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World War III: What It Is And What It Threatens To Become

April 11, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

World War III is not about to erupt; it has already begun; indeed, it began as long ago as 2015, when Russia, at the request of the Syrian government, intervened in the conflict in that country, whose government was under attack by Islamist insurgents encouraged, armed, and resourced by the United States and its allies.

The war in Syria, one that counts among its participants the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Qatar and others, is no less a world war for being confined to the borders of Syria. A world war is not defined by the multiplicity of its theaters but by the multiplicity of its actors.

Ultimately, the war is a conflict over two types of international order: on the one hand, a hierarchy of states, with the United States at the top, endowed with de facto authority to impose its will on all other states; on the other, a network of sovereign and independent states, linked by mutual benefit—a US-dictated global order vs. a democratic UN-defined international order. This is a battle of tyranny versus democracy at the level of international relations.

The war over these two contending conceptions of how the world’s affairs should be organized—the Third World War in action—is now threatening to spill beyond Syria’s borders.

The US president has threatened to attack the Syrian government in response to an alleged chemical weapons incident that is almost certainly a hoax perpetrated by partisan sources, the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society. These are jihadi-aligned groups, funded by Western governments, which have an interest in pressuring the United States to maintain its illegal occupation of nearly one-third of Syrian territory, or to provide a pretext for continued or even escalating US intervention in Syria.

The same Western governments that fund the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society have openly called for regime change in Damascus and have invested time and money in an effort to bring it about. The two outfits they bankroll are neither independent nor neutral, and can hardly be judged to be trustworthy sources, any more than the United States, and its allies France, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Israel, can be.

Russia has warned the United States not to carry through on its threat to attack the Syrian government. An attack ordered by the US president would violate international law, to say nothing of US domestic law, which vests authority to wage war in Congress. The president does not plan to seek Congress’s authorization.

This, however, is all of a piece. It is difficult to point to any aspect of the US intervention in Syria that has not been illegal, from the occupation of Syrian territory, to the violation of its airspace, to the funding of guerrillas to overthrow its government.

The United States’ newspaper of record, the New York Times, urges the US president to commit another illegal act, namely, to punish Syria militarily, without Security Council or Congressional authorization, for an unverified transgression against international law. The New York Times, thus, no less than other major Western media, has chosen a side in World War III—four-square behind the fight for an international order based on the arbitrary rule of the US administration in preference to a global order based on sovereign and equal states governed by the rule of law.

Russia has vowed to intercept incoming US missiles. Its warning has been met by a belligerent reply from the US president. The situation is fraught with danger. The United States, and its major media, which connive in the likely chemical weapons deception and elevate a planned illegal act of war into a moral crusade, are playing a very dangerous game. They’re willing to bring the world to the brink of a general conflagration to fulfil their vision of a hierarchy of states subordinate to the US administration’s rule—an undisputed global US empire.

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Written by what's left

April 11, 2018 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Syria, World War III

Syria Chemical Weapons Attack: The Facts

April 11, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

#1. The fundamental question of whether a chemical weapons (CW) attack took place last Saturday in the Syrian town of Douma has yet to be independently addressed. The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the one neutral body that is qualified to investigate the use of chemical weapons, has yet to begin its investigation.

#2. While the OPCW can determine whether a chemical attack has occurred, it is beyond its capability to assign responsibility. The allegation that the Syrian government perpetrated a CW attack is not verifiable in principle by a neutral body.

#3. The sole evidence for the claim against the Syrian government consists of allegations from two partisan sources: the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society.

#4. Both groups are allied with jihadists seeking to overthrow the Syrian government and both are funded by Western states which openly call for regime change in Damascus. These outfits are neither neutral nor independent.

#5. As parties to the conflict, both groups have an interest in fabricating atrocity stories to defame their enemy and create a pretext for the continued and even escalated intervention of Western militaries in Syria.

#6. As parties to the conflict, Western states have an interest in legitimating the atrocity stories to defame the government they seek to change and to furnish a pretext for their continued and even escalated intervention in Syria.

#7. While early media reports referred to the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society as the sources of the allegations, explicit references to these partisan sources have now mostly disappeared from media coverage.

#8. Instead, the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society are now referred to by more neutral-sounding terms, such as “medical professionals and human rights groups,” or “relief workers”* disguising their partisan character and creating the illusion that they are independent humanitarian organizations free from a vested interest in the outcome of the conflict.

#9. Following the tenet cui prodest scelus, is fesit (he has committed the crime who has received the profit) suspicion falls more heavily on the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, as perpetrators of a hoax, than on the Syrian government, as perpetrators of a crime. While it’s easy to attribute a motive to the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society to fabricate a story, no credible motive or benefit has been adduced to explain why the Syrian government would carry out the alleged CW attack. Those explanations that have been advanced fail on either of two grounds: they’re circular, or implausible and free from evidence.

A favored circular explanation holds that Assad ordered an attack because he’s an “animal.” How do we know he’s an animal? Because he ordered an attack.

Another line of argument attributes the alleged attack to a desire on the part of the Syrian government “to terrorize the population.”** Apart from the reality that no evidence for this claim is adduced, it is wholly unsatisfying as an explanation. Populations can be far more effectively terrorized by carpet bombing (also known, fittingly, as terror bombing.) If the Syrian government sought to terrorize the population, why use chemical weapons, when far more effective means are at hand, ones, morever, that don’t cross a red line?

#10. The bottom line is that there is no independent verification that an attack even took place, let alone that the Syrian government is responsible for one. What’s more, the sources of the allegations are wholly untrustworthy, have an interest in perpetrating a hoax, and no credible motivation has been cited to explain why the Syrian government would undertake the alleged CW attack.

The only reasonable conclusion in light of the above is that there’s not a speck of credible evidence that the Syrian government perpetrated a CW attack at Douma last Saturday, and that there are strong grounds to suspect the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society have created a deception.

* See for example “The US presses allies to back military strike on Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2018 or “Russia warns it will shoot down US missiles fired at Syria, target launch sites,” Reuters, April 11, 2018. Two days earlier the Wall Street Journal’s reporting identified the Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets as the sources of the allegations, as did The Associated Press and the New York times.

** See for example “Syria gas attack echoes Assad’s gamble that gains outweigh risks,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2018.

