zaterdag 25 februari 2017

Pentagon prepares for bigger, bloodier war in Iraq and Syria

Syrian opposition asks US-led coalition to halt attacks on Isil after dozens of civilian deaths. (Syria) condemns, with the strongest terms,
the two bloody massacres perpetrated by the French and US warplanes and those affiliated to the so-called international coalition
which send their missiles and bombs to the civilians instead of directing them to the terrorist gangs,” it said in a letter sent to the
United Nations this week, according to state news agency SANA.

By Bill Van Auken

The Pentagon has prepared recommendations to be submitted to President Donald Trump at the beginning of next week for a major escalation of the US military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

According to unnamed US officials cited Friday by the Wall Street Journal, the proposal is expected to include “sending additional troops to Iraq and Syria” and “loosening battlefield restrictions” to “ease rules designed to minimize civilian casualties.”

The new battle plans stem from an executive order signed by Trump on January 28 giving the Pentagon 30 days to a deliver a “preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS [Islamic State] in Iraq and Syria.”

According to independent estimates, as many as 8,000 civilians have already died in air strikes carried out by US and allied warplanes against targets in both Syria and Iraq, even as the Pentagon routinely denies the vast majority of reported deaths of unarmed men, women and children resulting from US bombings. The new policy to be rolled out next week, which the Journal reports is aimed at “increasing the number and rate of operations,” will inevitably entail a horrific intensification of this bloodletting.

Speaking before the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Thursday, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, said that the Pentagon would be presenting Trump with a “political-military plan” to deal not only with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but to “advance our long-term interests in the region.”

Referring to the intense contradictions besetting the US intervention in the region, which has relied on the use of Kurdish militias as proxy ground troops in Syria, even as Washington’s NATO ally, Turkey, has intervened to militarily counter their influence, Dunford insisted that Washington “can’t be paralyzed by tough choices.”

Pointing to the regional scope of the planned US military escalation, Dunford echoed earlier bellicose rhetoric from the administration against Iran, listing it alongside Russia, China, North Korea and “transnational violent extremism” as the major targets of the US military.

The US military commander stated that “the major export of Iran is actually malign influence across the region.” He said that the US military buildup against Iran was designed to “make sure we have freedom of navigation through the Straits of Hormuz, and that we deter conflict and crisis in the region, and that we advance our interest to include our interest in dealing with violent extremism of all forms.” All of these alleged aims are pretexts for continuous US provocations aimed at countering Iran’s regional influence and furthering the drive for US hegemony in the Middle East.

In relation to Iraq, Dunford signaled US intentions to maintain a US military occupation long after the campaign against ISIS is completed. He referred to a “dialog about a long-term commitment to grow the capacity, maintain the capacity of the Iraqi security forces,” adding that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Abadi had spoken of “the international community continuing to support defense capacity building.”

Dunford’s comments echoed those of Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis during a trip earlier this week to Baghdad. While disavowing Trump’s crude comments last month—“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis said—he also suggested that plans are being developed for a permanent US military presence in the country.

The Iraqi people, the Iraqi military and the Iraqi political leadership recognizes what they’re up against and the value of the coalition and the partnership in particular with the United States,” Mattis told reporters Monday. “I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other.”

Currently, Washington has more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq and another 500 Special Forces troops operating inside Syria. These forces are backed by tens of thousands of military contractors as well as other military units that are rotated in and out of the region. The plan to be presented next week will likely involve the deployment of thousands more US combat forces.

Trump has repeatedly indicated his support for establishing “safe zones” in Syria, an intervention that would require large numbers of US soldiers backed by air power to seize and control swathes of Syrian territory. It would also entail threats of military confrontation with Russian warplanes operating in support of the Syrian government.

As the Pentagon prepares its plans for military escalation in the region, US ground forces have reportedly entered Mosul, operating on the front lines with Iraqi forces in the bloody offensive to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from ISIS. American Special Forces “advisers” joined Iraqi troops Thursday in the first incursion into western Mosul, with the retaking of the Mosul International Airport as well as a nearby military base. The operation was conducted with close air support from US warplanes.

The airport and the base, located in the southern part of western Mosul, are to be used as the launching pad for a major assault into the most densely populated area of the city, where an estimated three quarters of a million civilians are trapped with no means of escape.

The International Rescue Committee warned that this stage of the offensive would represent the “most dangerous phase” for civilians.

This will be a terrifying moment for the 750,000 people still in the west of the city, and there is a real danger that the battle will be raging around them for weeks and possibly months to come,” said Jason Kajer, the Iraq acting country director for the humanitarian group.

Referring to the increasingly desperate plight of civilians in western Mosul, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s field coordinator in Erbil, Dany Merhy, said: “Supply routes have been cut from that side of the city and people have been facing shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine. We can only imagine the state people will be in.”

