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Syria calls John Kerry’s bluff, agrees to turn over its chemical weapons to UN!

1:59 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

John Kerry smirking and in his best George Bush Jr. voice: John Kerry gives Syria week to hand over chemical weapons or face attack. And then Syria says yes! This is getting interesting, and maybe just a bit hopeful: Syria positive about giving up chemical weapons. Wow, fantastic, what an “elegant solution,” in the words of Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. Here’s more detail, and then afterwards I have to discuss the potential peace party poopers (I’ve edited the terrible grammar in the following, and removed the italics):

Syria welcomes Russia’s offer to put its chemical weapons under international control

Damascus welcomes Russia’s call to hand over control of its chemical weapons to the international community, the Syrian Foreign Minister has said, responding to Sergey Lavrov’s statement after the two met in the Russian capital.

“The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia’s initiative, because the Syrian government cares about the lives of our people and the security of our country,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said …

“We are calling on the Syrian authorities not only to agree on putting chemical weapons stores under international control, but also for their further destruction, and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said earlier.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for measures to provide for the safe storage and destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal.

“I am sure that the international community will take quick measures to make sure that these chemical weapons reserves are stored in a safe place and are destroyed,” Ban said.

The rebels seem none to happy about this possible outbreak of peace  (same source as above):

In response to the news, Syria’s top rebel commander has accused President Bashar Assad’s regime and Moscow of deceit. “We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this [Assad] regime tells lies, and the liar [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is its teacher. Putin is the biggest liar,” Free Syrian Army chief Selim Idriss told Al Jazeera.

And note, with concern, that Kerry’s offer was apparently “rhetorical,” since he can mind read Syrian President Assad:

The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. In a statement, the department added: “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” …

Kerry said Assad might avoid an attack if he handed every bit of his chemical weapons stock, but added that the Syrian president was not going to do that.

Oh, okay, so it wasn’t a real offer, just a bluff, bull doo doo? Note also, by the way, the “every bit of” phrase, which takes me back to good old 2003. It’s the traditional ‘prove a negative’ challenge the U.S. always presents its next victim: in Iraq it was called “prove you’re not hiding even one little bit of WMD.”

Still, the ground has shifted, and the War Party may not get its war … and credit is due to Kerry’s spectacular gaffe, if that’s what it was. (He may be the best/worst Secretary of State in many a decade, depending on your perspective.)

Nonetheless, President Obama has to soldier on, trying to push skepticism and staying the cruise missiles course, but I also sense he doesn’t have his heart into pushing through all this surprisingly rough weather for warmongering:

The White House said it would take a “hard look” at the proposal from the Russian government to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to turn over his chemical-weapons stockpiles, but said it didn’t have confidence that Mr. Assad would do so.

“We would welcome a decision and action for Syria to give up its weapons,” said Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser. But Mr. Blinken said he had little hope that Mr. Assad would give his chemical weapons to the international community as he refused for years to even acknowledge he held such stockpiles.

Notwithstanding reports that Russia has asked Syria to surrender an arsenal of chemical warheads to avoid a likely military strike from the United States, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that lawmakers in Washington should continue to consider President Barack Obama’s request to launch an attack against the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking during a White House press conference Monday afternoon, Carney told reporters that he hopes the members of the House of Representatives and Senate agree to authorize a strike against Assad in retaliation of the August 21 gassing of civilians outside of Damascus. …

Carney’s remarks came only hours after officials in both Russia and Syria said they were working towards relinquishing that stockpile of weapons. Despite a potential negotiation, however, Carney urged lawmakers to move quickly towards approving an attack.

Elias Groll vs. Ghouta, Syria’s ‘most plausible hypothesis’

12:46 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Though discussing evidence (‘Why don’t you show us the evidence, Mr. Kerry?’) and assertions and plausibility does not matter to the Congressional dolts who will vote for their owners in a few days, it does matter to those attempting to keep resistance strong. In that light, I’ve noticed that the most plausible account of what happened in Ghouta, based on evidence and not assertions, is that there was an accidental release of chemical weapons agents by the rebels. Good to know the learned and insightful Diana Johnstone is thinking along the same lines (which are grounded in an in-Ghouta mintnews.com report and perhaps an International Business Times report):

… the most plausible hypothesis so far is that the incident was an accident. Indeed, rebel sources themselves have been quoted as saying that the incident occurred as a result of their own mishandling of chemical weapons obtained from Saudi Arabia. In that case, the victims were the “collateral damage” so frequent in war.

