Posted tagged ‘Bashar Assad’

Syria Responds to Tillerson’s US Military Engagement Pledge

January 18, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Jan. 17, 2018.

By Cindy Saine January 18, 2018 VoaNews

Source: Syria Responds to Tillerson’s US Military Engagement Pledge

{The endgame for Syria must address regime change. – LS}


Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the U.S. military’s presence in Syria is an act of aggression and a violation of sovereignty.

The comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined plans in a speech Wednesday for the United States to remain engaged diplomatically and militarily in Syria long after the defeat of the radical Islamic State group.

The United States has led a coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq since 2014, and the Pentagon said last month there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

Tillerson discussed the way forward for the United States in Syria at an event at the conservative leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He listed a number of reasons why it is crucial for the U.S. to remain in the troubled country, including preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State and al-Qaida terrorist groups.

“ISIS has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two,” Tillerson said, using an acronym for the militant group.

“We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria,” he said, referring to what he described as mistakes made by the Obama administration in withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely from Iraq and failing to stabilize Libya after NATO airstrikes that led to the ousting of the late President Moammar Gadhafi.

Reasons to remain engaged

Tillerson said there are also other reasons for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.

“A total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would help [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. A stable, unified and independent Syria ultimately requires post-Assad leadership in order to be successful. Continued U.S. presence to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS will also help pave the way for legitimate local civil authorities to exercise responsible governance of their own liberated areas.”

Tillerson told former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who asked him questions at the event, that the lives of Syrian civilians are still at stake.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice speak to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice speak to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

“The priority right now in Syria is to stop people being killed,” he said, adding they are still being killed by the thousands. He called President Assad a brutal murderer of his own people who can never provide long-term stability.

Tillerson said the main goals of U.S. stabilization efforts in Syria are to create the conditions for Syrian refugees to return to the country, to curb Iranian influence in the region and to pave the way for U.N.-supervised elections aimed at securing new leadership in Damascus.

The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert and a former adviser to a number of secretaries of state, told VOA he sees a number of similarities between the policy outlined by Tillerson and Obama administration policy on Syria.

“Here’s how they’re same: other-worldly goals without the will or capacity to achieve them … [an insistence on] no nation-building,” Miller said.

He said the Trump administration’s policy differs from the previous administration in that Tillerson is advocating staying in Syria for a very long time.

UN-backed Geneva process

Tillerson’s plan relies on the U.N.-backed Geneva process aimed at brokering a political solution to the civil war in Syria. United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura announced Wednesday that the U.N. would host the Syrian government and opposition for peace talks in Vienna on January 25 and 26.

De Mistura’s office said in a statement the meeting will focus largely on constitutional issues.

“The special envoy looks forward to the participation of both delegations in this special meeting. He expects that delegations will be coming to Vienna prepared for substantive engagement with him and his team with a specific focus on the constitutional basket of the agenda towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254,” the statement read, referring to a 2015 resolution demanding an end to attacks against civilian targets.

The scheduled talks will occur days before a slated peace congress in Russia aimed at finding a settlement to the civil war that began in March 2011.

Officials: CIA-backed Syrian rebels under Russian blitz

October 11, 2015

Officials: CIA-backed Syrian rebels under Russian blitz

By KEN DILANIAN Oct. 10, 2015 11:13 AM EDT

Source: Officials: CIA-backed Syrian rebels under Russian blitz


WASHINGTON (AP) — CIA-backed rebels in Syria, who had begun to put serious pressure on President Bashar Assad’s forces, are now under Russian bombardment with little prospect of rescue by their American patrons, U.S. officials say.

Over the past week, Russia has directed parts of its air campaign against U.S.-funded groups and other moderate opposition in a concerted effort to weaken them, the officials say. The Obama administration has few options to defend those it had secretly armed and trained.

The Russians “know their targets, and they have a sophisticated capacity to understand the battlefield situation,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who serves on the House Intelligence Committee and was careful not to confirm a classified program. “They are bombing in locations that are not connected to the Islamic State” group.

Other U.S. officials interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The CIA began a covert operation in 2013 to arm, fund and train a moderate opposition to Assad. Over that time, the CIA has trained an estimated 10,000 fighters, although the number still fighting with so-called moderate forces is unclear.

The effort was separate from the one run by the military, which trained militants willing to promise to take on IS exclusively. That program was widely considered a failure, and on Friday, the Defense Department announced it was abandoning the goal of a U.S.-trained Syrian force, instead opting to equip established groups to fight IS.

For years, the CIA effort had foundered — so much so that over the summer, some in Congress proposed cutting its budget. Some CIA-supported rebels had been captured; others had defected to extremist groups. The secret CIA program is the only way the U.S. is taking on Assad militarily. In public, the United States has focused its efforts on fighting IS and urging Assad to leave office voluntarily.

“Probably 60 to 80 percent of the arms that America shoveled in have gone to al-Qaida and its affiliates,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

But in recent months, CIA-backed groups, fighting alongside more extremist factions, began to make progress in Syria’s south and northwest, American officials say. In July and August, U.S.-supported rebels seized territory on the al-Ghab plain, in northwest Syria’s Idlib and Hama governorates. The plain is a natural barrier between areas controlled by Sunni Muslims and the Alawite sect to which Assad and his loyalists belong. The capture of the al-Ghab plain was seen as a breakthrough toward weakening the Alawites.

Those and other gains put Damascus, the capital, at risk, officials say.

But in recent days, Russian airstrikes have hit groups in the area, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank that closely tracks the situation. Russian bombs and missiles have hit specific buildings associated with the moderate Syrian opposition, according to a U.S. official briefed on the intelligence.

