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Friday, March 30

Syria conflict developments

Linked headlines today at FARS. Note the report about failed talks between Russian and Turkish military officials.






Uh oh. "Deployment of French Troops to Syria's Manbij Coordinated With US - Reports"

As to how Turkey's President Erdogan is responding to the development -- not terribly well, from what I read into the Sputnik report

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Yuliia Skripal is recovering; responded well to medical treatment

Today's (U.K.) Telegraph has the latest news on her condition: 

Russian spy's daughter is 'conscious and talking' nearly a month after chemical attack

B's response at Moon of Alabama, when the news broke yesterday, was a tad acerbic:
"She Is Risen!" - Last Act Of 'Novichok' Drama Revealed: "The Skripals' Resurrection"
It seems that the 'Novichok' fairy-tale the British government plays to us provides for a happy ending - the astonishing and mysterious resurrection of the victims of a "military grade" "five to eight times more deadly than VX gas" "nerve agent" "of a type developed by" Hollywood.
 [...]
Only yesterday the Skripals chances to survive were claimed to be 1 out of 99. Nerve agents are deadly weapons. A dose of ten milligram of the U.S. developed VX nerve agent will kill 50% of those exposed to it. The 'Novichok' agents are said to be several times more deadly than VX.
[...]
After getting all that out of his system he settled into a review of claims the Skripals were poisoned by a Novichok toxin -- and the debunking of the claims by some in a position to know.

*******

Wednesday, March 28

Come away, come away


The Altai Band from Mongolia. Suggest you begin with the short piece that starts at the 15:27 mark and ends at 19:28 on the YouTube video. It has to be short because we can't stay. Few of us could survive the life there. But for just a few minutes, just a few.....


The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in Central and East Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan come together, and are where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their headwaters .

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Brits figure out how to get evidence the Russians poisoned the Skripals

They moved Russia out of the category of guilty "with a high degree of probability" into the category of "guilty without the slightest doubt".

Then the Brits noted the Russia had not provided them with conclusive evidence of its non-involvement in the Skripal poisoning incident.

Therefore, if and when the Russians produce evidence of their innocence, Presto! this will be the evidence of their guilt given they've already been found guilty. 


For the rest of the story you'll have to go to Kommersant Business Daily, which got hold of a leaked copy of the British government's presentation to various governments about Russia's guilt, and which served as the basis for several of those governments to expel Russian diplomats.

Oh all right, I'm not doing anything else at the moment so I'll post the machine translation of the report; the machine struggled a bit with a passage in the lede but the rest is clear enough. As to the report's date -- that's wrong. The editor was probably laughing too hard to notice the typo; I'd guess it was published last night or today (in Russia) given the Sputnik and RT reports about it.

Ready? I suggest you crack open a beer before tackling this; I'm on my third. Well, getting sloshed was easier than standing on my head to make sense out of the presentation. I must say, only a government presiding over the U.S. dollar laundering capital of the world would find such a clever way to solve a crime. 

As to how I know London is the greenback laundering capital of the world, I have it on authority from a British cartoon in the Guardian. In the U.K., at least, that's enough conclusive evidence to prove anything. 
The geezer in the lower right-hand corner is Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The ruckus had to do with his initial call to come up with some evidence that the Russians poisoned Skripal before finding them guilty, or something like that. Anyhow I did have to stand on my head to figure out why the water coming out of the washing machine was green.

Ready? Ignore Kommersant's annoying practice of inserting "Kommersant" in the text.  

Russia was branded a review
At the disposal of Kommersant was a document from a closed briefing at the British Embassy
03/03/2018
Kommersant