But more important than its plausibility is that the accident hypothesis is now reaching dangerously large numbers of Americans. For confirmation of that good news, we see that the mainstream media now can’t ignore the hypothesis and must go on the attack. And that’s where Foreign Policy Magazine’s Elias Groll comes in. Here’s his entire case for why the ‘accident hypothesis’ is “crazy” (and yes, note the extreme, trollish rhetoric):

… The chemically-laden rockets were launched from government-controlled territory into rebel-held lands. Western intelligence agencies intercepted phone calls from within the Assad regime panicking over the chemical attack’s massive spread. Then the regime launched a series of conventional rocket barrages in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime. To believe the rebels pulled this off, you’d have to convince yourself that the opposition did all of this to themselves. Oh, did we mention that the Syrian military has hundreds of metric tons of precursors for chemical weapons?

A sentence-by sentence response:

The chemically-laden rockets were launched from government-controlled territory into rebel-held lands.

We all know the government is firing missiles at rebel-held territory, but how does Groll know the missiles fired from government-controlled territory were chemically laden? He doesn’t, of course, it’s a bald assertion backed by no evidence provided to the public. Instead of pretending assertions are evidence, why doesn’t Mr. Groll join his more enlightened colleagues and demand evidence for what the U.S. says happened?

Western intelligence agencies intercepted phone calls from within the Assad regime panicking over the chemical attack’s massive spread.

“Western” as in Israeli, why not just say it? Anyway, none of these calls have been released to the public, so again your argument is rooted in interested assertions about whether the calls are authentic, and if they’re real about their content and context and who was making and receiving them. Secondly, reports by those who have listened to the calls agree that Syrian government (i.e., ‘Assad regime’) officials were rightfully panicked and apparently confused by the release of the poison gas. None of this seems to be evidence for who perpetrated the attack or whether or not it was an accident. Again, though, maybe if the public could hear the calls the preceding would be cleared up. Why don’t you ask for the evidence to be released, Mr. Groll, so you can then make a reasoned rather than groundless judgement?

Then the regime launched a series of conventional rocket barrages in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime.

Again this is a bald assertion not supported by any evidence released to the public. This conception of what happened also conflicts with the fact that the Syrian government allowed access by UN inspectors within 24 hours of the UN’s initial request, so that looks like an “apparent attempt” NOT to cover up anything. But I’ll of course grant that it’s reasonable to assume the military had been bombing the rebel areas with conventional weapons before, during, and after the chemical accident or attack. There’s a civil war going on, after all. What government adn military motives were is ‘apparent’ only to mind readers until we see actual evidence. Where is that, why isn’t the public shown it? Just saying, but not releasing evidence indicates to this skeptical person that the U.S. government might be hiding a lack of evidence for its assertions.

To believe the rebels pulled this off, you’d have to convince yourself that the opposition did all of this to themselves.

How does the accident hypothesis equate with “the opposition did all of this to themselves” or “pulled this off”? It doesn’t. An accident is not ‘pulling something off’ or doing something to yourself, it’s an accident.

Oh, did we mention that the Syrian military has hundreds of metric tons of precursors for chemical weapons?

And … how is that well-known fact evidence of anything? Or is this argument by absence, where you mention one well-known fact but not the other not so well-known fact, that the rebels have been caught with sarin gas supplies?

I would love to hear from Mr. Groll about how I’ve shown him the error of his ways, which in a nutshell was accepting one side’s assertions as fact even though it refuses to provide the evidence for its claims. Instead, if he wants someday to be a good journalist, Mr. Groll should become very skeptical when sources refuse to provide evidence for their claims. On the other hand, if he wants to become a mainstream Washington insider and make a big-time salary, Groll is well on his way and should change nothing about the way he argues/trolls life-and-death foreign policy issues. Have fun virtually riding the missiles into Damascus dude! ;-/

P.S. 1: BIG hip tat to Gareth Porter — in How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria — for some of the insights and links provided above.

P.S. 2: Contrasting the mintnews.com account and the Kerry/Obama’s assertions, Jim Naureckas of FAIR has a wise commentary, Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible?:

… As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”

This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.

Read the rest of this entry →

Israel, Oil, & Military-Industrial Complex Drive Syria Regime Change

11:31 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Anyone with any sense of who and what drives U.S. foreign policy has been blackly pessimistic as the Congressional ‘bomb Syria’ vote approaches. But the charade of a debate goes forward in our campaign-contributions-driven Congress, Secretary of State Kerry giving them assertions not evidence (If the evidence underlying the assertions were real don’t you think Kerry would’ve shown it to us immediately?), but ‘our’ representatives magically in a buying mood for that b.s. I could pause and point out that even the assertions indicate a catastrophic accident occurred, where Syrian conventional bombardment hit rebel sarin gas stores, and that this matches what on-the-ground Ghouta residents say happened (in the year’s most important ignored news story — thanks mintnews.com).

But hell, discussing evidence and assertions … what does it matter when three of America’s main determiners of foreign policy all are bent on destroying Syria? By my count the U.S. has four main foreign policy power constellations: (in no particular order) the Israel lobby, the oil and gas lobby, the military-industrial complex, and the finance industry. Finance is sitting this one out but the other three are gung ho for regime change or Syria destroyed (transformed into squabbling, unstable mini-states).