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April 11, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Syria

Nonsense about Syria gas attacks reveals US ideology of tyranny

April 11, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

Ideologues of US power, notably those ensconced in the editorial offices of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, believe that the United States has an imprescriptible right to exercise an absolutist tyranny over the world, to define the boundary between civilization and barbarism, and that Washington is unbound by international law, but free to wield it as a tool against the barbarians. In the ideology of US despotism, the compass of civilization includes states that submit to “US leadership”, a euphemized version of “US tyranny,” while states which favor an international order based on the UN Charter’s ideal of the sovereignty and equality of states (Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela are among the supporters of this alternative, democratic, order) are relegated to the category of barbarism. Once a state has been located outside of civilization, Western legal traditions—testing accusations against evidence and the assumption of innocence until culpability is credibly demonstrated— no longer apply. The “barbaric” state becomes guilty of all acts of which it is accused, regardless of whether there exists credible evidence to corroborate the accusation.

In a 9 April editorial “In Syria, Trump faces the limits of bluster” The New York Times attributes a global leadership role to the United States, which it urges the Trump administration to exercise by creating “an independent investigation that could lead to prosecution” of the Syrian leadership “in a tribunal like the International Criminal Court,” a court the United States itself rejects and refuses to be bound by.

The New York Times’ editors lay out steps Washington ought to take if “the Syrian regime’s guilt is determined,” but conclude all the same that the Syrian government is guilty on all charges, contrary to the reality that the US State Department, British Foreign Office, and its own reporters, have acknowledged that the chemical attack allegations against the Syrian government are unverified and unconfirmed. What’s more, the sources of the allegations are the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, partisan outfits, funded by Western governments, and allied with anti-government insurgents, who have an interest in fabricating atrocities to defame their enemy and to justify continued and even elevated Western intervention in Syria.

Additionally, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, at a 2 February news conference, admitted that the Pentagon has no evidence that the Syrian military has ever used chemical weapons. This, however, didn’t stop the New York Times’ editors from declaring that Syria has failed to honor its agreement to destroy its chemical weapons under a 2013 pact or that it is responsible “for most of the 85 chemical attacks in the country over the past five years.” A newspaper which proclaims itself to live up to the highest standards of journalism, indeed, to set the gold standard, appears to have no trouble creating facts out of thin air.

The editors lay out steps the Trump administration should take once a legal imprimatur is conferred upon a pre-judgement of guilt. Inevitably, military action is called for. “If a Russian veto prevents Security Council action, then Mr. Trump needs to work with our allies, through NATO or otherwise,” the editors counsel—a call for the US administration to violate international law (again.)

“The use of poison gas,” the newspaper of record observes one paragraph later, “is a war crime under international law,” a curious observation given the editors’ dim view of international law as evidenced by their urging Washington to act without Security Council authorization in order to exercise “America’s traditional leadership role.” It should be recalled that the Third Reich, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan also claimed leadership roles, to say nothing of imperial Britain and imperial France, the latter of which is eager to rehabilitate its colonial tyranny over its former Syrian mandate under the guise of punishing the “barbarian” Assad for outrages against civilization.

The Pentagon has the world’s largest stockpile of weaponized poison gas. The point of having it is to possibly use it, despite its prohibition under the very same international law the New York Times condemns Syria (without evidence) of violating. Thus, the ideologues of US tyranny reveal that international law is a matter of significance only to countries the United States defines as its enemies (the barbarians), and not to the United States itself, which is free to act as it pleases against the barbarians, according to its own laws, as the guarantor of a global moral order. Needless to say, the idea that the United States, the principle source of disorder, suffering and decay in the world, has even a soupcon of moral authority, is risible, if not a sick joke—a truth of which most of the world’s population is only too aware.

In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 2625, which, inter alia, declared that “States have the duty to refrain from propaganda for wars of aggression,” a resolution of apparently no significance to the New York Times, which is only too happy to spread propaganda for wars of aggression in the service of a US tyranny which, far from exercising moral authority, continues to spread its dark wings over the whole world, led by a madman at the top of a system of global oppression and exploitation, from which has sprung a program of neo-colonial warfare and escalating confrontation with China and Russia.

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April 10, 2018 at 10:56 pm

Posted in Syria

Eight reasons why the latest Syria chemical weapons attack allegations are almost certainly complete nonsense

April 8, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

There is much ambiguity surrounding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, said to have taken place late Saturday, but there are a few matters that are clear.

First, the reports are “unverified”, according to The Wall Street Journal [1] and British Foreign Office [2] and are unconfirmed, according to the US State Department [3]. What’s more, The New York Times noted that it “was not possible to independently verify the reports,” [4] while The Associated Press added that “the reports could not be independently verified.” [5]

Second, according to The Wall Street Journal, it isn’t “clear who carried out the attack” [6] assuming even that one was carried out.

Third, the “unverified photos and videos” [7] which form the body of (unverified) evidence, were produced by two groups which have an interest in fabricating atrocities to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. Both groups, the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, are funded by Western governments [8], which openly seek regime change in Syria and therefore have an interest in producing a humanitarian pretext to justify stepping up their intervention in the country. The Western government-funded White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society are allied with anti-government jihadists and are active only “in opposition-controlled areas.” [9] They, too, are clearly interested parties.

Fourth, The New York Times indirectly revealed a possible motivation for the two groups to bring forward fabricated atrocity stories. “A new confirmed chemical attack in Syria,” the newspaper noted, “would pose a dilemma for President Trump, who … recently said he wants to get the United States out of Syria.” [10]

Trump’s recent musings about ending the US military occupation of nearly one-third of Syrian territory, including the country’s richest oil fields, was swiftly met by Pentagon opposition, led by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The US president reluctantly accepted a continued occupation, so long as it ends in a matter of months rather than years.

Fabricating an atrocity would pressure Trump to maintain the US occupation indefinitely and possibly escalate US military intervention in Syria, much to the pleasure of Islamist insurgents, their White Helmet and Syrian American Medical Society allies, and US war planners.

If that is the intention, the maneuver appears to have met with success. Trump reacted on Twitter to the unverified (and unverifiable) reports, by dehumanizing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as an “animal,” who the US president said was responsible for a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever.” That the US State Department acknowledged that the reports were unconfirmed failed to restrain the “shoot-from-the-hip” Trump.

Fifth, a chemical attack by the Syrian government would be manifestly self-defeating, and therefore would seem to be highly unlikely. The Syrian Arab Army is on the cusp of an all but inevitable victory in Eastern Ghouta. Why would it cancel its gains by handing the United States a pretext to continue its military intervention in Syria, in the aftermath of Trump signalling his intention to withdraw US troops?