At the disposal of Kommersant was a presentation, which representatives of foreign embassies received at a briefing at the British Embassy in Moscow on March 22. In it, the representatives of official London described their view of the "business of Skripal", and it was she, according to the US Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman, prompted the British allies in solidarity to send Russian diplomats. Basically, the presentation repeats the theses of London, which have already been expressed, but with one important exception: Russia out of the category "with a high degree of probability" guilty of poisoning the defector has been transferred to the category of "guilty without the slightest doubt".
The presentation that was available to Kommersant ( .pdf ), which was was shown and distributed in print to 80 high-ranking representatives of foreign embassies on March 22, four days before the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. Recall, on March 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry also held a briefing on the "Skripal case" for foreign diplomats - it was conducted by the Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Ermakov ( see "Kommersant" on March 22 ). The British Ambassador to Moscow, Laurie Bristow, did not come to Smolenskaya Square (a lower-level diplomat attended the briefing). But the next day he held a presentation for his foreign diplomatic corps in his residence.
One of the participants in the British briefing, US Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman, in an interview with Kommersant on March 26 said that the position of London presented in the presentation seemed "very convincing" to him. "They (the British.-  Kommersant ) have prepared a very qualitative and convincing review of this incident, comparing it with similar cases that occurred in the past," the ambassador added. Press Secretary of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova on her page in page complained that the presentation "is not being passed on to the Russian side and is not being made public." According to her, "at the moment, nothing has been sent from London to Russia regarding what happened."
The presentation consisted of six slides (counting the title, containing the date and the inscription "Incident in Salisbury") and accompanied by an expanded oral commentary from the British Ambassador.
he second slide sets out the chronology of the incident in the period from March 4 (admission to the hospital of the former double agent Sergei Skripal, his daughter and local police officer) until March 20, when "23 unregistered Russian intelligence officers were expelled from the UK." A map with the scene of the incident in the British town of Salisbury is attached to the side: the house of Sergei Skripal, the Zizzi restaurant, the shopping center and the Bishop's Mill pub.
The third slide, entitled "A New Phase of Russian Aggression," contains a description of the Novice poison agent, which was recognized by the military chemical laboratory of Porton Down, not far from Salisbury. The presentation affirms that the application of the "Novice" is "the first use of chemical weapons in Europe since the Second World War" and "violation of the ban imposed by the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons". "Without any doubt, Russia is responsible," the document reads. "No other country had the same opportunities, intentions and motives (in order to do this.  " "Kommersant"). There is no credible alternative explanation. " Until the end of last week, recall, British Prime Minister Teresa May publicly confined to statements that Russia is "highly likely" involved in the attack.
The presentation also indicates that Russia has not provided the UK with conclusive evidence of its non-involvement in the incident. Instead, "by March 18, we (the British authorities.-  " Kommersant " ) counted about 30 parallel attempts at disinformation," the document says.
The fourth slide describes the impact of the "Novice" on the human body and gives statistics of the victims and the incident involved in the investigation. "51 people were examined in the hospital, 131 people could potentially be in contact with the poisonous substance," the authors of the presentation write. "The investigation involves 250 employees of anti-terrorist units and 180 military personnel." Side effects of the "Novice" are listed: convulsions, loss of consciousness, coma, slow heartbeat, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, etc. "Death can arise from suffocation or cardiac arrest," the British embassy concluded.
The fifth slide is entitled "A Long List of Russia's Hostile Actions" and includes 12 blocks describing incidents that London classifies as such. The first of them is "the murder in November 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko," another Russian defector who died of polonium poisoning. Next are "DDoS attacks on the Internet Estonia" in 2007, "invasion of Georgia", "the occupation of the Crimea", "destabilization of Ukraine", shot down over the Donbass "Boeing" MH-17, "breaking the Bundestag", "interference in elections in USA "," an attempt to organize a coup in Montenegro "," cyberattack to the Danish Ministry of Defense "and" attack using a virus-extortioner NotPetya ". This series is crowned by the "poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal" in March 2018.
Finally, the last slide talks about the measures that the British government took as a result of the above. Among them - "direct indication of Russia's responsibility", "dismantling of the Russian intelligence network in the UK", "freezing all planned bilateral contacts", "strengthening border control", "combating crime and corruption", "adoption of new laws" and "other measures to counter the hostile state ".
The presentation was published on the website of Kommersant. It does not report practically any new information compared to what was previously provided by the British authorities. The only difference is the re-qualification of Moscow's status from "with a high probability" of the guilty party to the guilty "without the slightest doubt." At the briefing, British Ambassador Laurie Bristow said that "the principle of Russia's actions is to disentangle, mislead and sow doubt." "In the coming months, your support in taking measures to ensure the security of every person and our common international security will be of key importance," he said to the crowd. "We must show Russia that it must be held accountable for what happened ".
Over the past two days, 25 countries, as well as NATO, have announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats after Great Britain.
Mikhail Korostikov
[END REPORT]

********

U.S. SecDef: No evidence Assad used poison gas in Ghouta or Khan Sheikhoun incidents

The author, Ian Wilkie, an international lawyer, U.S. Army veteran, and intelligence contractor, ended his report by noting, "It is time for America to stop shooting first and asking questions later."

I wonder what he makes of the American government's reaction to the Skripal Incident.      

NOW MATTIS ADMITS THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE ASSAD USED POISON GAS ON HIS PEOPLE
BY IAN WILKIE
February 8, 2018 
Newsweek

Lost in the hyper-politicized hullabaloo surrounding the Nunes Memorandum and the Steele Dossier was the striking statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the U.S. has “no evidence”that the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent Sarin against its own people.

