Gallery

War Chronicles in December 2015

[Publisher’s Note: AllBornEqualRights puts together yet another compilation of Western Media fantasies about the Dirty War in Syria. The failure of the western peace movement to mobilise and to oppose this and the wars leading up to it in Lybia stands out as both a weakness and a confusion about the region by the Left everywhere. The US one percent controls our finances, Russian oligarchs exploit the misery of people in Syria for their own strategic interests but the people remain silent as the Saudi caliphate expands northwards. Why?
Ian Curr, 21 Dec 2015.]

  1. Contrasting Opinions on Seymour (Sy) Hersh’s allegation that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) under General Dempsey undermined the official White House policy on Syria.
  2. UN Resolution on Syria – by TTG 19 Dec 2015
  3. Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it?
  4. The IMF Changes its Rules to Isolate China and Russia
  1. Talks About A “Political Transition” In Syria Are Not Serious – Yet
  2. Vladimir Putin Press Conference
  3. Aftermath of the Anatolian Ambush
  4. International Military Review
  5. Who Will End The Saudi’s Salman Embarrassment?
  6. The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again
  7.  NATO’s Got a Brand New (Syrian) Bag
  8. Military operations in preparation in and around Syria
  9. Afghanistan

    Dear Mr President – Specialist Smith was just daying that if we got the hell out of here right now, nobody would notice. Sent from my Blackberry

    What say do our elected representatives have in going to war?

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1. Several articles with contrasting opinions on what Seymour (Sy) Hersh has written:

Criticism Of Hersh’s New Piece Fails To Understand What Really Happened http://www.moonofalabama.org/ 21 Jan 2015

The latest Seymour Hersh piece alleges that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) under General Dempsey undermined the official White House policy on Syria. Their impetus to do so came after a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis found in 2012 that there were hardly any “moderate rebels” in Syria but only Islamists fighting against the Syrian state. The CIA was at least since early 2012 delivering weapons from Libya to Turkey as well as through other routes. The U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed on September 11 2012 in Benghazi over some issues with the weapon transfers. Once in Turkey those weapons, as well as plane loads of others purchased by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were given to “moderate rebels” who took them into Syria. There they sold off at least part of every weapon and ammunition haul to the Islamists terror gangs which were and are financed by the Wahhabi Gulf states. A new BBCRadio4 report by Peter Oborne explains in detail how that scheme works.

The JCS under Dempsey was quite disturbed that weapons transferred by the CIA were going to exactly those people they had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan just a few years ago. They decided, according to Hersh’s source, to undermine the White House’s and CIA’s regime-change program. They provided intelligence to Syria via Germany, Russia and Israel. They also convinced the CIA that it was preferable to give away very old weapons that could be sourced in Turkey instead of newer but more difficult to transport weapons from Libya. As Hersh writes:

‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

And Hersh on the weapon dealing:

By the late summer of 2013, the DIA’s assessment had been circulated widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for Assad’s army. Gaddafi’s stockpile had created an international arms bazaar, though prices were high. ‘There was no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president,’ the JCS adviser said. ‘The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdoğan,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’

The JCS, according to Hersh, was undermining its Commander in Chief. That is, arguably, treason but U.S. history is full of examples where the military chiefs were pushing into a very different direction than their civil commanders. Trueman versus Douglas MacArthur is just one example. Think of the closing of the Guantanamo prison which the military is actively preventing for seven years now despite Obama’s promise, demand and order to shut Gitmo down.

Max Fisher, a critic of Hersh not known for factual quality journalism, claims that the Hersh account must be false because Dempsey was not against weaponizing the insurgents but even publicly asked to give them weapons:

Hersh alleges that the mastermind of this entire conspiracy was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, whom Hersh says was horrified by Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels and sought to aid Assad. This claim is difficult to believe: While in office, Dempseyfamously and publicly clashed with Obama over Syria because Dempsey wanted to do more to arm Syrian rebels. Contemporaneous accounts of arguments within the White House support this, with Dempsey arguing the US should more robustly arm Syrian rebels, and Obama arguing for less.

Yet Hersh claims, with no evidence, that Dempsey was so opposed to arming Syrian rebels that he would commit an apparent act of treason to subvert those plans. Hersh makes no effort to reconcile this seemingly fatal contradiction, and indeed it is not clear Hersh is even aware that Dempsey is known for supporting rather than opposing efforts to arm the Syrian rebels.

Hersh is of course perfectly aware what Dempsey said and thought in early 2013. The one not aware is the critic.

Dempsey argued in early 2013 that the Pentagon should give weapons to a few carefully vetted rebels:

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels.

[D]id the Pentagon, Mr. McCain continued, support the recommendation by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus “that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?”

“We did,” Mr. Panetta said.

“You did support that,” Mr. McCain said.

“We did,” General Dempsey added.

The Pentagon plan was killed by the White House in favor of the ongoing CIA operation. This exchange then does not contradict but even supports the Hersh reporting. Let me explain the context.

By early 2013 Dempsey knew perfectly well that the CIA was supplying -directly or indirectly- everyone in Syria who asked for arms and ammunition. These weapons were going to the Jihadis who were simply the best financed groups. Because the CIA program was secret Dempsey of course could not say so in a public Congress hearing. But Dempsey wanted to give arms to “carefully vetted Syrian rebels” to replace the CIA program with a Pentagon program under his command. He would then have been able to direct the weapon flow and to prevent a further arming of the Islamist terrorists. Dempsey supported a Pentagon program arming the rebels so he could control the arming of the rebels that was already happening under a CIA program but was creating long term trouble.

When the hostile takeover of the CIA arming program failed, Dempsey and the JCS tried to sabotage it by providing old Turkish weapons to the CIA.

Only much later was the Pentagon allowed to run its own training program and to arm its own groups of Syrian rebels. But that program was running in parallel to the ongoing CIA program and was thereby useless for the purpose Dempsey had originally intended. It did not replace the dangerous CIA program. The Pentagon then sabotaged its own program by training only a few rebels and sending them into a Jihadi infested area where they promptly gave their arms up to Jabhat al-Nusra. This publicly proved Dempsey’s main critic point of the long running CIA program: any arms going into Syria ended up in the hands of long term U.S. enemies.

I understand that Hersh’s sourcing is rather weak. His main and sole direct source for the JCS story is a “former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs”. That could be a military or a civilian source. Colonel Pat Lang, one of Hersh’s named sources for other points in the piece, thinks the main source is real and the story true. Lang, who sometimes still consults the military, surely has enough insider connections to have a quite clear picture of this issue.

It is fine to criticize Hersh. His reporting often relies on anonymous sources. But throughout his career Hersh’s reporting was proven right more often than his critics criticism of it. Here the criticism of Hersh relies on a small tunnel vision of what Dempsey claimed he wanted in a public hearing without regard of the context of Dempsey’s claim. Dempsey wanted to replace the then still secret CIA arming program that the DIA and other parts of the military had rightly found to be on a very dangerous path.

The Pentagon under Dempsey, fearing the CIA was repeating old errors, was turf fighting against the CIA under neocon Petraeus and later under the great friend of Saudi Arabia John Brennan. Unfortunately the White House backed the CIA and thereby, more or less willfully, allied with the Islamic State and the other assorted Jihadi organizations (pdf) in Syria.

Posted by b at 01:59 PM

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http://www.vox.com/2015/12/21/10634002/seymour-hersh-syria-joint-chiefs

Seymour Hersh’s bizarre new conspiracy theory about the US and Syria, explained

The investigative journalist says Pentagon leaders conducted a secret alliance with Assad and Putin to undermine Obama.

Updated by Max Fisher on December 21, 2015,

(This is the last part of Max Fisher’s article:)
Why I have a very difficult time believing Hersh’s claims here

You should read, consider, and evaluate the story on your own. But for whatever it’s worth, here are, to my eye, a few reasons why I find this story top-to-bottom very difficult to believe:

1) The fatal flaw at the heart of the story

Hersh alleges that the mastermind of this entire conspiracy was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, whom Hersh says was horrified by Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels and sought to aid Assad. This claim is difficult to believe: While in office, Dempseyfamously and publicly clashed with Obama over Syria because Dempsey wanted to domore to arm Syrian rebels. Contemporaneous accounts of arguments within the White House support this, with Dempsey arguing the US should more robustly arm Syrian rebels, and Obama arguing for less.

Yet Hersh claims, with no evidence, that Dempsey was so opposed to arming Syrian rebels that he would commit an apparent act of treason to subvert those plans. Hersh makes no effort to reconcile this seemingly fatal contradiction, and indeed it is not clear Hersh is even aware that Dempsey is known for supporting rather than opposing efforts to arm the Syrian rebels.

2) The lack of any proof whatsoever

Hersh provides no proof of any kind, other than quotes from one anonymous “former adviser.” Hersh does not bother to establish why this adviser would have such information.

3) The story is fundamentally at odds with reality as we know it

The story on its face is so implausible that one struggles to imagine it unfolding even in a pulp Tom Clancy novel or on an episode of 24. It alleges that many or all (it is unclear) members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top of American military leadership, conspired jointly to undermine their own president’s foreign policy and secretly ally America with its adversaries. The claim would go against everything we know about how the military leadership works, and would demand us to radically transform how we see the relationship between the US military and the US government — all despite the fact that there is no apparent precedent for such a conspiracy.

We are required to believe that the senior-most leaders of our military one day in 2013 decided to completely transform how they behave and transgress every norm they have in a mass act of treason, despite never having done so before, and then promptly went back to normal this September when Dempsey retired. Hersh is asking an awful lot of us, and he’s giving us little reason to trust him here except for his word. Given that the bulk of his stories for the past five to 10 years have also made bizarre claims that have never been substantiated, it is difficult to go out on a limb for him once more.

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Sy Hersh article on the JCS, the Borg and Syria (by Patrick Lang at Turkopolier blog)

“The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.” Sy Hersh

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Patrick Lang added: “You will probably be surprised but I am not.  George Marshall abstained from telling FDR a variety of things in spite of his friendship with the president.  He believed FDR was too likely to tell real secrets to his political cronies to be told everything.”

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n01/seymour-m-hersh/military-to-military

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2. UN Resolution on Syria – by TTG 19 Dec 2015

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2015/12/un-resolution-on-syria-ttg.html

Earlier this week many here wondered if Kerry went off the reservation when he announced that the US was no longer seeking regime change and the removal of Assad in Syria. If Nuland sought to take back Kerry’s words and make him eat crow again, she failed. Kerry chaired a meeting of the UNSC to discuss and vote on a new peace plan

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The Council called for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN to establish within six months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote. It acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, with the former to come into effect as soon as the sides have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices.  (UN News Centre)

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The resolution came after Russia and the United States clinched a deal on a text. The two powers have had very different views on what should happen in Syria, where Islamic State militants control considerable territory that Western governments suspect has been a launch pad for attacks on Western nations and Russia. Kerry made clear that there were still differences on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Russia and Iran who Western countries want ousted. “We are under no illusions about the obstacles that exist. There obviously remain sharp differences within the international community, especially about the future of President Assad,” Kerry added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said about the resolution: “This is a clear response to attempts to impose a solution from the outside on Syrians on any issues, including those regarding its president.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the talks between the Syrian government and opposition would only succeed if there were credible guarantees on Assad’s departure. There must be “guarantees on the departure of Bashar al-Assad,” he said. “How could this man unite a people that he has in part massacred? The idea that he could once again stand for elections is unacceptable to us.”

The resolution does not touch on the question of Assad’s fate. (Reuters)

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It is clear to me that Kerry is deliberately working with Lavrov to seek a sensible solution to the mess in Syria and that Obama is, at a minimum, letting him do so. Sure the bands of howler monkeys are still in the trees raising a ruckus and flinging their poo, but the big boys led by Lavrov are ignoring this annoyance. They are trying to create the conditions necessary for the return of the great purple assed mandrill of peace.

The R+6 will continue to shape the situation on the ground in Syria as they shape the political discussions at the UN. Iran has decided to unify its stance on Assad with Russia. They are not saying Assad must stay, but that the question is up to the Syrian people. This is the position even Assad seems to accept judging by this interview with a Dutch news show. As you watch the interview take special note of Assad’s comments at the twelve minute mark when the interviewer told him of Kerry’s new position on the “Assad must go” question and that the French now see him as part of the solution. Such mirth and sarcasm cannot be going over too well among the witches of Nuland’s coven. Good.

TTG

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3. Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it?

