Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 22:49
Here is my latest column for the print edition of Counterpunch.
Shamming into Syria
When I saw the news on June 13 that Bill Clinton had joined with John McCain in blasting Obama's "inaction" on Syria and calling for direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict, I knew we would soon hear the other shoe dropping. And lo, just hours later, pat it came, with that reliable old house organ of the power structure, the New York Times, portentously reporting that “intelligence” had “confirmed” the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government -- the flashing "red line" that Obama had declared would be the trigger for more American intervention.
One day later, the New York Times reported that the White House will now supply the rebels with arms -- yet another loose, uncontrollable flood of weaponry washing through the most volatile region on earth, guaranteeing more death, more ruin, more terrorism, more needless suffering not only on the Syrian killing grounds, but far beyond as well -- exactly as we saw in the Libyan intervention. And no doubt the Sunni militants in Iraq -- currently killing dozens of people weekly in the sectarian hell created by the American invasion -- will love the U.S. ordnance they'll soon be getting from their al Qaeda allies in the forefront of the Syrian rebel campaign.
The move by Clinton, the progressive’s beloved “Big Dawg,” move was obviously part of a sham operation to "force" poor, peace-loving Obama into significantly ramping up American military involvement in Syria. (And the sight of this self-infatuated gasbag -- with the blood of half a million sanction-murdered Iraqi children on his hands – now demanding more bloodshed for innocent people was truly sickening. Especially the "reasoning" he gave for urging action, despite that fact that intervention is opposed by 85 percent of the American people: if Obama failed to help kill more people in Syria, Clinton said, he would end up "looking like a wuss." Yes, that really is the level of intellect that drives policy at the highest reaches of the American power structure. Yes, they really are juvenile neurotics with third-rate minds obsessed with their illusory "manhood," which can apparently be expressed only by the large-scale slaughter of human beings and military domination of the whole earth. Christ Jesus, boys -- ain't you ever heard of Viagra? Bob Dole can get it for you wholesale. You really don't have to kill people just to get it up.)
For months, Obama has been playing this rope-a-dope game, stringing along both the rabid interventionists and the remaining "progressives" who still believe, against all evidence, in the president's good intentions. But now the time has come to up the ante. Why?
One reason -- noted by the Times -- is the fact that the Syrian rebels are clearly in danger of losing, despite the best efforts of close American allies like the woman-hating, head-chopping, extremism-abetting religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia to keep the bloodshed going. Indeed, as As'ad AbuKhailil points out, the Saudi and Qatari gun-runners and paymasters of the predominantly Sunni rebels in Syria are increasingly using the conflict to foment a genocidal fury against Shiites and related sects across the Middle East. As in Iraq, Western intervention is fuelling a spiral of uncontrollable sectarian violence at a level unseen in the region for centuries, AbuKhalil notes. And American warmongers love to see Muslims killing each other, especially if it opens up new opportunities for war profiteering and oil deals, as in Libya and now in Syria. For example, just one day before the intelligence apparat “confirmed” chemical weapon use by Syria, the administration eased export restrictions to “help facilitate oil sales from rebel-controlled areas,” Reuters reports. One of life’s little coincidences, I reckon.
Equally coincidental, no doubt, is the fact that this intelligence “finding” comes just as Team Obama is reeling from revelations of the Orwell-surpassing cyber-panopticon it has imposed on the entire populace. What better distraction from domestic skullduggery than the ever-reliable foreign threat: “Look over yonder -- WMDs!” Time to rally round the flag – and fill airtime and newsprint with endless blather and Pentagon propaganda about the noble humanitarian “surge” against Syria.
This is a momentous move -- however juvenile and shallow and irredeemably stupid its perpetrators may be. Syria is not Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, isolated regimes on the outskirts of the Middle East. It is in the very center of the powder keg. And it has powerful allies in Russia and Iran. Expanding the civil war there could draw those countries more directly into the conflict, as well as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, even Turkey. The risk of a wider regional war -- even a world war -- is very real.
This is the reality we are now entering. It's not just blasts of point-scoring partisan rhetoric ricocheting around Capitol Hill, cable news and Twitter. There is a real world out there beyond the various screens that transfix us all, sealing us in an abstract, virtual space of light and pixels. Real people will die from this decision, and from the ludicrous, sinister games played by the stunted power-seekers on every side of the increasingly savage conflict.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 23:57
It is not enough for the Peace Laureate to murder American citizens without charges, without trial and without warning; he must also murder their children too -- in the same cowardly, cold-blooded fashion.
