Syrian Christians were Quietly Warned Before the War

Syrian Christians were Quietly Warned Before the War

Years ago I wrote about my first encounter with Syria as a young twenty-something year old fresh out of active duty service in the Marines: “My first visit to the region while desiring to study Arabic in 2004, just after completion of active duty service, and while still on the inactive reserve list, began a process of undoing every assumption I’d ever imbibed concerning Middle East culture, politics, and conflict.” I introduced in that fairly widely-read essay with the provocative title, A Marine in Syria, “An initial visit to Syria from Lebanon was the start of something that my Marine buddies could hardly conceive of: Damascus became my second home through frequent travel and lengthy stays from 2004 to 2010, and was my place of true education on the real life and people of the region.”

I recounted that this first visit to Damascus was a mere one year after the US invasion of Iraq. “While fellow service members were just across Syria’s border settling in to the impossible task of occupying a country they had no understanding of, I was able view a semblance of Iraq as it once was through the prism of highly stable Ba’athist Syria.” A key personal detail I had left out of that account is that I met my now wife on that initial fateful trip. After I spent those early summers staying in Damascus, mostly seeing and traveling around the country with her, we married in 2006 at the historic St. John of Damascus Orthodox church just off ‘Straight Street’ in the walled Old City of Damascus. We began our life there during those better times.

Ironically enough our first ever fierce argument happened on just our second or third date, during that 2004 trip. Discussing the raging Iraq War then unfolding across Syria’s eastern border while strolling in a public park, Reem said, “You know… the Americans are coming here next.” My immediate haughty laughter and scoffing dismissal of such a far-fetched scenario as the U.S. ever attacking Syria had angered and annoyed her. “Impossible,” I quipped, and implied that she and other Syrians that were then warning me of a near-future war on Syria could be chalked up to “Arab paranoia” which tends to assume a U.S. hidden hand and machinations behind every bad geopolitical event. In the early evening, surrounded by random other Syrians, we had a shouting match – with me actually defending America and George W. Bush’s “good intentions” – and with her warning me that Syria is top of the U.S. war machine’s target list. “A war on Syria is coming. The Americans are coming here – whether in a few years or more, they will target Damascus,” she said. “Israel will be part of it too.”

(Image: Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch & All the East John X meeting with Russian Church representatives)

Fast-forward to today, and a horrific decade-long war in Syria later… we live in Texas, and she still on occasion reminds me of “our first fight”. She was exactly right of course, tragically. She hadn’t been the only one: many of her Syrian Christian friends had – more than a half decade before the war unfolded in 2011 – tried to warn me that Washington is actively eyeing Syria for regime change “next” after Iraq.

I believe it was when I was temporarily living in Damascus in 2005 that I began to believe her and her friends were on to something. One Friday night out we were in a big group of young professionals, and at dinner at a restaurant everyone was abuzz over the news of a very unusual government-authorized memo. It had circulated that week to all private businesses and entities in Damascus and major cities. All Syria-based companies were being warned by the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad that they must temporarily halt any new business dealings or implementing fresh contracts with US-based international companies, specifically dealings that would involve junkets where Westerners would be invited to spend any significant amount of time inside Syria.

The allegation was that US and Western spies or assets were using business contacts to infiltrate Syrian companies and even government entities. At that dinner, my Syrian friends began to joke that “Brad might be CIA” – leading to lots of laughter, and admittedly a bit of discomfort (given that one of our friends actually harbored these suspicions all the way up till I married Reem and we started having children… this was apparently finally proof enough that it wasn’t all a “front”). 

Dinner table banter and speculation over “a coming war for the Middle East” aside, that was the year CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told Assad to his face that regime change is coming for him. This was in a 2005 televised and archived interview, now for all posterity to behold…

Amanpour, it must be remembered, was married to former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin (until 2018), who further advised both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And of course it was during the Obama years that the massive CIA covert program to fund and train so-called “moderate rebels” – detailed and revealed in The New York Times as Timber Sycamore – kicked off (though given Assad is obviously still in power, the regime change efforts failed, with a brutal ‘sanctions warfare’ regimen taking its place).

The point of these personal anecdotes and memories, which I’m sure are not unique to any Westerner that spent time in Syria during those perhaps “deceptively stable” pre-war years of the mid to late 2000s, is to say that these recollections are what in large part spurred my recent efforts to interview Syrians, and especially Syrian Christians, who had experienced or fled the war.

