Thursday, February 26, 2015

ISIS Is Proof of the Failed “war on Terror”

Today al-Qaeda-type movements rule a vast area in northern and western Iraq and eastern and northern Syria, several hundred times larger than any territory ever controlled by Osama bin Laden. It is since bin Laden’s death that al-Qaeda affiliates or clones have had their greatest successes, including the capture of Raqqa in the eastern part of Syria, the only provincial capital in that country to fall to the rebels, in March 2013. In January 2014, ISIS took over Fallujah just forty miles west of Baghdad, a city famously besieged and stormed by US Marines ten years earlier. Within a few months they had also captured Mosul and Tikrit. The battle lines may continue to change, but the overall expansion of their power will be difficult to reverse. With their swift and multipronged assault across central and northern Iraq in June 2014, the ISIS militants had superseded al-Qaeda as the most powerful and effective jihadi group in the world.

These developments came as a shock to many in the West, including politicians and specialists whose view of what was happening often seemed outpaced by events. One reason for this was that it was too risky for journalists and outside observers to visit the areas where ISIS was operating, because of the extreme danger of being kidnapped or murdered. “Those who used to protect the foreign media can no longer protect themselves,” one intrepid correspondent told me, explaining why he would not be returning to rebel-held Syria.

This lack of coverage had been convenient for the US and other Western governments because it enabled them to play down the extent to which the “war on terror” had failed so catastrophically in the years since 9/11. This failure is also masked by deceptions and self-deceptions on the part of governments. Speaking at West Point on America’s role in the world on May 28, 2014, President Obama said that the main threat to the US no longer came from al-Qaeda central but from “decentralized al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused on the countries where they operate.” He added that “as the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.” This was true enough, but Obama’s solution to the danger was, as he put it, “to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists.” By June he was asking Congress for $500 million to train and equip “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition. It is here that there was a real intention to deceive, because, as Biden was to admit five months later, the Syrian military opposition is dominated by ISIS and by Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda representative, in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality, there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.

An intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country neighboring Syria told me that ISIS members “say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind, because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.” These are not empty boasts. Arms supplied by US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to anti-Assad forces in Syria have been captured regularly in Iraq. I experienced a small example of the consequences of this inflow of weapons even before the fall of Mosul, when, in the summer of 2014, I tried to book a flight to Baghdad on the same efficient European airline that I had used a year earlier. I was told it had discontinued flights to the Iraqi capital, because it feared that insurgents had obtained shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles originally supplied to anti-Assad forces in Syria and would use them against commercial aircraft flying into Baghdad International Airport. Western support for the Syrian opposition may have failed to overthrow Assad, but it has been successful in destabilizing Iraq, as Iraqi politicians had long predicted.

Read the entire article

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Obama’s “Fake War” against the Islamic State (ISIS). The Islamic State is Protected by the US and its Allies

Since August 2014, the US Air Force with the support of a coalition of 19 countries has relentlessly waged an intensified air campaign against Syria and Iraq allegedly targeting  the Islamic State brigades.  

According to Defense News, over 16,000 airstrikes were carried out from August 2014 to mid January 2015.  Sixty percent of the air strikes were conducted by the US Air Force using advanced jet fighter and bombing capabilities  (Aaron Mehta, “A-10 Performing 11 Percent of Anti-ISIS Sorties”Defense News, January 19, 2015.)

The airstrikes have been casually described by the media as part of  a “soft” counter-terrorism operation, rather than an act of all out war directed against Syria and Iraq.  

This large scale air campaign which has resulted in countless civilian casualties has been routinely misreported by the mainstream media. According to  Max Boot, senior fellow in national security at the Council on Foreign Relations. ”Obama’s strategy in Syria and Iraq is not working… [ because] the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIS has been remarkably restrained”.  (Newsweek, February 17, 2015, emphasis added).

Americans are led to believe that the Islamic State constitutes a formidable force confronting the US military and threatening Western Civilization. The thrust of media reporting is that the US Air Force has failed and that “Obama should get his act together” in effectively confronting this  ”Outside Enemy” of America.

Read the entire article

Friday, February 20, 2015

The corporate coup d'etat: TTIP, TTP, CETA, NAFTA

A really important news story - one that should be getting lots of coverage in the US because of its huge financial and environmental implications - is instead getting the silent treatment from corporate media.