Sixth, it is difficult to conceive of any military benefit to the Syrian Arab Army of deploying chemical weapons. The Syrian military has more lethal conventional ways of killing than using chemical agents, whose effects are unpredictable and typically small scale. In all the alleged chemical attack incidents in Syria, the claimed number of victims is always smaller than that which could easily be produced by air strikes and artillery. Why, then, would the Syrian government use relatively ineffective chemical weapons, creating a pretext for continued US intervention, when it could use more deadly conventional weapons, without a crossing a red line?

Seventh, much of the discourse about chemical weapons in Syria implicitly assumes the Syrian government has them, despite the country cooperating with the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons to eliminate them years ago.

Finally, allegations of chemical weapons use are routinely made against the Syrian government, and while, through repetition, have been transfigured into received truths, have all proved to be unverified. Jim Mattis acknowledged this at a February 2 news conference.

Q: Just make sure I heard you correctly, you’re saying you think it’s likely they have used it and you’re looking for the evidence? Is that what you said?

SEC. MATTIS: … We do not have evidence of it…we’re looking for evidence of it….

Q: So the likelihood was not what your — you’re not characterizing it as a likelihood? I thought I used — you used that word; I guess I misunderstood you.

SEC. MATTIS: Well, there’s certainly groups that say they’ve used it. And so they think there’s a likelihood, so we’re looking for the evidence.

Q: So there’s credible evidence out there that both sarin and chlorine —

SEC. MATTIS: No, I have not got the evidence, not specifically. I don’t have the evidence.

What I’m saying is that other — that groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that sarin has been used. So we are looking for evidence. I don’t have evidence, credible or uncredible. [11]

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but neither is it evidence of guilt. The complete lack of evidence, along with a political context that favors the production of spurious allegations, suggests that the latest chemical weapons claims are—like all that have preceded them—dubious at best.

1. Raja Abdulrahim, “Dozens killed in alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2018.
2. Ben Hubbard, “Dozens suffocate in Syria as government is accused of chemical attack,” The New York Times, April 8, 2018.
3. Hubbard.
4. Hubbard.
5. Zeina Karam and Philip Issa, “Syrian rescuers say at least 40 people killed in eastern Ghouta has attack,” The Associated Press, April 8, 2018.
6. April 8.
7. Abdulrahim, April 8.
8. Raja Abdulrahim, “Syria airstrikes hit hospitals in rebel territory,” The Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2018; Louisa Loveluck and Erin Cunningham, “Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say,” The Washington Post, April 8, 2018.
9. Abdulrahim, April 8; Abdulrahim, February 5.
10. Hubbard.
11. Media Availability by Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1431844/media-availability-by-secretary-mattis-at-the-pentagon/

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April 8, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Posted in Syria

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The Korean Conflict, Reevaluated

By Dan Kovalik

Patriots, Traitors & Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, Stephen Gowans’ latest book on the Korean conflict, could not be more timely given the recent tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as the recent overtures being made for peace and reconciliation. The book is also a very good antidote to the anti-DPRK propaganda we have been fed for so many decades.

The Korean conflict, usually thought of as beginning in 1950 and ending in 1953, is one of the least known and understood conflicts in which the US has been involved. Given the lack of knowledge about this conflict, it has been easy to paint the DPRK, usually referred to as North Korea, as a rogue state led by a succession of madmen. As Gowans’ book explains, the real story is much more complex than this and indeed greatly favors the DPRK over the United States which has truly been the villain in this saga.

First of all, Gowans explains that the beginning of the Korean conflict can fairly be said to begin in 1945 when, as WWII was coming to an end, two US generals drew the arbitrary dividing line of Korea at the 38th parallel and when the US began to intervene quite deeply in what quickly became South Korea. The conflict could indeed be said to have begun even sooner as Gowans explains – that is, in 1932 when Kim Il-sung began the Korean armed resistance against the brutal Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Korea.

Kim and his fellow Koreans had much to rebel against. As Gowans reminds us, the Japanese occupation involved impressing Koreans, and Chinese as well, into forced labor as well as into sexual slavery. By 1938, Gowans explains, “30,000 to 40,000 women, mainly Koreans, [were] subjected to regular sexual violence by Japanese soldiers.”

Of course, after WWII was over and fascist Japan defeated, the Koreans reasonably believed that all of this would end and that Korea would proceed as an independent and unified country as it had been for centuries before. However, the US had other plans, as it had for Vietnam which had aspirations quite similar to that of Korea. Thus, as Gowans explains, the US, in the interest of blocking Soviet expansion and preventing countries like Japan and Korea from voluntarily turning to communism or socialism, decided that it was critical to help Japan maintain its economic dominance over parts of Asia, including Korea, or at least the Southern half.

Continued at counterpunch.org .

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April 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The (Largely Unrecognized) US Occupation of Syria

The United States has invaded Syria with a significant military force, is occupying nearly one-third of its territory, has announced plans for an indefinite occupation, and is plundering the country’s petroleum resources. Washington has no authorization under international or even US law to invade and occupy Syria, much less attack Syrian forces, which it has done repeatedly. Nor has it a legal warrant to create new administrative and governance structures in the country to replace the Syrian government, a project it is undertaking through a parallel invasion of US diplomatic personnel. These actions—criminal, plunderous, and an assault on democracy at an international level—amount to a retrograde project of recolonization by an empire bent on extending its supremacy to all the Arab and Muslim worlds, including the few remaining outposts of resistance to foreign tyranny. Moreover, US actions represent an escalation of Washington’s long war on Syria, previously carried out through proxies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, into a full-scale conventional war with direct US military involvement. Yet, despite the enormity of the project, and the escalation of the war, the US occupation of Syria has largely flown under the radar of public awareness.

March 11, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

Atop multiple indignities and affronts to liberty and democracy visited upon the Arab world by the West, including the plunder of Palestine by European settlers and the political oppression of Arabs by a retinue of military dictators, monarchs, emirs and sultans who rule largely at the pleasure of Washington and on its behalf, now arrives the latest US transgression on the ideals of sovereignty, independence, and the equality of nations: marauders in Washington have pilfered part of the territory of one of the last bastions of Arab independence—Syria. Indeed, Washington now controls “about one-third of the country including most of its oil wealth”, [1] has no intention of returning it to its rightful owners, has planned for an indefinite military occupation of eastern Syria, and is creating a new Israel, which is to say, an new imperialist outpost in the middle of the Arab world, to be governed by Kurdish proxies backed by US firepower. [2] The crime has been carried out openly, and yet has hardly been noticed or remarked upon.