I learned through these interviews, many of which are detailed in my new book Syria Crucified with co-author and friend Zachary Wingerd, that Syrian Christians in particular were so on edge during those opening years of the US occupation of Iraq precisely because Iraqi Christian refugees fleeing from across the border toward Damascus were actively warning Syrian Christians, “You are next!” 

A number of Syrians had told us that years before the war started in 2011, they understood that not only was Syria top of the list for regime change, but that Christians in particular would be targeted in a planned sectarian war – just as in Iraq. Though it remains a story for another time, as it is still till this day too sensitive to discuss openly, I have gained confirmation from a handful of Syrian Christian individuals that in 2010 into early 2011 (just before the conflict started in Syria), U.S. intelligence officers were contacting them and very aggressively seeking their assistance – trying to make them assets. While these particular individuals are not featured or mentioned in my new book (again, given the sensitivity of the information and individual situations), I’ll just note that in every instance that I’ve been able to confirm, the U.S. case officers were told by the Syrians “screw off!” – or some variation thereof.

Suffice it to say that some Syrian Christians had been essentially tipped off by U.S. intelligence operatives that something big was coming for Syria, again, significantly prior to the actual start of the war. In one glaring instance, an official from the then existent U.S. Embassy in Damascus (it closed in February 2012) tried to convince a well-liked local Syrian Christian man who had spent a career working for major American news outlets in the Middle East (thus he had a lot of high-level media contacts across the globe) to become part of the U.S.-recognized “political opposition” in Syria. Keep in mind this was before such an “opposition” body was even brought into existence.

The focus on my own research into the plight of Christians during the war began in earnest all the way back in 2014, when I wrote the following for my now-defunct blog:

One potential map of the Middle East, created by retired Col. Ralph Peters, envisions a future division according to Shia, Sunni, Kurdish regions, with absolutely no place for Christians, who will be “cleansed” through genocide or forced immigration. One article Peters wrote was called “Blood Borders” because he admitted that minorities would have to be killed off for his map to make sense! (Yes, as in well-known FOX News contributor Ralph Peters).

Many have seen “Greater Lebanon” (which is extended far north beyond it’s actual boundaries up through Latakia in the “imagined map” below), as what would become a primarily Christian enclave after neighboring states would be emptied of the indigenous Christian presence…

Blood borders New middle east

Or worse, during opening years of the war in Syria maps like the below emerged, with analysts suggesting Christians would have to flee to an Alawite “rump state”

I wrote further in that prior 2014 article about how some European Union countries were shipping weapons to jihadist insurgents while simultaneously offering Syrian Christians asylum if they left their war-torn homeland: While some might understandably benefit by France’s latest offer [of political asylum for Middle East Christians], and this might be good for those individuals and families who have already suffered enough, the Orthodox Church Patriarchate has a firm understanding of the current and future designs of Western policy makers. Ethno-religious sectarianism was not a shaping reality for 20th century Arab nationalist movements, but is the long-term strategic plan of Saudi Arabia. Through the help of its closest ally, the United States, along with other western countries, the logic of sectarianism is being implemented, and there are few who understand the nature of the game.

Syrian Church leaders had called it the West’s “Trojan Horse” plot vis-a-vis Mideast Christians: encourage Christian emigration from the region while at the same time covertly shipping in the very weapons that would be used to target Christians who tried to remain (given also that local Christians by and large stuck with the Assad government, which would prove a very “inconvenient” problem for U.S. policy given efforts to overthrow said government). This theory received some degree of validation when I wrote the below 2015 article based on a leaked classified Saudi cable – an article later circulated by WikiLeaks…

Our new book, Syria Crucified: Stories of Modern Martyrdom in an Ancient Christian Land provides ample testimony and examples confirming Syrian Christian suspicions that Washington had long been OK with “throwing Christians to the lions” while seeking to topple Assad (as a 2013 NY Times article put it). For example, we quote the Antiochian Orthodox Church’s Bishop of Baghdad and Kuwait, Ghattas Hazim, who described during the height of the Iraq War that “Christians are being slaughtered in Iraq and the West does not lift a finger to protect them.”

