zaterdag 20 september 2014

US generals challenge Obama on ground troops in Iraq, Syria

By Bill Van Auken

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno (left) observes as the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment conducts a live fire exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA Jan. 31, 2014.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez (Wikimedia Commons)

The accelerating drive to a new US war in the Middle East, extending from Iraq to Syria and potentially beyond, has laid bare a stark contradiction between President Barack Obama’s public rejection of any US “boots on the ground” and increasingly assertive statements by top generals that such deployments cannot be ruled out.

Underlying this semi-public dispute between the US president—the titular “commander-in-chief”—and the military brass are the realities underlying another war of aggression being launched on the basis of lies for the second time in barely a decade.

It is being foisted on the American public as an extension of the 13-year-old “global war on terror,” with Obama warning this week that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “if left unchecked… could pose a growing threat to the United States.”

In reality, the ISIS threat, such as it is, stems entirely from US imperialist interventions that have ravaged first Iraq, through a war and occupation that claimed some one million lives, and then Syria, in a US-backed sectarian war for regime-change—in which ISIS was the beneficiary of arms and aid from the US and its regional allies—that has killed well over 100,000 and turned millions into refugees.

The collapse of Iraq’s security forces in the face of an ISIS offensive that was part of a broader Sunni revolt against Iraq’s US-installed Shi’ite sectarian government is now being used as the justification for a US military intervention aimed at reasserting US military dominance in Iraq, intensifying the war to overthrow the Assad regime in neighboring Syria, and escalating the confrontations with the key allies of Damascus—Iran and Russia.

Such strategic ambitions cannot be achieved with such unreliable proxy forces as the Iraqi military and the so-called Syrian “rebels.” They require the unrestrained use of Washington’s military might. This is why the generals are publicly challenging the blanket commitment made by Obama ruling out any US ground war in Iraq or Syria.

Over the past several days, both White House and Pentagon spokesmen have issued “clarifying” statements in an attempt to smooth over what increasingly suggests something close to insubordination by the top uniformed brass against the president.

The Washington Post pointed to the conflict Friday in a lead article entitled “In military, skepticism of Obama’s plan,” writing, “Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and US military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.”

The first major public airing of the divisions between the military command and the White House came Tuesday in congressional testimony in which Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that circumstances in Iraq and Syria could require the introduction of US ground troops and he would not rule out their deployment. He added that the commander of CENTCOM, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, had already proposed the intervention of US troops in the campaign to retake the Mosul dam last month, but had been overruled by the White House.

A day later, Obama appeared to rule out such action even more categorically, telling a captive audience of US troops at MacDill Air Force Base Wednesday: “As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our Armed Forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”

This hardly settled the question, however. Speaking on the same day as the president, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff and former top US commander in Iraq, told journalists that air strikes would prove insufficient to achieve Washington’s ostensible goal of destroying ISIS. “You’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting them out,” he said.

Odierno intensified his argument on Friday, telling reporters that air strikes alone would grow increasingly problematic as ISIS forces intermingled with Iraq’s civilian population.

“When you target, you want to make sure you are targeting the right people,” the Army commander said. “The worst thing that can happen for us is if we start killing innocent Iraqis, innocent civilians.” He added that US ground forces would be needed to direct the bombing campaign.

Odierno referred to the 1,600 US troops the Obama administration has already deployed to Iraq as “a good start,” but added that as the US military campaign developed, so too could the demand for further deployments. “Based on that assessment we’ll make further decisions,” he said.

The Army chief warned that the US was embarking on a protracted war in the region. “This is going to go on,” he said. “This is not a short term—I think the president said three years. I agree with that—three years, maybe longer. And so what we want to do is do this right. Assess it properly, see how it’s going, adjust as we go along, to make sure we can sustain this.”

As to US ground troops entering combat together with Iraqi units, Odierno stated, “I don’t rule anything out. I don’t ever rule anything out, personally.”

Even more blunt was Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the former commander of CENTCOM, who retired only last year. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, he directly attacked Obama’s public position of “no boots on the ground,” stating, “You just don’t take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do.”

Mattis added: “If a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines would strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose.”

Even Obama’s defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, appeared to contradict the president’s assertion about no ground troops, telling the House Armed Services Committee Thursday, “We are at war and everything is on the table.” Hagel also revealed that the 1,600 “trainers” and “advisers” who have been deployed to Iraq are receiving combat pay.

