UK “Evidence” Regarding the Skripal Case another example of why Western “Rule of Law” Claims are a Joke

How the UK and the US Governments are using the same evidence-free tactics used to accuse the Neocon/lib-villain-of-the-moment Iraq of being responsible for the Anthrax attacks in the US in 2001 (later determined by the FBI to be due to a rogue scientist working in US military labs) to accuse the Neo-con/lib-villain-now, Russia, as being responsible for an alleged nerve agent attack against two Russians in a UK town just miles away from a UK chemical agents research lab.

March 24, 2018


A visiting guest is found murdered in a home. The home’s owner accuses the guest’s family whom the owner hates and who lives far away of the guest’s murder because of alleged bad blood between the two giving no proof but instead demanding the accused family explain how they killed the guest. While the accused family proclaims their innocence and announces themselves ready to cooperate with any investigation, a judge related to the home owner pronounces the family guilty of not just the murder but refusing to answer the home owner and being too glib and sarcastic in their replies. The home owner’s other relations also call the accused guilty in “solidarity” with the Home owner even while the police are investigating the case.

A work like Kafka’s dystopian novel “The Trial”? A scene from “authoritarian” countries that the West politicians and pundits writes endless commentaries on, their holier-than-thou NGOs exhort against and Hollywood make movies about?

No, this is basically what’s being played out in Full public view on the International scene by the so-called “liberal” US/UK pronouncing Russia guilty and expelling Russian diplomats without presenting any evidence – let alone one that would be tamper free, and many of the US-dominated satrapies toeing the party line and expelling Russian diplomats as a show of “solidarity” for the UK . And this from those who claim they distinguish themselves from “lesser” countries by strict adherence to the “Rule of Law ” and “Civilized Conduct.”

The Skripal Evidence So Far

At this stage, all that is officially known and presented by the UK government beyond political rhetoric and theater is:

1. A Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal who was caught in Russia spying for the UK, convicted and imprisoned in 2004 (for 13 years – not life) but pardoned and freed in 2010 by Russia as a part of spy exchange – now a British resident and his daughter, Yulia, a Russian citizen and resident visiting from Moscow are in a coma in a British hospital.

2. British authorities have claimed to have determined that a “military grade nerve agent” was the causative factor.

3. This class of “military grade nerve agent” was described as being researched/developed by the USSR, by a Russian scientist involved in the research, now living in the United States and working for the US Government as belonging to what he referred to as “Novichok” (“New Guy” in Russian) class of drugs and published a book in the public domain detailing the chemical composition of said class of nerve agents.

4. Based on the above and previous similar unproved narratives about Russia, UK thus concludes that Russia

(a) has continued to develop “Novichok”

(b) hid this effort from the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) [which pronounced Russia clean of Chemical Weapons in 2017]

(c) tried to murder Skripal with this agent by some scheme yet to revealed that perhaps involved using his daughter as an unwitting carrier of this agent from a flight from Moscow the day before.

(d) has to either admit its direct guilt or that a rogue agent used this weapon from one of its undeclared labs.

Russia has pronounced its innocence, denied that the USSR actually weaponized the research described by the Soviet scientist who now works with the US Government, and that in any case Russia does not have these nerve agents now. Russia has also pointed out given the information on “Novichok” was made public by the scientist, many nations not least of all US/UK would have access to manufacturing such agents.

The UK has refused to accept this answer or work with Russia, has ignored various OPCW protocols specifically designed to investigate such accusations along with the accused, has denied Russian consular access to the Russian daughter as prescribed by Geneva treaties and accusing Russia of “highly likely” guilt – even as Scotland Yard and the OPCW investigate the substance that the British authorities gave them – expelled Russian diplomats.

The US/Canada/Australia and many of the European countries have taken – or been forced to take thanks to US/UK pressure – the above “evidence” at face value and to show “solidarity” to the UK expelled Russian diplomats in turn, pronouncing anything other than Russia admitting its “highly likely” guilt as inadmissible.

This is the state of play by these countries who claim to “uphold International Law” and “Civilized Behavior” who claim what distinguishes them from authoritarian / developing countries is a rich tradition and respect for the “Rule of Law.”

The Reality

The claim that the West is a place of the Rule of Law has always been specious, especially in International Affairs unless “Law” means “Force” or “the Jungle” as anyone even casually familiar with history would know. This case makes this clear to anyone with an ounce of logic.

Not only has no evidence been presented but the investigation is now inevitably compromised because those investigating it have been clearly signaled to find (or manufacture) evidence that confirms the guilt.

This is reminiscent of the show trials in the American South where once an African American was accused of a crime by a white – a “self-evidently superior race” after all – no matter how thin the evidence, or how likely it was made up/planted by accusers, their guilt was established with all white juries and judges with the entire spectacle being broadcast as evidence of how Rule of Law was still followed by the “superior white race” despite the “obvious” guilt of the “nigger”. Russia are the new “niggers” for the West – guilty by just being Russians.

Unasked Questions

An impartial observer would ask:

A) How the British determined what the nerve agent was. Apparently it was due to scientists at Porton Down, a UK facility just miles from where the incident took place. So this would mean at a minimum that the UK facility has knowledge of how to make this agent.

B) why a “military grade agent” – especially one that is allegedly one of the most potent ever developed – would not immediately kill the victims outright but put them in a coma.

C) how a “military grade agent” – even in binary form as “Novichok” was alleged to have been – was mixed and administered to the pair by Russian agents.

D) What benefit Russia would derive from this attack at this time given it was just before the Russian election (which Putin was expected to win handsomely as he did anyway) and before the World Cup Russia was hosting.

E) what safeguards the UK has to prevent rogue intelligent agents – let alone with full authorization from the PM – to use this agent on two Russian citizens (which technically may not constitute a crime even if declassified one day since they are British) as a False Flag attack.

In this regard, it is useful to recall the anthrax attacks in 2001 in the USA following 9/11 were initially blamed by the Bush administration on Al-Qaeda and even Iraq using eager outlets across the US/UK political spectrum to push their theories on the Western villains of the moment.

The FBI later concluded (years after the attacks) to be the work of a single rogue US scientist (tho even 16 years afterwards, the full story is still shrouded in controversy with various scientists and politicians unconvinced that the alleged perpetrator – who committed suicide – was acting alone).

The benefit now to the US/UK Governments which have been hysterical about Russian “aggression” using a series of similarly unfounded accusations to put more pressure and even build a case for more aggressive moves on Russia (including humiliating it before the World Cup), is obvious.

Meanwhile the UK is clearly violating International Law and norms by not going to Russia via the OPCW in the first place and denying Russia access to one of its own citizens. And of course the UK refuses to answer any questions from the Russians. Recall from the West’s own racial past, uppity “niggers” need to know their place.


The Skripal case this far seems like another classic US/British disinformation tactic – much like those that Cambridge Analytica’s CEO boasted in secret camera recordings carrying out using ex-MI5/MI6 agents well versed in such measures – in collusion with the US/EU intelligence agencies and anti-Russian politicians to make allegations based on incomplete data, half-truths and outright lies to claim Russia is guilty, thus driving another nail into the hollow US/EU claim that they represent “Rule of Law” and are “Guardians of Civilized Behavior”.

This again brings to mind what Mahatma Gandhi was apocryphally said to have answered when asked what he thought of Western civilization.

I think it would be a very good idea.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Is James Risen a CIA Mouthpiece? (or The Extraordinarily Bad Journalism of James Risen)

In a piece called “Is Donald Trump a Traitor” Risen reveals himself as incapable of following some basic journalistic practices leading to questions about what his actual agenda is.

February 16, 2018


It is considered bad journalism to pose a question as a headline that there is even a (humorous) law associated with it called Betteridge’s Law of Headlines which essentially posits that the answer is always usual “no” and

..the reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

Risen by asking this question does exactly that as the rest of this blog will show.

But first let’s start with my Headline.

Is James Risen a CIA Mouthpiece?

A fair view would be: what’s the evidence he is? But one can turn this around and ask Risen style: what’s the evidence he is not? Would anyone outside Risen and a few close individuals in the CIA really know? After all Risen has extensive ties with various folks in the CIA which have allowed him to report in various National Security matters. He co-authored a book called “The Main Enemy” which is an inside account of the CIA’s showdown with the “Enemy”, the KGB.

In other words his sympathies are already for the CIA – the good guys – and against the KGB – the bad guys. So is he a CIA agent simply posing as a journalist?

Keep in mind that it has been acknowledged though hardly talked about now, that the CIA ran an Operation Mockingbird which had the CIA plant journalists inside major media organizations. Carl Bernstein in a 25,000 word piece in the Rolling Stone in 1977, The CIA and the Media subtitled “How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up” wrote of various media executives including that of the New York Times who signed agreements with the CIA and allowed various agents and/or sympathizers to work under cover in their foreign bureaus and even plant stories, what’s today called Fake News. It is worth reading in full.

So it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Risen, who was a key journalist in the New York Times and accepted a buy out recently (or did he? [ed. Following Risen’s practice]), is a long time CIA plant.

But any good journalist would argue that one cannot base a headline on circumstantial evidence but actual positive proof. One cannot disprove a negative.

Yet this is how Risen, an alleged journalist (as opposed to a CIA agent), titles his entire piece which I’ll now dissect at a high level.

Risen on National Security

I don’t have a problem about Risen hating Trump. I agree with him that Trump a low-rent racist, a shameless misogynist, and an unbalanced narcissist. He is an unrelenting liar and a two-bit white identity demagogue.

Then Risen makes the following observation:

The fact that such an unstable egomaniac occupies the White House is the greatest threat to the national security of the United States in modern history.

How so? Putting aside Trump’s obnoxiousness, how have Trump’s actual policies differed from what Ted Cruz – who had a good shot as the GOP nominee if not for Trump – would have followed? Is the assertion that Cruz would not have proved as divisive policy wise (as opposed to rhetoric)? That he would not be pursuing almost exactly the same domestic policy that Trump is pushing albeit with more “Presidential” heft?

Bush the second illegally invaded Iraq, and destabilized a whole region – as clearly warned by not just the Arab League but by Saddam’s mortal enemy, the Iranians and in opposition with millions of Americans and Europeans – with reverberations to this day, and led to the deaths not just of 100,000s of Iraqis but even assuming you care two hoots about [insert your favorite derogatory word for Arabs], thousands of Americans were killed and injured resulting in trillions of dollars of current and future spend. American credibility went down the toilet not just in the Middle East, where it still has to recover, but even Europe where Germany and France (along with Russia) opposed the war. (Recall the relief when Obama won the Presidency that the Europeans awarded him a Nobel Peace prize before he did anything and before he actually started a few wars of his own.)

