Syria

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US Air Strikes in Syria Proceeding as Expected: Civilian Deaths Documented, ISIS Recruitment Up

Last week, besides pointing out the obscene fact that the US Senate approved $500 million for the US to get more involved in the Syrian civil war on the same day the UN announced a $352 million funding shortfall for feeding civilian refugees of the war, I predicted that the “training” of Syrian rebels would fail just like training in Iraq and Afghanistan but civilian deaths from the US air strikes and at the hands of the rebels would greatly aid recruiting in extremist groups like ISIS.

It turns out that ISIS recruiting shot up even on Obama’s announcement of the US effort:

At least 162 people joined the radical al Qaeda offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week after Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information on the conflict.

Islamic State has put particular pressure on rival insurgent groups in this part of Aleppo.

An additional 73 men had joined the group on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the start of the strikes, the Observatory said, bringing the total number since Sept. 10 to at least 235.

“This means these people are not scared. Even if there are air strikes, they still join,” said Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Observatory.

And, just as could be expected from the “pinpoint” US air strikes, for which we have virtually no on-site intelligence to guide the strikes (other than reconnaissance flights by drones), we are now getting reports of civilian casualties. From Reuters yesterday:

U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and militants, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Isn’t that nice? Our intelligence-gathering for the air strikes can’t distinguish ISIS bases from silos used to distribute grain to starving civilians. How many new recruits will ISIS get from families whose only food supply was bombed in that strike or whose family members were killed by it?

Of course, the US military refuses to believe any evidence that it could possibly make a mistake. From the same Reuters story:

The U.S. military said on Monday an American air strike overnight targeted Islamic State vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, and added it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

“We are aware of media reports alleging civilian casualties, but have no evidence to corroborate these claims,” said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command. He promised that the military would look into the report further, saying it took such matters seriously.

You betcha. I’m sure Central Command will get right on that investigation of how it killed silo workers (and see below for the military admitting that it can’t properly evaluate the effects of strikes). Just as soon as they get the next fifty or so new targets for air strikes put on their targeting lists.

Sadly, this strike on the silos is not the only instance of civilian deaths from the US strikes. The Daily Mail has more information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about yesterday’s strike and the overall civilian death toll from all strikes:

Mr Abdulrahman, said today: ‘These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people.’ The airstrikes ‘destroyed the food that was stored there’.

The group says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition airstrikes.

And, of course, the US has not acknowledged any of the previous civilian casualties, either. All they will say is that the evidence is “inconclusive”:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

Gosh, I don’t understand how we can have sufficient analytical ability to select targets but insufficient ability to assess the results of strikes on those targets. Sounds to me like the military is just bombing Syria for shits and giggles.

And to help contractors sell more bombs.

On Day Senate Approved $500 Million for War in Syria, UN Announced $352 Million Funding Shortfall for Feeding Syrian Refugees

A recent theme of mine has been that most of the time, the only response the US can come up with for a crisis anywhere in the world is to ask “Which group should we arm?” Despite ample evidence that this inane desire to train and equip various groups around the world always comes back to bite us in the ass, the US is intent, once again, on training and arming “moderate” rebels in Syria. Never mind that it has been shown, repeatedly, that the so-called “moderates” in Syria are anything but, as they have demonstrated by eating an opponent’s heart and carrying out multiple beheadings.

The one time the US avoided this approach and instead relied on diplomacy was a huge success. Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been removed from the country and destroyed despite the difficulty of this process taking place while the civil war raged. Choosing to ignore that clear success, the US is determined to make the situation in Syria infinitely worse by pouring this renewed effort into training and arming rebels. It is very easy to predict that this effort will result in radicalizing a whole new generation of fighters determined to attack the US precisely because of how it is getting involved in the Syrian civil war.

The flip side to the question of “Which group should we arm?” should be “What can we do to make the lives of the citizens of this region better?” In Syria and the surrounding countries affected by the masses of citizens who have fled the war, that answer is very clear. These refugees need food. They need shelter. They need basic medical care. Their students need schools, as estimates now say close to three million Syrian children are not in school.