By David Graeber, 19 Nov 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/profile/david-graeber

— Western leaders could destroy Islamic State by calling on Erdoğan to end his attacks on Kurdish forces in Syria and Turkey and allow them to fight Isis on the ground —

In the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, we can expect western heads of state to do what they always do in such circumstances: declare total and unremitting war on those who brought it about. They don’t actually mean it. They’ve had the means to uproot and destroy Islamic State within their hands for over a year now. They’ve simply refused to make use of it. In fact, as the world watched leaders making statements of implacable resolve at the G20 summit in Antalaya, these same leaders are hobnobbing with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man whose tacit political, economic, and even military support contributed to Isis’s ability to perpetrate the atrocities in Paris, not to mention an endless stream of atrocities inside the Middle East.

How could Isis be eliminated? In the region, everyone knows. All it would really take would be to unleash the largely Kurdish forces of the YPG (Democratic Union party) in Syria, and PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ party) guerillas in Iraq and Turkey. These are, currently, the main forces actually fighting Isis on the ground. They have proved extraordinarily militarily effective and oppose every aspect of Isis’s reactionary ideology.

But instead, YPG-controlled territory in Syria finds itself placed under a total embargo by Turkey, and PKK forces are under continual bombardment by the Turkish air force. Not only has Erdoğan done almost everything he can to cripple the forces actually fighting Isis; there is considerable evidence that his government has been at least tacitly aiding Isis itself.

It might seem outrageous to suggest that a Nato member like Turkey would in any way support an organisation that murders western civilians in cold blood. That would be like a Nato member supporting al-Qaida. But in fact there is reason to believe that Erdoğan’s government does support the Syrian branch of al-Qaida (Jabhat al-Nusra) too, along with any number of other rebel groups that share its conservative Islamist ideology. The Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University has compiled a long list of evidence of Turkish support for Isis in Syria.

How has Erdoğan got away with this? Mainly by claiming those fighting Isis are ‘terrorists’ themselves

And then there are Erdoğan’s actual, stated positions. Back in August, the YPG, fresh from their victories in Kobani and Gire Spi, were poised to seize Jarablus, the last Isis-held town on the Turkish border that the terror organisation had been using to resupply its capital in Raqqa with weapons, materials, and recruits – Isis supply lines pass directly through Turkey.

Commentators predicted that with Jarablus gone, Raqqa would soon follow.Erdoğan reacted by declaring Jarablus a “red line”: if the Kurds attacked, his forces would intervene militarily – against the YPG. So Jarablus remains in terrorist hands to this day, under de facto Turkish military protection.

How has Erdoğan got away with this? Mainly by claiming those fighting Isis are “terrorists” themselves. It is true that the PKK did fight a sometimes ugly guerilla war with Turkey in the 1990s, which resulted in it being placed on the international terror list. For the last 10 years, however, it has completely shifted strategy, renouncing separatism and adopting a strict policy of never harming civilians. The PKK was responsible for rescuing thousands of Yazidi civilians threatened with genocide by Isis in 2014, and its sister organisation, the YPG, of protecting Christian communities in Syria as well. Their strategy focuses on pursuing peace talks with the government, while encouraging local democratic autonomy in Kurdish areas under the aegis of the HDP, originally a nationalist political party, which has reinvented itself as a voice of a pan-Turkish democratic left.
They have proved extraordinarily militarily effective and with their embrace of grassroots democracy and women’s rights, oppose every aspect of Isis’ reactionary ideology. In June, HDP success at the polls denied Erdoğan his parliamentary majority. Erdoğan’s response was ingenious. He called for new elections, declared he was “going to war” with Isis, made one token symbolic attack on them and then proceeded to unleash the full force of his military against PKK forces in Turkey and Iraq, while denouncing the HDP as “terrorist supporters” for their association with them.

There followed a series of increasingly bloody terrorist bombings inside Turkey – in the cities of Diyarbakir, Suruc, and, finally, Ankara – attacks attributed to Isis but which, for some mysterious reason, only ever seemed to target civilian activists associated with the HDP. Victims have repeatedly reported police preventing ambulances evacuating the wounded, or even opening fire on survivors with tear gas.

As a result, the HDP gave up even holding political rallies in the weeks leading up to new elections in November for fear of mass murder, and enough HDP voters failed to show up at the polls that Erdoğan’s party secured a majority in parliament.

The exact relationship between Erdoğan’s government and Isis may be subject to debate; but of some things we can be relatively certain. Had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on Isis territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria, let alone shown the same sort of “benign neglect” towards the PKK and YPG that they have been offering to Isis, that blood-stained “caliphate” would long since have collapsed – and arguably, the Paris attacks may never have happened. And if Turkey were to do the same today, Isis would probably collapse in a matter of months. Yet, has a single western leader called on Erdoğan to do this?

The next time you hear one of those politicians declaring the need to crack down on civil liberties or immigrant rights because of the need for absolute “war” against terrorism bear all this in mind. Their resolve is exactly as “absolute” as it is politically convenient. Turkey, after all, is a “strategic ally”. So after their declaration, they (i.e. your politicians) are likely to head off to share a friendly cup of tea with the very man who makes it possible for Isis to continue to exist (ie. Erdogan).

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  1. The IMF Changes its Rules to Isolate China and Russia

by MICHAEL HUDSON, 18 Dec 2015

Few have calculated the degree to which America’s New Cold War with Russia is creating a reaction that is tearing up the world’s linkages put in place since World War II

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/the-imf-changes-its-rules-to-isolate-china-and-russia/

The nightmare scenario of U.S. geopolitical strategists seems to be coming true: foreign economic independence from U.S. control. Instead of privatizing and neoliberalizing the world under U.S.-centered financial planning and ownership, the Russian and Chinese governments are investing in neighboring economies on terms that cement Eurasian economic integration on the basis of Russian oil and tax exports and Chinese financing. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) threatens to replace the IMF and World Bank programs that favor U.S. suppliers, banks and bondholders (with the United States holding unique veto power).

Russia’s 2013 loan to Ukraine, made at the request of Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian government, demonstrated the benefits of mutual trade and investment relations between the two countries. As Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov points out, Ukraine’s “international reserves were barely enough to cover three months’ imports, and no other creditor was prepared to lend on terms acceptable to Kiev. Yet Russia provided $3 billion of much-needed funding at a 5 per cent interest rate, when Ukraine’s bonds were yielding nearly 12 per cent.”[1]

What especially annoys U.S. financial strategists is that this loan by Russia’s sovereign debt fund was protected by IMF lending practice, which at that time ensured collectability by withholding new credit from countries in default of foreign official debts (or at least, not bargaining in good faith to pay). To cap matters, the bonds are registered under London’s creditor-oriented rules and courts.

On December 3 (one week before the IMF changed its rules so as to hurt Russia), Prime Minister Putin proposed that Russia “and other Eurasian Economic Union countries should kick-off consultations with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a possible economic partnership.”[2] Russia also is seeking to build pipelines to Europe through friendly instead of U.S.-backed countries.

Moving to denominate their trade and investment in their own currencies instead of dollars, China and Russia are creating a geopolitical system free from U.S. control. After U.S. officials threatened to derange Russia’s banking linkages by cutting it off from the SWIFT interbank clearing system, China accelerated its creation of the alternative China International Payments System (CIPS), with its own credit card system to protect Eurasian economies from the shrill threats made by U.S. unilateralists.

Russia and China are simply doing what the United States has long done: using trade and credit linkages to cement their geopolitical diplomacy. This tectonic geopolitical shift is a Copernican threat to New Cold War ideology: Instead of the world economy revolving around the United States (the Ptolemaic idea of America as “the indispensible nation”), it may revolve around Eurasia. As long as the global financial papacy remains grounded in Washington at the offices of the IMF and World Bank, such a shift in the center of gravity will be fought with all the power of the American Century (indeed, American Millennium) inquisition.

Imagine the following scenario five years from now. China will have spent half a decade building high-speed railroads, ports power systems and other construction for Asian and African countries, enabling them to grow and export more. These exports will be coming on line to repay the infrastructure loans. Also, suppose that Russia has been supplying the oil and gas energy needed for these projects.

To U.S. neocons this specter of AIIB government-to-government lending and investment creates fear of a world independent of U.S. control. Nations would mint their own money and hold each other’s debt in their international reserves instead of borrowing or holding dollars and subordinating their financial planning to the IMF and U.S. Treasury with their demands for monetary bloodletting and austerity for debtor countries. There would be less need for foreign government to finance budget shortfalls by selling off their key public infrastructure privatizing their economies. Instead of dismantling public spending, the AIIB and a broader Eurasian economic union would do what the United States itself practices, and seek self-sufficiency in basic needs such as food, technology, banking, credit creation and monetary policy.

With this prospect in mind, suppose an American diplomat meets with the leaders of debtors to China, Russia and the AIIB and makes the following proposal: “Now that you’ve got your increased production in place, why repay? We’ll make you rich if you stiff our New Cold War adversaries and turn to the West. We and our European allies will help you assign the infrastructure to yourselves and your supporters, and give these assets market value by selling shares in New York and London. Then, you can spend your surpluses in the West.”

How can China or Russia collect in such a situation? They can sue. But what court will recognize their claim – that is, what court that the West would pay attention to?

That is the kind of scenario U.S. State Department and Treasury officials have been discussing for more than a year. The looming conflict was made immediate by Ukraine’s $3 billion debt to Russia falling due by December 20, 2015. Ukraine’s U.S.-backed regime has announced its intention to default. U.S. lobbyists have just changed the IMF rules to remove a critical lever on which Russia and other governments have long relied to enforce payment of their loans.

The IMF’s role as enforcer of inter-government debts

When it comes down to enforcing nations to pay inter-government debts, the International Monetary Fund and Paris Club hold the main leverage. As coordinator of central bank “stabilization” loans (the neoliberal euphemism for imposing austerity and destabilizing debtor economies, Greece-style), the IMF is able to withhold not only its own credit but also that of governments and global banks participating when debtor countries need refinancing. Countries that do not agree to privatize their infrastructure and sell it to Western buyers are threatened with sanctions, backed by U.S.-sponsored “regime change” and “democracy promotion” Maidan-style.

This was the setting on December 8, when Chief IMF Spokesman Gerry Rice announced: “The IMF’s Executive Board met today and agreed to change the current policy on non-toleration of arrears to official creditors.” The creditor leverage that the IMF has used is that if a nation is in financial arrears to any government, it cannot qualify for an IMF loan – and hence, for packages involving other governments. This has been the system by which the dollarized global financial system has worked for half a century. The beneficiaries have been creditors in US dollars.

In this U.S.-centered worldview, China and Russia loom as the great potential adversaries – defined as independent power centers from the United States as they create the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an alternative to NATO, and the AIIB as an alternative to the IMF and World Bank tandem. The very name, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, implies that transportation systems and other infrastructure will be financed by governments, not relinquished into private hands to become rent-extracting opportunities financed by U.S.-centered bank credit to turn the rent into a flow of interest payments.

The focus on a mixed public/private economy sets the AIIB at odds with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its aim of relinquishing government planning power to the financial and corporate sector for their own short-term gains, and above all the aim of blocking government’s money-creating power and financial regulation. Chief Nomura economist Richard Koo, explained the logic of viewing the AIIB as a threat to the US-controlled IMF: “If the IMF’s rival is heavily under China’s influence, countries receiving its support will rebuild their economies under what is effectively Chinese guidance, increasing the likelihood they will fall directly or indirectly under that country’s influence.”[3]

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov accused the IMF decision of being “hasty and biased.”[4] But it had been discussed all year long, calculating a range of scenarios for a long-term sea change in international law. The aim of this change is to isolate not only Russia, but even more China in its role as creditor to African countries and prospective AIIB borrowers. U.S. officials walked into the IMF headquarters in Washington with the legal equivalent of financial suicide vests, having decided that the time had come to derail Russia’s ability to collect on its sovereign loan to Ukraine, and of even larger import, China’s plan for a New Silk Road integrating a Eurasian economy independent of U.S. financial and trade control. Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the NATO-oriented Atlantic Council, points out:

The IMF staff started contemplating a rule change in the spring of 2013 because nontraditional creditors, such as China, had started providing developing countries with large loans. One issue was that these loans were issued on conditions out of line with IMF practice. China wasn’t a member of the Paris Club, where loan restructuring is usually discussed, so it was time to update the rules.

The IMF intended to adopt a new policy in the spring of 2016, but the dispute over Russia’s $3 billion loan to Ukraine has accelerated an otherwise slow decision-making process.[5]

The Wall Street Journal concurred that the underlying motivation for changing the IMF’s rules was the threat that Chinese lending would provide an alternative to IMF loans and its demands for austerity. “IMF-watchers said the fund was originally thinking of ensuring China wouldn’t be able to foil IMF lending to member countries seeking bailouts as Beijing ramped up loans to developing economies around the world.”[6] In short, U.S. strategists have designed a policy to block trade and financial agreements organized outside of U.S. control and that of the IMF and World Bank in which it holds unique veto power.