Domestically, Bush pursued various conservative policies that benefited his oil rich friends, with civil rights taking a beating, and oversaw the worst recession since the Great Depression whose effects are still being felt in middle America (and which were a large part of why a key demographic voted for insurgent/anti-establishment candidates whether it was Obama in 2008 or Trump in 2016).

So why was Bush not a National Security threat? What is National Security? Keeping the CIA happy? Playing business as usual with the DC establishment? Or ensuring Americans are safe financially with good health and personal security?

Risen of course never explains this. (Again if Risen is a CIA agent it explains his perspective.)

“Is Trump a Traitor?”

Risen goes on with:

Which brings me to the only question about Donald Trump that I find really interesting: Is he a traitor?

Did he gain the presidency through collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Actually the second question of whether Trump gained the Presidency because of collusion with Putin is simpler to answer than Risen posits.

And the answer is “No”. Amazingly Risen effectively answers it similarly further down in his article (see Risen Buries the Lede below).

This is because the real question Risen is asking is:

Is there any evidence that either:

(A) Voting machines were hacked to change the results?

(B) Americans who would have voted for Hillary Clinton either voted for Trump, a third party, or stayed home in significant numbers because of Russia’s alleged campaign thus throwing the election to Trump.

So even IF Russia is guilty of every sin it is accused of – leaking DNC / Podesta emails – and using vast armies of trolls to spread memes, and even if Trump was fully aware of this, the question of whether it changed the result is easier to answer.

And no one in the Obama administration or so far the Mueller investigation has made that assertion: that the election results were changed because of the alleged vast Russian interference.

Indeed various polls/Post mortems have shown that Clinton – whose approval levels were the second worst for a recent POTUS candidate behind Trump, the worst – was always in danger of losing in the swing states and if anything along with Clinton stupidly refusing to campaign in key states at the end – ignoring advice from even her husband – the furor regarding the last minute Comey announcement regarding Clinton’s emails being found on Weiner’s laptops, made a significant difference to the final electoral tally.

So by Risen’s logic, is Comey a Traitor? (Perhaps it’ll be Risen’s next piece).

The first and main question which is whether Trump purposefully colluded with the Russians is the complex one starting with the definition of what “collusion” is.

If “collusion” means: “Did Trump take advantage of news from various leaks now attributed by the IC to Russians to embarrass Clinton”? the answer is of course “yes”. Trump used every bit of information he could find on Clinton against her often twisting the truth (as Clinton also of course did).

Did Trump know who were the alleged hackers? Should he have cared? If (say) the Russians have released a compromising picture of Trump, would the Clinton campaign have refused to use it “because it came from the Russians”?

The answer of course is “No”. Neither candidate would have cared what the source or motives were. Did anyone question who leaked Trump’s tax return? Indeed the New York Times pompously (but correctly) tweeted: “Why the NYT…does not care who leaked us Trump’s tax return, or what the motivation was.”. All that matters is whether the allegations are true.

The Trump campaign met with Russians to see if they had any dirt on Clinton’s dealings with Russians (eg on Uranium One that the GOP seemed obsessed about) while the Clinton campaign hired a firm that hired an ex-UK intelligence agent to meet with Russians to get dirt on Trump’s dealings with Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign ran a close family run business versus the sprawling operation that was the Clinton campaign with various surrogates insulating Clinton from direct involvement does not mean both efforts were not in effect having the same goal: to show that the other candidate was subservient to Russian interests. Yet the Trump campaign meetings with the Russians is seen as nefarious whereas the Clinton campaigns’ is seen as “normal Opposition Research.”

Both of course are part of the dirty, muckraking politicking in the US that it proudly calls “an exercise in democracy”.

If by “collusion” Risen means that Trump carefully coordinated with Russians in some manner fully aware of their goals or that indeed he is a puppet of the Russians, as much evidence of this has come forward as showing that Obama was a secret Muslim bent on imposing Sharia Law on the US and thus a National Security threat.

Risen Goes Maximum Hysteria

Risen writes:

Americans must now live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the president has the best interests of the United States or those of the Russian Federation at heart.

Really? As a journalist, Risen’s job should be to look at the actual evidence of Trump’s policies which he does not, to begin to answer this claim. (If Risen is a CIA agent of course his job is to spread innuendo and propaganda.)

Keep in mind why Trump was first accused of being a Russian agent or soft on Russia. Because he refused to insult Putin.

Now insulting Putin is as acid a test of American Patriotism as Saluting the Flag in some circles. Risen himself is a Patriot because straight off the bat he calls Putin a dictator, though of course not only Putin elected by the Russian populace but every poll shows Putin genuinely has a large support from the Russian population not just compared to the alternatives (which critics say he has suppressed) but because they actively think he has led the country to better financial, social and security stability from the depths of the 90s. So Risen calling Putin a dictator is pure propaganda – more typical of a CIA agent than a journalist (but no doubt he thinks Merkel a shining example of a Democrat though she has used every trick in the book including ensuring no challengers come from within her own party while forming coalitions with other centrists – including those who allegedly disagree with her on social and economic policy – to hold on to power since 2005, that even the establishment outlet Der Spiegel wrote “Surveying the Ruins of Merkelism“).

So by asserting Putin is a dictator, Risen is not acting as a journalist. (But perfectly of course as a CIA agent.)

The simple reason why Trump for all his obnoxiousness did not insult Putin is that he doesn’t start insulting someone unless there is a reason to. He had praised Hillary once only turning on the viciousness once he had to win; he praised Bannon when the latter left office only viciously turning against him when Trump felt Bannon had betrayed him.

Part of Trunp’s “dealmaking” is to not to box himself into a corner with making enemies when he doesn’t need to but then when he feels they have wronged him, he comes out with all guns blazing. With Trump everything is personal.

If one looks at what the Trump administration has actually done – a majority of his actions are either continuation or worsening of Obama policies towards Russia.

In the UN, there is a rabid anti-Russia hawk who makes John Bolton, let alone Samantha Power, look like a milquetoast diplomat. In Ukraine, a hardline hawkish McCain-ite, Kurt Volker, has been appointed US envoy. Discussions of arming the Ukrainians are underway. NATO expansion and increased war games are on-going much to the protests and consternation of the Russians. In Syria, while there has been coordination at the Pentagon level, the US has taken a hardline, essentially occupying and beginning to consolidate a good chunk of Syria including various oil resources and demanding that until Assad steps down, the US will not only hold on that chunk but also try to block reconstruction funds. The Russians are livid but can’t do much. Trump has also expanded the defense budget, signed off in an aggressive Nuclear Posture Review which identifies Russia as a threat, alarming even the Russia-hating Democrats as being too much. Trump also seized Russia’s diplomatic facilities (in response to the Russians reacting belatedly to Obama’s crude expulsion with two days notice of Russian diplomats and their families on the eve of most important celebration for Russians, the New Year) an escalation from Obama who simply had them vacated.

Also as a Washington Post piece noted, Trump has not blocked an Obama initiative to plant cyberimplants in Russian networks to inflict “pain and discomfort” remotely as needed.

In short, he has – with the exception of insulting Putin – behaved exactly like a GOP President towards Russia and worse overall for Russia than how Obama behaved.

Risen seems blind to all this. Indeed the rhetoric among some is why Trunp is not being even MORE belligerent towards the Russians. (At the same time many Dems who are saying this are also warning against Trump’s belligerent rhetoric towards North Korea. Apparently it is dangerous to threaten a minor nuclear power like North Korea but too soft not to poke the world’s largest nuclear power more instead of seeking common ground. The New York Times managed to both decry Trump’s aggressive rhetoric towards North Korea and fault him for not enough versus Russia on the same day.)

So Risen in amping the hysteria does not act like a journalist. (However a good CIA agent would do just that.)

Risen Doubles Down

Risen acknowledges hacking is a common practiced on all sides. Indeed the question is not whether Russia has been hacking entities in the US – it would be astonishing if it was not as the US has been shown to do on a much more extensive scale world wide – or trying to influence opinion (as the US does via its various lobbying groups aka – “Think-Tanks”- or via mass media outlets like CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post) but how organized and extensive they were.

What Risen conflates again is any evidence of Russian interference in the election with affecting the final result. Mentioning the recent Mueller indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for various technicalities relating to their alleged meddling in the US election, Risen writes:

Given all this, it seems increasingly likely that the Russians have pulled off the most consequential covert action operation since Germany put Lenin on a train back to Petrograd in 1917.

He doesn’t mention that in a Q&A announcing the indictment DAG Rosenstein said there was no accusation or evidence in the indictment that the final result was effected as a result and that there is no evidence in the indictment of collusion of any Americans let alone Trump.

What Risen Leaves out of His Narrative Framing

Risen claims that there are 4 important tracks to the Trump-Russia story.

1. Whether there is credible evidence Russia intervened in the US election to help Trump win.

2. Second, we must figure out whether Trump or people around him worked with the Russians to try to win the election.

The next 2 have to deal with Obstruction of Justice charges against Trump/GOP of trying to derail the Russian investigation.

What Risen as a journalist leaves out is an important 5th, 6th tracks

5. Is there any evidence that the Clinton campaign (which thanks to the leaks was shown to be actively sabotaging the apparent democratic primaries within the DNC as well as getting debate questions in the finals) and later the Democratic establishment decided to activate the Trump-Russia collusion story to advance their own voting chances in 2018 and 2020 and to rehabilitate their image.

6. Were FISA standards followed in seeking surveillance of Trump campaign associates? This should be key to anyone concerned with National Security since the Trump (or Pence) admin can in 2020 seize on some dossier that Biden is a Chinese agent to surveil his campaign.

Risen is not only not bothered to be curious about the answers to these questions but indeed refuses to even put them in his framework.

Indeed by his very headline and narrative framing, Risen has already started to drum up a particular, familiar narrative. It’s clear what his agenda is. Not journalism for sure. (Then again one would not expect a CIA agent to be concerned with journalism).

What Risen Considers a Disgrace is Journalism

Risen, an alleged journalist, considers it a disgrace that

To their disgrace, editors and reporters at American news organizations greatly enhanced the Russian echo chamber, eagerly writing stories about Clinton and the Democratic Party based on the emails, while showing almost no interest during the presidential campaign in exactly how those emails came to be disclosed and distributed.

Really? The emails showing various Clinton shenanigans were not relevant? Why not? Shouldn’t it be relevant that the establishment of one party tried to shut down a insurgent candidacy and stacking the game against it? Why is this not a threat to American Democracy?

(The DNC response by the way has been that it doesn’t have to play fair since it an make up whatever rules it wants which is legally accurate but certainly not what most would call fair. Risen who no doubt can expound on how rigged the system in Russia is for the establishment candidate, Putin, probably does not think this avenue of questioning relevant. )

Risen goes on to insinuate that the very real news taken from emails is reminiscent of “KGB propaganda”. How is an organization reading Clinton emails first hand and sharing them, propaganda? Why is sharing Trump’s tax returns or the “pussy tape” not propaganda then? Is it propaganda when actual news doesn’t favor your candidate?

