— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for December, 2012

The War in Syria: Foreign Fighters and Sectarian Divisions

Over the past months, I have oftentimes spoken about the numerous foreign fighters active in Syria. Now, Jason Ditz details on the website AntiWar that a “report by the UN says that rebel fighters have come from 29 countries, and are overwhelmingly Sunnis flocking to the nation to fight against the Alawite President Bashar Assad”.[1]  The Turco-U.S. and Saudi-Qatari axis has been providing support for activists bent on turning the conflict into sectarian battle between Sunni Muslim opposed to the Alawite rulers of the Syrian Republic. Ditz, in turn, relies on Reuter’s appropriately titled piece ‘Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria’. The authors, Justyna Pawlak and Stephanie Nebehay state that the “deepened sectarian divisions in Syria may diminish prospects for post-conflict reconciliation even if President Bashar al-Assad is toppled. And the influx of foreign fighters raises the risk of the war spilling into neighbouring countries”.[2]  Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon now do really appear to be in the firing line. Turkey’s long-standing conflict with the PKK could get a shot in the arm by the Kurdish fighters in Syria and the stance taken by the neighbouring KRG. Iraq, on the other hand, is experiencing its own tensions between Shi’ite and Sunni elements, Arab and Kurdish leaders against the backdrop of the unevenly divided oil wealth underground. Lebanon has been a powder keg for years and any spark could trigger a new civil war or power struggle. And then there is Israel and the Palestinians who are also being sucked into the fight.

UN human rights investigators led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro have now stated that the “battles between government forces and anti-government armed groups [now] approach the end of their second year, [and currently, ] the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature”.[3]  According to some, such as the outspoken critic Sibel Edmonds and the investigative Voltaire Network‘s Thierry Meyssan, the whole struggle against Assad has been an orchestrated affair from the very beginning with outside players, like the Sunni states Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey overtly and/or covertly supporting a U.S.-led agenda to effect regime change in Syria. After two years of a primarily undecided armed confrontation, the true colours of the “foreign” forces at work against secular and Alawite-led Baath regime in Syria are beginning to shine through. Karen Abuzayd, a member of the group of UN human rights investigators, characterises the anti-Assad foreign fighters in the following way: “They come from all over, Europe and America, and especially the neighbouring countries”.[4]  Conversely, the Baath regime is also able to count on some supporters: the report notes that ‘the Lebanese Shia group, Hezbollah . . . confirmed that group members were in Syria fighting on behalf of Assad’, while ‘reports of Iraqi Shia coming to fight [in Syria have also been heard, while] . . . Iran, a close ally of Assad, confirmed in September [2012] that its Revolutionary Guards were in Syria providing assistance’.[5]

[1] Jason Ditz, “UN: Syria’s Rebels Come From 29 Countries” AntiWar (20 Dec 2012). http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/20/un-syrias-rebels-come-from-29-countries/.

[2] Justyna Pawlak and Stephanie Nebehay, “Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria” The Independent (20 September 2012). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/foreign-fighters-fuel-the-sectarian-flames-in-syria-8427986.html.

[3] Justyna Pawlak and Stephanie Nebehay, “Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria”.

[4] Justyna Pawlak and Stephanie Nebehay, “Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria”.

[5] Justyna Pawlak and Stephanie Nebehay, “Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria”.

Newtown vs Al-Majala: Drone Strikes in Context

“For more than five years, Brandon Bryant worked in an oblong, windowless container about the size of a trailer, where the air-conditioning was kept at 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) and, for security reasons, the door couldn’t be opened. Bryant and his coworkers sat in front of 14 computer monitors and four keyboards. When Bryant pressed a button in New Mexico, someone died on the other side of the world.

The container is filled with the humming of computers. It’s the brain of a drone, known as a cockpit in Air Force parlance. But the pilots in the container aren’t flying through the air. They’re just sitting at the controls.”

Innocent women and children were killed by drone strikes in the al-Majala region of Yemen. The United States is responsible for a very high number of innocent civilian deaths from drone strikes; a soldier wracked with guilt told his story of dehumanizing rationalization after killing a child. The senseless deaths of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut devastated the nation, causing President Obama to cry openly for them. Why are children in places like Yemen or Pakistan not mourned? Cenk Uygur discusses the disparity (19 Dec 2012).

The report Living under Drones, quoted by Cenk Uygur, was earlier this year the subject of another post of mine: “Since 2004, up to 884 innocent civilians, including at least 176 children, have died from US drone strikes in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. A new report from the Stanford and New YorkUniversity law schools finds drone use has caused widespread post-tramatic stress disorder and an overall breakdown of functional society in North Waziristan. In addition, the report finds the use of a “double tap” procedure, in which a drone strikes once and strikes again not long after, has led to deaths of rescuers and medical professionals”.[1]

[1] “Living under Drones: Stanford-NYU and Brave New Films” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (10 October 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/living-under-drones-stanford-nyu-and-brave-new-films/.

