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News :: International
Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Syrian Rebel Groups?
by PATRICK COCKBURN
14 Apr 2014
Turkey’s Rogue Game in Syria
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The US’s Secretary of State John Kerry and its UN ambassador, Samantha Power have been pushing for more assistance to be given to the Syrian rebels. This is despite strong evidence that the Syrian armed opposition are, more than ever, dominated by jihadi fighters similar in their beliefs and methods to al-Qa’ida. The recent attack by rebel forces around Latakia, northern Syria, which initially had a measure of success, was led by Chechen and Moroccan jihadis.
America has done its best to keep secret its role in supplying the Syrian armed opposition, operating through proxies and front companies. It is this which makes Seymour Hersh’s article “The Red Line and The Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels” published last week in the London Review of Books, so interesting.
Attention has focussed on whether the Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, aided by Turkish intelligence, could have been behind the sarin gas attacks in Damascus last 21 August, in an attempt to provoke the US into full-scale military intervention to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” a former senior US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.
Critics vehemently respond that all the evidence points to the Syrian government launching the chemical attack and that even with Turkish assistance, Jabhat al-Nusra did not have the capacity to use sarin.
A second and little-regarded theme of Hersh’s article is what the CIA called the rat line, the supply chain for the Syrian rebels overseen by the US in covert cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The information about this comes from a highly classified and hitherto secret annex to the report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the attack by Libyan militiamen on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. The annex deals with an operation in which the CIA, in cooperation with MI6, arranged the dispatch of arms from Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s arsenals to Turkey and then across the 500-mile long Turkish southern frontier with Syria. The annex refers to an agreement reached in early 2012 between Obama and Erdogan with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying funding. Front companies, purporting to be Australian, were set up, employing former US soldiers who were in charge of obtaining and transporting the weapons. According to Hersh, the MI6 presence enabled the CIA to avoid reporting the operation to Congress, as required by law, since it could be presented as a liaison mission.
The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen. The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers. The disaster in Benghazi, which soon ballooned into a political battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.
This happened at the moment when Assad’s forces were starting to gain the upper hand and al-Qa’ida-type groups were becoming the cutting edge of the rebel military.
The failure of the rebels to win in 2012 left their foreign backers with a problem. At the time of the fall of Gaddafi they had all become over-confident, demanding the removal of Assad when he still held all Syria’s 14 provincial capitals. “They were too far up the tree to get down,” according to one observer. To accept anything other than the departure of Assad would have looked like a humiliating defeat.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar went on supplying money while Sunni states turned a blind eye to the recruitment of jihadis and to preachers stirring up sectarian hatred against the Shia. But for Turkey the situation was worse. Efforts to project its power were faltering and all its chosen proxies – from Egypt to Iraq – were in trouble. It was evident that al-Qa’ida-type fighters, including Jahat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and Ahrar al-Sham were highly dependent on Turkish border crossings for supplies, recruits and the ability to reach safety. The heaviest intra-rebel battles were for control of these crossings. Turkey’s military intelligence, MIT, and the paramilitary Gendarmerie played a growing role in directing and training jihadis and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular.
The Hersh article alleges that the MIT went further and instructed Jabhat al-Nusra on how to stage a sarin gas attack in Damascus that would cross Obama’s red line and lead to the US launching an all-out air attack. Vehement arguments rage over whether this happened. That a senior US intelligence officer is quoted by America’s leading investigative journalist as believing that it did, is already damaging Turkey.
Part of the US intelligence community is deeply suspicious of Erdogan’s actions in Syria. It may also be starting to strike home in the US and Europe that aid to the armed rebellion in Syria means destabilising Iraq. When Isis brings suicide bombers from across the Turkish border into Syria it can as easily direct them to Baghdad as Aleppo.
The Pentagon is much more cautious than the State Department about the risks of putting greater military pressure on Assad, seeing it as the first step in a military entanglement along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are the main opponents of a greater US military role. Both sides in the US have agreed to a programme under which 600 Syrian rebels would be trained every month and jihadis would be weeded out. A problem here is that the secular moderate faction of committed Syrian opposition fighters does not really exist. As always, there is a dispute over what weapons should be supplied, with the rebels, Saudis and Qataris insisting that portable anti-aircraft missiles would make all the difference. This is largely fantasy, the main problem being that the rebel military forces are fragmented into hundreds of war bands.
It is curious that the US military has been so much quicker to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya than civilians like Kerry and Power. The killing of Ambassador Stevens shows what happens when the US gets even peripherally involved in a violent, messy crisis like Syria where it does not control many of the players or much of the field.
