Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Not the Onion: UN Vote Allows Saudi Arabia on Women’s Council

Alex Mihailovic speaks with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and author of Kingdom of the Unjust, about the ultraconservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia being elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. (RT America)

Jane’s Report Sees ISIS Benefiting From Assad Downfall

Tom O’Connor reports for Newweek:

RTSE5EJWith many in the U.S. foreign policy community backing both the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the defeat of the Islamic State group (ISIS), a new report could raise some cause for concern. The report says Assad’s military has been the most engaged faction against ISIS over the past year of Syria’s conflict, making it an extremely risky target for a U.S. foreign policy that is intended to stop the jihadists’ advances.

The report published Wednesday by the London-based IHS Jane Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, one of the world’s leading security analysis agencies, says 43 percent of ISIS’s battles between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 were fought against the Syrian military and its allies, which include Russia, Iran and pro-government militias. Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a majority-Kurd coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities, accounted for 17 percent of the action against ISIS.

Under former President Barack Obama, Washington long maintained that Assad must be ousted, but U.S. support for rebels faded as ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups like ISIS grew among the Syrian opposition and Washington then focused on battling jihadists. President Donald Trump further emphasized the need to defeat ISIS, and his administration last month abandoned the Obama-era regime change approach in Syria. However, more recently there have been suggestions that the U.S. may at some point pursue further action against Assad.

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Pictures Reveal Inside of Afghan Caves at ‘Mother of All Bombs’ Blast Site

The Telegraph reports:

Afghan soldier patrols the area where US forces dropped GBU-43 bomb for the first time against caves used by Islamic State Pictures have emerged of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) tunnel network in Afghanistan which the US targeted with “the Mother of All Bombs”.

The US dropped the bomb – its largest explosive short of a nuclear weapon – on April 13 targeting what it said was a tunnel complex used by the jihadist group’s Afghan affiliate.

The GBU-43/B weighs 21,600lbs (9,797-kg) and was dropped from a cargo plane. It has the equivalent power of 11 tonnes of TNT explosives.

But Reuters photographs from the scene of the blast in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan gave an ambiguous sense of the bomb’s power.

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The Most Dangerous Moment in U.S.-Russian Relations Since Cuban Missile Crisis

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speaks with Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, about U.S.-Russia relations after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Moscow. They are also joined by British journalist and author Jonathan Steele, a former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, to discuss U.S.-Russia relations in reference to the situation in Syria. (Democracy Now!)

‘Sherlock Holmes of Armenian Genocide’ Uncovers Lost Evidence

Tim Arango reports for The New York Times:

For more than a century, Turkey has denied any role in organizing the killing of Armenians in what historians have long accepted as a genocide that started in 1915, as World War I spread across continents. The Turkish narrative of denial has hinged on the argument that the original documents from postwar military tribunals that convicted the genocide’s planners were nowhere to be found.

Now, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who has studied the genocide for decades by piecing together documents from around the world to establish state complicity in the killings, says he has unearthed an original telegram from the trials, in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“Until recently, the smoking gun was missing,” Mr. Akcam said. “This is the smoking gun.” He called his find “an earthquake in our field,” and said he hoped it would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”

The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzurum, when a high-level official of the Ottoman Empire punched out a telegram in secret code to a colleague in the field, asking for details about the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, the easternmost part of contemporary Turkey.

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Pundits Who Helped Sell NATO’s Destruction of Libya Push for Trump to Lead Syria Regime Change

Ben Norton writes for AlterNet:

Pundits across the U.S. are amplifying the calls for further military intervention in Syria, as the Trump administration indicates regime change may be back on the agenda. The U.S. attacked the Syrian government on April 6, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a major air base, destroying 20 percent of its planes, according to the Pentagon.

Major media outlets, most politicians from both sides of the aisle and irascible war-hawk writers applauded the Trump administration’s strike with gusto. The uniformity with which the commentariat has embraced the attack hearkens back to six years ago, when many of these same people and publications cheered as NATO overthrew Libya’s government, plunging the oil-rich North African nation into chaos from which it is still reeling.