As in previous US-backed offensives against Fallujah and Ramadi, Mosul faces the prospect of being reduced to rubble. It is in this city where the proposed changes in the “rules of engagement” will find their first expression in the elevated slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 25 February 2017, and was republished with permission.

dinsdag 17 januari 2017

Het mislukte presidentschap van Barack Obama

Barack Obama takes one last look in the mirror, backstage before going out to take oath of office, Jan. 20, 2009.
(Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Howard Zinn zag in 2010, een jaar na Obama’s aantreden, geen enkel hoogtepunt en voorzag een middelmatig en daarmee gevaarlijk presidentschap. Het oordeel van Eric Zuesse aan het eind van de rit is niet mis: Obama is een mislukte president.

Bij zijn aantreden in 2009 werd Barack Obama wel heel uitbundig verwelkomd. Zijn campagne draaide om hoop. Gerechtigheid, onkreukbaarheid, gelijkheid, vrede, geluk en voorspoed, zaken waarop je kon rekenen met zo’n intelligente, goed opgeleide, achtenswaardige man. Zijn eerste wapenfeiten maakten indruk: Obamacare, de afrekening met Osama bin Laden, opkuis van de federale bureaucratie. Maar na de recente stormachtige politieke ontwikkelingen in de VS moeten we de realiteit onder ogen zien. Hoop en verandering zijn geweken voor frustratie en zorg. Obamacare staat op losse schroeven, en de talloze executive orders en ondertekende wetgeving lijken gedoemd om te worden herroepen.

De befaamde Amerikaanse historicus Howard Zinn had op 17 november 2008 al zijn bedenkingen bij de toen nog president-elect. Die moest voor Zinn direct na zijn aantreden zijn dan nog maximale politieke kapitaal investeren in fundamenteel nieuw beleid: troepen terug uit Irak en Afghanistan, geen aanvalsoorlogen meer, afstand van de Bush-doctrine en de Carter-doctrine, en komaf met de overzeese militaire basissen. Uitroeping van Amerika als vredelievende mogendheid die niet langer doelwit is van terrorisme en zelf ook geen terrorisme uitoefent. Inkrimping van het militaire apparaat en het defensiebudget tot het minimum en jobcreatie voor jonge mensen in plaats van hen voor het leger te recruteren.

Ruim een jaar later evalueerde Zinn het eerste jaar van de regering-Obama: “Ik zie geen enkel hoogtepunt in zijn optreden en beleid. Ik denk dat de mensen verblind zijn door zijn retoriek. Obama wordt een middelmatige president, en in onze tijd betekent dat een gevaarlijke president.” Die evaluatie dateert van een week voor zijn overlijden, zodat Zinn vandaag geen eindoordeel kan geven over het presidentschap van Barack Obama. Dat deed de eveneens Amerikaanse historicus Eric Zuesse recent wel. En diens oordeel is niet mis: Obama is een mislukte president.

Op het vlak van jobcreatie: 94% van alle nieuwe jobs zijn gedwongen parttime. De armoede steeg in 94% van de kiesdistricten. Honderdduizenden doden en miljoenen ontheemden door bombardementen in opdracht van Obama of diens bondgenoten. De verwoesting van Irak en Afghanistan door George W. Bush kreeg een vervolg met de vernietiging van Libië door Obama en Sarkozy, en van Syrië door Obama, Saud, Thani en Erdogan. Tienduizenden jihadisten werden bewapend en naar Syrië gestuurd om de regering-Assad omver te werpen. Volop steun aan de barbaarse junta in Honduras waar het moordcijfer met 50% steeg en daarmee tot het hoogste ter wereld.

Per saldo heeft de regering Obama veel meer ellende aangericht buiten de VS dan in eigen land, aldus Zuesse. Dat heeft Hillary Clinton niet veel stemmen gekost, Amerikaanse kiezers weten weinig over wat er zich in het buitenland afspeelt. Trump legde in zijn campagne wel de nadruk op de ‘illegale immigranten’, maar zweeg over het feit dat die mensen de hel die de VS in hun land had aangericht wel moesten ontvluchten, niet enkel in Honduras, maar ook in Guatemala en El Salvador. Coups en door de VS getrainde doodseskaders, dat was steevast de aanpak. Om maar niet te spreken over de vluchtelingenstroom uit het Midden-Oosten waar Europa mee moet afrekenen.