It is apparent that the Obama administration is using a hyper-technical definition of “combat troops” to exclude the military’s special operation units from this category, even if they end up engaged in combat.

The position taken by the generals has found ample political support from the right-wing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal as well as congressional Republicans. The Journal argued in an editorial Friday that Obama’s “promise never to put ground troops into Iraq or Syria is already undermining the campaign before serious fighting begins against the Islamic State. Few believe him, and they shouldn't if Mr. Obama wants to defeat the jihadists.”

The editorial compared Obama’s denial about “combat troops” to the claims made at the beginning of the Vietnam War that US troops were acting only as “advisers,” warning that the president could face the same fate as Lyndon Johnson, who “gave the impression of looming victory… only to have to escalate again and again.”

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Republican of California), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Post that Obama should “follow the … professional advice of the military” and “not take options off the table.”

The assertiveness of the top military brass in contradicting the White House is fed by the subservience and cowardice of civilian authorities, including the president and Congress. The latter adjourned this week after voting in both the House and Senate for Obama’s plan to shift $500 million in Pentagon funding to the arming and training of so-called “moderate rebels” in Syria. The measure was inserted as an amendment to a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through mid-December.

No serious debate, much less direct vote, was taken on the region-wide war that Washington is launching in the Middle East. The legislators have no inclination to be seen taking a position on this action—much less an interest in exercising their constitutional power—for fear that it will reverberate against them at the polls in November. Any debate has been postponed until Congress reconvenes after the elections and, undoubtedly, after the war is well under way in both Syria and Iraq.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 20 September 2014, and was republished with permission.

maandag 1 september 2014

US and Europe escalate provocations against Russia

By Johannes Stern

The European Union summit held in Brussels over the weekend represents a major escalation of the aggression by the Western powers against Russia, raising the specter of full-blown war in Europe and even a nuclear war between NATO and Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the business oligarch and leader of the right-wing regime installed by the Western powers in Kiev, set the tone for the summit. He urged the EU to take a tougher stance against Russia, which he accused of “military aggression and terror.”

“We are very close to the point of no return, the point of no return is full-scale war, which is already happening in the territories controlled by the separatists,” Poroshenko said at a news conference.

Standing alongside European Commission President Juan Manuel Barroso, Poroshenko alleged that Kiev still hoped for a political settlement of the conflict, but then painted a picture of war.

“We are too close to a border where there will be no return to the peace plan,” he said, claiming that since Wednesday, “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine, with a very high risk not only for the peace and stability of Ukraine but for the peace and stability of the whole of Europe.”

EU officials and European heads of state joined in the allegations and threats of war against Russia. British Prime Minister David Cameron described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply serious,” adding: “We have to show real resolve, real resilience in demonstrating to Russia that if she carries on in this way the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in future.”

Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, a NATO member, took an even more aggressive tone: “It is the fact that Russia is in a war state against Ukraine. That means it is in a state of war against a country which would like to be closely integrated with the EU. Practically Russia is in a state of war against Europe,” she said from the summit.

She demanded, “We need to support Ukraine, and send military materials to help Ukraine defend itself. Today Ukraine is fighting a war on behalf of all Europe.”

Assertions that Western politicians are merely reacting to a Russian aggression against Ukraine and now have to defend Europe against Russia are lies. This crisis has been instigated by the imperialist powers, above all Germany and the US, which organized a fascist-led coup against the pro-Russian Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Now the EU and NATO are collaborating closely with the puppet regime they installed to militarily crush pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine as part of their broader plan to encircle and ultimately subjugate Russia.

In comments cited by Russian news agencies, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the NATO powers, accusing them of supporting a “coup” in Ukraine in February.

“They should have known that Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot almost at point-blank range,” Putin said. Now, despite the fact that their political adventure is blowing up in their faces, the imperialist powers continue to seize upon the manufactured crisis in Ukraine to ratchet up tensions with Russia.

Echoing Poroshenko’s comment by saying that Russia was pushing the conflict in Ukraine toward “the point of no return,” Barroso threatened that European leaders would take new, tougher measures to make Moscow “come to reason.” The president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said that the European heads of state had agreed to take “further significant steps” if Russia did not back down within a week.

“Everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly given the evolution on the ground and the tragic loss of life of the last days,” Van Rompuy said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that further sanctions were needed, as “the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last few days,” and would be imposed “if this situation continues.” Despite her numerous phone calls with Putin, Merkel said she could not make “a final judgment” on his intentions and whether Putin seeks to take “further parts of the country under his control.” She said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily,” but indicated that other European countries might take a different stance on this issue.

There are signs that the factions in the imperialist governments that foresaw a Russian reaction to the Western provocations are increasingly taking the lead in pushing for a full-blown militarization of Europe and a possible war with Russia.

The current issue of the major German news magazine Der Spiegel published yesterday runs an article under the headline, “Level 4.” It states that the “hardline faction within NATO is on the rise” and insists that “they want much more than economic sanctions.”

Der Spiegel writes, “Poland and the Baltic States promote a demonstrative break with Moscow, and they are receiving increasing support. Canada, which hosts over one million people of Ukrainian descent, has now taken their side. ‘Diplomacy is reaching its limits in the face of continued Russian aggression,’ said even the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn. ‘The question is posed, if there can be any diplomatic solution with Putin at all.’ Several Eastern European governments are coming to similar conclusions.”

On Friday, the Financial Times reported that seven NATO states plan the creation of a new so called “rapid reaction force” of at least 10,000 soldiers as part of plans to strengthen NATO. The force would be led by Britain. Countries involved include Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands. Canada has also expressed an interest. According to the FT, the force includes air and naval units as well as ground troops for rapid deployment and regular exercises in Eastern Europe. Cameron is expected to announce the creation of the force coinciding with the upcoming NATO summit in Wales later this week.

On Sunday, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) newspaper led with the headline, “NATO goes east: military bases, armament depots and intervention forces,” reporting that NATO plans to deploy five bases in Eastern Europe. At each base in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Poland, up to 600 servicemen will be stationed.

The paper also reports that more soldiers will be stationed at the regional NATO headquarters in Stettin, Poland, which is currently led by Germany, Poland and Denmark. In “case of emergency,” it will host 60,000 troops. The FAS writes that these plans are part of a “readiness action” plan to be discussed in detail at the summit. It brands Russia as a “threat to Euro-Atlantic security.”

Since the crisis began, the most aggressive elements within NATO, which are close to Washington and especially to the neo-conservative faction within the American ruling elite, have sought to transform the NATO into an anti-Russian alliance and place Europe on a permanent war footing against Russia. This is now happening with breathtaking speed.

In another landmark decision, European leaders decided that Polish prime minister Donald Tusk will succeed Van Rompuy on December 1. The British Guardian described him as “a leading EU hawk on the Kremlin and the crisis in Ukraine,” stressing that “Poland has been leading the campaign for a more energetic anti-Putin and pro-Ukraine policy.“

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 1 September 2014, and was republished with permission.

woensdag 13 augustus 2014

Premier Mark Rutte, gemangeld tussen de grootmachten

De Nederlandse minister-president Mark Rutte en de Amerikaanse president Barack Obama tijdens de Nuclear Security Summit 2014 (NSS). Foto: Flickr Minister-President

Op 21 juli 2014 maakte de Nederlandse minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Frans Timmermans in de VN Veiligheidsraad grote indruk bij de stemming van resolutie 2166 over de ramp met vlucht MH17 waarbij 298 mensen omkwamen, waaronder 195 Nederlanders. “Nederland is bereid om in nauwe samenwerking met de betreffende landen, de Verenigde Naties en de ICAO[1], de leiding op zich te nemen in het onderzoek[2] naar de oorzaak van de tragedie. “Ik ben mij bewust van onze verantwoordelijkheid,” aldus de zichtbaar aangeslagen minister, die de Veiligheidsraad nadrukkelijk wees op haar verantwoordelijkheid om zo nodig aanvullende maatregelen te treffen om “de veiligheid en beveiliging van de rampplek en de internationale onderzoekers” te waarborgen. Vervolgens werd de resolutie met eenparigheid aangenomen.

