The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Prince Bandar and the Destruction of Syria | Pepe Escobar

Moscow won’t drop Damascus. Period. At the same time, as Bandar threatened, Geneva II seems more unlikely to happen than the Obama administration ceasing to drone Yemen to death.

The name of the game, in practice, remains Syria as the new Afghanistan, with the House of Saud in control of all aspects of jihad (with Washington “leading from behind”). Deadly historic irony also applies; instead of clashing with the Soviet Union, now the Saudis clash with the Russian federation. Bandar is simultaneously the new Weaponizer-in-Chief, as well as Liberator-in-Chief of Syria. The Comeback Spy is not accounting for future, inevitable, ghastly blowback; what’s alarming is that the Obama administration is right behind him.

Egypt’s Counter Revolution | LRB

So this is how it ends: with the army killing more than 600 protesters, and injuring thousands of others, in the name of restoring order and defeating ‘terrorism’. The victims are Muslim Brothers and other supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, but the ultimate target of the massacres of 14 August is civilian rule. Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.

To each setback they have undergone since the overthrow of Mubarak, Egypt’s revolutionary forces have responded with the reassuring mantra: ‘revolution is a process.’ But so is counter-revolution, which seems to have prevailed for the foreseeable future. It won not only because the army and the feloul (remnants of the old regime) had superior resources at their disposal, but because they had a unified sense of their aims, something the leaderless revolutionaries conspicuously lacked. The revolution has been a ‘process’ in the manner of a 1960s happening, a meeting of different, often bickering forces that shared the stage only to go their own way after Mubarak’s overthrow. While accusing one another of betraying the revolution, both liberals and Islamists, at various intervals, tried to cut deals with the army, as if it might be a neutral force, as if the people and the army really were ‘one hand’, as people had once chanted in Tahrir Square. Neither had the ruthlessness, or the taste for blood, of Khomeini, who began to decapitate the Shah’s army as soon as he seized power. While the old regime reassembled its forces, Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution. By the time Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power on 3 July, the revolution existed mainly in their imagination.

The triumph of the counter-revolution has been obvious for a while, but most of Egypt’s revolutionaries preferred to deny it, and some actively colluded in the process, telling themselves that they were allying themselves with the army only in order to defend the revolution. Al-Sisi was only too happy to flatter them in this self-perception, as he prepared to make his move. He, too, styles himself a defender of the revolution. According to the army’s narrative, al-Sisi and his colleagues saved Egypt two years ago not only from Mubarak but from his son Gamal, whom he was grooming as his successor and who, it so happens, championed a programme of neoliberal ‘reform’ that might have threatened the army’s economic interests. Now, once again, it is saving Egypt, this time from the Muslim Brotherhood and its foreign supporters, from Hamas to the former American ambassador, Anne Patterson, an object of especially passionate loathing in old regime circles. Among the many illusions to have crumbled since the overthrow of Mubarak is the notion that the military has no interest in direct rule, preferring to exert its influence from behind a civilian façade. Now there is talk of al-Sisi, a wildly popular figure in the anti-Morsi camp, ascending to the presidency (Adly Mansour is obviously a placeholder); most of the newly appointed provincial governors are generals closely allied with the old regime.

The story the army tells about the revolution plays well with a lot of Egyptians, perhaps a majority. The army remains a revered institution, in spite of its vast network of privileges, and even though it is essentially paid to stay out of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And al-Sisi speaks a language with considerable popular appeal, a language of narrow, chauvinistic, Egypt-first nationalism. Egyptian politics has long been poisoned by unusually high levels of xenophobia. Al-Sisi is tapping into a deep well of paranoia, fomented throughout the Mubarak era, when he accuses Morsi of having plotted with Hamas. Thanks to al-Sisi, Egypt’s 84 million people have been protected from the ‘terrorists’ in Gaza.

Al-Sisi’s rhetoric may be crude, but it is not desperate, and neither was the repression of 14 August. The attack on Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square and other protest camps was carried out in the confidence that many would approve of it, or at least look the other way. After more than two years of political turbulence, economic immiseration and heightened insecurity, few people were eager for another round of confrontation, and the Brothers hadn’t convinced anyone beyond their hard core of supporters that Morsi’s presidency was a cause worth fighting for. Al-Sisi and the army – praised by John Kerry for ‘restoring democracy’ when they ousted Morsi – launched their assault also knowing they would face few serious penalties from their foreign sponsors.