This assertion flies in the face of the White House (NSC) Memorandum which was rapidly produced and declassified to justify an American Tomahawk missile strike against the Shayrat airbase in Syria.

Mattis offered no temporal qualifications, which means that both the 2017 event in Khan Sheikhoun and the 2013 tragedy in Ghouta are unsolved cases in the eyes of the Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mattis went on to acknowledge that “aid groups and others” had provided evidence and reports but stopped short of naming President Assad as the culprit.

There were casualties from organophosphate poisoning in both cases; that much is certain. But America has accused Assad of direct responsibility for Sarin attacks and even blamed Russia for culpability in the Khan Sheikhoun tragedy.

Now its own military boss has said on the record that we have no evidence to support this conclusion. In so doing, Mattis tacitly impugned the interventionists who were responsible for pushing the “Assad is guilty” narrative twice without sufficient supporting evidence, at least in the eyes of the Pentagon.

This dissonance between the White House and the Department of Defense is especially troubling when viewed against the chorus of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) experts who have been questioning the (Obama and Trump) White House narratives concerning chemical weapons in Syria since practically the moment these “Assad-ordered events” occurred.

Serious, experienced chemical weapons experts and investigators such as Hans Blix, Scott Ritter, Gareth Porter and Theodore Postol have all cast doubt on “official” American narratives regarding President Assad employing Sarin.

These analysts have all focused on the technical aspects of the two attacks and found them not to be consistent with the use of nation-state quality Sarin munitions.

The 2013 Ghouta event, for example, employed home-made rockets of the type favored by insurgents. The White House Memorandum on Khan Sheikhoun seemed to rely heavily on testimony from the Syrian White Helmets who were filmed at the scene having contact with supposed Sarin-tainted casualties and not suffering any ill effects.

Likewise, these same actors were filmed wearing chemical weapons training suits around the supposed “point of impact” in Khan Sheikhoun, something which makes their testimony (and samples) highly suspect. A training suit offers no protection at all, and these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.

Chemical weapons are abhorrent and illegal, and no one knows this more than Carla Del Ponte. She, however, was unable to fulfill her U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism mandate in Syria and withdrew in protest over the United States refusing to fully investigate allegations of chemical weapons use by “rebels” (jihadis) allied with the American effort to oust President Assad (including the use of Sarin by anti-Assad rebels).

The fact that U.N. investigators were in Syria when the chemical weapon event in Khan Sheikhoun occurred in April 2017 makes it highly dubious that Assad would have given the order to use Sarin at that time. Common sense suggests that Assad would have chosen any other time than that to use a banned weapon that he had agreed to destroy and never employ.

Furthermore, he would be placing at risk his patronage from Russia if they turned on him as a war criminal and withdrew their support for him.

Tactically, as a former soldier, it makes no sense to me that anyone would intentionally target civilians and children as the White Helmet reports suggest he did.

There is compelling analysis from Gareth Porter suggesting that phosphine could have been released by an airborne munition striking a chemical depot, since the clouds and casualties (while organophosphate-appearing in some respects) do not appear to be similar to MilSpec Sarin, particularly the high-test Russian bomb-carried Sarin which independent groups like “bellingcat” insist was deployed.

America’s credibility was damaged by Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of having mobile anthrax laboratories. Fast forward to 2017 and we encounter Nikki Haley in an uncomfortably similar situation at the U.N. Security Council calling for action against yet another non-Western head-of-state based on weak, unsubstantiated evidence.

Now Secretary Mattis has added fuel to the WMD propaganda doubters’ fire by retroactively calling into question the rationale for an American cruise missile strike.

While in no way detracting from the horror of what took place against innocent civilians in Syria, it is time for America to stop shooting first and asking questions later.

Ian Wilkie is an 
international lawyer, U.S. Army veteran and former intelligence community contractor.

[END REPORT]

Tuesday, March 27

Any questions about why Beijing and Moscow became Washington's bogeymen this year?

Russia's RT  reports today:

Petro-yuan helps Russia & China dump US dollar in oil trade

China is the world's biggest crude consumer and buys most of its oil from Russia. However, most settlements are still in US dollars. The launch of the petro-yuan now allows Moscow and Beijing to use national currencies instead.

China and Russia are actively reducing dependence on the dollar in bilateral trade. In October 2017, Beijing launched a payment system for transactions in yuan and Russian rubles. This means that settlements for Russian oil deliveries to China, which have reached 60 million tons per year, can be done without using the dollar.

