Category Archives: European Union

Coalition or Cold War with Russia? Interview with Stephen Cohen

John Batchelor talks to Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. Cohen suggests that powerful forces are working against a post-Paris coalition between Russia and European nations lead by France against the Islamic State. (John Batchelor Show)

Turkey shoots down Russian plane: NATO will be worried

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a strong domestic position because of his sweeping parliamentary election victory on 1 November. But he has seen what appeared to be a strong Turkish position in the Middle East in 2011 deteriorate year by year as leaders and movements he supported, such as President Morsi in Egypt and the opposition in Syria, suffer defeats.

At the same time, it is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders. Leaders of Nato countries will want to prevent further Russian-Turkish hostilities, so they can look for Russian cooperation in attacking Isis and ending the Syrian conflict.


Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet: Interview with Baris Karaagac

Jessica Devereux interviews Baris Karaagac, a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. (The Real News)

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane Over Syria, Inflaming Tensions

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Tensions are soaring in the Black Sea tonight after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 over neighboring Syria. Turkey claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace when it was attacked, though US officials have said they believe the plane was inside Syria when it was attacked. Pentagon officials also say they are unsure if the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace at all.

Turkey informed the UN Security Council that it shot the plane down today, saying it had every right to do so. They also urged “consultations” with NATO, though the alliance appears to be urging Turkey to calm down and show a little restraint.

This is the first NATO downing of a Russian military plane since the 1950s, and is fueling concern of eventual retaliation by Russia after the incident, particularly with Turkey so loudly trumpeting their attack.


Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.


Frankie Boyle: This is the worst time for society to go on psychopathic autopilot

Comedian Frankie Boyle writes for The Guardian:

There were a lot of tributes after the horror in Paris. It has to be said that Trafalgar Square is an odd choice of venue to show solidarity with France; presumably Waterloo was too busy. One of the most appropriate tributes was Adele dedicating Hometown Glory to Paris, just as the raids on St-Denis started. A song about south London where, 10 years ago, armed police decided to hysterically blow the face off a man just because he was a bit beige.

In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise.

If that sounds unbearably drippy, just humour me for a second and imagine a country where the response to Paris involved an urgent debate about how to make public spaces safer and marginalised groups less vulnerable to radicalisation. Do you honestly feel safer with a debate centred around when we can turn some desert town 3,000 miles away into a sheet of glass? Of course, it’s not as if the west hasn’t learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time round, no one’s said out loud that we’re going to win.


 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

How US-Backed Intervention in Libya Spread Chaos to Nearby Mali: Interview with Nick Turse

Amy Goodman speak to Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa and journalist for TomDispatch and The Intercept. This interview with Turse was recorded earlier in November with the segment on Mali republished in light of the hostage crisis in Bamako, Mali. (Democracy Now!)

Europe Is Harbouring The Islamic State’s Backers

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

[…] The ripple effect from the attacks in terms of the impact on Western societies is likely to be permanent. In much the same way that 9/11 saw the birth of a new era of perpetual war in the Muslim world, the 13/11 Paris attacks are already giving rise to a brave new phase in that perpetual war: a new age of Constant Vigilance, in which citizens are vital accessories to the police state, enacted in the name of defending a democracy eroded by the very act of defending it through Constant Vigilance.

Mass surveillance at home and endless military projection abroad are the twin sides of the same coin of national security, which must simply be maximized as much as possible.

“France is at war,” Hollande told French parliament at the Palace of Versailles.

“We’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world.”

Conspicuously missing from President Hollande’s decisive declaration of war however, was any mention of the biggest elephant in the room: state-sponsorship.


From Paris to Boston, Terrorists Were Already Known to Authorities

map-3Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

Whenever a terrorist attack occurs, it never takes long for politicians to begin calling for more surveillance powers. The horrendous attacks in Paris last week, which left more than 120 people dead, are no exception to this rule. In recent days, officials in the United Kingdom and the United States have been among those arguing that more surveillance of Internet communications is necessary to prevent further atrocities.