Here are the facts:

In January, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that US “troops will remain in Syria” indefinitely “to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over areas” [3] the United States captured from ISIS, even though these areas belong to the Syrian Arab Republic, by law and right, and not to Washington, or to Washington’s Kurdish proxy, the SDF. The SDF, or Syrian Democratic Force, is a US-constructed outfit which, in journalist Robert Fisk’s words, is neither Syrian (it’s dominated by Kurds, including those of Turkish origin) nor democratic (since it imposes Kurdish rule over traditionally Arab areas and dances to a tune called by a foreign master.) Moreover, it’s not much of a force, since, without US airpower, artillery, and Special Operations support, it is militarily inconsequential. [4] “US President Donald Trump’s rollout of an updated Syria policy,” reports Aaron Stein, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, “commits US forces to maintaining a presence” in northeast Syria in order to “hedge against” any attempt by Damascus to assert sovereignty over its own territory. [5]

The Pentagon officially admits to having 2,000 troops in Syria [6] but a top US general put the number higher, 4,000, in an October press briefing. [7] But even this figure is an “artificial construct,” as the Pentagon described a previous low-ball figure. On top of the infantry, artillery, and forward air controllers the Pentagon counts as deployed to Syria, there is an additional number of uncounted Special Operations personnel, as well as untallied troops assigned to classified missions and “an unspecified number of contractors” i.e., mercenaries. Additionally, combat aircrews are not counted, even though US airpower is critical to the occupation. [8] There are, therefore, many more times the officially acknowledged number of US troops in Syria, operating out of 10 bases in the country, including “a sprawling facility with a long runway, hangars, barracks and fuel depots.” [9]

In addition to US military advisers, Army Rangers, artillery, Special Operations forces, satellite-guided rockets and Apache attack helicopters [10], the United States has deployed US diplomats to Syria to create government and administrative structures to supersede the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. [11] Plus, the United States “is now working to transform Kurdish fighters into a local security force” to handle policing [12] while US diplomats on the ground work to establish local governments to run the occupied territory’s affairs. [13]

“The idea in US policy circles” is to create “a soft partition” of Syria between the United States and Russia along the Euphrates, “as it was among the Elbe [in Germany] at the end of the Second World War.” [14] On top of the 28 percent of Syria the United States occupies, it controls “half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates Dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land.” [15]

During the war against ISIS, US military planning called for the Kurds to push south along the Euphrates River to seize Syria’s oil-and gas-rich territory. [16] While the Syrian Arab Army and its allies focussed mostly on liberating cities from Islamic State, the Kurds, under US direction, went “after the strategic oil and gas fields”, [17] “robbing Islamic State of key territory,” as The Wall Street Journal put it. The US newspaper correctly designated the seizure of key territory as a robbery, but failed to acknowledge the victim, not Islamic State, which itself robbed the territory, but the Syrian Arab Republic. But this skein of equivocation needs to be further disentangled. It was not the Kurds who robbed ISIS which earlier robbed the Syrians, but the United States which robbed ISIS which robbed Syria. The Kurds, without the backing of the US armed forces, are a military cipher incapable, by their own efforts, of robbing the Arab republic. The Americans are the robbers, the Syrians the victims.

The United States has robbed Syria of “two of the largest oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzour”, including the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest. [18] Last September, the United States plundered Syria of “a gas field and plant known in Syria as the Conoco gas plant” (though its affiliation with Conoco is historical; the plant was acquired by the Syrian Gas Company in 2005.) [19] Russia observed that “the real aim” of the US forces’ (incontestably denominated) “illegal” presence in Syria has been “the seizure and retention of economic assets that only belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.” [20] The point is beyond dispute: the United States has stolen resources vital to the republic’s reconstruction (this from a country which proclaims property rights to be humanity’s highest value.)

Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Syria, has argued that by “controlling half of Syria’s energy resources…the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced.” [21] Bereft of its petroleum resources, and deprived of its best farmland, Syria will be hard-pressed to recover from the Islamist insurgency—an operation precipitated by Washington as part of its long war on nationalist influence in the Arab world—a war that has left Syria in ruins. The conclusion that “Assad has won” and that the war is over except for mopping up operations is unduly optimistic, even Pollyannaish. There is a long road ahead.

Needless to say, Damascus aspires to recover its lost territory, and “on February 7 sent a battalion-sized column to [recuperate] a critical gas plant near Deir Ezzour.” [22] This legitimate exercise of sovereignty was repulsed by an airstrike by US invaders, which left an estimated 100 Syrian Arab Army troops and their allies dead. [23] The significance of this event has been under-appreciated, and perhaps because press coverage of what transpired disguised its enormity. An emblematic Wall Street Journal report, for example, asserted that the US airstrike was a defensive response to an unprovoked attack by Syrian forces, as if the Syrians, on their own soil, were aggressors, and the invading Americans, victims. [24] We might inquire into the soundness of describing an aggression by invaders on a domestic military force operating within its own territory as a defensive response to an unprovoked attack. Likewise, we can inquire into the cogency of Washington’s insistence that it does not intend to wage war on the Syrian Arab Army. That this statement can be accepted as reasonable suggests the operation of what Charles Mills calls an epistemology of ignorance—a resistance to understanding the obvious. It should be evident—indeed, it’s axiomatic—that the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a country constitutes an aggression, but apparently this is not the case in the specially constructed reality of the Western media. Could Russia invade the United States west of the Colorado River, control the territory’s airspace, plunder its resources, establish new government and administrative structures to supplant local, state, and federal authority, and then credibly declare that it does not seek war with the United States and its armed services? Invasion and occupation are aggressive acts, a statement that shouldn’t need to be made.

Washington’s February 7 attack on Syrian forces was not the first. “American troops carried out strikes against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of Syria several times in 2017,” reported the New York Times. [25] In other words, the United States has invaded Syria, is occupying nearly a third of its territory, and has carried out attacks on the Syrian military, and this aggression is supposed to be understood as a defensive response to Syrian provocations.