After Monday's launch of the yuan-backed oil futures in Shanghai, there have been negotiation between Russia and China on mutual promotion of oil futures in national currencies, RIA Novosti reported. In 2016, the St. Petersburg exchange in Russia launched Urals oil futures in the Russian ruble, and support from China could prop up Russian crude futures.

China's new oil benchmark had a hugely successful debut. On the first day of trading in Shanghai, 62,500 contracts with more than 62 million barrels of crude traded for a notional value of nearly 27 billion yuan ($4 billion), Zerohedge reported. Glencore, Trafigura, Freepoint Commodities and other huge oil-trading corporations took part.

Russia held its position as China's largest crude oil supplier in February. Russia supplied 5.052 million tons, or 1.32 million barrels per day (bpd) last month, up 17.8 percent from a year earlier, according to Reuters, quoting the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

The increase in volume happened as a result of a second Sino-Russian oil pipeline, which began operations on January 1. It doubled China’s capacity to pump oil from the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) system. ESPO connects Russia and China with a direct pipeline.


[END REPORT]

See also: China's Oil Futures Launch With A Bang; Oil Price, March 26

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Headlines from most viewed war reports today at FARS

It was not very thoughtful to feature Syria war news headlines from FARS News right after a post I'd titled In this era one doesn't so much study war reports as untangle them lol. When I realized this I took down the post for a little mending.

Actually, there is little to untangle about Syrian war news that FARS reports. The reader already knows:

> the Iranian government's very obvious biases
> that they accent the positive about a Syrian Arab Army operation and downplay or studiously ignore an incident where the SAA gets walloped. Same goes for Russian, Iranian militia and Hezbollah ops in Syria.

But those caveats aside, at least readers can get on-the-ground reporting from Iran's state news agency that is reasonably accurate. Many times FARS reports on war situations that the 'corporate' news media ignores, or doesn't know anything about -- or doesn't have the sources in Syria to learn about in any detail. 

And their reporting is a good counterweight to the anti-Assad, anti-Syrian Army propaganda put out by Saudi and other Gulf Arab news outlets.

A bonus, which I might have mentioned before, is that there are limits to how much outright lying FARS can do about the kinetic ops in Syria because if it happens too many times their reporting will be discounted by enemies 'on the ground' who closely follow the site -- and have their own sources about what really happened in a battle.      


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In this era one doesn't so much study war reports as untangle them

Compare MOA and AP reporting on the same war incident to see why President Trump, and mainstream news consumers,  don't stand a chance at understanding wars in the Middle East. 

The simple truth is that Moon of Alabama took the time to untangle information put out by a propaganda outfit; AP left it up to TV news producers, print editors, and the public to do the untangling. Only a member of the German public, "b" at Moon of Alabama, rose to the challenge. 

 "Independent Watchdog Group" Lobbies For War On Yemen And Iran (Moon of Alabama, March 27) will tell you all you need to know about the AP report, but b also links to the report and quotes from it.  

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Confirmed: US building military base in vicinity of Syria's largest oil field

SDF CONFIRMS REPORTS THAT US ESTABLISHES MILITARY BASE IN VICINITY OF SYRIA’S LARGEST OIL FIELD
March 27, 2018
SouthFront

The US is building a large military base in the vicinity of Syria’s largest oil field – the Omar oil field, Mehdi Kobani, a press secretary of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor confirmed to Sputnik Turkiye.
“The US is building a large military base in the oil-rich Al Omar region of Deir ez-Zor province. Due to security concerns we cannot provide information about the acreage of this new installation. There is currently construction machinery working in the vicinity of the base, and security is being provided by SDF forces,” Kobani said thus confirming earlier reports on the issue.
The Omar oil field was captured by the US-backed SDF during its anti-ISIS campaign in eastern Syria. According to Syrian sources, the military installation in the area is aimed to allow the US to consolidate control of the oil resources in the eastern part of the country setting ground for further occupation of the area. These oil resources will also be used to strengthen the influence of the US proxies – the SDF – in the area.
[END REPORT]
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Does Trump know there's no evidence the Kremlin was involved in the Skripal incident?

I'll put the answer this way. If he doesn't know, his intelligence advisers lied to him or were asleep at the wheel. If he does know, he ignored the truth in a bid to curry favor.

Either option is frightening to contemplate.

******** 

What's left of the American republic hits the skids in Syria

The uncredited photograph is from Dean Parker's take at Russia Insider on Jack Murphy's mind-blowing 7,000 word article for SOFREP, US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria

Murphy's report, published in September 2016, as was Parker's, should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the U.S. involvement in Syria.

