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.
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.”
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.
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?
Lister= talent? = Twilight Zone.
Well that's a revolting piece of news. What are you hoping to achieve by joining a war propagandist, Danny?
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.
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.
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:
No, @GenMhayden’s position was that @realDonaldTrump was serving as a “useful fool” for Putin, parroting Moscow’s views on a variety of issues, including the false view advocated by Putin and Assad that in quashing Syrian dissent they were “killing ISIS.” https://t.co/WTKwAzVyRs
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.TheCharles Listers of the worldare 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.
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.
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).
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 Axiosreports: “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.”
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.
After President Trump urges Erdogan to call on “a friendly reporter from Turkey”, Lindsey Graham turns to me and says, “There aren’t any others left.” pic.twitter.com/VgEpYyr2PR
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.
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’.
How is it that Robert Ford, one of the architects of the Islamist insurgency in #Syria and a man who tirelessly campaigned for the Al-Qaeda tied Ahrar Al-Sham to replace the Assad government, is now being so realistic and actually talking sense? (Interview Oct 10, 2019) pic.twitter.com/0ZWrndjbWK
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.
At a US gov-funded think tank, this official who oversaw Congress' Syria Study Group outlines the continued regime-change strategy.
She says the US military "owned" 1/3rd of Syrian territory, including its oil/wheat-rich region. And the US is trying to block reconstruction funds pic.twitter.com/NIEJ9elxhs
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.
“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.
US soldier talks to @NPA_English & Rudaw near Girgelege where there is an oil station.
“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.
“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.
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 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.”
“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.”
“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 2013: The 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.]
“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 here, here, 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…
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):
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. https://t.co/vNu4GzDp3m
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.
"This has got to be one of the most powerful photographs I have ever seen. Above is a battalion of the Cameron Highlanders in 1914, prior to being despatched to the front line; below is the same battalion upon their return in 1918 after the armistice. " Gerry Burns fb page. pic.twitter.com/1aL6ZdD4ug
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.
“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.”
If you’re not yet a Twitter follower of Elijah Magnier @EjmAlrai I suggest you start following him and pay attention to his work right away. He’s one of the few truly “on the ground” war correspondents who regularly treks all over Syria and the region, and has been doing so for decades.
While most of his reporting is in Arabic for Alrai Media based in Kuwait, he does a lot of geopolitical analysis in English via his blog.
The recent White House claim that Syria is preparing a chemical attack against civilians, “including innocent children” (which is remarkably specific!), is beyond bizarre. The administration seems to be using intelligence (though it’s doubtful there’s real intel involved at all) as a kind of public crystal ball to give itself carte blanche authority and justification to attack the Syrian government.
But what’s behind it all? Elijah Magnier has compiled a cheat sheet of sorts based on a fuller blog entry which can be found here. Magnier considers the following essential and obvious questions:
Why would Assad use chemical weapons?
Why the bizarre US accusation that Assad is prepping chemical weapons to massacre his civilian population?
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