Russian officials have insisted they are bombing Islamic State militants and other terrorists.

U.S. intelligence officials see many factors motivating Russia’s intervention: Moscow’s reasserting its primacy as a great power, propping up Assad and wanting to deal a blow to the United States, which has insisted that Assad must go to end Syria’s civil war.

Russia is also interested in containing IS, an organization that includes thousands of Chechen fighters who may pose a threat to Russia, officials say.

But in the short term, “my conclusion is that the timing of their intervention was driven by Assad really going critical,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., also a House Intelligence Committee member.

The administration is scrambling to come up with a response to Russia’s moves, but few believe the U.S. can protect its secret rebel allies. The administration has all but ruled out providing CIA-backed groups with surface-to-air missiles that can down aircraft, fearing such weapons would end up in the wrong hands, officials say.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, says the U.S. should consider establishing a no-fly zone that allows rebels a safe place from which to operate, and shooting down Syrian helicopters that are bombing civilians. He said the U.S. also should provide arms to the Ukrainian government fighting Russian-backed separatists.

A no-fly zone would require the U.S. military to be ready to engage in air battles with the Syrian government, something it is not prepared to do.

The administration “is debating the merits of taking further action or whether they are better off letting Putin hang himself,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Our options are much narrower than they were two weeks ago,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who serves on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees. “I don’t think there is any simple answer. … Further air involvement has become very problematic because of the Russian engagement.”

What’s Behind Carter’s Claim That Russia Will Suffer Casualties in Syria?

October 10, 2015

What’s Behind Carter’s Claim That Russia Will Suffer Casualties in Syria?

18:26 10.10.2015

(updated 18:27 10.10.2015)

Source: What’s Behind Carter’s Claim That Russia Will Suffer Casualties in Syria?

When US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he expects Russia will soon suffer casualties, his phrase sparked the question whether the Pentagon has a Soviet-Afghanistan redux in mind for Syria, Germany-based political scientist and analyst Phil Butler remarks.

The real life “war on ISIL” conducted by the US is completely different from what Washington’s tame media sources are telling the public: in fact it is a part of a US strategy of widespread regime change across much of the world, Germany-based American political scientist and analyst Phil Butler notes.

“Without expanding our story too far, the Arab Spring we heard so much about is not finished yet. As Barack Obama and other Western leaders have made abundantly clear, Bashar Assad’s government must be overthrown by whatever means. ISIL, or even al-Qaeda, they’re only bit players in an overall strategy to shift world affairs,” Butler pointed out in his article for New Eastern Outlook.

The US’ large-scale project in the Middle East is supported by its partners and NATO allies, such as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, Canada, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Also allied with the coalition are the Kurdish administration in Northern Iraq, the so-called “Syrian opposition,” and, rather surprisingly, America’s bitter enemy al-Qaeda, along with numerous jihadist extremist groups like al-Nusra, the political scientist underscored.And here comes Russia…

“Russia is now flying support for a massive Syrian Army push to regain territory and control. The short story being, ISIL has suffered more losses in the last few days than throughout the US/Coalition campaign supposedly designed to eradicate these terrorists,” Butler emphasized.

It goes without saying that Russia has largely upset the US and Co.’s applecart in the region.

Butler quoted US investigative reporter Jeffrey Silverman, who told him that Washington has invested too much in this Middle Eastern project to allow Russia “to just fly in and sort out the terrorists once and for all.”

“We can expect that the US, its proxies, including Turkey, Jordan and Israel, will provide all necessary covert material support to try to save their joint project,” Silverman emphasized.

The question remains open how far Washington will go to halt the Russo-Syrian advance in the war zone.Commenting on the issue, Butler called attention to US Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent remarks over Russia’s involvement in Syria.

“This will have consequences for Russia itself. And I also expect that in the coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer casualties in Syria,” Carter said.

Furthermore, less than a week ago Barack Obama declared that Syria would become a “quagmire” for Russia, the US analyst highlighted.

Carter and Obama’s words were not just casual comments, according to Butler. The political scientist referred to the fact that about three decades ago the Reagan administration provided the Afghani Mujaheddin, the would-be Taliban fighters, with Stingers to inflict serious damage on the USSR’s Air Force in Afghanistan. So, is this the option Carter and Obama are hinting at?

“At this juncture, if Obama gives a green light to jihadists shooting down Russian planes, America will be exposed in the game. With millions of lives at stake in the region, and hundreds of millions more affected by the refugee crisis, sanctions, and America polarizing the world, the string pullers of Washington have few options,” the analyst pointed out.

“If I were Ash Carter, I’d make damn sure Russian pilots had an American wing man or two. Even a lucky hit on an SU-34 sends a signal — Afghanistan Redux — America is guilty of chaos again,” Phil Butler stressed.

Russia gearing up to be first world power to insert ground forces into Syria

September 1, 2015

Russia gearing up to be first world power to insert ground forces into Syria, DEBKAfile, September 1, 2015

Russian_airborn_troops_syria_1.9.15Russian airborne troops for Syria

Despite strong denials from Moscow, Russian airborne troops are preparing to land in Syria to fight Islamic State forces. The surprise attack on Monday, Aug. 31, by ISIS forces on the Qadam district of southern Damascus, in which they took over parts of the district – and brought ISIS forces the closest that any Syrian anti-Assad group has ever been to the center of the Syrian capital – is expected to accelerate the Russian military intervention.