Turkey-Syria Update: Panetta, Robert Ford and Francis Ricciardone

‘US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed Friday [, 14 Dec] at the Incirlik air base in Turkey that hosts US troops, as part of a tour that has also taken him to Afghanistan and Kuwait. The visit by the US defence chief comes a week after NATO approved Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles to defend its border with its war-torn neighbour Syria. A report in the New York Times on Friday said that the US plans to send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 personnel to Turkey’.[1]

‘The Times said the move is part of a larger effort to beef up Turkey’s defenses as the civil war in neighboring Syria grows more violent, with another four Patriot batteries expected to be supplied by Germany and the Netherlands. The report comes after US officials said Syria launched a number of Scud missiles in recent days, and amid heightened fears that it could resort to using its vast chemical weapons arsenal against advancing rebels. Turkey has strongly backed the 21-month-old rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but fears he could lash out against it in desperation if the conflict grinds on. US officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the Times report’.[2]

How will stationing these Patriots on the Turco-Syrian border affect the actions of either the Assad forces or the “rebel” (read ‘terrorist’) FSA???  And what would be the likelihood of the conflict spilling over into Turkish territory???  One of the main U.S. actors in this conflict, Ambassador Robert Ford, also made a brief appearance on Turkish soil on that same Friday, the 14th: Robert Stephen Ford flew in from Damascus to meet with the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara, Francis Ricciardone. Together these men reiterated the U.S. position that Assad has to go, nothing less will do.[3]  According to Hürriyet’s Zeynep Şafak, Robert Ford stated that Assad does not shy away from killing his own people and that his swift exit from the scene would be desirable, the sooner the better, as it seems clear that he is in no position to win the on-going conflict. Ford added that up to 210 million U.S. $ have so far been deployed, in conjunction with the United Nation, the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent, to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.[4]

Ambassador Ford’s propagandistic statement ring particularly hollow against the backdrop of atrocities committed by the Western-backed FSA and other opposition forces. Here is, for example, a report filed by the generally anti-Assad Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera: ‘In Syria, Al Jazeera has visited a village in Idlib province which was once home to the Alawite community, the sect of President Bashar al-Assad. They fled when opposition forces pushed into their territory, the fighters say the Alawites have been working with the government, and have blood on their hands as well. Zeina Khodr reports from the IdlibProvince inside Syria (16 Dec 2012)’.

[1] “U.S. Defense Secretary visits Turkey’s İncirlik base” AFP (14 Dec 2012). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/us-defense-secretary-visits-turkeys-incirlik-base.aspx?pageID=238&nID=36830&NewsCatID=338.

[2] “U.S. Defense Secretary visits Turkey’s İncirlik base”.

[3] Zeynep Şafak, “ABD Büyükelçileri konuştu” Hürriyet (14 December 2012). http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/22160574.aspç

[4] Zeynep Şafak, “ABD Büyükelçileri konuştu”.

Egypt Constitution Vote

‘As the first round of voting on Egypt’s new draft constitution came to a close, the Muslim Brotherhood claims a majority vote of approval (16 Dec 2012)’.

Breaking the Set: The Untold History of the US | Interview with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

‘Abby Martin sits down with three-time academy award winning filmmaker, Oliver Stone and American University Professor and Historian, Peter Kuznick, to discuss their book and Showtime series The Untold History of the United States where they discuss historical revisionism of world events and the indoctrination that breeds American exceptionalism (12 Dec 2012)’.

On the website this can be read: ‘There is a classified America we were never meant to see. From Academy Award-winning writer/director Oliver Stone, this ten-part documentary series looks back at human events that at the time went under reported, but that crucially shaped America’s unique and complex history over the 20th century. From the atomic bombing of Japan to the Cold War and the fall of Communism, this in-depth, surprising, and totally riveting series demands to be watched again and again’.[1]