The 2011 war in Libya was justified in the name of supposed humanitarian intervention, but it was a war for regime change, plain and simple. A report released by the British House of Commons’ bipartisan Foreign Affairs Committee in 2016 acknowledged that the intervention was sold on lies — but by the time it was published, the damage was already done.

Today, Libya is in complete ruins. There is no functioning central authority for swaths of the country; multiple governments compete for control. The genocidal extremist group ISIS has, in Libya, carved out its largest so-called caliphate outside of Iraq and Syria.

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Trump’s Deepening Embrace of Bahrain’s Repressive Monarchy May Lead to More Instability

Murtaza Hussain reports for The Intercept:

On the morning of March 14th, 2011, military forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crossed the 16-mile causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to crush a popular uprising that had arisen there against the Bahraini monarchy. The military intervention was the first salvo in a series of counterrevolutions launched against the Arab Spring uprisings, pitting largely unarmed democracy activists against the repressive force of local security forces and militaries. Six years later, many of the Bahraini civil society leaders whose protests briefly captured the world’s imagination languish in prison, their brief democratic moment snuffed out with the help of regional powers.

Under Barack Obama, the United States stood by quietly while its GCC allies suppressed the Bahraini revolution. Since taking office, the Trump administration has signaled it will strengthen U.S.-Bahrain ties, recently lifting human rights restrictions on arms sales to its government to clear the path for a multi-billion dollar sale of F-16s. Such measures are likely to be taken by the regime as a green-light to escalate repression, while dimming hopes for the release of the estimated 4,000 political prisoners still held in Bahraini prisons, some analysts say.

But while the regime portrays itself to the United States as a bulwark of regional stability, the grim ferocity of its crackdown might make escalated conflict within Bahrain inevitable — and potentially even draw in outside powers like Iran. As the window for political reform closes under the Trump administration, an increasingly violent, unstable future may await Bahrain and the Gulf region as a whole.

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“Mother of All Bombs” Never Used Before Due to Civilian Casualty Concerns

Alex Emmons reports for The Intercept:

Fulfilling Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, the Pentagon dropped the “mother of all bombs” — one of its largest non-nuclear munitions — for the first time on Thursday, in Afghanistan. The 21,600 pound weapon was developed over a decade ago, but was never used due to concerns of possible massive civilian casualties.

The Pentagon said it used the weapon on an ISIS-affiliated group hiding in a tunnel complex in the Nangarhar province. The group, according to the Pentagon, is made up of former members of the Taliban.

The Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” has a mile-long blast radius.

When it first introduced the bomb, the Pentagon said it was designed to terrify America’s enemy into submission. “The goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003, “that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the [invading] coalition.”

Thursday’s attack drew condemnation from Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed former president of Afghanistan. “This is not the war on terror,” he said, “but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

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‘Biggest Humanitarian Catastrophe Since 2003 Invasion’: Anand Gopal on Battle for Mosul

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speak with Anand Gopal, a journalist and a fellow at The Nation Institute, who recently returned from the Middle East and has reported extensively from the region. (Democracy Now!)

Markets Worry More About Political Turmoil Than Encroaching Autocracy

The Economist reports:

Image result for Markets worry more about political turmoil than autocracy[…] In Turkey investors may have feared turmoil if Mr Erdogan’s proposal had been defeated. It is an old, but fairly reliable, rule that investors dislike uncertainty. And the early years of Mr Erdogan’s tenure, when he was seen as a liberalising democrat, saw rapid economic growth; his transformation into an emerging autocrat has not put investors off. Since he took office, the Istanbul market has gained 760% (see chart).

An authoritarian government can provide certainty, at least in the short term. In 1922, when Mussolini took power in Italy, its equity market returned 29% and its government bonds 18%, according to Mike Staunton of the London Business School. Hitler’s accession in 1933 saw German shares return 14% and bonds 15%. True, Wall Street did even better that year under Franklin Roosevelt but still—even then, Hitler was clearly a dangerous extremist.