Sadly, last Thursday, on the very day that the US Senate went along with the vote the previous day in the House to make $500 million available for this doomed effort to train and arm rebels, the United Nations’ World Food Programme announced that due to funding shortfalls, food allocations for Syrian refugees will be cut drastically in October and November and may not be available at all in December:

“We have reached a critical point in our humanitarian response in Syria and in neighbouring countries and unless we manage to secure significant funding in the next few days, I am afraid we will have no choice but to scale back our operation,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s Regional Emergency Coordinator for the Syrian crisis.

/snip/

In Syria from October, WFP will continue to provide food to more than 4 million people, but the food parcel will be smaller, providing less than 60 percent of the nutritional value recommended in emergencies in October and cutting even more in November. For December, WFP has no funding available for programmes in Syria.

The group faces similarly catastrophic shortfalls in the countries surrounding Syria where citizens have fled the violence.

The total funding shortfall is staggering:

WFP requires US$352 million for its operations as a whole until the end of the year, including US$95 million for its work inside Syria and US$257 million to support refugees in neighbouring countries.

So the US is throwing away more money than is needed to feed Syrian refugees through the end of the year on a plan that will increase violence and likely lead to the deaths of many of these same refugees from starvation, exposure to harsh winter conditions and “collateral damage” from poorly targeted missiles.

Consider the current plight of Syrian families. Their country is ripped apart by fighting that has raged for years. The bulk of the citizens have merely tried to avoid the violence, but it has rained down on them from all sides of a war that has countless groups taking part. Now, on the very day that the largest relief agency in the world announces that it will have to cut back on its already inadequate assistance, the US moves forward with a plan to waste more money than the World Food Programme needs in a way that will make their lives measurably worse.

The question is not whether starving Syrian refugees will be radicalized when poorly targeted US missiles kill innocent family members, as that is guaranteed. The only question is just how many of these newly radicalized enemies this latest clusterfuck of a plan will generate.

Funding Hapless Mission to Train Syrian Rebels Increases Value of Saudi Terror Hedge Fund

The cycle time for the US wiping its collective memory and re-starting a training program for troops aimed against the enemy du jour seems to be getting shorter. While the covert CIA plan to train “moderate” rebels to fight in Syria has not even ended, the new $500 million Obama just got approved by Congress for the military to train rebels is being described almost as if it is the only program around:

Even if the training goes as planned, the rebels will be outnumbered. While the United States has proposed to train and equip 5,000 rebels, the Central Intelligence Agency has said it believes that the Islamic State has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Elsewhere in that article we do see “This scaled-up training program would be overseen by the Defense Department, unlike the current covert program here and a similar program in Jordan, both overseen by the C.I.A.”, but since the number of fighters trained by the CIA isn’t added to those we plan to train using the military, it would appear that those “fighters” are in the process of fading into the sunset.

With David Petraeus still unavailable to run this PR training program, we are actually seeing hints this time that at least a few of our Congresscritters may be learning that our history of training isn’t exactly stellar and could bode poorly for this effort:

Some lawmakers who voted against Wednesday’s measure argued the administration was moving too fast and did not yet have a feasible plan to arm the Syrian rebels. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said it was “pretty disturbing” that Thursday’s hearing was occurring after the House had voted.

“I don’t think the plan that I have seen was detailed enough to make me believe that your plan will work,” Sanchez said. “I hope I am wrong. I hoped the same thing when I voted against the Iraq war that I was wrong, but I don’t believe I was wrong on that.”

Still, the larger focus of Thursday’s hearing shifted from the push for Congress to approve arming and training the Syrian rebels to the future of the U.S. military campaign against ISIL.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said she had doubts about the plan and asked Hagel to explain the endgame against ISIL. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) asked about the vetting of forces in Iraq — and not just Syria. And Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) wanted more details about potential airstrikes in Syria.

Remarkably, the press also is noticing that this effort is ill-fated. From the same NYTimes article linked above:

While the House approved an aid package for the rebels on Wednesday and the Senate followed on Thursday, at present the rebels are a beleaguered lot, far from becoming a force that can take on the fanatical and seasoned fighters of the Islamic State.