Obama is niet mislukt omdat hij te weinig conservatief of ‘Christelijk’ was, maar omdat hij te weinig progressief was en in veel opzichten veel conservatiever dan zijn dubbelhartige verkiezingsretoriek beloofde. Een uitzonderlijk getalenteerd leugenaar, die daarmee ook fenomenaal succes had. Obama werd dan gedwarsboomd door het Congres, maar zijn falen komt toch op zijn conto. Kwalijke zaken als de mislukte TTP, TTIP en TISA handelsverdragen, de moord op Gaddafi en de coup in 2014 in Oekraïne stonden prominent op zijn agenda. Een conservatieve, reactionaire agenda, die meer rekening hield met de belangen van de honderden CEO’s van multinationals dan van de Amerikaanse bevolking die de president geacht wordt te dienen.

De regering-Obama scoorde een absoluut dieptepunt op het vlak van vervolging van witte-boorden-criminaliteit. Frauderende bankiers werden niet vervolgd. Landen als Oekraïne en Rusland worden afgeschilderd als corrupt, maar de corruptie in eigen land wordt onder de mat geveegd. De Amerikanen hebben het vandaag dan beter dan aan het eind van de regering-Bush, maar niet dan voor de crisis van 2007/2008. De economische opleving onder Obama was de zwakste sinds de 2e Wereldoorlog. De schuld van de Amerikaanse federale overheid verdubbelde. Hoewel na een economische crisis de economische ongelijkheid normaal afneemt bleef die onder Obama onveranderd hoog. Tot daar het harde oordeel van Zuesse.

Maar ook anderen zien Obama als de grote verliezer, zeker op het wereldtoneel. De impasse in Oekraïne, de steun aan jihadistisch terrorisme met de afslachting van meer dan een half miljoen mensen in Syrië en Irak tot gevolg, de electorale steun aan Hillary Clinton die mede aan de basis lag van het succes van de als clown afgeschilderde Donald Trump, het verlies aan geloofwaardigheid door de mislukte poging om het hacken van Amerikaanse servers in de schoenen van Rusland te schuiven, de kwaadaardige poging om Iran met blijvende sancties te verzwakken ondanks het bereikte diplomatieke akkoord, de steun aan Saoedi-Arabië in de bloedige oorlog tegen het Jemenitische volk, het gebrek aan ruggengraat in het Israel-Palestina conflict, de infrastructurele, sociale, politieke en rassencrisis in het binnenland.

En nu doet dus Donald Trump zijn intrede in het Witte Huis. Diens overwinning wordt door de Amerikaanse mainstream media toegeschreven aan Russische hackers die zich in opdracht van Poetin zouden hebben gemengd in de Amerikaanse democratie, een beschuldiging die Rusland als “belachelijk” van de hand heeft gewezen, net als Trump. Zo ver is het dus gekomen onder Obama. Men weigert de realiteit van het politieke en sociale binnenlandse verval onder ogen te zien en wijst met het beschuldigende vingertje naar een buitenlandse mogendheid. Maar die boodschap komt niet over. Het sentiment onder de burgers wijst op afkeer van de politieke elite in Washington en de media die worden gezien als onderdeel van een corrupt systeem.

Het is dezelfde afkeer die we ook elders in het Westen tegenkomen. Mensen zijn de elitaire overheden beu die falend soberheidsbeleid voeren, een nieuwe Koude Oorlog tegen Rusland ontketenen, de NAVO op basis van valse Russofobie opblazen tot ongekende proporties en slaafs het Amerikaanse imperialisme volgen.

De wereld die Obama achterlaat kenmerkt zich door Westers beleid, internationale instellingen en klassieke media in verval. Hoe meer de schuld bij “tegenstanders” als Rusland, China, Iran en Noord-Korea wordt gelegd, hoe meer de mensen in opstand komen tegen hun leiders. En dat is geen goed vooruitzicht.

zaterdag 10 december 2016

German defence minister on the offensive in the Middle East

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen with her Saudi Arabian counterpart, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, in Riyadh.
Photo: DPA.

By Johannes Stern

German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) is currently on tour in the Middle East. The central goal of the trip is the strengthening of Germany’s political, economic and military influence in this resource-rich and geo-strategically critical region.

Von der Leyen’s first stop was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where she was met Wednesday evening at the King Salman Air Base in Riyadh by Saudi deputy defence minister General Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Ayesh, German ambassador Dieter Walter Haller and defence attaché Colonel Thomas Schneider.

On Thursday, the defence minister visited the headquarters of the so-called Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition and asserted in an official press release that Saudi Arabia was a country which “decisively combats terrorism and is aware it has a special role in combatting Muslim-Arabic terrorism in the Islamic world.”

This is patently absurd. Hardly anything could more clearly expose the German government’s empty phrases about human rights and propaganda about the “war on terror” than the close military and political collaboration between the Western powers and Saudi Arabia.

The reactionary and Islamist character of the Saudi regime is so obvious that even the German media could not avoid raising some issues. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, there were “throughout last year … more than 150 executions. There are also frequent public floggings, [and] the rights of women and minorities are massively curtailed.”