The case for expanded surveillance of communications, however, is complicated by an analysis of recent terrorist attacks. The Intercept has reviewed 10 high-profile jihadi attacks carried out in Western countries between 2013 and 2015 (see below), and in each case some or all of the perpetrators were already known to the authorities before they executed their plot. In other words, most of the terrorists involved were not ghost operatives who sprang from nowhere to commit their crimes; they were already viewed as a potential threat, yet were not subjected to sufficient scrutiny by authorities under existing counterterrorism powers. Some of those involved in last week’s Paris massacre, for instance, were already known to authorities; at least three of the men appear to have been flagged at different times as having been radicalized, but warning signs were ignored.

In the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity, government officials often seem to talk about surveillance as if it were some sort of panacea, a silver bullet. But what they always fail to explain is how, even with mass surveillance systems already in place in countries like France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, attacks still happen. In reality, it is only possible to watch some of the people some of the time, not all of the people all of the time. Even if you had every single person in the world under constant electronic surveillance, you would still need a human being to analyze the data and assess any threats in a timely fashion. And human resources are limited and fallible.

There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world and that intelligence agencies and the police have a difficult job to do, particularly in the current geopolitical environment. They know about hundreds or thousands of individuals who sympathize with terrorist groups, any one of whom may be plotting an attack, yet they do not appear to have the means to monitor each of these people closely over sustained periods of time. If any lesson can be learned from studying the perpetrators of recent attacks, it is that there needs to be a greater investment in conducting targeted surveillance of known terror suspects and a move away from the constant knee-jerk expansion of dragnet surveillance, which has simply not proven itself to be effective, regardless of the debate about whether it is legal or ethical in the first place.


Could Islamic State Be Strengthened by U.S., French, Russian Bombing? Interview with Abdel Bari Atwan

Amy Goodman speaks to Abdel Bari Atwan, a longtime journalist and the author of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. (Democracy Now!)

Strikes on Raqqa in Syria Lead to More Questions Than Results

Anne Barnard reports for The New York Times:

First France and then Russia answered Islamic State attacks on their citizens with a strategy of direct reprisal: intensified airstrike campaigns on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital within Syria, meant to eliminate the group’s leadership and resources.

But on Tuesday in the early hours of those new campaigns, there seemed to be more questions than decisive results. Chief among them: Why, if there were confirmed Islamic State targets that could be hit without killing civilians, were they not hit more heavily long ago? And what, in fact, was being hit?

More broadly, the Raqqa airstrikes are renewing a debate about how effective such attacks can be in defeating or containing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, without more commitment to measures like drying up its financial support, combating its ideology or — what outside forces on all sides so far appear to have ruled out — conducting a ground assault.

Several people in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey who have been able to make contact with relatives in Raqqa say the recent French airstrikes — a barrage of about 30 on Sunday night and seven more on Monday — did not kill any civilians. But neither did they inflict serious military damage, those people said, instead hitting empty areas or buildings, or parts of the territory of factory complexes or military bases used by the Islamic State.


French Intelligence Guessed Wrong on ISIS Attack, Predicting Wrong Date

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

With intelligence coming out of Iraq, Israel, and Turkey leading to the conclusion that an attack on Paris was imminent, French intelligence services dropped the ball on stopping the strikes against the city Friday. It wasn’t inattention, however, they just got the date wrong.

French officials appear to have been virtually unanimously convinced that the ISIS plot was going to happen on November 30, at the UN Climate Change Conference, where dozens of world leaders would’ve been present. Agencies thought the attack would hit with all these people in Paris.

Former officials say the attack on the soccer game made a lot more sense in retrospect, as a softer target with a much larger attendance. Unfortunately the planning to prevent an attack centered entirely on the future date.


Overview of police raid against terror attack suspects in Saint-Denis, northern Paris

After Paris, Rights Groups Warn Against Knee-Jerk ‘National Security’ Overreach

Nadia Prupis reports for Common Dreams:

As some European leaders pitch a reactionary response to Friday’s brutal attacks in Paris, human rights and civil liberties groups are warning against the expansion of surveillance and other government powers under the guise of “national security.”