At the height of the war, high-ranking Syrian Church leaders went to the White House to plead with then President Obama to abandon disastrous regime change policies…

This suspicion that the West was pursuing an unspoken agenda of initiating and exacerbating a sectarian conflict that would break apart Syria, ultimately leading to the liquidation of Syria’s ancient some two-million strong Christian community (like happened to a large degree in Iraq), was echoed by a Syrian Christian physician named Shaza, who Zac and I spoke to extensively.

She had for decades been a practicing physician out of offices in Damascus, until she fled to the United States after her family was nearly killed by sniper fire and mortars as Al-Qaeda encroached on her neighborhood (the story is recounted in chapter 2), setting up checkpoints just minutes from her home and kids’ school. There are many similar stories that fill this new book, and I’ll end this meandering essay by providing one heart-wrenching example from the book below.

Upcoming AFP Release - Syria Crucified: Stories of Modern Martyrdom in an Ancient Christian Land - Behind the Scenes

Below is the Syrian doctor Shaza’s story, excerpted from the book…

As Shaza mused on the catastrophic shift from an idyllic life to one of upheaval, she recounted being given a forewarning of the Syrian Christian tragedy. As a physician Shaza ministered to those displaced due to the Iraq War: “I worked with the Iraqi refugees from 2003 to 2010 in a charity center. It’s a program done by the Church, but they are accepting all the people – Christians and Muslims.” Little did Shaza foresee that less than a decade into the future it would be Syrian Christians themselves caught in dire straits.

Shaza related how a number of Iraq refugees tried to warn her:

They talk about horrible stories. They’re kidnapping, killing, raping. When they trust me after a couple of years, they keep saying, “Have a plan B. They are going to do this with Syrian Christians.” I keep saying, “No, it will not happen.” They keep saying, “No, it’s going to happen, so think about what is your next step if it’s happened.” And we didn’t think about that. We never thought that this will happen in Syria. Most of the Syrians – they keep saying that it’s protected because it’s a strong region. I have been to Iraq and to Jordan, to Egypt, in the past as a tourist – I saw poor people. We never see them in Syria. We have no homeless people in Syria. It’s a prosperous country. It was a good country, but after, I think, 2006 or ’07 till 2010, we began to notice something. Maybe politics, maybe economic, I don’t know what’s the problem, but something happened, you know. Makes the people more poor so more suffer. They have these thoughts of revolution. I think that made them easily accepted this. 

Figures gathered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that by 2007 the number of Iraqi refugees that fled into Syria exceeded 1.2 million. Most of these were unregistered, meaning they had trouble being reached with international humanitarian aid or accessing Syrian government services. A report cited by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) during that period underscored that displaced Iraqis were helped “mostly through local Church organizations.” The financial burden on Syria, whose population was less than twenty million, of abruptly absorbing over one million impoverished Iraqis in need of housing, health care, and education helps explain some of the economic decline just before the war that Shaza mentioned.

She then pondered the origins of the early uprising in Syria and how rapidly it became militarized and internationalized:

I keep thinking of the Free Syrian Army. I heard about some young people who have their thoughts of freedom. They believe in these thoughts, but they were like the chess pieces. Somebody is moving them for his own ideas… When they faced with the extreme Muslims, they lost their lives. Those extreme Muslims open the roads to the strangers to come. I can’t even imagine that Syrian people want to destroy our history, our old cities, our old things, because it means a lot for them as a Syrian. But for the strangers, it means nothing. It’s easy to destroy everything.

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To read more, order the book Syria Crucified direct from the publisher, or through Amazon.

Danny Makki to the ‘Dark Side’? Joins Charles Lister At Middle East Institute

Danny Makki to the ‘Dark Side’? Joins Charles Lister At Middle East Institute

Sun Tzu, or if you prefer Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” gave the wise advice: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Listerfile

There’s much more going on under the surface than meets the eye regarding Danny Makki’s joining the Middle East Institute’s Syria Program as a non-resident fellow.

Of course, the pro-Syria crowd along with independent journalists piled on in response to Danny’s very unexpected announcement on Wednesday, “Delighted to be joining @MEI_Syria as a non-resident scholar, look forward to covering Syria in-depth and working with some great talent.”

I myself piled on in knee-jerk reaction too, but then deleted a couple Tweets. Many understandably were shocked, considering this “great talent” on the team includes none other than Charles Lister as editor and program director.