About the impact of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, the Süddeutsche Zeitung noted: “The bombardments have destroyed the infrastructure of the Arab world’s poorest country and repeatedly kill civilians. According to investigations by human rights activists, one in three attacks strike civilian targets.” According to the UN, “the more than 10,000 victims of the war include more than 4,000 civilians––many die from bombs from the air which frequently strike hospitals.”

And, according to public broadcaster ARD, “Saudi Arabia is … a strict Islamic governed monarchy, in which––much like the Islamic State (IS)––political opponents are beheaded and women stoned if they end a marriage.”

In Syria, Saudi Arabia is among the chief sponsors of Islamist militias with close ties to al-Qaeda and which are officially designated as terrorist organisations by the German government. The Ahrar al-Sham militia, backed financially and politically by Saudi Arabia, is a “foreign terrorist organisation,” according to the German attorney general, and “one of the largest and most influential Salafist-Jihadi organisations in the Syrian uprising movement.” It pursues the goal of “toppling the regime of Syrian ruler [Bashar al-] Assad and establish a theocratic state based entirely on Sharia law.”

None of this has prevented the German government and defence minister from intensifying military cooperation with Saudi Arabia. According to reports, Von der Leyen pledged to train Saudi soldiers in Germany. The training of “several young officers and contractors with the Saudi Arabian military” will begin in Germany in the coming year, the German ambassador announced Thursday.

In addition, further arms exports to the Gulf monarchy are planned. Recently the Federal Security Council, meeting in secret, approved the shipment of 41,644 shells to Saudi Arabia, even though Germany’s official export guidelines prohibit the supplying of arms to states “engaged in armed conflicts.” According to government sources, weapons exports totaling more than €484 million [$US 511 million] were approved to Saudi Arabia in the first half of the year, including helicopters and components for fighter jets.

With its massive rearmament of the Saudi monarchy, Berlin is pursuing two main goals. First, Riyadh is to be placed in a better position to violently suppress social unrest on the Arabian Peninsula. In early 2011, a few weeks after the revolutionary upsurges in Tunisia and Egypt, Saudi troops and tanks intervened in Bahrain with brutal violence to suppress mass protests taking place there. In addition, the German government views the heavily armed Arab monarchies as important allies in the imposition of German imperialist interests in the region.

After her stay in Riyadh, Von der Leyen travelled directly to Bahrain. She participated in the Manama dialogue, the most important security conference in the Middle East. Several heads of state and government, ministers, military personnel and representatives from security agencies attended the event organised by the influential International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank to discuss the wars and conflicts in the region.

Von der Leyen’s last destination is Jordan, where she will symbolically hand over 24 “Marder”–type armoured vehicles.

Von der Leyen spoke in Bahrain in 2015, announcing greater German engagement in the Middle East. At the time, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung enthused in an opinion piece, “Germany is no longer indifferent. Germany has managed to expand its foreign policy weight. At the Manama Dialogue, Defence Minister Von der Leyen can point out that the Federal Republic is no longer holding back.”

The “fundamental German interest” in the region was already summarised in a strategy paper by the CDU-aligned Konrad Adenauer Foundation in 2001, “It is directed primarily towards a stabilisation of those states and societies to prevent dangers to its own security and that of its European partner states, to secure a seamless supply of raw materials and to create export opportunities for German business.”

The study, entitled “Germany and the Middle East: standpoint and recommendations for action,” emphasised the importance of the “export markets in the region’s core states (Egypt, Turkey, Iran), but above all the wealthy Gulf states” for German exports. Here it was necessary to “make a contribution to securing sales markets, obtain the broadest possible access to these markets and compete with the US, the Eastern European countries and also the East Asian industrial countries.”

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 10 December 2016, and was republished with permission.

dinsdag 18 oktober 2016

Hoe vandaag opnieuw een incident een wereldoorlog kan uitlokken

Met materiaal over de Eerste Wereldoorlog kan men bibliotheken vullen. Europa zag er in die periode heel anders uit dan vandaag. De rivaliteit tussen de grootmachten was opgelopen tot het kookpunt en spitste zich toe op koloniale concurrentie tussen Engeland, Frankrijk en Duitsland, en wedijver tussen Oostenrijk-Hongarije en Rusland om invloed in de Balkan. Het Duitse Keizerrijk had wereldambities. Het Ottomaanse Rijk was in verval. De lont in het kruitvat was de moord op de Oostenrijkse kroonprins Franz Ferdinand. Die leidde tot het Oostenrijks-Hongaars ultimatum, het activeren van de bondgenootschappen en het uitbreken van de oorlog.