The plan is simple enough. Trade follows finance, and the creditor usually calls the tune. That is how the United States has used the Dollar Standard to steer Third World trade and investment since World War II along lines benefiting the U.S. economy.

The cement of trade credit and bank lending is the ability of creditors to collect on the international debts being negotiated. That is why the United States and other creditor nations have used the IMF as an intermediary to act as “honest broker” for loan consortia. (“Honest broker” means in practice being subject to U.S. veto power.) To enforce its financial leverage, the IMF has long followed the rule that it will not sponsor any loan agreement or refinancing for governments that are in default of debts owed to other governments. However, as the afore-mentioned Aslund explains, the IMF could easily change its practice of not lending into [countries in official] arrears … because it is not incorporated into the IMF Articles of Agreement, that is, the IMF statutes. The IMF Executive Board can decide to change this policy with a simple board majority. The IMF has lent to Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iraq in the midst of war, and Russia has no veto right, holding only 2.39 percent of the votes in the IMF. When the IMF has lent to Georgia and Ukraine, the other members of its Executive Board have overruled Russia.[7]

After the rules change, Aslund later noted, “the IMF can continue to give Ukraine loans regardless of what Ukraine does about its credit from Russia, which falls due on December 20. [8]

Inasmuch as Ukraine’s official debt to Russia’s sovereign debt fund was not to the U.S. Government, the IMF announced its rules change as a “clarification.” Its rule that no country can borrow if it is in default to (or not seriously negotiating with) a foreign government was created in the post-1945 world, and has governed the past seventy years in which the United States Government, Treasury officials and/or U.S. bank consortia have been party to nearly every international bailout or major loan agreement. What the IMF rule really meant was that it would not provide credit to countries in arrears specifically to the U.S. Government, not those of Russia or China.

Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, understood the IMF’s double standard clearly enough: “The Fund will give Kiev a new loan tranche on one condition that Ukraine should not pay Russia a dollar under its $3 billion debt. Legally, everything will be formalized correctly but they will oblige Ukraine to pay only to western creditors for political reasons.”[9] It remains up to the IMF board – and in the end, its managing director – whether or not to deem a country creditworthy. The U.S. representative naturally has always blocked any leaders not beholden to the United States.

The post-2010 loan packages to Greece are a notorious case in point. The IMF staff calculated that Greece could not possibly pay the balance that was set to bail out foreign banks and bondholders. Many Board members agreed (and subsequently have gone public with their whistle-blowing). Their protests didn’t matter. Dominique Strauss-Kahn backed the US-ECB position (after President Barack Obama and Treasury secretary Tim Geithner pointed out that U.S. banks had written credit default swaps betting that Greece could pay, and would lose money if there were a debt writedown). In 2015, Christine Lagarde also backed the U.S.-European Central Bank hard line, against staff protests.[10]

IMF executive board member Otaviano Canuto, representing Brazil, noted that the logic that “conditions on IMF lending to a country that fell behind on payments [was to] make sure it kept negotiating in good faith to reach agreement with creditors.”[11] Dropping this condition, he said, would open the door for other countries to insist on a similar waiver and avoid making serious and sincere efforts to reach payment agreement with creditor governments.

A more binding IMF rule is that it cannot lend to countries at war or use IMF credit to engage in warfare. Article I of its 1944-45 founding charter ban the fund from lending to a member state engaged in civil war or at war with another member state, or for military purposes in general. But when IMF head Lagarde made the last IMF loan to Ukraine, in spring 2015, she made a token gesture of stating that she hoped there would be peace. But President Porochenko immediately announced that he would step up the civil war with the Russian-speaking population in the eastern Donbass region.

The problem is that the Donbass is where most Ukrainian exports were made, mainly to Russia. That market is being lost by the junta’s belligerence toward Russia. This should have blocked Ukraine from receiving IMF aid. Withholding IMF credit could have been a lever to force peace and adherence to the Minsk agreements, but U.S. diplomatic pressure led that opportunity to be rejected.

The most important IMF condition being violated is that continued warfare with the East prevents a realistic prospect of Ukraine paying back new loans. Aslund himself points to the internal contradictions at work: Ukraine has achieved budget balance because the inflation and steep currency depreciation has drastically eroded its pension costs. The resulting lower value of pension benefits has led to growing opposition to Ukraine’s post-Maidan junta. “Leading representatives from President Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc are insisting on massive tax cuts, but no more expenditure cuts; that would cause a vast budget deficit that the IMF assesses at 9-10 percent of GDP, that could not possibly be financed.”[12] So how can the IMF’s austerity budget be followed without a political backlash?

The IMF thus is breaking four rules: Not lending to a country that has no visible means to pay back the loan breaks the “No More Argentinas” rule adopted after the IMF’s disastrous 2001 loan. Not lending to countries that refuse in good faith to negotiate with their official creditors goes against the IMF’s role as the major tool of the global creditors’ cartel. And the IMF is now lending to a borrower at war, indeed one that is destroying its export capacity and hence its balance-of-payments ability to pay back the loan. Finally, the IMF is lending to a country that has little likelihood of refuse carrying out the IMF’s notorious austerity “conditionalities” on its population – without putting down democratic opposition in a totalitarian manner. Instead of being treated as an outcast from the international financial system, Ukraine is being welcomed and financed.

The upshot – and new basic guideline for IMF lending – is to create a new Iron Curtain splitting the world into pro-U.S. economies going neoliberal, and all other economies, including those seeking to maintain public investment in infrastructure, progressive taxation and what used to be viewed as progressive capitalism. Russia and China may lend as much as they want to other governments, but there is no international vehicle to help secure their ability to be paid back under what until now has passed for international law. Having refused to roll back its own or ECB financial claims on Greece, the IMF is quite willing to see repudiation of official debts owed to Russia, China or other countries not on the list approved by the U.S. neocons who wield veto power in the IMF, World Bank and similar global economic institutions now drawn into the U.S. orbit. Changing its rules to clear the path for the IMF to make loans to Ukraine and other governments in default of debts owed to official lenders is rightly seen as an escalation of America’s New Cold War against Russia and also its anti-China strategy.

Timing is everything in such ploys. Georgetown University Law professor and Treasury consultant Anna Gelpern warned that before the “IMF staff and executive board [had] enough time to change the policy on arrears to official creditors,” Russia might use “its notorious debt/GDP clause to accelerate the bonds at any time before December, or simply gum up the process of reforming the IMF’s arrears policy.”[13] According to this clause, if Ukraine’s foreign debt rose above 60 percent of GDP, Russia’s government would have the right to demand immediate payment. But no doubt anticipating the bitter fight to come over its attempts to collect on its loan, President Putin patiently refrained from exercising this option. He is playing the long game, bending over backward to accommodate Ukraine rather than behaving “odiously.”

A more pressing reason deterring the United States from pressing earlier to change IMF rules was that a waiver for Ukraine would have opened the legal floodgates for Greece to ask for a similar waiver on having to pay the “troika” – the European Central Bank (ECB), EU commission and the IMF itself – for the post-2010 loans that have pushed it into a worse depression than the 1930s. “Imagine the Greek government had insisted that EU institutions accept the same haircut as the country’s private creditors,” Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov asked. “The reaction in European capitals would have been frosty. Yet this is the position now taken by Kiev with respect to Ukraine’s $3 billion eurobond held by Russia.”[14]

Only after Greece capitulated to eurozone austerity was the path clear for U.S. officials to change the IMF rules in their fight to isolate Russia. But their tactical victory has come at the cost of changing the IMF’s rules and those of the global financial system irreversibly. Other countries henceforth may reject conditionalities, as Ukraine has done, and ask for write-downs on foreign official debts.

That was the great fear of neoliberal U.S. and Eurozone strategists last summer, after all. The reason for smashing Greece’s economy was to deter Podemos in Spain and similar movements in Italy and Portugal from pursuing national prosperity instead of eurozone austerity. Opening the door to such resistance by Ukraine is the blowback of America’s tactic to make a short-term financial hit on Russia while its balance of payments is down as a result of collapsing oil and gas prices.

The consequences go far beyond just the IMF. The fabric of international law itself is being torn apart. Every action has a reaction in the Newtonian world of geopolitics. It may not be a bad thing, to be sure, for the post-1945 global order to be broken apart by U.S. tactics against Russia, if that is the catalyst driving other countries to defend their own economies in the legal and political spheres. It has been U.S. neoliberals themselves who have catalyzed the emerging independent Eurasian bloc.

Countering Russia’s ability to collect in Britain’s law courts

Over the past year the U.S. Treasury and State Departments have discussed ploys to block Russia from collecting under British law, where its loans to Ukraine are registered. Reviewing the repertory of legal excuses Ukraine might use to avoid paying Russia, Prof. Gelpern noted that it might declare the debt “odious,” made under duress or corruptly. In a paper for the Peterson Institute of International Economics (the banking lobby in Washington) she suggested that Britain should deny Russia the use of its courts as an additional sanction reinforcing the financial, energy, and trade sanctions to those passed against Russia after Crimea voted to join it as protection against the ethnic cleansing from the Right Sector, Azov Battalion and other paramilitary groups descending on the region.[15]

A kindred ploy might be for Ukraine to countersue Russia for reparations for “invading” it, for saving Crimea and the Donbass region from the Right Sector’s attempt to take over the country. Such a ploy would seem to have little chance of success in international courts (without showing them to be simply arms of NATO New Cold War politics), but it might delay Russia’ ability to collect by tying the loan up in a long nuisance lawsuit.

To claim that Ukraine’s debt to Russia was “odious” or otherwise illegitimate, “President Petro Poroshenko said the money was intended to ensure Yanukovych’s loyalty to Moscow, and called the payment a ‘bribe,’ according to an interview with Bloomberg in June this year.”[16] The legal and moral problem with such arguments is that they would apply equally to IMF and US loans. Claiming that Russia’s loan is “odious” is that this would open the floodgates for other countries to repudiate debts taken on by dictatorships supported by IMF and U.S. lenders, headed by the many dictatorships supported by U.S. diplomacy.

The blowback from the U.S. multi-front attempt to nullify Ukraine’s debt may be used to annul or at least write down the destructive IMF loans made on the condition that borrowers accept privatizations favoring U.S., German and other NATO-country investors, undertake austerity programs, and buy weapons systems such as the German submarines that Greece borrowed to pay for. As Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted: “This reform, which they are now trying to implement, designed to suit Ukraine only, could plant a time bomb under all other IMF programs.” It certainly showed the extent to which the IMF is subordinate to U.S. aggressive New Cold Warriors: “Essentially, this reform boils down to the following: since Ukraine is politically important – and it is only important because it is opposed to Russia – the IMF is ready to do for Ukraine everything it has not done for anyone else, and the situation that should 100 percent mean a default will be seen as a situation enabling the IMF to finance Ukraine.”[17]

Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Committee for International Affairs at the Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) accused the United States of playing “the role of the main violin in the IMF while the role of the second violin is played by the European Union. These are two basic sponsors of the Maidan – the symbol of a coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014.”[18]

Putin’s counter-strategy and the blowback on U.S.-European and global relations

As noted above, having anticipated that Ukraine would seek reasons to not pay the Russian loan, President Putin carefully refrained from exercising Russia’s right to demand immediate payment when Ukraine’s foreign debt rose above 60 percent of GDP. In November he offered to defer payment if the United States, Europe and international banks underwrote the obligation. Indeed, he even “proposed better conditions for this restructuring than those the International Monetary Fund requested of us.” He offered “to accept a deeper restructuring with no payment this year – a payment of $1 billion next year, $1 billion in 2017, and $1 billion in 2018.” If the IMF, the United States and European Union “are sure that Ukraine’s solvency will grow,” then they should “see no risk in providing guarantees for this credit.” Accordingly, he concluded “We have asked for such guarantees either from the United States government, the European Union, or one of the big international financial institutions.”[19]

The implication, Putin pointed out, was that “If they cannot provide guarantees, this means that they do not believe in the Ukrainian economy’s future.” One professor pointed out that this proposal was in line with the fact that, “Ukraine has already received a sovereign loan guarantee from the United States for a previous bond issue.” Why couldn’t the United States, Eurozone or leading commercial banks provide a similar guarantee of Ukraine’s debt to Russia – or better yet, simply lend it the money to turn it into a loan to the IMF or US lenders?[20]

But the IMF, European Union and the United States refused to back up their happy (but nonsensical) forecasts of Ukrainian solvency with actual guarantees. Foreign Minister Lavrov made clear just what that rejection meant: “By having refused to guarantee Ukraine’s debt as part of Russia’s proposal to restructure it, the United States effectively admitted the absence of prospects of restoring its solvency. … By officially rejecting the proposed scheme, the United States thereby subscribed to not seeing any prospects of Ukraine restoring its solvency.”[21]

In an even more exasperated tone, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev explained to Russia’s television audience: “I have a feeling that they won’t give us the money back because they are crooks. They refuse to return our money and our Western partners not only refuse to help, but they also make it difficult for us.”[22] Adding that “the international financial system is unjustly structured,” he promised to “go to court. We’ll push for default on the loan and we’ll push for default on all Ukrainian debts.”