Lister’s record speaks for itself, so no need to dig into that horror show. But also recall that when Danny Makki himself was co-organizer of the British-Syrian Society 2016 Damascus conference which for pretty much the first time invited a large group of mainstream media journalists into the country to get the government’s perspective, Lister led the charge of essentially trying to blacklist any of the independent journalists on that trip or subsequent ones (predictably the NYT and BBC and other MSM individuals on the trip were spared). I was on the same trip and attended the supposedly controversial conference, and was viciously attacked and smeared, especially when I wrote this.

Here’s the reality: long before a number of prominent indy voices “discovered” Syria, Makki was among the small group of analysts involved deeply in the country pre-war (and of course he’s both Londoner and Damascene, also with family in Syria) and even rarer was reporting from the ground the whole time. When the same indy journalists now so quick to proclaim he’s gone to “the dark side” would go to Damascus often for the first time, who was the very fixer greeting them at the airport?

Danny has been the “man on the ground” for years, even before the war.

Makkifile2

Do you really think the very man who remains among a tiny number of West-based pundits with rare direct access to Assad and his “inner circle” — who has often set up equally rare interviews with Assad for outside journalists — has suddenly jumped on the pro regime change bandwagon? (I might add that, yes, there are a number of Damascus and externally-based people always trying to “bring journalists” into Syria for this or that reason.)

Do you really think one of a handful of Damascus’ official fixers is going to suddenly ‘switch’ to the roll of sellout ‘traitor’ propagandist… all for a few bucks and the “recognition” of a non-resident scholar for MEI?

People are much too quick to view this simply as a well-known Damascus voice being co-opted and compromised under Lister & company’s influence (with the wheels greased via UAE money etc..), but consider that it’s actually the other way around.

Since the start of the war there’s been a long-running internal debate within Syrian government circles and their allies over media strategy (or one might even say there was no proper strategy at all early on): for brevity’s sake let’s describe it simply as “engagement” vs. “go the trenches” type information warfare. Understandably, given the ground war was for years bolstered by an equally fierce US-UK-Gulf propaganda media war, Damascus long stuck to the latter.

But now militarily things have been decisively settled: the Syrian government is here to stay, the Western propagandists and their beloved “rebels” have lost. And as one insider (who I shall not name) who dialogues with US National Security Council officials on behalf of Damascus assured me just this week: “Trump’s generals view the armed opposition as basically jihadists and terrorists, and therefore accept that Assad must stay.” This is the reality even if no one within the D.C. defense establishment or the brass at MacDill AFB publicly voices it.

How do you think NSC and top admin officials have come to such a conclusion? What played out behind the scenes that ultimately got Trump to reportedly dump the CIA’s likely multi-billion dollar covert regime change program in 2017? Over the past couple years, the “regime” has opted for engagement. It has paid off.

Suffice it to say that there’s long been a small group of intermediaries straddling Damascus and London/Washington using “mainstream creds” to influence decision-makers in the right direction on Syria, especially military circles, against all odds.

This effective “lobbying” campaign has been carried on very far behind the scenes, with almost zero reporting on it and its players, only some of its tangential effects have exploded on the US domestic politics scene (think for example of Gen. Flynn’s “Syria confessions” in 2015 and the ‘deep state’ war, if you will, subsequently unleashed).

Funny enough, the old national security hawks and neocons of the Bush-Obama era still have sour grapes about it, as is occasionally demonstrated when they randomly emerge from their dusty beltway basements to rant at some nobody on Twitter:

The Danny Makki saga actually demonstrates that the very Western/Gulf based pundits and think tanks that helped to destroy Syria in the first place are now forced to sing a somewhat different tune.

They are now starved of information in a new phase of the war where it’s clear that “engagement” with Damascus is the only option left. The Charles Listers of the world are actually the ones who were slowly forced from their own extreme position (of essentially blacklisting and shunning any and all contact with Damascus, or those who dared to engage).

The tables have turned. It’s a permanent state of things. Damascus “insiders” hold the cards.

Lister has been forced to compromise by inviting Makki in, not the other way around. Simply watch Makki’s careful words as he writes now and in the future — you’re not going to see some sort of “compromise” play out.

The ‘information war’ has entered a new phase. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

‘Special Powers, Government Powers’: British Man Told He Can’t Be In His Own Yard

‘Special Powers, Government Powers’: British Man Told He Can’t Be In His Own Yard

When UK police enact restrictions they (perhaps predictably) go insane.