Meanwhile, a telling argument against Turkey having orchestrated the sarin gas attacks in Damascus is that to do so would have required a level of competence out of keeping with its shambolic interventions in Syria over the past three years.
Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.
Re: Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Syrian Rebel Groups?
by GILBERT MERCIER
(No verified email address)
14 Apr 2014
Ukraine and Syria, In Orwellian Times "Revolution is Imperialism "
We live in the times that George Orwell predicted in his groundbreaking novel 1984. A time of deception, where nothing is what it seems to be. Lost in a deep fog of propaganda that passes for information, we have to decipher through conflicting narratives, where stories are planted to hide other ones. In this fictional conundrum, reality has become surreal, and words have lost their meaning. In our Orwellian lexicon, a pro-capitalist and neo-colonialist such as French President Francois Hollande is called a socialist; violent imperialist interventions conducted by the United States and its allies, or even the United Nations, worldwide are called humanitarian missions or peacekeeping missions; policies of regime change, already conducted in Iraq and Libya, and underway in Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, and even Cuba, are called promoting democracy or strengthening civil society. In Orwellian times, a phony revolution in Kiev is concocted by neocons in Washington DC with help from so-called humanitarian non-g0vernmental organizations (NGO), and USAID takes on the CIA’s role to promote supposedly spontaneous protests in Cuba. In Orwellian times, a big lie often repeated becomes the truth. When policymakers are spin masters, truth is the first casualty.
Smoke and Mirrors: Spin as Policy
Public policy with the welfare of millions at stake should be a serious matter. But this has been treated with contempt by the so-called public servants who should take it most to heart. Politicians, especially the heads of state, are marketed and sold to the public like big-ticket items. Most citizens have become consumers of political products. As in advertising, political campaigns are tested on focus groups. Once a political brand is established, consumers develop a relationship to the brand either of trust and fidelity or hostility. In the United States, Bush, Clinton and Kennedy are well-known political brands. In France, the brand Le Pen is trending strongly. The symbiosis of politics and marketing is symptomatic of this age. Once addicted to a brand, the political consumer will keep buying it (voting for it). In Orwellian times, branding is king.
Putin: The New Bogeyman
Before the referendum in Crimea, Hillary Clinton compared Vladimir Putin’s actions to those of Adolf Hitler in the buildup to World War II. Historically, this was a grossly inaccurate comparison, but to the average Clinton consumer, it conveyed the simple equation: Putin=Hitler. The West always needs a bogeyman, an enemy number one. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the current popular leader of the former “evil empire” could not have been a better candidate. To stay on message, the sycophant Western mainstream media hint that Putin’s hidden agenda is to restore the Soviet Union, and that the neo-Nazis in Ukraine and Jihadists in Syria are revolutionaries. In Orwellian times, information is mostly propaganda and conventions such as calling the US president the “leader of the free world” have become as oxymoronic as the coal industry’s advertisements of “clean coal.” When NATO declares that it wants to “promote stability in Eastern Europe,” it is doing exactly the opposite by provoking Moscow.
Ukraine Crisis: a New Raison d’etre for NATO
NATO has received a big boost from the Ukrainian crisis: a reclaimed raison d’etre, and it will likely recruit new members such as Sweden and Finland. The military alliance plans to reinforce its ties with Armenia, Moldova and Azerbaijan as well as present a stronger presence in the Baltic states. The US has stationed six F15 in Lithuania, and plans to send sixteen F16 and four C-130 to Poland. More AWACS surveillance flights and a stronger presence in the Eastern Baltic sea, regular air patrol over Baltic states, and a boost of the number of troops in Romania are also on NATO’s agenda. Russia legitimately views NATO’s actions as a strategy of encirclement. At the end of the USSR in 1991, US President George Bush Sr., German Chancellor Helmut Khol and US Secretary of State James Baker gave the Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, a formal guarantee that there would never be an Eastern expansion of NATO to include former members of the Warsaw Pact. But under Vladimir Putin, Russia has been investing in its military, and Western analysts, including the powerful puppet masters of the Council on Foreign Relations took notice and were impressed by the Russian troops’ performance in Crimea.
A Boost for the Global Military-Industrial Complex
The 1991 agreement between Gorbachev and the West was never respected by any US administration, and it is the major issue with regard to Ukraine. Since 1945, and even more so since the collapse of the USSR, the US has behaved as a bully even as it presented itself as the voice and conscience of the international community. If NATO is not stopped, its Eastward expansion might continue to include Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia. Importantly, the tension with Russia will serve as a pretext to continue to base US ballistic nuclear weapons in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey for a long time. This revisited Cold War provides a unique opportunity to justify a boost in military spending everywhere: especially in the US and Russia. It is also a way for the US to legitimize and expand, almost 70 years after the end of World War II, the occupation by its troops of 900 US military bases in more than 150 countries. While tensions rise in Europe over Ukraine, the top five arms manufacturing and exporting countries, which are the US, Russia, Germany, France and China, will benefit most as their merchants of death justify a boost of military budgets by the new arms race, especially between the US, Russia and China.