Timmermans mag dan “buitengewoon intelligent [en] eloquent” zijn, erg doortastend is hij in het onderzoek naar de oorzaak niet geweest. De zwarte dozen werden door de “rebellen” geborgen en overgedragen aan de Maleisische delegatie die ze vervolgens naar een laboratorium in het Verenigd Koninkrijk stuurde. Waren het niet de “rebellen” die het Nederlandse onderzoek bemoeilijkten, dan staken de troepen van Kiev wel stokken in het wiel. Op 11 augustus, vier weken na de ramp, zei onderzoeksleider Kees Kuijs in het Nederlandse TV-programma Nieuwsuur dat zijn team zich had beperkt tot een zoektocht naar stoffelijke resten en persoonlijke spullen, en niet had gezocht naar de oorzaak van de ramp. De rebellen zouden dat van ons niet geaccepteerd hebben, en al evenmin van een team van de Nederlandse Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid (OVV), aldus een weinig overtuigende Kuijs.

Geen bezoek aan crashsite, onderzoekers terug in Nederland

In een recent persbericht zegt de OVV dat een internationaal team de afgelopen weken informatie heeft verzameld en “over enkele weken” voorlopige bevindingen zal publiceren op basis van de zwarte dozen, gegevens van de verkeersleiding, radarbeelden en eventueel satellietfoto’s. Het team is naar Den Haag teruggekeerd en “om daar verder te werken.” Blijkbaar is het OVV-team wegens “de verslechterde veiligheidssituatie in Oost Oekraïne” nooit op de crashsite geweest en keerde het naar Den Haag terug op grond van een “besluit van het kabinet.” Men roept opnieuw de problematische veiligheidssituatie in om aan te geven dat het onzeker is of “de gegevens aangevuld kunnen worden met verder [forensisch-technisch] onderzoek op de crashsite.” Of men de informatie van “enkele onderzoekers onder leiding van Oekraïne [die] kort op de crashsite [zijn] geweest” meeneemt in de rapportering blijft onvermeld.

Het eerdere kort bericht van de OVV is een soort functiebeschrijving. Het onderzoek moet de toedracht achterhalen. Dat vergt een “grondig onderzoek” naar “alle beschikbare informatie.” Hier lijkt het onderzoek te gaan falen: de “informatie” van de verkeersleiding in Kiev is eenzijdig, men spreekt niet specifiek over de opnames van de gesprekken tussen toren en MH17 (die zouden zijn “verdwenen”[3]), men blijkt geen boodschap te hebben aan de uitvoerige onderzoeksgegevens die Rusland ter beschikking heeft gesteld en doet geen beroep op de informatie die in Washington beschikbaar moet zijn van spionagesatellieten die boven het oorlogsgebied hingen en de Amerikaanse vloot die op manoeuvres in de Zwarte Zee het oorlogsgebied nauwlettend in de gaten hield.

Van een serieus onderzoek komt weinig in huis

Alles duidt erop dat Nederland wordt tegengewerkt. Resolutie 2166 geeft Nederland een scala van drukmiddelen. Het had, zoals door Moskou gesuggereerd, een tweede resolutie kunnen afdwingen voor een staakt-het-vuren rond de crashzone, idealiter gewaarborgd door gewapende blauwhelmen. Het had Oekraïne kunnen aanzetten het Internationaal Strafhof (ICC) in Den Haag de verdachten te laten vervolgen. Maar voor zover bekend is van een Nederlands initiatief geen sprake. Van een serieus onafhankelijk onderzoek zoals destijds in Lockerbie zal nog weinig in huis komen: de wapenstilstand rond het rampgebied, die toch al niet werd nageleefd, werd 7 augustus door het regime in Kiev opgezegd, waarna het Oekraïense leger de crashsite probeert te veroveren “om de toegang van de onderzoekers tot de rampplek te waarborgen.” Maar voor Kiev staat de uitkomst bij voorbaat vast: Rusland is schuldig.

In Maleisië wordt daar blijkbaar anders over gedacht. Een artikel in het aan de overheid gelieerde blad New Straits Times (NST) wijst op onderzoeksjournalist Robert Parry die meent dat vlucht MH17 is neergehaald door een Oekraïens gevechtsvliegtuig. Parry citeert een TV-interview met de Oekraïens-Canadese OSCE-onderzoeker Michael Bociurkiw, die met enkele collega’s als eerste bij het nog smeulende wrak arriveerde. Sommige wrakstukken waren doorzeefd met wat leek op inslagen van zware automatische wapens en toonden ook gaten die wijzen op de inslag van een raket vol flechettes, aldus Bociurkiw. Het NST-artikel vormt een zware aanklacht tegen de Oekraïense regering, maar ook tegen Washington, Berlijn en de EU. Die hebben februari dit jaar het regime in Kiev na een door fascisten geleide putsch aan de macht gebracht. Dat zet geheime agenten en huurlingen in die de fascistische milities en eenheden van de Nationale Gardes aansturen die vechten in Oost-Oekraïne waar MH17 werd neergeschoten. Het zijn zij die een explosieve militaire confrontatie met het nucleair bewapende Rusland zoeken.