Watch this encounter where a man in his own garden is told to get indoors or “the coronavirus will get you!”

At one point the officer even begins dictating how many times the man is able to go to the local grocery store. “I saw you carrying two bottles of pop earlier.”

Just maddening.

Of course the state never “apologizes”. Since the UK went on lockdown there’s been endless examples of such outlandish abuses.

Bernie on Russian Interference: “I’ve seen some of their Tweets and stuff”

Bernie on Russian Interference: “I’ve seen some of their Tweets and stuff”

Bernie was put in an awkward spot. As Consortium News put it: Sanders was put in a difficult spot. If he said, “Show me the proof that Russia is trying to help me,” he ran the risk of being attacked for disbelieving (even disloyalty to) U.S. intelligence, and, by default, defending the Kremlin.

He won the Nevada Caucuses despite what was a well-timed and carefully calibrated last minute smear from the classic “it’s all Russian influence!” fall back position of mindless establishment hacks who long ago gave up on coming up with anything original (yeah it goes back to 1954).

But in a way he brought it on himself. A Frankenstein creature he had a hand in fueling, which when repackaged following the failed three-year Russiagate circus, came back to bite him in the ass.

Naturally, he denounced the “autocrat” and “thug” Putin for “interfering” in America’s elections.

But this all started with a Washington Post “revelation” which admitted, “It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.”

What then are we left with?

Bernie, in his almost forced and awkward full-on “required” anti-Kremlin diatribe to satisfy the Russia-obsessed Democratic base, said:

“I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff…”

What further “proof” is needed?

Behold: recall there was once upon a time (actually not long ago) three years of non-stop Russiagate hysteria.

Bernie was on board. It’s now been repackaged and weaponized to take him down by the Democratic establishment. Full circle.

As If US Efforts In Venezuela Weren’t Shady Enough, Enter Erik Prince

As If US Efforts In Venezuela Weren’t Shady Enough, Enter Erik Prince

Enter the prince of shady black ops for the highest bidder, per Bloomberg:

“Erik Prince, a private security mogul with ties to the Trump administration, held secret talks in Caracas last month with Venezuela’s vice president after briefing at least one senior U.S. official on his plans, according to people familiar with the situation.”

He met with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Maduro’s outspoken number two, and who happens to be a sanctioned individual.

It appears a weird Trump admin “back-channel” situation of sorts, perhaps realizing the campaign to foist Juan Guaido on the population has failed.

Prince apparently pushed for the release of six imprisoned Citgo executives, which appears to have happened, according to the report (or at least they were put on “house arrest”).

Bloomberg speculates, “For the Maduro regime, holding talks with an arch-enemy like Prince makes sense because they could present an opportunity for a deal that would alleviate the financial pressure the oil-producing country is under. While Maduro has successfully managed to stave off Guaido’s bid to take control of the government, top officials have been hamstrung by crippling U.S. economic sanctions.”

As I detailed a while back for a UK media outlet, former Blackwater executives continue to be found all over the Trump administration, even if in an unofficial capacity, so it make sense that these would be the very ones doing the White House’s shady back dealings and “dirty work” even while official policy remains regime change.

The logic probably goes: if our efforts at supporting a couple recent military coup attempts failed so miserably, then why not pursue soft entrances with some possible “concessions” to get that oil flowing our way again? (Remember that Citgo is the US arm of Venezuela state oil, based in Houston and majority-owned by PDVSA).

Boomer Whips Out iPad At White House, Things ‘Took A Dark Turn’

Boomer Whips Out iPad At White House, Things ‘Took A Dark Turn’

Erdogan says he taught his foremost Republican Congressional critic Lindsey Graham “a lesson” during yesterday’s closed door meeting hosted by Trump in the Oval, which involved the somewhat unprecedented scene of five Republican senators and Turkey’s president squaring off.

Things “took a dark turn” when Erdogan upended the meeting by whipping out his iPad, in a ‘let me show you something on my tablet’ moment, or just about the most boomer thing ever.

As Axios reports: “An Oval Office meeting yesterday with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a dark turn when Erdoğan pulled out his iPad and made the group watch a propaganda video that depicted the leader of the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.”

Image result for erdogan on his ipad

Predictably Graham and others found it entirely unpersuasive, after “Erdoğan apparently thought he could sway these senators by forcing them to watch a clunky propaganda film.”

