GO NOT ABROAD IN SEARCH OF MONSTERS

I am a huge fan of Stephen Kinzer’s work, whether one of his many articles in The Boston Globe or any of his books, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War and All the Shah’s Men, in particular.

One of his most recent articles talked about a collaboration between two unlikely men, George Soros and Charles Koch, each of whom have committed a million dollars to the newly formed Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. In the most recent edition of The Nation, these two men were mentioned again in an article by David Klion entitled Go Not Abroad in Search of Monsters about this new Washington, D.C. think tank advocating restraint overseas.

According to Mr. Klion, “John Quincy Adams never got much respect. There are no monuments to the sixth president on the National Mall and his face adorns no paper currency. But before Adams became president, he was an accomplished diplomat, representing the US government in multiple European capitals. On July 4, 1821, while serving as Secretary of State, he gave a speech in which he declared that although the United States would always be sympathetic to national liberation struggles, ‘She goes no abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.’”

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft declares as its mission “to move foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.

Why is this such an urgent task? John Quincy’s Adams’ warning about interventionist foreign policy has repeatedly been ignored.

This is particularly evident in our intervention in Syria. As far back as 2005, John Bolton, at the time serving George W. Bush, had designated Syria as one of a handful of rogue states that, like Iraq, could expect to eventually become a US target. In 2008, through WikiLeaks documents, Bashar Assad had been made aware of a US-NATO plan to trigger social chaos to discredit his government and destabilize Syria as a nation-state but was powerless to do anything about it.

If Bashar Assad could have asked why his country had been designated a rogue state what would we have told him? That the CIA had been attempting regime change in Syria for the last seventy years? That at first it was an experiment to see if it could exert democratizing influence over a new Arab country. And when that did not succeed, it was Syria’s refusal to allow a Saudi oil pipeline through its country, then came the fear that Syria would become a Soviet satellite state until finally it was Shiite Iran, enemy of the majority Sunni states, exerting too much influence over Syria and, by extension Hezbollah in Lebanon, each intervention seemingly justifying further interventions.

President Bush dismissed the idea of engaging Syria and Iran in dialogue, claiming that such overtures would reward the enemy. According to former Secretary of State James Baker, “Negotiations are not a reward, nor are they a gift. They are rather a process in which two adversaries (or enemies) engage as a means to end the conflict between them.”

President Obama read the diplomatic cables from as far back as 2005 suggesting a collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Egypt to promote sectarian conflict in Syria between Sunni and Shiite as a means of destabilizing the Syrian government, and this at the height of sectarian strife in Iraq which the US military had tried unsuccessfully to control. Despite this moral dilemma, the president authorized the CIA to move forward with its plan to destabilize Syria.

It is called hubris. It is an American disease we all share. Haven’t we all heard President Obama refer to us as an exceptional nation? We aren’t, of course, but we think we are.

Powerful figures in both the Democrat and Republican parties are responsible for our hubris and our perpetual wars and few of them have shown any inclination to change course. This is why we need the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft more than ever.

In my two works of fiction The Syrian and Damascus Street i discuss the Syria crisis in great depth. These books are available for sale here:

Amazon

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WHO ARE THE SYRIAN-BASED NGOs?

Suleiman al-Kalidi’s article, Russian-Led Assault in Syria Leaves over 500 Civilians Dead published by Reuters on July 7, 2019, would have us believe that Russia joined forces with Bashar Assad’s Army to kill over 500 civilians and wound 2,000.

His source was the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) which claims to monitor casualties and brief various UN agencies.

What is the Syrian Network for Human Rights? Who funds it? What is its relationship to the Syrian opposition? Does its financial support come from states that are waging war on Syria and openly lobbying for US military intervention?

According to Patrick Cockburn in The London Review of Books, “this group is staffed by anti-Assad activists, not exactly reliable sources.”