For Both Ukraine and Syria, Balkanization or Federation Should be on the Table
As ethnic and pro-Russian arm themselves and take over official buildings in Donetsk, demanding independence from Kiev, Ukraine’s crisis enters a phase three. Phase one was the Western-sponsored Maidan pseudo revolution, phase two was the referendum that attached Crimea to the Russian federation. On April 12, 2014, protesters in Donetsk were joined by coalminers behind barricades made of stack tires and barbed wire. The support of coalminers, a work force of about 100,000, could be a tipping point for a push at either a full-on partition of Ukraine or a federation with considerable autonomy. Donetsk is the center of Eastern Ukraine’s coal-mining area; it is historically called the Donbass and 75 percent of the population are Russian speakers. The pro-Russian secession protest seems to be gaining momentum as armed separatists take over official buildings in the smaller towns of Slaviansk and Kramatorsk. Meanwhile the benefactors of the Euromaidan coup in Kiev threaten to crack down on the protesters in Eastern Ukraine, whom they call terrorists: a surreal irony from an illegitimate government.
Syria’s deadly three-year-old proxy war has almost disappeared from the news as the killings, displacements and destruction of the country continue. But this is about to change. On April 12, 2014, new accusations of the use of poison gas (presumably sarin gas) floated back and forth between Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces. The attack, which is believed to have killed two people and injured many, was reported in the village of Kfar Zeita. The al-Assad administration immediately blamed the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front while, predictably, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition pointed the fingers towards the Syrian government. Since the grave crisis of fall 2013, when a NATO military attack was dissuaded by Russia and China, the al-Assad government agreed to decommission all of his chemical arsenal.
The deadline is approaching fast. So far, the political negotiations between al-Assad and the Syrian opposition, organized by Russia and the US have failed. The new tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine will make the already difficult task of a political solution for Syria almost impossible. Just like in Ukraine, a Balkanization, or loose federation of Syria along sectarian lines, as suggested in this publication on January 10, 2013, might be the only way out of a deadly crisis. In the Orwellian construct of most policymakers, it is common to pretend that gangrene is a trivial infection, as wrecking nations and engineering permanent crisis is good for business, whereas in honest geopolitics you act quickly, inform the patient, and amputate the gangrenous arm or leg.
Re: Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Syrian Rebel Groups?
by Socialist Worker web site
(No verified email address)
14 Apr 2014
The 'International Socialist Organization' supports the "Syrian Revolution"
Representatives of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and figures claiming to speak for the three-year-old revolution against him met in Switzerland for negotiations dubbed "Geneva II" and celebrated by the Western media. But the outcome of these talks won't be peace, and still less justice. Despite rumors Assad might be ready to step aside, the dictator seemed firmly in command of the government delegation sent to Geneva--and supposed representatives of the rebels are rejected by many Syrian revolutionaries because of their ties to foreign forces, whether supporters or opponents of the regime, that are attempting to impose their preferred outcome on the country and the region.
In this commentary first published before the Geneva II meeting convened, solidarity activist Andrew Pollack looks at the forces involved in the "negotiations"--and examines the lessons of past wars and revolutionary struggles for lessons that apply to the present
ON JANUARY 14 came reports of the conclusion of a two-day UN-sponsored conference attended by a self-selected group of women discussing how to increase female participation at the proposed Geneva II conference and its aftermath. Nowhere in the statements coming out of the event was there any indication that those seeking to achieve greater gender balance in Geneva have any problem with its core mission: to let imperialist powers dictate "peace" terms to Syrian aries.
This "women's" event came amid a welter of proposals for negotiations, diplomatic solutions, cease-fires, etc., etc. by various liberal and pseudo-radical forces. Many of those involved have been around the block and know what brand of snake oil they're peddling.
Newer forces less aware of the long history of such sellouts may sincerely think that by demanding negotiations or diplomatic solutions they are aiding the Syrian Revolution. But in fact, these calls for "talks" and "peace" are helping the imperialists, whether in Washington or Moscow, to stab it in the back.
They deny the self-determination of the Syrian people--the only ones who have a legitimate right to say what a just resolution of the revolution should be, the only ones with the right to define what liberation means for them. And they insult the steadfastness of the Syrian people, who, despite horrific casualties, starvation, torture and genocidal murder, show no signs of abandoning their revolution.