The Obama administration cancelled a joint military exercise and postponed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets, but the military aid won’t be cut off. (Even if it were, the Saudis have promised to replace it, as they did when the Americans cut off aid to Pakistan in 1998 after its nuclear test.) Al-Sisi knows the Americans’ hands are tied in Egypt. Preserving the peace treaty with Israel and bringing order to the Sinai, an increasingly unruly zone of jihadism and drug smuggling, are the United States’ two overriding priorities. And an administration that can’t prevent its closest ally from building a thousand more homes for Jewish settlers in advance of peace talks can hardly prevent Egypt’s generals from clearing Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. In the absence of tougher measures, the only effect of Obama’s stern words is to enable the putschists to spar with their patrons in Washington, a confidence trick the Egyptian military has played on its people for years. Mansour said Obama’s remarks ‘would strengthen the violent armed groups and encourage them in their methods inimical to stability and the democratic transition’.

It was a revealing statement, because there is no stability, there is no democratic transition, and – so far – the Muslim Brothers haven’t succumbed to the temptation of violence. But surely one possible effect of the military’s campaign – as Mohammed ElBaradei warned when he resigned as vice president – will be to encourage Morsi’s supporters, and other, more radical Islamists, to take up arms. (ElBaradei learned, it seems, that he couldn’t keep his hands clean if he continued to sit at the generals’ table.) The mob attacks on Christians on 15 August are an early indication of who, besides state officials, might be targeted if Egypt’s Islamists turn to violence. As Issandr El Amrani has suggested, al-Sisi may be spoiling for a fight: Islamist violence could well play into his hands. If Egypt’s patrons in the West and in Saudi Arabia are capable of no more than toothless chastisement when peaceful protesters are killed, they aren’t likely to protest when the army kills armed insurgents – particularly if the insurgents are murdering liberals and Christians. We have seen the results of such a strategy in Algeria during the 1990s, and more recently in Syria. The road ahead in Egypt looks very dark indeed.

Snowden: towards an endgame | Pepe Escobar

[…] While Washington spies, security officials of the BRICS nations, gathered in Vladivostok this month, have agreed to expand their cooperation in cyber-security; after all they now perceive the US as the biggest common threat. They are already collaborating on laying out the US$1.5 billion fiber-optic BRICS cable, which will link the five of them with 21 African countries, with service starting in 2015.

While Washington spies, the BRIC nations do deals. Russia and China are boosting their trade. China is getting most of the oil exported by Iraq and is solidifying its strategic energy partnership with Iran. Deeper into Pipelineistan, in Afghanistan the US might as well forget about the TAPI pipeline - from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan - (unless the Taliban receive a hefty cut).

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, before a visit to China, announced, “the economic corridor taking off from Kashgar [in China’s Xinjiang] to Gwadar [in southwest Pakistan] is a game changer”.

And that’s quite an understatement; this economic corridor, parallel to the Karakoram highway, will boast a series of special economic zones, fiber-optic cables, a rail link and - what else - a pipeline; this proves that the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, fought tooth and nail by both the Bush and Obama administrations, will have an extension to China, will become the IPC, and will offer yet another Chinese access to the Indian Ocean; take that, “pivoting” to Asia.

The by now famous tweet by Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Duma, and very close to President Vladimir Putin, about Venezuela’s offer of asylum being Snowden’s “last chance”, has been misinterpreted. Rather than a measure of Russia’s exasperation, it should be seen as a measure of trepidation. Caracas did receive an extradition request from Washington. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said it has already been rejected. Caracas also received an asylum request from Snowden.

Maduro was clear; Snowden “will need to decide when he will fly here”. If the movie does become Our Man in Caracas, it’s up to Moscow to make it happen. Snowden can’t fly through Havana, overflying European and very close to US airspace. Obama may “scramble jets” after all.

Putin’s previous statement of offering asylum to Snowden as long as he stopped leaking was clearly designed to appease an enraged Obama administration. But is he prepared to authorize the smuggling of Snowden to South America in a Russian strategic bomber (or, better yet, a nuclear submarine)? And still there’s no guarantee Our Man in Caracas would not be whacked, sooner or later, by a CIA contractor. The ball is now in Russia’s court.

"Intelligence," Corporatism, and the Dance of Death | Arthur Silber

[…] How does the public-“private” intelligence industry make foreign policy? The NYT story [on Booz Allen’s connection to the NSA] offers an instructive example in its opening paragraphs:

When the United Arab Emirates wanted to create its own version of the National Security Agency, it turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to replicate the world’s largest and most powerful spy agency in the sands of Abu Dhabi.

It was a natural choice: The chief architect of Booz Allen’s cyberstrategy is Mike McConnell, who once led the N.S.A. and pushed the United States into a new era of big data espionage. It was Mr. McConnell who won the blessing of the American intelligence agencies to bolster the Persian Gulf sheikdom, which helps track the Iranians.

“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection.”