What’s more, the Times acknowledges that the “moderates” have different priorities from US goals in Syria:

Short of arms, they are struggling to hold their own against both the military of President Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists of the Islamic State. Their leaders have been the targets of assassination attempts. And some acknowledge that battlefield necessity has put them in the trenches with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, an issue of obvious concern for the United States.

While they long for greater international support and hate the Islamic State, sometimes called ISIS or ISIL, ousting Mr. Assad remains their primary goal, putting them at odds with their American patrons.

As Marcy noted earlier this week, small amounts of recognition of the perverse role of Saudi Arabia in funding global terrorism is also finally creeping into general awareness. Former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham has been quite active lately in pushing on that front. In addition to the quote Marcy presented from a Tampa news outlet, there is this from a Patrick Cockburn interview:

Senator Graham, a distinguished elder statesmen who was twice Democratic governor of Florida before spending 18 years in the US Senate, believes that ignoring what Saudi Arabia was doing and treating it as a reliable American ally contributed to the US intelligence services’ failure to identify Isis as a rising power until after it captured Mosul on 10 June. He says that “one reason I think that our intelligence has been less than stellar” is that not enough attention was given to Saudi Arabia’s fostering of al-Qaeda-type jihadi movements, of which Isis is the most notorious and successful. So far the CIA and other intelligence services have faced little criticism in the US for their apparent failure to foresee the explosive expansion of Isis, which now controls an area larger than Great Britain in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

/snip/

Senator Graham does not suggest that the Saudis are directly running Isis, but that their support for Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria opened the door to jihadis including Isis. Similar points were made by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and MI6, who said in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in London in July that the Saudi government is “deeply attracted towards any militancy which effectively challenges Shiadom”. He said that rulers of the Kingdom tended to oppose jihadis at home as enemies of the House of Saud, but promote them abroad in the interests of Saudi foreign policy. Anti-Shi’ism has always been at the centre of the Saudi world view, and he quoted Prince Bandar, the ambassador in Washington at the time of 9/11 and later head of Saudi intelligence, as saying to him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunni have simply had enough of them.”

So the long-term position of the Saudis is to promote Sunni jihadists against Shia forces globally. But part of how they avoid US ire is that they play both sides. From the Times article:

So far, the program has focused on a small number of vetted rebel groups from the hundreds that are fighting across Syria, providing them with military and financial help, according to rebel commanders who have received support.

The process is run by intelligence officials from a number of countries. The United States provides overall guidance, while Turkey manages the border, and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia provide much of the funding.

Despite fostering the conditions that led to the formation of ISIS, the Saudis also are helping to fund what can only be described as a doomed before it starts effort to combat ISIS. In the world of terrorism, the Saudis are behaving like a hedge fund, betting on both sides of the ISIS issue. Despite their small position against ISIS in the short term, there is no doubt their long term position is one of radical Sunni jihadism. In fact, since the training is doomed, by helping to fund it, the Saudis are increasing the overall stature of their long term jihadist investment. No matter how much money the US throws at this effort or how many “moderate rebels” it trains, only a fool would believe the Saudis would allow the Syrian rebels and Iraq to defeat a Sunni jihadist movement.

Rouhani to NBC: “US Presence in Region Exacerbates Terrorism Crisis”

NBC News’ Ann Curry interviewed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday in her second extended interview with him. She had been the first Westerner to interview Rouhani after his election. Remarkably, the story put up by NBC on their website to accompany the video seen above did not mention the part of the interview that Mehr News chose to highlight in Iran. From Mehr News:

Iran’s president has denounced ISIL terrorist group for its savagery and said US presence in the region has exacerbates [sic] the terrorism crisis since 2001.

That comment about US presence in the region exacerbating the terrorism crisis appears nowhere in the NBC article. The article does, however carry Rouhani’s accusation that the US approach to fighting ISIS is cowardly:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, denounced ISIS for its savagery but also branded the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” Speaking from the presidential palace in Tehran ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani questioned President Obama’s decision to go after ISIS with airstrikes.