De parallel met de wereld van vandaag is snel gemaakt. Net als toen zijn het de media die de politici aanzetten tot een chicken game, een gevaarlijk spelletje angsthaas, dit maal met Rusland. De Koude Oorlog mag dan met de implosie van de Sovjet-Unie voorbij zijn, veel waarnemers menen dat de situatie gevaarlijker is dan ten tijde van de Cubaanse rakettencrisis, toen diplomatie op het hoogste niveau leidde tot een reëel compromis: de Sovjets ontmantelden hun raketbases op Cuba, de VS trok zijn raketten in Italië en Turkije terug en zegde toe Cuba voortaan met rust te zullen laten.

Anders dan vandaag was aan de vooravond van de Eerste Wereldoorlog de publieke bereidheid om de conflicten gewapenderhand uit te vechten groot. Vandaag ziet men na Afghanistan, Irak, Libië en Syrië een zekere oorlogsmoeheid in het Westen. Maar na de ontwikkelingen in Oekraïne en Syrië lijkt die oorlogsmoeheid te verminderen, zeker op het niveau van de media en bewindslieden. Zo riep de o zo serviele nieuwe Britse clown-buitenlandminister Boris Johnson op tot piketten voor de Russische ambassade in Londen en belegde een vergadering met zijn Europese collega's om een halt toe te roepen aan de strijd rond Aleppo die het Syrische leger, gesteund door de Russen, aan het winnen was.

Het verbale geweld tegen Rusland en president Poetin heeft ongekende afmetingen aangenomen, waarbij de corporate media druk uitoefenen op de bewindvoerders om hun rug recht te houden. Met het afsluiten van de bankrekeningen van de Londense vestiging van de Russische TV-zender Russia Today (RT) maken de Britten het wel erg bont. Maar dichter bij huis doen onze media het niet veel beter: in “De afspraak” op Canvas verzuimde Bart Schols de crisis in Syrië in een context te plaatsen. Schols focust op de bloedbaden en laat gewezen NAVO secretaris-generaal Willy Claes aan het woord die - naar men moet aannemen tegen beter weten in - de schuld volledig legt bij de leiders van Syrië en Rusland. Tenenkrommende journalistiek.

De werkelijkheid is dat Rusland in het Islamitisch extremisme een existentiële bedreiging ziet en daarom de legitieme Syrische regering steunt. Het zijn de VS, Saudi Arabië en Qatar die deze lieden van geld en wapens voorzien, en het zijn de geheime diensten van de VS, Groot-Brittannië en Frankrijk die hen militair trainen. Het is de VS die grensoverschrijdende activiteiten ontplooit die strijdig zijn met het internationaal recht. En dat alles om de proxies in staat te stellen een seculiere regering omver te werpen.

Volgens voormalig CIA-analist Larry Johnson geeft de CIA al van ver voor het aantreden van Obama steun aan de oppositie in Syrië. Daarbij gaat het om geld, training en bewapening. Assad mag dan geen Mahatma Gandhi zijn, hij staat wel aan het hoofd van een seculiere regering waarin Soennieten, Sjiieten en Christenen vreedzaam naast elkaar leven. Na het Amerikaanse echec in Irak is de VS daarin tussengekomen en heeft het vuur aangestoken, aldus Johnson. De VS probeert terroristengroepen te gebruiken om Assad omver te werpen, en zegt weinig overtuigend dat het tegelijk de terreur wil bestrijden.

Vanuit Europees standpunt is niet Assad een bedreiging, maar de Moslimterroristen die bij ons aanslagen komen plegen. En of je in Syrië nu Christen, Koerd of Sjiiet bent, als Assad de strijd verliest kun je wel je biezen pakken. Het Westen kan gewoon niet toegeven dat het twee onverenigbare doelstellingen nastreeft. Het hele Amerikaanse Midden-Oosten beleid faalt. Iran heeft zich kunnen ontwikkelen tot een machtige regionale speler, waardoor Saudi-Arabië zich bedreigd voelt. Maar een stap terug door het Westen zou tot prestigeverlies leiden. Dus gaat de strijd voort en blijven er slachtoffers vallen.

Na de tientallen jaren van Westerse interventie in het Midden-Oosten wordt het Westen in de publieke opinie wel gezien als een stelletje hypocrieten. Het bewapent de Saudi's en de Golfstaten om in een land als Jemen bloedbaden aan te richten die het in Syrië als gruwelijk veroordeelt. Het Westen roept altijd in koor dat Israël het recht heeft om zich tegen Palestijns verzet te verdedigen, maar Syrië mag dat niet tegen de terroristen in Aleppo. Dat laat blijvend sporen achter in de relatie tussen het Midden-Oosten en Europa. In Syrië is er maar een heel kleine minderheid die wil dat Assad verdwijnt. Het Russische standpunt daarover is helder: over een regeringswissel wordt beslist door de Syrische bevolking, niet door het buitenland.