See how perfect this is? All the special people are making tons of money — and, when the day arrives that the U.S. wants to ramp up its confrontational stance with Iran, well, there’s the UAE helping to “track the Iranians” with all the tools that the U.S. has given them and taught them to use. And how easy would it be to get the UAE to provide the U.S. with just the right kind of new and disturbing “intelligence” that would get lots of people screaming about the “grave Iranian threat”? You know the answer to that: easy peasy. A wink and a nod — and off the U.S. goes, with bombing runs or whatever it decides to do. But whatever it does will be determined in greatest part not by a genuine threat to U.S. national security (there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran’s leaders are all suicidal), but by what will make the most money for the State and its good friends.

[…] How much is the intelligence-security industry worth? The NYT story offers this toward the end:

Only last month, the Navy awarded Booz Allen, among others, the first contracts in a billion-dollar project to help with “a new generation of intelligence, surveillance and combat operations.”

The new push is to take those skills to American allies, especially at a time of reduced spending in Washington. So while the contract with the United Arab Emirates is small, it may be a model for other countries that see cyberdefense — and perhaps offense — as their future. The company reported net income of $219 million in the fiscal year that ended on March 31. That was up from net income of $25 million in 2010, shortly after Mr. McConnell returned to the company.

They’re just getting started. Note that the $219 million is net income. Earlier, the Times told us that “more than half its $5.8 billion in annual revenue [is] coming from the military and the intelligence agencies.” The story also informs us that: “Booz Allen is one of many companies that make up the digital spine of the intelligence world, designing the software and hardware systems on which the N.S.A. and other military and intelligence agencies depend.”

It’s all about wealth and power. Here and there, in episodes notable only for their rarity, “the intelligence world” might actually provide a small piece of information actually related to “national security.” Again, I turn to Gabriel Kolko:

It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior—although sometimes that occurs—than to justify a nation’s illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.

The incessant chatter about the indispensable, critical importance of “intelligence” to “national security” is marketing, the time-tested phrases that the ruling class knows are so popular with most Americans. And Americans dearly love the marketing:

So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States — Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? — represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they’re only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness — and I dearly hope you do — forget about what they say their goals are (fostering “democratic” governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe.

In the midst of the rush of revelations concerning the NSA and surveillance, almost everyone forgets that the “intelligence” industry is founded on one of the most momentous lies in the history of statecraft. As I write this, I see the following:

National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told a House committee Tuesday that 50 terror threats in 20 countries have been disrupted with the assistance of two secret surveillance programs that were recently disclosed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden.

Ooooohhhhh! 50 terror threats in 20 countries, and “At least 10 of the plots targeted the U.S. homeland.” These guys suck stylistically, too. It’s exactly 50! And exactly 20! But kinda around 10 that targeted the “homeland.” C’mon, Keith. Precision is important in propaganda. Emulate a master: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 terror plots…!!”

Of course, they will never provide any evidence to prove the truth of these claims. You’re too stupid to be trusted with such information. You just have to take their word for it. Right. I wonder how many of these frightening plots were ones dreamed up by government agents themselves. And I wonder how many of them were, in fact, discovered by mundane, old-fashioned “police work.” Not incidentally, I wonder how many of these plots occurred at all.

I repeat again, for approximately the fiftieth time, that “intelligence” is almost always wrong. Don’t take my word for it: read the excerpt from Chalmers Johnson here. Read this. And this. See all the articles linked at the conclusion of this article. …

The intelligence-security industry isn’t about protecting the United States or you, except for extraordinarily rare, virtually accidental occurrences. It’s about wealth and power. Yet every politician and every government functionary speaks reverently of the sacred mission and crucial importance of “intelligence” in the manner of a syphilitic preacher who clutches a tatty, moth-eaten doll of the Madonna, which he digitally manipulates by sticking his fingers in its orifices. Most people would find his behavior shockingly obscene, if they noticed it. But they don’t notice it, so mesmerized are they by the preacher with his phonily awestruck words about the holy of holies and the ungraspably noble purpose of his mission. Even as the suppurating sores on the preacher’s face ooze blood and pus, his audience can only gasp, “We must pay attention to what he says! He wants only the best for us! He’s trying to save us!”

What the preacher says — what every politician and national security official says on this subject — is a goddamned lie. The ruling class has figured out yet another way to make a killing, both figuratively and literally. They want wealth and power, and always more wealth and power. That’s what “intelligence” and “national security” is about, and nothing else at all. When you hear Keith Alexander, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama talk about “intelligence” and surveillance, how your lives depend on them, and why you must trust them to protect you if you wish to continue existing at all, think of the preacher. Think of his open sores, of the blood and pus slowly dribbling down his face.