It is incontestable that US control of the airspace of eastern Syria, the invasion of the country by untold thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel, the plunder of the Levantine nation’s resources, and attacks on its military forces, are flagrant violations of international law. No country has more contempt for the rule of law than the United States, yet, in emetic fashion, its government incessantly invokes the very rule of law it spurns to justify its outrages against it. But what of US law? If, to Washington, international law is merely an impediment to be overcome on its way to expanding its empire, are the US invasion and occupation of Syria, and attacks on Syrian forces, in harmony with the laws of the United States? If you ask the White House and Pentagon the answer is yes, but that is tantamount to asking a thief to rule on his or her theft. The question is, does the US executive’s claim that its actions in Syria comport with US law stand up to scrutiny? Not only does it not, the claim is risible. “Under both Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump,” explains the New York Times’ Charlie Savage, “the executive branch has argued that the war against Islamic State is covered by a 2001 law authorizing the use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks [my emphasis] and a 2002 law authorizing the invasion of Iraq.” However, while “ISIS grew out an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the two groups by 2014 had split and became warring rivals,” and ISIS did not perpetrate the 9/11 attacks. What’s more, before the rise of ISIS, the Obama administration had deemed the Iraq war over. [26]

Washington’s argument has other problems, as well. While the 2001 law does not authorize the use of military force against ISIS, it does authorize military action against Al Qaeda. Yet from 2011 to today, the United States has not only failed to use force against the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s largest branch, it has trained and equipped Islamist fighters who are intermingled with, cooperate on the battle field with, share weapons with, and operate under licence to, the group, as I showed in my book Washington’s Long War on Syria, citing the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, which have extensively reported on the interconnections between US trained and armed fighters and the organization founded by Osama bin Laden. [27]

Finally, by implication, since the law does not authorize the use of force against ISIS, it does not authorize the presence of US aircrews in Syrian airspace or US military and diplomatic personnel on Syrian soil. In addition, it certainly does not authorize the use of force against a Syrian military operating within its own borders.

Let’s look again at Washington’s stated reasons for its planned indefinite occupation of Syria: to prevent the return of ISIS; to stop the Syrian Arab Republic from exercising sovereignty over all of its territory; and to eclipse Iranian influence in Syria. For only one of these reasons, the first, does Washington offer any sort of legal justification. The latter two objectives are so totally devoid of legal warrant that Washington has not even tried to mount a legal defense of them. Yet, these are the authentic reasons for the US invasion and occupation of Syria. As to the first reason, if Washington were seriously motivated to use military force to crush Al Qaeda, it would not have armed, trained and directed the group’s auxiliaries in its war against Arab nationalist power in Damascus.

Regarding Washington’s stated aim of eclipsing Iranian influence in Syria, we may remind ourselves of the contents of a leaked 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report. That report revealed that the insurgency in Syria was sectarian and led by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of Islamic State. The report also disclosed that the United States, Arab Gulf oil monarchies and Turkey supported the insurgents. The analysis correctly predicted the establishment of a “Salafist principality,” an Islamic state, in eastern Syria, noting that this was desired by the insurgency’s foreign backers, which wanted to see the secular Arab nationalists isolated and cut-off from Iran. [28] The United States has since decided to take on the role that it had once planned for a Salafist principality. A planned Saudi-style state dividing Damascus from Tehran has become an indefinite US occupation, from whose womb US planners hope to midwife the birth of a Kurd mini-state as a new Israel.

The reality that the US operation in Syria is illegal may account for why, with Washington’s misdirection and the press’s collusion, it has largely flown under the radar of public awareness. Misdirection is accomplished by disguising the US occupation of eastern Syria as a Kurd-, or SDF-effort, which the United States is merely assisting, rather than directing. The misdirection appears to be successful, because the narrative has been widely mentally imbibed, including by otherwise critical people. There are parallels. The United States is prosecuting a war of aggression in Yemen, against a movement that threatens US hegemony in the Middle East, as the Syrian Arab Republic, Iran and Hezbollah do. The aggression against Yemen is as lacking in legal warrant as is the US war on Syria. It flagrantly violates international law; the Houthis did not attack Saudi Arabia, let alone the United States, and therefore there is no justification for military action on international legal grounds against them. What’s more, the Pentagon can’t even point to authorization for the use of force against Yemen’s rebels under US domestic law since they are not Al Qaeda and have no connection to the 9/11 attacks. To side step the difficulty of deploying military force without a legal warrant, the war, then, is presented as “Saudi-led”, with the involvement of the United States relegated in the hermeneutics to the periphery. Yet Washington is directing the war. The United States flies its own drones and reconnaissance aircraft over Yemen to gather intelligence to select targets for Saudi pilots. [29] It refuels Saudi bombers in flight. Its warships enforce a naval blockade. And significantly, it runs an operations center to coordinate the bombing campaign among the US satellites who participate in it. In the language of the military, the United States has command and control of the aggression against Yemen. The only US absence is in the provision of pilots to drop the bombs, this role having been farmed out to Arab allies. [30] And that is the key to the misdirection. Because Saudi pilots handle one visible aspect of the multi-dimensional war, (whose various other dimensions are run by the Americans), it can be passed off to the public as a Saudi affair, while those who find the Saudi monarchy abhorrent (which it is) can vent their spleen on a scapegoat. We do the same to the Kurds, hurling rhetorical thunderbolts at them, when they are merely pawns of the US government pursuing a project of empire-building. Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, has seen through the misdirection, declaring that it is the West, not the Saudis, who are ‘directing the war’ in Yemen. [31]

It would profit us to heed the words of Ibrahim Al-Amin, who, on the occasion of the White House recognizing Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel, asked Arabs whether it wasn’t time to realize that the United States is the origin of all that plagues them. Let us leave ‘Israel’ aside, he counseled. “Whatever is said about its power, superiority and preparation, it is but an America-British colony that cannot live a day without the protection, care and blind support of the West.” [32] The same can be said of the Saudi monarchy and the SDF.

I leave the last word to the Syrian government, whose voice is hardly ever heard above the din of Western war propaganda. The invasion and occupation of eastern Syria is “a blatant interference, a flagrant violation of [the] UN Charter’s principles…an unjustified aggression on the sovereignty and independence of Syria.” [33] None of this is controversial. For his part, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has pointed out incontestably that foreign troops in Syria “without our invitation or consultation or permission…are invaders.” It is time the US invasion and occupation of Syria—illegal, anti-democratic, plunderous, and a project of recolonization—was recognized, opposed, and ended. There is far more to Washington’s long war on Syria than Al Qaeda, the White Helmets and the Kurds. As significant as these forces are, the threat they pose to the Syrian center of opposition to foreign tyranny has been surpassed by a more formidable challenge—the war’s escalation into a US military and diplomatic occupation accompanied by direct US military confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.