None of the politicians, whether in Moscow or Washington, Beijing or Tehran, Riyadh or Beirut have any business dictating terms to the Syrian people, or even demanding they come to the table. In any case, the overwhelming majority of grassroots forces in the revolution have made clear that they see Geneva for the farce it is. They have expressed in no uncertain terms that not only will they not talk to Assad, but they resent and reject the imperialists' likely attempt to impose a Yemen-style solution--i.e. to maintain he current regime minus Assad.
Calling for talks or "peace" is calling for maintenance of that regime, for an end to the Syrian people's just struggle for bread, freedom, dignity and social justice.
Below I'll look at some statements by those pushing Geneva (or an "improved" Geneva). Then I cite briefly some parallel debates from the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and from discussions among Bolsheviks heading the new Soviet Republic who had to grapple with similar issues when under attack after the revolution's success.
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A NOVEMBER 28, 2013, article ("Opposition Activists in Damascus Give Views on Peaceful Solution") quotes Kifah Ali Deeb, a member of the executive office of the National Coordination Board for Democratic Change (NCBDC), saying she "is confident about a peaceful solution to end the crisis."
She argues, "[This can be achieved through] an end to the violence, releasing prisoners, and negotiations in Geneva on a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government with full powers."
Geneva I, she said, "didn't fail. It produced a set of recommendations that we can build on for Geneva II in order to reach a political solution that will lead to a transfer of power. This will achieve the demands of the people for freedom, dignity and democracy."
Deeb's group, the NCBDC, has been roundly criticized by revolutionaries from the beginning of the revolution for attempting to cut deals with the regime and advocating direct talks with it. The groups making up the Coordination Board seem to be leftover pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing Stalinist parties, whose stock in trade has for decades been class collaboration--i.e. deals for "peace," whether in the international or domestic spheres.
Deeb is clearly operating in this framework. She hails the fact that all permanent members of the UN Security Council attended Geneva I, and praises their 12-point plan, "the most important elements of which were the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers which would include officials from the current Syrian government, reform of the constitution, ensuring the continuity of public services and agencies, including the army and security services, and stopping the bloodshed."
Officials from the current government? Continuity of the army and security services? Clearly Deeb has no interest in advocating for what the Syrian grassroots is actually fighting for.
The same article quotes "political activist and lawyer Faeq Howeija, a member of the Syrian Secular Democratic Coalition," as saying that Geneva II can succeed and a "political solution" found "once the two sides genuinely feel that they cannot continue with a military confrontation."
So while those who face the bullets of Assad and the Islamists call for greater military and other aid to complete the revolution against all counterrevolutionary forces, Howeija and his ilk call for "peace."
Some Palestine solidarity activists are also calling for "diplomatic solutions," this despite their long-standing and correct rejection of similar efforts by imperialists to force the "peace process" with Israel down their throats. (Although perhaps this hypocrisy tells us something about their rejection of that "peace process": for some of them, it may just be a question of wanting "better" parties at the table--i.e. a hope that a "left" faction of the PLO, after achieving hegemony in the mass movement, could push aside Fatah as lead negotiator and come up with a "more just" peace.)
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MEANWHILE THE "Anti-imperialist Camp," a gaggle of groups which seem to come from the same neo-Stalinist milieu as the NCBDC, is pushing a shadow conference in Vienna to happen during Geneva II--while still supporting the latter. They do so because they--unlike the masses in Syria--have given up hope in the revolution (one would certainly want to check statements of this camp and its constituent groups to see if they ever supported the revolution).
The Anti-imperialist Camp launched an "International Peace Initiative for Syria" months ago, seeking signatures of left celebrities on behalf of peace and love in Syria. Now they are organizing an "all sides' civil society conference in Vienna." They warn us:
Every day, it becomes clearer that the Syrian war cannot be won by anybody with a positive outcome for the Syrian people. With its internal divisions on every side, the civil war has reached the state of an unprecedented bloodshed, increased by external interventions. Its continuation will only wreak havoc and spread destruction on all levels of society.
Among its main victims, there are the democratic rights of the Syrian people, who originally tried to claim these rights by launching a peaceful popular mass protest movement. However, their efforts have gradually been thwarted by an increasing influence of sectarian tendencies as well as a growing regional and global involvement.
So their counsel to the Syrian masses--who show no sign of sharing their defeatism, and who are in fact turning the tide against one pole of the counterrevolution, i.e., ISIS and its ilk--is surrender:
Together, with many people inside Syria and across the world, our initiative for Peace in Syria continues to insist (see initial call that the only viable solution is a political settlement with a cease-fire paving the way to a transitional government, based on a power-sharing agreement between the socio-political, confessional and ethnical blocs maintaining a common State. We are conscious that this is not the ideal solution for any side, and therefore it will be difficult for all sides to accept. Yet a political solution is the only way out, because the continuation of the war will be even worse.