“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.

“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.

Rouhani’s accusation that the US wants to carry out this fight without sacrifices seems to be a very accurate description of the approach by the Obama Administration.

Further evidence for the “ridiculous” charge comes in this Huffington Post story about a Congressional briefing on US strategy:

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.

“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, already in New York for the beginning of talks on the nuclear deal and the opening of the UN General Assembly, told NPR that he still favors a deal with the P5+1 group of nations:

On the subject of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Zarif said all the “wrong options” have already been tried and that “we are ready” for an agreement.

Zarif is fully cognizant of the forces allied against reaching a deal, though:

“The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies, primarily in the United States but also in places in Europe,” because “some are not interested in any deal,” he said.

“If they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there is no amount of — I don’t want to call it concession — no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal because they are not interested in a deal, period,” Zarif said.

In sharp contrast with what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders have said about no deal being better than a bad one, Zarif said: “I think if you compare any deal with no deal, it’s clear that a deal is much preferable.”

Gosh, considering how the US is working closely with anti-Iran groups, even to the point of interfering in lawsuits to prevent disclosure of how the government shares state secrets with them, Zarif seems to have a very clear grasp of the problem a deal faces.

Despite his harsh comments about the US (and harsh comments about ISIS, as well), Rouhani also held out hope that the P5+1 final agreement can be reached.

After Spectacular Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, US to Throw More Money at Training for Syrian Rebels

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and "accomplishments" from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond is discussed.

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and “accomplishments” from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond are discussed.

A central part of Barack Obama’s prime-time disclosure that he is authorizing air strikes in Syria was his call for half a billion dollars to train and equip “moderate” rebels in Syria. Proving that bipartisanism in Washington is not dead, John Boehner was quick to show his support for this nifty plan:

Congressional leaders rallied behind President Obama’s call to combat the Islamic State, vowing Thursday to back his request for funding to arm Syrian rebels as early as next week.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to pass Obama’s $500 million funding request to train and equip Syrian rebels who are fighting the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

/snip/

“We only have one commander in chief,” Boehner said. “At this point in time, it is important to give the president what he is asking for.”

Remarkably, though, even this USA Today article notes that there might be a slight problem or two with this brilliant plan to stop ISIS, otherwise known as “the personification of evil in the modern world“:

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another endangered Democrat, said he was opposed to arming Syrian rebels. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” he said.

House Republicans are divided into two camps, according to Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He told the Associated Press after a closed-door caucus meeting that one side hopes to hold Obama “accountable for doing the right thing.” The other group — that includes himself, Fleming said — believes Obama’s plans amount to an “insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable” to take down the Islamic State.

Wow. I think I just became a big fan of a Republican congressman from Louisiana.

So where could Begich have gotten the idea that if we arm extremists they might eventually use those arms on us? I mean, besides folks like Osama bin Laden and the death squads we have armed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how could Fleming think the groups we plan to train and arm might be undependable? That is, besides the Iraqi troops we trained who then abandoned their posts and US-supplied weapons as soon as ISIS entered the picture or the Afghan troops that routinely give territory back to the Taliban as soon as US forces withdraw?

And about that half billion dollar budget. Note that back in June, SIGAR’s latest figures (pdf) showed that the US has already disbursed over $48 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund which provides funding for the training and support of Afghanistan’s troops. Despite those billions, of course, no one doubts that these forces will be completely unable to function once US troops and US funding are gone, just as we saw when Iraqi forces faded away in the face of ISIS.

So yes, we are still stuck in that version of the movie Groundhog Day where we just end up training and equipping groups to take on our latest enemy, only to have the effort fail. But who should lead this august effort? Our most accomplished failure on this front, hands down, is David Petraeus. How could we possibly not use the author of this brilliant prose, penned in September, 2004, claiming that his second attempt at training troops in Iraq was a smashing success: Continue reading

“Let’s Bomb Syria” Version 2 Is Working; Why Did Version 1 Fail?

