The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Stumbling Into Syria | David Bromwich

[…] Reporters working in Syria—most recently Robert Worth in an article in The New York Times Magazine—have converged on a single unhappy perception: far and away the largest and most capable groups of rebels are jihadists. That is a central fact of this uprising. But the fall of the town of Qusair to Hezbollah forces, in the first week of June, and the realization that Aleppo is also in jeopardy have turned the war so heavily in Assad’s favor that an all-out campaign for French, British, and American intervention has now been launched. The French “new philosopher” and journalist Bernard-Henri Levy did much to persuade Nicholas Sarkozy of the propriety of organizing a NATO war to overthrow Qaddafi; in a characteristic recent column for The Daily Beast, Levy nicknames Assad “the Syrian killer” and speaks of the danger that now threatens the morale and substance of the West:

The surrender of Aleppo to the death squads of Hezbollah would be a fresh eruption of carnage whose victims would be heaped atop the hundred thousand already claimed by this atrocious war against a civilian population.

He affirms that “Aleppo belongs not to Syria but to the world”—a stirring phrase of ambiguous import—and he numbers the recent crimes against civilization by Serbs and Islamists: “those past crimes haunt our collective conscience.” The failures of the West have all been failures to wage the necessary humanitarian wars against Slavic or Islamist fanatics.

It must be admitted that American policy has fallen short of demands like these. We sided with Islamist rebels in Afghanistan, under the name of Mujahideen fighters, and against the same rebels under the names of Taliban and al-Qaeda; we fought against them in Iraq during the 2004 insurgency, and stood at their side as paymasters and allies when they became the “Sunni Awakening” in 2007; we were against them in Mali, Somalia, and Yemen, but allied with them as the courageous militias in Libya; and now in Syria, we are both for them and against them—allies insofar as they agree with us in attacking the government, but opponents because they want to dominate or kill the moderate rebels to whom we intend to ship arms. We will wage war against them after they help us to win the war against Assad.

Still, the force of an impassioned and moralistic appeal for Western involvement in religious wars should not be underrated. The view a man like Levy espouses is just one remove from a policy-maker like Susan Rice, the president’s new national security adviser; and the liberal interventionists since 1999 have formed a section of the policy elite very proficient at linking war with conscience. They combine the adjective humanitarian and the noun war as glibly as the Communists a generation ago matched the word people’s with republic. In a proxy war like Syria—with France, Britain, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the US supporting the insurgents, and Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran (along with Iraqi and other foreign Shia militias) supporting the Syrian government—a policy of humanitarian war promises to double or triple the toll of human lives. Obama’s bad decision will only intensify the flow of arms from the puppet-masters. The external powers may snap their fingers at the idea of a regional conflict, but such a conflict is in progress, and the only question is whether it will be stopped early at the conference table, or late by a remnant of survivors picking among the rubble. The slide into this war by the US has been gradual, treacherous, and avoidable. It will be a long climb getting back out, and it will need the assistance of countries we prefer not to call friends. But after all Aleppo belongs to the people who live there and not the people we pay to die.

No one expects Obama to offer anything on this trip that will reverse America’s declining share of the African market. That’s because the U.S. is not in the business of fair and mutually beneficial trade – it’s about the business of imperialism, which is another matter, entirely. The Americans ensure their access to African natural resources through the barrel of a gun. So, while the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians and other economic powerhouses play by the rules of give and take, the U.S. tightens its military grip on the continent through its ever-expanding military command, AFRICOM. The Obamas Do Africa

It’s now obvious that President Obama is escalating the Syrian conflict because his prized rebels have been beaten on the battlefield. Obama has thus chosen the military tactic of brinksmanship, a risky strategy that involves intentionally escalating a conflict in the hopes that either your opponent gives in to your demands (regime change), or your opponent gives you an excuse to invade. Shamus Cooke

The Terror Diaspora: The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa | Nick Turse

[…] 10 years after Washington began pouring taxpayer dollars into counterterrorism and stability efforts across Africa and its forces first began operating from Camp Lemonnier, the continent has experienced profound changes, just not those the U.S. sought. The University of Birmingham’s Berny Sèbe ticks off post-revolutionary Libya, the collapse of Mali, the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the coup in the Central African Republic, and violence in Africa’s Great Lakes region as evidence of increasing volatility. “The continent is certainly more unstable today than it was in the early 2000s, when the U.S. started to intervene more directly,” he told me.