The basis for Russia’s legal claim, he explained was that the loan was a request from the Ukrainian Government to the Russian Government. If two governments reach an agreement this is obviously a sovereign loan…. Surprisingly, however, international financial organisations started saying that this is not exactly a sovereign loan. This is utter bull. Evidently, it’s just an absolutely brazen, cynical lie. … This seriously erodes trust in IMF decisions. I believe that now there will be a lot of pleas from different borrower states to the IMF to grant them the same terms as Ukraine. How will the IMF possibly refuse them?

And there the matter stands. As President Putin remarked regarding America’s support of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra and other ISIS allies in Syria, “Do you have any idea of what you have done?”

The blowback

Few have calculated the degree to which America’s New Cold War with Russia is creating a reaction that is tearing up the world’s linkages put in place since World War II. Beyond pulling the IMF and World Bank tightly into U.S. unilateralist geopolitics, how long will Western Europe be willing to forego its trade and investment interest with Russia? Germany, Italy and France already are feeling the strains. If and when a break comes, it will not be marginal but a seismic geopolitical shift.

The oil and pipeline war designed to bypass Russian energy exports has engulfed the Near East in anarchy for over a decade. It is flooding Europe with refugees, and also spreading terrorism to America. In the Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015, the leading issue was safety from Islamic jihadists. Yet no candidate thought to explain the source of this terrorism in America’s alliance with Wahabist Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and hence with Al Qaeda and ISIS/Daish as a means of destabilizing secular regimes seeking independence from U.S. control.

As its allies in this New Cold War, the United States has chosen fundamentalist jihadist religion against secular regimes in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and earlier in Afghanistan and Turkey. Going back to the original sin of CIA hubris – overthrowing the secular Iranian Prime Minister leader Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 – American foreign policy has been based on the assumption that secular regimes tend to be nationalist and resist privatization and neoliberal austerity.

Based on this fatal long-term assumption, U.S. Cold Warriors have aligned themselves not only against secular regimes, but against democratic regimes where these seek to promote their own prosperity and economic independence, and to resist neoliberalism in favor of maintaining their traditional mixed public/private economy.

This is the back story of the U.S. fight to control the rest of the world. Tearing apart the IMF’s rules is only the most recent chapter. The broad drive against Russia, China and their prospective Eurasian allies has deteriorated into tactics without a realistic understanding of how they are bringing about precisely the kind of world they are seeking to prevent – a multilateral world.

Arena by arena, the core values of what used to be American and European social democratic ideology are being uprooted. The Enlightenment’s ideals of secular democracy and the rule of international law applied equally to all nations, classical free market theory (of markets free from unearned income and rent extraction by special vested interests), and public investment in infrastructure to hold down the cost of living and doing business are to be sacrificed to a militant U.S. unilateralism as “the indispensible nation.” Standing above the rule of law and national interests, American neocons proclaim that their nation’s destiny is to wage war to prevent foreign secular democracy from acting in ways other than submission to U.S. diplomacy. In practice, this means favoring special U.S. financial and corporate interests that control American foreign policy.

This is not how the Enlightenment was supposed to turn out. Classical industrial capitalism a century ago was expected to evolve into an economy of abundance. Instead, we have Pentagon capitalism, finance capitalism deteriorating into a polarized rentier economy, and old-fashioned imperialism.

The Dollar Bloc’s financial Iron Curtain

By treating Ukraine’s nullification of its official debt to Russia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund as the new norm, the IMF has blessed its default on its bond payment to Russia. President Putin and foreign minister Lavrov have said that they will sue in British courts. But does any court exist in the West not under the thumb of U.S. veto?

What are China and Russia to do, faced with the IMF serving as a kangaroo court whose judgments are subject to U.S. veto power? To protect their autonomy and self-determination, they have created alternatives to the IMF and World Bank, NATO and behind it, the dollar standard.

America’s recent New Cold War maneuvering has shown that the two Bretton Woods institutions are unreformable. It is easier to create new institutions such as the A.I.I.B. than to retrofit old and ill-designed ones burdened with the legacy of their vested founding interests. It is easier to expand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization than to surrender to threats from NATO.

U.S. geostrategists seem to have imagined that if they exclude Russia, China and other SCO and Eurasian countries from the U.S.-based financial and trade system, these countries will find themselves in the same economic box as Cuba, Iran and other countries have been isolated by sanctions. The aim is to make countries choose between impoverishment from such exclusion, or acquiescing in U.S. neoliberal drives to financialize their economies and impose austerity on their government sector and labor.

What is lacking from such calculations is the idea of critical mass. The United States may use the IMF and World Bank as levers to exclude countries not in the U.S. orbit from participating in the global trade and financial system, and it may arm-twist Europe to impose trade and financial sanctions on Russia. But this action produces an equal and opposite reaction. That is the eternal Newtonian law of geopolitics. The indicated countermeasure is simply for other countries to create their own international financial organization as an alternative to the IMF, their own “aid” lending institution to juxtapose to the U.S.-centered World Bank.

All this requires an international court to handle disputes that is free from U.S. arm-twisting to turn international law into a kangaroo court following the dictates of Washington. The Eurasian Economic Union now has its own court to adjudicate disputes. It may provide an alternative to Judge Griesa‘s New York federal court ruling in favor of vulture funds derailing Argentina’s debt negotiations and excluding it from foreign financial markets. If the London Court of International Arbitration (under whose rules Russia’s bonds issued to Ukraine are registered) permits frivolous legal claims (called barratry in English) such as President Poroshenko has threatened in Ukrainian Parliament, it too will become a victim of geopolitical obsolescence.

The more nakedly self-serving and geopolitical U.S. policy is – in backing radical Islamic fundamentalist outgrowths of Al Qaeda throughout the Near East, right-wing nationalist governments in Ukraine and the Baltics – the greater the catalytic pressure is growing for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, AIIB and related Eurasian institutions to break free of the post-1945 Bretton Woods system run by the U.S. State, Defense and Treasury Departments and NATO superstructure.

The question now is whether Russia and China can hold onto the BRICS and India. So as Paul Craig Roberts recently summarized my ideas along these lines, we are back with George Orwell’s 1984 global fracture between Oceanea (the United States, Britain and its northern European NATO allies) vs. Eurasia.

Notes.

[1] Anton Siluanov, “Russia wants fair rules on sovereign debt,”Financial Times, December 10, 2015.

[2] “Putin Seeks Alliance to Rival TPP,” RT.com (December 04 2015),

https://www.rt.com/business/324747-putin-tpp-bloc-russia/. The Eurasian Economic Union was created in 2014 by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, soon joined by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The SCO was created in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of ChinaRussia,KazakhstanKyrgyzstanTajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan are scheduled to join, along with Iran, Afghanistan and Belarus as observers, and other east and Central Asian countries as “dialogue partners.” ASEAN was formed in 1967, originally by Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It subsequently has been expanded. China and the AIIB are reaching out to replace World Bank. The U.S. refused to join the AIIB, opposing it from the outset.

[3] Richard Koo, “EU refuses to acknowledge mistakes made in Greek bailout,” Nomura, July 14, 2015. Richard Koo, r-koo@nri.co, jp

[4] Ian Talley, “IMF Tweaks Lending Rules in Boost for Ukraine,”Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2015.

[5] Anders Aslund, “The IMF Outfoxes Putin: Policy Change Means Ukraine Can Receive More Loans,” Atlantic Council, December 8, 2015. On Johnson’s Russia List, December 9, 2015, #13. Aslund was a major defender of neoliberal shock treatment and austerity in Russia, and has held up Latvian austerity as a success story rather than a disaster.

[6] Ian Talley, op. cit.

[7] Anders Åslund, “Ukraine Must Not Pay Russia Back,” Atlantic Council, November 2, 2015 (from Johnson’s Russia List, November 3, 2015, #50).

[8] Anders Aslund, “The IMF Outfoxes Putin,” op. cit.

[9] Quoted in Tamara Zamyantina, “IMF’s dilemma: to help or not to help Ukraine, if Kiev defaults,” TASS, translated on Johnson’s Russia List, December 9, 2015, #9.

[10] I provide a narrative of the Greek disaster in Killing the Host(2015).

[11] Reuters, “IMF rule change keeps Ukraine support; Russia complains,” Dec 8, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-imf-idUSKBN0TR28Q20151208#r8em59ZOcIPIkqaD.97

[12] Anders Aslund, “The IMF Outfoxes Putin,” op. cit.

[13] Anna Gelpern, “Russia’s Bond: It’s Official! (… and Private … and Anything Else It Wants to Be …),” Credit Slips, April 17, 2015. http://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/2015/04/russias-ukraine-bond-its-official-and-private-and-anything-else-it-wants-to-be-.html

[14] Anton Siluanov, “Russia wants fair rules on sovereign debt,”Financial Times, December 10, 2015. He added: “Russia’s financing was not made for commercial gain. Just as America and Britain regularly do, it provided assistance to a country whose policies it supported. The US is now supporting the current Ukrainian government through its USAID guarantee programme.”

[15]John Helmer: IMF Makes Ukraine War-Fighting Loan, Allows US to Fund Military Operations Against Russia, May Repay Gazprom Bill,” Naked CapitalismMarch 16, 2015 (from his site Dances with Bears).

[16] “Ukraine Rebuffs Putin’s Offer to Restructure Russian Debt,”Moscow Times, November 20, 2015, from Johnson’s Russia List, November 20, 2015, #32.

[17] “Lavrov: U.S. admits lack of prospects of restoring Ukrainian solvency,” Interfax, November 7, 2015, translated on Johnson’s Russia List, December 7, 2015, #38.

[18] Quoted by Tamara Zamyantina, “IMF’s dilemma,” op. cit. [fn 8].

[19] Vladimir Putin, “Responses to journalists’ questions following the G20 summit,” Kremlin.ru, November 16, 2015. From Johnson’s Russia List, November 17, 2015,  #7.

[20] Anton Tabakh, “A Debt Deal for Kiev?” Carnegie Moscow Center, November 20, 2015, on Johnson’s Russia List, November 20, 2015, #34. Tabakh is Director for regional ratings at “Rus-Rating” and associate professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

[21] “Lavrov: U.S. admits lack of prospects of restoring Ukrainian solvency,” November 7, 2015, translated on Johnson’s Russia List, December 7, 2015, #38.

[22] “In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with five television channels,” Government.ru, December 9, 2015, from Johnson’s Russia List, December 10, 2015,  #2

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5. Talks About A “Political Transition” In Syria Are Not Serious – Yet

http://www.moonofalabama.org/, 18 Dec 2015.

A few days ago U.S. Secretary of State Kerry met the Russian president Putin in Moscow:

Mr. Kerry appeared, more carefully than on previous occasions, to couch America’s insistence that Mr. Assad leave office as a recondition of any settlement. The United States, he said, was not seeking Mr. Assad’s ouster per se, but rather considers it unlikely that he could preside over a successful settlement. “The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria,” Mr. Kerry said.

That the U.S. is no longer looking for regime change in Syria is doubtful. Kerry made somewhat similar remarks in March but was then immediately contradicted by the State Department’s spokesperson.

This time so far Kerry’s “no regime change” remarks in Moscow have not been contradicted. The U.S. also pulled back F-15 air superiority fighters from Turkey which can be interpreted as a step of deescalation. But NATO is still building up additional forces around Syria. That is sold as preventing Turkey from doing more foolish nonsense like shooting down another Russian plane. But the military reality as seen from Syria is an increase in potential enemy forces right at its borders. If the U.S. is serious it should show that by stopping the military build up and its support for Syria’s enemies.

The combined air defense of Russian S-400 long range air defense in Latakia and Syrian SA-17/BUK medium range systems in other areas for now protect against air incursions into Syria. To knock them out means all out war. Putin says he will not allow any outside force to decide who rules in Syria and he is backing that up with all of Russia’s capabilities. “Western” diplomats’ claims that Russia is ready to dumps Assad are just face saving rumors. It is Russia that is calling the shots. The Russian support has now reached a level that enables the Syrian army to slowlydefeat and destroy the various terrorist forces attacking its people. Meanwhile more anti-Syrian propaganda gets debunked and public support for the Syrian government’s position increases.