Risen goes on a long tangent to show off his knowledge about the KGB and its propaganda, completely of course omitting that the CIA engaged in a far greater global propaganda effort given its global reach and resources. (Can you think of any global Russian media organizations during the Cold War? A couple? The CIA had dozens. )

He then talks of Putin’s

personal humiliation…felt watching the Soviet empire collapse help[ing] explain his drive to return Russia to great power status.

Putin has spoken many times including to US journalists like Mike Wallace (an interview worth reading in full) that what he bristled about was not the collapse of the Soviet Empire per se but that 25 millions Russians outside Russia suddenly had uncertain status. What he resolved was not necessarily to recreate the Soviet Empire – which he has criticized on other occasions for being anti-democratic (witness how Kruschev simply gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 with a strike of a Pen with Crimeans’ opinions not considered) and trying to push ideologies abroad (as the West does) – but ensure that Russian citizens are never treated as outcasts (which is of course why a huge effort is being made by various arms of the US establishment to do just that.)

Risen then goes on to defend the decision of CrowdStrike to deny the FBI access to its computer systems by saying it’s because CrowdStrike’s lead investigator was an FSB expert. Really? And the fact that CrowdStrike is led by an Atlantic Council (think civilian arm of NATO) “Senior Fellow” (think paid propagandist) is not relevant? Since when has a private company told the FBI to fuck off from a federal investigation and the FBI meekly acquiesced?

Risen Buries the Lede

Risen then says

The scope of the impact of Russian hacking and subsequent disclosures of Democratic Party emails and data on the outcome of the 2016 election remains unclear.

If even Risen admits the impact on the outcome of the election remain “unclear” why claim that the “Russian effort succeeded” earlier? That Trump was in the White House because of Putin?

The rest of Risen’s piece about evidence that Russia was trying to hack various pieces of US infrastructure is as surprising as saying Russia constantly tries to figure out the weakness in US missile or Air Defenses or transmissions: obviously the US does it too and more likely on a much larger and effective scale. (Recall the Washington Post story earlier about how the US is putting cyber-implants inside Russia’s infrastructure to activate as needed. And of course the stories of NSA hacking and spying of pretty much the entire globe’s infrastructure and devices speak for themselves. But when Russia does it, it’s because they’re just bad guys still lusting after the Soviet Empire.


Whatever else it was, this piece by James Risen was not journalism as the numerous examples above show, but more a propaganda effort to paint Russia as a unique villain and cast any attacks on the US establishment as nefarious Kremlin plots.

What’s more interesting is that this all appeared in the Intercept an outlet hitherto more critical of the machinations of the US Government worldwide which has caused disquiet in US Establishment circles that the Intercept is acting like a Kremlin agent.

Indeed there are some in the dissident left who have long held that given that the Intercept is owned by Pierre Omidyar, someone who is very much part of the Globalist establishment who see any insurgency from the Left or the Right, as well as Russia as threats, that it is a front to lull dissidents into thinking it’s safe for them to approach it about US Government shenanigans.

This was a view that has been promulgated over the past few months by among others MintPress News. Whatever the truth, this latest by Risen cannot help but fuel the rumors that the Intercept is turning into yet another Establishment shill.

Post Script

To be clear I don’t believe Risen is a CIA agent. I do believe that he’s so wrapped in a particular echo chamber sympathetic to the CIA and a hatred for Trump and the Russian establishment that while he has published many critical pieces on US politics, when push comes to shove his patriotic and political loyalties trump journalistic sense.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Mainstream Journalism is Failing in the Age of Trump

February 11, 2017


US President Trump is a man, or rather a man-child, who lies not like an adult – with clever obfuscation and care – but like a petulant narcissistic teenager, transparently and without regard to his own ridiculousness. The mainstream US media who used to cover Presidents with some (undeserved) deference, were initially stumped as how to cover him. Can we call the President a liar? Is that even permissible? At some point – well before the first day when Trump tweeted out some nonsense about crowds at his inauguration – the damn broke. The press Corp who hated Trump for attacking them throughout the campaign started to go into full attack mode.

By doing that they

(A) improved their own ratings with much of the economically profitable urban public who hated Trump as an obnoxious blowhard who beat the candidate they favored, Hillary Clinton and wanted less restraint on reporting on Trump;

(B) gave into the illusion that calling out Trump’s transparent lies were somehow brave journalism for which they were getting economically rewarded, with a lot of backslapping and self-congratulating about how great they all were. (So the New York Times subscribers have gone up something they attribute to “independent” reporting and not catering to the sheer partisanship of those fiercely opposed to Trump. After all Fox News topped CNN and MSNBC combined during the Obama years but no one would mistake that for Fair & Balanced coverage).

But the granddaddy of all the ways of attacking Trump has been to conflate and connect him to another established villain in the US mainstream, the Russians. It’s the new Godwin’s Law with Putin replacing Hitler.

The Russian Narrative

The Russian narrative or at least a set of narratives complete with a backstory has like a Hollywood franchise – think Star Wars – is wildly popular because it’s now enthusiastically supported by both wings of the 2-party establishment in the United States and is therefore “true”.

This follows from an important point about mainstream opinion in the US: whenever the two ends of the mainstream spectrum in the US agree on something – Dems and GOP or MSNBC and FOX – that something is seen to be clearly true because it has a “non-partisan” approach. So if both Dems and GOP agree that country X is bad then the only debate is how bad: only horrible or just pure evil. This conformity is an important criteria of “truth” for journalists, not any underlying principles evenly applied to every country in the world.

Ironically the GOP and the Foreign Policy establishment was a prime generator of the Narrative with the Dems more skeptical, but after the 2016 election they quickly jumped on the bandwagon and have been enthusiastically promoting the Narrative to the point they are accusing the GOP of being Russian dupes something that was the reverse just a couple of years ago.

Here’s how the Narrative goes:


N1: Since Vladimir Putin was a member of the KGB, an evil organization (see prequels), he is inherently Evil and Devious. (Think Emperor Palpatine – since Darth Vader was at least a good guy at some point).

N2: Smarting from the loss of the Evil Empire aka the Soviet Union vanquished by the Freedom Loving United States (Think the Rebel Alliance blowing up the Death Star), Putin plotted a rise up the ranks to take over Russia and restore it to its former Glory and Power (Think the Empire Strikes Back).

N3: A hater of Democracy – that is allowing people to freely vote for who and what they believe in – Putin killed, jailed or silenced his opponents and journalists spreading fear through the land consolidating his own power and brainwashing the Russian public so that no Russian who supports Putin does it out of free will but stupidity or fear.

N4: Holding the West and the Leader of The Free World, the US, responsible for the death of his beloved Soviet Union, Putin developed a strategy to reconstitute the Soviet Union while both threatening to invade the West from without and strategizing to destroy the West from within using the Openess and Freedom of the West by supporting internal parties that want to weaken the West.

The 2016 Election

N5: Having infiltrated US social media with vast numbers of trolls (paid Russian agents) and Bots (automated accounts), and brainwashed the public with propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik, and using Wikileaks, Putin started to directly meddle in US politics.

N6: (Ed: this is where there is a difference in US narrative)

DEMS: Putin acquired incriminating information on Trump which he used as kompromat (Ed: which is compromising or blackmail material but sounds scarier if you say it in a guttural tone in Russian with the bonus that you’re now considered a Russian expert) to influence his rise to the Presidency to destroy the US from within; he also hacked and released embarrassing emails from within the DNC and the Clinton campaign that showed how Clinton was manipulating the DNC to her benefit vs her insurgent rival (Ed: How dare Putin meddle in US democracy by showing internal meddling in US democracy?!) ;

GOP: Putin bribed Hillary Clinton to secure uranium deals that threaten US National Security. Indeed he may have even planted the material in the Steele Dossier to embarrass Trump for Clinton’s benefit.

CIA: All of the above. Putin just likes chaos.

N7: Either way the US is under attack from Russia and

A) vast sums of money must be spent on Defense (US military, NATO), Intelligence agencies and counter-Propaganda outlets to counter Russia from invading from without and demolishing the West from within

B) Anyone pointing out how exaggerated this entire house of cards narrative about Putin and Russia is, and providing historical facts and context (including US news reports from prior eras) in place of out-of-context half-truths and self-serving puffery that underlies much of the Narrative, must be ridiculed, silenced, surveilled or perhaps even jailed or worse as a Russian agent, troll or dupe seeking to destroy the US from within.

N8: In the service of counter-propaganda vast money will be spent promoting various “Russia experts” (eg Molly McKew), Congressional hearings, and various unaccountable “non-partisan” (see meaning above) outlets (like Hamilton 68), anonymous outlets (PropOrNot) and other organizations (Committee to Investigate Russia).

What Real Journalism Requires

Real Journalism requires expertise and effort and a core set of principles. It requires studying and questioning the various connections, motives behind those pushing narratives. It requires operating from a set of principles that doesn’t mean trusting either the US or Russian Government or their various proxies but requiring the basic, transparent evidence to be laid out and truly independent experts to analyze and present reasoned arguments.

Unfortunately in the US, the partisan atmosphere which got worse during the Obama administration as Obama himself admitted, has gotten so out of control there are two irreconcilable sides:


A) you think Trump will Make America Great Again and that the Mueller investigation is a total witch-hunt to get Trump and to cover up the Dems own dastardly dealings with the Evil Russians;


B) You think that Trump is a disgusting creature who was only elected thanks to collusion with and with the support of the Evil Russian trolls, bots and propaganda channels that the Mueller investigation will prove;

This is it. These are the two sides. Either you pick A or B.

Meanwhile this view is not popular:

C) Trump is a pure product of the bankruptcy of ideas of the mainstream US political classes (with the establishment Dems – thanks to Clinton – shutting down their own insurgent candidate who would most likely have won, and the establishment GOP having no organized way of shutting down their own insurgent candidate who ended up winning thanks to the Dem candidate’s shambolic campaign strategy) who ignored the economic downturn and frustrations in the core of the country. The Congressional Russian investigations are being driven both by neocons of both parties and by partisan needs to one up the other and win the next election with the Dems trying to now accuse the entire GOP of doing “Putin’s bidding”, a turnabout that’s fair play since that’s usually the GOP tactic. Meanwhile Mueller has an axe to grind – no one attacks the FBI and gets away scott-free – he will find something, a point gleefully made by columnist Eugene Robinson, a “liberal” (which would be ironic but this is a time when “liberals” are aping the GOP in celebrating the power of the FBI to rake who they dislike over the coals. My guess has always been financial dealings unconnected with Russia. Or Trump is so stupid it could be some perjury like Flynn whose lied about something not at all illegal but if anything covered up what the Trump admin was doing on the behalf of Israel, not Russia). The deep partisanship in the country is being used by various bureaucratic institutions to advance their own interests – financial, need for more secrecy, surveillance of enemies and shutting down dissent. Media on both sides is fueling the outrage since outrage is good business.