In het Syrische luchtruim opereren vliegtuigen van een “coalitie” waarin naast de VS en een aantal Arabische landen ook België, Frankrijk, Duitsland, Nederland, Turkije, Groot-Brittannië, Canada en Australië participeren. Nu die coalitie een - als vergissing aangemerkte - luchtaanval op het Syrische regeringsleger uitvoerde moet men niet uitsluiten dat ook eens het omgekeerde gebeurt: een aanval van Syrische of Russische eenheden op de coalitie. En als we Fars News mogen geloven is er zelfs al eens een doelgerichte Russische aanval geweest op een “buitenlands commandocentrum” waarbij een dertigtal Israëlische en Westerse officieren die leiding gaven aan de terroristiche aanvallen op Aleppo en Idlib om het leven kwamen.

Mogelijk is het te danken aan koele hoofden in het Westen dat deze aanval niet aan de grote klok werd gehangen zodat een onomkeerbare escalatie kon worden vermeden, maar net als in de aanloop van de Eerste Wereldoorlog blijft het risico van incidenten levensgroot en daarmee het gevaar van een echte clash tussen kernwapenmogendheden. Het is dus hoog tijd voor deëscalatie en échte diplomatie.

dinsdag 4 oktober 2016

US suspends talks with Russia as danger mounts of escalation in Syrian war

By Jordan Shilton

In a highly provocative move, the United States announced yesterday it was breaking off bilateral talks with Russia on halting fighting in Syria’s civil war. The decision is only the latest indication that the US is preparing the ground for a major escalation of military operations in its war for regime-change in Syria.

With boundless hypocrisy, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that Russia had failed to maintain its end of the bargain. “This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” Kirby said. “Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments, and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed.”

US officials added that contact between the two countries would continue to reduce the risk of clashes between US and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian air space. But this pledge cannot conceal the fact that both powers have mutually incompatible agendas in Syria and are perilously close to a direct military clash that could spiral out of control and trigger a wider war. As White House spokesman Josh Earnest bluntly put it, on Syria, there was “nothing more for the US and Russia to talk about.”

Washington’s attempt to pin the blame on Russia for the breakdown of diplomacy in Syria is thoroughly dishonest. The United States never had any intention of abiding by the ceasefire agreement struck between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last month. It exploited the week-long pause in fighting to enable its proxy Islamist “rebels” to regroup in the face of a Russian- and Iranian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Aleppo, while continuing to provide its Al Qaeda-linked allies with arms. The US-backed anti-Assad forces never accepted the ceasefire.

Open differences emerged within the US political and military establishment over the ceasefire terms, with the Pentagon publicly rejecting military and intelligence cooperation with Moscow in the name of fighting terrorism. It is likely that a September 17 US air strike on a Syrian army outpost near the town of Deir ez-Zor, which helped ISIS fighters capture positions in the area, was deliberately launched by a faction of the US military opposed to intelligence-sharing with Russia, for the purpose of blowing up the ceasefire agreement.

The incident had the desired effect. The ceasefire collapsed several days later when a UN aid convoy came under attack. Washington and its European allies blamed the attack on Moscow and used it to demand that Russia and Syria ground their aircraft. Russia denied any involvement in the bombing of the aid convoy.

The US government and media have seized on the bombardment of “rebel”-held eastern Aleppo, controlled by the al-Nusra front, which Washington lists as a terrorist organization, to accuse Russia of war crimes and prepare the ground for an escalation of the war. Since intervening on the side of the Syrian government last September, Moscow has sought to advance its own interests by propping up its ally Assad. Syria is the site of Russia’s sole naval base outside of the former Soviet Union.

According to UN figures, at least 320 civilians have been killed in Aleppo since the end of the ceasefire. Civilians have been targeted by both sides, although the Western media has generally buried reports of the shelling of government-controlled areas by Islamist “rebels.” Up to 270,000 civilians, including 100,000 children, are trapped in the city.

The crocodile tears shed by US and Western politicians over the fate of Aleppo’s inhabitants are a transparent fraud, aimed at concealing the fact that primary responsibility for the catastrophe in Syria, where more than half a million people have lost their lives and over 50 percent of the population have fled their homes, lies with the US and its allies. Washington deliberately fomented the civil war with the aim of removing Assad, installing a puppet government, and asserting its hegemony in the energy-rich Middle East against its main rivals, Russia and China.

The Western powers’ humanitarian pretenses were further exposed by a leaked UN report which placed chief responsibility for the disastrous conditions in Syria on the US and European Union’s sanctions regime. The report, which was published in May but only released Sunday by the Intercept after it obtained a leaked copy, accuses Washington and Brussels of imposing since 2011 “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.”