Moscow is certainly not ready to endanger the position of President Bashar Assad or his rule in Damascus, and views it as a red line that cannot be crossed. If Russia intervenes militarily in this way, Russia will be the first country from outside the Middle East to send ground forces into the Syrian civil war.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that discussions by the Russo-Syrian Military Commission, which was established last month in Moscow to coordinate the intervention, accelerated during the last few days.

Our intelligence sources point out that the concerted activities of the commission are taking place amid the nearly complete paralysis of the US Central Command-Forward-Jordan (CCFJ), where operations against the rebels in southern Syria, including those holding positions across from Israel’s Golan, are coordinated. Officers from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel are attached to the CCFJ.

Most of the operations of the CCFJ have been halted due to a conflict that erupted between the Syrian rebels and the U.S. Central Command, CENTCOM. The US military is opposed to the rebels cooperating with Al-Qaeda-linked groups, such as the Al-Nusra front, while the rebels claim that this cannot be avoided fir they are to defeat the forces of Bashar Assad and Hizballah.

The paralysis of the CCFJ is spurring the Russians to try to show that their “central command” for Syria is operating without any difficulties.

In recent weeks, the Russians have taken four military steps related to Syria:

1. On Aug. 18, six of Russia’s advanced MIG-31 Foxhound interceptor aircraft landed at the Syrian Air Force’s Mezze Airbase, which is the military section of Damascus international airport. After the fighters landed, they were immediately followed by giant Russian Antonov AN-124 Condor cargo planes carrying 1,000 of Russia’s 9M133 Kornet anti-tank missiles.

The advanced jets are intended to serve as air support for the Russian units that arrive in Syria.

2. Before the Russian planes landed in Damascus, Moscow reached an agreement with Washington for the removal of NATO’s Patriot missile batteries from Turkey. The removal was carried out gradually during the month of August, thus preventing the possibility that NATO Patriot missiles could hit Russian fighters carrying out operations in Syrian airspace.

3. During the last week of August, a large number of Russian troops, mostly logistical teams whose job is to lay the groundwork for the arrival of the combat units, arrived in Syria. The troops were seen in Damascus and in Jablah district of Lattakia province, where the Russian forces are building a military base.

4. Our intelligence sources also report that Moscow has started to supply Damascus with satellite imagery of the ground situation on the different fronts.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that all of these preparatory steps by Moscow for the introduction of ground forces are being carried out in coordination with Washington and Tehran.

The more that the three capitals tighten their coordination in support of Assad, the sooner the Russian intervention is expected to take place.

Iran denies aiding Assad in alleged nuclear project

January 12, 2015

Iran denies aiding Assad in alleged nuclear projectForeign minister says ‘ridiculous’ Der Speigel report aimed to discredit the Islamic Republic’s own program

By Marissa Newman and AFP January 12, 2015, 9:52 am

via Iran denies aiding Assad in alleged nuclear project | The Times of Israel.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran on August 31, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Atta Kenare)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran on August 31, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Atta Kenare)


ran on Sunday dismissed as “ridiculous” a report that it had supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in alleged efforts to construct a secret underground nuclear plant.

Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine had reported on Friday that Assad was seeking nuclear weapons, adding that the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which has provided military support to Assad’s regime in the bloody conflict in Syria, has been guarding the secret project. The report said North Korean and Iranian experts were involved in the project development.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the report, which he said aimed to discredit the Islamic Republic’s own contested nuclear program.

“The magazine’s allegation is one of the attempts made by those circles whose life has been based on violence and fear to cloud the international community with illusion and create imaginary concerns about the Islamic Republic, and this is a ridiculous claim,” Zarif was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.

The foreign minister also insisted, based on an Islamic edict issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that “we believe that all nuclear weapons should be dismantled.”

Citing information made available by unidentified intelligence sources, Der Spiegel reported Friday that the Syrian plant was located in an inaccessible mountain region in the west of the war-ravaged country, two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Lebanese border.

It is deep underground, near the town of Qusayr and has access to electricity and water supplies, the magazine said in a pre-released version of the story made available ahead of Saturday’s publication.

It said it had had access to “exclusive documents,” satellite photographs and intercepted conversations thanks to intelligence sources.

Western experts suspect, based on the documents, that a reactor or an enrichment plant could be the aim of the project, whose codename is “Zamzam,” Der Spiegel said.

The Syrian regime has transferred 8,000 fuel rods to the plant that had been planned for a facility at Al-Kibar, it added.

In 2007, a bombing raid on an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility at al-Kibar was widely understood to have been an Israeli strike, but it was never acknowledged by the Jewish state.

Der Spiegel said North Korean and Iranian experts are thought to be part of the “Zamzam” project.

A Sad State of Affairs: The Kerry Record

January 2, 2015

A Sad State of Affairs: The Kerry Record, World Affairs JournalJoshua Muravchik, November/December, 2014

(Kerry likely agrees with Obama as to his quite foreign foreign policies and, equally likely, we are stuck with both at least until Obama leaves the White House.

Kerry I'm an idiot

The most bothersome current aspects of Obama-Kerry foreign policies are the extent to which they trust Iran and how they deal with it and the P5+1 negotiating group. — DM)

John_Kerry_and_Benjamin_Netanyahu_July_2014 (1)

Although Kerry’s anti-American ideology has moderated to some degree from his fiery days as an antiwar leader, he has misrepresented but never repudiated his past. Especially consistent has been his inclination to see the best in America’s enemies, from Madame Binh to Comandante Ortega to Bashar Assad. Israelis were shocked this summer that Kerry came up with a plan molded by Turkey and Qatar to fit the interests of Hamas at their own expense. Had they known him and his record better, they might not have been.