Polls taken almost exactly one year apart show a remarkable reversal in US opinion regarding the prospect of air strikes on Syria. Last year, in a poll conducted September 6-8, (pdf) there were a number of questions regarding action in Syria. By a margin of 59% to 39%, Americans overwhelmingly said they thought Congress should not pass the then pending resolution authorizing “military action for 60 to 90 days” that also banned use of US troops in a combat role. Further, 55% of those polled stated that even if Congress passed the resolution, they opposed US air strikes in Syria while only 43% favored them. In the hypothetical of no Congressional authorization, opposition to the air strikes rose to 71% with only 27% favoring them. Just one year later, those numbers have reversed. In a poll conducted September 4-7, 65% of Americans now say they support expanding US air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria, while only 28% oppose them. Checking the crosstabs, support for the strikes jumps to 74% for Republicans but still is 60% for Democrats.

So why is this year’s Drum-Up-War week working, when last year’s failed?

Despite the heinous nature of last year’s sarin attack, it seems to me that most Americans did a good job of recognizing that what is underway in Syria is a civil war in which the US has no vital interest other than humanitarian concern for widespread death and displacement of citizens. Having failed to paint Bashar al-Assad as an evil-doer on the level of Saddam Hussein (or perhaps after Americans rejected such an obvious campaign to do so) Obama and his fellow war hawks now consider ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world“.

The beheading of US journalists in Syria got huge play in the press. And yet, if we drill down a bit, the rate of journalists being killed in Syria is going down from its peak in 2012.

Somehow, Obama’s war gang has managed to convince ordinary Americans that ISIS represents a real threat to the US. That same poll that favors attacks on ISIS in Syria found that a staggering 91% of Americans find ISIS to be a serious threat to the US (59% said “very serious” and 31% said “somewhat serious”). Sadly, there is no reality behind this fear on the part of Americans. Even Time, in doing its best to support the hysteria, winds up undercutting the concept in a story today. In a piece creatively titled “Understanding the ISIS Threat to Americans at Home“, we learn:

On the one hand, Attorney General Eric Holder has said western fighters joining ISIS and returning home radicalized are the national security danger he worries about most. “We are seeing, I would say, an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups,” Holder told TIME last month. “This represents a grave threat to our security,” he said.

But in a thorough presentation on Sept. 3 at the Brookings Institution, outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, presented a less scary picture. ISIS has no cells in the U.S., Olsen said, “full stop.” Further, Olsen said, “we have no credible information” that the group “is planning to attack the U.S.” ISIS, Olsen said “is not al Qaeda pre-9/11.”

At most, the article concludes, quoting Obama in his “exclusive” with Chuck Todd, he needed “to launch air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.”

The links Holder is hyping about ISIS and AQAP simply do not exist:

Holder says the danger comes from the combination of westerners joining ISIS and the expert bomb-makers working for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear what if any evidence exists of such collaboration yet. On the one hand, AQAP has issued statements in support of ISIS, and both groups are active in Syria and Iraq; on the other, al Qaeda and ISIS split in the last year after a debate over tactics and territory.

Several senior administration officials tell TIME they have seen no evidence of direct contact between individual members of AQAP and ISIS.

In the end, the article concludes, Obama’s war team has deduced that we must attack ISIS because at some point in the future, they will turn their sights on us. Never mind that in this case, attacking ISIS in Syria winds up helping Assad, whom we wanted to attack last year:

Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that while the Assad government was a major topic of discussion, she and other participants told Mr. Obama that he could order military action in Syria without fear of helping Mr. Assad, since ISIS was occupying ungoverned territory that his forces were unlikely to reconquer.

I guess that Harman and Obama know that Assad won’t be able to reconquer those once ISIS is gone because of the bang-up job we will do training and equipping our famousmoderate” rebels, but hey, what could go wrong on any of this?

In the end, though, the apparent support for this version of strikes on Syria seems to me to have come about because of the shift in focus on the “enemy” from a president oppressing the citizens of his country to an international terror group that we must fear and that represents true evil. As far as the average American is concerned, meddling in another country’s civil war is out of bounds, but when it comes to protecting the homeland against evil-doers, anything goes.