As the war in Afghanistan — a conflict born of blowback — winds down, there will be greater incentive and opportunity to project U.S. military power in Africa. However, even a cursory reading of recent history suggests that this impulse is unlikely to achieve U.S. goals. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, there is ample evidence to suggest the United States has facilitated a terror diaspora, imperiling nations and endangering peoples across Africa. In the wake of 9/11, Pentagon officials were hard-pressed to show evidence of a major African terror threat. Today, the continent is thick with militant groups that are increasingly crossing borders, sowing insecurity, and throwing the limits of U.S. power into broad relief. After 10 years of U.S. operations to promote stability by military means, the results have been the opposite. Africa has become blowback central. [must read]

The New Scramble for Africa and the War On Terror | Counterfire

The current scramble for Africa is not simply about the ongoing scramble for resources on the part of imperialist powers. The eurocrisis is an extra motivating factor. The crisis of neoliberalism which began in America in 2008 and then spread to Southern Europe and elsewhere threatens to spread much further still. This crisis has lit a fire under the US imperialists who are experiencing an economy in dire straits which is heading towards the ‘cliff edge’ we keep hearing about with no solutions in view and both government debt and the deficit increasing.

By way of contrast the old 19th Century scramble for Africa was motivated by a period of rapid industrial expansion fuelled by the industrial revolution. Expansion within Europe had hit a wall with the unification of Italy and Germany and so on. So the European powers turned their focus outwards towards the untapped continent of Africa at the end of the century. This involved both an imperialist scramble between imperialist rivals but also involved partial agreements and marriages of convenience in order to carve up African resources whilst attempting to minimalise inter-imperialist conflict.

Today we have a eurocrisis instead of an industrial revolution. Where previously rapid industrial growth pushed the west into Africa in order to open up new markets, now we have an economic crisis forcing imperialists to try and monetise Africa in an attempt to get some kind of purchase in a tanking economy.

When talking about the New Scramble for Africa it’s worth noting that it’s not just the left using the phrase, however convenient it may be for the left to bring up the imperialist past in the context of our current liberal democracy. In fact we don’t have to look any further than the head of Meryll Lynch Bank of America, a man by the name of Richard Gush, who said that ‘a new scramble for Africa is underway’ in the economic sphere in terms of the competition for markets and resources in Africa.

We also saw US Secretary of State John Kerry almost putting his foot in it at his inauguration hearing when he said that ‘China is all over Africa and we’ve got to get in the game here, folks, because if we get in the game we can win’. Presumably realising that he wasn’t just talking to his mates, he was also being broadcast on TV as well, Kerry tried to cover up this gaff by quickly adding that ‘when I say “win” I don’t mean win in the cold war sense, I mean win in an economic sense in terms of creating jobs for Americans’.

So the new scramble for Africa is a very real question we need to address. It’s important that we don’t just seek to understand the significance of the New Scramble For Africa but that we actually oppose any interventions into the continent and also oppose proxy wars and drone wars. Drones and proxies are in a way a partial response to the fact that the anti-war movement stopped conventional wars from being politically viable, at least in the West, forcing the imperial powers to find new ways to be horrendous and new ways of killing people.

It showed that a mass movement did actually force the imperialist powers onto a new track. Of course it’s still a nasty and dangerous situation we find ourselves in. This means that it is vital that we don’t just try to understand this new phase in the War on Terror but that we organise to effectively oppose this imperialist project as well.

After Profits, Defense Contractor Faces the Pitfalls of Cybersecurity | NYTimes.com

… [F]ew top officials in the intelligence world have become greater authorities on cyberconflict than the 69-year-old [Michael] McConnell … . He began his career as a Navy intelligence officer on a small boat in the backwaters of the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. Years later he helped the American intelligence apparatus make the leap from an analog world of electronic eavesdropping to the new age of cyberweaponry.

President Bill Clinton relied on Mr. McConnell as director of the N.S.A., a post he held from 1992 to 1996. He then moved to Booz Allen as a senior vice president, building its first cyberunits. But with the intelligence community in disarray after its failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the fiasco of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the toll of constant reorganization, President George W. Bush asked him to be the second director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009.

That was when he made his biggest mark, forcing a reluctant bureaucracy to invest heavily in cybercapability and overseeing “Olympic Games,” the development of America’s first truly sophisticated cyberweapon, which was used against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. When Mr. Bush needed someone to bring President-elect Barack Obama up to speed on every major intelligence program he was about to inherit, including drones and defenses against electronic intrusions from China, he handed the task to Mr. McConnell.