The Gaza war of July and August 2014 occasioned the sharpest frictions in memory between the United States and Israel, highlighted by a cease-fire proposal offered by Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel’s security cabinet rejected unanimously. Kerry’s plan envisioned a seven-day cease-fire, during which the parties would negotiate “arrangements” to meet each of Hamas’s demands about the free flow of people and goods into Gaza and the payment of salaries of Hamas’s tens of thousands of employees. As for Israel’s demands about destruction of tunnels and rockets and the demilitarization of Gaza, these were not mentioned at all, except in the add-on phrase that the talks would also “address all security issues.”

The document cited the important role to be played by “the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States, Turkey, [and] Qatar.” Conspicuous by their absence from this list were Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. These three had also not been invited to the Paris meetings where Kerry worked on his ideas with leaders of the countries and bodies mentioned.

Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote that the proposal “might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal [head of Hamas]. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.” The centrist Times of Israel’s characteristically circumspect editor, David Horovitz, branded Kerry’s initiative “a betrayal.” And left-leaning author Ari Shavit commented that “Kerry ruined everything. [He] put wind in the sails of Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal, allowed the Hamas extremists to overcome the Hamas moderates, and gave renewed life to the weakened regional alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Turkey and Qatar are the mainstays of that alliance and were chosen by Kerry as his principal interlocutors because they are Hamas’s main backers. This brought protests from the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas’s movement, Fatah, the secularist rival to Hamas. That group declared that “whoever wants Qatar and Turkey to represent them can emigrate and go live there. Our only legitimate representative is the PLO.”

The shock of Palestinian and Israeli leaders would have been less, however, if they had been more familiar with the record of John Kerry. Spurning America’s friends in pursuit of deals with their nemeses was perfectly in character for the secretary of state. The hallmark of his career has been to denigrate America itself, while supporting the claims of its enemies.

That career began in 1969, when, months after returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam, Kerry sought and received a military discharge so that he might run for Congress. His campaign as a peace candidate sputtered, but his authenticity as a Vietnam vet established him as a presence in the burgeoning antiwar movement. In May 1970, he traveled to Paris for an unpublicized meeting with Viet Cong representatives, and, perhaps at their suggestion, he joined up upon his return with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. VVAW was headed by Al Hubbard, a former Black Panther. Kerry was instantly given a top role, twinning with Hubbard as the public face of the organization.

At a VVAW protest in Washington, DC, in April 1971, Kerry joined other veterans in throwing away their military medals in front of news cameras. The entire demonstration was punctuated by Kerry’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he offered dramatic testimony about American atrocities in Vietnam based on accounts heard at a VVAW inquest a few months earlier. He spoke of veterans who said:

They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages . . . poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside.

These acts, Kerry emphasized, “were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”

When, at the behest of aghast senators, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted a formal inquiry into the stories presented at the VVAW inquest, it reported that many of the VVAW witnesses cited by Kerry refused to cooperate, although promised immunity. Others were clearly crackpots, and several swore, and provided witness corroboration, that they had not participated at the inquest at all and had no idea who had appeared in their names. The entire exercise had been inspired and largely engineered by Mark Lane, whose book on the same subject earlier that year had been panned by New York Times columnist James Reston Jr. as “a hodgepodge of hearsay,” while that paper’s book reviewer, Neil Sheehan, who had reported from Vietnam and would soon break the Pentagon Papers, revealed that some of Lane’s “witnesses” had not served in Vietnam. (The political scientist Guenter Lewy documents these events in his 1978 book America in Vietnam.)

In August 1971, four months after his Senate appearance, Kerry made another trip to Paris, to meet with Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, foreign minister of the Viet Cong, this time in full view, for his first exercise in international diplomacy. He returned touting the “peace plan” of the Viet Cong, explaining: “If the United States were to set a date for withdrawal, the prisoners of war would be returned.” Although he frequently accused American leaders of lying, he took the Communist leaders’ statements at face value, asserting that their peace plan “negates very clearly the argument of the president [Nixon] that we have to maintain a presence in Vietnam to use as a negotiating [chip] for the return of those prisoners.”

Kerry’s dismissal of the statements of US leaders as lies and his credulity toward those of the Vietnamese Communists reflected a broader difference in attitude toward the two sides to the conflict. Ho Chi Minh, who had spent long years as a henchman of Stalin’s, serving the Comintern in several countries, was in Kerry’s admiring eyes “the George Washington of Vietnam” who aimed only “to install the same provisions into the government of Vietnam” that appeared in the American Constitution. America, in contrast, had itself strayed so far from those principles that it needed a “revolution” to restore them.

Kerry’s colleagues in VVAW undoubtedly shared this sentiment, and in November 1971, at a conference of its leadership in Kansas, the group considered just how far down the path of revolution it was willing to go. It debated, although ultimately rejected, a proposal to commence a campaign of terrorist violence and assassination of pro-war US senators. When he ran for president in 2004, Kerry denied he had been present at this conclave, but when FBI files secured by the Los Angeles Times under the Freedom of Information Act placed him there, he retracted that denial in favor of the statement that he had “no personal recollection” of it.

Is this plausible? Gerald Nicosia, author of a highly sympathetic history of the antiwar movement, reported, in May 2004, that “several people at the Kansas City meeting recently said to me or to mutual friends that they had been told by the Kerry campaign not to speak about those events without permission.” Why the urgency to cover up? And how would the campaign know who was there, that is, whose silence to seek, if Kerry had no recollection of the meeting? One of Nicosia’s interviewees, John Musgrave, said “he was asked by Kerry’s veterans coordinator to ‘refresh his memory’ after he told the press Kerry was in Kansas City. Not only is Musgrave outraged that ‘they were trying to make me look like a liar,’ but he also says ‘there’s no way Kerry could have forgotten that meeting—there was too much going on.’”