And they praise imperialist powers for sharing their crocodile tears and proposing a way out:
Internationally, most of the involved players have now come to the conclusion that a political settlement is necessary to stop the number of victims from growing. This is being shown also by the recent agreement between the U.S.A and Iran, which provides a framework for the upcoming Geneva II talks.
But so as not to be completely confused with their imperialist inspirers, they propose a parallel confab in Vienna:
[M]ost of the Syrian people, who--while starving--continue to strive for their democratic and social rights, have lost their voice within the diplomatic efforts which are being made on the level of States. There is an urgent need to let them speak and allow their voices to be heard while important parts of the international community engage in power brokering, ignoring the interest of the people on the ground.
As an International Initiative of civil society, we are proposing to hold a conference in Vienna, Austria, with renowned figures of the Syrian civil society from all walks of life and associated with all sides of the conflict, in order to explore possible and realistic ways for achieving a democratic transition acceptable to the vast majority of Syrians. For this proposal, we have received positive signals from across the whole political spectrum of Syria.
And just so no one is misled into thinking that they're trying to replace Geneva, they stress:
Whilst we hope that Geneva II will get off the ground, we strongly believe that the Vienna conference is a necessary complement to it. There is a real need to lend a voice to those who will have no say at the negotiation table, because they are not State-actors or representatives of political organizations. Furthermore, any cease-fire agreement will need strong popular support from below. [That is, they want to help the imperialists force an agreement on the revolting masses.] This is needed whether Geneva will yield results or not.
The UN-sponsored women's conference mentioned at the start took a similar approach to trying to "improve" Geneva II, declaring, "The voice of Syrian women must be heard in all efforts to resolve the civil war that is tearing their country apart."
Needless to say, the conference took no position on who was responsible for the bloodshed and violence, the oppression and exploitation, which sparked the revolution. Instead, the 50 gathered women (the statement doesn't say who picked them and how) called for a solution that would urge greater women's participation in the country's political and social life (something Assad would assure them he had already achieved).
They were motivated by the same horror of suffering--again, without attributing responsibility or blame--as expressed by those quoted above: "We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our firsthand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable." And on this basis they too recommended surrender, "calling for an immediate cessation of armed violence."
They go on to list specific proposals for women's participation in various negotiating, transition, constitutional and other processes. Not a word about the revolution's demands. In fact, they characterize the fighting as a "conflict [which] erupted almost three years ago between the government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad," as if they didn't know--or dare not voice--what revolutionaries are fighting for.
Of course, this is about what one would expect from a body whose Secretary-General just got done heaping praise on deceased mass murderer Ariel Sharon, and whose main purpose has always been as a pacifist cover for imperialism.
Finally, by way of examples, we cite Code Pink, which weighed in long ago along exactly the same lines. The presumption, the violation of self-determination, the denial of the existence of the revolution are too self-evident in its statement "Tell Obama, Peace Not War in Syria!" to need dissection.
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IN CONTRAST to the above approaches, we must stress that our task now is greater support for the revolution, not efforts to force it into submission or surrender. It's not our business to pressure revolutionaries to go to the table; our job is to support them materially and politically against all forms of counterrevolution, domestic or foreign.
That was the approach of revolutionaries in the U.S. and other imperialist countries during the U.S. war against Vietnam. While the Communist Party in the U.S. and their co-thinkers were pushing for a negotiated "solution," for support for peace talks, Trotskyists and radical pacifists said we in the U.S. had no right to add to the pressure on the Vietnamese to submit--that our job was to get our government to stop committing and aiding genocide, to pull out completely and immediately.
These genuine radicals added that if the Vietnamese felt compelled to go to the table, whether out of weakness or for tactical propagandistic purposes, that was their business and their right--but by letting up on the call for "Out Now!" we would in fact be weakening the Vietnamese efforts to navigate their way through those thickets, and more fundamentally would be violating their right to self-determination.
As Nat Weinstein wrote:
From the very first...there was a small section of the Vietnam antiwar movement that rejected the slogan, "Negotiations Now!" simply because it implied that the United States had the right to set limits on the Vietnamese people's right to self-determination. What proved to be the most effective section of the Vietnam antiwar movement had rejected the "Negotiate Now!" slogan from the outset because it gave credence to the "right" of American imperialism to send the world's most powerful military behemoth into Vietnam to suppress the struggle of the Vietnamese workers and poor farmers for self-determination. And as the war dragged on and tens of thousands of body bags had already been shipped home, the "Bring The Troops Home Now!" demand began winning the support of millions.