Where Journalism Has Failed

Calling out Trump’s lies doesn’t require brave journalism. Or indeed any journalism at all. A blogger – nay a tweeter – can put two of Trump’s tweets or his statements from now and an hour ago together to show the lie or hypocrisy or sheer incoherence. He is such an inept and bad liar – though to quote George Costanza in Seinfeld “Remember it’s not a lie if you believe it” perhaps Trump convinces himself in the moment he is being truthful – that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

In addition there are multiple people who are appalled at Trump within various bureaucratic organizations who are willing to talk anonymously to journalists. Thus the whole bureaucratic state is leaking like a sieve and it’s just having the resources to collect all these information.

But doing this masks the real value of good journalism: and this is calling out those who lie in an adult manner, those who cover their tracks carefully and obfuscate the truth behind various layers. The Weinstein case is a good example of such digging around.

And this is where mainstream journalism has failed: to uncover the false or at the least exaggerated narratives for example about Russia being pushed on the US public for the gain of certain people or organizations simply because these narratives either help undermine a man who’s mentally, emotionally and by even the low standards a politician, ethically unsuitable for public office; or a party; or advance the cause of militaries and intelligence agencies to increase their already vast budgets.

Think of what the Russian narrative has helped do:

– Shut down or cast especially progressive journalism and establishment dissent as a Russian plot and hence suspicious;

– smear dissenting voices who point out how exaggerated and false various mainstream narratives – including much of the Russian Narrative above – even when they offer facts and evidence, as Fake News or Propaganda (while even when caught peddling untruths or exaggerations in mainstream news can at best shrug it off as a one-off “mistake” and not a systemic error)

– create hysteria from the establishment left that Russians are everywhere (and apparently now using the GOP(!)) similar to how the GOP helped the hysteria about Muslims taking over the US, and use this Russian hysteria for Election politics eg accusing a congressman of being on the Putin payroll. (Recall hysteria that Obama’s outreach to Iran and Cuba meant he may be a secret Muslim or Commie; and insinuations that Huma Abedin was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and infiltrating Clinton’s inner circle?)

– unquestioning acceptance of whatever is said by the CIA (which not only lied about torture but spied on the Congressional panel investigating it for torture and then ‘mistakenly’ destroyed its torture report ); the NSA (which of course was revealed to be conducting vast global level spying including on US allies and citizens and partnering with the UK GCHQ to spread disinformation); the FBI (which has been criticized for civil rights violations and which ironically was being attacked by the same outlets now ridiculing the GOP for alleging FBI bias against Trump, for bias against Clinton); military organizations like NATO and their civilian partners Atlantic Council with their many overt and covert lobbyists (just don’t call them trolls – that’s only for Russians apparently)

– Have ex-CIA (and even the current CIA head) and other intelligence agents who used to work behind the scenes to influence their favorite journalists and outlets to push disinformation about Russia and other target nations (eg see Carl Bernstein’s 1977 CIA and the Media) appear directly on TV – and even get hired by allegedly “liberal” outlets – and op-eds to push their agenda not only without any pushback but deference and awe.

– Bring conflict with Russia nearer. It’s ironic that many “liberal” media who (rightly) criticize Trump’s dangerous rhetoric against North Korea (a minor nuclear power) also criticize Trump for not enough rhetoric against Russia (the world’s largest nuclear power) – the New York Times managed to do both on the same day;

-Allow politicians like Maxine Waters previously known for their deep corruption to recast themselves as Resistance fighters and escape scrutiny or allege any attacks on them are by the Russians;

– Dumbed down mainstream journalism to accept propaganda of long time anti-Russian lobbyists like Molly McKew (who pushed many ridiculous stories including one of the non-existent Gerasimov Doctrine – see McKew’s “The Gerasimov Doctrine” and a rebuttal by Bryan McDonald “The problem with the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ is that it doesn’t exist” including a quote from an long time anti-Putin observer also calling McKew out) and a ludicrously opaque dashboard called Hamilton 68 that purports to track Russian bots by a neocon funded German Marshall Fund .

(It’s not clear what “Russian bots” are: if Twitter took down Russian Bots – what does Hamilton 68 track? They won’t say apparently not to scare off these “bots”. So the media is just to trust Hamilton 68 – because they are “non-partisan” (see meaning above) something Glenn Greenwald has called out also as ridiculous. It also doesn’t track the relative influence of these “bots” vs normal discourse. For example say #ReleaseTheMemo was apparently shared 3,000 times at a point in time by these “Russian bots”. This seems minuscule to how many times a single tweet with that hashtag was retweeted on the same day Jan 19th by various named pro-Trump individuals. Eg Trump Jr who was constantly tweeting the hashtag got 27K retweets eventually on just one of those tweets. So even assuming Hamilton 68 to be true, some pro-Trump Russians enthusiastically retweeting this doesn’t mean that there’s some Kremlin plot to fuel outrage. How many US journos and followers tweet mocking memes of Putin? Are all of them US Government trolls?

Indeed as per an anonymous Twitter source to the Daily Beast – which no one would accuse of being pro-Putin – the #ReleaseTheMemo was mostly internal to the US.

And the #ReleaseTheMemo hysteria is a great example of what’s wrong with mainstream journalism. Why should JOURNALISTS be against it? When was the last time journalists said “We don’t want any information released”? Obviously the memo was partisan and biased but the normal response should be “Yeah let’s see it and all the evidence behind it because it makes some serious allegations (improper FISA use). And sure let’s see the Democratic response as well. Let’s see everything and not use National Security as a blanket.” (This is what I myself tweeted even after the GOP memo was released echoing Glenn Greenwald). And indeed after the Memo was released, those like Maddow mocked it as a “Nothingburger”. Ok if so, why was there so much hysteria about not releasing it? Let it be released and attacked as it was. So why were journalists supporting the Democratic line? Indeed why were the Dems so paranoid about not having it released? The memo itself did not invalidate the Mueller investigation (despite Trump declaring it did). Instead it brought a spotlight on possible misuse of FISA which should be of deep concern to journalists especially given Trump – or Pence – can use it in 2020. (Ironically a less hyped Grassley letter is apparently making the same point as the Nunes memo about possible FISA abuse except without the hype and careful omissions).

But somehow #ReleaseTheMemo became a partisan affair. If you were A above (pro-Trump), you were FOR the Release in the hope it would vindicate Trump. If you were B (anti-Trump), you were against it because it would apparently cause the Republic to crumble (which is of course what the Russians wanted and thus it may mean that Nunes himself may be a Russian agent (MSNBC) instead of just a partisan hack (like Schiff who ironically appeared on RT to talk about FISA abuse in 2013 but will now no doubt refuse to appear on it let alone discuss FISA abuse.)

This is the state of mainstream journalism today.


As the late journalist Robert Parry wrote in his must-read eloquent final piece before he died a few weeks after,

The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump “Resistance.” The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.

Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump “progressives” were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers – or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the “facts” to “get” some “bad” political leader or “guide” the public in some desired direction.

I actually believed that the point of journalism in a democracy was to give the voters unbiased information and the necessary context so the voters could make up their own minds and use their ballot – as imperfect as that is – to direct the politicians to take actions on behalf of the nation. The unpleasant reality that the past year has brought home to me is that a shockingly small number of people in Official Washington and the mainstream news media actually believe in real democracy or the goal of an informed electorate.

Whether they would admit it or not, they believe in a “guided democracy” in which “approved” opinions are elevated – regardless of their absence of factual basis – and “unapproved” evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality. Everything becomes “information warfare” – whether on Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead of information provided evenhandedly to the public, it is rationed out in morsels designed to elicit the desired emotional reactions and achieve a political outcome.

A more pithy statement Parry made in 2007 was

I have come to view the core problem as the use of mass media to inject Americans with a synthetic reality that misrepresents recent history, exaggerates external dangers and ridicules the few citizens who object.

Ironically after he died, while there was a respectful obituary in the New York Timesand the Washington Post, there was telling silence from those who loudly talk about journalistic integrity even after his memory was attacked by an anonymous epithet filled anti-Russian propaganda outlet which was cited in a much criticized piece by the Washington Post to advance part of the Russian Narrative.

Meanwhile those like Molly McKew are now part of the mainstream or as a doyen of journalism, Margaret Sullivan calls it “Reality Based Press.”

And so it goes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dossier Buzzfeed Released Doesn’t Even Pass a Basic Smell Test

How the basic premise of the anti-Trump dossier kicking around D.C. since October 2016 – finally released by Buzzfeed on January 10th 2017 with major caveats that sources were unverified and there were clear errors in the report – does not even pass the smell test.

January 11, 2016

Buzzfeed released a dossier of 17 dated documents ranging from 20 June to 13 December 2016 – apparently summaries from a hired private British intelligence service – that essentially claim that Trump is under the thumb of Putin because of compromising material of a sexual nature the latter has of him.

The 20 June 2016 Doc

The very first document dated 20 June 2016 sets the tone and is the focus of this blog as it sets the basic premise behind the rest.

It claims that

P1. Russia has been cultivating Trump for over 5 years to split the Western alliance. 

P2. Russia has been giving Trump valuable intelligence on his opponents including Clinton for “several years.”

P3. Russia has NOT given Trump “compromising material” on Clinton (ed: thus contradicting 2)


The implication of P1 and P2 are that Trump was identified as a mark as early as 2011 to run successfully for POTUS and be amenable to Russian diktats to disrupt the US and the West (to benefit Russia).

This means that the Kremlin had a better idea of the American political landscape of the future that would allow Trump, improbably and astonishingly defeat 17 GOP candidates – ranging from moderates GOP like Jeb Bush,  Chris Christie and John Kasich thru the Marco Rubios to hard right like Ted Cruz and then go on defeat Hillary Clinton –  than every American pundit and pollsters ever.  

One is to believe then that this Manchurian candidate was groomed despite the odds and then told to execute the horrible strategy of insulting every GOP icon, from John McCain’s POW status to Gold Star families, unnecessarily denigrating immigrants, women and pretty much anyone who dared question him in order to win.

And instead of following the politically expedient approach of distancing himself from Russia, as any careful planner would advise, Trump apparently went out of his way and courted controversy and invited suspicion by his stance on Russia and Putin, alienating much of the GOP establishment let alone providing the Dems with a ready attack line of Trump being a Russian puppet (thus diluting Clinton’s own political issues.)

This then was apparently the highly improbable Kremlin “winning” strategy cultivated from 2011.