The world’s most developed economies tend to be democracies, and to be more open to trade and foreign investment. But as China has demonstrated, it is certainly possible to generate rapid economic growth without a democratic system. China’s stockmarket (along with Hong Kong’s) has been among the best-performing bourses this millennium.

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North Korea Says Syria Airstrikes Prove Its Nukes Justified

The Associated Press reports:

TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea's long range rocket launch on February 7, 2016.North Korea has vowed to bolster its defenses to protect itself against airstrikes like the ones President Donald Trump ordered against an air base in Syria.

The North called the airstrikes “absolutely unpardonable” and said they prove its nuclear weapons are justified to protect the country against Washington’s “evermore reckless moves for a war.”

The comments were made by a Foreign Ministry official and carried Sunday by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. The report did not name the official, which is common in KCNA reports.

The airstrikes, announced shortly after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up dinner at a two-day summit in Florida last week, were retaliation against Syrian President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack against civilians caught up in his country’s long civil war.

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MSNBC Host’s Conspiracy Theory: What If Putin Planned the Syrian Chemical Attack to Help Trump?

Avi Selk reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for MSNBC Host’s Conspiracy Theory: What If Putin Planned the Syrian Chemical Attack to Help Trump?A volley of U.S. cruise missiles had barely been launched into Syria before the Internet filled up with fact-free theories about the real reason for an international crisis.

A popular one on the right-most fringes: The U.S. government actually carried out the chemical weapons massacre in Syria last week — a “false flag” to trick President Trump into retaliating, thus entangling himself in a foreign war.

A slightly more convoluted strain on the left: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the chemical weapons massacre to help Trump — distracting Americans from an investigation into Trump’s campaign ties to Russia by provoking the missile strike.

That theory — evidence-free — was laid out on a small anti-Trump website shortly after the missile strike.

But it went mainstream Friday night, when Lawrence O’Donnell advanced similar speculation on his MSNBC show, “The Last Word.”

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How the Alt-Right Brought #SyriaHoax to America

Ben Nimmo reports for the Digital Forensic Research Lab:

US President Donald Trump’s decision to launch strikes against Syria in the wake of a major chemical weapons attack provoked outrage from the far-right groups who were his most aggressive supporters. As rumors of the impending strikes broke, they launched an online campaign claiming that the chemical attack had been a hoax.

The hashtag followed two days of reporting by the so-called “alt-right” — anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, socially conservative and, until the strikes, vociferously pro-Trump — that the chemical attack had been staged.

The DFRLab has traced the origins of the story, and found that the alt-right coverage was based on report in a propaganda outlet linked to the Assad regime.

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When Humanitarianism Became Imperialism

Gregory Afinogenov writes for Jacobin:

In the 1980s Afghanistan, two world powers converged on each other, obliterating the national borders that stood in their way. The first was the Soviet state, bent on defending the precarious gains of a 1978 Communist coup d’état that it had actively tried to prevent. The second, caught in an even more painful paradox, was an uneasy alliance of foreign-funded jihadists, Western intelligence, and NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.

The way we remember the Afghan War today is as a kind of prologue. We care that the United States (along with, far more importantly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) helped fund jihadists because those insurgents would later turn against the United States, serving as the ultimate indictment of Reaganite Cold War politics. We care that the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan because that failure foreshadowed the Afghan quagmire of today. We care about the Afghan War because it spawned Osama bin Laden.

Timothy Nunan’s new book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, shows how incomplete this retrospective, US-centric view is. Though he does not venture beyond the 1990s, his argument is essential for understanding the world of imperial warfare today.

Afghanistan did not create the Islamic State, but it did serve as the laboratory in which the destruction of Third World sovereignty came to be fitted with justifications rooted both in human rights and in regime security — the recipe for modern “humanitarian interventions.”