A massive trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is almost completely flying under the media radar in the US.

This trade deal includes a provision that basically gives multinational corporations the ability to sue national governments over environmental or other regulations and policies they don't like. As a result, US taxpayers could be on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in payouts and legal fees. You'd think that might be worth at least some media coverage.

But according to Media Matters for America, the TPP hasn't been mentioned at all by ABC, CBS, and NBC during the 17-month period from August 2013 to February 2015. During that same period, Fox News and CNN each mentioned the TPP trade deal once.

As Truth Out puts it, "The mainstream media's complete and utter silence on one of the biggest stories of the year, maybe even the decade, is shocking but not all that surprising." That's because they and their corporate advertisers and backers want the TPP to be ratified.

Corporate coup d'etat

Read the entire article

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Walking Back the American Twenty-First Century?

I never fail to be amazed – and that’s undoubtedly my failing. I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the West? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 – bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe – as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.” It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns – unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown. The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York. By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism. Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests. A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”) Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the West, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons. The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015. After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields – assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns – to local police departments around the country. Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess. (Ferguson, for instance, had a “Bearcat,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Read the entire article

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cometh the Censor

I see with no surprise that Washington is stepping up its campaign to censor the internet. It had to come, and will succeed.  It will put paid forever to America’s flirtation with freedom.

The country was never really a democracy, meaning a polity in which final power rested with the people. The voters have always been too remote from the levers of power to have much influence. Yet for a brief window of time there actually was freedom of a sort. With the censorship of the net—it will be called “regulation”—the last hope of retaining former liberty will expire.

Over the years freedom has declined in inverse proportion to the reach of the central government. (Robert E. Lee: “I consider the constitutional power of the General Government as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Yep.)

Through most of the country’s history, Washington lacked the ability to meddle, control, micromanage, and punish. In 1850, it had precious little knowledge of events in lands such as Wyoming, Tennessee, or West Virginia, no capacity to do much about them, and not a great deal of interest. People on remote farms and in small towns governed themselves as they chose, not always well but without rule by distant bureaucracies and moneyed interests.

For a sunny few years, local freedom rested substantially on principle, a notion inconceivable now. The Thomas Jeffersons, George Washingtons, and Robert E. Lees genuinely believed in freedom, and worried about the coming of tyranny. Justices of the Supreme Court often upheld the tenets of the Bill of Rights. As human affairs go—poorly, as a rule—it was impressive.

Read the entire article

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The U.S. Congress = 535 Agents of a Foreign Power

Now, if someone told you that the Congress of the United States invited a foreign leader to address it without coordinating with the president and seeking his approval, the natural reaction, I think, would be to respond that while such an invitation might be legal, it clearly is a case of the legislative branch arrogantly ignoring the executive’s prerogatives in the conduct of foreign policy. Even though the Obama administration does not have a coherent or commonsense foreign policy, the Congress’s action can only make the Obama-made overseas mess worse and thereby further undermine U.S. security. Constitutional prerogatives ought to be honored — in letter and spirit — by all three branches of government, and so this unilateral congressional invitation ought to set off some alarm bells.

Now, if the same someone went on to tell you that the foreign leader invited to address Congress is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that he is going to deliver a speech meant to promote the involvement of the United States in an unnecessary war with Iran, the ringing alarm bells ought to become a deafening nationwide clanging. Our elected interventionist representatives are giving a war-wanting foreign leader a superb platform from which to intervene in U.S. politics, and from which he will try to drag/push/force the United States into Israel’s war with Iran. If Netanyahu succeeds at some point in the future, it will be the soldier-children of American parents who will be killed fighting for Israel in a war in which the United States does not have a horse. Iran has third-rate military that is not capable of successfully attacking North America; that is, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards will not be victoriously goose-stepping down the main street of any American city. And, lest we forget, the U.S. military is still the earth’s preeminent military power and if we are attacked by Iran it could render Persia uncomfortably radioactive. If Israel wants a war with Iran, let it rip, but Washington’s only duty in the case of such a war is to stay completely away from it, support neither side, and refuse to publicly comment.