At the end of the short film, Graham turned to Turkey’s leader and said, “Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you’ve done?”

This seems to be about the only moment the Turkish dictator received any significant direct push back on his ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in an overall pathetic and pointless daylong visit to the White House.

I watched the full Trump-Erdogan presser, which included an outrageous moment where Trump announced that only Turkish-friendly reporters would be allowed to ask Erdogan questions. Of course the whole thing turned into an unopposed anti-Kurdish rant, a favorite past time of top Turkish leaders across the board.

Meanwhile, it must be remembered that NATO’s second largest military maintains an unabashed policy of pursuing ‘demographic correction’ – as they call it – in northern Syria. In other words, ethnic cleansing, yet apparently this subject shall not be broached in the White House press room.

Three Deep State Confessions On Syria

Three Deep State Confessions On Syria

First, all the way back in 2005 — more than a half decade before the war began — CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told Assad to his face that regime change is coming. Thankfully this was in a televised and archived interview, now for posterity to behold.

Amanpour, it must be remembered, was married to former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin (until 2018), who further advised both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Next, a surprisingly blunt assessment of where Washington currently stands after eight years of the failed push to oust Assad and influence the final outcome of the war, from the very man who was among the early architects of America’s covert “arm the jihadists to topple the dictator” campaign.

Myself and others long ago documented how former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford worked with and funded a Free Syrian Army commander who led ISIS suicide bombers into the battlefield in 2013.

Amb. Ford has since admitted this much (that US proxy ‘rebels’ and ISIS worked together in the early years of the war), and now admits defeat in the below recent interview as perhaps a reborn ‘realist’.

And finally, not everyone is as pessimistic on the continuing prospects for yet more US-led regime change future efforts as Robert Ford is above. Below is an astoundingly blunt articulation of the next disturbing phase of US efforts in Syria, from an October 31 conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“The panel featured the two co-chairs of the Syria Study Group, a bi-partisan working group appointed by Congress to draft a new US war plan for Syria,” The Grayzone’s Ben Norton wrote of the below clip.

With images now circulating of Trump’s “secure the oil” policy in effect, which has served to at least force pro-interventionist warmongers to drop all high-minded humanitarian notions of “democracy promotion” and “freedom” and R2P doctrine, etc… as descriptive of US motives in Syria, the above blunt admissions of Dana Stroul, the Democratic co-chair of the Syria Study Group, are ghastly and chilling in terms of what’s next for the suffering population of Syria.

America is not finished, apparently, and it’s likely to get a lot uglier than merely seizing the oil.

Don’t Mind Us, ‘We’re Just Patrolling Around’

Don’t Mind Us, ‘We’re Just Patrolling Around’

“We are just patrolling around,” a US special forces commander said to regional media in a rare interview from the ground in northeast Syria. And where is this “ground”?… Syria’s oil fields of course!

Years or decades from now, long after the hoped for final close of the tragic eight-year long Syrian war, these will be the images the world remembers as the true American legacy in Syria and the broader Middle East.

Some astounding confessions and commentary from CNN this weekend:

Our professional military officers and diplomats don’t want to leave Syria,” said Wechsler, now Director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council. He noted that the arguments that traditionally resonate with presidents — including maintaining American credibility and deterrence, countering terrorism and thwarting Iran, “these don’t seem to resonate strongly with this president.”

‘Deep state’ confessions apparently, as the oil rationale was the admitted inducement to yet again get Trump to reverse his own declared “withdrawal” and sign on to yet more open-ended occupation.

CNN continues:

“It’s the only argument that resonates with the President and thus becomes the excuse that we need to keep forces there to protect other interests,” Wechsler said. While the oil justification seems to have worked, “using it as an excuse opens up a whole series of other questions,” he noted.

Or rather, it opens up yet another “forever war” and occupation without purpose or end.

As the think tank pundit confessed to CNN, the ‘professionals’ simply “don’t want to leave Syria.”

Enjoy your oil occupation America. Or ‘counter-Iran’ occupation. Or ‘pressure Assad’ occupation, or whatever it morphs into.