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No Peace In Syria Until Assad Ousted, Says Nikki Haley

The Guardian reports:

Image result for No Peace In Syria Until Assad Ousted, Says Nikki HaleyNikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has said that she sees regime change in Syria as one of the Trump administration’s priorities in the country wracked by civil war.

Defeating Islamic State, pushing Iranian influence out of Syria, and the ousting of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are priorities for Washington, Haley said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, which will air in full on Sunday.

“There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime,” Haley said, while reiterating that defeating Isis was still the number one policy goal. “If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad.”

“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen.”

The comments represented a departure from what Haley said before the United States hit a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles on Thursday in retaliation for what it said was a chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces on Syrian civilians.

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Could Britain Have Sold Sarin Chemicals to Assad’s Regime?

Jamie Doward reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Sarin Chemicals Assad’s RegimeEvidence that the sarin nerve agent was used in the chemical attack that killed more than 80 and injured hundreds of others in Syria’s northern province of Idlib last week has triggered awkward questions for the government over the part played by the UK in the Assad regime’s development of a chemical weapons programme.

Human rights groups and arms control campaigners have highlighted the government’s own admission that in the 80s the UK exported the chemicals necessary to make sarin to the Syrian regime. The UK also sold specialist equipment after the millennium which it now appears was diverted to the chemical weapons programme.

Allegations that the UK supplied potentially deadly chemicals to Syria were investigated by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) which in 2013 wrote to then business secretary, Vince Cable, asking him to disclose the names of companies given licence approval between 2004 and 2012 to export to Syria chemicals that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons. Cable was criticised by the committees for refusing to disclose the names of the companies.

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Chris Hedges: U.S. Media ‘Kneejerk Cheerleading’ After Syria Strike Nothing New

Anya Parampil speaks with award winning journalist Chris Hedges about the U.S. media’s selective use of facts to further their agenda. (RT America)

Five Top Papers Run 18 Opinion Pieces Praising Syria Strikes – Zero Are Critical

Adam Johnson writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

NYT: On Syria Attack, Trump's Heart Came FirstFive major US newspapers—the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News—offered no opinion space to anyone opposed to Donald Trump’s Thursday night airstrikes. By contrast, the five papers ran a total of 18 op-eds, columns or “news analysis” articles (dressed-up opinion pieces) that either praised the strikes or criticized them for not being harsh enough.

[…] Some, such as “The Riddle of Trump’s Syria Attack” (New York Times, 4/7/17) and “Was That Syria Attack Legal? Only Congress Can Say” (USA Today, 4/7/17) were value neutral—neither expressly in support of the attacks nor opposing them.

Cable news coverage was equally fawning. In the hours immediately following the attack, MSNBC had on a seemingly never-ending string of military brass and reporters who uncritically repeated the assertion the strikes were “proportional” and “limited.”  MSNBC didn’t give a platform to a single dissenting voice until four hours after the attacks began, when host Chris Hayes, according to his own account, had on two guests opposed to the airstrikes in the midnight slot.  MSNBC host Brian Williams got into a bit of hot water when he lovingly admired a slick video sent over by the Pentagon showing tomahawk missiles being fired from US navy vessels (FAIR.org, 4/7/17).

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Trump’s Syria Strike Is Latest Sign of Steve Bannon’s Waning Influence

Gabriel Sherman reports for New York Magazine:

ImageDonald Trump’s surprise decision to launch missile strikes against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces in response to Tuesday’s horrific chemical attack represented a reversal from Trump’s noninterventionist campaign message. It’s also the most recent sign of the declining power of his chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Two sources close to Bannon told me the former Breitbart executive chairman argued against the strike — not because of its questionable constitutionality, but on the grounds that it doesn’t advance Trump’s America First doctrine. “Steve doesn’t think we belong there,” one Bannon ally told me. Bannon’s position lost out to those inside the White House, including Jared Kushner, who argued Trump needed to punish the Assad regime.