Last week, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki -- an American teenager -- was ripped to shreds by an American drone missile in Yemen. The boy, like his father, Anwar al-Awlaki -- had not been charged with any crime whatsoever, much less convicted and sentenced. So what was his offense? He missed his father -- who had been in hiding from the Peace Laureate's publicly stated intention to assassinate him -- and he went off to find him.
His search took him into one of the areas of Yemen where there are groups opposed to the murderous regime now controlling the country and slaughtering its own citizens in cold blood -- with American weapons, American money, and the full support of the Peace Laureate and his peace-loving administration of peaceful peaceniks. People in such regions -- not only in Yemen but all over the world -- are of course subject to instant, agonizing death from the Peace Laureate's brave, bold robot drones, guided by noble warriors nestled in cushioned chairs behind fortress walls thousands of miles away.
And so a button was pushed, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman -- and his 17-year-old cousin -- were turned into steaming lumps of coagulate gore by the drones of the Peace Laureate. The Laureate's minions and satraps then spread the story that the child was actually a grown man, "suspected" of being a "militant." It was, of course, an arrant and deliberate lie, but it did its work. The first -- and only -- thing the public at large heard about this murder was that yet another dirty terrorist raghead had bitten the dust, and so big fat what?
The boy's family had a somewhat different view:
“To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense,” said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and the boy’s grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. “They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”
The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen. ...
Nasser al-Awlaki said the family decided to issue a statement after reading some U.S. news reports that described Abdulrahman as a militant in his twenties. The family urged journalists and others to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman.
“Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies,” the statement said. “His Facebook page shows a typical kid. A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.” The pictures on the Facebook page show a smiling kid out and about in the countryside and occasionally hamming it up for the camera. Abdulrahman left the United States with his father in 2002.
Nasser al-Awlaki said Abdulrahman was in the first year of secondary school when he left Sanaa to find his father. He wrote a note to his mother, saying he missed his father and wanted to see him. The teenager traveled to the family’s tribal home in southern Yemen, but Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Sep. 30 in Yemen’s northern Jawf province, about 90 miles east of the capital. “He went from here without my knowledge,” Nasser al-Awlaki said. “We would not allow him to go if we know because he is a small boy.” He said his grandson, after hearing about his father’s death, had decided to return to Sanaa.
The American boy went off to find his father. Upon learning that his father had been killed by the Peace Laureate, he tried to go back home to his family. But he stopped to have a meal with some men -- perhaps friends of his father? Perhaps "militants"? Perhaps neither? We cannot know, because the Peace Laureate and his minions do not discuss their arbitrary killings of people without charges or trial.
So Abdulrahman was blown to bits. The "soldier" who pushed the button or squeezed the joystick that fired the missile got up from his comfortable chair and got into his comfortable car and drove to his comfortable home, where -- who know? -- he might have had a delicious meal with his wife and kids, then later kicked back for a little R&R with the Wii. The peaceful Peace Laureate went out on the campaign trail, seeking to extend his mission of peace for another term. And the regime he supports in Yemen with peaceful weapons and peaceful money and peaceful pearls of wisdom about peace went on killing its own citizens.
Methinks the Peace Laureate, long derided by some for his youthful callowness, a dearth of proper gravitas, is growing into his imperial role more and more with each passing day. The outright, open murder of an imperial citizen -- followed by the completely gratuitous slaughter of the victim's son -- has the authentic ring of ancient Rome about it. That's how they did it in the high, palmy days of the Caesars; that's how we do it today. Everything old is new again. Ave, Peacenik!
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 07 April 2014 21:02
Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books detailing the strong evidence indicating that the Turkish government worked with Syrian rebels in a "false flag" operation of the worst sort: staging a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August 2013. The intent was to throw blame for the attack on the Assad regime, thereby drawing the United States directly into the conflict; the use of chemical weapons against the rebels was a "red line" repeatedly laid down by Barack Obama as the trigger for an American intervention.