However, Murphy, "an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group," was writing as a U.S. Special Forces insider for Special Forces insiders. (SOFREP is a news and intelligence source for Special Operations veterans.) Parker's discussion of the report, although it skirts a considerable amount of Murphy's material, allows outsiders to get their toes wet without taking away from the allover point -- aptly conveyed in the photo Parker found to illustrate his article and in these two quotes from Murphy's writing:
"Nobody believes in it. You're like, 'Fuck this,'" a former Green Beret says of America's covert and clandestine programs to train and arm Syrian militias. "Everyone on the ground knows they are jihadis. No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort, and they know they are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, 'Fuck it, who cares?'"
While the games continue on, morale sinks for the Special Forces men in Turkey. Often disguised in Turkish military uniform, one of the Green Berets described his job as, "Sitting in the back room, drinking chai while watching the Turks train future terrorists."
 Has morale improved since 2016? Unlikely given that American Special Forces are still ordered to train "jihadis" in Syria. But the saboteurs are in the position of the genie in Disney's Aladdin, who had no choice but to serve the evil magician once the magician gained control of the lamp, although he served the magician's orders poorly as his protest. The Special Forces continue to carry out orders, no matter how poorly, no matter how much they despise them and the ones who give the orders. They're good soldiers, after all, and the first rule for good soldiers is to carry out an order.

But what do such orders say about the civilian rulers of the American military? 

********

American land grab in Syria

"Already, the US has taken 30% of northern Syria east of the Euphrates River. If Turkey manages to take the rest of the border region west of the Euphrates and all the way down through Idlib province, Syria’s strategic position will be badly damaged. Foreign powers will control all northern border crossings and highways. They will also own much of Syria’s best agricultural land and water resources. This is not to mention that the US zone includes over 50% of Syria’s oil and gas fields."

The quote is from Joshua Landis during an interview he gave to ISPI published on February 27 under the title, Afrin, Ghouta, and the Post-IS scramble for Syria.  

As to whether the Trump regime has taken control of even more Syrian territory since late February -- reliable data from that war front is hard to come by, but I'd say it's a good guess that the regime is trying to grab as much land as it can.

So no one should be surprised by Turkey's land grabs in Syria. The Turks are playing Monkey See Monkey Do. If the United States is getting away with an unprovoked invasion of a country and grabbing its land in the process, why shouldn't they?  

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Monday, March 26

No

Huskies are probably better at vocalizing their anger than any other dog breed but I don't think they can beat out a German Shepard when it comes to the Whole Body method of expressiveness.

No it is not past my bedtime. From YouTube



No you did not make me feel all better now


From a photo gallery of dogs and cats registering anger about their trip to the veterinarian.

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Sunday, March 25

"Under a false flag UK attempts three chemical attacks in the Ghouta"

From Voltaire Network, March 20, 2018:
On 17 March 2018 the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, denounced the presence of the US, British and French Special Forces in Syria; this is something that both London and Paris deny. He drove home the point, insisting: “What this presence means is that the issue is no longer a war by proxy but direct intervention in a war”.

Mr. Lavrov then went on to give a stern warning to Washington, London and Paris, should they take the decision to bomb Damascus. The documents seized by the Syrian and Russian Secret Services confirm the existence of a plan to attack Damascus along similar lines to the plan conceived against Bagdad in 2003. Part of this plan includes killing off President al-Assad. Allied ships have been positioned to enable them to carry out this attack from the Mediterranean.

On 19 March 2018, the Syrian and Russian armies warned of a new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta instigated by the United Kingdom under a false flag. The Syrian and Russian armies have already seized two chemical laboratories on 12 and 13 March. On 20 March, during a meeting of the Leaders of the Russian Armed Forces, the Russian Minister for Defence, General Sergey Shoygu, referred to three attempts to use these weapons during the week in Eastern Ghouta. While he explicitly avoided inculpating London with backing these attempted bombings, the way his words were couched removes any possible doubt from his listeners’ minds. He continued: 

“We are hoping that in the current situation, our Western partners will allow good sense to guide their decision-making; that they stop flirting with terrorists and come together with Russia in their peaceful initiatives in Syria”.

In five days, more than 79,000 prisoners of armed groups in the Ghouta have successfully sought refuge in the Syrian Arab Republic. This is thanks to the humanitarian corridors of Muhayam al-Wafedin and Hamouriyah.

Translation
Anoosha Boralessa

[END REPORT]

See also:

"Not proxy": Lavrov says US, British, French special forces "directly involved" in Syria war; RT, March 17, 2018




What an Afghani did with his uncanny resemblance to Bruce Lee

In the midst of war he remade himself in Bruce's image -- and spirit. One of RT's wonderful 'little' documentaries. See it at the RT website (27:24  minutes).   