In Iraq the army is also back on its feet and is making progress against the Islamic State. The Iraqi government has rejected U.S. offers of its Apache helicopters and more U.S. special forces. It is rightly suspicious that the U.S. is aiming at splitting up Iraq and Syria. Today the U.S. againbombed and killed Iraqi government forces that were moving against the Islamic State. That surely will be explained away as an “accident” but too many such “accidents” have happened. Should the U.S., with its support for the Kurds and Sunnis, continue its ambiguous stand in Iraq it will be kicked out and Russia will get invited to move in.

There are some talks today at the UN to proceed towards ceasefire negotiations in Syria. I do not expect any serious outcome. The opposition that met in Saudi Arabia was a collection of random 5-star-hotel exiles and terrorist groups. The U.S. and its allies claim that these can take over Syria. But they have no real constituency and no abilities to fight Jabhat al Nusra, the Islamic State or any of the other big terrorist groups that are not part of the negotiations. Why should they have any say over Syria?

There are also some evidence that the Obama administration does not really want any solution in Syria. The negotiations are smoke and mirrors to simply run out the clock and to dump the problem to the next president. This could change though, some say or wish, if a big attack on a U.S. target would happen and be claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State.

A solution of the war in Syria will require elections in which the current president Bashar Assad will be one of the candidates. Until they agree to that position all talks about a “political transition” are just a waste of time.

COMMENT

Yes, there were hints of the U.S softening its stance on ‘Assad must go’ to get some talks off the ground, but already, the press briefing this morning from the state department is contradicting Kerry once again…..on pretty much everything that was said in Moscow.
The terrorist goons from the recent Riyadh meet is just laughable, how can anyone take this seriously. I fear that unless the U.S and its band of aggressors capitulate on this issue then the prospects of a successful resolution for Syria and its long suffering people looks bleak at present, a very hard road.
All the more important that the Russians must remain firm on the essentials, Syria must not be divided and only the Syrian people should decide their government.

Posted by: Pejman | Dec 18, 2015 10:19:50 AM

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6. Vladimir Putin press conference: ‘Russian military personnel were in Ukraine’ – as it happened (Russian president holds annual press conference with Russian and international journalists in Moscow on 17 Dec 2015)

http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/dec/17/vladimir-putins-annual-press-conference-live

Summary

Here is a summary of the key points from the Putin press conference:

  • Putin admitted for the first time the presence of Russian military specialists in east Ukraine. Asked by a Ukrainian reporter an hour into the briefing about two Russian military intelligence officers captured by Kiev and currently on trial in Ukraine, Putin said: “We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere.” He insisted this was not the same as regular Russian troops.
  • Putin said the Russian military operation in Syria will continue until a political process starts and that he was unsure whether Russia needs a permanent military base in the country. He added that Moscow supports a US draft of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. A new constitution for Syria must be drafted, and a new election prepared in which the Syrians themselves will determine its leadership, he said.
  • Putin said he doesn’t see any prospect for reviving relations with Turkey, and that Ataturk would be rolling in his grave over Islamization in modern Turkey. He was angry that Ankara called Brussels, not Moscow, when it downed a Russian jet.
  • Putin said the killing of opposition leader Nemtsov must be investigated and punished.
  • Putin said said FIFA’s Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel peace prize. 
  • Putin said it was not possible to say Russian officers in captivity would be exchanged for Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko because of the criminal case against them.
  • Putin did not confirm or deny whether Ekaterina Tikhonva is his daughter, stating that he did not discuss his daughters “due to security matters”. 
  • He said it was not yet clear whether the children of Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika had actually committed any crimes, an allegation recently made by the opposition.
  • And he said Russia has passed the peak of the economic crisis.

 

See live streaming at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58IHMW1g2J0 of Russian President Vladimir Putin giving his eleventh annual major news press conference in Moscow on Thursday, December 17.

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7. AFTERMATH OF THE ANATOLIAN AMBUSH

Ahmed Rajeev provides his look at the provisional results of the Russia-Turkey standoff exclusively for SouthFront 17 Dec 2015

The high key action of Turkey on Russia by bombing down a Russian Jet diminishes the Newtonian Law of counter high key reaction. Russia shows patience and pragmatism. It has already put sanctions on Turkish tourism and vegetables goods though. But this action against a high key action is not enough to heal the wound of Russia for their Syria mission. Russia considered Turkey as its friend. It is very painful, if suddenly your friend appears as your foe. Such an ancient Anatolian style ambush reminds me of Osman, who fought Byzantines with such techniques. The Ottoman was powerful, who depended on its own resources and might, not this Turkey. This Turkey appeared seemingly powerful because of its NATO and US military association. Turkey has been working for the western hegemony since its NATO integration.

Russia could do so many things in response. It could have shot down Turkish Jets. Russia could also use the Kurds as a weapon against Turkey by heavily weaponing the Kurds. It could completely wiped out the so called ‘Turkmen’ militias of northern Syria, since Turkment terrorists were heavily tied with Ankara. Even Russia could start meddling into the noisy politics of Turkey by clandestine killing. But these things are not happening. Russian reaction was the sanctions, revealing Erdogan’s illegal family business and S-400 deployment in Syria. It just avoided a big collision with NATO. Russia wants war, but not a nuclear one. So, before getting a necessary amount of western support, Russia will not show any high key action against Turkey.

On the other hand, if a war breaks out, Turkey can close its Turkish straits for Russia. As a result, Russia may lose its transportation route from the Black sea. Turkey also can meddle into the central Asian politics to fight against Russia. Since Russia has a huge Muslim population and communities, Turkey can support radical Islamism to take up arms against Russian interest.
However, the tension continues with claims and counter claims of Turkish strait disturbance. There are reports that, Turkey is intentionally delaying the transportation of Russian ships. NATO is creating a huge pressure on Russia by its propaganda and missile deployments. Russia enhances its defense as well. Though, the game is not fair. The west enjoys trade and global economic freedom. Russia suffers sanctions. Still, the goodwill and to defend themselves from deprivation, the Russian action in the Middle East has been proved effective.

We have been observing the destruction of the ISIL helplines, assets and smuggled-oils. The Syrian army recovered many lands and villages from the terrorists. Many terrorist flew from Syria from panic. Syria is going to be a peaceful nation again. Russia is fulfilling its objectives cautiously. The Turkish ambush was blow to distract Russia from its goal. The cool heads are prevailing. Russia remains focused to the ISIL crisis.

Since ISIL actions aligns with the western motives and interests in the Middle-East, an action on ISIL can be considered as an action on its patrons. Now, the west is playing defensive. It wants to negotiate. It wants to rearrange its power for future confrontation with Russia. Now the west is being defeated by the Russian pragmatism. The trends of defeat are emerging in many fronts. The west lost in Crimea. It is losing in Novorussia. It is on the verge of losing in Syria. Gradually the west will lose the whole Middle East by China-Russia-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah joint action.

The recent visit by Kerry was not fruitful for the west. After the 1st Vienna meeting on Syria issue, the US Foreign secretary openly sides with the Russian position. Russia played well and gaining diplomatic victories. The most perfect war should be won by the diplomacy not by the weapons. Weapons are the ugliest parts of the warfare. Here Russia is winning by using both. If Russia wants to secure the Middle-East for its own interest, it must eliminate the terrorists. To eliminate the terrorist, Russia will have to fight with its mediocre patrons like Turkey. And if Russia wants to fight the mediocre patrons without the nuclear engagement, it should fight them with the diplomatic weapons. To fight for the real cause of terrorism, Russia should keep its door wide open for the west. With the capacity of future adjustment a cordial approach towards a temporal coalition between the west and Russia can be formed to prioritize the terrorist threat. Both parties should come to zone of mutual respect and trust to eliminate the terrorism from the Middle East and the beyond, since no one can solve the problem single-handedly for many open and secret reasons. It is really a good sign that, finally, after the Russian-Syrian joint strikes, the proxy leaders are appearing regularly on a single table for negotiations which was badly needed before the Russian air assault, that negotiations could save many lives. Meanwhile, Russia may pump up its effort to dismantle the Turkish political system by helping the oppositions. It will also intensify its military movement around Turkish territory to upset Turkish Military forces. And the peace and stability will be a long lost song for Turkey in coming months and years.

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8. International Military Review – Syria, 17 Dec. 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbL4uQGyHi8

Syrian Army advances at 3 different fronts in northern Latakia

By Leith Fadel, 18 Dec 2015

… In a matter of 2 and a half months, the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade and their allies have seized several kilometers of territory inside Jabal Al-Turkmen (Turkmen Mountains) and Jabal Al-Akrad (Kurdish Mountains), while the Turkish-backed Islamist rebels retreat along several axes.

Yesterday, the Syrian Armed Forces imposed full control over Jabal Al-Nuba (Nuba Mountains); this strategic site was almost untouchable just three months ago and now, it is under the control of the Syrian state government.

In addition to their advance towards the Turkish border, the Syrian Armed Forces are pushing east along the Latakia-Turkish border after capturing Jabal Al-Zahiyah and large parts of the Firlalaq Forests in Jabal Al-Turkmen.

And lastly, the Latakia Governorate is the key to the Syrian government’s maritime shipping industry and the gateway to both the Idlib and Aleppo Governorate’s.

Without sealing Latakia, the strategic city of Jisr Al-Shughour in Idlib would be impregnable and a lost cause for the Syrian Armed Forces; but with the Latakia Governorate sealed off, they will be in prime position to launch an attack.

International Military Review – Syria, Dec. 17, 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbL4uQGyHi8

Syrian Army advances at 3 different fronts in northern Latakia

By Leith Fadel, 18 Dec 2015

In a matter of 2 and a half months, the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade and their allies have seized several kilometers of territory inside Jabal Al-Turkmen (Turkmen Mountains) and Jabal Al-Akrad (Kurdish Mountains), while the Turkish-backed Islamist rebels retreat along several axes.

Yesterday, the Syrian Armed Forces imposed full control over Jabal Al-Nuba (Nuba Mountains); this strategic site was almost untouchable just three months ago and now, it is under the control of the Syrian state government.

In addition to their advance towards the Turkish border, the Syrian Armed Forces are pushing east along the Latakia-Turkish border after capturing Jabal Al-Zahiyah and large parts of the Firlalaq Forests in Jabal Al-Turkmen.

And lastly, the Latakia Governorate is the key to the Syrian government’s maritime shipping industry and the gateway to both the Idlib and Aleppo Governorate’s.

Without sealing Latakia, the strategic city of Jisr Al-Shughour in Idlib would be impregnable and a lost cause for the Syrian Armed Forces; but with the Latakia Governorate sealed off, they will be in prime position to launch an attack.

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International Military Review – Syria-Iraq Battlespace, 16 Dec 2015

http://southfront.org/international-military-review-syria-dec-16-2015/

In the past three days Russian warplanes have destroyed six illegal oil production facilities and seven truck convoys with oil and oil products in Syria. On the whole, Russian aircraft have destroyed more than 1,200 tanker trucks of militants transporting crude oil and oil products since the start of the operation in Syria.

Last few days the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Hezbollah have conducted military operations in the area of the strategic town of Al-Zorba fighting against Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Al-Nusra, Liwaa Suqour Al-Sham and Harakat Nouriddeen Al-Zinki. On Tuesday, pro-government forces made gains at the western flank of the town. Thus, the loyalists are spreading militants too thin in order to expose the most vulnerable parts of their positions. The same approach was used in the town of Al-Hadher last month.

In North Latakia, the SAA supported by the NDF, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Muqawama Souri took control of the Al-Nuba Mountains after week long clashes with Al-Nusra and its allies. This allows the pro-government forces to cut the terrorists-controlled areas which border Turkey.

Russia has supplied a large cargo of military and arms aid to Iraq as part of the growing anti-terrorism cooperation between Moscow and Baghdad. According to the reports, a large number of the Russian-made armored vehicles have arrived in the Iraqi port of Basra.

Turkey has withdrawn some troops from Mosul. On December 10, Turkish President Recep Erdogan refused to withdraw the Turkish troops from Mount Bashiqa. However, Ankara withdrew forces and armored vehicles from the camp on December 14, but Turkish PM Davutoglu noted some trainers would remain at Bashiqa because of a “new arrangement.”

International Military Review – Syria, Dec. 15, 2015

http://southfront.org/international-military-review/

Syrian Forces advance in South Aleppo

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9. Who Will End The Saudi’s Salman Embarrassment? 16 Dec 2015

Muslim nations form coalition to fight terror, call Islamic extremism ‘disease’

Calling Islamic extremism a disease, Saudi Arabia has announced the formation of a coalition of 34 predominately Muslim nations to fight terrorism.