And it doesn’t even need Congressional approval.

 

ISIS Fearmongering Now Features Undeclared Syrian Toxins Changing Hands

Today’s New York Times wants us to be very afraid because Samantha Power tells us that Syria may have failed to declare some of its chemical weapons (all declared category 1 materials have been destroyed) and those materials just might fall into the hands of the ISIS evil monsters.  This is a very interesting development because now with ISIS as the most evil operator out there, the Syrian WMD’s that we have been fearmongering about now are scarier in the hands of ISIS than they are in the hands of Bashar al-Assad, whom many believe was responsible for the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack in Ghouta.

The long journey of Syrian WMD’s and just who makes them scary is a case study in the process of intelligence and diplomatic sources feeding propaganda to a willing press. Recall that just after the Ghouta attack, Joby Warrick was used,  in a very Judy Miller fashion, to try to develop fear of a probably non-existent Syrian bioweapons capability. Less than a month after that feeble attempt to claim bioweapons in Syria’s arsenal, Warrick was dumbfounded that ricin (see below for a description of this toxin) appeared on the list of materials that Syria declared for destruction (ricin did not appear anywhere in Warrick’s “documentation” of Syria’s bioweapons capability just a month earlier):

The movement of chemicals and equipment in recent days — which initially spurred fears that Syrian officials were trying to hide parts of their stockpile — suggests instead that the weapons are being consolidated ahead of a first visit by inspection teams that arrived in the country last week, administration officials said.

The activity has contributed to a cautious optimism among U.S. officials over the prospects for quickly dismantling the chemical arsenal. Syrian officials a week ago turned over their first inventory of chemical weapons and storage sites, a list that U.S. analysts described as detailed, although incomplete.

The records have helped shed light on a sizable Syrian stockpile that U.S. officials say contains hundreds of tons of precursors for the nerve agents sarin and VX, as well as a surprise: ricin, a highly lethal poison derived from castor beans.

Yesterday, The Intercept finally (the document is marked as having been approved for release just before last Christmas!) liberated a cache of email conversations (pdf) taking place between a number of national security reporters and the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs.  The document is 574 pages long, but I want to focus on only one email to the office and the reply it generated, because it fits perfectly into this overall pattern of intelligence (and diplomatic) operatives catapulting propaganda with the eager cooperation of sychophantic reporters and because it mentions ricin. The email in question comes from Wall Street Journal reporter Siobhan Gorman and appears to be sent to at least two redacted recipients at CIA and mentions ricin in the context of Syria:

Gorman email

 

Okay. So this email takes place in July of 2012, just over a year before the Ghouta attack that used sarin.

Before we get to more of this story, a bit of background on ricin is in order. Continue reading

Against Drumbeat of War With ISIS, Chris Murphy Delivers Healthy Dose of Skepticism

Olivier Knox has a report this morning in which he interviewed Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy about potential Congressional authorization for use of force against ISIS. Before we get to Murphy’s tremendous response, it’s worth taking a look at the incredibly wide range of fronts on which the drums are beating for a war with ISIS.

Consider this:

Furthermore, Gen. Dempsey has warned that ISIS cannot be defeated only in Iraq. He asserted, “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

In fact the very existence of terrorists from over 50 countries means that we must be thinking in terms of a global campaign to eradicate the virus of Islamic Extremism and the spirit of terrorism and barbarism that it is fostering. This is fully as grave a threat to our survival as was Nazism or communism. With appropriate strategies and consistent policies executed energetically we can defeat and eliminate the Islamic State and its various allied factions.

ISIS and its worldwide terrorist allies have become the focus of evil in the modern world.

Who said that? John McCain? No. Lindsey Graham? No. Maybe Bill Kristol? No. Those are the words of zombie Ronald Reagan, appearing in a CNN column earlier this week penned by Newt Gingrich. The column carries the winsome title “What would Reagan do?“, and it presents the speech Reagan would have given in response to the beheading of James Foley by ISIS. Well, the speech Reagan would have given if only he were alive and still president, that is.