All of them are murdering crooks running a racket. They are intent on amassing wealth and power, and they’ve stumbled on a sure-fire way to win the acquiescence, and often the approval, of most people. They are driven by the worst of motives, including their maddened knowledge that there will always remain a few people and events that they will be unable to control absolutely. For the rest of us, their noxious games are a sickening display of power at its worst. For us, on a faster or slower schedule, in ways that are more or less extreme, their lies and machinations are only a Dance of Death.

Pipelinistan | William Blum

[…] The only “necessity” that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – reportedly containing the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for such pipelines to serve much of South Asia and even parts of Europe, pipelines that – crucially – can bypass Washington’s bêtes noire, Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south.”

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the late 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions.

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels … From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks with the Taliban stalled in 2001, the Bush administration reportedly threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the Afghan government did not go along with American demands. On August 2 in Islamabad, US State Department negotiator Christine Rocca reiterated to the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef: “Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold [oil], or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.” The talks finally broke down for good a month before 9-11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war or another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-1, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be “won” short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some form of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare “victory”. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech … . It might even include the words “freedom” and “democracy”, but certainly not “pipeline”.

Syria and the Sham of “Humanitarian Intervention” | Ajamu Baraka

[The] U.S. approach to the [Syria “peace”] conference [originally scheduled for June, now derailed and postponed], … gives the impression that the gathering is a charade meant to mollify those elements in the U.S. Congress and public still hesitant to support another expensive military adventure. The U.S. demand that a peaceful solution to the conflict is predicated on a “transitional government” being established in which Assad should play no role, means effectively that there will be no serious attempt to resolve the conflict short of regime change and the surrendering of Syrian sovereignty. The U.S. position also confirms the real objective of the conference which is to justify more direct military intervention by the U.S. once the conference “fails” to bring peace.

While this is absolutely clear for many people around the world, the U.S. public, along with much of what used to be called the progressive and/or radical sectors, continue to be hoodwinked by some of the most crude and obvious manipulation I have ever witnessed. It was precisely the smooth efficiency with which the public was being manipulated that motivated me to write an earlier article on Syria that attempted to offer an explanation for the reasons why U.S. State propagandists, and I include the mainstream media in this category, have been so successful in confusing the general public and dividing the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement.

I believe part of their success has been due to the fact that they have used the concept of humanitarian intervention as one of their main tools. In my article, I made the argument that humanitarian intervention, along with the concept of the “right to protect” (R2P) has developed into the most effective ideological weapon the liberal human rights community provided Western imperialism since the fall of the Soviet State. Humanitarian intervention has proven to be an even more valuable propaganda tool than the “war on terror,” because as the situation in Libya and now Syria has demonstrated, it provides a moral justification for imperialist intervention that can also accommodate the presence of the same “terrorist” forces the U.S. pretends to be opposed to. And of course, in the eyes of the U.S. government, tyrannical and dictatorial governments that need to be deposed are only those that present an obstacle to the realization of U.S. geo/political interests—never those paragons of freedom and morality like Saudi Arabia and Israel. [more]

Hezbollah’s War In Syria Threatens To Engulf Lebanon | Robert Fisk

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has crossed the Rubicon.

The Hezbollah chairman who said exactly 13 years ago that his resistance movement would not cross the Israeli frontier – that it was for the Palestinians to “liberate” Jerusalem – has declared that Hezbollah has crossed the Syrian frontier. Not only that, but Nasrallah said at the weekend he would fight “to the end” to protect President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Hezbollah, he said, was entering “a completely new phase.” He can say that again.

… Once Hezbollah was committed to the battle for Qusayr alongside Syrian troops, a spokesman for this most efficient and ruthless militia claimed its fighters had been on their way to the shrine in Damascus but had been misdirected and found themselves in a firefight in no-man’s land. A likely story. Qusayr – just off from the highway to Latakia and the Syrian coast – is well over 100 miles from Damascus. Then 30 more bodies came home to Lebanon. So Nasrallah only said what he had to say. Much did he speak of Palestine and the al-Aqsa mosque. But his men were moving east into Syria, not south into Palestine, and history will judge Nasrallah on this speech.

He talked, of course, about the danger of “extremists” trying to overthrow Assad, claiming they were also a danger to Lebanon, that Assad’s Syria was a backbone of Hezbollah “and the resistance cannot stand with its arms folded while its back is broken”.

What he did not say was that his Shia militia was fighting Syrian Sunnis – whose co-religionists make up around 30 per cent of Lebanon’s population. Which is why the battle between the Sunnis and the Alawite Shias of the north Lebanese city of Tripoli broke out so ferociously on the day Hezbollah took up the fight for Qusayr alongside Assad’s men.