1. Neil MacFarquhar, ‘Russia’s greatest problem in Syria: It’s ally president Assad,’ The New York Times, March 8, 2018.
2. Anne Barnard, “US-backed force could cement a Kurdish enclave in Syria,” The New York Times, January 16, 2018; Domenico Losurdo, “Crisis in the Imperialist World Order,” Revista Opera, March 2, 2018.
3. Gardiner Harris, “Tillerson says US troops to stay in Syria beyond battle with ISIS, The New York Times, January 17, 2018.
4. Robert Fisk, “The next Kurdish war is on the horizon—Turkey and Syria will never allow it to create a mini-state,” The Independent, January 18, 2018.
5. Aaron Stein, “Turkey’s Afrin offensive and America’s future in Syria: Why Washington should be eying the exit,” Foreign Affairs, January 23, 2018.
6. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
7. Andrew deGrandpre, “A top US general just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500,” the Washington Post, October 31, 2017.
8. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017; Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017).
9. Dion Nissenbaum, “Map said to show locations of US forces in Syria published in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017.
10. Michael R. Gordon, “In a desperate Syrian city, a test of Trump’s policies,” The New York Times, July 1, 2017.
11. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to send more diplomats and personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2017.
12. Dion Nissenbaum, “US moves to halt Turkey’s drift toward Iran and Russia,” the Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2018.
13. Nancy A. Yousef, “Some US-backed Syrian fighters leave ISIS battle to counter Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2018.
14. Yaroslav Trofimov, “In Syria, new conflict looms as ISIS loses ground,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017.
15. Gregory Shupak, “Media erase US role in Syria’s misery, call for US to inflict more misery,” FAIR.org, March 7, 2018.
16. Trofimov, September 7, 2017.
17. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
18. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
19. Abdulrahim and Adnan, November 3, 2018.
20. Raja Abdulrahim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tension rise,” the Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018.
21. Joshua Landis, “US policy toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey,” Syria Comment, January 15, 2018.
22. Yaroslav Trofimov, “As alliances shift, Syria’s tangle of war grows more dangerous,” The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2018.
23. Raja Abdulralhim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tensions rise,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018; Nancy A. Yousef and Thomas Grove, “Russians among those killed in US airstrike is eastern Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2018.
24. Yousef and Grove, February 13, 2018.
25. Charlie Savage, “US says troops can stay in Syria without new authorization,” The New York Times, February 22, 2018.
26. Savage, February 22, 2018.
27. Stephen Gowans. Washington’s Long War on Syria. Baraka Books. 20017. Pp. 149-150.
28. DIA document leaked to Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.
http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf
29. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Quiet support for Saudis entangles U.S. in Yemen,” The New York Times, March 13, 2016.
30. Stephen Gowans, “The US-Led War on Yemen, what’s left, November 6, 2017.
31. William James, “May defends Saudi ties as Crown Prince gets royal welcome in London,” Reuters, March 7, 2018.
32. Ibrahim Al-Amin, “Either America or Al-Quds,” Alahednews, December 8, 2017.
33. Syria condemns presence of French and German special forces in Ain al-Arab and Manbij as overt unjustified aggression on Syria’s sovereignty and independence, SANA, June 15, 2016.

Written by what's left

March 11, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Syria

The US-Led War on Yemen

Washington is hiding its leadership of the war on Yemen behind the Saudis

November 6, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

In October, 2016, two Reuters’ reporters published an exclusive, under the headline: “As Saudis bombed Yemen, U.S. worried about legal blowback.” [1]

The reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, revealed that legal experts at the US State Department had warned the White House that the United States could be charged with war crimes in connection with the Saudi Air Force bombing campaign in Yemen.

So far, the bombing campaign has left tens of thousands dead and many more wounded, as well as over 10 percent of Yemen’s population homeless. Accompanied by naval and aerial blockades, the aggression has created near famine conditions for somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of the population and has contributed to a cholera outbreak affecting hundreds of thousands.

According to Strobel and Landay, “State Department officials … were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying ‘critical infrastructure’”. [2]

The officials acknowledged that the airstrikes were indiscriminate (a war crime), but said that the indiscriminate nature of the bombing was due to the inexperience of Saudi pilots and the difficulty of distinguishing enemy militants not wearing uniforms from the civilian population.

All the same, inasmuch as the bombing is indiscriminate, irrespective of why, it constitutes a war crime.

The second point the State Department lawyers made is that the United States is a co-belligerent in the war.

The Reuters article didn’t reveal the true extent to which the United States is involved, but it did acknowledge that Washington supplies the bombs which Saudi pilots drop on Yemen and that the United States Air Force refuels Saudi bombers in flight.

In other words, the United States plays a role in facilitating the campaign of indiscriminate bombing.

This was of great concern to the State Department legal staff.

The lawyers pointed out that while the indiscriminate bombing is the work of Saudi pilots, blame for the war crime could also be pinned on the United States through a legal instrument Washington had helped to create; hence, the fear of legal blowback.

The legal instrument was created by the UN-established Special Court on Sierra Leone, which the United States backed, if not instigated.

The court had ruled that Liberia’s president Charles Taylor was guilty of war crimes committed in the civil war in Sierra Leone, even though Taylor wasn’t in Sierra Leone when the crimes were committed. What’s more, Taylor, himself, had no direct connection to the crimes. This, everyone acknowledged.

But that, said the court, didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Taylor had provided “practical assistance, moral support and encouragement” to people in Sierra Leone who had committed war crimes.

Therefore, the court ruled, Taylor was guilty of war crimes, as well. [3]

The United States used the same legal instrument to indict Al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay for the crime of 9/11, even though the detainees in question had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks. It was sufficient that they had provided moral support and encouragement to those who had. [4]

This instrument, which had served Washington well in locking up people it didn’t like, now proved problematic, and the reason why is that the United States provides practical assistance, moral support and encouragement to the Saudis in a campaign of indiscriminate (hence, war criminal) bombing. US military personnel and state officials can therefore be charged with war crimes under a legal principle Washington helped to establish.

Worse, Washington offers the Saudis far more than just encouragement and moral support. It also furnishes its Arabian ally with diplomatic support, as well as the bombs that are dropped on Yemenis, and the war planes that drop the bombs. Additionally, it trains the pilots who fly the warplanes who drop the bombs.

