Wednesday, August 28, 2013

War Hawks itch with lust for Syria

As the White House continues pounding the drums for war on Syria, Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) reports:

Peter Hain has said military action against Syria would be "very dangerous" because it could drag Britain into full-scale war.
The former Labour cabinet minister ruled out supporting the government, saying David Cameron's motives were particularly suspect because he had wanted to intervene in Syria long before last week's chemical weapons attack.
Speaking to the Guardian, Hain said: "This is a highly complex civil war in a region where the wrong action could light a powder keg, with not just consequences for refugees that we have already seen but retaliatory action against other countries … [Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president] has formidable weaponry supplied by the Russians and the Iranians.

How many more former officials would have to speak up for some semblance of maturity to be imposed?  Probably more than are currently alive.  The White House is lusting for war.

And lying about what's taken place.  Yesterday on KPFA's Flashpoints, guest host Kevin Pina spoke with James Paul about the issues involved:

James Paul: Well in a sense it was predictable.  There was a tremendous amount of pressure inside the Obama administration and also coming from London and Paris to take military action.  They -- in conversations I had with various people in those governments a few months ago, it was clear that they wanted to win this civil war with their people.  They're, as you know, supporting the rebels that are largely -- as a military force -- Islamic fundamentalists with a lot of support from Saudi Arabia.  But this -- The Assad side seems to be winning that war now because the rebels have been behaving in a -- in a really bad way towards Syrian citizens.  And they're losing the battle militarily and also in terms of support.  So this is a way to change the game on the ground and to do that by military strikes at the military target but it's really outrageous agression.

Kevin Pina: And again you're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio and that's the voice of my guest James Paul.  He is the author of Syria Unmasked and until recently was the Executive Director of Global Policy Forum. Well, you know, Jim, I got to ask you this question which is what's really at stake for US policy interest here?  You know, is it about oil again?  Are these chemical -- allegations of chemical weapons -- akin to what we were told in Iraq with Weapons of Mass Destruction?

James Paul: Well, you've-you've pretty much got it.  I think the issue of chemical weapons use is still a very open question.  My sources in Syria say that they think -- and I should say that my sources are in the democratic opposition that have been working for more than 20 years against the dictatorship of the Assad family so they're not exactly friends of Bashar.  But they think it's probably rebel -- either rebel initiated or possibly it's a black operation from some outside parties.  So I think we have to be very, very skeptical about the claims of 'definite,' 'certain' information that we're hearing so much from the capital.  You're absolutely right that we remember -- remember Colin Powell sitting in the Security Council with his very elaborate staged thing.  And, you know, I was there in the Security Council chamber that day and I remember the incredible skepticism around -- with diplomats sitting all around me.  It's just ridiculous.  I think people need to have that kind of skepticism today about these claims.  But, yes, at the end of the day, it is about oil.  Syria's not itself a major oil producer but it's part of a game that has to do probably with -- you know, I think the road to Tehran passes through Damascus, you might say.  And they're looking for -- they're looking for eventually aiming at Iran and its enormous oil resources.  Well  they just overthrew the government of Egypt so they're pretty busy right now -- and installed a military dictatorship there.  It's ironic that they overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood that is fairly -- you know, as Islamic government's go -- fairly moderate whereas the rebels that they're supporting in Syria are dominated by a much, much more extreme form of Islam and the main military group is  Jabhat al-Nusra which has proclaimed its alliance with al Qaeda -- whatever that means.

Kevin Pina:  Well, you know, I have to wonder.  This is beginning to resemble more and more a proxy war in that you've got Saudi Arabia and the Qatar government supporting jihadists on the ground.  You've got Russia on the other side -- and China -- giving tacit support and arming the Syrian military -- they claim to fulfill contracts that were already negotiated.  Now is it your take on this that it's resembling more and more a proxy war?  Or do you still see that there's an indigenous opposition too -- that's fighting it out with a repressive government in Syria?

James Paul:  Well we have to remember that there's several different oppositions.  I mean, this started as a nonviolent protest in the spring of 2011.  And the people that I'm in contact with mainly in Syria are those people who are, you know, human rights defenders and very serious about a democratic future for Syria.  These people don't like the rebels at all and they see the rebels as being -- you know, posing an impossible future for the country, namely one that is dominated by an Islamic government.  And Syria's a very diverse country in terms of religion and ethnicity.  There's, you know, a fairly large Kurdish population.  About 15%.   10% is Christian.  Maybe 10 or 12% is Alawi which is kind of related to a Shia sect.  And then you have Sunnis but lots of Sunnis are not religious particularly, they're secular, so they don't want this either.  There's a lot of opposition to the kind of politics both -- that are represented by the rebel cause, let's say, and that opposition that's very strong out on the streets.  And that's one of the main reasons they've been losing the war -- because there's been fighting between various groups on the ground and the civilian population has been withdrawing its support from these people.  So the US, instead of getting the idea that maybe they should be giving support to the nonviolent democratic opposition which is quite strong -- you know, it has a strong presence on the ground, it's been trying to broker cease-fires in different parts of the country and so on but Washington, London and Paris -- in spit of all their democratic pretense are not supporting these people at all.  And instead, they're supporting the, you know, Salafist fighters.