ISRAEL LOBBY: While I agree with Ohio Barbarian (in The Pro-Israel Argument Against American Military Intervention in Syria) that chaos or regime change in Syria doesn’t help the people of Israel, it is nonetheless what Israeli neocons have long wanted. And they are employing the full force of their Israel Lobby in order to get what they want

This goes back at least to 1996 and “A Clean Break,” the neoconservative game plan that they’ve with great success gotten the U.S. to implement. Syria is mentioned with great deja vu:

“Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which Americans can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including … by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces…”

Back to the present, we of course have plenty to choose from, beginning with this news yesterday on the pinnacle of the Israel Lobby, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee):

AIPAC comes out for strike on Syria– and mentions Iran more often than Syria:

As NJ Senator Robert Menendez said at the Kerry hearing today in the Senate, Syria is about Iran. And it is for AIPAC too. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee broke its silence today, urging a vote for the Syrian strike.

… why does Obama need AIPAC? Could it be because AIPAC can get 70 Senators’ signatures on a napkin in 24 hours?

But, as I said, there’s much to choose from. Read the following from July, 2006, when Israel was slaughtering Lebanese villagers and razing ‘Shia’ apartment blocks:

Seeing a major opportunity to regain influence lost as a result of setbacks in Iraq, prominent neoconservatives are calling for unconditional U.S. support for Israel’s military offensives in Gaza and Lebanon and “regime change” in Syria and Iran, as well as possible U.S. attacks on Tehran’s nuclear facilities in retaliation for its support of Hezbollah.

And just cuz I like the word ‘stoopid’ in a headline: Syria is About Iran & Israel, Stoopid

OIL & GAS LOBBY: The stakes are high and this lobby surely will do its best to get the U.S. to bomb and kill Syrians for its interests.

Iran, Iraq, Syria sign major gas pipeline deal

July 25, 2011: “Iran, Iraq, and Syria have signed a deal for the construction of the Middle East’s largest gas pipeline, which would transit Iranian gas from Iran’s South Pars gas field to Europe via Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.”

War against Iran, Iraq AND Syria?

On July 23, 2011, Pepe Escobar writes: “Against the interests of Washington, for whom integrating Iran is anathema, the pipeline bypasses two crucial foreign actors in Syria – prime “rebel” weaponizer Qatar (as a gas producer) and logistical “rebel” supporter Turkey (as the self-described privileged energy crossroads between East and West).” …

“Europeans – who endlessly carp about being hostages of Gazprom – should be rejoicing. But instead,” …

“It’s not far-fetched to imagine the EU totally forgetting about a pipeline that will ultimately benefit its citizens and issuing – under US pressure – a directive branding Iran-Iraq-Syria as a terrorist axis; lobbying for a no-fly zone applying to all; and recruiting jihadis all over for a Holy War against the axis, supported by a fatwa issued by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.”

Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern

This is a recent article in the Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed, subtitled “Massacres of civilians are being exploited for narrow geopolitical competition to control Mideast oil, gas pipelines.” It also provides the story going back more than a decade of neocon plans to undermine Syria in order to get at Israel nemesis Hezbollah. Ahmed is executive director of the UK’s Institute for Policy Research & Development.

MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: Hell, I don’t have much that is immediate on these folks other than Rep Alan Grayson: “Nobody Wants This Except the Military-Industrial Complex”. And note that the Israel Lobby’s neoconservative “search for enemies” serves the Pentagon’s most pressing need, and neoconservatives have close ties to the Pentagon.

In an essentially all-capitalist world, one that is (unfortunately) increasingly united on the policies of generating profits for millionaires and squeezing the poor, the best policy for every economic sector except for oil and gas and arms is peace. So the real ‘need’ for massively bloated military power is minimal, and the last couple decades’ conflict of the ages — the Islam fanatics thing — has been mostly hype and false flag b.s. brought to us by the U.S., Saudi Arabia (Al Qaeda’s homies), and Israel (which has its own military-industrial complex that needs to NOT solve the Israel-Palestine conflict).

A little more Grayson: “I did notice, for what it’s worth, that the manufacturer of the missiles that would be used has had an incredible run in their stock value in the last 60 days. Raytheon stock is up 20 percent in the past 60 days as the likelihood of the use of their missiles against Syria becomes more likely. So I understand that there is a certain element of our society that does benefit from this, but they’re not the people who vote for me, or by the way the people who contribute to my campaign. Nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”

Thanks Mr. Grayson for at least mentioning one of the three elephants in the room.

Why Aren’t We Bombing the Rebels, Mr. President?