A 1969 resolution of the then-still-healthy U.S. Socialist Workers Party explained why the imperialists wanted talks in the first place:
The central problem facing U.S. imperialism in attempting to win the kind of settlement it wants is control of the state power in Vietnam, which depends in the last analysis on force of arms. Without the massive military might of U.S. imperialism, the Saigon regime would rapidly collapse. This fact shows the fraudulent nature of all the well-publicized Washington schemes for a settlement: the scheme of turning the war over to Saigon; the scheme of a coalition government; the scheme of elections under the Saigon administration.
So long as the Vietnamese revolutionaries refuse to give up their arms and continue to carry on the fight, a U.S. withdrawal will lead to rapid victory over the Saigon regime. Under these conditions, a "compromise" formula that does not settle the question of state power will remain illusory. The war can end only when one side is defeated; and until that happens, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, the war will go on.
The same can be said of Syria: the imperialists want talks above all because they want to ensure that the question of state power is settled in favor of the existing regime or some armed body like it, and not in favor of the Syrian masses.
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FINALLY, SOME quotes from the parallel Soviet debate. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the new workers' state was faced with invasion from imperialist powers on both sides of the First World War. The Bolshevik government sent representatives to talks with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk and encountered dissent within party ranks about whether such talks were an impermissible compromise.
Lenin's answer (not heeded at first, by the way, in what was then an incredibly democratic party, used to stormy, vibrant debate), was that the new republic had no choice but to negotiate, especially as to survive until aid could come from successful revolutions elsewhere--but that while the Soviets were under the gun, that made it more urgent for revolutionaries in other countries to oppose efforts by their own governments to dictate terms or even to presume there was anything to talk about.
To use the same terms as in the Vietnam debate, the Bolsheviks could justify going to the table, but communists in Germany, England, France, etc. had no business calling for talks: their duty was to tell their own governments to simply get the hell out of the Soviet Union--and while doing so, to try to make their own revolution at home.
Imagine that your car is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver and car. In return, you are rid of the pleasant company of the bandits. That is unquestionably a compromise. "Do ut des" (I "give" you money, firearms and a car "so that you give" me the opportunity to get away from you with a whole skin).
It would, however, be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be "inadmissible on principle," or who would call the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits might use the car and the firearms for further robberies). Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was just that kind of compromise.
But when, in 1914-18 and then in 1918-20, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, the Scheidemannites (and to a large extent the Kautskyites) in Germany, Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler (to say nothing of the Renners and Co.) in Austria, the Renaudels and Longuets and Co. in France, the Fabians, the Independents and the Labourites in Britain entered into compromises with the bandits of their own bourgeoisie, and sometimes of the "Allied" bourgeoisie, and against the revolutionary proletariat of their own countries, all these gentlemen were actually acting as accomplices in banditry.
Again, Lenin explains why those under attack might feel pressured to seek a deal:
Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for the resumption of work which are unfavorable to them and favorable to the capitalists do not betray socialism. The only people who betray socialism are those who secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for profit to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle...
He does not in the least betray socialism who, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to sign terms of peace which are unfavorable to the weak nation and favorable to the imperialists of one group, if at that moment there is no strength to continue the war.
That, however, is not what is happening around Geneva. Here supposed "friends" of the Syrian people are trying to drag supposed opponents of the regime to the table when the real revolutionaries have not yet declared the strike over (to use Lenin's trade union example) and are not yet ready to resume work under their exploiters.
What's more, the Bolsheviks used to the fullest the opportunity of talks to state their case and that of the global revolution to all listening around the world--something which we can be sure won't be the case with whatever craven "opposition" ends up at Geneva. Thus, Leon Trotsky, in a public declaration issued to the peoples of the whole world, declared:
We must open negotiations with those governments which at present exist. However, we are conducting these negotiations in a way affording the public the fullest possibility of controlling the crimes of their governments, and so as to accelerate the rising of the working masses against the imperialist cliques. We are ready to support this uprising with all the forces at our command.
In other words, as had Lenin, Trotsky was telling fellow revolutionaries elsewhere: "Don't worry about what we may have to do at the negotiating table. The best aid you can give us is to make your own revolution, to rise up against your own government."
That is certainly advice well-worth heeding in every country, including the U.S., which is suffering the same ravages of a capitalist system in decline and the resulting attempts by its masters to use whatever draconian measures are needed to pile the costs of that decline onto the backs of the world's workers. That, after all, was exactly why the Syrian people revolted in the first place, and why they are determined to see their revolution through to the end.