“This announcement comes from the Islamic world’s vigilance in fighting this disease so it can be a partner, as a group of countries, in the fight against this disease,”Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman said.

The coalition’s joint operations center will be based in Riyadh.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the coalition will include Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, the Palestinians, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen.

This seems to be the “Arab army” the two amigos, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, announced earlier:

Defense One: How are you planning on getting the Arab countries to put up 90 percent of the ground forces you’re calling for if we can’t even get them to put up in the air coalition?

Graham: Well, they’re not —

McCain: — If Bashar Assad is also the target, that’s the key to it … they fear Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by the Iranians, as much as they do ISIS.

Defense One: Sen. Graham, so if we promise them they can also target Assad, they’ll get in?

McCain: We would also target Assad. Assad right now is killing the people we armed and trained and equipped.

Graham: I can only tell you what they tell us. I’m not joking. The king of Saudi Arabia’s chief advisor said, ‘You can have our army.’ The emir of Qatar says, ‘I’ll pay for the war.’ They want to do two things: they want to stopISIL before they come in and take their countries over or disrupt their way of life, and they also want to make sure Damascus doesn’t fall into the hands of the Iranians. I’m down for both.

It may well be that Mohammed bin Salman, as well as McCain and Graham, drank too much fermented camel milk.  Neither the Saudis nor the Qataris nor any “coalition member” will send their armies to fight in Syria or Iraq.

The reactions from some “members” of the just announced Saudi “coalition” make that obvious.

The Deputy Crown Prince launched a war on Yemen that goes on without any gain at all but with serious Saudi losses:

Gen. Sharaf Ghaleb Luqman, a military spokesman for the Houthi rebels, said in a telephone interview Monday that 146 “enemy soldiers and mercenaries in Bab al Mandab, including foreigners,” were killed when a Houthi rocket struck the “enemy operations command” in Taizz province.

The slain troops included 23 Saudis, nine Emiratis and 12 Moroccan officers, according to Houthi news outlets. There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.

The dead included Saudi Col. Abdullah Sahyan, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Parts of three Saudi provinces are now occupied by forces troops. Four special regiments from the Saudi  Interior Ministry were just called up to clear the areas the Saudi regular army, under Mohammed bin Salman’s command, can not hold.

Another embarrassment for the Salman clan is the hajj stampede in Mecca which the Saudi insists killed only 769 while news agencies find that at least 2,411 were killed.

When will the other members of the wider Saudi family dump these dupes? Is there someone else who could do this?

http://www.moonofalabama.org/

Palestinian Authority also not confirming membership in Saudi Coalition: EILAT, Israel – Saudi Arabia’s newly announced “Islamic military alliance,” purportedly created fight terrorism, continues to unravel.:

On Tuesday, Breitbart Jerusalem reported it was difficult to find a single Palestinian Authority official willing to publically comment on Saudi Arabia’s Islamic anti-terror alliance.

Palestine” is listed as one of 34 Muslim nations who signed up to the new Muslim anti-terror coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which itself has long faced accusations of supporting Islamic extremist ideology.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, the spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Breitbart Jerusalem he had no comment on the new alliance.

Breitbart Jerusalem directly phoned PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malaki, who also said he had no comment in the issue.

Breitbart Jerusalem spoke to one of the most senior officers in the Preventive Security Force, the PA’s main security organization. That officer was not even aware of the PA joining the new Saudi-led coalition until receiving the call from Breitbart Jerusalem.

The Preventative official phoned Breitbart Jerusalem minutes after the initial call to report that his agency has not been given any specific instructions about engaging in anti-terror activities with the Saudi coalition.

The official spoke on condition that his name be withheld for fear of being seen as publically criticizing Saudi Arabia. “No one here knows anything about what it is,” the official added.

Following inquiries from news media outlets, WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, released a statement from the PA Presidency welcoming the creation of the Saudi coalition. “Palestine will be part of this coalition after consultations with Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.

Posted by: lysias | Dec 16, 2015 5:00:55 PM 

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16 Dec 2015, Andrew Cockburn:

A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies. When I asked a former White House official involved in Syria policy if this was not a de facto alliance, he put it this way: “I would not say that Al Qaeda is our ally, but a turnover of weapons is probably unavoidable. I’m fatalistic about that. It’s going to happen.”

A Special Relationship

10. The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again

By Andrew Cockburn

http://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/a-special-relationship/4/

(Continuing on from pages 1, 2 and 3:)

In the spring and summer of (2014), a coalition of Syrian rebel groups calling itself Jaish al-Fatah — the Army of Conquest — swept through the northwestern province of Idlib, posing a serious threat to the Assad regime. Leading the charge was Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, known locally as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front). The other major component of the coalition was Ahrar al-Sham, a group that had formed early in the anti-Assad uprising and looked for inspiration to none other than Abdullah Assam (The Man Before Osama Bin Laden). Following the victory, Nusra massacred twenty members of the Druze faith, considered heretical by fundamentalists, and forced the remaining Druze to convert to Sunni Islam. (The Christian population of the area had wisely fled.) Ahrar al-Sham meanwhile posted videos of the public floggings it administered to those caught skipping Friday prayers.

This potent alliance of jihadi militias had been formed under the auspices of the rebellion’s major backers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. But it also enjoyed the endorsement of two other major players. At the beginning of the year, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered his followers to cooperate with other groups. In March, according to several sources, a U.S.-Turkish-Saudi “coordination room” in southern Turkey had also ordered the rebel groups it was supplying to cooperate with Jaish al-Fatah. The groups, in other words, would be embedded within the Al Qaeda coalition.

A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies. When I asked a former White House official involved in Syria policy if this was not a de facto alliance, he put it this way: “I would not say that Al Qaeda is our ally, but a turnover of weapons is probably unavoidable. I’m fatalistic about that. It’s going to happen.”

Earlier in the Syrian war, U.S. officials had at least maintained the pretence that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America’s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that:

“our allies were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of U.S.-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Asked why the United States of America was supposedly powerless to stop nations like Qatar, population 2.19 million, from pouring arms into the arsenals of Nusra and similar groups, a former adviser to one of the Gulf States replied softly: “They didn’t want to.”

http://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/a-special-relationship/5/

The Syrian war, which has to date killed upwards of 200,000 people, grew out of peaceful protests in March 2011, a time when similar movements were sweeping other Arab countries. For the Obama Administration, the tumultuous upsurge was welcome. It appeared to represent the final defeat of Al Qaeda and radical jihadism, a view duly reflected in a New York Times headline from that February: AS REGIMES FALL IN ARAB WORLD, AL QAEDA SEES HISTORY FLY BY. The president viewed the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 as his crowning victory. Peter Bergen, CNN’s terrorism pundit, concurred, certifying the Arab Spring and the death of bin Laden as the “final bookends” of the global war on terror.

Al Qaeda, on the other hand, had a different interpretation of the Arab Spring, hailing it as entirely positive for the jihadist cause. Far from obsessing about his own safety, as Obama had suggested, Zawahiri was brimful of optimism. The “tyrants” supported by the United States, he crowed from his unknown headquarters, were seeing their thrones crumble at the same time as “their master” was being defeated. “The Islamic project,” declared Hamid bin Abdullah al-Ali, a Kuwait-based Al Qaeda fund-raiser, would be “the greatest beneficiary from the environment of freedom.”

While the revolutions were ongoing, the Obama Administration settled on “moderate Islam” as the most suitable political option for the emerging Arab democracies — and concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood fitted the bill. This venerable Islamist organization had originally been fostered by the British as a means of countering leftist and nationalist movements in the empire. As British power waned, others, including the CIA and the Saudis, were happy to sponsor the group for the same purpose, unmindful of its long-term agenda. (The Saudis, however, always took care to prevent it from operating within their kingdom.)

The Brotherhood was in fact the ideological ancestor of the most violent Islamist movements of the modern era. Sayyid Qutb, the organization’s moving spirit until he was hanged in Egypt in 1966, served as an inspiration to the young Zawahiri as he embarked on his career in terrorism. Extremists have followed Qutb’s lead in calling for a resurrected caliphate across the Muslim world, along with a return to the premodern customs prescribed by the Prophet.

None of which stopped the Obama Administration from viewing the Brotherhood as a relatively benign purveyor of moderate Islam, not so different from the type on display in Turkey, where the Brotherhood-linked AKP party had presided over what seemed to be a flourishing democracy and a buoyant economy, even if the country’s secular tradition was being rolled back. As Mubarak’s autocracy crumbled in Egypt, American officials actively promoted the local Brotherhood; the U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, reportedly held regular meetings with the group’s leadership. “The administration was motivated to show that the U.S. would deal with Islamists,” the former White House official told me, “even though the downside of the Brotherhood was pretty well understood.”

At the same time that it was being cautiously courted by the United States, the Brotherhood enjoyed a firm bond with the stupendously rich ruling clique in Qatar. The tiny country was ever eager to assert its independence in a neighborhood dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iran. While hosting the American military at the vast Al Udeid Air Base outside Doha, the Qataris put decisive financial weight behind what they viewed as the coming force in Arab politics. They were certain, the former White House official told me, “that the future really lay in the hands of the Islamists,” and saw themselves “on the right side of history.”

The Syrian opposition seemed like an ideal candidate for such assistance, especially since Assad had been in the U.S. crosshairs for some time. (The country’s first and only democratically elected government was overthrown by a CIA-instigated coup in 1949 at the behest of American oil interests irked at Syria’s request for better terms on a pipeline deal.) In December 2006, William Roebuck, the political counselor at the American Embassy in Damascus, sent a classified cable to Washington, later released by WikiLeaks, proposing “actions, statements, and signals” that could help destabilize Assad’s regime. Among other recommended initiatives was a campaign, coordinated with the Egyptian and Saudi governments, to pump up existing alarm among Syrian Sunnis about Iranian influence in the country.

Roebuck could count on a receptive audience. A month earlier, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, testified on Capitol Hill that there was a “new strategic alignment” in the Middle East, separating “extremists” (Iran and Syria) and “reformers” (Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states). Undergirding these diplomatic euphemisms was something more fundamental. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who returned to Riyadh in 2005 after many years as Saudi ambassador in Washington, had put it bluntly in an earlier conversation with Richard Dearlove, the longtime head of Britain’s MI6. “The time is not far off in the Middle East,” Bandar said, “when it will be literally God help the Shia. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough.” The implications were clear. Bandar was talking about destroying the Shiite states of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Alawite (which is to say, Shia-derived) leadership in Syria.

Yet the Saudi rulers were acutely aware of their exposure to reverse-vent syndrome. Their corruption and other irreligious practices repelled the jihadis, who had more than once declared their eagerness to clean house back home. Such fears were obvious to Dearlove when he visited Riyadh with Tony Blair soon after 9/11. As he later recalled, the head of Saudi intelligence shouted at him that the recent attacks in Manhattan and Washington were a “mere pinprick” compared with the havoc the extremists planned to unleash in their own region: “What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and to remake the Middle East!”

From these statements, Dearlove discerned two powerful (and complementary) impulses in the thinking of the Saudi leadership. First, there could be “no legitimate or admissible challenge to the Islamic purity of their Wahhabi credentials as guardians of Islam’s holiest shrines.” (Their record on head-chopping and the oppression of women was, after all, second to none.) In addition, they were “deeply attracted toward any militancy which can effectively challenge Shia-dom.” Responding to both impulses, Saudi Arabia would reopen the vent. This time, however, the jihad would no longer be against godless Communists but against fellow Muslims, in Syria.

http://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/a-special-relationship/6/

By the beginning of 2012, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the United States were all heavily involved in supporting the armed rebellion against Assad. In theory, American support for the Free Syrian Army was limited to “nonlethal supplies” from both the State Department and the CIA. Qatar, which had successfully packed the opposition Syrian National Council with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, operated under no such restrictions. A stream of loaded Qatari transport planes took off from Al Udeid and headed to Turkey, whence their lethal cargo was moved into Syria.

“The Qataris were not at all discriminating in who they gave arms to,” the former White House official told me. “They were just dumping stuff to lucky recipients.” Chief among the lucky ones were Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, both of which had benefited from a rebranding strategy instituted by Osama bin Laden. The year before he was killed, bin Laden had complained about the damage that offshoots such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, with its taste for beheadings and similar atrocities, had done to his organization’s image. He directed his media staff to prepare a new strategy that would avoid “everything that would have a negative impact on the perception” of Al Qaeda. Among the rebranding proposals discussed at his Abbottabad compound was the simple expedient of changing the organization’s name. This strategy was gradually implemented for the group’s newer offshoots, allowing Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to present themselves to the credulous as kinder, gentler Islamists.