This puts it mildly: the event was memorably raucous, with debates over the proposals for violence and for napalming the national Christmas tree, furious factional fighting, the discovery of eavesdropping bugs in the building leading to a quick move to another location, and above all an angry showdown between Kerry and Hubbard over revelations that the latter had never been in Vietnam. This particular contretemps was punctuated by Hubbard’s dramatically pulling down his pants to show scars he claimed he sustained in Vietnam. The mayhem culminated in Kerry’s announcing his resignation from the group’s executive. And Kerry had “no personal recollection” of being there?

Although Kerry appeared as a speaker for VVAW for about a year following this resignation, he then faded from national view for a decade, climbing the ladder of local and state politics in Massachusetts before winning election to the US Senate in 1984. The Senate, he later said, “was the right place for me in terms of . . . my passions. The issue of war and peace was on the table again.” What put it on the table were the anti-communist policies of President Ronald Reagan, which Kerry deeply opposed. A year earlier, Reagan had ordered the invasion of Grenada, which Kerry scorned as “a bully’s show of force [that] only served to heighten world tensions and further strain brittle US-Soviet and North-South relations.”

In contrast, Kerry ran on a platform of the Nuclear Freeze, a popular movement opposing US plans to counterbalance a large Soviet nuclear buildup over the previous decade. Kerry made sure to score one hundred percent on a test of candidates’ positions presented by a group called Freeze Voter ’84, and he proposed to cut the defense budget by nearly twenty percent, including “cancellation of twenty-seven weapons systems” and “reductions in eighteen other[s],” according to the Boston Globe. He cited his own work with VVAW as a counterpoint: “We were criticized when we stood up on Vietnam. . . . But we’ve been borne out. We were correct. Sometimes you just have to stand and hold your ground.”

In the Senate, he secured a coveted seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and turned his attention to the fraught issue of policy toward Central America, a small region that had assumed inordinate geopolitical importance by becoming one of the front lines in the Cold War. A Marxist-Leninist party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, had seized power in Nicaragua and was aiding likeminded movements in El Salvador and other nearby states while the Reagan administration supported anti-Communist guerrillas inside Nicaragua, the so-called “Contras.”

Kerry lent his name to Medical Aid for El Salvador, which gave non-lethal aid to the Communist side in that civil war. On February 16, 1982, an Associated Press story quoted actor Ed Asner, leader of a Hollywood group that raised much of the funding for this project, as explaining that “medical supplies are to be purchased in Mexico and shipped clandestinely to the Democratic Revolutionary Front in El Salvador.” However, the issue of US aid to El Salvador’s anti-Communist government became overshadowed by debate about aid to the Nicaraguan “Contras.”

As the Senate neared a decisive vote, Kerry and Senator Tom Harkin undertook a dramatic maneuver to try to head off approval of the Reagan administration’s request for Contra funding. They flew to Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, for their own summit meeting with the country’s strongman, “Comandante” Daniel Ortega. The results resembled those of his 1971 meeting with Madame Binh. Ortega handed Kerry a “peace plan” according to which the US would first end all aid to the Contras, and the Sandinistas would then initiate a cease-fire and restore civil liberties. Kerry justified undercutting the US government in this way by faulting Reagan’s failure “to create a climate of trust” with the Sandinistas. He, in contrast, offered them trust in abundance, calling Ortega’s plan “a wonderful opening.” He took to the Senate floor to say, “Here, in writing, is a guarantee of the security interest of the United States.”

A year later, in 1986, in another Senate debate on Contra aid, Kerry voiced one of the odder claims about his Vietnam experience. Warning against the slippery slope of military involvement and against the duplicity of our own government, Kerry delivered a floor speech containing this assertion:

I remember Christmas of 1968, sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared—seared—in me.

The “seared” part was a nice touch, especially in view of the fact that the whole thing had not happened (although Kerry had been repeating the story since as early as 1979). In the course of Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, former crewmen on the type of vessel on which Kerry served who were angered by his antiwar activities, attacked this claim among other aspects of Kerry’s military history. In this case, however, unlike in response to some points raised by Kerry’s detractors, no shipmate of Kerry’s could be found to corroborate his version. Soon, his spokesmen began to hedge. One aide explained that Kerry’s boat had been “between” Vietnam and Cambodia. But the two countries are contiguous: there is no “between,” so another spokesman backed down further, explaining that Kerry had merely been “near” Cambodia.

Then, Douglas Brinkley, who authored a laudatory history of Kerry’s military service, issued another explanation, apparently at the behest of the campaign. On Christmas 1968, the moment of Kerry’s “seared” memory, he was fifty miles from Cambodia, said Brinkley, but his boat “went into Cambodia waters three or four times in January and February 1969.” Oddly, however, Brinkley’s book, which covered those two months in painstaking detail at a length of nearly one hundred pages, even to the extent of locating the sites of battles, made no mention of Kerry’s having crossed into Cambodia. And the campaign soon pulled the rug from under Brinkley by issuing a new claim, namely, that Kerry’s boat had “on one occasion crossed into Cambodia.” Three of Kerry’s shipmates, two of whom were supporting his campaign, categorically denied even this minimized claim.

In that, they are supported by no less a source than Kerry himself, in the form of a journal he kept while on duty. Substantial passages of it are reproduced in Brinkley’s book, and one of them reads:

The banks of the [Rach Giang Thanh River] whistled by as we churned out mile after mile at full speed. On my left were occasional open fields that allowed us a clear view into Cambodia. At some points, the border was only fifty yards away and it then would meander out to several hundred or even as much as a thousand yards away, always making one wonder what lay on the other side.