Quite simply, this is potentially the greatest danger to Lebanon’s people – not to mention the sovereignty of its sectarian state – since the 1975-90 civil war.

“If Syria falls into the hands of America, Israel and Takfiris [Sunni extremists], the resistance will be besieged and Israel will enter Lebanon and impose its will.” This is what Nasrallah said on the huge screen erected in the town of Mashgara on the 13th anniversary of south Lebanon’s liberation from Israeli occupation on Saturday night. What he meant was that if Assad falls, Hezbollah’s own political support and weaponry – originating in Iran – will come to an end. And then there will be no more Hezbollah to drive out the Israelis when they return.

And before we bellow with hollow laughter, let’s just remember that the destruction of the Islamic Republic of Iran – as a theological state created by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 – is currently the be-all and end-all of US and Israeli policy towards the country once called Persia. The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was an attempt to destroy Iran’s Shia ally in Lebanon. The battle against Assad – a struggle supported by the US, the EU and those wonderful, freedom-loving demo¬cracies in the Gulf – is an attempt to strike down Iran’s only Arab ally. western-supported rebel battle for Syria is therefore a proxy war against Iran. No wonder Hezbollah has come clean about their involvement.

If – as Nasrallah insists – Hezbollah is really a “resistance” movement, how come it did not support the resistance against Assad? Besides, if Hezbollah is a purely Lebanese creature – and again, this is what Nasrallah insists – what right does it have to send hundreds, even thousands, of its men to fight Assad’s battles?

Officially, Lebanon has “dissociated” itself from Syria. But if fighters from its largest Muslim community have gone to fight for Assad, what is left of its claim to political neutrality? Nasrallah may be Hezbollah’s chairman, but he’s not Lebanon’s president. Which is why President Michel Sleiman warned just a day before Nasrallah spoke that Hezbollah should not allow Lebanon to plunge into a sectarian war. “How can a nation provide such a wonderful example of resistance and sacrifice,” he asked, “while promoting sectarian differences?” Good question.

In his speech, Nasrallah promised supporters “a new victory”. Macbeth couldn’t have put it better. Blood will have blood, they say.

Russia to send air-defence system to Syria | Al Jazeera English

Russia will not cancel plans to deliver an air-defence system to Syria despite Western opposition in order to help deter foreign intervention in the two-year-old conflict, according to the country’s deputy foreign minister.

Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, Sergei Ryabkov also accused the EU of “throwing fuel on the fire” by letting its own arms embargo on Syria expire.

"We think this delivery is a stabilising factor and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads from exploring scenarios in which this conflict could be given an international character with participation of outside forces," Ryabkov said.

Israel and France had urged Moscow to refrain from sending high-precision S-300 missile systems to President Bashar al-Assad’s government in its campaign against opposition fighters.

Russian officials have not disclosed whether S-300s have actually been sent to Syria and Ryabkov would not specify.

"I can’t confirm or deny that these deliveries have taken place. I can only say that we will not disavow them," he said.

Israel's Bombs Invite Obama to Join a War Against Syria | Bob Dreyfuss

If Israel’s bombing of Syria, which apparently killed more than 100 Syrian troops, is meant as a warning to Iran—as various analysts in Israel and The Jerusalem Post suggest—then the message is: We can strike a nearby, war-embattled nation just minutes from our bases. It really says little about Israel’s ability to strike Iran, a far more complex target much, much farther away. But it does put Israel into a firm alliance with Saudi Arabia (and the Sunnis) in a very dangerous Sunni vs. Shiite sectarian conflict.

President Obama, who, as noted in this blog, repeatedly, awkwardly boxed himself in with his off-the-cuff “red-line” comments about Syria’s alleged (and let us repeat, “alleged”) use of chemical weapons, should decline Israel’s violent invitation to take sides in the anti-Iranian crusade. But John McCain, who’s wanted to bomb Syria from the start, is urging Obama to accept Israel’s invitation to join the fight. Unfortunately, too many Democrats, mostly liberal interventionists and allies of the Israel lobby, agree.

Perhaps his readiness to intervene in Syria will be tempered by the fact that it now appears as if the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons, too, according to the United Nations. But as The New York Times reports, the United States and its allies were, “in secret,” already discussing air strikes against Syria. But Obama should instead seek an immediate cease-fire, with Russia’s support—Secretary of State John Kerry is heading for Moscow—and then work out a political accord.

In any case, it’s hard to take Israel’s assertion that its strikes against Syria on Friday and again on Sunday, more massively, were aimed simply at rockets that may or may not have reached Hezbollah in Lebanon. From early reports, it appears that the attacks were aimed at key bastions of the Syrian government and military in and around the capital, Damascus:

The attack, which sent brightly lighted columns of smoke and ash high into the night sky above the Syrian capital, struck several critical military facilities in some of the country’s most tightly secured and strategic areas, killing dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace, a high-ranking Syrian military official said in an interview.