Another reason why Washington must avoid participation in an Israel-Iran is the catastrophic disaster that our immigration and border policies have wrought in terms of allowing Iran’s intelligence operatives, Revolutionary Guards, and their murderous colleagues in Lebanese Hizballah to establish a strong presence in the United States. Iran has been deploying its fighters here pretty much at will since the early 1980s, and now controls a wide-ranging set of capabilities with which to attack in the United States. (NB: These capabilities are supported by the similar ones that Iran has built in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of South America.) The odds are very much against Iran using these capabilities unless we join in Israel’s war against the Islamic Republic. In that event, Tehran probably would use its U.S. based fighters to cause damage and death in the United States at a level the conventional Iranian military could never achieve. Joining Israel’s war against Iran, then, means Americans will fight a two-front war — one in Iran, the other at home — and would certainly come out the loser in both.

It is important, however, that Americans not misplace blame for this episode by damning either Netanyahu or Israel for taking advantage of the opportunity that the Congress has offered them. Netanyahu is responsible only for Israel’s national security, and that consideration apparently demands that the United States be on-board and fighting when Israel attacks Iran. The Israelis have an absolute right to defend themselves by whatever means they deem necessary, but the United States has no obligation — legal, moral, or security – to join them in their war on Iran. The U.S. government too has an absolute right to defend itself against perceived threats in any manner necessary, but it has an even greater duty – legal, moral, and security — never to become involved in other people’s wars in which no life-and-death U.S. interests are at stake and can only yield ruin for America.

Read the entire article

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Terror We Give Is the Terror We Get

We fire missiles from the sky that incinerate families huddled in their houses. They incinerate a pilot cowering in a cage. We torture hostages in our black sites and choke them to death by stuffing rags down their throats. They torture hostages in squalid hovels and behead them. We organize Shiite death squads to kill Sunnis. They organize Sunni death squads to kill Shiites. We produce high-budget films such as “American Sniper” to glorify our war crimes. They produce inspirational videos to glorify their twisted version of jihad.

The barbarism we condemn is the barbarism we commit. The line that separates us from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is technological, not moral. We are those we fight.

“From violence, only violence is born,” Primo Levi wrote, “following a pendular action that, as time goes by, rather than dying down, becomes more frenzied.”  

The burning of the pilot, Jordanian Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, by ISIS militants after his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, was as gruesome as anything devised for the Roman amphitheater. And it was meant to be. Death is the primary spectacle of war. If ISIS had fighter jets, missiles, drones and heavy artillery to bomb American cities there would be no need to light a captured pilot on fire; ISIS would be able to burn human beings, as we do, from several thousand feet up. But since ISIS is limited in its capacity for war it must broadcast to the world a miniature version of what we do to people in the Middle East. The ISIS process is cruder. The result is the same. 


Terror is choreographed. Remember “Shock and Awe”? Terror must be seen and felt to be effective. Terror demands gruesome images. Terror must instill a paralyzing fear. Terror requires the agony of families. It requires mutilated corpses. It requires anguished appeals from helpless hostages and prisoners. Terror is a message sent back and forth in the twisted dialogue of war. Terror creates a whirlwind of rage, horror, shame, pain, disgust, pity, frustration and impotence. It consumes civilians and combatants. It elevates violence as the highest virtue, justified in the name of noble ideals. It unleashes a carnival of death and plunges a society into blood-drenched madness. 

Read the entire article

Friday, February 06, 2015

Whose Job Is It to Kill ISIS?

Seeing clips of that 22-minute video of the immolation of the Jordanian pilot, one wonders: Who would be drawn to the cause of these barbarians who perpetrated such an atrocity?

While the video might firm up the faith of fanatics, would it not evoke rage and revulsion across the Islamic world? After all, this was a Sunni Muslim, in a cage, being burned alive.

As of now, this cruel killing seems to have backfired. Jordan is uniting behind King Abdullah’s determination to exact “earth-shattering” retribution.

Which raises again the questions: Why did ISIS do it? What did they hope to gain? Evil though they may be, they are not stupid.

Surely, they knew the reaction they would get?

Several explanations come to mind.

First, ISIS is hurting. It lost the battle for Kobane on the Turkish border to the Kurds; it is bleeding under U.S. air attacks; and it is stymied in Iraq. It wanted to lash out in the most dramatic and horrific way.

Read the entire article