He was never to learn the answer because this diary entry was from his final mission.

Kerry was of course right to link Central America to Southeast Asia. They were both nodes in the Cold War, the epic struggle that defined international politics for forty years, including the first two decades of Kerry’s political engagement, from the time he returned from Vietnam in 1969 until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Whatever the rights and wrongs of America’s entry into Vietnam, or its actions in Central America or elsewhere, Kerry perverted the basic issue of the Cold War, always viewing America’s actions as bellicose and malign, while casting those of the Communists, like “George Washington” Ho Chi Minh, in the most favorable light.

To many, the Cold War’s benign denouement—the fall of the Wall and the USSR’s disappearance into the ash bin of history—vindicated Reagan’s approach, but Kerry appears to have entertained no second thoughts despite these outcomes. When it came to addressing post–Cold War issues, he remained reflexively averse to the exercise of American power. Kerry had lamented as “not proportional” Reagan’s 1986 bombing of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi’s residence in response to a Libyan terror attack on US servicemen in Germany. The Middle East was also the scene of the first military showdown after the Cold War, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq swallowed whole the neighboring state of Kuwait, in 1990. At the time, Kerry opposed the Bush administration’s request for authorization of military action, saying that those “of the Vietnam generation . . . come to this debate with a measure of distrust [and] a resolve . . . not [to be] misled again.” He concluded his Senate speech by reading a passage from an antiwar novel by the American Communist Dalton Trumbo.

With the Cold War’s end, and America’s demonstration of will and strength in driving Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, the defining issue of the 1990s became the wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution. Here, the prime issue was whether or not to lift an international arms embargo that rendered Bosnia’s Muslims naked before their predators, the well-armed Serbs. As public opinion reacted to news accounts of the grisly results of this imbalance, the Senate voted to lift the embargo, over the objections of Kerry, who helped to lead the opposition.

With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the American public was awakened from its post–Cold War indifference toward foreign affairs. A fierce patriotism burst forth, and with it a determination to take down those who had attacked us. Thus, preparing for a 2004 presidential bid, Kerry moved to reconfigure his image. The antiwar veteran was suddenly replaced by the military hero, and the Democratic nominating convention was replete with uniforms and military gestures, highlighted by Kerry’s sharp salute to the assemblage while uttering the words, “reporting for duty.” Already, his rejected service medals had miraculously reappeared mounted and framed on his Senate office wall. Asked how that was possible, as he had been photographed throwing them away, Kerry explained that the medals he tossed were not his own but actually belonged to another veteran.

The dramatic reincarnation did not quite come off, as Kerry was dogged by Vietnam veterans, led by fellow Swift Boat crewmen, still furious at how he had blackened their names. And the awkwardness of his transformation was symbolized by his much-ridiculed explanation of his stance on funding the 2003 US invasion of Iraq: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

In his later years in the Senate, Kerry made the issue of Syria his own. He took several trips to Damascus where, according to a June 2011 account in the Wall Street Journal, he “established something approaching a friendship with [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad.” When Barack Obama came to office, he made Kerry his point man in efforts to improve US-Syrian relations. Kerry put his endorsement on diplomatic proposals he received in Damascus, including an offer by Assad to engineer a Palestinian unity government embracing Fatah and Hamas. The benefits to the US, not to mention Israel, of such unity were not self-evident, but in any event, talks between the two Palestinian factions were already under way, mediated by Egypt, which was closer to Fatah. Why it would be advantageous to switch the sponsorship to Syria, the ally of Hamas, was hard to grasp. Nonetheless, Kerry saw in Assad’s proposal the prospect of “a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution . . . . Syria indicated to me a willingness to be helpful in that respect.” In all, as the Journal put it, “Kerry . . . became . . . Assad’s champion in the US, urging lawmakers and policymakers to embrace the Syrian leader as a partner in stabilizing the Mideast.”

In sum, although Kerry’s anti-American ideology has moderated to some degree from his fiery days as an antiwar leader, he has misrepresented but never repudiated his past. Especially consistent has been his inclination to see the best in America’s enemies, from Madame Binh to Comandante Ortega to Bashar Assad. Israelis were shocked this summer that Kerry came up with a plan molded by Turkey and Qatar to fit the interests of Hamas at their own expense. Had they known him and his record better, they might not have been.

U.S. strategy against Islamic State hits major hurdles

October 31, 2014

U.S. strategy against Islamic State hits major hurdles, LA Times, 

(Happy Halloween from the Obama Administration. — DM)

la-epa-epaselect-syria-homs-car-bomb-jpg-20141030Syrian police and residents inspect the site of a car bombing in Homs on Oct. 29. The U.S. plan to raise a rebel army in Syria to fight Islamic State has run into steep political and military obstacles. (European Pressphoto Agency)

The Obama administration’s plan to raise a 15,000-strong rebel army in Syria has run into steep political and military obstacles, raising doubts about a key element of the White House strategy for defeating Islamic State militants in the midst of a civil war.

Pentagon concerns have grown so sharp that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a two-page memo to the White House last week warning that the overall plan could collapse because U.S. intentions toward Syrian President Bashar Assad are unclear, according to a senior defense official who read the memo but was not authorized to speak publicly.

President Obama has called on Assad to step down, but he has not authorized using military force, including the proposed proxy army, to remove the Syrian leader.