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Saturday, March 24

Ambassador van Dam, negotiation would be useless if the war was always a foreign-led effort

"When democracies confront dictatorships like the Syrian regime, the chance of positive results can be higher by communicating with it than by refusing to communicate with it."

The  quote is from Ambassador Nikolaos van Dam's lecture at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Vienna, March 7, 2018; the full transcript was published March 8 by Syria Comment (edited by Joshua Landis) and titled Foreign intervention in Syria: Isn't it time to admit that the war against the Syrian regime is lost? 

Ambassador van Dam is a Dutch career diplomat (Indonesia, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq) who served as the Netherlands' Special Envoy to Syria from 2015-2016 and came to specialize in observing the Syrian conflict. His latest book is Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria (London: I.B. Tauris, 2017). 

I have not read his book but van Dam is, to my reading of his lecture, intelligent and well-informed about Syria and brought his considerable experience as a diplomat to bear in his argument that no matter how grim the conflict, the channels of communication must be kept open by both sides.

However, I venture this is one of those times when one's point of view as a diplomat is an impediment to clear seeing. If, as van Dam indicates, the Syrian conflict was from the early days actually fueled by foreign governments in a bid to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his government, attempts at communication would have always been useless because the regime change plotters were never sincere; they weren't interested in reaching a compromise.     

The ambassador might reply that one should never give up on attempts at negotiation no matter how insincere the parties, and that the catastrophe in Syria is the best argument to keep trying. 

I think that could be true for the local parties in conflicts. But when powerful governments bent on regime change are involved, something much stronger than negotiation also needs to be deployed. The aims of the foreign governments party to regime change need to be exposed for the public to see. In a democracy, this is the task of the press and government officials.

But in the case of Syria the outside governments trying for regime change have been at least three NATO members -- the USA, France, and Turkey -- and at least two very rich Gulf Arab governments -- Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 

The upshot is that even today there has been no official acknowledgement in democratic countries of the role played in Syria by foreign interventionists. And there is scant reference to the situation in the mainstream American press -- and certainly not enough references to awaken the majority in the American public to the true situation.

The great irony is that many Americans at this time have reasons to believe the current U.S. President, Donald Trump, was the target of a nonviolent coup attempt engineered by elements in the Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. If the belief is borne out by more evidence, this could be termed Washington's propensity for regime change come home to roost.

So while it's important to attempt to maintain dialogues in the face of even the most seemingly intractable armed conflicts, here I am reminded of the old Protestant saying, "Pray, but row away from the rocks."

The advice would go double if the Trump regime is planning to win the war against the Assad regime by murdering Assad.

All this noted, I found Ambassador van Dam's lecture worthwhile and quote extensively from it below. I've omitted the first part, which is about how the Baathists got established in Syria, and skipped over a few other passages; this in order to focus on his enumerations of the grim and ongoing consequences of the Syrian conflict. The added emphasis throughout is mine.

Foreign intervention in Syria: Isn't it time to admit that the war against the Syrian regime is lost? 
By Nikolaos van Dam
March 7, 2018

BEGIN QUOTES
   
[...]

But political isolation of the Damascus regime was bound to be unsuccessful.

The alternative was to militarily defeat the Syrian regime, after which talks would not be necessary anymore. But direct military intervention was rejected in the democracies involved, just as well.

Nevertheless, by way of an alternative, various Western and Arab governments chose to militarily intervene indirectly, by arming, financing and politically supporting the various Syrian opposition groups; but this turned out not to be enough to topple the regime. And I leave out of consideration here whether an alternative regime would have been much better. 

Most foreign governments claimed that they wanted a political solution, and this was true in principle. But they only wanted a political solution that would lead to regime change, and this turned out to be impossible without sufficient military means. Such military interventions were actually in violation of international law which bars UN member states from supporting military action to overthrow other members’ governments.[1] 

The results of indirect military intervention have been just as disastrous as direct military intervention would have been: notably almost half a million dead, millions of refugees, a country in ruins and a nation destroyed to a great extent.

Reproaching foreign countries for giving insufficient support to help topple the regime, whereas simultaneously being against any military intervention appears to be contradictory. Let me therefore clarify what I mean. I am strongly against military interventions in general because there are so many examples which illustrate that such interventions mainly lead to disaster. My point is that the countries that encouraged the military opposition to confront the Syrian regime, without sufficiently arming them or sufficiently coordinating their militarily actions, were in practice leading many of the opposition military into the trap of death.