In The Nation, Jon Wiener writes that the “’’untold history’ here, which starts with World War II and ends with Obama, will not be unknown to readers of The Nation. Many of them already know that the Soviet Union defeated Hitler’s armies, not the United States; that Japan would have surrendered in August 1945 without the use of atomic bombs; that the United States has a long history of backing right-wing dictators around the world rather than supporting democratic movements. But many TV viewers are not Nation subscribers—at least that’s what I’ve been told—and even longtime readers of America’s oldest weekly will find plenty of provocative ideas here. Stone is quick to acknowledge that he is hardly the first to present this kind of alternative, critical view—his illustrious predecessors include, of course, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and also the bestselling Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. But neither of those historians ever had a ten-part series on cable television. Only Oliver Stone has the power to pull that off. If there are no conspiracy theories here, Stone also eschews another line of argument that many might expect from him: that the ruling class is all-powerful, that Wall Street—the subject of one of his most memorable films—controls everything, along with bankers and the corporate elite, leaving ordinary people helpless. The thesis of the Showtime series, as well as its companion volume, is different: that history is not an iron cage, the keys to which are held by the ruling class. At many pivotal moments, Stone argues, history could have taken a radically different course. The missed opportunities, the roads not taken—these are Stone’s central themes, which he argues with energy, passion and a mountain of evidence (the companion volume has eighty-nine pages of footnotes). Case number one: if Henry Wallace had won the vice presidential nomination in 1944, he would have become president when Roosevelt died in 1945, and we probably would not have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and could have avoided the cold war as well. It’s a startling and intriguing argument. Usually we teach about Wallace as the hopeless, left-wing third-party candidate of 1948, when he split from the Democrats and ran on the Progressive Party ticket. McCarthyism had already taken hold of American politics, and Wallace was redbaited into a crushing defeat. Four years earlier, however, the situation was very different: Wallace was Roosevelt’s incumbent vice president, and the Soviets were our allies. A Gallup poll in July 1944 asked likely Democratic voters whom they wanted on the ticket as veep. Sixty-five percent said Wallace, while Truman came in eighth, with just 2 percent. Roosevelt announced that, were he a delegate, he would vote for Wallace. Claude Pepper, a Democratic senator from Florida, tried to nominate Wallace at the convention, but the conservative party bosses, who opposed him, adjourned the proceedings. ‘Had Pepper made it five more feet [to the microphone] and nominated Wallace’, Stone argues, ‘Wallace would have become president in 1945 and . . there might have been no atomic bombings, no nuclear arms race, and no Cold War’. Case number two: even with Truman as president in 1945, it was not a foregone conclusion that the United States would drop the bomb. Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur both opposed it, along with most of the other top generals and admirals—and they were joined by many of the scientists who had developed the bomb. If only President Truman had listened to them. Case number three: if JFK had not been shot in 1963, Stone is convinced he would have pulled US forces out of Vietnam and negotiated an end to the cold war. Case number four: if George W. Bush had listened to his intelligence agencies in 2001, the 9/11 attacks would not have taken place. None of these hypotheticals, Stone claims, were impossible long shots or hopeless causes; every one of them could have happened. There’s plenty here to argue about— I debated with colleagues about the Wallace scenario for days—but that’s one of the things that make Stone’s work so engaging and rewarding”.[2]

Wiener indicates that, for years, “Kuznick taught a course at AmericanUniversity titled “Oliver Stone’s America.” Stone finally accepted an invitation to come to the class, and at a dinner afterward, he says, Kuznick told him the story of how close Wallace came to getting renominated as vice president in 1944. Stone says that’s what convinced him to do a history documentary for TV, and to ask Kuznick to be his co-author and partner on what would become a four-year project. There’s never been anything like it on television; the prevailing notions of American ‘altruism, benevolence, and self-sacrifice’ have never been challenged quite so effectively for such a wide audience”.[3]

[1] “About the Series” Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States. http://www.sho.com/sho/oliver-stones-untold-history-of-the-united-states/home.

[2] Jon Wiener, “Oliver Stone’s ‘Untold History’” The Nation (03 December 2012). http://www.thenation.com/article/171210/oliver-stones-untold-history#.

[3] Jon Wiener, “Oliver Stone’s ‘Untold History’”.

The Arab Awakening: The plan to destabilize Syria

A report by Thierry Meyssan, in which he describes the efforts put by certain western governments in an attempt to overthrow the political system in the country in assistance with their Arab agents in the region.

(22 August 2011)

At the same time, Haytham Manna, a spokesman for Syria’s National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, declared that “These people [Saudi mercenaries] are destroying Syria . . . Unfortunately, there are political players, such as Turkey, who allow them to invade Syria.[1]  The Russian news and information agency RIA Novosti concludes that ‘[s]everal Syrian opposition groups have contended for the opportunity to represent the anti-government movement in the struggle. However, an array of countries, including the European Union, have recognized only the Syrian National Council. Anti-government rebel forces have been locked into a protracted civil war with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The UN has estimated that nearly 40,000 have died since the fighting began in March 2011’.[2]

[1] “Syrian Opposition Accuses Turkey of Allowing Mercenaries” RIANovosti (28 November 2012). http://en.rian.ru/world/20121128/177799664.html.

[2] “Syrian Opposition Accuses Turkey of Allowing Mercenaries”.

Breaking the Set: 9/11 First Responders, US Funds Syrian Opposition, Food Stamps

‘On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, as the hero of the day for raising awareness of the 850,000 people in New Jersey who face hunger every day, and calls out white house advisor Bob Ryan for being the perfect example of the revolving door relationship between Washington and Wall Street Banks. Abby then talks to 9/11 first responder Michael McPhillips about the Zadroga Act and the delay to the funding that first responders not only need, but deserve. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Syrian Blogger, Mimi al Laham, about the civil war in Syria and how to break through the propaganda and misconceptions of the crisis’.