As per P2, he was thus fed opposition research on opponents and Clinton “for years”.  Can anyone point out any hidden bombshells Trump threw at his opponents once he got into the race in June 2015, whether in the primaries or in the general election based on “opposition research” that his handlers apparently had collated over years?   Where was this vaunted Kremlin supplied opposition research?

Trump won the primaries in spite of, or perhaps because of, insulting his opponents and bringing down the standards to where he could avoid talking about specific policy or much of anything but broad sweeping assurances devoid of any supporting facts.  No one predicted this strategy would work – except apparently his Russian handlers who were more attune to the vagaries of the Electoral College and the sentiments in middle America than the entire DNC/GOP political establishment, pundits and media.

Russia in short is being accused of understanding the American political system and zeitgeist better than any American politican/pundit/campaign strategist/pollster in choosing their assault of the US with the most unlikely figurehead ever from as far back as 2011.

And P3 states that inexplicably the Kremlin at the last stages of an improbable run declined to provide him with key oppo research on Clinton (contradicting P2 which said he had got some).


This document was prepared starting apparently in June 2016 once the GOP and Dem presumptive nominees were known.  It resembles a smear document that is circulated to journalists to poison the well.

It is notable that even in such a highly politicized atmosphere with most major media outlets loathing Trump, this document was not released – no doubt because no one expected it would be needed for Clinton to win.

Now with Dem efforts failing in the post-election swing state recounts, and to prevent both the EC voters from voting for Trump on December 19th and the Senate from ratifying the votes on January 6th, it appears that one last attempt to smear Trump is being executed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A look at Proposals and Options for the USG and Russia, as the Battle for East Aleppo Intensifies

A review of the two opposing UN Security Council Draft Resolutions on Syria debated on October 8, 2016 to show how far apart the USG and Russia are in terms of Stated proposals to end the bloodshed in rebel held East and (to a lesser degree) in Government held West Aleppo; what the key sticking points are; Actual intent of both parties; and what happens next.

October 12, 2016


As the Syrian Government aims to recapture East Aleppo from Al-Nusra and allied rebel forces with ground troops backed by air bombardment by both its air forces and the Russians, the growing  civilian death toll caused primarily by the air campaign on a dense urban E Aleppo, and secondarily by rebel mortars attacks on Government held West Aleppo, with increasing rhetoric about the US Government need to intervene in some military way and/or punish Russia, it is useful to look at the current stated proposals to end the violence by the Russians, the USG and the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Stefan De Mistura before considering actual intent and motives and what happens next.

A few caveats:

1. Stated proposals does not mean actual intent.  One can make informed speculation about actual intent later.

2. The Current Stated proposal may differ from that of just a few weeks ago.  These will be pointed out where applicable.

3. Proposals another side might find agreeable may be stated within documents that has other non-starter proposals, simply for negotiating or PR purposes knowing that the chances of the overall document being agreed to are nil.

Sources for Stated Proposals

Just over the past two weeks, there have been a multitude of interviews, press conferences given by various Leaders, their Foreign Ministers, their representatives in daily/weekly briefings, as well as representatives of rebel forces in Western, Russian, Arab news outlets.

However the clearest proposals for ending the violence in E Aleppo, not for rhetorics alone but having a written document or clear statement one can critique are:

1. The French-Spanish Western (in reality USG) led proposal UNSC Draft Resolution S/2016/846 vetoed by the Russians (with China abstaining) on October 8, 2016.

2. The Russian led  UNSC Draft Resolution S/2016/847 and vetoed by a USG led bloc (but supported by China) on October 8, 2016.

3. The UN Special Envoy’s De-escalation offer made in a press statement on October 6, 2016 in Geneva.

The term USG Draft Resolution will be used to refer to the S/2016/846.

Where the USG and Russian Stated Positions Agree

There is much verbiage on agreement of preserving the territorial integrity of Syria; declaring ISIS, Nusra and AQ derived groups, terrorists who must be stopped; the need to cut funding to these terrorist groups; the need to stop indiscriminate bombing on all sides (including barrel and tunnel bombs); the need to ensure humanitarian access to all areas without delay; the need to punish violations of humanitarian laws on all sides.

The language used in both UNSC Draft Resolutions on many of these points is identical.

(A reminder again about Caveat 3 above, that stated positions may not reflect how serious either actually is about adherence to some or any of these proposals).

Key Disagreements

The USG Draft Resolution called for:

Demands that all parties immediately end all aerial bombardments of and military flights over Aleppo city; (Ed: ie a No Fly Zone (NFZ) )

The Russian Draft Resolution (emphasis added):

Demands all parties to comply with United Nations requests for humanitarian access by observing the cessation of hostilities as described in resolution 2268 (2016) and the Agreement of 9 September, 2016 

Included in the Russian Draft Resolution is agreements from the USG-Russian CoH agreement (that itself is included as an attachment).

Stresses the urgent need to achieve and verify separating moderate opposition forces from “Jabhat Al-Nusra” as a key priority


pullback from Castello Road (Ed: a DMZ) and establishing checkpoints on that road, and to facilitate evacuation of urgent medical cases and also to use for humanitarian and medical purposes the Suleiman al Halabi corridor between Eastern and Western Aleppo


Immediate restart of political negotiatons without preconditions of all parties with the Special Envoy as specified in prior resolutions (2254).


Welcomes the initiative of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria of 6 October 2016 on normalizing the situation in Aleppo and requests the Secretary-General to present to the Security Council a detailed plan for its implementation in cooperation with interested parties for the purpose of the endorsement by the Security Council;

The De Mistura Initiative given in a press briefing on October 6, 2016 was (paraphrasing)

al-Nusra in E Aleppo should leave E Aleppo to safe haven of their choice with arms. (De Mistura personally agreed to accompany them, i.e. the old concept of being a willing hostage)


Following this agreement, Syria/Russia must stop air campaign.


Local administration within E Aleppo should stay intact and not capitulate to the Syrian Government forces with international UN presence, pouring in humanitarian aid.


The first thing to note is that the Russians are in essence trying to get the CoH agreement hammered out over months and announced with the USG on September 9, as an approved UN Security Council Resolution.  They had repeatedly called for this to happen even before the CoH fell apart, but the USG insisted on keeping this secret and not table it in the UNSC.

Indeed the Russians included 5 pages (in the English version) of the CoH agreement as an addendum to the main 3 page resolution.

The second thing to note is that the USG in its 4 page resolution has completely ignored the CoH agreement of September 9.  This is literally not mentioned at all, and all the language in the Draft Resolution is fall back to its old position of all parties must stop fighting, with the single key addition of calling for an immediate end to the air campaign.

And while the Russian Draft Resolution shows specific interest in the De Mistura proposal for de-escalation and requests the UN Security General to follow up on it, the USG one does not mention it at all (just language about being appreciative of the Envoy’s role.)

Note on Tone and Additional Differences

The Russian Draft Resolution talks of showing “appreciation the efforts undertaken by the Russian Federation and the United States of America as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group”.

The USG one has no such flowerly language but instead inserts into otherwise identical language in both Draft Resolutions that “violations and abuses committed in Syria shall not go unpunished”, the phrase “that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (Emphasis added).

There’s also a para added (missing entirely from the Russian resolution)

Expresses its intent to take further measures under the Charter of the United Nations in the event of non-compliance with this resolution by any party to the Syrian domestic conflict;


The first thing to note is the obvious: these resolutions are all designed to fail having provisos that the other parties will fundamentally find unacceptable.

Russians are not going to agree to a NFZ, least of all because of their desire to avoid another Libyan scenario where they bitterly complain of being duped into assurances that it was not for regime change and abstained from a UNSC Resolution that authorized a No Fly Zone.

USG are not going to agree on committing to separate Nusra from the rebels in a UNSC document which they agreed to do but not been able to achieve in many months, either because they can’t or won’t. They could not even achieve having Castello Road a DMZ.  And this despite a CoH agreement calling for both these actions.

Indeed the USG is not even backing the De Mistura initiative which would put pressure on rebels to distance themselves with Nusra.

The trigger points of each initiative and the offer in return are different:

Russia: FIRST commit to separate out Nusra & Rebels and establish DMZ within a timeframe.  Will pause for only that time. THEN, Russia will commit to extending pause. (ie the CoH agreement).

De Mistura:  FIRST Nusra should commit to leave to a safe haven. THEN Russia should commit to stop. (Russia claims to be interested in exploring this in more detail)

US: FIRST Russia/Syria should stop Aerial Bombing.  THEN..well we’ll see.

The diplomatic situation thus is clearly worse than before.  The USG has in effect torn up the CoH agreement it had signed, terms of which the Pentagon publicly objected to, and the rebels rejected and which the Russians had publicly questioned USG seriousness and commitment towards.

The Russians claim that stopping the bombing without any agreement of what next, means Nusra would simply allow them to regroup and get stronger with aid from the Saudi Arabia and Qatar (which, as the Wikileaks emails have shown, the USG knew were supplying even ISIS, let alone “other radical groups”).  This re-grouping is precisely what happened after the Russians de-escalated following the February 2016 CoH.  And Nusra and the rebels are already attacking W Aleppo with mortars and missiles, and their stated aim is not just capturing W Aleppo but going all the way to Damascus. (Unlike say the Kurds who seek autonomy).

So What Happens Next?

This gets into the realm of informed speculation based not just on public interviews of their officials but what’s happening on the ground.

There is wide agreement across all parties  that the Recapture – avoiding the emotional laden words Liberation or Fall – of E Aleppo by the Syrian Government would be a watershed that would strengthen Assad’s position immensely.

The mainstream US Establishment cannot let this happen for strategic and geopolitical reasons and seem leaning – some would say they never stopped – to fall back to supporting the rebels, either directly or by proxy, with arms knowing full well they will also get to Nusra and perhaps even ISIS with predictable blowback in the future.

But imposing a No-Fly Zone, that is often thrown around casually with little thought of implications, would not just be bombing a few runways.  It would require a full scale commitment and essentially a declaration of war versus not just Syria but Russia, a fact that the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged, the consequences of which no one can quite predict except to say virtually every party will be immeasurably worse than now.

Obama, who is an intellectual, knows the choices for the USG: Bad and Worse.  He clearly does not want to start a war, especially before a new President is announced on November 8 evening. 

But the USG does have potent weapons: diplomatic, economic, information, legal warfare. 

Diplomatically the USG controls a large bloc of countries, specifically most of Europe who will march to the USG drum even when it’s against their individual interests.  The EU – showcasing 27 (-1) nations – can form an impressive bloc to put pressure on Russia.

Economically, though sanctions against Russia have been extended as far as possible without significant blowback to the USG (though not to the EU which reluctantly follows the USG dictats on the matter despite the pain it feels), some more can be found to put immediate pressure.

The USG controls the best information warfare machinery to propagate these views – a fact commented on by Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, who once boasted of creating an Echo Chamber to advocate for the Iranian deal, by enlisting like-minded policy groups and journalists to say “things that validated what we had given them to say.”