Last night, speaking on CNN, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said that the new attacks mean that Israel is now firmly in an alliance with Al Qaeda against President Bashar al-Assad. He’s right. It’s an alliance that the United States, already entangled in the war, doesn’t need to join.

The attacks also create a major public relations problem for the rebels, mostly militant Islamists, Al Qaeda types, Muslim Brotherhood activists, and other Sunni religious folks, all of whom are not enthralled by the idea of getting overt Israeli help in toppling Assad. According to The New York Times, the rebels issued a confused statement noting that they don’t want assistance from “external occupying forces,” that is, from Israeli forces occupying Palestine. Some of them are critical of the Assad government for refusing to confront Israel.

Syria is threatening to retaliate against Israel, but really there isn’t much that they can do, and Iran, too, isn’t likely to allow itself to be provoked by the Israeli attack. That could change though, if Israel continues to bomb Syria in what would be an overt alliance with the rebels. But with Benjamin Netanyahu now in Beijing, it isn’t likely that Israel will continue to attack Syria, for now.

The Syria-Iran red line show | Pepe Escobar

This eminently Bushist Obama “red line” business, applied to Syria, Iran or both, is becoming a tad ridiculous.

Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy - United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed - to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.

There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat - missiles from North Korea.

The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies - missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs - could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

There’s no “red line” here; just hardcore weaponizing of Israel and the GCC. Any doubts, blame it on Iran. And this while Saudi-controlled media in the Middle East - roughly everything except al-Jazeera - was breathlessly spinning that Tel Aviv is pursuing a deal to use Turkish soil for an attack on Iran.

Wait; there’s more weaponizing on the way - bound to neighboring latitudes. Kraus-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) from Germany closed another $2.48 billion deal with Qatar - five years in the making - to deliver 62 Leopard 2 tanks and 24 self-propelled howitzers. Qatar is not exactly using them for the 2022 FIFA World Cup; they are bound to “friendly groups in other countries” - as in Syria’s “rebels”, via Turkey.

Now take the Syria chemical weapons charade. The White House now seems to be convinced that the CIA believes, with “varying degrees of confidence”, that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry - an “intervention” cheerleader posing as a dove - was already convinced.

But then Hagel said, “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another.” Just to flip-flop a little while later, during his visit to Israel, he became convinced Bashar al-Assad was using sarin gas. Of course; after all, Hagel finally had unimpeded access to Israeli - not US - intel.

And now for the beauty of Hagel’s marketing; what about embarking as a traveling salesman to “our bastards” with a sales pitch of ” Look, Iran and Syria are both crazy, you might consider stacking up on this, this and this.”

The Nenets of Siberia - crossing the Ob river to enter the Arctic Circle - could teach a thing or two about real strategy to those limping armchair warriors in US Think Tankland. Even the Nenets would know that the current chemical weapons hysteria is a total fabrication by the CIA, MI6 and Israeli intelligence - corroborated by zero evidence. Still, the prevailing Washington “wisdom” is that a “red line” must be enforced over Syria so a “red line” must be enforced on Iran.

The fact is that the al-Assad government initially accused the “rebels” of using chemical weapons - and asked the United Nations for an official investigation.

Even the New York Times was forced, grudgingly, to admit the “rebels” acknowledged an attack happened in territory controlled by the government, with 16 Syrian Army dead, plus 10 civilians and over a hundred injured. But then the “rebels” changed the narrative, blaming Damascus of bombing their own soldiers. It was Moscow that introduced a measure of reality, detailing how Washington was stalling the UN investigation.

Our Nenets of Siberia would also know there’s hardly anything secular leading the “rebels” in Syria; it’s a motley crew of varying degrees of fanaticism. Once again, the Nenets would not need to freeze to death reading the New York Times to find out that the CIA is “secretly” funneling a free for all weaponizing to the “rebels” via Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Still the Obama administration peddles the fiction that Washington only supplies “non lethal” aid [*] as Capitol Hill nutters keep insisting that Obama install a “no fly zone” over Syria - as in Libya-style NATO war remix.

US Think Tankland nonetheless is ecstatic that the GCC petro-monarchies now have access to precision-guided munitions to “strike Iranian targets”.

But nothing compares to the cheerleading of Israel’s new access to KC-135 aerial refueling tankers - or Stratotankers. Then there’s the imminent transfer of anti-radiation missiles as well - advanced versions of the AGM-88 HARM missiles. These toys will “reduce the threat to Israel’s follow-on strike package.”