The rebranding program was paradoxically assisted by the rise of the Islamic State, a group that had split off from the Al Qaeda organization partly in disagreement over the image-softening exercise enjoined by Zawahiri. Although the Islamic State attracted many defectors and gained territory at the expense of its former Nusra partners, its assiduously cultivated reputation for extreme cruelty made the other groups look humane by comparison. (According to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, many Nusra members suspect that the Islamic State was created by the Americans “to discredit jihad.”)

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, driven principally by its virulent enmity toward Iran, Assad’s main supporter, was eager to throw its weight behind the anti-Assad crusade. By December 2012, the CIA was arranging for large quantities of weapons, paid for by the Saudis, to move from Croatia to Jordan to Syria.

“The Saudis preferred to work through us,” explained the former White House official. “They didn’t have an autonomous capability to find weapons. We were the intermediaries, with some control over the distribution. There was an implicit illusion on the part of the U.S. that Saudi weapons were going to groups with some potential for a pro-Western attitude.” This was a curious illusion to entertain, given Saudi Arabia’s grim culture of Wahhabi austerity as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s flat declaration, in a classified cable from 2009, that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Some in intelligence circles suspect that such funding is ongoing. “How much Saudi and Qatari money — and I’m not suggesting direct government funding, but I am suggesting maybe a blind eye being turned — is being channeled towards ISIS and reaching it?” Dearlove asked in July 2014. “For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it’s done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding. Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” Those on the receiving end of Islamic State attacks tend to agree. Asked what could be done to help Iraq following the group’s lightning assaults in the summer of 2014, an Iraqi diplomat replied: “Bomb Saudi Arabia.”

However the money was flowing, the Saudis certainly ended up crafting their own Islamist coalition. “The Saudis never armed al-Nusra,” recalled the Gulf State adviser. “They made the calculation that there’s going to be an appetite for Islamist-leaning militias. So they formed a rival umbrella army called Jaish al-Islam. That was the Saudi alternative — still Islamist, but not Muslim Brotherhood.”

Given that Jaish al-Islam ultimately answered to Prince Bandar, who became the head of Saudi intelligence in 2012, there did not appear to be a lot of room for Western values in the group’s agenda. Its leader, Zahran Alloush, was the son of a Syrian religious scholar. He talked dutifully about the merits of tolerance to Western reporters, but would revert to such politically incorrect themes as the mass expulsion of Alawites from Damascus when addressing his fellow jihadis. At the same time, Saudi youths have poured into Syria, ready to fight for any extremist group that would have them, even when those groups started fighting among themselves. Noting the huge numbers of young Saudis on the battle lines in Syria, a Saudi talk-show host lamented that “our children are fighting on both sides” — meaning Nusra and the Islamic State. “The Saudis,” he exclaimed, “are killing one another!”

http://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/a-special-relationship/7/

The determination of Turkey (a NATO ally) and Qatar (the host of the biggest American base in the Middle East) to support extreme jihadi groups became starkly evident in late 2013. On December 6, armed fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other militias raided warehouses at Bab al-Hawa, on the Turkish border, and seized supplies belonging to the Free Syrian Army. As it happened, a meeting of an international coordination group on Syria, the so-called London Eleven, was scheduled for the following week. Delegates from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East were bent on issuing a stern condemnation of the offending jihadi group.

The Turks and Qataris, however, adamantly refused to sign on. As one of the participants told me later, “All the countries in the room [understood] that Turkey’s opposition to listing Ahrar al-Sham was because they were providing support to them.” The Qatari representative insisted that it was counterproductive to condemn such groups as terrorist. If the other countries did so, he made clear, Qatar would stop cooperating on Syria. “Basically, they were saying that if you name terrorists, we’re going to pick up our ball and go home,” the source told me. The U.S. delegate said that the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization, would be welcome at the negotiating table — but Ahrar al-Sham, which happened to be its leading member, would not. The diplomats mulled over their communiqué, traded concessions, adjusted language. The final version contained no condemnation, or even mention, of Ahrar al-Sham.

Two years later, Washington’s capacity for denial in the face of inconvenient facts remains undiminished. Addressing the dominance of extremists in the Syrian opposition, Leon Panetta, a former CIA director, has blamed our earlier failure to arm those elusive moderates. The catastrophic consequences of this very approach in Libya are seldom mentioned. “If we had intervened more swiftly in Syria,” Gartenstein-Ross says, “the best-case scenario probably would have been another Libya. Meaning that we would still be dealing with a collapsed state and spillover into other Middle Eastern states and Europe.”

Even as we have continued our desultory bombing campaign against the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra are creeping closer and closer to international respectability. A month after the London Eleven meeting, a group of scholars from the Brookings Institution published an op-ed making the case for Ahrar al-Sham: “Designating [the] group as a terrorist organization might backfire by pushing it completely into Al Qaeda’s camp.” (The think tank’s recent receipt of a multiyear, $15 million grant from Qatar was doubtless coincidental.)

Over the past year, other distinguished figures have voiced support for a closer relationship with Al Qaeda’s rebranded extensions. David Petraeus, another former head of the CIA, has argued for arming at least the “more moderate” parts of Nusra. Robert Ford, a former ambassador to Syria and a vociferous supporter of the rebel cause, called on America to “open channels for dialogue” with Ahrar al-Sham, even if its members had on occasion slaughtered some Alawites and desecrated Christian sites. Even Foreign Affairs, an Establishment sounding board, has echoed these notions, suggesting that it was time for the United States to “rethink its policy toward al-Qaeda, particularly its targeting of Zawahiri.”

“Let’s be fair to the CIA,” said Benazir Bhutto, the once and future prime minister of Pakistan, back in 1993, when the consequences of fostering jihad were already becoming painfully clear to its sponsors. “They never knew that these people that they were training to fight Soviets in Afghanistan were one day going to bite the hand that fed them.”

Things are clearer on the ground. Not long ago, far away from the think tanks and briefing rooms where policies are formulated and spun, a small boy in the heart of Nusra territory was telling a filmmaker for Vice News about Osama bin Laden. “He terrified and fought the Americans,” he said reverently. Beside him, his brother, an even smaller child, described his future: “To become a suicide fighter for the sake of God.” A busload of older boys was asked which group they belonged to. “Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda,” they responded cheerfully.

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  1. NATO’s Got a Brand New (Syrian) Bag

By Pepe Escobar http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article43733.htm#.VnDyAIi7Bz8.facebook

December 15, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “RT” – The FSB, SVR and GRU in Russia, while drawing all the right connections, cannot help but conclude that Washington is letting Cold War 2.0 escalate to the boiling point.

Imagine Russian intel surveying the geopolitical chessboard.

A Russian passenger jet is bombed by an affiliate of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. A Russian fighter jet is ambushed and downed by Turkey;  here is a partial yet credible scenario of how it may have happened.

Ukrainian right-wing goons sabotage the Crimean electricity supply. A Syrian army base near Deir Ezzor – an important outpost against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in eastern Syria – is hit by the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO). The IMF “pardons” Ukraine’s debt to Russia as it joins, de facto, Cold War 2.0.

And this is just a shortlist.

This is a logical progression. The NATO-GCC compound in Syria is devoured by angst. Russia’s entry into the Syrian war theater – a proxy war, not a civil war – threw all elaborate, downright criminal regime change plans into disarray.

If the US-led CDO were really committed to fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, they would be working side by side with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), not bombing it or trying to stall it.

And they would be actively trying to shut down the key Turkey-Syria crossroads – the Jarablus corridor which is in fact a 24/7 Jihadi Highway.

NATO’s game in Syria wallows in slippery ambiguity. Discussions with dissident EU diplomats in Brussels, not necessarily NATO vassals, reveal a counter-narrative of how the Pentagon clearly mapped out the Russian strategy; how they interpreted Russian forces to be relatively isolated; and how they decided to allow Ankara under Sultan Erdogan to go wild – a perfect tool offering plausible deniability.

Which brings us back to the downing of the Su-24. Venturing one step further, Russian expert Alexei Leonkov maintains that not only did NATO follow the whole operation with an AWACS, but another AWACS from Saudi Arabia actually guided the Turkish F-16s.

The F-16s are incapable of launching air-to-air missiles without guidance from AWACS. Both Russian and Syrian data – which can be independently verified – place the American and the Saudi AWACS in the area at the time. And to top it off, the detailed US-Turkey deal on the F-16s stipulates permission is mandatory for deploying the jets against a third country.

All this suggests an extremely serious possibility; a direct NATO-GCC op against Russia, which may be further clarified by the Su-24’s recovered black box.

As if this was not enough to raise multiple eyebrows, it could mean just the first move in an expanding chessboard. The final target: to keep Russia away from the Turkish-Syrian border.

But that won’t happen for a number of reasons – not least the Russian deployment of the ultra-lethal S-400s. The Turkish Air Force is so scared that everything – even owls and vultures – is grounded across the border.

Meanwhile, the Humint component is being boosted; more Western boots on the ground, Germans included, branded as mere “advisers” – which, if deployed to the battlefield, may inevitably clash with the SAA. To mold public opinion, the humanitarian bombing faction of German neoliberalcons is already spinning the tale that Assad is the real enemy, not ISISI/SIL/Daesh. Finally, the Germans have made it clear they won’t work alongside Russia and the SAA, but responding to Centcom in Florida and the CDO HQ in Kuwait.

The NATO master plan for northern Syria in the next few weeks and months essentially features US, UK and Turkey fighter jets, with the French still in the balance (are we de facto collaborating with the Russians, or is it just posture?) This is being sold to global public opinion as a “coalition” effort – with Russia barely mentioned.

The master plan, under the cover of bombing the fake “Caliphate” lair in Raqqa, would ideally open the way to a de facto, Erdogan-concocted “safe zone” across the Jarablus corridor, which in reality is a no-fly zone able to harbor a gaggle of “moderate rebels”, a.k.a. hardcore Salafi-jihadis of the al-Nusra kind.

In parallel, expect a torrent of Turkish spin centered on “protecting” the Turkmen minority in northern Syria, actually Turkey’s fifth column, heavily infiltrated by Islamo-fascists of the Grey Wolves kind. It started with Ankara accusing Moscow of “ethnic cleansing”. Erdogan will go no holds barred appealing even for R2P (“responsibility to protect” NATO liberation, Libyan-style.)

And here’s where NATO is totally in sync with Ankara; after all, a “safe zone” protected by NATO crammed with “moderate rebels” is the perfect tool to turbo-charge the breakup of the Syrian state.

NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal.

UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice – blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it.

And that’s exactly how David of Arabia Cameron interpreted it. Obfuscation is inbuilt in the process, with London pledging to work side by side with Moscow.

Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic – UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.

On top of this, the CDO is no coalition of 60 or 65 countries, as the Obama administration is frantically spinning. They are actually a gang of seven: Germany, France, UK, US, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell; a pared-down-to-the-bone NATO-GCC compound.

Who’s actually fighting the fake “Caliphate” on the ground are the SAA; Hezbollah; Iraqi Shi’ites under Iranian advisers; and outside of the “4+1” alliance (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) a coalition of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and smaller Arab and Christian militias, now united under a political umbrella, the Syrian Democratic Council, which Ankara predictably abhors.

Ankara provocations won’t stop – including “creative” ways of denying the passage of “Syrian Express” Russian ships through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles without violating the Montreux Convention.

So NATO’s “new” master plan, twisting and turning, still slouches towards the prime objective: “liberating”, Libya-style, northern Syria and allow it to be occupied either by “moderate rebels” or in the worst case scenario Syrian Kurds, which in theory would be easily manipulated.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh would be in this case “contained” (Obama administration lingo) not in eastern Syria but actually expelled to the Iraqi western desert, where they would solidify a Sunnistan. Erdogan also badly wants a Sunnistan, but his version is even more ambitious, including Mosul.

This is all happening while a gaggle of Syrian “moderate” rebels met – of all places – in Wahhabi/Salafi-Jihadi Central Riyadh to choose a delegation of 42 people to “select the negotiators” of future Syrian peace talks.

Once again they agreed “Assad must go” even during the transition process. And that “foreign forces” must leave Syria. Obviously that excludes the tsunami of mercenaries paid and weaponized by Riyadh alongside Doha and Ankara.

Any sound mind would ask how the House of Saud gets away with it: choosing who is a“moderate” in a nation they are heavily involved in destabilizing. Simple: because Riyadh owns a gaggle of US lobbyists and handsomely rewards PR gurus such as Edelman, the largest privately owned PR agency on the planet.