At a news conference Thursday, Hagel declined to discuss his memo to national security advisor Susan Rice, but he acknowledged that Assad has inadvertently benefited from more than five weeks of U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State, one of the most powerful antigovernment forces in Syria’s bitter conflict.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry sought to paper over the problem Thursday, telling a forum in Washington that the proposed proxy army “can have an impact on Assad’s decision-making so we can get back to a table where we could negotiate a political outcome, because we all know there is no military resolution of Syria.”

Rebel leaders in Syria say they would reject joining a U.S.-backed force that is not aimed at defeating Assad, their main enemy.

Senior U.S. military officers also privately warn that the so-called Syrian moderates that U.S. planners hope to recruit — opposition fighters without ties to the Islamic radicals — have been degraded by other factions and forces, including Assad’s army, during the war.

It will take years to train and field a new force capable of launching an offensive against the heavily armed and well-funded Islamic State fighters, who appear well-entrenched in northern Syria, the officers say.

“We’re not going to be able to build that kind of credible force in enough time to make a difference,” said a senior U.S. officer who is involved in military operations against the militants and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We’ve watched the moderate opposition dwindle and dwindle and now there’s very little left.”

The Pentagon plan calls for putting 5,000 rebel fighters into Syria in a year, and 15,000 over the next three years.

It is the least developed and most controversial part of the multi-pronged U.S. strategy, which also includes near-daily airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, deployment of U.S. military advisors and other support to assist Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, along with attempts to choke off the militants’ financing from oil sales and foreign donors.

When officers involved in high-level Pentagon deliberations in the summer raised concerns about building a rebel army from scratch, they were overruled by senior commanders, who warned that airstrikes alone would not defeat the militants, one of the officers said.

But Pentagon unease has intensified in recent weeks as Jordan and Turkey, two allies that the Obama administration is counting on to help train the proposed proxy force, made it clear that they are lukewarm to the plan, two U.S. officials said.

Washington and its allies are chiefly split over whether the proposed force should focus on reclaiming Syrian territory now held by the Islamic State militants, which is the U.S. priority, or should also battle troops loyal to Assad, the allies’ main concern.

Turkey said this month that it would train a portion of the Syrian force, joining Saudi Arabia in training on its territory. U.S. officials don’t expect to assemble the first group of “moderate” rebels, drawing them from inside Syria or from crowded refugee camps in nearby countries, until early next year at the earliest.

But Turkish officials have signaled that the rebels it trains would concentrate on battling Assad’s forces, not Islamic State, once they return to Syria.

Jordan has not joined the training effort, although it hosts a separate, smaller, CIA-run operation for Syrian insurgents.

U.S. officials say greater involvement by Turkey and Jordan would allow them to increase the number who can be trained, and provide easier conduits for support and resupply when they return to Syria.

The dispute reflects the complex calibrations now in play as the Islamic State militants shake long-established political and military fault lines in the Middle East.

Most dramatically, perhaps, U.S. forces are now in at least tacit alignment with traditional enemies such as Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant and political group, against a common threat.

Syrian rebel leaders and Arab allies complain that the U.S.-led airstrikes have helped Assad by weakening one of his most powerful foes and enabling his army to step up attacks on other rebel factions.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella organization claiming to represent largely autonomous rebels in Syria, said fighters were incensed by the U.S. insistence on focusing entirely on Islamic State.

“They have forgotten that tens of thousands of civilians are suffering because of the regime,” said the spokesman, who did not want his name published because it could endanger his family. “Our main cause is the regime, and that will remain our main cause.”

A rebel commander, a defector from the Syrian army who also asked for anonymity, agreed. The U.S. plan “doesn’t work for us,” he said.

“They are concerned with ISIS … but we are concerned with the regime more than ISIS,” he said, using one of several acronyms for Islamic State.

U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing the effort to build a Syrian force, says questions about its direction will be resolved once the fledgling program is underway.

“We are early on in this and there’s much to be figured out,” said Maj. Curtis J. Kellogg, a spokesman for Central Command.

Frederic C. Hof, a former special advisor to President Obama for Syria, said the U.S. plan “is going to be a tough sell” in Syria.

“You can always get people by providing weapons, ammo and pay, but your appeal to a large number of Syrians will increase dramatically if it is a force whose goal is eventually to govern all of Syria,” not just beat one faction, he added.

The caution reflects, in part, a U.S. desire to reassure Iran, one of Assad’s closest backers, that it is not seeking to oust him by force. If the U.S. backtracked on that promise, Iran might step up military support for Assad.

Tehran also could respond by using local Shiite militias to attack U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have coordinated their attacks on Islamic State with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.

“If we really focus on Assad, the Iranian piece of this coalition [against Islamic State] will fracture, and we will have Shia militants trying to target us,” said the senior U.S. military officer.

The U.S. experience with proxy military forces is laced with disappointment.

The Kennedy administration backed a failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961 after training a counterrevolutionary brigade. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration bankrolled the Contras in Nicaragua, who were unsuccessful against the Sandinistas’ socialist revolution.

“We’ve helped arm insurgencies before,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who now is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Nearly all of them have been complete failures or marginal to the final outcome. But there was one spectacular success.”

The CIA, working with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, covertly poured $4 billion into arming a rebel force in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, helping them drive out Soviet forces. Riedel, who wrote a book about the undertaking, said the CIA operation hastened the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

The Syrian rebel forces, with their fractured leadership and rival sponsors, bear similarities to the competing Afghan mujahedin factions during that war, Riedel said. If the U.S. can secure tight-knit partnerships with neighboring countries on training the rebels, it could also see success against Islamic State.

“There’s no reason we can’t do it again,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen overnight.”

The demise of ‘responsibility to protect’ at the U.N.