As we know, the gambit very nearly worked. In addition to the deep background behind the sarin attack, Hersh's story also reveals the extent of the military operation planned by Obama. Although at the time, administration officials were speaking of "surgical strikes" and a limited response, the White House was in fact planning a massive attack involving the armed forces of three Western powers (the U.S., Britain and France) that would devastate the entire country and topple the regime. As Hersh writes:
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
Yet even while the war plans kept racheting up to new levels of violence -- including the targeting of civilian infrastructure, a blatant war crime which the United States now routinely commits, even celebrates, in all of its major military operations -- the "intelligence" behind the loudly trumpeted charges of the Assad regime's guilt in the attack was rapidly unraveling. Hersh details this process at length, and I won't repeat it here. But no super-duper gazillion-dollar "intelligence" operation was needed to question the propaganda being catapulted about the attack at the time. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the situation knew that it made no sense for Assad to launch a small, strategically and tactically ineffective chemical weapons attack when he knew this was the one thing that would bring the full weight of the American military machine down on his head. Especially as his forces had clearly gained the upper hand in the civil war at that time. Indeed, his position of strength was the very thing that led the plotters to instigate a false flag attack; the only way to turn the losing tide, they reasoned, was to force an American military response.
In the end, at the last moment, when all signs were pointing to war with Syria, Obama called off the attack. It is not clear why, but several factors doubtless played a part. As Hersh describes, there was strong resistance to the attack from some segments of the military itself, which knew the ostensible casus belli was almost certainly false and feared the much larger, longer, debilitating conflagration that was certain to follow a massive American attack. More publicly, there was the remarkable vote in the UK parliament against military action against Syria -- even as the ever-slavish British government was already sending its planes to join their American masters in the attack. This was undoubtedly significant, but one wonders now if it was the actual tipping point against war that it seemed at the time. After all, the Americans didn't need their little dogsbody's handful of planes nor its ever-diminishing diplomatic muscle to go through with the strike. (And in any case they retained the far more substantial support of France.) If Washington had wanted to act unilaterally, it would have done so. (And had a wider war ensued, Britain would certainly have entered on the American side.) There was also considerable domestic unease at the idea of war with Syria, which was also important. Although, again, once "our boys" were "in the field," fighting for freedom against the new Hitler, no doubt there would have been a good deal of rallying around the flag.
But in the end, we can't say for sure what caused the reversal. There may have been other factors we have no inkling of. And that's another valuable aspect of the Hersh story: it shows, once again, how the world is really run -- in almost total secrecy, behind thin facades of hype, hypocrisy and auto-hypnosis that have little or no connection to the reality of power's operations. Almost nothing we are told is true; yet billions of words are poured out every year in earnest disquisitions on the meaning and import of the dumb shows and distractions our betters put on for us while they pick our pockets and set our world on fire.
There is much more in the Hersh piece, including more details on how the administration of the Peace Prize laureate has assiduously pushed policies that it knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would result in deadly weapons getting into the hands of some of the most virulent religious extremists on earth. It's odd, isn't it? In order to overthrow a repressive regime in Syria, the Peace Laureate allies himself in clandestine gun-running and the fomenting of sectarian violence with a regime, the Saudis, whose repression makes Assad's Syria look like Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties. And while telling us that al Qaeda is such a deadly foe to all human values that our fight against it requires us to give up our own freedoms, violate our constitution, institute death squads, set up all-pervasive surveillance, and wage overt and covert wars all over the earth -- the same Laureate is ensuring that groups openly allied with al Qaeda are being crammed full of weapons so they can spread sectarian violence across the Middle East and Africa.
Here, as everywhere in the Berserker Imperium, the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality is immeasurably vast, and widening all the time.
Also worth reading, as always, is the latest Anti-Empire Report from Bill Blum. He takes up the astonishing lies and historical misrepresentations Obama made in his recent European trip to re-ignite the Cold War. It was a jaw-dropping performance, as the Peace Laureate heartily defended the Hitlerian war of aggression against Iraq, and the war crimes in Serbia of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. It was Clinton, you remember, who, before launching that splendid little war, rejected a Serbian peace offer that would have given him everything he demanded to "protect" Kosovo -- save for a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. Clinton then proceeded to pulverize Serbia's civilian infrastructure in a vicious bombing campaign that ended with an agreement which... gave Clinton everything he asked for except, er, a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. In other words, Clinton took the original offer -- but only after killing hundreds of innocent people, just to show everybody's who's boss.
Here again we see the reality of the "progressive," "liberal," "centrist," "moderate" (or whatever) side of the American imperium: behind their noble words, their evocations of the "common good," of justice, freedom, and human rights, there is the same murderous, pointless quest for dominance.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 03 September 2012 03:54
Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to attend a conference last week for a very good reason – he did not want to be publicly associated with a war criminal.
That war criminal was Tony Blair, who had been paid his usual whopping fee ($238,000 in this case) to deliver his usual sanctimonious blather at a South African conference on “leadership.” Tutu – who was speaking for no fee – withdrew from the meeting when he heard Blair was coming, the Guardian reports.