US prohibition on money transfers has made it almost impossible for aid groups to pay salaries and buy supplies, leaving the way open for ISIS and the al-Nusra Front to open unofficial avenues for the transfer of financial assistance. A separate letter from “a key UN official” in August described the sanctions as a “principal factor” in the collapse of the healthcare system.

The Obama administration never had any intention of reaching a deal with Russia to curb the violence in Syria unless it fully capitulated to US demands for the installation of a pro-Western puppet regime.

Moscow has instead made increasingly clear that it is unwilling to back down in the face of US threats to encourage Islamist terrorists to direct their attacks against Russia. After Kirby menacingly declared last week that extremists could attack “Russian interests” and even Russian cities, an ominous pronouncement given Washington’s long-standing collaboration with Jihadi terrorists, Russia shot back that any US escalation in Syria would lead to “total war” and cause “tectonic shifts” throughout the Middle East.

Earlier on Monday, President Vladimir Putin announced the suspension of the United States from an agreement regulating the disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons. Putin cited as reasons “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties.”

On Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Washington had failed to separate US-backed “moderate rebels” from the al-Nusra Front, which was to have been a first step under the ceasefire deal to the establishment of a joint implementation center from which Moscow and Washington would coordinate attacks on terrorists.

We are becoming more convinced that in a pursuit of a much desired regime-change in Damascus, Washington is ready to ‘make a deal with the devil,’” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday. For the sake of ousting Syrian President Assad, the US appears to be ready to “forge an alliance with hardened terrorists.”

In truth, such an alliance has long been cemented. In 2011, the Obama administration exploited similar “humanitarian” concerns as those now being whipped up over Syria to justify the bombardment and destruction of Libya so as to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. This was combined with support to Islamist extremist forces, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands and plunging the North African country into a brutal civil war. Many of these same Islamists were then relocated to Syria, supplied with arms funneled through the CIA, the Gulf states and Turkey, and encouraged to wage war on the Assad regime. It was out of this environment that ISIS emerged and began to gain ground.

The US political and military establishment is fully prepared to risk an all-out conflict with nuclear-armed Russia to secure its geo-strategic ambitions in the Middle East and beyond. Less than two weeks ago, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that extending US control over Syrian air space would mean war with Syria and Russia. He emphasized that the US military had no intention in establishing any kind of intelligence-sharing arrangement with Russia.

Last week, in another calculated provocation, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter delivered remarks at a nuclear base in North Dakota threatening nuclear conflict with Russia.

The escalation of tensions with Russia has the support of Washington’s Western allies, including Britain and France. The suspension of talks coincided Monday with reports that Paris is circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding that the Assad regime halt its bombardment of Aleppo and warning that those responsible for war crimes will be held accountable.

The text also refers to the need to immediately halt all military flights over Aleppo, which in effect restricts only Syrian and Russian planes and could serve as the initial step to a “no-fly” zone enforced by US and allied aircraft. Diplomats expect Russia will veto the resolution if it comes to a vote, a move that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has vowed would result in Moscow being labeled as complicit in war crimes.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 4 October 2016, and was republished with permission.

zaterdag 17 september 2016

Divisions erupt at post-Brexit Bratislava summit as EU calls for military-police build-up

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Bologna 3 June 2016
Photo: Francesco Pierantoni (Flickr / Wikimedia Commons)

By Johannes Stern and Alex Lantier

Amid escalating tensions inside the European Union (EU) and between the EU and the United States, the heads of the 27 EU member states, minus Britain, met for their first post-Brexit summit in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

The summit reaffirmed proposals by top EU, German, and French officials to react to Britain’s exit from the EU by reorganizing the union as a military alliance with broad police powers at home. Beyond the broad lines of this reactionary program outlined in the so-called “Bratislava declaration” issued by the European Council, however, the remaining EU countries failed to agree on any concrete proposals. Explosive conflicts erupted over the economic crisis in Europe and the millions of refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the leader of the euro zone’s third-largest economy, refused to join the final press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Only weeks ago, Renzi stood together with Merkel and Hollande on an aircraft carrier off the Italian island of Ventotene to call for EU unity after Brexit and revive longstanding plans, blocked until now by Britain with the support of the United States, to turn the EU into a military alliance. Yesterday, however, he attacked the summit and openly stated his disagreement with German and French policies.

I cannot take part in a joint press conference with Merkel and Hollande if I don’t share their conclusions on economy and migration,” Renzi told reporters after the meeting in the Bratislava Castle. He added, “It’s not a controversy, Italy doesn’t see it in the same way as the others.”

Renzi, whose government is deeply unpopular due to its austerity measures, lashed out in particular at Berlin for demanding harsh spending cuts in response to Italy’s banking crisis. “In the same way countries must respect rules on deficit, they also have to respect other rules, like on the trade surplus,” Renzi said. “And there are some countries who don’t respect them; the main one is Germany.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean have arrived in Italy and Greece, which have demanded that other EU countries take in or help fund the accommodation of refugees. Renzi attacked the summit for failing to produce any meaningful agreement on this issue.