The Syrian government presides over a harsh police state apparatus, a relic from Hafez Assad that his son Bashar never managed to undo, but, that said, it has been the target over the last years of one of the most expensive and sophisticated campaigns arguing for regime change in recent history.

All modern Western-initiated wars have been fought with manipulated imagery and disinformation, and the US does it better than anyone. Everything starts and ends with “scene-setting” and “swaying perceptions” to prepare a population to support invasion, regime change, humanitarian intervention, and the like. In Syria, the US government imposed a narrative from day one: Assad was indiscriminately killing innocent civilians in a popular, peaceful revolution.

Many NGOs, like the Syrian Network for Human Rights, played a major role in spinning this conflict. They are one-sided and pro-opposition. They put out statements and reports based on the loosest definition of sourcing. Western journalists reported their disinformation across world media. On script, governments reacted in outrage. They cited the NGO and press reports as fact, just like al-Kalidi’s source-based article in Reuters.

Sharmine Narwani, unlike the Beirut-based journalists who rarely leave the city, has spent her days on the ground, whether in Daraa, the sight of the first uprising, or Homs, Aleppo or Idlib. She had no particular advantage over other foreign journalists. She had to wait just as long to receive a visa as anyone else, but she made the effort. After earning her degree in journalism from Columbia University, she spent four years as senior associate at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. Her dozens of publications reflect her work covering the Middle East. According to Patrick Lawrence, Salon’s foreign affairs columnist, “she is eyes-wide-open and beholden to no national interest or media slant.”

She met with these so-called reliable sources. She didn’t interview them via Skype, as so many journalists did. She probed and exposed their so-called “sources” and motives. Her reporting was not published in any mass media publication because what she had to say ran contrary to the political agenda of the US government.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of SNHR, told Reuters, “The Russian military and its Syrian ally are deliberately targeting civilians with a record number of medical facilities. Both deny their jets hit indiscriminately civilian areas with cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, which residents in opposition areas say are meant to paralyze every-day life.”

Who are these “residents in opposition areas? How did they get their information out?  Via Skype? Where any journalists there asking the hard questions—who was dying, who was doing the killing?

The Idlib-based Civil Defense is none other than the US Department of Defense-funded White Helmets, who work only in areas with the most extreme militant groups and are the ones who played witness to alleged chemical attacks. Photos of these White Helmets “first-responders” show them flaunting their weapons and posing next to al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters. Despite such questionable sources, mass media consistently uses them to blame the Assad regime and its allies for mass killings.

Western media has helped to stage and grow the Syrian conflict. Should journalists be treated with a special kind of immunity when they repeatedly get the story wrong, and people die in the process? Sharmine Narwani calls them “media combatants,” a fair and accurate description of the role they play in today’s wars.

Both The Syrian and Damascus Street discuss in great detail the Syrian conflict. These books are available for purhase here: Amazon

 

 

 

 

THE KING-CRANE COMMISION, 100 YEARS AGO

Almost exactly a hundred years ago, the president of the United States was searching for a “deal of the century” in the Middle East. Christian academic Henry King of Oberlin College was no Jared Kushner. Neither he nor the industrialist Charles Crane, whose family got rich making toilets in Chicago, were sons-in-law of the American president. But Woodrow Wilson sent them on an ambitious 1919 tour to the former Arab provinces of Ottoman Empire to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants regarding post-war settlement of their territories.

The commission reported that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. They determined that nearly nine-tenths of the population was emphatically against the entire Zionist program.

The King-Crane Commission warned that to subject the Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, to such a project would be a gross violation of the principle of self-determination, and of the peoples’ rights. The Commission, while expressing sympathy for the Jewish cause, recommended limitations on Jewish immigration and abandonment of the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine.

King and Cane returned home with their 40,000-word report in hand. By the time they returned, President Wilson had embarked on a speaking tour that would leave him a permanent invalid. He most likely never read the report until retiring from office. The report ended up, without official comment, in the U.S. Department of State archives.