[...]

Most of the Syrian opposition at the time were not able to accept any negotiations with the regime, not only because of their feelings and emotions towards the regime, but also because they still expected to receive strong foreign support, as happened in Libya, which caused the fall and death of Libyan leader al-Qadhafi.

Many demonstrators wanted to attract foreign attention via the media in the hope of triggering foreign help, but the support they wanted did not come as expected.

With some hindsight, and purely theoretically speaking, many Syrians might not have started the Syrian Revolution, had they been aware of the disastrous consequences beforehand. [Pundita note: I strongly believe this was the case, based on numerous anecdotes from Syrians I've read during the years of the war.] But in reality, things do not work that way.

[...]

It should go without saying that those who confront the Syrian regime with a limited will and limited means must also set limited goals if they are to accomplish even a limited amount of what they want to achieve. Yet, even after seven years of bloody war, and well over 450,000 dead, many Western and Arab politicians still tend to be blinded, to some extent at least, by wishful thinking, as a result of which they officially keep approaching the conflict in Syria from a supposedly moral high ground. They have not been prepared to accept the basic reality, that with a limited will and limited means only limited goals can be achieved. 

Foreign leaders either ignore these basics or pretend not to be aware of them. By continuing to maintain so-called ethically and politically correct points of view concerning justice, without, however, providing the necessary means to help realize their just aims, various Western and Arab politicians indirectly have helped the war to continue with all its dead, refugees and destruction.

[...]

The position of Qatar, which has been one of the key supporters of the civilian and military opposition for a long time, changed as well in October 2017, particularly after the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council imposed sanctions against it with the accusation that Qatar had been supporting terrorist organizations in Syria. 


Former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shaykh Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani, in a reaction, confided that the support of Qatar for the Syrian opposition had earlier on been fully coordinated with Saudi Arabia, and that all their common support went via Turkey, where further arms distributions were coordinated with the United States, together with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. 

Shaykh Hamad denied having provided any support to the Islamic State (Da’ish), and that in [any?] case it would have ended up in the hands of the al-Qa’ida related Jabhat al-Nusra, which apparently had been the case, this would have been stopped, because that would have been a mistake. Saudi Arabia and Qatar had focused on, what he called ‘the liberation of Syria’, but when the two countries started to quarrel over their common ‘prey’ (by which he meant Bashar al-Asad and the Syrian regime), the prey escaped. 

Shaykh Hamad bin Jasim added that it would be okay if al-Asad would stay on if the Saudis wanted this. After all, Qatar used to be friends with al-Asad. Shaykh Hamad criticized that there had not been a consequent policy between Qatar and Saudi Arabia but did not mind to change course if past policies turned out to have been a mistake.[10] This change in policy happened after more than 450,000 victims had fallen and was apparently mainly the result of a dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not because of a spontaneous change of views, or special feelings for the Syrian people.

As far as negotiations were concerned, the Syrian opposition has already been communicating with the Syrian regime for several years through the successive United Nations Special Envoys for Syria, but they did so under pre-conditions that made any serious negotiations impossible, because they demanded as a kind of pre-condition that President al-Asad and those of his regime with blood on their hands should leave and should be excluded from playing any role in Syria’s future and should be courtmartialed. These demands may seem fully understandable, but they were unrealistic, because they guaranteed that any compromise or serious negotiations with the regime were excluded. 

Moreover, the fate of president al-Asad is not at all mentioned in the Geneva Communique (2012), which is one of the main internationally agreed cornerstones of the intra-Syrian negotiations.

If, after some seven years of bloodshed, some Arab and Western leaders decide to change course and decide that al-Asad should be accepted as staying in power in Syria and would think it opportune to reestablish relations and to reopen embassies in Damascus, they should not expect the Syrian regime to welcome them back. On the contrary, such overtures would most probably be rejected at first, until political accounts are settled, because the regime considers the foreign interference and support for the armed opposition as one of the principal reasons why the Syrian War has lasted that long.

Any international reconstruction aid could only be channeled to government-controlled areas with the approval of the regime. And reconstruction efforts in areas not under regime control run the risk of coming under fire in case these areas would be reconquered by the regime.

What might perhaps have been achieved through dialogue with the regime in the earlier stages of the Syrian Revolution, became more and more difficult later on with all the killing and destruction that has occurred. The longer the war lasted, the more difficult it has become to negotiate and reach any compromise.

One might also argue that the regime has never been interested in any dialogue whatsoever that would have led to drastic political changes or reform but it has – in my opinion – not been tried long enough. 

