more than one million people—a colossal crime for which no one has yet been held accountable.
Fifteen years later, the script has been pulled from the closet and dusted off. This time, instead of “weapons of mass destruction,” it is “Russian meddling in the US elections.” Once again, assertions by US intelligence agencies and operatives are treated as fact. Once again, the media is braying for war. Once again, the cynicism and hypocrisy of the American government—which intervenes in the domestic politics of every state on the planet and has been relentlessly expanding its operations in Eastern Europe—are ignored.
The argument presented by the American media is that the alleged existence of a fly-by-night operation, employing a few hundred people, with a budget amounting to a minuscule fraction of total election spending in the US, constitutes a “a virtual war against the United States through 21st-century tools of disinformation and propaganda” (New York Times)

In the countless articles and media commentary along this vein, nowhere can one find a serious analysis of the Mueller indictment of the Russians itself, let alone an examination of the real motivations behind the US campaign against Russia. The fact that the indictment does not even involve the Russian government or state officials is treated as a nonissue....

As the National Defense Strategy, published less than a month before the release of the indictments, declared, “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.”...

There have already been a series of clashes in recent weeks between the world’s two largest nuclear-armed powers. On February 3, a Russian close-air support fighter was shot down by al-Nusra Front fighters, which are indirectly allied with the United States in its proxy war against the government of Bashar Al-Assad. Then, on February 7 and 8, Russian soldiers were killed in US air and artillery barrages in Deir Ezzor, in what survivors called a “massacre.” Both the US and Russian governments have sought to downplay the scale of the clash, but some sources have reported the number killed to be in the hundreds.

Even as US and Russian forces clashed in Syria, representatives of the Kremlin and the Pentagon sparred at the Munich security conference this weekend over the deployment and development of nuclear weapons. While accusing Russia of violating the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Washington this month issued a nuclear posture review envisioning a massive expansion of the deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons.

The Mueller indictment is intended to provide an appropriate “narrative” for military aggression motivated by different aims. At the same time, it serves as a ready-made pretext for censorship and domestic repression that goes far beyond the extraordinary measures adopted under the framework of the “war on terror.” Russia, the American people are supposed to believe, uses domestic social opposition to weaken the United States, rendering political dissent effectively treasonous.

Already, this campaign has led the major US technology firms to implement far-reaching measures to censor political speech on the Internet. Google is manipulating its search results and Facebook is manipulating its news feeds, while seeking to turn the social media platform it has developed into an instrument of corporate-state surveillance.
Even more extreme measures are being planned and implemented, motivated by the basic principle that the greater the lie, the more aggressive the methods required to enforce it. The target of the repressive measures is not Russia, but the American working class. The ruling elite is well aware that as it plots war abroad, it stands upon a social powder keg at home.

3--A non-alarmist reading of the Mueller Russia indictment

There's been no shortage of breathless reaction to Trump-Russia special prosecutor Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for their efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. "An attack that — but for the loss of life — is as bad as Pearl Harbor," tweeted veteran journalist Jonathan Alter.

— the Russian operation....emerges as a small, poorly funded operation with a level of effectiveness that is impossible to measure but could be near zero....The Russia operation has been discussed almost exclusively in terms of Donald Trump, but it did not start out that way. According to the indictment, it began in May 2014 with "the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016."...

Facebook officials gave more details in statements and testimony before the Senate and House intelligence committees a few months ago. First, Facebook said the Russian operation bought about 3,000 ads, spending about $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram combined. That is compared to about $81 million the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent on Facebook and Instagram combined.
Facebook estimated about 11 million people saw at least one of the ads between 2015 and 2017. But that wasn't all before the election. Facebook said that of ad "impressions" — that is, how many times an ad appeared on screen in a person's news feed — just 44 percent came before the election, while 56 percent came after the election.
About 25 percent of the ads were never seen by anyone, Facebook said. And of the total ads, "The vast majority…didn't specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate."
Looking at key states, the total spent on ads targeting Wisconsin was $1,979, according to Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr. Ad spending in Michigan was $823. In Pennsylvania, it was $300.
That is not the stuff of rigging elections....
The company estimates that a total of around 150 million people may have been "served content" from a page associated with the Russians during the two-year period before and after the election. That means that some Russian-produced content was visible on news feeds — not that Facebook users necessarily saw it or engaged with it.
"This equals about four-thousands of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content," Facebook executive Colin Stretch said in prepared testimony before the Senate last November.
The indictment says Russians used the fake Facebook accounts they created to team with unwitting Americans to stage a few real-world, pro-Trump events in Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. A few days after the election, the Russians staged two rallies in New York — one to support the president-elect and another headlined "Trump is NOT my President." It was the original Russian goal of disruption applied to new — and very unexpected — circumstances.

You remember Rod Rosenstein. Way back on May 9, Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, was thrust from bureaucratic obscurity when the White House cited his three-page memo as the basis for the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey.