On December 3 and 4, 1922, the New York Times published the King-Crane Report in its entirety, with an introduction by the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent, William Ellis. Based in Jerusalem and Damascus when the King-Crane Commission was making its inquiries, Ellis explained: “I witnessed enough to understand the painstaking impartiality, the tireless diligence and patience, and the American shrewdness and courage of the commission amidst pitfalls unimaginable to the Western world.”

He believed it had been suppressed for political reasons.

Crane, writing in the 1930s. expressed himself in no uncertain terms about the political reasons alluded to by Ellis: “The interests that were opposed to the report, especially the Jewish and the French, were able to persuade President Wilson that, as Americans were not going to take any future responsibility for Palestine, it was not fair that the report should be published and so it was pigeonholed in the State Department archives even though America, at the time, was the only country that had the prestige, the power and the resources to manage the array of complex challenges facing the Middle East.

Alas, Balfour and the Sykes-Picot agreement had already doomed the King-Crane Commission before they set off by train from Paris through the Balkans to Constantinople.

Sadly, it is a sign of the times that while Kushner and Trump trumpeted their pitiful “deal of the century,” to destroy any future Palestinian state, no one remembered that this is the one hundredth anniversary of the most intensive Western inquiry ever made into what the people who actually lived in the Middle East wanted for their future.

The tragedy is that no action was taken. Had someone bothered to read the report, the world would be a different place today.

I discuss both the King-Crane Commission, the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot agreement in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides. It is available for purchase here: Amazon

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WHEAT IS A WEAPON

 

“Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict,” insists Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington, DC based think-tank, bankrolled by the US government, and until four months ago, run by Victoria Nuland, a key architect of the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine, a Hillary Clinton confidant and the wife of the neoconservative ideologue Robert Kegan.

CNAS functions as a revolving door to both the Democratic and Republican Party’s foreign-policy elite. Its top donors include the leading weapons manufacturers—Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and BAE Systems, the usual suspects who support any war as long as there are profits to be made.

How is it possible, after eight years of trying to oust Bashar Assad from power, killing or injuring half a million Syrians, displacing two-thirds of the population and destroying large swaths of the country, that this despicable group of warmongers thinks it is a good idea to use wheat as a weapon to starve Syria’s civilian population as a way to terrorize Damascus into submission?

As I suggest in Damascus Street, the issue, from the beginning, was not Syria per se. It was about dealing a crippling blow to Iran and Hezbollah, and Syria, as their linchpin, needed to be taken out, even if such an action triggered a great power war.

Mr. Heras suggests arming Syria’s moderate opposition to help carry out his plan. The US government has been doing business for the last eight years with any al-Qaeda affiliate who will do its dirty work and calling them Syria’s moderate opposition. Mr. Heras also wants the US to put pressure on the Assad regime, and through the regime on Russia, to force concessions. What concessions? The US has lost. Assad is still in power and Syria, Russia and Iran have won.

The battle for global hegemony, as defined by the US government, unraveled over Syria and the world changed. Russians, Iran and China drew a red line and stood behind Assad. Syria triggered the great power battle that unleashed the potential for a new order, with the US descendent.

Meanwhile, President Assad has offered farmers in northeastern Syria a high subsidized price for their wheat but the local armed factions, directly allied with the US military, which has built a dozen military bases there, refuses to allow wheat to leave the region under their control.

Bread is a major food stable for Syrians who depend on it to survive. Already millions of Syrians are food insecure and crippling sanctions imposed by the US have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

The proliferation of al-Qaeda insurgents is a pretext for endless wars. Isn’t it time they come to an end?