[Pundita note:  Damascus did institute several reforms, including a new constitution but these weren't enough, and could never have been enough, for the foreign parties wanting control of Syria.]

The serious efforts in the beginning should have been continued. Sometimes one should even make a serious effort if one is not fully convinced of the possibilities of achieving success.

Considering the millions of Syrian refugees, one would logically speaking expect that most of them will return to Syria, once the war is over, but realities may turn out to be quite different. In particular those refugees who are suspected of having been active against the regime – most of them Sunnis – may not be allowed to return, certainly not in the shorter run when the economic prospects are dim.

Syria expert Fabrice Balanche suggests that president al-Asad even might not want the return of millions of refugees, because Syria was already overpopulated before the Syrian War that started in 2011, and suffered from severe economic problems, water shortages and other issues that helped trigger the Syrian Revolution. Refusing the reentry of millions of Syrian refugees might, according to this vision, give Syria the opportunity of a new start with a smaller population which, in the thinking of the regime, might ‘give Syria some air’.[11] 
Moreover, it can be expected that refugees wanting to return to Syria may have to prove that they were loyal to the regime and not against it. All this might imply rigorous demographic changes to the disadvantage of the Syrian Sunni population.

Fabrice Balanche has convincingly demonstrated that, although various other factors have played a role as well, the sectarian divide in Syria should not be ignored, because it is a key issue, with the opposition areas being mainly Sunni, and the areas numerically dominated by minorities being pro-regime.[12] This divide can have serious implications for the future once the Syrian War would be over.

Remarkable is also that there has not been any compromise whatsoever between the Syrian regime and the opposition inside the country. 


[Pundita note: Damascus has worked out compromises with many thousands of insurgents. The author might be speaking of the major opposition leadership, which I believe is controlled by various foreign governments; e.g., Saudi Arabia.]

And some opposition leaders who were originally operating from inside the country, like Lu’ayy Husayn, leader of Building the Syrian State, have been sentenced to long term imprisonment in absentia, making it impossible for them to return.

Prominent opposition members abroad who publicly repented their opposition to the regime and wanted to come back to Syria were refused entry into their home country, although there have been exceptions.[13]

I have hardly touched on the role of Russia and Iran in the conflict and will do so only very shortly. The US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003 has led to a war, the end of which after 15 years is by far not in sight. By removing president Saddam Hussein, they have laid out a red carpet for Iran to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The – direct or indirect – foreign military interventions in Syria have caused the position of Russia to be strengthened considerably. The main reason for Russia to intervene was to keep its ally, the regime, in power. Without other foreign interventions in Syria trying to effectuate regime change, Russia would have had no reason to intervene the way it did since 2015. 


What is in it for the regime to have a political solution instead of a military one? It cannot stay in power forever, and therefore it is in its interest to help establish a new Syria that is inclusive for all Syrians in such a way that a new revolution or settlement of accounts in the form of revenge is avoided. The regime should have done so long before the revolution started, or directly afterwards, but Bashar al-Asad and his supporters choose the path of violent suppression.  [Pundita note: I disagree with this view of Assad's actions in the early years of the revolution.]

Syria expert David Lesch has suggested that al-Asad hesitated in the beginning of the Revolution between a more lenient approach and a violent crackdown by government forces. It was a ‘fateful decision’ not to have seriously explored the road of reform and reconciliation in the beginning, certainly when taking into account the disastrous aftermath.[14] 


Nevertheless, it is far from certain whether an announcement in the beginning by the president of reform measures would really have satisfied the demonstrators as long as the Syrian dictatorship persisted. After all, the demonstrators were overwhelmed by enthusiasm as a result of the so-called Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya where the presidents had fallen.

Now it has become much more difficult to effectuate drastic reform measures. But this in itself is no reason not to seriously try to achieve it. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether the regime will make serious efforts in this direction because this could imply undermining its own position, as would have been the case in the beginning of the Syrian Revolution.

Whereas the common sectarian, regional and family or tribal backgrounds of the main Ba’thist rulers have been key to the strength of the regime, their Alawi sectarian background has also inherently been one of its main weaknesses. The ‘Alawi factor’ is hindering a peaceful transformation from Syrian dictatorship towards a more widely representative regime. This ‘Alawi Gordian knot’ should therefore be disentangled in order to establish trust between all Syrian population groups, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background.

I strongly doubt, however, whether the regime would be prepared to cut this ‘Alawi Gordian knot’, because it has always been essential for its survival.

Therefore, even if the regime will win the war, which seems likely, the future prospects for peace in Syria look very grim.


END QUOTES

See the Syria Comment website for lecture footnotes.

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