Rosenstein, after a day or so, then receded from the headlines, thanks to the cyclonic chaos machine that is the Trump administration: Oval Office leaks to the Russians! Israeli spies! Angry tweets! But the bespectacled, seemingly mild-mannered lawyer just got very interesting again.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Rosenstein suddenly announced the appointment of a special prosecutor, former F.B.I. director Robert S. Mueller III, to take charge of the investigation into Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

It was a stunning reversal for Rosenstein, who for weeks had been fending off congressional calls for just such a move. It was also—if the details are true—a stunning vote of no-confidence in President Donald Trump: Department of Justice sources say the White House was given only 30-minutes notice before the public announcement, and that Rosenstein had already signed the order at that point. It may also be a sign of Rosenstein’s anger at being bullied by Trump last week—when the White House, amid the uproar over Comey’s firing, tried to pin the blame on Rosenstein.

According to the military source, the Turkish Army heavily shelled the Syrian government forces near the city of Afrin – no casualties were reported.
In addition to the shelling, the Turkish Army also flew an armed drone over the positions of the Syrian government forces; this prompted the latter to open fire on the unmanned aircraft.
The Syrian government forces entered Afrin, today, equipped with anti-aircraft machine guns and a large arsenal of missiles

6--The Turkish military will soon lay siege to Afrin city in northern Syria as a new phase of “Operation Olive Branch” begins, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced, amid speculations that Syrian regime forces would take over the city from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as the result of an agreement between the two groups.
“Preparations in the field take some time. In the coming days, we will lay seige to Afrin city. It’s very important that everywhere we go should remain secure,” Erdoğan told his lawmakers at parliament.
Erdoğan’s statement comes as the operation aiming to clear the region from YPG militants enters its 32nd day. Turkey’s operation is advancing slowly because of the army’s sensitivity regarding avoiding civilian casualties, the president said.
“Thanks to the siege, the YPG will have no room for bargaining with the Syrian regime,” he stressed, referring to news reports that the YPG would leave Afrin to Damascus.
The siege would also result in cutting all assistance provided to the YPG in Afrin, the president said.

The Americans have repeatedly promised to Turkey that the partnership will end once the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is defeated but the Turks have become nervous due to the lack of delivery on these promises. Now Erdoğan wants U.S. President Donald Trump to walk the walk in Syria, which would require a step – even if only small and symbolic - to show everyone that U.S. support for the YPG/PKK has come to an end...

Prior to the Erdoğan-Putin telephone conversation, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, when asked in a press conference in Amman, that if the Syria army retakes Syria to clear the YPG from the region (implying the border with Turkey) then Turkey would have no objection. But he added that if the purpose of Damascus is to protect the YPG from the Turkish operation “then no force could stop Turkey” moving forward.
The Turkish operation - with jets, tanks and howitzers – has been possible so far due to the indirect support of Russia, the main ally of the al-Assad regime, together with Iran. Otherwise it would have been quite possible for Syrian jets and artillery to open fire on the Turks, who they want out of their territory. Indeed, Çavuşoğlu said at the start of the campaign that Ankara had established contact with Damascus through Russia and Iran, in order to assure everyone that the aim was not to invade Syria but to clear the YPG/PKK from the region and thus reduce the threat on Turkey’s borders.

8--Comments Sic Semper Tyrannis... .Bandalero

I don't think the Syrian army is going to fight Turkey.
The deal in the making for Afrin is different: the YPG/SDF/PKK unarms itself and hands all control over to the syrian army. The Turks will then have no reason to continue their offensive on Afrin. To make sure in advance that Turkey's security needs are satisfied by the details of the deal in the making, Syria consults with Russia on the agreement, and Russia consults with Turkey. If the YPG doesn't give in to the demands - which in the end come from Turkey, the result will simply be that more YPG areas in Afrin are taken by Turkish-backed FSA jihadis. So for the YPG it's basically to choose between a friendly Syrian government takeover or a forced military takeover by Turkish backed FSA jihadis, and their is no way that a de facto separatist YPG/PKK enclave will persist. The YPG in Afrin currently seems in a steep learning curve, that the above is the available choice. Having some Syrian government friendly NDF militias help the people of Afrin to defend against the joined Turkish FSA attack may help to swing internal Kurdish power in favor to an agreement with the Syrian government that meets Turkish security needs.
For the jihadies in the Idlib pocket the choice is a bit more generous. Either the jihadis there keep the peace with the Syrian army and fight al Qaeda and the YPG/PKK under Turkish command and observation, or the Tiger will come and they'll lose more territory until nothing is left. There also seems to be a kind of lerning curve their regarding the available choice. The first Turkish convoy to install a Turkish observation point was attacked and returned to Turkey. But the idea of the Tiger coming back and taking more territory from the Idlib jihadi dreamland was seemingly such a compelling arguement that further Turkish convoys were able to move to agreed observation points between the highway and the railyway through Idlib jihadi land.
For the Syrian army it's not a bad situation when FSA jihadis fight Al Qaeda terrorists and YPG separatists in the north west of the country. It allows the Syrian army to commit more forces on other urgent tasks like cleaning irreconcilable Saudi backed jihadis from the East Ghouta pocket or cleaning the ISIS pocket in the triangle between Deir Ezzor, Bukamal and Sukhna.

No comments:

Post a Comment