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Postscript: While looking for the above quotes, I came across the passage below, which sheds additional light on the debate within the ranks of those who support the Syrian Revolution about from whom and under what conditions it is acceptable to accept aid from imperialist bandits. In his biography of Lenin, Tony Cliff writes:
On February 22, Trotsky reported to the Central Committee an offer by France and Britain to give military aid to Russia in a war against Germany. The majority of the "Left Communists" were opposed in principle to accepting: aid from such imperialist quarters. Trotsky came out clearly in favor of accepting aid, from whatever source. "The 'Left Communists" arguments do not stand up to criticism. The state is forced to do what the party would not do. Of course the imperialists want to take advantage of us and if we are weak, they will do so; if we are strong, we will not allow it."
"As the party of the socialist proletariat which is in power and conducting a war against Germany, we mobilize every means to arm and supply our revolutionary army in the best way possible with all necessary resources and, for that purpose, we obtain them where we can, including therefore from capitalist governments. In doing this, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party retains full independence in its external policy, gives no political undertakings to capitalist governments and examines their proposals in each separate case according to what is expedient."
Lenin, who had not been present at the meeting of the Central Committee, added the following statement to the minutes of the session: "Please add my vote in favor of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers."
To explain his readiness to use the conflict between the imperialist powers in the interests of the proletariat in power, Lenin wrote, on 22 February, an article entitled "The Itch":
"Let us suppose Kaliaev, in order to kill a tyrant and monster, acquires a revolver from an absolute villain, a scoundrel and robber, by promising him bread, money and vodka for the service rendered.
"Can one condemn Kaliaev for 'dealing with a robber' for the sake of obtaining a deadly weapon? Every sensible person will answer 'no'. If there is nowhere else for Kaliaev to get a revolver, and if his intention is really an honorable one (the killing of a tyrant, not killing for plunder), then he should not be reproached but commended for acquiring a revolver in this way. But if a robber, in order to commit murder for the sake of plunder, acquires a revolver from another robber in return for money, vodka or bread, can one compare (not to speak of identifying) such a 'deal with a robber' with the deal made by Kaliaev?"
In a postscript to the article, Lenin added:
"The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the 18th century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were 'Left Bolsheviks' to be found who contemplated writing a 'learned work' on the 'dirty deal' of these Americans.'
"In the end, however, nothing came of the offer of aid from Britain and France."
Re: Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Syrian Rebel Groups?
by Seymour M. Hersh
(No verified email address)
14 Apr 2014
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
Re: Did Ankara Work with the CIA and MI6 to Smuggle Gaddafi's Guns to Syrian Rebel Groups?
by David Stockman
(No verified email address)
14 Apr 2014
Modified: 04:21:01 PM
Read Seymour Hersh’s devastating account of Obama’s Red Lines and Rat Lines and weep for the Republic. It is no more.
For the first time in a half-century American voters actually elected the “peace candidate” in 2008 and sent Obama to the White House to end the interventionist foreign policy that had lead to disaster in Iraq, and, implicitly, to wind down the vast war machine that had been left over from the Cold War. The latter had been converted by the Bush’s and Clintons into an armada of invasion and occupation that had rained death and destruction from Bosnia to Baghdad to Kandahar for no reasonable or justifiable purpose of national security. These aggressions were simply what a war machine does, making up rationalizations as it goes along.
But the Warfare State was not about to let peace happen. Soon Obama learned the Washington pivot, rehired the core of Bush’s War Cabinet and became enmeshed in the “national security” plots and schemes which were in the pipeline when he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvanian Avenue— much like JFK inherited the disastrous Bay Of Pigs invasion. Like the despicable Alan Dulles, he inherited ambitious scoundrels like so-called General David Petraeus, who soon had him convinced that the non-sensical and bloody “surge” in Anbar Province had been a roaring success, and that it should be exported to the quagmire in Afghanistan.
Indeed, after the Afghan surge was launched in 2009 there was no turning back. The peace candidate had already become co-opted—emerging as a pliant tool of America’s rogue Warfare State that functions almost entirely outside of the Constitution and often beyond statutory law, as well. Ironically, the former editor of the Harvard Law Journal and self-proclaimed constitutional expert apparently had no qualms whatsoever about any of this. The spy agencies were nourished with massive new resources and widened mandates; Rumsfeld’s disgraceful and illegal detention operation at Guantanamo Bay was not closed as he had promised; Bush’s cowardly and counter-productive drone wars were drastically escalated; and the defense budget grew by more than $100 billion from the already bloated levels he had inherited from the “decider”.