For the war mongers on the right, ISIS has quickly become the “focus of evil in the modern world”, and the enthusiasm with which they are urging full on war with ISIS is dizzying. Yesterday, I noted that John McCain’s beloved “moderate” Free Syrian Army also is guilty of beheading victims and posting photos on social media, but of course the hand-wringing over Foley’s beheading never allows for the fact that those we are being urged to arm against ISIS are guilty of many of the same crimes against humanity which are said to be fueling our desire to attack ISIS.

Yesterday, Marcy touched on the confusion surrounding the news that ISIS waterboarded Foley and other prisoners, since the US also has waterboarded prisoners in recent history.

So they guys we are supposed to arm against ISIS commit the same crimes as ISIS and ISIS is now copying US crimes, too, but somehow we are supposed to see ISIS as “the focus of evil in the modern world”.

But wait, there’s more!

We have to be upset, the New York Times warns us this morning, because there is now a flow of US citizens into the ranks of ISIS. And, as if that weren’t enough to get the bubba crowd worked up, ISIS wants our womenfolk: Continue reading

It May Not Have Been ISIS, But McCain Did Pose With Members of a Group That Beheads Opponents

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Rogin continues:

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.

A couple of days later, Politico published a photo from the visit, identifying Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (he is now listed as their Executive Director).

Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:

Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for his clandestine meeting last week with Syrian rebels.

“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.

“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,’” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”

Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting: Continue reading

Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons-Related Materials Completed Weeks Ahead of Schedule

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I'll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I’ll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

As militarized local police riot in Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq continues its meltdown and Afghanistan can’t even agree on how to recount votes, the world has been overdue for the tiniest morsel of good news. Good news is what we got yesterday out of the situation regarding the destruction of chemical weapons-related materials from Syria:

The United States said Monday that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.

/snip/

On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provided more details in a press release from their Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü:

The Cape Ray’s consignment included the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal: 581 metric tonnes of DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], a binary precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tonnes of ready-to-use sulfur mustard (HD). They were neutralised with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHS) on the Cape Ray, which reduced their toxicity by 99.9 percent in line with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Furthermore, the operation was successfully completed weeks ahead of the 60-day schedule the U.S. had estimated would be needed, and OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment. The Cape Ray will now transport the effluent from the hydrolysis operations to Finland and Germany, where it will be offloaded for disposal at land-based facilities.

Recall that the initial US response to the chemical weapons attacks of August, 2013 in Syria was supposed to be missile strikes and a ramping up of support for “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. But John Kerry achieved some accidental diplomacy and Assad agreed to hand over his chemical arsenal for destruction. Since then, war hawks have been castigating Obama for the very low level of support for Syrian rebels despite the fact that US air strikes in Iraq are now aimed at destroying major weaponry that the US provided to Iraq’s army before it melted away in the face of opposition.

There now is substantial evidence to support the decision not to provide increased support for the moderates, as many of these moderate groups have now shifted their alliance directly into IS support. This terrific Monkey Cage blog post written by Marc Lynch and hosted at the Washington Post, provides very good background on the shifting alliances among the rebel groups: Continue reading

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bmaz @randiego2 @JennyMehlow Good grief, those are handsome dudes! My wife says I am not even competent to comment. But, https://t.co/cJVxsDV434
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bmaz Yo, @Adobe all I can say is I hope you fuck off and die from the way you have, in last 24hrs, affected the way I interact with the internet
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bmaz @JasonLeopold Yolo dude, but, still, check out the last paragraph from very early this morning: https://t.co/cJVxsDV434
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bmaz It's amazing that @ESPN can't quite get the feed on the ASU/Huskies game right for squat, but they can always, oh so easily, parrot Goodell.
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bmaz Say what you will about Obamacare, but internet+media fanboys saying Dems losing ground in both House+Senate is "winning" issue are insane.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @WilliamsJon: CDC: Health Care Workers volunteering to combat #Ebola epidemic in West Africa are heroes. We must treat them with respect…
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