And that’s not all. The United States also flies its own drones and reconnaissance aircraft over Yemen to gather intelligence to select targets for the Saudi pilots to drop bombs on. [5] It also provides warships to enforce a naval blockade. And significantly, it runs an operations center to coordinate the bombing campaign among the US satellites who are participating in it, including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan—the kingdoms, emirates, sultanates and military dictatorships which make up the United States’ Arab allies, all anti-democratic.

In other words, not only is the United States providing encouragement and moral support to the Saudis—it’s actually running the war on Yemen. In the language of the military, the United States has command and control. The only thing it doesn’t do is provide the pilots to drop the bombs.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported: A Pentagon spokesman said the United States has special operations forces on the ground and provides airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, operational planning [my emphasis], maritime interdiction, security, medical support and aerial refueling. [6]

According to the newspaper, Pentagon war planners run a joint operations center where bombing targets are selected. [7]

When you run the operations center, you run the war.

So, two important aspects of the war: First, the bombing is indiscriminate and therefore a war crime—and Washington knows this. Second, the United States is involved in the war to a degree that is infrequently, if ever, recognized and acknowledged.

In fact, the war on Yemen is almost universally described as a Saudi-led war. This is a mischaracterization. It is a US-led war.

The war is consistent with the immediate aim of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds—to eliminate any organized, militant opposition to US domination of the Middle East. It is an aim that accounts for Washington’s opposition to entities as diverse as the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and Al Qaeda. While these states and organizations have differing agendas, their agendas overlap in one respect: all of them oppose US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

There are two organizations in Yemen that militantly oppose US domination of Yemen specifically and the Muslim world broadly: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Houthis. Both are Islamist organizations. Both are implacably opposed to US and Israeli interference in the Muslim world. And both are committed to freeing Yemen from US domination. But they have different approaches.

Al Qaeda directs its attacks at what it calls its distant and near enemies.

The distant enemy is the United States, the center of an empire which Zbigniew Brzezinski, a principal figure in the US foreign policy establishment, had called a hegemony of a new type with unprecedented global reach and scale—in other words, the largest empire in human history.

The near enemy, by contrast, according to Al Qaeda ideology, comprises the component parts of the US Empire—the local governments which are subordinate to the United States and do Washington’s bidding (Yemen under the previous government, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and so on.)

Al Qaeda carries out campaigns against both its distant and near enemies—which is to say, against Western targets on Western soil, and against local governments which collaborate with, and act as agents of, the United States.

The Houthis, in contrast, model themselves on Hezbollah and Hamas. They focus on what Al Qaeda calls the near enemy, that is, local governments which are extensions of US global power. Hezbollah focuses on Western interference in Lebanon, Hamas on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the Houthis on Western lieutenants in Yemen, but do not seek to strike Western targets on Western soil as Al Qaeda does.

+++

Before the Houthis took control of the government, Washington was waging a war in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Washington had deployed Special Operations Forces and the CIA to deal with an Al Qaeda branch in Yemen that had organized the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and an attempted 2009 Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

But these Al Qaeda attacks were only a symptom of what the United States is waging a war on. The United States says it’s waging a war on terrorism but what it’s actually waging a war on are the forces that oppose US domination of the Muslim world.

That some of those forces happen to use terrorist methods at times, and that they engage in violent politics, is less important to Washington than the fact that they’re against US domination and influence.

+++

The United States was prepared to wage a war against Al Qaeda in Yemen unilaterally, without the cooperation of the former Yemeni government.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said “Certainly a willing partner in Yemen…makes missions much more effective. But we have also proven the ability to go after terrorists in various places unilaterally. We … retain that right.” [8]

This was really quite an extraordinary statement, for Kirby was acknowledging in words what was already evident in actions: that the United States does not recognize the sovereignty of any country. It retains the right to intervene anywhere, militarily or otherwise, whether that country’s government assents to the intervention, or not.

The most conspicuous current example of Washington arrogating onto itself the right to intervene unilaterally in any country in pursuit of its foreign policy goals is the US invasion of Syria, carried out over the objection of the Syrian government, and without the slightest regard for the rule of law, which prohibits such affronts against the principle of national sovereignty.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA persuaded Yemen’s president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to allow the U.S. military to conduct operations in Yemen against Al Qaeda targets.

Saleh was reluctant to cede Yemen’s sovereignty, but believed that if he refused the US request, Washington would invade (as it reserved the right to do.)

Hence, under duress, Saleh agreed to allow the CIA to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over his country and agreed to the entry of US Army Special Forces into Yemen. [9] He agreed, in other words, to the US occupation of his country.

In early 2011, as the US war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was in progress, a massive revolt against the Saleh government broke out, part of the so-called Arab Spring. It involved tens of thousands of Yemenis participating in weeks-long sit-ins.

Washington supported Saleh throughout this distemper, while at the same time demanding that Syrian president Bashar al Assad step down, charging (falsely) that he, Assad, had lost the support of his people.

In contrast, Saleh, despite having no popular support (or very little) enjoyed US backing—and he did so because, unlike Assad, he was willing to cede his country’s sovereignty to the United States.

After months of unrest in Yemen, Washington came to the conclusion that Saleh’s continued rule was no longer viable. He had become far too unpopular and chances were that he would be toppled by the popular revolt. Whoever took his place might not be as compliant.

So, meetings were arranged with leaders of the opposition, to make the case for continuing US operations. Eventually, a plan was agreed to in which Saleh would step down in favor of his vice-president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. [10]

Hadi proved to be no more popular than Saleh, although he proved to be just as popular with Washington as his predecessor was. Top US officials supported Hadi because he allowed the Pentagon a free hand in Yemen. [11]

Yemenis, in contrast, didn’t like Hadi—and they didn’t like him for a number of reasons, not least of which was that he was perceived correctly as a puppet of the United States.

In September, 2014, the Houthis, who had launched an insurgency 10 years earlier, seized the capital, demanding a greater share of power.

By February 2015, they had taken control of the government. Soon after, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia.

What did the Houthis want?

The Houthis self-stated aim – their political project – is to cleanse the country of corrupt leaders beholden to foreign powers. They’re against the interference of the United States and Israel in Yemen’s affairs. A Houthi spokesman said, we’re “simply against the interference of those governments.” [12]

In 2015, Newsweek reported that “In essence what the Houthis call for are things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence.” [13]

Newsweek also reported that “Many Yemenis believe the Houthis are right in pushing out Western influence and decision making.” [14]

So, what was the situation, then, for the United States in February 2015, with the unpopular Hadi government ousted and the Houthis, committed to Yemen’s independence, taking control of the government?