3:52 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Carla Del Ponte said it best, there are “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebels have used chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war. The evidence against the government is much weaker. Why aren’t we bombing the rebels, Mr. President, in particular the Al Nusra Front, against whom the evidence is strongest?

1. Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists – reports

Note that the U.S. has just announced that indications of sarin gas are exactly what it claims to have found at the Ghouta chemical attack (or accident) site.

2. UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’

Again, the newest U.S. claim is that indications of sarin gas were found in Ghouta.

3. Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack

… from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion.

The above indicates that the ‘attack’ was really an accidental release of sarin. In that case maybe we shouldn’t bomb Al Nusra Front. ;->

Earlier in the year there were reports like this:

4. US-backed Terrorists Renew Threat to Use Chemical Arms against Syrians and Damascus Gov’t

Clearly an anti-rebel source, but the article is largely direct quotations of rebel leaders and their threats.

The stupidest way to argue against bombing Syria

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

The loser way to debate is to cede the main argument to the other side, which in the case of Syria is, “Who killed all those babies?” By doing just that, Giles Fraser of the Guardian and Bob Dreyfuss of The Nation become the worst ‘friends’ anti-bombing folks could have. (And the Obombers are far from ‘winning’ this debate: even after the chemical horror and the intense media push to bomb, only 9% of Americans want to intervene.) Fraser starts his argument:

But if the logic is simply that Assad is a 24-carat wrong-un, that his use of chemical weapons against his own people is a moral outrage, therefore we need to act – then we are doing little more than satisfying our own sense of retributive morality, and one that has become blurred with a large dollop of action-hero crap.

I responded in the Guardian comments like this:

Your ‘no attack’ argument accepts the premise that Assad is guilty, presupposing this before the UN inspection team is given a chance to look into the incident. How is that supposed to persuade anyone? We of course don’t know who was responsible for the horrific poison gas incident, but we do know who benefits, and we do know that earlier UN inspectors said that the evidence pointed to the rebels being perpetrators rather than the government.

Dreyfuss is an even blunter fail:

Here’s the core question now, in regard to Syria: If it’s true that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used poison gas in an incident that killed hundreds of people, at least, in the suburbs of Damascus, can the United States avoid military action in response?

No, that’s not the core question, it’s the core assumption that must be all-out attacked. Anyway, I wrote in the comments (borrowing a bit from my other comment):

So your ‘no war’ argument starts with accepting the premise that Assad is guilty? An ‘F’ in persuasive writing for you. And you presuppose — like the US and its fellow invaders — before the UN inspection team has been allowed to look into the incident. We of course don’t know who was responsible for the horrific poison gas incident, but we do know who benefits, and we do know that earlier UN inspectors said that the evidence pointed to the rebels being perpetrators rather than the government.

In sum, the only way to respond to this rush to bomb is to shout, “Wait, let the UN inspectors do their job!”Why the rush?”

Well, we can make a very good guess as to why the bombers are rushing, because Obama’s advisers guess that the UN inspections will either be inconclusive or point at the rebels. Why the rush? We saw the same thing in Iraq: while Saddam was opening up the country to UN inspectors, the U.S. was threatening them with bombardment unless they left immediately.

Britain’s tell-it-like-it-is George Galloway offers the common sense way to argue against bombing and killing Syrians:

It is entirely implausible that the Syrian regime chose the moment of the arrival of a UN chemical weapons inspection team to launch a chemical attack on an insurgency already suffering reverse after reverse on the battlefield and steadily losing international support with each new video showing them eating the hearts of slain soldiery and sawing of the heads of Christian priests with bread knives.In the absence of conclusive evidence one would have to believe that the Assad regime was mad as well as bad to have launched such a chemical attack at a time when it is in less danger than it has been for almost a year. I do not believe that Bashar is mad.

The exceptional implausibility if not absurdity of Assad creating such an incident on the very day the UN inspectors arrived, even though he was doing great waging conventional warfare on the rebels… And yet we have ‘anti-intervention’ mainstream opinionists like Dreyfuss and Glaser conceding instead of defending that rock-solid first line of argument. The conspiracy-minded might ask whose side they’re really on. Me, I just think that they’re absorbed in the Western imperial media’s black and white portrayal of the complicated Syrian reality. And/or stupid.

Finally, and cringeworthily, Fraser wailed that nothing could be done:

For there is obviously no wider plan as to how the west might enable Syria to transition to a more stable and peaceful state. Perhaps no such plan is possible.

Besides sticking his jaw out for the obvious hysterical interventionist response (“But we have to do something!”), what a willfully ignorant statement. I answered:

There obviously could be such a plan, since the armed opposition would largely disappear without massive Western and Saudi support. That would make for a much more peaceful and stable Syria.

Denial of reality: a specialty of the mainstream media, sad rags of common-sense destroying, Western-imperialism-ignoring propaganda.