And this gets us to Hersh’s expose. By 2011 Obama had donned the full regalia of the imperial presidency. With not so much as even a casual nod to the War Powers Act—-the first piece of legislation I worked on 43 years ago as a young aide on Capitol Hill outraged by Johnson’s and Nixon’s immoral, illegal and genocidal war on Vietnam—-the peace candidate conducted an air war and subversion campaign in Libya because he could.
Upon the bloody end of the Gadhafi regime, Obama than turned to making war on the Assad regime in Syria—without a sliver of logic as to why intervention in an age old sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Alawites would make the citizens of Nebraska one wit safer. This time he did it through the establishment of a CIA annex in Benghazi to gather and accumulate the former Libyans dictator’s lethal arsenals for transfer to the Syrian rebels—many of whom where jihadists and terrorists of the type we were allegedly trying to erase from the earth.
Moreover, as Seymour Hersh explains, the Benghazi weapons were then transited by means of an illegal CIA “rat line” through Turkey to the rebels. And the rat line was absolutely illegal because all CIA covert operations since the 1970s have been required as a matter of law to be disclosed to the Congressional leadership—-for whatever that has become worth in the post Frank Church era where shaking down the military-industrial complex for campaign money, rather than thwarting its propensity for rogue operations, has become a bipartisan pursuit of choice.
But our constitutional scholar-in-chief apparently had no problem splitting hairs. The “rat line” was deemed a “liaison” operation with England’s MI6 and thereby exempt from reporting requirements. So when the rat line operation blew up in Benghazi during the middle of the Presidential campaign in September 2012 in the incident that lead to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, the Obama White House just lied. No, the consulate where the deadly attack occurred was not a CIA annex and weapons depot; and, no, we never supplied any weapons to any rebels in Syria. All a pack of lies.
But when you are knee deep in intrigue and covert operations and enmeshed in plots to overthrow governments with thugs like Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, one calamity soon leads to another. As Hersh explains, Barrack Obama in his usual manner had authorized an outright aggression, but than wimped out after the Benghazi fiasco and abruptly shutdown the rat line.
Needless to say, this left Prime Minister Erdogan and his chief of clandestine operations high and dry. By the fall of 2012, the latter were deeply committed to the overthrow of Assad and the establishment of a client regime in Damascus. But the tide of war had already turned—the squabbling gangs of rebels were in retreat, notwithstanding the substantial aid and support they had received from Saudi Arabia, Qatar,Turkey and the West. And from there emerges the main theme of Hersh’s expose.
Obama had foolishly drawn a “red line” on Syrian use of chemical weapons in a civil war which was already engulfed in bloody savagery from both sides. So the Turks decided to call his bluff, and enable their main rebel ally, the jihadist al-Nusra Front, to stage a false flag attack with what was known to be the signature weapon in Assad’s Soviet supplied chemical weapons arsenal– the deadly sarin gas.
Seymour Hersh explains in chapter and verse, based on a DIA secret report among other high level sources, how this abomination unfolded, and became the horrific gas attack in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. But the gravamen of the piece is his description of how the Obama White House came within two days of launching a Bush style war on Syria after it had already been warned that the proof of Assad’s complicity was lacking; and that a weapons testing lab in England had already concluded that a sarin sample obtained on the scene was of a homemade variety and not of the military grade known to be in the Assad arsenal.
Despite all this, the White House apparatus pushed an increasingly resistant Joint Chiefs of Staff through more than 35 iterations of an attack plan that had nothing to do with spanking Assad for his alleged barbarity or surgically disabling his chemical weapons capacity. The attack was to involve an armada of British, French and American air strikes along with sea-based barrage of Tomahawk missiles to take out Assad’s entire military capacity.
In short, a power-drunk amateur in the White House came within two days of launching a massive military campaign to bring about regime change in Syria—-an action of stupendous folly which would have ignited a cauldron of fire throughout the Middle East like never before:
At the eleventh hour Obama backed down when General Dempsey said flat out no—and then lied that he had changed his mind after a walk around the White House with his clueless chief of staff. The foolish incumbent in the White House and his clownish Secretary of State, the man with the big head of hair and self-evidently not much underneath, then had to suffer the indignity of being rescued from their disastrous schemes and misadventures by Vladimir Putin.
Does that not explain their subsequent insensible campaign to destabilize the Ukraine and then to provoke the current insane showdown with Russia that has resulted from the putsch against a legitimately elected government in Kiev? Does not Obama’s incredible follies and abuses of power here described provide a palpable warning that it is time to dismantle the Warfare State? That is, before still another election turns out to be a mere ratification of an American Imperium being conducted by a permanent rogue regime buried deep within the Warfare State that our national security no longer requires?
As I said, read Seymour Hersh’s devastating expose and think about it.