Kevin Pina: And let me remind our listeners that is the voice of my guest James Paul. He is the author of Syria Unmasked and most recently was the Executive Director of Global Policy Forum. Well, James, I, you know, wonder, this is a bigger question, and  I sort of have to ask myself is Afghanistan better off today by virtue of US intervention and occupation?  Is Iraq better off today by virtue of the same?  Is Libya better off today by virtue of the NATO intervention?  These countries, at one point, apparently had higher standards of living -- in particularly Iraq and Libya -- and once the US involved themselves in that, you know, theater, the utter destruction of the infrastructure of those countries and regardless of what you may have though about the previous regimes, the truth is that in the wake of that destruction, people seemed to be left poorer and more destitute.  Is that your take on it?

James Paul:  Well it's true but I want to expand the picture a bit to look at why those countries were the way they were before the US came in and certainly, in terms of Iraq, you can see that the US was actually supporting Saddam Hussein for a very long time and providing him with a lot of military and other support right up to the moment when the invaded Kuwait.

Kevin Pina: Even while he was using chemical weapons.

James Paul: Yes, of course.  The US provided chemical weapons -- precursors and delivery systems to Saddam Hussein and actually there were something like 90 Pentagon targeters in the Defense Ministry in Baghdad during the war. They were targeting Iraqi air strikes against Iran -- including airstrikes that were using chemical weapons against Iranian cities.  I mean really the-the-the idea that Washington is talking about how terrible this sort of thing is?  I mean they've been doing this kind of thing right along.

Kevin Pina:  Is it really as simple as if I support your government in the interests of US foreign policy, well you do whatever you want.  Use chemical weapons, we'll supply them to you.  And if we deem you as not in the interests of US foreign policy than we're going to use it as justification to take you out.  Is it really that simple?

James Paul:  Well it is pretty simple.  I mean, that really is the long and the short of it.  They're following a geo-strategic game in all of these different theaters, and especialy it's importsant in the Middle East because more than 60% of the liquid petroleum reserves are found in the Middle East and those reserves can most be reproduced at a couple of dollars a barrel, sold at more than a hundred.  The US wants to get in there or, if they are in there, they want to stay in there.  And so a lot of this is being driven by oil and gas and it has been for the last 100 years. 

Who's being invited to speak in the media you're consuming?  Today on Democracy Now!, Phyllis Bennis addresses the topic.

The following community sites -- plus Cindy Sheehan, Pacifica Evening News, and Susan's On the Edge -- updated last night:

We'll close with this from ETAN:

Groups Condemn Sale of Deadly Attack Helicopters to Indonesia
Contact: Contact: John M. Miller, +1-917-690-4391,
Ed McWilliams, +1-575-648-2078,

August 26, 2013 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) today condemned the U.S. government's decision to approve the sale of deadly Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia. The sale demonstrates that U.S. concern for greater respect for human rights and justice in Indonesia are nothing more than hollow rhetoric.
The new Apache attack helicopters will greatly augment the capacity of the TNI to pursue "sweeping" operations, extending TNI capacity to stage operations after dark and in ever more remote areas.

The sale, announced during the visit of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to Jakarta, ignores the appalling record of human rights violations by the Indonesian military (TNI), which will operate this deadly weapons system. 

The helicopters are offensive weapons often used in counter-insurgency campaigns.

The TNI continues to conduct military campaigns in West Papua. The military's "sweeps" and other military operations purportedly target the few remaining, lightly-armed pro-independence guerrillas. In reality, the operations are aimed at repressing and intimidating Papuans. The sweep operations, involve assaults on remote villages in West Papua, destroying civilian homes, churches and public buildings and forcing civilians from their homes. These attacks drive civilians into surrounding mountains and jungles where many have died due to a lack of food, shelter or medical assistance.

The new Apache attack helicopters will greatly augment the capacity of the TNI to pursue "sweeping" operations, extending TNI capacity to stage operations after dark and in ever more remote areas.

The statement by Indonesia's Minister of Defense that the sale does not include any conditions on the use of these weapons is especially concerning. The TNI use of these weapons platforms will be largely unconstrained. TNI personnel are not accountable to the civilian judicial system nor is the TNI as an institution subordinated to civilian government policy or operational control. For decades, the TNI has drawn funding from a vast network of legal and illegal businesses enabling it to evade even civilian government budgetary controls. Legislation to restrain the TNI has been weak or only partially implemented.
On Monday August 26, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the U.S. had closed a deal for Indonesia to buy eight AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for a half a billion dollars. The U.S. did not attach conditions restricting their use.

The sale represents the latest step in the Pentagon's increased engagement with the TNI. In 1999, restrictions on U.S. engagement with the Indonesia military were tightened as the TNI and its militia allies were destroying East Timor (now Timor-Leste) following the UN-conducted referendum on independence. Through the 2000s, restrictions on engagement with the Indonesian military were gradually lifted, even though it remained unaccountable for its past crimes in Timor-Leste and throughout the archipelago  and rights violations continue in West Papua and elsewhere. 

Last year, ETAN and WPAT coordinated a letter signed by more than 90 organizations urging the U.S. not to sell the deadly attack helicopters to Indonesia. The groups warned that the helicopters will escalate conflicts in Indonesia, especially in the rebellious region of West Papua: "Providing these helicopters would pose a direct threat to Papuan civilians." 

ETAN, formed in 1991 and advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Since its founding, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. See ETAN's web site: WPAT publishes the monthly West Papua Report.
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John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
Mobile phone: +1-917-690-4391
Email: Skype: john.m.miller
Twitter: @etan009  Website:

2012 Recipient of the Order of Timor (Ordem Timor)

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