The debate over Syria is the latest fault line that has opened up in the once close Bannon-Kushner relationship. “During the campaign and transition, they had an almost uncle-nephew thing going,” one Bannon associate said. But in recent weeks, Kushner and Bannon have clashed over the direction of Trump’s agenda. While the press has covered it as a personality feud, Bannon allies say the rift is about policy differences. “The press is calling it fighting, we call it debating,” Bannon told an associate, according to a source. On a board in his West Wing office, Bannon keeps a list of promises Trump made to populist voters. Kushner, whose portfolio has ballooned in recent weeks, seems much less interested in keeping those promises.

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Trump’s Syria Strike Inspired by Dangerous Vision of ‘Cauldronising’ the Middle East

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

“I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”

Those were Hillary Clinton’s words just hours before her nemesis, President Donald Trump, ordered air strikes launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airfield in the southeast of Homs, Syria.

The Trump administration described the strikes as a “one-off” and insisted there were no plans for escalation. But an escalation is rapidly underway. Russia, despite being given advanced warning of the bombing from the US, has suspended an agreement with the US to avoid mid-air collisions in Syrian airspace.

The US government’s goals for the Syria strike can be deduced from the background role of one the most powerful diplomats in American history: Henry Kissinger. The former secretary of state, once accused by the late Christopher Hitchens of complicity in US “war crimes” in Latin America and south-east Asia, has been a key advisor to Trump in negotiating US relations with Russia and China.

Kissinger was previously a secret national security consultant to President George W Bush, and under Obama was directly involved in the US National Security Council’s chain-of-command. He also frequently advised Hillary Clinton during her term as secretary of state.

His influence in the Trump administration is also visible through his former acolyte, KT McFarland, who is now Trump’s deputy national security advisor, and who previously served under Kissinger in the 1970s in his National Security Council.

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The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished With Media and Bipartisan Praise For Bombing Syria

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

In every type of government, nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war. Donald Trump now sees how true that is, as the same establishment leaders in U.S. politics and media who have spent months denouncing him as a mentally unstable and inept authoritarian and unprecedented threat to democracy are standing and applauding him as he launches bombs at Syrian government targets.

Trump, on Thursday night, ordered an attack that the Pentagon said included the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles which “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” The governor of Homs, the Syrian province where the attack occurred, said early this morning that the bombs killed seven civilians and wounded nine.

The Pentagon’s statement said the attack was “in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.” Both Syria and Russia vehemently deny that the Syrian military used chemical weapons.

When asked about this yesterday by the Globe and Mail’s Joanna Slater, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged an investigation to determine what actually happened before any action was contemplated, citing what he called “continuing questions about who is responsible”.

But U.S. war fever waits for nothing. Once the tidal wave of American war frenzy is unleashed, questioning the casus belli is impermissible. Wanting conclusive evidence before bombing commences is vilified as sympathy with and support for the foreign villain (the same way that asking for evidence of claims against Russia instantly converts one into a “Kremlin agent” or “stooge”).

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Lawrence Wilkerson: Trump Attack on Syria Driven by Domestic Politics

Paul Jay speaks with former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who says that the Syrian Government may not be responsible for the chemical attack and that Trump’s response was a violation of international law. (The Real News)

West ‘Ignored Russian Offer in 2012 to Have Syria’s Assad Step Aside’

Julian Borger and Bastien Inzaurralde reported in September 2015 for The Guardian:

Image result for West 'Ignored Russian Offer in 2012 to Have Syria's Assad Step Aside'[…] Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal. Since it was made, in 2012, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions uprooted, causing the world’s gravest refugee crisis since the second world war.

Ahtisaari held talks with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN security council in February 2012. He said that during those discussions, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, laid out a three-point plan, which included a proposal for Assad to cede power at some point after peace talks had started between the regime and the opposition.

But he said that the US, Britain and France were so convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall, they ignored the proposal.

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012,” Ahtisaari said in an interview.