On Monday, French President François Hollande announced that he would propose a bill to extend the country’s state of emergency by three months as the manhunt for suspects spreads across Europe. The bill would also implement changes to the French Constitution that would strip citizenship of convicted terrorists, increase surveillance, and employ “more sophisticated methods” to curb the weapons trade.

Also on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK would add 1,900 new security and intelligence staff—and that he would consider speeding up a vote on the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, introduced to Parliament earlier this year, which would allow unprecedented mass surveillance of internet users.

“I am determined to prioritize the resources we need to combat the terrorist threat,” Cameron said.

In the U.S., meanwhile, CIA director John Brennan warned that the Paris attacks should serve as a “wake-up call” to surveillance opponents and criticized “a number of unauthorized disclosures, and a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”

But as critics pointed out, Friday’s attacks were carried out despite the fact that France passed an expansive surveillance law earlier this year following the January shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters and other sites. Further, French police stated over the weekend that at least one suspect in Friday’s attacks had been known to them for some time—yet these safeguards were apparently insufficient in thwarting those plans.


False Flag: Syrian Passport in Paris Meant to Fuel Fear of Refugees

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Though at present all indications are that every single attacker in Friday’s Paris attacks was a European national with a passport from an EU member nation, the discovery of a Syrian passport at one of the sites fueled a lot of anti-refugee backlash across the world, including a flurry of US governors seeking to crack down on Syrian refugees.

According to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, this probably wasn’t an accident, and rather the passport was likely a false flag operation meant to fuel fear of the refugees. It appears to have worked.

The passport belongs to Ahmad al-Mohammad, or at least that’s what it says. It is believed to be a forgery, though possibly also simply stolen. The man in question is a soldier loyal to the Assad government, and not a refugee.


Lost Context: France’s unresolved Algerian war sheds light on the Paris attack

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

battle_of_algiers_1232724603_resize_460x400[…] Whenever the West is attacked and our innocents are killed, we usually wipe the memory bank. Thus, when reporters told us that the 129 dead in Paris represented the worst atrocity in France since the Second World War, they failed to mention the 1961 Paris massacre of up to 200 Algerians participating in an illegal march against France’s savage colonial war in Algeria. Most were murdered by the French police, many were tortured in the Palais des Sports and their bodies thrown into the Seine. The French only admit 40 dead. The police officer in charge was Maurice Papon, who worked for Petain’s collaborationist Vichy police in the Second World War, deporting more than a thousand Jews to their deaths.

Omar Ismail Mostafai, one of the suicide killers in Paris, was of Algerian origin – and so, too, may be other named suspects. Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who murdered the Charlie Hebdo journalists, were also of Algerian parentage. They came from the five million-plus Algerian community in France, for many of whom the Algerian war never ended, and who live today in the slums of Saint-Denis and other Algerian banlieues of Paris. Yet the origin of the 13 November killers – and the history of the nation from which their parents came – has been largely deleted from the narrative of Friday’s horrific events. A Syrian passport with a Greek stamp is more exciting, for obvious reasons.

A colonial war 50 years ago is no justification for mass murder, but it provides a context without which any explanation of why France is now a target makes little sense. So, too, the Saudi Sunni-Wahabi faith, which is a foundation of the “Islamic Caliphate” and its cult-like killers. Mohammed ibn Abdel al-Wahab was the purist cleric and philosopher whose ruthless desire to expunge the Shia and other infidels from the Middle East led to 18th-century massacres in which the original al-Saud dynasty was deeply involved.


Paris Attack ‘Mastermind’ a Known Terrorist, Knew ISIS Chief

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

New reports are emerging identifying Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud, a 28-year-old Brussels-born ISIS member, as the probable “mastermind” behind Friday’s attacks in Paris. Abu Oud was said to have been talking up plans to “attack a concert hall” after returning from Syria.