The situation was now much worse than it had been when Washington began its war in Yemen on Al Qaeda. Rather than one group militantly opposing US domination of Yemen, there were now two and control of the government had slipped from the hands of Washington’s marionette. In an effort to reverse a deteriorating situation, Washington instigated a war on the Houthis, overlaying a new war upon its existing war on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

But the US administration had no legal authorization to wage a war on a group whose remit was internal to Yemen and wasn’t implicated in the 9/11 attacks. The US Congress had provided the US president with an open-ended authorization to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” [15] That included Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But it didn’t include the Houthis.

If the United States was to lead a war against the Houthis legally, it would have to seek out and obtain Congress’s authorization. And the chances of the White House obtaining Congress’s consent for a war on the Houthis was next to zero. So Washington prepared a deception. It put the Saudis out front and said the war on the Houthis was Saudi-led.

To give the deception a semblance of credibility, the Saudis were said to view the Houthis as a threat. The Houthis were alleged to be a proxy of Iran, a country the Saudis regard as their principal rival in the Middle East.

But this was nonsense. In April, 2015, the US National Security Council declared that, “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen,” adding “It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran.” [16]

The United States instigated the war on the Houthis for two reasons: First, because the Houthis are an organized, militant force against US interference in Yemen. And second, because the Houthis had ousted a government whose subordination to the United States had been useful for Washington in pursuing a campaign to eliminate another organized, militant force against US interference in the Muslim world, namely Al Qaeda.

The aim of the war is to drive the resistant sovereigntist Houthis out and bring the malleable puppet Hadi back in.

So, the United States organized a war using Saudi pilots as the tip of its spear, in exactly the same way it is pursuing a war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria using Kurds as the tip of its spear. In both cases the United States provides command and control, while in Syria and Iraq the Kurds provide the boots on the ground and in Yemen the Saudis provide the pilots in the air. But the war on the Houthis is no more a Saudi-led war than the US war on ISIS is a Kurd-led war.

US leaders don’t put US boots on the ground or US pilots in the air if they can get someone else to do the fighting for them.

As long ago as 1949, the US journalist Marguerite Higgins remarked on how “an intelligent and intensive investment of combat-hardened American men and officers could be used to train local forces to do the shooting for you.” [17]

More recently, in 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that “America’s special-operations forces, have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to.” [18]

There are a number of advantages for the United States of using local forces to do the fighting so that it doesn’t have to.

First, cost savings. It costs the US Treasury less to have Saudi pilots drop bombs on the Houthis than to have US pilots do the same.

Second, control of public opinion. Consent for yet another US war doesn’t have to be obtained.

Third, certain legal obligations are avoided, such as the need to obtain a legal authorization for war.

From the perspective of the US state, to run a war from behind the scenes, and let local forces assume the burden of being the tip of the spear, is simpler, more cost effective, less troublesome legally, and easier to manage issues of public consent.

Another reason we should believe the war on Yemen is a US- and not a Saudi-led war is that US national security strategy insists on US leadership. It is inconceivable that the United States would cede leadership of a military campaign in which it is involved to a satellite country.

Statements of US leadership abound in the utterances of US politicians, US military leaders, and US commentators.

“We lead the world,” declared former US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. [19]

“The question is never whether America should lead, but how we lead,” asserted Obama’s National Security Strategy. [20]

Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, describes the United States as having a “global leadership role.” [21]

In his second inaugural address, Bill Clinton described the United States as imbued with a special mission to lead the world. [22]

John McCain recently said that the United States has “an obligation” to lead. [23]

Would a country with such a fixation on leadership willingly assume a back-seat support role in a military campaign in a country in which it had already initiated a war and spent years fighting it? If the answer isn’t obvious, the reality that US war planners provide operational planning of the anti-Houthi war should lay to rest any doubts about who’s really in the driver’s seat.

This is a US-led war for empire, against an organized, militant force, which insists on Yemeni sovereignty; which insists on self-determination; and which therefore repudiates US leadership (a euphemism for US despotism and US dictatorship.)

If we’re committed to democracy, we ought to support those who fight against the despotism of empires; we ought to support those who insist on the equality of all peoples to self-determination; we ought to support those who find repugnant the notion that the United States claims a right to intervene in the affairs of any country, regardless of whether the people of that country agree to the intervention or not.

The fight of Yemenis to organize their own affairs, in their own way, in their own interests, by their own efforts, free from the interference of empires and their local proxies, is a fight in which all of us have a stake.

The struggle to end the war on Yemen, and the larger struggle to end the empire-building, the despotism, the dictatorship, of the United States, is not only a struggle for peace, but a struggle for democracy—and a struggle for the Enlightenment values of freedom (from despotism) and equality (of all peoples to determine their own affairs.)

1. Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, “Exclusive: As Saudis bombed Yemen, U.S. worried about legal blowback,” Reuters, October 10, 2016.
2. Strobel and Landay.
3. Strobel and Landay.
4. Strobel and Landay.
5. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Quiet support for Saudis entangles U.S. in Yemen,” The New York Times, March 13, 2016.
6. Gordon Lubold and Paul Sonne, “U.S. troops return to Yemen in battle against Al Qaeda, Pentagon says,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2016.
7. Lubold and Sonne.
8. Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes, “Yemen unrest spells setback for U.S.”, The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2015.
9. Dana Priest, “U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes,” The Washington Post, January 27, 2010.
10. Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. is intensifying a secret campaign of Yemen airstrikes”, The New York Times, June 8, 2011.
11. Paletta and Barnes.
12. Ben Hubbard, “Plight of Houthi rebels is clear in visit to Yemen’s capital,” The New York Times, November 26, 2016.
13. “Photo essay: Rise of the Houthis,” Newsweek, February 9, 2015.
14. Newsweek.
15. Authorization for Use of Military Force, S.J.Res.23, September 14, 2001.
16. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran’s Foreign Policy,” Congressional Research Service, August 24, 2016.
17. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005, p. 255.
18. Michael M. Phillips, “New ways the U.S. projects power around the globe: Commandoes,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2015.
19. “U.S. envoy urges no cut in U.N. funding,” The Associated Press, January 13, 2017.
20. US National Security Strategy, 2015.
21. Felicia Schwartz, “U.S. to reduce staffing at embassy in Cuba in response to mysterious attacks,” The Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2017.
22. William J. Clinton, Inaugural Address. January 20, 1997.
23. Solomon Hughes, “Trump warns McCain: ‘I fight back’,” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2017.

Written by what's left

November 6, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Yemen

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