This was a rare – very rare – example of behavior which should be ubiquitous: shunning mass murderers. Blair, like George W. Bush (and Bill Clinton, he whose minions openly accepted responsibility for the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children in the US-UK sanctions regime that devastated Iraq before the US and UK finally launched their outright war of aggression in 2003), swans around the world collecting accolades – and mucho dinero – from the great and good and the high and mighty (and their simpering media sycophants), untroubled by his instrumental role in the Hitlerian invasion and its aftermath, which has left – according to measurement tools used by Blair’s own government – more than a million innocent people dead.
But Tutu did more than a simple shunning. He went on to pen a column in The Observer openly calling for Blair and Bush to be put on trial for war crimes. His indictment (quoted here in the Guardian) is damning:
Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history."
… But it is Tutu's call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and western ones, he says the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.
"On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague," he says.
In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilisation, with no gain. "Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.
"Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?" Blair and Bush, he says, set an appalling example. "If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?" he asks.
"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?"
Blair attempted to reply to this withering blast, with his best ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ shtick, but he only compounded his moral nullity with his defense. He offered, as usual, the facts that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who violently oppressed his people – a situation that has long obtained in many countries around the world (including many of Tony’s pals in the Middle East and Central Asia, who pay him so handsomely for his ‘counsel’). And of course, this oppression had nothing to do with the repeatedly stated “reasons” for the attack offered by Bush and Blair: that Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat of attack on Britain and America.
The knowing falsity of these pre-war charges has been confirmed in a multitude of quarters, but Blair, with the irreality of the genuine psychopath, now claims the opposite, saying “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” The fact is that every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown the complete opposite: that high officials throughout both governments were well aware of the weakness and falsity of the “evidence” of Iraq’s WMDs, and that these weak reeds were bent and shaped to fit the policy approved by both leaders: to invade Iraq, come hell or high water.
But Blair goes even further into the mire. One of the features of his defense is – I kid you not -- how “prosperous” the Iraqi economy is now compared to the situation before the invasion:
"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."
I must admit that, old cynic that I am, even I was taken aback by the brazenness displayed here. Blair was in power for six years of the US-UK sanctions regime against Iraq. He is just as complicit as Clinton and both George Bushes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children (and adults) who perished as a direct result of the devastating sanctions, which denied Iraqis most of the basic elements of life. If Iraq’s economy really is “three times larger now” (that is, assuming this smiling, unctuous, super-Christian liar is not lying in his usual lying manner), it is because it is starting from the “Year Zero” level imposed on the ordinary Iraqi people – by Tony Blair himself, colluding with his bipartisan masters in Washington, Clinton and Bush.
Blair himself helped grind the Iraqi economy – and the Iraqi people – into the dust. And now, after launching a war of aggression against the country which killed a million more people, he takes credit for the “improvement” from lifting the sanctions he himself imposed and sternly policed.
Surely this breaks new ground for war criminals. Not even Adolf Hitler claimed that his murderous invasions were “good” for the Poles and the Russians and the Jews, that by launching baseless wars of aggression and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people he was somehow doing them a favor. But Blair, like Bush and Clinton – and like Obama and Romney and the rest of the American political class – insist that their murders and invasions and black ops and sanctions are altruistic missions of mercy to the very people they are killing or strangling.
And as Tutu notes in his piece, the same dynamic is now being played out against Iran – with the stakes for mass murder, suffering and generations of chaos, hatred and destabilization engulfing the world even higher. Yet our leaders plunge on and on in this berserker frenzy in their impossible quest to dominate the entire world.
I’m writing quickly, on the road, grabbing a few rare moments of internet time, so I can’t do this outrage the justice it deserves. (And no, this is not some blanket endorsement of every position or personal association ever taken or made by Desmond Tutu.) But his shunning of Blair and his call for the instigators of the invasion of Iraq – an atrocity which dwarfs the suffering Saddam inflicted on the people there – are examples that should be emulated by everyone in public life. We can only hope it catches on.
UPDATE: George Monbiot has more on Tutu's humanitarian intervention in the Tony Blair war crimes case. From the Guardian:
When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.
The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.
That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.
His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, "i) there must be an armed attack upon a state or such an attack must be imminent; ii) the use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) the acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack." None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him: "A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists."
Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.
…But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the international criminal court, and all of them are African. (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There's a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war.
Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as "the supreme international crime", several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date.
The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair's lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.
That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – www.arrestblair.org – to promote peaceful citizens' arrests of the former prime minister. … Our aim is the same as Tutu's: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.
That looked, until this weekend, like an almost impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.