Syrian Rebels Used Chemical Weapons Throughout The War: A Partial List Of Mainstream Admissions

Syrian Rebels Used Chemical Weapons Throughout The War: A Partial List Of Mainstream Admissions

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says the Saturday evening armed opposition/Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) mortar attack on three districts in government-held Aleppo did involve chemical gas. Over 100 people were hospitalized by what was widely reported to be a chlorine attack.

According to SOHR, as reported by Reuters: “In Aleppo city which the government controls, the shells had spread a strong stench and caused breathing problems, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said.”

It’s significant that SOHR should confirm this as western media have long relied upon the UK-based opposition source as a go-to outlet for reporting Syria. It is tantamount to the “mainstream” Syrian opposition media essentially agreeing that the Damascus-Russia interpretation of events in this case is true, despite Turkey-backed FSA groups denying the charge.

SANA/Handout via REUTERS: “A woman lies on a stretcher after what the Syrian state media said was a suspected toxic gas attack in Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2018.”

The broader public which is unfamiliar with the history of chemical weapons reporting and investigation inside Syria might be scratching their heads at this one, perhaps thinking: “wait I thought only Assad possessed and has used chemical weapons!?!”

Well, at least that’s the basic assumption of pretty much all past mainstream media reporting. Anytime the rebel side claimed a chemical attack going back to at least 2013, journalists have uncritically parroted and amplified rebel claims without investigation or what would pass for evidence by OPCW/U.N. standards (OPCW officials have in the past stated that social media videos produced by the rebels and White Helmets organization can never be taken as stand alone evidence).

* * *

Below is a partial list of both United Nations and mainstream media admissions which have been largely buried and forgotten, but which are crucial evidence highlighting that the armed opposition has from the beginning utilized chemical munitions against the Syrian Army and Syrian civilians.

The Wall Street Journal 12/13/2013

“The final U.N. investigation into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria has found that chemical weapons were conclusively used in one incident and were likely used in four other alleged attacks, including three in which government troops were the victims of sarin gas. It was the first time the U.N. has reported that Syrian military personnel may have been the target of a chemical-weapon attack in the course of the 33-month-old conflict…”

The fact that the report names government soldiers as victims raised the possibility that rebel groups may have had access to sarin gas, which the Syrian government, and its allies Iran and Russia, have long maintained.”

New York Times 12/13/2013

“Chemical weapons were used repeatedly in the Syria conflict this year, not only in a well-documented Aug. 21 attack near Damascus but also in four other instances, including two subsequent attacks that targeted soldiers, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday…”

“The report said the panel had corroborated “credible allegations” that chemical weapons were used in the first reported attack — a March 19 episode involving soldiers and civilians [as victims] in Khan al-Assal in the country’s north.”

United Nations final December 2013 report investigating East Ghouta and four other sites 

“The United Nations Mission remains deeply concerned that chemical weapons were used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arabic Republic, which has added yet another dimension to the continued suffering of the Syrian people.”

[For context, I noted the following in 2013The report states that chemical weapons were “probably used” at five sites in Syria during the two-and-a-half year long conflict. Most significant is that at two sites, the victims were Syrian government soldiers, and at another, the victims were regime soldiers and civilians (for initial BBC reporting go here). While the purpose of the investigation was not to establish the culprit in each attack, the report identifies the victims in three out of the five incidents as regime soldiers. This is a tacit UN admission that the rebels possess and have used chemical weapons.]

U.S. State Dept. Travel Advisory for Syria, updated 10/2017

“Tactics of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and other violent extremist groups include the use of suicide bombers, kidnapping, small and heavy arms, improvised explosive devices, and chemical weapons.

They have targeted major city centers, road checkpoints, border crossings, government buildings, shopping areas, and open spaces, in Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib, and Dayr al-Zawr provinces.”

* * *

But even prior to the UN’s December 2013 findings, credible allegations of rebel chemical weapons were nothing new. In May of 2013, Carla Del Ponte, a top UN human rights investigator and former UN Chief Prosecutor and veteran International Criminal Court attorney – was the first to accuse the rebels of using Sarin gas against government forces and civilians (also see herehere, and here).

This is what a top U.N. investigator had to say the very first time she weighed in publicly on CW usage in Syria…

Defining “The Mission” Whether in Afghanistan Or Texas

Defining “The Mission” Whether in Afghanistan Or Texas

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Wednesday addressed active duty troops who’ve been stationed in an unlikely place: the US-Mexico border, where close to 6,000 troops have been dispatched by Trump ahead of the much hyped caravan expected to seek illegal entry into the country.