Apart from “friendly journalists”, they have the advantage that many Western journalists either have or choose to have extremely poor or selective memories of who did what when. (This fact is shown by recent astonishing “Fact Checks” that the statement that “Assad is fighting ISIS” is False by AP (later amended after ridicule, to Mostly True) and “Mostly Misleading” by the New York Times, mentioning just Deir-Ez Zor ignoring the huge victory over ISIS in Palmyra in March 2016 and on-going battle lines at several places).

The Russians meanwhile have all but stated that they don’t regard the USG as serious, doubt they’re united (ie the White House, State and Pentagon being on the same page), credible partners, who either have no leverage against the rebels and KSA/Qatar or choose not to exercise it, and who play PR games with long hammered out agreements they never intend to keep. They have via their friendly outlets, initimated that the attack on the Aid convoy whch would have little strategic value, was a false flag attacks to blame them.

Hence Russia will press on supporting the Syrian Government battle in E Aleppo without respite aiming for a critical point where the rebels capitulate.


The USG and Russia are as far apart on Aleppo as the beginning of the year. (One can also argue there is a great deal of disagreement on Options within the US Establishment.) 

As can be seen from the Draft Resolution it backed, USG has in effect torn up the terms of the CoH it had previously agreed to with Russia, refusing to consider making it a public UNSC resolution, or even trying anymore to comply with key provisions that the Russians demand in exchange for their compliance: the separation of rebels the USG is backing from Nusra (which even USG agrees is exempt from the CoH) and an DMZ around the key Castello Road necessary for supplies to both W Aleppo with a UN estimated 1.6 million people and E Aleppo with a UN estimated 275,000. The USG instead has fully retreated to the position it has held earlier: Russia and Syria must stop before any negotiations, with no guarantees that these will happen.

Meanwhile Russia continues to back full compliance for the terms of the CoH as can be seen by its efforts to introduce it as part of its UNSC Draft Resolution. These terms have been the Russian position from the beginning of the campaign a year ago.

Thus Russia will continue to support the Syrian Government’s military actions to recapture E Aleppo.  They will accelerate their campaign and push for reconciliation in other areas of Syria, working closer with Turkey who has its own distinct priorities to that of the USG.

A key date for the US is the night of November 8, 2016, when the new President of the United States is announced.  While Clinton will almost certainly win – barring an astonishing collapse – clear steps by the US cannot be taken till that happens. Even if Obama then becomes a lame duck, he can huddle with Clinton to review options.  In 2004, the openly planned for months Second Battle of Fallujah one of the most brutal and destructive urban combat the US military had engaged in decades, was prosecuted 5 days after the sitting President’s victory was announced.

Assuming a Clinton presidency, even she as a hawk will be tempered by starting an overt war the first day when she takes over in late January.  However putting pressure via escalations in other areas of Syria, covert actions to “take out” key personnel while maintaining deniability, “accidental bombings”, false flags, or in the case of Russia in other arenas including economic sanctions, non-political actions are all options that have either been tabled or carried out by past US Presidents.  While it’s debatable they will achieve anything to stop E Aleppo from being recaptured, they will be excuses for such actions from the extreme hawks supporting Clinton.

For the rebels in E Aleppo, the key is holding out till something significantly changes as a result of USG actions to halt the Syrian/Russian advance.  However, once cracks start appearing in the so far united Rebel front – such as a break with Nusra, or a loss of a critical amount of men or materiel, rapid capitulation may quickly follow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton’s Obfuscation about her Health larger issue than the specifics

Why the issue is not so much the perception of Hillary Clinton’s health but the perception of how she handles crises with half-truths and obfuscations.

September 12, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s apparent collapse  leaving the 9/11 memorial service early due to what was at first described as “overheating” and later as “dehydration brought upon by pneumonia” diagnosed two days earlier, has stirred a lot of debate about her health with partisans on all sides weighing in about the seriousness of her condition and whether that merits attention.

Why Does a President’s Health Matter So Much?

One of the questions an observer outside the United States may first have is the American obsession with the health of a President (or Presidential candidate) in the first place.

In the unitary Executive as practiced in the United States, the President serves both as a symbol of the State as well as the executive in charge of creating policy and running the day-to-day Government.  This is unlike say, the British system where the Monarch is the symbol of the State with ceremonial responsibilities (and some emergency powers) and the Prime Minister is the actual executive of the Government.

With these two roles conflated in one person, the US President has come to have the pressure of projecting robust health, cheerfulness and power reflecting the self-importantance, perceived greatness and vitality of the country, while also promoting his or her political and policy expertise to run the country and beyond.

This robust health projection need is why FDR’s polio and ill-health was kept – by mutual consent with the media – out of papers and photographs; and why John Kennedy wore a concealed back brace (including on the day he was shot, something that might have contributed to his head staying upright for the second, fatal headshot after the first went through his chest.)

So whereas Britain could have Gordon Brown as Prime Minister from 2007-10 – man blind in one-eye, such a possibility in the US is remote (apart from the difference in electoral policies where the PM is the elected leader of a parliamentary faction in power versus directly elected by the people as a President is).

Thus the image conscious part of the US President’s role virtually requires the candidate to publicly sport a bright dentist-approved smile and confident, striking body language and robust health and energy at all times, a requirement that disqualifies many deeper thinkers and experienced policy makers from running. (Indeed part of Bernie Sanders anti-establishment persona was his lack of airs about his disheveled hair, tight smile and hunched shoulders.)

Of course Presidents are human and one can feel sympathetic to Clinton’s predicament of apparently coming down with pneumonia in the post-Labor day home stretch to Election Day.

Indeed an argument of many Clinton acolytes who have argued – rather disingenuously – that if anything she should be commended on her strength (rather than weakness) for continuing to show up when she was secretly sick.

The Larger Point: The Obfuscation

But the more pertinent point is that, while opponents will seize her current ill-health as evidence of her “unfitness for office” as part of the obsession with the health of a President,  Clinton’s campaign kept her pneumonia diagnosis secret revealing it only after it could not be publicly hidden.  First they offered “overheating” as an initial (delayed) response and only when even pro-Clinton media outlets commented on her collapsing on a relatively balmy day, was her alleged pneumonia diagnosis revealed many hours later.

The use of the word “alleged” in the last sentence is deliberate because the whole Clinton reponse to what could have been a controlled revelation of her illness is typical of the aura of untrustworthiness and legal chicanery that surrounds her.

It can honestly be argued that her pneumonia or perhaps even something more serious should not be a part of Presidential politics, but instead of fighting that at the get-go, Clinton seems to accept the rules of the game, and only when caught violating them, questions the validity of said rules.  So after denying she sent classified emails from a private server (that she amateurishly administered vs using at least using a more secure corporate account like Google’s), when caught out, part of her response is to question the validity of some of the classifications. (Even as she told her subordinates to follow the rules).

Being a lawyer by training, this kind of three-card-Monty playing with words and definitions to find loopholes and post-facto justifications is second nature to her.  (Parents will recognize this tendency also.) But it is precisely this too-clever-by-half habit and penchant for secrecy that has caused her disapproval ratings to hover near Trump’s.

For example, pneumonia can often be a symptom of an immune system compromised by some underlying, more serious disease.   So if tomorrow an causative disease is revealed, technically Clinton would not have lied about the proximate cause of her illness, just obfuscated the underlying cause.


Clinton’s delay in communicating her health issues – and even this only when publicly forced to –  has given not just new life to various darker theories about her health but have confirmed the worst opinions of those who are even on the fence about her trustworthiness and ability to manage even simple issues with candor rather than Nixonian obfuscation.

And the latter might do more damage than the former.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

AP’s latest report on Russian-Iranian cooperation on Syria typifies media reliance on inconsistent US Government Narratives

AP’s Bradley Klapper’s Big Story on the Russian airstrikes from Iran underscore the confusion and shortcomings in Western media in trying to keep up and amplify the inconsistent, changing US Government ideological “Good-Bad” based narratives to justify its Syria policy, instead of keeping track of actual facts and asking deeper questions from the beginning.

August 17, 2016


Of all mainstream Western media outlets, the Associated Press (AP) is the least biased in its Foreign Policy coverage.  It does not have the deeply ingrained establishment narratives of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Reuters news agency, all of which peddle US or NATO Government narratives (official or via the wildly popular “anonymous” sources; or from Think-Tank experts from the same echo chamber) without much questioning, but as established truths and received wisdom.

(Note: a recent New York Times article, “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence” while focusing on them being compromised by Corporate America – a revelation with the same shock value as Casablanca’s  Captain Renault’s exclamation that he is “shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!” – stops short of the more obvious facts that many of these Think Tanks serve as Echo Chambers to justify the Government’s Foreign Policy – a fact that mentioned in a New York Times article on how the Iran Deal was sold).

However even the AP doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is part of the same ecosystem and subject to the same groupthink as the rest of Western media.  A look at AP’s Bradley Klapper’s Big Story entitled “Russia-Iran cooperation in Syria sends message to US” with a number of contributing correspondents from Beirut, Washington, Moscow and Dubai shows how particular narratives influence how news is reported.

Deconstructing AP’s Report

The commentary is divided into 8 sections pertaining to various statements and narratives sequentially cited in the report.

The longest and most critical – in both senses of the word – commentary is section 5, refuting the core US narrative on Syria that Western media treats as a truth.

1. On “Sending a Message”

US media and pundits when commenting on a stated US enemies’ actions, act many times as parodies of self-absorbed narcisstic high-school teenagers who think that everything that happens around them is somehow directed either for their benefit or detriment.  The thought that other people have their own lives and interests doesn’t occur to them. (“OMG, Tiffany just went out with Brad just to, like, make me jealous.  That’s, like, SO Tiffany!“)

Just like the United States, Russia has its own stated national security interests, which in the case of Syria,  it has spoken about loudly, clearly and consistently for years now for anyone who chooses to listen.  Indeed its entire stated attitude towards the Syrian position can be summed up in 20 propositions (as it was in October 2015) and it’s remarkable re-reading it now how it has consistently followed it (even 10 months later).

In short, Russia’s stated goal is to ensure that the secular Syrian state does not collapse to the dominant Salafist insurgents who – like ISIS –  will become a greater danger not just to to the majority of Syrians living with reasonable security and stablity under the Assad regime, but ultimately to Russia itself.

Similarly Iran has its own national security interests which in the case of Syria hews closely to Russia’s and is even more urgent and immediate, given the declared and demonstrated antipathy of Salafists to Iran and Shi’ites.

So Russia and Iran have their own dynamic and reasons as neighbours and partners to work together in areas where they share mutual national security goals.

2. On the message: “Join us or we’ll look to your enemies”

The actual message, as per AP,  that Russia is apparently sending is

Join us or we’ll look to your enemies.