My book is available for purchase here:  Amazon

 

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SOURCES

I write about the Middle East because it is an area of the world I am passionate about and know very well. After three books of nonfiction, I recently began writing fiction because it gave me the opportunity to incorporate current events, some of which have personally touched my life while living in Beirut and turn them into page-turning thrillers. I was able to properly research both The Syrian and Damascus Street because I had trustworthy sources, journalists who are the finest in the business, and have been for years, who are not owned by corporate media. They now write for online services like Consortium News, Information Clearing House and Grayzone whose major source of income comes from individual donations. Once such journalist, Patrick Lawrence, recently interviewed Sharmine Narwani, whose work is distinctly thorough and honest amid a sea of collapsed professional standards and abandoned ethics. Her pieces, written for a variety of publications, consistently reflect her hard work, particularly on the ground in Syria in places few dared go. She is eye-wide open and refreshingly beholden to no national interest or media slant.

Having witnessed the Syrian war from start to finish, she now casts it in a usefully broard context. “The Syrian conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World War III,” she said. “The world wars were, in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.”

This is what Narwani sees out in front of us, now that the Western powers’ latest regime change operation has failed.

“My trips took me to places in May and June 2011 in the weeks before the battle for the south of Syria began. I visited Daraa, Suweida and Qunetra, the three southern governorates most critical to the upcoming battle. It was fascinating. It dispelled a number of myths about the conflict. One of these was the discovery that al-Qaeda was smack in the middle of the fight in Daraa, indistinguishable from Western-supported militant groups in all the main theaters. Another shocker was when I interviewed former al-Nusra and Free Syrian Army fighters near the Lebanese border. They told me their salaries had been paid by the Israelis for the entire year before they surrendered, around $200,000 per month from Israel to militants in the town of Beit Jinn alone in southern Syria.”

Among other things she discussed in her conversations with Patrick Lawrence were the reforms that President Assad passed, reforms that the international community decided to ignore.

“Since 2011, Assad has issued decrees suspending almost five decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings. This was a big deal, as other Arab leaders were doing the opposite in response to their uprisings. Other decrees included the establishment of a multi-party political system, term limits for the presidency, the suspension of state security courts, prisoner releases, amnesty agreements, decentralizing down to local authorities, sacking controversial political figures, introducing new media laws that prohibited the arrest of journalists, and provided for more freedom of expression, investment in infrastructure, housing, pension funds, establishing direct dialogue between populations and governing authorities, setting up a committee to dialogue with the opposition, many of whom turned down the offer.

“These reforms were far-reaching and significant. So much carnage could have been avoided had they been given the time and space to take hold. You could feel these reforms unfolding in Damascus by early 2012. I would call up opposition figures on their mobile phones, go to their homes, talk to regular folks about politics. I could even access Twitter and Facebook in Syria, platforms that had been banned for years.”

Patrick Lawrence asked Sharmine about proportionate response to violence, something Assad was roundly accused of doing. “Let’s be clear here. Between March and June 188, Syrian soldiers were ambushed, many of their heads cut off. Nobody can dispute this. I have their names, ages, ranks, birthplaces, everything.”

She continued, “So, you ask about proportionality, and to that I would simply ask: What if there were armed men in Washington who killed a few cops in the last week of December? In January, these unknown shooters began a campaign of ambushing American servicemen coming and going from their bases around the D.C. area. Then, in March over 100 soldiers were killed in a single day, half with their heads cut off. What would be the proportionate response in this case?”

Sharmine’s exceptional interview with Patrick Lawrence is a must-read. The name of the article is The Secret History of America’s Defeat in Syria,

Both the Syrian and Damascus Street can be purchased here:  Amazon

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WHEN I WAS CIA DIRECTOR

 When I was the CIA director, we lied, we cheated, and we stole.” – Mike Pompeo

On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked. Though an investigation into the incident had only just begun, Pompeo announced his assessment that the Iranians were guilty. His use of the word “assessment” was all-telling. In the US judicial system, an assessment does not require proof. And as his pal in the Intelligence community, John Brennan, recently boasted, “We don’t do proof.”

Recall that back on May 13 four oil tankers had been damaged in the same area. The United States blamed Iran without any evidence alleging, on the basis of a grainy, blurry video, that an Iranian navy boat had been seen removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship, even though the Japanese owner disputed any evidence of mines.