No, this is not exactly about “US circumspection”, or “US resolve in the campaign against Iranian nuclear weapons”; it’s unqualified Dog of War barking.

Meanwhile, that police state run by King Playstation, also known as Jordan, has opened its airspace to Israeli drones now engaged in “monitoring” Syria.

As Asia Times Online has repeatedly warned, Obama in Syria is fast becoming a remix of Reagan in 1980s Afghanistan. We all know what came out of those “freedom fighters” afterwards. In this context, Robert Ford, Obama’s alleged Syria expert, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it’s important for Washington to “weigh in” to affect “the internal balance of power in Syria” qualifies as a joke line, not a red line.

Obama Breaks Out the Bush Playbook on Korea | Conn Hallinan

"The demand by the Obama administration that North Korea must denuclearize before serious talks can begin is a non-starter, particularly when the Washington and its allies refuse to first agree to a non-aggression pledge."

In the current crisis on the Korean peninsula, the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear, and unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop.

A little history.

In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor.

Kaplan is Slate’s War Stories columnist and author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War.

“Yet at the same time,” writes Kaplan, “Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully.” Former President Jimmy Carter was sent to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and the Agreed Framework pact was signed, allowing the parties to back off without losing face.

In return for the North Koreans shipping their fuel rods out of the country, the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to finance two light-water nuclear reactors, normalize diplomatic relations, and supply the DPRK with fuel. Washington pledged not to invade the North. “Initially, North Korea kept to its side of the bargain,” say Kaplan, “The same cannot be said for our side.”

The reactors were never funded and diplomatic relations went into a deep freeze. From North Korea’s point of view, it had been stiffed. The North reacted with public bombast and a secret deal with Pakistan to exchange missile technology for centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.

However, the North was still willing to deal, and DPRK leader Kim Jong-il told the Clinton administration that, in exchange for a non-aggression pact, North Korea would agree to shelve its long-range missile program and stop exporting missile technology. North Korea was still adhering to the 1994 agreement not to process its nuclear fuel rods. But time ran out and the incoming Bush administration torpedoed the talks, instead declaring North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, a member of an “axis of evil.”

Nine days after the U.S. Senate passed the Iraq war resolution on October 11, 2002, the White House disavowed the 1994 Agreed Framework, halted fuel supplies, and sharpened the economic embargo the United States had imposed on the North since the 1950-53 Korean War. It was hardly a surprise when Pyongyang’s reaction was to toss out the arms inspectors, fire up the Yongbyon reactor, and take the fuel rods out of storage.

Kaplan points out, however, that even when Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 2003, the North Koreans “also said they would reverse their actions and retract their declarations if the United States resumed its obligations under the Agreed Framework and signed a non-aggression pledge.”

But Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Vice President Dick Cheney, banking that increased sanctions would eventually bring down the Kim regime, were not interested in negotiations.

Ignoring North Korea, however, did not sit well with Japan and South Korea. So the White House sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly to Pyongyang, where the North Koreans told him they were willing to give up nuclear weapons development in return for a non-aggression pact. Bush, however, dismissed the proposal as “blackmail” and refused to negotiate with the North Koreans unless they first agreed to give up the bomb, a posture disturbingly similar to the one currently being taken by the Obama administration.

But “the bomb” was the only chip the North Koreans had, and giving it up defied logic. Hadn’t NATO and the United States used the threat of nuclear weapons to checkmate a supposed Soviet invasion of Europe during the Cold War? Wasn’t that the rationale behind the Israeli bomb vis-à-vis the Arabs? Pakistan’s ace in the hole to keep the vastly superior Indian army at bay? Why would Pyongyang make such an agreement with a country that made no secret of its intention to destabilize the North Korean regime?

North Korea is not a nice place to live and work, but its reputation as a nuclear-armed loony bin is hardly accurate. Every attempt by the North Koreans to sign a non-aggression pact has been either rebuffed or come at a price—specifically giving up nuclear weapons—Pyongyang is unwilling to pay without such a pledge. The North is well aware of the fate of the “axis of evil”: Iraq was invaded and occupied, and Iran is suffocating under the weight of economic sanctions and facing a possible Israeli or U.S. attack. From North Korea’s point of view, the only thing that Iraq and Iran have in common is that neither of them developed nuclear weapons.

[more]

Syria: This Intervention Threat Is Not Credible | M of A

Some good points in here:

The intervention is certainly not a done deal. The recent drone intrusion from Lebanon into Israel was a serious warning. If Syria is attacked Israel will get hit - no matter what. There is no way to avoid that. This fact alone is a serious impediment for any “western” move. There is also a Russian fleet underway which will reach the Mediterranean in mid May and will stay there permanently. It is a wild card in any air attack or submarine launched cruise missile raid on Syria. A ground attack is even less likely. Neither Britain nor any other country is willing to send ground troops.