And not by accident, the Syrian Democratic Council was not invited to go to Riyadh.

The die is cast. Whatever Ankara – under the cover of NATO – may be concocting to prevent the “4+1” from advancing on the ground in Syria, the writing is on the (lethal) wall. It may come embedded in cruise missiles delivered by the Caspian Fleet or delivered by submarines. And it will follow to the letter what President Putin himself told the Defense Ministry’s collegium:

“I order you to act extremely tough. Any targets that threaten Russian forces or our infrastructure on the ground should be immediately destroyed.”

Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he’s been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of “Globalistan” (2007), “Red Zone Blues” (2007), “Obama does Globalistan” (2009) and “Empire of Chaos” (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is “2030”, also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.

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12. Military operations in preparation in and around Syria

by Thierry Meyssan, 14 Dec 2015 http://www.voltairenet.org/article189631.html

The silence surrounding the military operations in Iraq and Syria does not mean that the war has ground to a halt, but that the different protagonists are preparing for a new round of hostilities.

The Coalition forces

On the imperial side, there reigns a state of total confusion. With regard to the contradictory declarations by US leaders, it is impossible to understand Washington’s objectives, if indeed there are any. At the very best, it would seem that the United States are allowing France to take certain initiatives at the head of one part of the Coalition, but even there, we do not know their real objectives.

Of course, France declares that it wants to destroy Daesh in retaliation for the attacks of the 13th November in Paris, but it was already saying so before these attacks took place. Their earlier declarations were the stuff of public relations, not reality. For example, the Mecid Aslanov, property of Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan’s BMZ Group, left the French port of Fos-sur-Mer on the 9th November 2015, having just delivered, in total impunity, a cargo of oil which it claimed had been extracted in Israël, but which in reality had been stolen by Daesh in Syria. There is nothing to indicate that the situation is any different today, or that we should begin taking the official declarations seriously.

French President François Hollande and his Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the aircraft-carrier Charles-De-Gaulle, off the coast of Syria, on the 4th December. They announced a change of mission, but gave no explanation. As Army Chief of Staff General Pierre de Villiers had previously stated, the ship was diverted to the Persian Gulf.

The aeronaval Group constituted around the Charles-De-Gaulle is composed of its on-board aerial Group (eighteen Rafale Marine, eight modernised Super Etendard, two Hawkeye, two Dauphin and one Alouette III), the aerial defence frigate Chevalier Paul, the anti-submarine frigate La Motte-Picquet, the command flagship Marne, the Belgian frigate Léopold Ier and the German frigate Augsburg, and also, although the Minister of Defence denies it, a nuclear attack submarine. Attached to this group, the stealth light frigate Courbet remained in the western Mediterranean.

The European forces have been integrated into Task Force 50 of the USNavCent, in other words the US Central Command fleet. This unit now comprises about sixty ships.

The French authorities have announced that rear-admiral René-Jean Crignola has taken command of this international force, without mentioning that he is placed under the authority of the commander of the 5th Fleet, rear-admiral Kevin Donegan, who is himself under the authority of General Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of CentCom. It is in truth an absolute rule of the Empire that the command of operations always falls to US officers, and that the Allies only occupy auxiliary positions. In fact, apart from the relative promotion of the French rear-admiral, we find ourselves in the same position as last February. We have an international Coalition which is supposed to be fighting Daesh, and which – for an entire year – has certainly multiplied its reconnaissance flights and destroyed Chinese oil installations, but without having the slightest effect on its official objective, Daesh. Here too, there is no indication that anything will change.

The Coalition has announced that it has carried out new bombing missions and destroyed a number of Daesh installations, but these allegations are unverifiable and even more doubtful insofar as the terrorist organisation has not made the slightest protest.

From this disposition, we may conclude that France may elaborate its own strategy, but that the United States can re-assert control at any time.

The terrorist forces

We could deal here with the terrorist organisations, but that would involve pretending, like NATO, that these groups are independent formations which have suddenly materialised from the void, with all their salaries, armaments and spare parts. More seriously, the jihadists are in fact mercenaries in the service of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – it seems that the United Arab Emirates have almost completely withdrawn from this group – to which we must add certain multinationals like Academi, KKR and Exxon-Mobil.

Turkey continues its military deployment in Bachiqa (Iraq), in support of the Kurdish forces of illegitimate President Massoud Barzani who, although his mandate is terminated, refuses to leave power and organise new elections. When the Iraqi government demanded that Turkey remove its troops and tanks, Ankara responded that it had sent its soldiers to protect the training forces deployed in Iraq according to an earlier international agreement, and that it had no intention of withdrawing them. It then added even more, bringing the number of troops involved to at least 1,000 soldiers and 25 tanks.

Iraq referred its case to the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League, without provoking the slightest reaction anywhere.

Turkey and the ex-governor of Mosul, Atheel al-Nujaifi, would like to be present when the city is taken from Daesh, hoping to be able to prevent it from being occupied by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (al-Hashd al-Shaabi), the great majority of whom are Shia.

It’s clear that everyone is dreaming – illegitimate President Massoud Barzani believes that no-one will question his annexation of the oil fields of Kirkuk and the Sinjar mountains – the leader of the Syrian Kurds, Saleh Muslim, imagines that he will soon be President of an internationally-recognised pseudo-Kurdistan – and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presumes that the Arabs of Mosul long to be liberated and governed by the Turks, as they were under the Ottoman Empire.

Furthermore, in Ukraine, Turkey has deployed the International Islamist Brigade that it officially created last August. These jihadists, who were extracted from the Syrian theatre, were divided into two groups as soon as they arrived in Kherson. Most of them went to fight in Donbass with the Cheikh Manour and Djokhar Doudaïev Brigades, while the best elements were infiltrated into Russia in order to sabotage the Crimean economy, where they managed to cut all electricity to the Republic for 48 hours.

Saudi Arabia united its mercenaries in Riyadh in order to constitute a delegation in readiness for the next round of negotiations organised by the NATO Director of Political Affairs, US neo-Conservative Jeffrey Feltman.

The Saudis did not invite the representatives of Al-Qaïda, nor those of Daesh, but only the Wahhabist groups who are working with them, like Jaysh al-Islam or Ahrar al-Sham. Therefore, in theory, there were no « terrorist groups », as listed by the UNO Security Council, present at the conference. However, in practice, all the participants were fighting with, in the name of, or alongside Al-Qaïda or Daesh without using their label, since most of these groups are directed by personalities who once belonged to Al-Qaïda or Daesh. Thus, Ahrar al-Sham was created just before the beginning of the events in Syria by the Muslim Brotherhood and the principal leaders of Al-Qaïda, drawn from personalities close to Osama bin Laden.

Continuing to act as they had before the Russisan intervention, the participants agreed to a « political solution » which would start with the abdication of the democratically-elected President Bachar el-Assad, and continue with a sharing of power between themselves and the Republican institutions. Thus, although they have lost all hope of a military victory, they persist in counting on the surrender of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Since the representative of the Syrian Kurds was not invited to the conference, we may conclude that Saudi Arabia considers the project for a pseudo-Kurdistan as distinct from the future of the rest of Syria. Let us note in passing that the YPG has just created a Syrian Democratic Council in order to reinforce the illusion of an alliance between Selah Muslim’s Kurds and the Sunni and Christian Arabs, when in reality, they are fighting each other on the ground.

In any case, there is no doubt that Riyadh is supporting Turkey’s efforts to create this pseudo-Kurdistan as a place of banishment for « its » Kurds. Indeed, it is now confirmed that Saudi Arabia supplied the logistical aid necessary for Turkey to guide the air-air missile which shot down the Russian Soukhoï 24.

Finally, Qatar is still pretending that it has not been involved in the war since the abdication of Emir Hamad, two years ago. Nonetheless, proof is accumulating of its secret operations, all of which are directed not against Damascus, but against Moscow – thus, the Qatari Minister of Defence, in Ukraine at the end of September, bought a number of sophisticated Pechora-2D anti-air weapons which the jihadists could use to threaten Russian forces. More recently, he organised a false-flag operation against Russia. Still in Ukraine, at the end of October, he bought 2,000 OFAB 250-270 Russian fragmentation bombs and dispersed them on the 6th December over a camp of the Syrian Arab Army, in order to accuse the Russian Army of blundering. In this case too, despite the proof, there was no reaction from the UNO.

The patriotic forces

The Russian forces have been bombing the jihadists since the 30th September. They plan to continue at least until the 6th January. Their action is aimed principally at destroying the bunkers built by these armed groups and the totality of their logistical networks. During this phase, there will be little evolution on the ground other than a withdrawal of jihadists towards Iraq and Turkey.

The Syrian Arab Army and its allies are preparing a vast operation for the beginning of 2016. The objective is to provoke an uprising of the populations dominated by the jihadists, and to take almost all the cities in the country simultaneously – with the possible exception of Palmyra – so that the foreign mercenaries will fall back to the desert. Unlike Iraq, where 120,00 Sunnis and Ba’athists joined Daesh only to exact revenge for having been excluded from power by the United States in favour of the Shiites, rare are the Syrians who ever acclaimed the « Caliphate ».

On the 21st and 22nd November, in the Mediterranean, the Russian army took part in exercises with its Syrian ally. As a result, the airports of Beirut (Lebanon) and Larnaca (Cyprus) were partially closed. On the 23rd and 24th November, the firing of Russian missiles on Daesh positions within Syria provoked the closing of the airports at Erbil and Sulaymaniyah (Iraq). It seems that in reality, the Russian army may have been testing the possible extension of its weapon that inhibits NATO communications and commands. In any case, on the 8th December, the submarine Rostov-on-Don fired on Daesh installations from the Mediterranean.

Russia, which has disposition of the air base at Hmeymim (near Lattakia), also uses the air base of the Syrian Arab Army in Damascus, and is said to be building a new base at al-Shayrat (near Homs). Besides this, some high-ranking Russian officers have been carrying out scouting missions with a view to creating a fourth base in the North-East of Syria, in other words, close to both Turkey and Iraq.

Finally, an Iranian submarine has arrived off the coast of Tartus.

Hezbollah, who demonstrated their capacity to carry out commando operations during their liberation of the Sukhoï pilot held prisoner by militias organised by the Turkish army, are preparing the uprising of Shia populations, while the Syrian Arab Army – which is more than 70% Sunni – is concentrating on the Sunni populations.

The Syrian government has concluded an agreement with the jihadists of Homs, who have finally accepted to either join up or leave. The area has been evacuated under the control of the United Nations, so that today, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Lattakia and Der ez-Zor are completely secure. Aleppo, Idlib and Al-Raqqah still need to be liberated.

Contrary to peremptory affirmations by the western Press, Russia has no intention of leaving the north of the country to France, Israël and the United Kingdom so that they can create their pseudo-Kurdistan. The patriot plan forsees the liberation of all the inhabited areas of the country, including Raqqah, which is the current « capital of the Caliphate ».

This is the calm before the storm.

Thierry Meyssan

Translation
Pete Kimberley

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13. What say do our elected representatives have in going to war?

https://theconversation.com/what-say-do-our-elected-representatives-have-in-going-to-war-51860

Australia: calls for reform grow louder

The Australian Constitution makes no mention of the government’s power to declare war and deploy military forces overseas. Rather, this forms part of the executive powers contained in Section 61 of the Constitution. Their extent and restrictions are considered to mirror the UK government’s foreign affairs prerogatives.

In direct contrast to the US Constitution, there is no requirement in the Australian Constitution for parliamentary authorisation – or even a requirement to consult parliament – before these powers are exercised.

Historically, however, there was a practice that following the declaration of war or the deployment of forces, the government would inform parliament and a debate would occur. It did not amount to authorisation. But this practice was consistent with fundamental tenets of Australia’s parliamentary system, where the government’s actions should be reported to and scrutinised by parliament.

Since the commitment of Australian forces to Afghanistan in 2001, this practice has fallen away. In contrast to the increased parliamentary involvement in the UK since 2001, in Australia there has been a general resistance across both major parties to greater parliamentary involvement by allowing more substantial debate, let alone authorisation.

The Greens and independent MPs (and before them, the Australian Democrats) have consistently called for the deployment of military force to be preconditioned on parliamentary debate and authorisation. But government decisions to deploy the military generally receive strong bipartisan support.

Thus, neither the government of the day nor the parliament has sought or insisted upon greater transparency or parliamentary scrutiny.

However, there are some signs this might be changing. In October, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek moved a motion that parliament be given an opportunity to debate the government’s strategy in Iraq and Syria.

Since taking office, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made repeated promises to increase the level and openness of public debate over government policy. This is yet to materialise with respect to use of military force. But these statements provide promising signs for reconsideration of Australia’s current practice.

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