But Mr. Obama was not interested in keeping the previous team, and Mr. McConnell returned to Booz Allen in 2009. He earned more than $4.1 million his first year back, and $2.3 million last year. He is now vice chairman, and the company describes him as the leader of its “rapidly expanding cyberbusiness.”

But Mr. Obama was interested in Olympic Games (NYT, 6/1/2012):

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

Oops!

(And don’t forget about Flame and the other “Games” like Gauss, Duqu, and mini-Flame).

Saudi Arabia, France sending Syria rebels anti-aircraft guns: source | Al Akhbar English

Saudi Arabia, with some French funds, began supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels “on a small scale” about two months ago, a Gulf source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The shoulder-fired weapons were obtained mostly from suppliers in France and Belgium, the source told Reuters. France had paid for the transport of the weapons to the region.

The supplies were going to General Salim Idriss, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who was still the kingdom’s main “point man” in the opposition, the source said.

Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Idriss urged Western allies to supply anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and to create a no-fly zone, saying if properly armed he could defeat the Syrian army within six months.

The Gulf source said without elaborating that Saudi Arabia had begun taking a more active role in the Syrian conflict.

The remarks come one day after German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that that Saudi Arabia was looking at sending European-made Mistral-class MANPADS, or man-portable air-defense systems.

The article, citing a classified report received by the German foreign intelligence service and the German government last week, said the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles can target low-flying aircraft including helicopters and had given mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan a decisive edge against Soviet troops in the 1980s.

It wasn’t immediately clear if these were the same anti-aircraft guns that the kingdom has already allegedly sent.

The United States vowed last week to send military aid to rebel forces after accusing the government of using “small amounts” of chemical weapons. Washington has also sent F-16 jets and anti-aircraft guns to Jordan with talk of possibly enforcing a no-fly zone on Syria.

Russia has repeatedly said that a unilateral US-imposed no-fly zone on Syria would violate international law, and on Monday said it would “not allow” such a scenario.

"I think we fundamentally will not allow this scenario," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news briefing Monday.

Lukashevich spoke before planned talks between President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland which were expected to focus on the conflict in Syria that has killed at least 93,000 people according to the UN.

"All these manoeuvres about no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors are a direct consequence of a lack of respect for international law," Lukashevich said.

He said Russia did not want a scenario in Syria that resembled the events in Libya after the imposition of a no-fly zone which enabled NATO aircraft to help rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

US to deploy missiles and jets to Jordan | Al Jazeera English

The United States will send a Patriot missile battery and F-16 fighters to Jordan for a military drill and may keep the weapons there to counter the threat posed by Syria’s civil war, officials said.

The anti-missile systems and jets were approved for deployment to Jordan as part of a joint exercise with Jordanian forces, US Central Command said in a statement on Monday.

"In order to enhance the defensive posture and capacity of Jordan, some of these assets may remain beyond the exercise at the request of the government of Jordan," the statement said.

US officials declined to say how many F-16s would be taking part in the exercise, or how many aircraft might remain afterwards.

The US backed a similar move earlier this year in Turkey, with NATO deploying Patriot missile batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria.

[…] The decision to possibly station F-16s and missile batteries in Jordan will fuel speculation of a potential US military intervention, which the White House so far has described as a remote possibility.

Patriot missiles are designed to shoot down Scud or other short-range missiles, known to be in the Assad regime’s arsenal.

The Pentagon has already sent about 200 troops to Jordan, including an element of a US Army headquarters, to help the country prepare for possible military action in Syria, including scenarios to secure the regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

Fighting raged on Monday in Syria, with regime aircraft pounding the embattled city of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, in a three-week-old offensive backed by Hezbollah forces.

Obama signs executive order imposing harsher sanctions against Iran | Haaretz Daily Newspaper

The United States on Monday ratcheted up its efforts to isolate Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons program, targeting Tehran with currency and auto-sector sanctions.

U.S. President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on foreign financial institutions that conduct or facilitate significant transactions in the Iranian rial currency.

In an executive order, the president also approved sanctions against people who do business with Iran’s auto sector, which the White House said was a major source of revenue for Tehran.

The United States and Western powers have imposed a series of economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran into halting what they say is a drive to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is purely for generating power and for medical devices.