Abu Oud joined ISIS back in 2013 and was reportedly a close confidantof ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was also a long-time associate of Saleh Abdeslam, the lone surviving attacker in the Paris strike, who is still at large.

French officials say previously arrested ISIS members had told them Abu Oud was a very senior figure in the movement, and was plotting attacks inside France. ISIS members captured in a Belgian raid back in January also had phone contact with him.

Abu Oud had also given an interview to ISIS’ English-language magazine back in February, bragging about his ability to go from Syria to Europe at will, saying his name and picture were all over the news but he never seemed to have problems coming and going.


Who are the key suspects and identified gunmen in France’s deadliest terror attacks?

Paris Attacks: Intelligence unit issued a note saying “a group of 6 people was preparing attacks”

Fears that refugees will face backlash after Paris attacks

How Western Militarists Are Playing Into the Hands of ISIS

Max Blumenthal writes for AlterNet:

imageThe Islamic extremists who killed over 125 Parisians on November 14 were heartless murderers, but they were also political operators implementing a carefully conceived strategy. A February 2015 article in Dabiq, the official magazine of ISIS, offers a clear window into their agenda. Published in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the essay was titled, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.”

“The presence of the Khilafa [Islamic Caliphate] magnifies the political, social, economic, and emotional impact of any operation carried out by the mujahadin [freedom fighters] against the enraged crusaders,” Dabiq stated. “This magnified impact compels the crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves, the zone in which many of the hypocrites and deviant innovators living in the West are hiding….”

Here, ISIS revealed its intention to unravel the fabric of Western civil society — what it calls the “grayzone” — by provoking governments into carrying out disproportionate military reprisals and adopting draconian security measures.

Once repression and Islamophobia in Western societies reaches sufficiently unbearable levels, the author wrote, “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

In the mind of the Dabiq author, who appeared to be among the ideological vanguard of ISIS, the West’s descent into full-blown fascism would force Muslim immigrants to flee for the sanctuary provided by the Islamic State.

To bring this scenario to fruition, IS has aimed to cultivate favorable terrain for the Western political elements most likely to incite against Muslims, campaign for repressive surveillance laws, and ultimately play out an apocalyptic clash of civilizations. Indeed, IS is doing everything in its power to propel the militarists also seeking to extinguish the grayzone.


France Seeks Revenge Attacks ISIS in Syria: Interviews with Barry Lando, Phyllis Bennis and Paul Gottinger

“We Shouldn’t Play into the Hands of ISIS”: Vijay Prashad on Danger of Military Escalation in Syria

Amy Goodman speaks to Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College and columnist for the Indian magazine Frontline, about the danger of military escalation in Syria after the ISIS attacks in Paris, France this past Friday. (Democracy Now!)

Paris attacks: No security can stop ISIS – the bombers will always get through

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

Apocalyptic press coverage and predictions of further attacks in Paris play into the hands of IsisThe “Islamic State”, as Isis styles itself, will be pleased with the outcome of its attacks in Paris. It has shown that it can retaliate with its usual savagery against a country that is bombing its territory and is a power to be feared at a time when it is under serious military pressure. The actions of just eight Isis suicide bombers and gunmen are dominating the international news agenda for days on end.

There is not a lot that can be done about this. People are understandably eager to know the likelihood of their being machine-gunned the next time they sit in a restaurant or attend a concert in Paris or London.

But the apocalyptic tone of press coverage is exaggerated: the violence experienced hitherto in Paris is not comparable with Belfast and Beirut in the 1970s or Damascus and Baghdad today. Contrary to the hyperbole of wall-to-wall television coverage, the shock of living in a city being bombed soon wears off.

Predictions of Paris forever trembling in expectation of another attack play into the hands of Isis.

A further disadvantage flows from excessive rhetoric about the massacre: instead of the atrocities acting as an incentive for effective action, the angry words become a substitute for a real policy.


Iraqi Intelligence Warned France of ISIS Attack Day Before Paris Assault

The Associated Press reports:

Senior Iraqi intelligence officials warned coalition countries of imminent assaults by the Islamic State group just one day before last week’s deadly attacks in Paris killed 132 people, The Associated Press has learned.