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The Cold War Officially Gets Renewed For a Second Season

Matt Novak writes for Gizmodo:

The US military launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase last night, and the President of the United States announced it by uncharacteristically invoking God three times in his three-minute speech. The baby known as Cold War II was conceived long ago. But last night, President Trump helped give birth. Congratulations! It’s a war!

There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know how Trump personally feels about Russia; I don’t know what the US will do now that it launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Assad regime in Syria; I don’t know if a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton would’ve done things any differently. But I feel pretty confident that I know one thing: The history books will mark 2017 as the official start of the Second Cold War.

Now, this isn’t altogether fair to the concept of the Cold War. As I’ve argued before, the Cold War never really ended, it just got a bit colder during the past two decades. But history books demand dates. These books need coherent stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. They need characters, big and small—some good, others bad. These history books need valor and cowardice and heartbreak and redemption and money and piles of dead bodies. So many dead bodies.

And with all of that, it looks like 2017 is going to be our mark for the beginning of Cold War II.

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Use Latest Tragedy In Syria to End the War, Not Escalate It

Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin write for CounterPunch:

Image result for Use Latest Tragedy In Syria to End the War, Not Escalate It[…] This recent chemical attack is just the latest in a war that has taken the lives of over 400,000 Syrians. If the Trump administration decides to escalate US military involvement by bombing the Syrian government’s power centers of Damascus and Aleppo and pushing rebel fighters to hold territory for a new government, the carnage—and chaos—will increase.

Just look at recent U.S. experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, various militia factions that the U.S. government had supported raced to Kabul for control of the capital and their fight for power in successive corrupt governments has led to the violence that continues 15 years later. In Iraq, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) government-in-exile, led by Ahmed Chalabi, disintegrated and the U.S.-appointed Pro-Consul Paul Bremer so mismanaged the country that it provided the opportunity for ISIS to fester in American-operated prisons and develop plans to form its caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In Libya, the U.S./NATO bombing campaign “to protect Libyans” from Qaddafi resulted in a country split in three parts.

Would U.S. bombing in Syria lead us into a direct confrontation with Russia? And if the U.S. was successful in toppling Assad, who among the dozens of rebel groups would take his place and would they really be able to stabilize the country?

Instead of more bombing, the Trump administration should pressure the Russian government to support a UN investigation into the chemical attack and take bold steps to seek a resolution of this dreadful conflict. In 2013, the Russian government said it would bring President Assad to the negotiating table. That offer was ignored by the Obama administration, which felt it was still possible for rebels it supported to overthrow the Assad government. That was before the Russians came to the rescue of its ally Assad. Now is the time for President Trump to use his “Russia connection” to broker a negotiated solution.

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If Trump Wanted To Help Syrians, He Would Lift Refugee Ban and Fund Humanitarian Aid

Amy Goodman is joined by Alia Malek, journalist and former human rights lawyer, Yazan al-Saadi, a Syrian-Canadian writer, Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CodePink, and Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, to discuss Syria after the United States carried out a missile attack on a Syrian airfield, saying it was a response to a chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people. (Democracy Now!)

This Isn’t the Foreign Policy Trump Campaigned On

Robert W. Merry writes for The American Conservative:

It may be too early to tell for sure, but Donald Trump is looking more and more like a phony. He’s also looking like a weakling. And a political ingrate. All this is coming into stark relief with accelerating events involving Syria. The United States launched dozens of missiles against Syrian military installations to retaliate for the chemical attack on rebel-held territory. Thus did Trump demonstrate that, to the extent that his foreign policy differs from that of his predecessor, it is more aggressive and adventuresome than Obama’s. That’s the opposite of how he campaigned.

So let’s start with the crucial civic adhesive of political gratitude. This is the virtue that impels politicians to give special consideration to the people who put them in office. That can generate anger and frustration on the part of people on the other side of the major issues in play, but those people have to accept that they were on the losing side. The winning side sets the agenda, based on the political conversation of the last campaign. That’s how democratic politics works.