Aside from those military problems the public in all concerned countries seems to be against any intervention. Judging from the comments at various news sites, the chemical attack scam convinced no one.

That is why I disagree with Mahir Zenalov’s conclusion. The current threat of intervention is not credible.

State Dept Reiterates Sanctions Threat Against Pakistan Over Iran Pipeline

becauseithinktoomuch:

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has reiterated US threats to impose economic sanctions on Pakistan if it dares to follow through on the oft-delayed plans to build a gas pipeline to neighboring Iran.

“If this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” Nuland noted, insisting that they have been “straight up with the Pakistanis” about that fact.

Nuland has regularly presented Pakistanis with a choice between sanctions and US help in overcoming its energy crisis, which is choking the nation’s economy and is the prime mover behind the pipeline. The US pledges never seem to materialize, however, though they have caused several delays to the pipeline.

In the end, Pakistan may find itself in a position to call the administration’s bluff on sanctions, as the US almost certainly will not risk tit-for-tat sanctions that could close the Pakistani supply route into occupied Afghanistan. The final decision may hinge on the results of Pakistan’s upcoming election, however, and whether forces calling for economy independence through trade and industry can top the factions hoping for US handouts to finally materialize.

It’s all about TAPI. Welcome to pipelineistan.

The Coming Collapse of Iran Sanctions | Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett

[…] In recent weeks … Europe’s General Court overturned European sanctions against two of Iran’s biggest banks, ruling that the EU never substantiated its claims that the banks provided “financial services for entities procuring on behalf of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” The European Council has two months to respond—but removing sanctions against the banks would severely weaken Europe’s sanctions regime. Other major players in Iran’s economy, including the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company, are now challenging their own sanctioned status.

On the other side of the world, America is on a collision course with China over sanctions. In recent years, Beijing has tried to accommodate U.S. concerns about Iran. It has not developed trade and investment positions there as rapidly as it might have, and has shifted some Iran-related transactional flows into renminbi to help the Obama administration avoid sanctioning Chinese banks. (Similarly, India now pays for some Iranian oil imports in rupees.) Whether Beijing has really lowered its aggregate imports of Iranian oil is unclear—but it clearly reduces them when the administration is deciding about six-month sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian crude.

The administration is taking its own steps to forestall Sino-American conflict over sanctions. Besides issuing waivers for oil imports, the one Chinese bank Washington has barred from the U.S. financial system for Iran-related transactions is a subsidiary of a Chinese energy company—a subsidiary with no business in the United States. However, as Congress enacts additional layers of secondary sanctions, President Obama’s room to maneuver is being progressively reduced. Therein lies the looming policy train wreck.

If, at congressional insistence, the administration later this year demands that China sharply cut Iranian oil imports and that Chinese banks stop virtually any Iran-related transactions, Beijing will say no. If Washington retreats, the deterrent effect of secondary sanctions will erode rapidly. Iran’s oil exports are rising again, largely from Chinese demand. Once it becomes evident Washington won’t seriously impose secondary sanctions, growth in Iranian oil shipments to China and other non-Western economies (e.g., India, South Korea) will accelerate. Likewise, non-Western powers are central to Iran’s quest for alternatives to U.S.-dominated mechanisms for conducting and settling international transactions—a project that will also gain momentum after Washington’s bluff is called.

Conversely, if Washington sanctions major Chinese banks and energy companies, Beijing will respond—at least by taking America to the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism (where China will win), perhaps by retaliating against U.S. companies in China. Chinese policymakers are increasingly concerned Washington is reneging on its part of the core bargain that grounded Sino-American rapprochement in the 1970s—to accept China’s relative economic and political rise and not try to secure a hegemonic position in Asia. Beijing is already less willing to work in the Security Council on a new (even watered-down) sanctions resolution, and more willing to resist U.S. initiatives that, in its view, challenge Chinese interests (witness China’s vetoes of three U.S.-backed resolutions on Syria). In this context, Chinese leaders will not accept American high-handedness on Iran sanctions. At this point, Beijing has more ways to impose costs on America for violations of international economic law that impinge on Chinese interests than Washington has levers to coerce China’s compliance.

As America’s sanctions policy unravels, President Obama will have to decide whether to stay on a path of open-ended hostility toward Iran that ultimately leads to another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East, or develop a very different vision for America’s Middle East strategy—a vision emphasizing genuine diplomacy with Tehran, rooted in American acceptance of the Islamic Republic as a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests and aimed at fundamentally realigning U.S.-Iranian relations. [++]