There were some stunningly frank and eye opening statements during his televised speech given in the “field” (alongside Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen) at a border patrol station in Brownsville, Texas which just as easily could have been said in front of troops in Afghanistan. Via BuzzFeed reporter Vera Bergengruen:

Mattis told troops deployed to the border to ignore news coverage questioning the mission: “There’s all sorts of stuff in the news… If you read all that stuff, you’ll go nuts, you know what I mean?”

Marine Corps combat veteran Thomas Gibbons-Neff heard echoes of America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan during Mattis’ speech (Gibbons-Neff saw combat there):

And more echoes came in the following exchange…

When one soldier asked whether the Army would be removing the miles of concertina wire troops have been erecting along choke points and areas easily breached, Mattis said: “we’ll let you know.”

Another soldier bluntly asked Mattis precisely about official goals of the non-conventional border mission, to which he responded:

“Short term, get the obstacles in. Longer term…it is somewhat to be determined.”

Next stop… Kabul, where he can simply recycle the same speech. Or probably not. As usual the media will miss the central irony of Mattis all but admitting we don’t know what the hell the mission is… but we’ll let you know.

His words are all too honest about how Washington’s foreign policy actually works.

While the media will turn Mattis’ latest admissions into the usual hyperpartisan left/right “I’m shocked! just shocked!” outrage of the day connected solely to the immigration debate, veterans will hear in their ears a reminder of the utterly futile “terror wars” that have done more than anything else to weaken our national security while draining us of vast and priceless blood and treasure over the course of nearly two decades.

If you read all that stuff, you’ll go nuts. 

…Say again Mr. Mattis?

…Yeah man that comes later anyway when you’re waking up in the middle of the night still trying to figure out why your friends are dead.

War In Two Profound Images

War In Two Profound Images

Enough said…

Here’s why Europe went to Istanbul to talk Syria (without the U.S.)

Here’s why Europe went to Istanbul to talk Syria (without the U.S.)

Wow… the optics out of Saturday’s Syria summit in Istanbul. While it’s true there were no major breakthroughs or significant shifts in the Astana process in terms of winding down the seven-year long war to come out of the four-way meeting involving France, Germany, Russia, and host Turkey in Istanbul, the optics of “Europe going to Istanbul” — and without the United States — speaks volumes.

Image via Global Look Press

This comes after European countries and especially France for years calling for and at times directly assisting the West’s regime change efforts in Syria. And it’s more telling in terms of who is absent from the summit photo op. Germany and France are in effect “breaking the U.S. boycott of Syria” in the words of Syria analyst Joshua Landis.

Landis argues that looming large in the background is the would-be impact of a failed Russia-Turkey-Assad Idlib deal on Europe’s already busy shores: should Assad and Russia launch a major push into Idlib as was planned in early September, but subsequently halted, a new explosion of Syrian refugees as well as transplanted jihadis would hit Europe’s borders.

Here’s what Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment had to say, used with permission of the author:

The real importance of France and Germany going to Turkey to meet Putin and Erdogan is that they are effectively hiving off from the US by joining the Astana process. They are breaking the boycott of Syria, while preserving the “need for elections” talking point.

We may safely conclude that Assad will not permit any “political process” or constitutional committee to dislodge him or bring members of the opposition to power in Damascus. He has won the war.

Europe is frightened for its security. It does not want the refugee situation nor the Jihadi situation in Europe to be made worse by an Idlib invasion. This is why Europe is in Istanbul. As Macron said, the Idlib deal must be sustained.

Russia has reiterated that the Idlib deal is temporary. The jihadists must be killed or arrested. But Russia wants the EU to engage and commit to reconstruction aid for Syria, which can help refugees return.

Europe is angry at the U.S. for unilaterally scuttling the Iran deal and possibly crushing the Iranian economy, which could further destabilize the region and lead to an even greater refugee flow toward Europe. The US policy is very bad for Europe.

Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia want to drive the US out of North Syria and end its alliance with the YPG.

There are many competing agendas among the different sides in Istanbul, but this is an important step forward, breaking with America’s stated goal of boycotting Syria so long as Assad remains in power.

It is a logical step forward after many Gulf countries, such as Bahrain and Kuwait, took measures to recognize the present reality of the Assad victory and work toward the normalization of relations between their countries.

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