Last week, the United States blacklisted eight companies in Iran’s petrochemical industry.

“We hold the door open to a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their obligations,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “However, Iran must understand that time is not unlimited. If the Iranian government continues down its current path, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to impose increasing consequences.”

The sanctions imposed on the rial on Monday included a ban on maintaining significant accounts outside Iran denominated in that currency. It is the first time that trade in the rial has been targeted directly for sanctions, the White House said.

Canada follows suit:
Canada bans all imports, exports with latest Iran sanctions

More on the sanctions:
Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran by Jim Lobe

State Dept Withholds Syria Rebel Aid, Citing ‘Disarray’ | Antiwar

Despite announcing new rounds of rebel aid every week or two, the US State Department hasn’t actually delivered the bulk of it to Syria’s rebel forces, and is withholding the $63 million pledged to the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

US officials are citing the increasing “disarray” in the rebel leadership, particularly in the SNC, which saw its president resign in March and has been unable to settle on a new leader since.

Officials say this wasn’t “the plan” but that they are now looking for “more credible partners” for backing the rebel side in the Syrian Civil War, and imposing regime change in the nation.

At the core of this growing frustration is the US effort to put together some sort of peace conference in Geneva, apparently aiming to show Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate. Instead, Assad has agreed to join the talks, and the rebels have refused, forcing the US to back off the pretense of trying to reach a settlement and publicly concede that their priority is to impose regime change however they can get it.

Merchants of Death

From Tom Engelhardt:

Imagine for a moment that in 2010, China’s leaders had announced a long-term, up to $60 billion arms deal with an extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the Middle East, one that was notoriously repressive to women and a well-known supporter of the Taliban. Imagine as well that the first $30 billion part of that deal, involving 84 advanced jet fighters, was sealed in 2011, and that, since then, the sales have never stopped: several kinds of helicopters, artillery, armored personnel carriers, upgraded tanks, surface-to-air missile systems, even possibly a litoral combat vessel, among other purchases. Then include one more piece of information in the mix. In 2013, China added in “an advanced class of precision ‘standoff munitions’” — missiles that could be fired from those previously purchased advanced jet fighters.

Given all this, we would know what to think. It would be just the sort of thing you might expect from an unscrupulous, retrograde communist regime with no values whatsoever, one willing above all else to keep the production lines of its weapons makers humming. Washington would long ago have denounced such dealings in no uncertain terms. In fact, such a scenario is utterly fantastic and essentially unimaginable — for China. But it happens to be a perfectly accurate description of the lucrative relationship that American arms makers and the Pentagon have with Saudi Arabia, a country Washington has promoted and sold weaponry to as if there were no tomorrow.

Africa is most unified in its abject military subservience to the U.S. and, secondarily, to France, which struts around Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic and other former colonies as if independence was a joke played on history. But, the big boss is AFRICOM, the U.S. military command established in 2008, whose barbed wire entangles the continent, linking the militaries of all but three African countries directly to the Pentagon. Glen Ford, The Irrelevance of the African Union at 50

Sen. McCain slips into Syria, meets with rebels

McCain has been a fierce critic of Obama administration policy there while stopping short of backing U.S. ground troops in Syria, but he supports aggressive military steps against the Assad regime.

Gen. Salem Idris, chief of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, accompanied McCain across the Turkey-Syria border. McCain met with leaders of the Free Syrian Army from across the country, who asked him for increased U.S. support, including heavy weapons, a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Syrian government and Hezbollah forces, according to The Daily Beast, which first reported the senator’s unannounced visit.

Hawks gonna hawk.

Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran | LobeLog

Congress moved closer here Wednesday to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran and pledged its support to Israel if it felt compelled to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme in self-defence.

The Senate voted 99-0 to adopt a resolution that urged President Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to “provide diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel “in its defense of its territory, people and existence”.

Washington, it said, should support Israel “in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force” if Israel “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

The measure also re-affirmed the official policy of the administration of President Barack Obama that it would take whatever action necessary to “prevent” Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

At the same time, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously approved new sanctions legislation that, if passed into law, would blacklist foreign countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil within 180 days.

The same bill would expand the current blacklisting of companies that do business with Iran’s financial sector to include those engaged in the country’s automotive and mining sectors, as well.

In perhaps its most controversial section, the bill also eliminates President Obama’s ability to waive most sanctions for national-interest or national-security reasons. [++]