Opbod aan economische sancties

Dat de wereld Moskou onmiddellijk en luidkeels schuldig verklaart aan het neerhalen van MH17 ligt in het verlengde van de stroom kritiek op Rusland en president Poetin van de afgelopen jaren, denk aan Pussy Riot, de homowetgeving en Sochi. Die kritiek is onderdeel van een strijd rond zaken als het asiel voor klokkenluider Edward Snowden en het blokkeren van het Westerse plan om de Syrische president Assad ten val te brengen, waarmee er na Irak en Libië een abrupt einde kwam aan de geplande regimewissels in het Midden-Oosten. De aanhechting van de Krim bij Rusland, de beweerde Russische steun aan opstandelingen in Oost-Oekraïne en nu het neerhalen van MH17 waar Rusland verantwoordelijk wordt gesteld, dat alles heeft geleid tot een opbod aan economische sancties. Deze beginnende handelsoorlog doet de VS nauwelijks pijn en Rusland kan tegen een stootje. Maar het is vooral de EU die lijdt onder de Russische tegenmaatregelen.

Zeven op de tien Nederlandse bedrijven kunnen zich vinden in de sancties tegen Rusland “vanwege de inlijving van de Krim en het neerhalen van vlucht MH17[4].” Dat blijkt uit een enquête[5] onder 743 Nederlandse ondernemingen, afgenomen in opdracht van het Nederlandse Financieele Dagblad (FD) juist voor de Russische tegenmaatregelen. De krant meldt wel dat de steekproef nauwelijks agrarische bedrijven bevatte, maar niet dat van de 126.000 Nederlandse bedrijven er slechts 4.000 exporteren naar Rusland. De headline van het FD-artikel dat “de meeste Nederlandse bedrijven” achter de sancties tegen Rusland staan verdient dus enige nuance. Nu over de schuldvraag rond MH17 niets zinnigs te zeggen valt bevreemdt het dat de krant niet wilde reageren op de vraag of het onderdeel “…en het neerhalen vorige maand van vlucht MH17” als zodanig aan de respondenten werd voorgelegd.

De dappere stemming in het mercantiele Nederland slaat om

Maar rond het afgelopen weekend sloeg de dappere stemming in Nederland plotseling om. “De aankondiging donderdag dat Rusland een boycot wil van land- en tuinbouwproducten uit de Europese Unie en de Verenigde Staten, kwam in Nederland hard aan,” zo blokletterde het Financieele Dagblad (FD). “De vrees bestaat dat het politieke conflict rond Oekraïne zal leiden tot een langdurige importstop, met grote financiële gevolgen voor boeren en tuinders,” aldus het FD. Nu de tegensancties het o zo mercantiele Nederland blijkbaar veel pijn doen moet worden afgewacht of van Nederland nog veel steun mag worden verwacht bij een verdere escalatie van de handelsoorlog met Rusland. Maar het is wel zeker dat premier Rutte niet “de onderste steen” rond MH17 mag boven krijgen, en zijn verplichtingen jegens “de onschuldige slachtoffers en hun nabestaanden” moeten wegvallen tegen de belangen van het Westen in de mondiale strijd om de macht.

[2] §3 van de resolutie: “Supports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines
[3] In een interview met de New Straits Times wijst de Oekraïense ambassadeur in Maleisië Ihor Humennyi berichten als zouden de bandopnames in beslag genomen zijn door de Oekraïense geheime dienst SBU van de hand. “Daar is geen enkel bewijs voor. Ik lees dat enkel in de kranten,” aldus de ambassadeur.
[4] Het FD, noch TNS Nipo dat de enquête uitvoerde, wilde reageren op de vraag of het tendentieuze onderdeel "... en het neerhalen vorige maand van vlucht MH17" (er is immers niets bekend over de toedracht) als zodanig was vermeld in een vraag aan de respondenten
[5] Ondernemerspeil, een maandelijkse enquête uitgevoerd door TNS Nipo voor het Financieele Dagblad