So there are two interesting assumptions within this statement:

(a) Russia is trying to blackmail the US and

(b) Iran is an enemy of the US

Taking the second first, Iran is as much an “enemy” to the US Government – which for purely domestic political and military-industrial reasons eagerly seeks “with us or against us” enemies everwhere – as Russia and China are.  And the Obama administration has sought talks with all three countries to varying degrees to make deals – including a politically costly one with Iran –  where deemed acceptable and confrontation where not.

Iran is not directing its Syrian actions against the US anymore than Russia – they are both defending their own perceived national interests and making common cause where there’s mutual benefit.

Which brings one to the first part: that the Russians are trying to blackmail the US.  Firstly it’s apparent that Russia needs the use of its strategic bombers that it used earlier in its intervention by flying all around Europe or from Southern Russia  with mid-air refuelling adding to costs, time and risk.  While demonstrating a proof-of-capability, having more immediate, less costly bombing capability would presumably be desirable as this technical article suggests (60% less flight time, more bombs per flights, more sorties, less cost).

Given that the US has not shown Russia to be a reliable partner to aid in attacking mutually acceptable targets, and its decisions even in the best case are always likely to come up with time consuming caveats, a prudent approach from the Russian point of view is to come up with options to fulfill its tactical imperatives.  Like having a base in Iran.

Note, that after the thundering headine and definitive phraseology about “sending a message” the third para has this (emphasis added)

The bombing runs…may have been a reminder to the Obama administration that Moscow could be cozying up to Iran if Washington doesn’t come around.

So, AP is not asserting that Russia was sending a message, just speculating it may have.  OK.

 3. The standard Expert Quote

In the fourth para, there’s a usual quote from a go-to “Expert”,  Andrew Tabler, who’s part of the same Washington echo chamber.  Tabler is of course famous for giving two contradictory takes on Russian drawdown of its airforce in Syria in March in the space of a few hours to the New York Times.

But there’s the first glimmer of non-US centric thinking with the following statement attributed to the Expert.

He said the operations also cement Russia’s alliance with Iran in the region.

In other words that Russia may have reasons other than thumbing its nose at the US for working with Iran.  (“Hmm..maybe Tiffany is going out with Brad because they like each other.“)

4. The standard Unnamed Diplomat Statements

Next comes the assertion that Russia had “privately assured” the US that its actions would “ultimately sideline” Iran.  This is “according to US and European diplomats” – a standard acceptable phraseology in Western media, which is meant to sideline any questions about

(a) who these diplomats actually are;

(b) what their motives for making these statements to journalists are;

(c) whether it accurately reflects what Russia “privately” said.

Indeed it is my assertion – based on following events and analysis from various sources, Western, Russian, Iranian, Arab, Turkish, for a long time – that Russia, while careful of getting into bed with any one party, sees Iran as a strategic partner much beyond Syria. Iran is a neighbor, shares a Multi-Polar World View concept along with China, are candidates to join the Russia-China backed Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and both Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Furthermore, Russia follows a Reality, not Ideological, based Foreign Policy.  It would know that even if it wanted to sideline Iran, it would be impractical given the deep ties that Iran independently has with the Syrian Government including being as crucial a partner to the Syrian military on the ground – having committed (and lost) several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – as Russia is in the air.

Thus the unnamed diplomats’ assertions about Russia’s private “assurances” are at best misunderstood, or at worst false.

5. The Core US Narrative

The sixth para restates the US narrative which is at the heart of the US involvment in Syria and repeated as truth by US media:

[Russia’s assurance that Iran will be sidelined was one of several such assurances that] U.S. and others have clung to as a potential pathway to peace, and which they hope to test when the U.N. sets up a new round of peace talks in coming weeks, even if they accuse Russia of failing countless previous challenges by persisting in bombing Assad’s more moderate opponents.

This Core Narrative repeated ad nauseum restates basic sub-narratives that

(A) the US primary goal is a political pathway to peace in the region;

(B) Russia doesn’t want, or as to be forced into, a Political Solution;

(C) there are effective “moderate” forces out there;

(D) Russia is bombing these “moderate” forces

and relies on the crucial (but unfortunately accurate) assumption that receivers of said sub-narratives – the Western public at large – are too preoccupied to accurately recall what happened the day before let alone months or years before.

(A) Sub-Narrative:  US primary goal is Peace

To examine (A) in detail would take a while – but the plain fact – not opinion, not “conspiracy theory” – is that US had been looking not just passively forward to regime change in Syria at least since 2006, but actively hoping to exploit both (a) the unrest due to economic hardship as Assad introduced market reforms, as well as (b) the various ethnic fractures that were being held together by an authoritarian, even brutal, Syrian Government in return for stability and security for most. Indeed the cable of December 13, 2006 states this

We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising.

See also the commentary on these famous Wikileaks cables.

(And that this push for regime change was borne out of a deep desire for democracy is belied for the US Government’s unstinting support for the absolutist Gulf monarchies, most of which by any human right metric would touted by the US – freedom of the press, women’s rights, respect for religion, minorities – would fall well short of Syria’s).

So when there was a chance to put the first flames out – flames that some assert in detail were actually started via US covert operations –  by working cooperatively with Russia and other powers, the US instead allied with the Saudi, Qatari and Turkish governments and poured gasoline on the whole by overt and covertmilitary  armaments/training/fianncial aid to insurgents, effectively ending up supporting hard-line Salafist groups to overthrow – not just separate from – the authoritarian but secular, modern and relative stable Assad-led multi-ethnic government.

These Salafist groups share the same essential ideology of ISIS and other groups that the US is actively fighting elsewhere in the world.  The argument that just because some of these Salafist groups have only local ambitions – not global – is a cruelly hypocritical and short-sighted one because

(a) it basically says that groups it would never want anywhere near the West are OK to rule over millions of modern, secular Syrians who fear them as much as any in the West would;

(b) it assumes that battle-hardened Salafist groups having taken power of a state would not fight internicine wars for consolidation trying to eliminate not just secular or non-Sunni Syrians, but each other;

(c) it supposes that somehow these Salafists having achieved victory would stay “local” and not be safe havens for attacks outside Syria, but under their sponsors strict control (whose motives and targets are suspect in any case).

That even the Obama administration – coming to power as an antithesis of Bush’s foreign (and economic) policy disasters – did not heed the lessons of the Bush Invasion of Iraq and later of the Clinton-under-Obama Bombing of Libya, shows that regime change has strong establishment backers.  With planners sitting in their cosy Washington offices deeming – God-like – that Assad had to go even as they had no clue as to how and what to replace with him with.  And the best part was that like Banking CEOs, all the rewards would accrue to the policy makers – even if things went South – and the risks to the Syrian population at large.  If a vacuum in central Syrian leadership ended up with internecine warfare and destruction of a middle income secular society back into primitive religious and ethnic enclaves, well it was simply the Arab people’s own fault, not the clearly civilized mandarins who set the wheels in motion and who are now on TV and writing colums justifying the next Intervention.

(B) Sub-Narratives:  Russia doesn’t want a Political Solution

The above points against allowing Salafists to gain victory are part of the basic rationale Putin made as far back as 2012, against regime change.  While not denying Assad’s authoriatism or the desire of some Syrian people for more freedom, he repeatedly asked for logical alternatives for the “day after” regime change. Here he was in answer to a question from the AP’s Moscow Correspondent Vladimir Isachenkov on December 20, 2012.

AP: As you know, western countries, the Arab League, and Turkey are all in favour of Bashar al-Assad stepping down, and say that this is the precondition for peace in Syria. In your opinion, could the fact that Russia disagrees with this premise result in its isolation and a loss of Russian influence, not only in Syria but in the Middle East in general, if Mr al-Assad’s regime falls?

Vladimir Putin: Listen my dear man, haven’t Russia’s positions regarding Libya been lost after the intervention? Whatever is being said now, the country continues to fall apart. Ethnic, clan and tribal conflicts continue. Moreover, the situation has resulted in tragedy, namely the murder of the US ambassador. Is this a result? People have asked me about mistakes; was this not a mistake? Do you want us to repeat these mistakes indefinitely in other countries?

We are not that preoccupied with the fate of al-Assad’s regime. We understand what’s going on there and that his family has been in power for 40 years now. Without a doubt, change is required. We’re worried about something else, about what happens next. We simply don’t want today’s opposition, having come to power, to start fighting with the current authorities, who then become the opposition, and for this to continue indefinitely.

….We advocate finding a solution to the problem which would spare the region and the country from disintegration and never-ending civil war.

That is our proposal and our position; not that al-Assad and his regime remain in power at any cost, but that people first agree among themselves about how they will live, how their security and participation in government will be assured. Only then should they begin to change the existing order in accordance with these agreements. Rather than the reverse, which would be to first drive out and destroy everything, and then try to negotiate. I think that agreements based on a military victory are irrelevant and can’t be effective. And what happens there depends above all on the Syrian people themselves.

Russia pushed hard for Geneva talks for a political settlement to succeed, using itsinfluence  to ensure that the Syrian Government showed up.  But these talks which went nowhere not only because of the various pre-conditions the US Government attached to the talks – Assad must go – but that the US Government itself could not control the myriad rapidly morphing factions on the ground to get an acceptable group to the talks that also had credibility on the ground, as it kept supplying weapons to various “moderate” anti-Assad groups only to see them in either the hands of ISIS or what even the US considered extremist anti-Assad groups.

Thus Russia, before its direct military intervention on the request of the sovereign Syrian Government to save it from falling to ISIS on one hand and the anti-Assad Salafists on the other, had tried to push for negotiations with little but lip service from the US Government.  So any suggestions that Russia did not push for a political settlement is not just wrong, but instead a complete projection of what the US Government was in fact doing.

(C) Sub-Narrative: Effective “moderate” groups Exist

The various re-assuring terms – moderate, vetted, Free, Democratic, New –  that the US Government uses to describe factions it supports are little but branding exercises meant to divert public attention from the clearly advertised religious, if not Salafist,  ideology and aims of these rapidly morphing groups, an exercise that the media instead of questioning, is often complicit in amplifying.

Indeed Russia has repeatedly asked – without success – who these “moderate” groups are and how they differ in practice with ISIS and Al-Nusra two groups that the US agrees are legal targets.  Putin made this memorable reference to differences between these groups in his speech as the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 22, 2015:

We do not need wordplay here; we should not break down the terrorists into moderate and immoderate ones. It would be good to know the difference. Probably, in the opinion of certain experts, it is that the so-called moderate militants behead people in limited numbers or in some delicate fashion.

In actual fact, we now see a real mix of terrorist groups. True, at times militants from the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda heirs and splinters fight each other, but they fight for money, for feeding grounds, this is what they are fighting for. They are not fighting for ideological reasons, while their essence and methods remain the same: terror, murder, turning people into a timid, frightened, obedient mass.