To understand the full story, we need to go back to Trump’s announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran. The Iranians condemned America’s illegal demands and said that no other country could take its share of the oil market.

 The Trump team claimed that what Iran meant was that they would sabotage any oil tanker going through the Strait of Hormuz. However, Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters –the Strait of Hormuz.

While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state, in this case Iran, can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of those ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, because the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent.”

Given Iran’s rights under UNCLOS, it makes no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion against it to favor Trump and his warmongering advisors – Pompeo and Bolton.

But tankers were blown up.

Enter NOPEC – No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act. In February, the House passed a bill that would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices.

The Saudis threatened to drop dollar for oil trades to discourage US from passing the NOPEC bill.  The Saudi threat came on the heels of the UAE which cautioned that if such a bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.

After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration official assured the world at large that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market. This announcement did not please the Saudis. On April 29th, their Energy Minister made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not rush to boost oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian oil.

After the second attack on the oil tankers, however, the Saudis changed their mind and agreed to raise their oil production. Once the oil market was satisfied there would be no oil shortage, and the price stabilized, the US resumed its pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil.

But then there was the second tanker incident on June 13th and the US once again blamed Iran and discouraged the international community from cooperating with Iran. But hidden from the headlines was the fact that the hike in the price of oil, or at best a stabilizing of price, would signal relief to US shale oil producers. Plummeting oil prices would have harmed or bankrupted US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.

So, in the words of Pompeo: “We cheat. We lie.” And we will continue to blame the enemy.

 

 

Israel’s Role in the 2016 US Election

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]

People follow results of the 2016 Presidential Elections at Time Square Center in New York, United States on November 9, 2016. [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency]

American lawmakers have summoned a British security consultant to probe Israel’s role in alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election, which has been the subject of a two-year long FBI investigation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking an interview with Walter Soriano, director of London-based security firm USG Security, to discuss what, if any, role Israel may have played in attempts to manipulate the 2016 election.

The committee, which oversees the work of the US Intelligence Community, sent a letter to Soriano for a voluntary, closed-door interview to discuss documents dating back to June 2015. The letter obtained by Politico, is said to be more than just a “fishing expedition”. The committee members are said to be keen on getting a deeper insight into the role other countries may have played in hacking US elections. It’s believed that they are interested in speaking with Soriano because of his connections to high profile people.

A source told Politico that the committee is “surprised by how connected he seems to several people of interest.” They are also interesting in questioning Soriano over communications with Israeli private intelligence firms.

READ: Time to stop the external manipulation of ‘what Palestinians want’ 

Up till now US officials have been reluctant to cast their eyes in the direction of Israel in any probe related to interference by a foreign country. While “Russiagate”, as it’s known, has dominated the Trump presidency, Israel is often cited as a more obvious case of meddling by a foreign country.

Renowned American intellectual Noam Chomsky pointed this out earlier this year in an interview. “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done,” said the veteran author pointing to Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to humiliate former President Barack Obama by speaking to Congress, with overwhelming applause, that was noted for the 26 standing ovations during a 39 minute speech.

Controversial pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, which many say should be registered as a foreign-agent in Capitol Hill, has been caught on tape boasting of its influence in Washington.

While it would be an extremely unlikely turn of event to see Israel come under any serious investigation by the committee, the role of Israeli firms in meddling in elections across the globe has become a serious concern. Last month elections in several African, Asian and Latin American countries were targeted by a disinformation campaign. Social media giant, Facebook traced these accounts to Archimedes Group, a private company based near Tel Aviv.

Facebook announced that it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts with a combined following of 2.8 million users for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. The Israeli group’s activities were focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

  • The online world has become a major battle ground for Israel. Last month it launched a massive recruitment drive to support the country’s online propaganda campaign. The new initiative, which would see the government funding pro-Israel groups overseas, was unveiled by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a government arm set up to combat the global rise of pro-Palestinian activism and Israel’s poor global image.