Thinking back to the political conversation of the last campaign, we recall that Trump attacked the Iraq War as a mindless foreign adventure with bitter and ongoing consequences, including ongoing Mideast chaos. He said he certainly wouldn’t make the same mistake in Syria and that joining the struggle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would put the United States on the side of the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in the region. He said that, if Assad were deposed, the country likely would fall to unsavory elements that hate the West—in other words, some of our worst enemies. He touted his oft-expressed desire to develop better relations with Russia, an Assad ally, and said he would work with Russia toward an end to the horrendous Syrian bloodshed.

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Will Washington’s Hawks Get the Syria War They’ve Always Wanted?

Ted Galen Carpenter writes for The National Interest:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment that it must be up to the Syrian people to determine whether beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad stays in power signaled a significant change in Washington’s Syria policy. The Obama administration had consistently maintained that no settlement of the Syrian civil war was possible if Assad remained in power. Only the timing of his departure was deemed a pertinent issue for negotiation—and Obama’s foreign-policy team made even that concession grudgingly.

The apparent shift in policy has triggered outraged responses from the usual flock of hawks in the United States. Their fury intensified when just days after Tillerson’s comment, another chemical attack took place in Syria, killing dozens of civilians. As with the Sarin gas attack in 2013, Western officials and news media were quick to put the blame at the feet of Assad’s government. They did so even though the actual source of the 2013 attack remains uncertain, and even though some evidence pointed to a “false flag” operation by Islamist rebels with the covert assistance of Turkey’s government.

American hawks who demonize Assad exhibited no uncertainty about the perpetrator of either incident. Sen. John McCain railed against the Syrian dictator. “As we once again bear witness to innocent people writhing on the ground and gasping for breath, we know Assad not only disregarded his chemical weapons commitments, but continues to carry on mass atrocities with impunity,” McCain said in a statement. “Unless and until Assad pays a price for his brutality, the slaughter and destruction in Syria will go on.” Instead of backing off on demanding Assad’s ouster, the Trump administration must “take action to address this strategic and humanitarian disaster, which has led to more than 400,000 Syrians killed and six million displaced,” McCain said. Sen. Marco Rubio asserted that it “was no coincidence” that the gas attack took place right after Secretary Tillerson and other administration officials indicated a softened policy toward Assad.

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Khan Sheikhoun Gas Attack: We Don’t Need Conspiracies to Oppose U.S. War in Syria

Joshua Frank writes for CounterPunch:

Photo by Beshr Abdulhadi | CC BY 2.0It was a false flag! Al Qaeda did it! Why would Assad use chemical weapons when he’s winning the war? It had to be those evil terrorists.

These are the petty cries by some on the conspiracy-minded left with regard to this week’s barbaric chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which took the lives of at least 74 and injured another 350.

Of course the United States lays all the blame for the attack at the feet of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been implicated in many war crimes over the years. And unsurprisingly, the Russians, Assad’s chief allies, have countered, claiming the Syrians bombed a toxic weapons depot that unleashed the deadly nerve agent. So, in the end, according to Russia, these civilians were simply collateral damage in the War on Terror™ – an endless war, mind you, that the left once opposed.

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Is Assad to Blame for the Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria?

Matthias von Hein writes for DW:

Syrien Idlib Giftgasangriff (picture-alliance/Depo Photos/ZUMA Wire/F. Dervisoglu)More than 80 people were killed by suspected chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun. That is about the only thing certain about the attack. Western statements place blame at the feet of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, an accusation Damascus and Moscow contest.

The Syrian regime may not have had a compelling motive, believes Günther Meyer, the director of the Research Center for the Arab World at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. “Only armed opposition groups could profit from an attack with chemical weapons,” he told DW. “With their backs against the wall, they have next to no chance of opposing the regime militarily. As President [Donald] Trump’s recent statements show, such actions make it possible for anti-Assad groups to receive further support.”

Former President Barack Obama famously drew a “red line” in 2012. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus,” he said at the time. Meyer views the statement as an “invitation for Assad’s opponents to use chemical weapons and make the Assad regime responsible for it.”

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