Iraqi intelligence sent a dispatch saying the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had ordered an attack on coalition countries fighting against them in Iraq and Syria, as well as on Iran and Russia, “through bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days.”

The dispatch said the Iraqis had no specific details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets this kind of communication “all the time” and “every day.”

However, six senior Iraqi officials corroborated the information in the dispatch, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, and four of these intelligence officials said they also warned France specifically of a potential attack. Two officials told the AP that France was warned beforehand of details that French authorities have yet to make public.


After Paris attacks, pressure builds for big military response to Islamic State

Phil Stewart, Warren Strobel and Matt Spetalnick report for Reuters:

French military patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves HermanThe Paris terror attacks are likely to galvanize a stronger global military response to Islamic State, after a U.S.-led air war that has lasted more than a year has failed to contain a group now proving itself to be a growing worldwide threat.

The United States, long accused of taking an incremental approach to the struggle, is under growing political pressure at home and abroad to do more and it is expected to examine ways to intensify the campaign, including through expanded air power.

U.S. officials say Washington will look in particular to European and Arab allies to step up their military participation in the war in Iraq and Syria.

It remains far from clear whether Paris and Washington would be willing to radically expand the scope of their current military engagement, given a deep aversion to getting dragged into a large-scale ground war in the Middle East. But President Barack Obama has been committing more to the fight in recent months, and lawmakers and counter-terrorism experts see the Paris attacks strengthening arguments for additional military might.


Why Is the War on Terror Not Working? Interview with Alain Gresh

Al Jazeera interviews Paris based journalist Alain Gresh. “Why is the war against terror not working… this is a real problem,” says Gresh. “They (the attackers) want to create a kind of civil war in France between the Muslims and the French.” (Al Jazeera)

Muslims Around the World Condemn the Paris Attacks (Even Though They Had Nothing to Do with It)

Adam Johnson writes for AlterNet:

One CIA estimate puts ISIS’s total manpower at 31,500 – about one-third of the capacity of Rose Bowl stadium – or, roughly, 0.0019% of the world’s total Muslim population when rounding down to 1.6 billion. The idea that the remaining 1,599,965,000 Muslims ought to get out of bed, jump on Twitter and condemn ISIS isn’t just silly, it’s a definition of prejudice. But here we are. Another attack, another round of people “calling on” “moderate Muslims” to condemn something they had nothing to do with. Or, as University of Victoria Neuroscience PhD Candidate Mohamed Ghilan more succinctly put it last year:

Nevertheless, Muslims from around the world are making it clear ISIS does not represent their values. Iran’s Supreme Leader Hassan Rouhani denounced the attacks, postponing his trip to Europe to renew peace talks on the Syrian conflict. Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah fight ISIS and other extremists in Syria (as well as non-Salafists.) The day before the Paris Attacks, militants claiming allegiance to ISIS bombed a civilian area of Beirut in an effort to undermine Hezbollah’s support there.


France is on the Verge of … What?

Barry Lando, former producer for CBS 60 Minutes, writes for CounterPunch:

terror-attack-parisIs France Ripe for an Authoritarian Regime?” What is remarkable about that Op Ed piece in the conservative Le Figaro newspaper, is that it was written not in the wake of today’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris—but the day before.

As I write, it is still unclear how many have been killed in the French capital—the reported total has reached at least 140–but there is no question that the massacre could have a devastating impact on France’s already very shaky democratic institutions.

According to the Le Figaro, when asked by IFOP, a respected French poling agency, if they would accept a non-democratic form of government to bring necessary reforms to France, 67% of the French said they would opt for a government of non-elected technocrats. 40% percent said they would back a non-elected authoritarian regime.

Again, that survey was carried out the day before the bloody carnage in Paris. People may have poured out into the streets in an impressive show of unity earlier this year in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, but that moment of attempted racial harmony was brief and the situation has been fraying ever since.