October 15, 2014

The demise of ‘responsibility to protect’ at the U.N., Washington Times, Clifford D. May, October 14, 2014

(The UN’s “responsibility to protect” doctrine now applies principally to groups favored by the multicultural international community, such as the “Palestinians” from wicked Israel, disfavored by the international community. Those needing protection from Islamic terror must look elsewhere. But where? The U.S. of Obama?– DM)

UN logoIllustration on the illusion of “Responsibility to Protect” by Linas Garsys

[I]’s ludicrous to propose that the U.N. Security Council — whose permanent members include neo-Soviet Russia and anti-democratic China — should be vested with the authority to pass judgment on the legitimacy of such missions.

While the Islamic State is currently attracting the most attention, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran — which has been using proxies to kill Americans on and off for the past 35 years — that could soon have nuclear weapons as well as missiles to deliver them to targets anywhere in the world. Hezbollah and other terrorist groups offer an alternative means of delivery. Iran’s radical Shia rulers are more sophisticated than the Sunni jihadis displaying disembodied heads on pikes. However, their goals differ little from those of their rivals.

[T]he notion of an international community that can prevent or halt mass atrocities is a chimera.


Remember R2P? Not to be confused with R2-D2 (a robotic character in the “Star Wars” movies), “Responsibility to Protect” was an international “norm” proposed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the mass murders in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica a year later. The idea was for the “international community” to assume an obligation to intervene, militarily if necessary, to prevent or halt mass atrocities.

Why has R2P not been invoked to stop the slaughters being carried out in Syria and Iraq? Why isn’t it mentioned in regard to the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobani, which, as I write this, may soon be overrun by barbarians fighting for what they call the Islamic State?

Here’s the story: In 2009, Mr. Annan’s successor, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, issued a report on “implementing” R2P. The foreign-policy establishment cheered. For example, Louise Arbour, a former U.N. high commissioner for human tights, called R2P “the most important and imaginative doctrine to emerge on the international scene for decades.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, an academic who served under Hillary Clinton at the State Department, went further, hailing R2P as “the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.”

In 2011, President Obama cited R2P as his primary justification for using military force to prevent Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from attacking the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

If that was the apogee of R2P, the nadir was not far off. The intervention in Libya has led to chaos and bloodshed with no end in sight. Meanwhile, in Syria, four years ago this spring, Bashar Assad brutally cracked down on peaceful protesters.

Mr. Obama made Mr. Assad’s removal American policy but overruled the recommendation of his national security advisers to assist Syrian nationalist opposition groups. Civil war erupted. Self-proclaimed jihadis from around the world flocked to Syria to fight on behalf of the Sunnis. The opposition was soon dominated by the al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke with al Qaeda and, audaciously, declared himself caliph, or supreme leader.

As for Mr. Assad, he is supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, deploying both its elite Quds Force (designated in 2007 by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization) and Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militia loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Russia also backs Mr. Assad, even supplying on-the-ground military intelligence specialists.

With no U.N.-approved R2P effort to rescue the innocent civilians of the region from these brutal forces, the death toll in Syria and Iraq has topped 200,000, and the number of refugees is in the millions.

Failed experiments, like crises, should not go to waste. Among the lessons to be learned from the R2P debacle: First, the notion of an international community that can prevent or halt mass atrocities is a chimera. If such work is going to get done, the United States has to do it, perhaps supported by a coalition of the willing and, with few exceptions, not particularly able. Second, it’s ludicrous to propose that the U.N. Security Council — whose permanent members include neo-Soviet Russia and anti-democratic China — should be vested with the authority to pass judgment on the legitimacy of such missions. Third, American power should be used primarily in pursuit of American interests. Sometimes that will include humanitarian interventions, but that’s a decision for Americans to make.

This, too, should be clear: While the Islamic State is currently attracting the most attention, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran — which has been using proxies to kill Americans on and off for the past 35 years — that could soon have nuclear weapons as well as missiles to deliver them to targets anywhere in the world. Hezbollah and other terrorist groups offer an alternative means of delivery. Iran’s radical Shia rulers are more sophisticated than the Sunni jihadis displaying disembodied heads on pikes. However, their goals differ little from those of their rivals.

In response to this dire and deteriorating situation, Mr. Obama should be instructing his advisers to present him with a range of strategic options. I’d recommend conceptualizing the global conflict not as disconnected “overseas contingency operations,” and not as akin to World War II, but more like the Cold War. That is to say, the United States should plan for a long, low-intensity struggle. In particular, we should support those willing to fight the jihadis who threaten them.

Economic weapons can be powerful if used correctly, which has not been the case in the past. For example, though sanctions brought Iran’s rulers to the negotiating table, premature relief from sanctions pressure has encouraged Iranian intransigence as the talks proceeded.

Also long overdue is a serious war of ideas — it’s insufficient to leave that to Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on HBO. Bottom line: We are not really engaged in a conflict against “violent extremism” or even “terrorism.” What we’re confronting are ideologies derived from fundamentalist readings of Islamic scripture. Proponents of those ideologies stress the supremacy of one religion — much as communists stressed the supremacy of one class, and Nazis of one race. There is no reason to suppose that saying this clearly, rather than obfuscating, will radicalize Muslims not already favorably inclined toward killing infidels.

Our aim should be, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Obama, to “degrade and eventually defeat” jihadism. Nothing is more imperative than preventing Iran’s rulers from taking the next, short steps toward a nuclear-weapons capability that they clearly intend to use to threaten not just their neighbors, but also Americans for decades to come. For an American president, this is where the R2P needs to begin.