Describing today’s document on migrants as a step forward requires an imagination [worthy of] word jugglers,” he declared. “The usual things were said again.”

Hungary’s anti-immigrant premier, Viktor Orban, who has built a fence on the Hungarian border in a reactionary attempt to keep out all refugees, publicly attacked EU quotas requiring Hungary to take in migrants.

During my conversation with Martin Schultz, the president of the European parliament, I asked him to show respect for the Hungarian people,” Orban said. “I asked him to stop using their law-creating tricks, deceiving the sovereign decisions and the will of the national states.”

Effectively acknowledging the deep divisions inside the EU, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that it would have been “inappropriate” to issue written conclusions after the summit.

As the Bratislava summit made clear, the UK’s vote to leave the union reflected divisions and conflicts that extend throughout Europe and threaten to bring down the total dissolution of the European Union. Since its formation in 1992, a year after the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, the EU has aligned itself with US-led wars, implemented pro-business restructuring measures and carried out attacks on workers’ living standards. Especially since the outbreak of the 2008 economic crisis and the 2011 wars in Libya and Syria, however, these class and international conflicts have undermined attempts to fashion common EU policies.

In response to the Brexit vote, which was organized amid deepening misgivings in the British ruling class over a German-led EU, Germany and France are moving ahead with attempts to unify the EU as a military alliance that Britain had previously blocked, at Washington’s request.

European-American tensions are also erupting to the surface, after EU powers called for an end to trade talks with the United States and imposed a €13 billion fine on Apple, the largest US corporation, for not paying taxes in Ireland. Yesterday, as EU heads of state met in Bratislava, US authorities imposed a $14 billion fine on Germany’s leading bank, Deutsche Bank, on fraud charges related to US mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the 2008 Wall Street crash. Deutsche Bank responded by vowing to fight the fine.

Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the bank said in a statement. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.”

Financial disputes are becoming intertwined with strategic conflicts between Washington and the EU over European attempts to formulate military policy independently of the United States. In the lead-up to the summit, Paris and especially Berlin led a reactionary push for military build up, austerity, and authoritarian forms of rule exemplified by the ongoing state of emergency in France.

A six-page proposal, drafted by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, was leaked to the press. “It is high time to reinforce our solidarity and European defense capabilities in order to more effectively protect our borders and EU citizens,” it declared. “Given that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the EU, we will now have to act with [the remaining] 27 member states.” It called for a sharp expansion of military spending to develop aerial refueling capacities, satellite surveillance, cyber warfare, and drones.

At their joint press conference yesterday in Bratislava, Merkel and Hollande confirmed that post-Brexit internal and external rearmament were the center of discussions at the summit. Themes discussed included “security, migration and border protection,” Merkel said. EU leaders also agreed to reduce flows of refugees and on “more cooperation on security,” she added.

Hollande stressed the main message from Bratislava was the need to “secure control of the EU’s external borders.”

The bullet points in the brief “Bratislava declaration” issued by the European Council give a glimpse of the reactionary plans being worked out by EU leaders. The section titled “Migration and external borders” calls for strengthening Fortress Europe, denying the right of asylum to refugees fleeing war, and for mass deportations of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The paper demanded that the EU “Never allow a return to uncontrolled flows [of refugees] of last year and further bring down the number of irregular migrants. Ensure full control of our external borders.”

On “internal security,” it envisages the building of an integrated EU police state, modelled on the policies of the American ruling class implemented under cover of the “war on terror” after the September 11 attacks. It calls for “Intensified cooperation and information-exchange among security services of the Member States” and the “adoption of the necessary measures to ensure that all persons, including nationals from EU Member States, crossing the Union’s external borders will be checked against the relevant databases, which must be interconnected.”

It also demands “concrete measures” to prepare to defend Europe’s geopolitical and economic interests militarily against its rivals. “In a challenging geopolitical environment,” the “December European Council [should] decide on a concrete implementation plan on security and defence,” declares the paper.

This echoes European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the European Union address Wednesday. “Soft power is not enough in our increasingly dangerous neighbourhood,” he said, stressing that Europe can “no longer afford to piggy-back on the military might” of the United States and should “take responsibility for protecting our interests.”

These proposals underscore the falseness and hypocrisy of the EU’s claims to represent freedom, peace, and civilization against the anti-immigrant chauvinism and nationalism of British political parties that campaigned for Brexit. As the EU seeks to convert itself into a military and police regime pursuing a reactionary anti-immigrant policy, the only constituency for peace and democratic rights to be found on either side of the English Channel is the working class.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 17 September 2016, and was republished with permission.