This was ironically before a faction that the US Government admitted it had supported in the past, al-Zinki was proudly and openly videotaped sadistically beheading a child soldier in July.  AP’s State Department correspondent, the redoubtable Matt Lee, confronted the State Department spokesperson, Mark Toner, on July 19, 2016 who said in part:

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have seen or you’re aware of this beheading of a child by a group that is supported by the United States.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, thanks. We’ve obviously seen the reports, and we just can’t confirm. We’re seeking more information. We understand from unconfirmed reports that the group, the Free Syrian Army, has appointed a commission to investigate the incident and that they’ve made arrests of those allegedly involved. I’d refer you to – it’s Al Zinki, I guess, is the group —

In early August, the same perpetrators were filmed (again openly) during the battle to break the Government siege in East Aleppo, boasting of their victories showing that far from being imprisoned they were very much on active frontlines. 

Lee challenged the State Department spokesperson again, this time, Elizabeth Trudeau on August 9, 2016.

QUESTION: Just very briefly on Aleppo and this group that is allegedly involved, was involved in breaking the siege – a rebel group, the ones that were accused of beheading this —




QUESTION: Beheading this child. One, do you know if the reports are true that they are or were involved in the fighting around Aleppo recently?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen reports that the alleged perpetrators in last month’s video have been seen fighting in Aleppo. I’m not in a position to confirm.

QUESTION: Okay. Should you – should it become confirmed that they are, is that an issue for you guys?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Well, obviously, when reports of the beheading came out is we strongly condemned the barbaric actions seen on that video no matter what group was responsible. We note that that group had also said that they would hold those individuals to account. We’re not in a position to confirm if that’s happened, but we do expect all parties to comply with obligations under the law of armed conflict.

QUESTION: So you’re unaware that there has ever been a resolution to this specific —

MS TRUDEAU: I am not in a position to confirm that, no.

QUESTION: — case. And then just the other thing, which I think you probably won’t answer, but is this group still being supported by or was it ever supported by the United States?

MS TRUDEAU: So for security reasons, we do not comment on which groups are funded by the United States. However, we don’t support groups that commit this sort of barbarity, period.

So not only is the very definition of “moderate” groups unclear, but the US Goverment refuses to say who they fund as “moderate”, what controls they have in place should they prove to be immoderate and indeed, if truly “moderate” rebels exist in any effective sense, ie of being materially relevant to the anti-Assad fight.

Indeed the US Government had to tamp down its supply of weapons to anti-Assad rebels precisely because by its own, undeclared norms, “moderate” groups were few and were just as likely to hand them over to “extreme” groups.  Moreover the US media itself has admitted that the most effective groups fighting Assad are Al-Nusra, and equally hard-line factions like Ahrar Al-Sham (which as this recent in-depth August 16, 2016 Foreign Policy article “Present at the Creation” shows was just another faction that shared ideology with ISIS like al-Nusra, and one that the US has refused to agree to be labelled in the UN as a terrorist organization.  And thus immune from targetting as per the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement that was signed in February.)

So all word-smithing aside, it seems that not just the Russians but the US Government and its media agree that, at the least, there are no effective moderate anti-Assad forces out there.  Or conversely the effective anti-Assad forces are allied Salafists, with the most effective being Al-Nusra.  Indeed the New York Times White House correspondent, Harris Gardiner,asked John Kerry this question in a joint presser with Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on July 15, 2016

…critics say this deal is a huge boon to the Assad regime by concentrating American firepower against the most effective anti-Assad forces and that you’re basically selling out the rebels. 

In other words, Gardiner was openly asking why Americans, let alone Russians, were targetting al-Nusra, the Syrian spin-off of Al-Qaeda, the group responsible for attacks in Gardiner’s paper’s headquarters in New York in 2001, instead of letting them fight Assad. 

Besides reminding Gardiner – and the critics – that the al-Nusra was on the UN terrorism list and not subject to the CoH, Kerry blunty said:

So if some critic is criticizing the United States or Russia for going after al-Nusrah, which is a terrorist organization, because they’re good fighters against Assad, they have their priorities completely screwed up.

…second is obviously the question of al-Nusrah – which, as you just said, is fighting against Assad and which is providing no peace and security and which, regrettably, some opposition have occasionally chosen to fight with because they are fighting against Assad. But that doesn’t excuse it, and it will not excuse it in our eyes. We saw what happened when people said the same thing about ISIL for a period of time – oh, don’t worry, they’re just a force against Assad, and down the road we can take them on. Well, they became more than just a force. And so I think that it is important for the United States, Russia, the entire coalition of ISSG to stand up against terrorism, and that is what we intend to continue to do.

So  Kerry himself was indicating that not only Al-Nusra but those groups allying with them had themselves to blame if they were targeted. 

(D) Sub-Narrative: Russians are targetting “moderate” rebels

Even assuming that there are some moderate groups out there as the US Government insists there are, why would the Russians target them given that pretty much everyone agrees that even if they exist they are ineffective?  What difference to the war effort would that make?  It’s far more profitable for the Russians to spend their limited sortie capability to target the most effective forces.  Which, as Kerry and the media acknowldges above, are al-Nusra – which happen to be forces even the US Government agrees are fair targets outside of the CoH.

Thus the core narrative by the US Government that Russia is targetting moderate forces does not make any sense, and yet the US media continues to amplify this narrative without any hint of cognitive dissonance.

6. The Beseiged Opposition

Klapper goes on to state

If Russia is moving closer to the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah alliance, it could spell doom for Syria’s besieged opposition.

This phrase depends on a clever sleight-of-hand narrative that has been amplified by the media recently, which is that of the “besieged opposition”.  In factual terms, this “opposition” are the Salafist groups headed by Al-Nusra (now rebranded Jabhat Faten al-Sham), who are trying to link the core base in Idlib province with their beseiged bretheren in East Aleppo (which is estimated to have a population of 250,000 or less) compared to the Government controlled West Aleppo (which is estimated to have 1.5 million) – in other words over 85% of Aleppans are under Government control under threat from the Salafists.

So over the course of the past few weeks, the Western media has started referring to the anti-Assad Salafists as “the opposition” which while strictly true, very deliberately blurs the lines between what the US Government had previously called the “moderate” opposition and the current crew which are essentially Al-Nusra led allied groups.  One may as well call ISIS the opposition (since it opposes the Assad Government as well).

7. State Department Mark Toner’s Briefing

Klapper goes on to comment on the what the State Department spokesman said:

The State Department’s Toner said the Russian cooperation with Iran doesn’t preclude the possibility of a U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria. But such an arrangement would become more difficult if it essentially meant a U.S.-Russia-Iran partnership.

Toner also suggested Russia violated last year’s U.N. security Council resolution enshrining the Iran nuclear deal.

The first sentence is true: Toner did say that about Russian cooperation not being precluded by its deal with Iran.

The second statement about a Russian partnership becoming “more difficult” is pure opinion, something that correspondents tried to make stick on Toner who refused to be drawn in.  Indeed, if the US can take off from Turkish airbases, why can’t Russia from Iranian ones?  What Russia has been saying from the beginning is that if the US Government is serious about defeating ISIS and defanging Al-Nusra, something that is the stated goal of not just the US, but Turkey as well as Iran, why not all work together?

The third statement that Toner suggested Russia violated the deal is delibarately putting words in Toner’s mouth.  Here’s the exchange with Klapper on August 16, 2016.

QUESTION: — there was specific language that carried over from previous resolutions about the use of Iranian territory or even its airspace for combat aircraft. Do you view this as a violation of the UN Security Council – I think it said provided that – it was permissible if the Security Council gave specific permission on a case-by-case basis. I’m guessing that didn’t happen in this case. Correct me if I’m wrong.

MR TONER: I don’t believe it did happen, and we’re looking into it is the short answer to your question. If these reports are true, it could very well be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which, as you noted, prohibits the supply, sale, or transfer of combat aircraft to Iran unless approved in advanced by the UN Security Council. I just don’t have a definitive answer. I know our lawyers are kind of looking at the – and trying to collect as much – many details as they can at this point.

QUESTION: Well, what would be the real-world ramifications of that? Just great, Russia violated something, but it doesn’t really matter?

MR TONER: Fair question, and I don’t have a complete answer for you. I know that it would be discussed at – obviously at the Security Council level. As to what steps may be taken as a result or as a consequence, if it is even proven that this happened, I can’t give you much detail right now.

8. Iraq’s Permission for Use of Airspace

The last two paras state – as per an anonymous (Ed: of course)  US official – that Russia and Iran had overflown Iraq without the latter’s persmission.  Given that both Russia and Iran are working quite closely to help Iraq defeat ISIS in Iraq, with a Russia-Iran-Syria-Iraq coordinating center set up at the end of September 2015 in Baghdad, it’s more likely that Iraq did give permission at least tacitly if not explicitly.


Klapper’s story shows that the media having bought and amplified the US Government’s initial ideological based narratives about Syria, narratives that the Obama administration is now trying to back out off, finds itself confused and twisted as to who the “good” and “bad” guys are, ie trying to see the world through shifting ideological lenses.  The Russian narrative, based on Realism is much more linear and pragmatic, and ultimately more factual, but one that the media refuses to pay heed to since presumably that is all “Russian propaganda”.


By the time I finished the story,  a few artciles caught my eye that are relevant to the above article:

1. Russian Response to suggestions UN Resolutions Violated

Lavrov not only strongly refuted any suggestion that taking off from Iran did not violate UN Resolution 2231 (on the sale and transfer of arms to Iran) but he hit back saying looking into it would also mean

…we will have to sort out how a vast amount of cash made it to Iran from the US, and why bank transfers from the US to Iran have taken place in dollars – it is strictly prohibited under American laws.

In addition the Russian Defense Ministry observed the fact that the US actions in Syria violate International Law

We’d like to have an answer to a simple question – is there any provision in the UN Charter, or a UN Security Council resolution, or a bilateral US-Syria agreement allowing to bomb Syrian territory … from Turkish airbase Incirlik or any other foreign air bases.

2. Iraq Confirms Opened Airspace

The Iraqi PM confirmed with Iran’s Press TV that Iraqi Airspace was opened to conditional use by the Russians.

3. Washington Post Reminds of decades-long Coup planning in Libya

In an article about how “A former CIA asset has become a U.S. headache in Libya” , Missy Ryan of the Washington Post cheerfully recounts the past history of Khalifa Hifter as a CIA asset and the extensive decade-long efforts that the US Government expended for a coup against Gaddafi and to prepare for the day after.  While the focus is on Hifter now becoming a liability – in other words just like every other regime change agent, it was interesting how all the regime change planning quite openly admitted now, but any suggestions of on-going operations and planning are treated as “conspiracy theories” by not just the US Government but the media as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment