Tag Archives: Hugh Roberts

No, the US has not made ‘well-meaning efforts to broker peace’ in Syria

No, the US has not made ‘well-meaning efforts to broker peace’ in Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
9 May 2017

Testifying to the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs last month, the highly-respected Syria analyst Charles Lister asserted the Obama Administration had made “repeated, well-meaning efforts to broker peace” in Syria. This belief in the “basic benevolence” of the US underpins much of the mainstream commentary on the ongoing conflict. For example, in 2013 the Guardian’s foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall noted that Obama “cannot count on Russian support to fix Syria”.

Embarrassingly for Lister and Tisdall the historical record clearly shows that far from being a “well-meaning” broker for peace, the US (and UK) have in actual fact repeatedly blocked a peaceful, negotiated settlement in Syria.

A key date is 2 August 2012 – the day Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, resigned after failing to reach a peace deal with many of the participants in the war at talks in Geneva.

Writing in 2015, Professor Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Oxford University, provided some important context for the collapse of the talks. “British ministers [following the lead of the US] keep repeating the mantra that Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In truth he is a very large part of the problem but also an indispensable part of any negotiated solution”, Shlaim noted. “Western insistence on regime change in Damascus sabotaged his [Annan’s] efforts and forced him to resign.” Professor Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, agreed with Shlaim’s analysis. “Western policy has been a disgrace”, Roberts argued in the London Review of Books. “They sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting.”

The West’s negative role at the 2012 Syrian peace talks has been confirmed by Andrew Mitchell, the former British Secretary of State for International Development, Chatham House’s Dr Christopher Phillips*, and veteran foreign correspondents Jonathan Steele and Patrick Cockburn. Amazingly, in 2015 former US Secretary of State John Kerry himself admitted the US demanding Assad’s departure upfront in the peace process was “in fact, prolonging the war.”

On 17 August 2012 it was announced the seasoned diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi would succeed Annan as the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria. Less than two years later Brahimi himself resigned after also failing to achieve a peaceful settlement to the fighting. “I would put a lot of blame on the outside forces – the forces, the governments and others who were supporting one side or the other. None of these countries had the interests of the Syrian people as the first priority… everybody is to blame”, Brahimi told Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan in March 2016. “The entire world. What did the Americans do? What did the French do? What did the British do?”

As Brahimi’s testimony hints at, other actors also bear a heavy responsibility for the breakdown of the talks and the continuation of the ongoing conflict, especially the Syrian Government and its backers Russia and Iran. However, as a British citizen my focus in this article is the United States, the UK’s closet ally.

In addition to playing a blocking role in the peace talks, by supplying – as Kerry told Syrian activists last year – an “extraordinary amount of arms” to the Syrian rebels and working with its regional allies to send in arms, the US has played a key role in lengthening and escalating the conflict. The Syrian specialist Patrick Seale was fully aware of “the central contradiction in US policy” in 2012: “Although it says it supports the Annan plan, it is unashamedly undermining it by helping to arms the rebels” a depressing reality many expert voices warned about in 2013, including the UN Secretary-General and two former NATO Secretary-Generals.

Frustratingly, despite this slew of first-hand testimony and expert analysis, it is Lister’s evidence-free misrepresentation of the US role that informs the popular understanding of Western involvement in Syria – which suggests we are in the midst of a huge propaganda war directed at Western publics. And even more frustratingly, it is likely to stay this way because the inconvenient facts around the US’s role in the Syrian bloodbath challenge a number of media-fuelled shibboleths: from the portrayal of Assad and Putin as the only ‘bad guys’ in the war to the oft repeated myth of US non-intervention in the conflict. Hell, if the US’s real role in Syria became better understood then people might also start asking awkward questions about other recent conflicts, such as Serbia in 1999 and Libya in 2011, where the US has presented itself as sincerely seeking peace when it has really been pushing for war.

In the end one particularly ugly conclusion is inescapable: if the West has been involved in blocking peace initiatives and therefore extending the fighting, it also means the West’s is partly responsible for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed in the ongoing slaughter and the mammoth refugee crisis – a world away from the US being a well-meaning peace broker.

*In his 2016 book ‘The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East’ Dr Christopher Phillips notes “at the Geneva conference in summer 2012, neither the US nor Russia was willing to prioritise the prevention of conflict over their positions on Assad’s future.” (page 103)

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No, the intervention in Libya wasn’t a success

No, the intervention in Libya wasn’t a success
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
15 June 2016

Shadi Hamid, a well-respected analyst with the Brookings Institution thinktank, recently published an article titled ‘Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong’. Contradicting even the US President’s analysis of the 2011 NATO intervention – Obama is reported to describe it as a “shit show” – Hamid asserts the “intervention was successful”, later referring to the “justness of the military intervention” in Libya. As the Libyan intervention was supportedby 98 percent of British MPs and the majority of the British media, but has since been largely forgotten, it is worth interrogating Hamid’s claims.

Protecting civilians?

Hamid begins by stating “the goal” of the intervention “was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre”, noting “this is what was achieved”. This was certainly how the NATO action was officially justified and presented to the Western publics in 2011 but, as Noam Chomsky has long noted, “it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story”.

Ignoring Chomsky’s dictum and taking governments’ public justifications at face value would mean believing Russia intervened in Syria to target ISIS or that Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia for humanitarian reasons. Hamid would laugh at such naïve assertions, yet when it comes to the US government he is ideologically blind.

So what does NATO’s deeds tell us about NATO’s concern for protecting civilians in Libya?

Alarm bells were surely raised for Hamid when Anne-Marie Slaughter, a key figure in the US foreign policy establishment, explained to the New York Times that “we did not try to protect civilians on Qaddafi’s side.” However, the reality – that is, the facts and evidence – show that the US and NATO didn’t just “not try to protest civilians” loyal to then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as Slaughter asserts, but actively took part in directly killing scores of civilians and provided air cover, and military and diplomatic support for rebel forces as they committed war crimes against civilians.

In September 2011 Amnesty International published a report noting killing, torture and other abuses were being carried out by both Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces. In addition, multiple news reports have noted how perhaps 30,000 dark-skinned people from the town of Tawergha were forcibly driven out of their homes – ethnically cleansed – by Western-supported rebels. One witness told IRIN News of “detainees receiving electric shocks, having cold water poured on them and being burned with cigarettes by the revolutionaries”.

Arguably NATO’s most shameful deeds occurred in the coastal city of Sirte, where Gaddafi loyalists had retreated to after Tripoli fell to rebel forces. As the Guardian’s Seamus Milne noted at the time “a two-month long siege and indiscriminate bombardment of a city of 100,000” was carried out by the rebels, with the urban area “reduced to a Grozny-like state of destruction.” How indiscriminate was the attack, you ask? Try this Reuters report from the frontline:

“Obaid pulled up in his pick-up truck to fire the multiple rocket launcher mounted on the back at Gaddafi loyalists holding out in the Libyan city of Sirte, but just as he was about to shoot, he stopped to ask which way to aim. His comrades standing nearby loudly conferred with one another then pointed him to what they agreed was the right direction and Obaid fired four Grad missiles at the city. They all cheered him and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Smoke rose above the already wrecked city, but no one could say if the Grad rockets hit the target, or even what the target was.”

Still not convinced? Then check out this Reuters video showing wild, indiscriminate fire being directed into the city.

All this was done with NATO air and special forces support, Milne notes. And despite the AFP news agency reporting on 2 October 2011 that the International Red Cross were warning of a medical emergency in Sirte the NATO-rebel attack would continue for nearly three weeks. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Siraj Assouri said basic medical supplies had run out and people were resorting to drinking contaminated water to survive: “The conditions have been getting worse and worse. There is no medicine for heart disease or blood pressure, or baby milk or nappies.” Mohammed Shnaq, a biochemist, toldReuters the situation was “a catastrophe. Patients are dying every day for need of oxygen.”

According to AFP “some of the hundreds of residents fleeing Sirte said there had been civilian casualties there when residential buildings were hit, either by artillery fire from besieging new regime forces or by NATO airstrikes.” Asked by AFP if NATO was protecting civilians, one aid worker replied “It wouldn’t seem so”, before adding that many residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained about deadly NATO air strikes. One woman told Reuters “Everyone is being hit all day and all night. There is no electricity and no water… there is not one neighbourhood that hasn’t been hit.” AFP spoke to a Libyan charity whosaid more than 50 bodies of civilians were found under the rubble of a several-storey building flattened in a NATO air strike. Human Rights Watch noted that “several fleeing residents said that NATO bombs had struck schools.”

Echoing Milne’s reference to Grozny, as the fighting waned the Washington Post reported Sirte “appeared… to have been largely destroyed”.

“Mission creep on steroids”: regime change

So, if NATO’s intervention wasn’t about protecting Libyan civilians, what was behind it?

“Once underway, the NATO operation unilaterally expanded andqualitatively shifted the mission as authorized, and almost immediately acted to help the rebels win the war and to make non-negotiable the dismantling of the Qaddafi regime”, notes Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton and former United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. “This was not just another instance of ‘mission creep’ as had occurred previously in UN peacekeeping operations (for instance, the Gulf War of 1991), but rather mission creep on steroids!”

Falk’s analysis is supported by an extraordinary admission in the New York Times’s recent in-depth two-part series about the Libyan intervention. “I can’t recall any specific decision that said ‘Well, let’s just take him out’”, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said. Publicly “the fiction was maintained” that the goal was limited to disabling Colonel Gaddafi’s command and control, noted Gates. Commenting on Gates’s testimony, Micah Zenko, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that “Given that decapitation strikes against Qaddafi were employed early and often, there almost certainly was a decision by the civilian heads of government of the NATO coalition to ‘take him out’ from the very beginning of the intervention.” Zenko’s conclusion? “In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start.” Indeed, NATO’s true intentions were so obvious that in April 2011 the Guardian’s Middle East Editor published an article titledLibya regime change is west’s goal, but doubts remain over how to achieve it’.

Another thing that is “absolutely obvious” according to Middle East specialist Professor Gilbert Achcar, was “that oil is a key factor in NATO’s intervention”. Obvious to everybody except Hamid that is, who doesn’t mention the idea Libya’s huge oil reserves were likely a key driver behind NATO’s intervention in the country in his 2,500-word article.

On 2 April 2011 Hillary Clinton’s close advisor Sidney Blumenthal emailed the then US Secretary of State with a summary of five interests his intelligence sources had told him the French had in Libya. The first item mentioned? “A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production”. Nothing about protecting civilians, of course.

Speaking to The Real News Network after surveying 250,000 leaked US State Department documents, Kevin Hall, the Economics Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, explained “a full 10 percent of them, a full 10 percent of those documents, reference in some way, shape, or form oil.”

That oil was very likely a key reason behind the Libyan intervention is confirmed by a study of external interventions in civil wars conducted by academics from the universities of Warwick, Essex and Portsmouth that found, according to one of the authors, “clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil wars erupt.” Another author elaborated: “The ‘thirst for oil’ is often put forward as a near self-evident explanation behind the intervention in Libya and the absence of intervention in Syria. Many claims are often simplistic but, after a rigorous and systematic analysis, we found that the role of economic incentives emerges as a key factor in intervention.”

Were military intervention or inaction the only two choices available in early 2011?

As is common with those who support Western military interventions, Hamid frames the discussion in simplistic, black and white terms:

“…we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked likeif we hadn’t intervened. The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.”

In the real world military intervention and inaction were not the only two options available to the West. Hugh Roberts, Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University and the former director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group (ICG): “The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected.”

An ICG report from June 2011 clarifies what happened: “UNSC resolution 1973 emphatically called for a ceasefire, yet every proposal for a ceasefire put forward by the Qaddafi regime or by third parties so far has been rejected by the TNC [Transitional National Council] as well as by the Western governments most closely associated with the NATO military campaign.” This description is echoed by other reports which have highlighted how proposals for a negotiated settlement originating from Gaddafi were blocked by the US Government, while African Union peace initiatives were “killed by France, Britain and the United States”, according to Africa specialist Professor Alex de Waal. “London, Paris and Washington could not allow a ceasefire because it would have involved negotiations, first about peace lines, peacekeepers and so forth, and then about fundamental political differences”, Roberts notes. “And all this would have subverted the possibility of the kind of regime change that interested the Western powers.”

All of the facts and evidence (mainstream news reports, eye-witness accounts, expert analysis etc.) that I’ve cited above are freely available on the public record. Hamid doesn’t mention any of these, despite the fact they are extremely pertinent to – and directly contradict – the case he makes in support of the intervention.

The West and Syria: the corporate media vs. reality

The West and Syria: the corporate media vs. reality
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
4 March 2016

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary”, George Orwell noted in his censored preface to his 1945 book Animal Farm. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”. Orwell went onto explain that “at any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it”.

The corporate media’s ‘coverage’ of Syria adds a twist to Orwell’s dictum – inconvenient reports and facts do occasionally appear in respected newspapers and on popular news programmes but they are invariably ignored, decontextualised or not followed up on. Rather than informing the historical record, public opinion and government policy these snippets of essential information are effectively thrown down the memory hole.

Instead the public is fed a steady diet of simplistic, Western-friendly propaganda, a key strand of which is that the US has, as Channel 4 News’s Paul Mason blindly asserted in January 2016, “stood aloof from the Syrian conflict”. This deeply ingrained ignorance was taken to comical lengths when Mason’s Channel 4 News colleague Cathy Newman interviewed the former senior US State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, with both women agreeing the US had not armed the insurgency in Syria.

In the real world the US has been helping to arm the insurgency since 2012, with US officials telling the Washington Post in last year that the CIA’s $1bn programme had trained and equipped 10,000 rebel fighters. “From the moment the CIA operation was started, Saudi money supported it”, notes the New York Times. According to the former American Ambassador to Syria, the US “has looked the other way” while fighters it has backed have “coordinated in military operations” with the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. The UK, of course, has obediently followed its master into the gates of hell, with the former UK Ambassador to Syria recently explaining the UK has made things worse by fuelling the conflict in Syria.

And if they are not playing down the West’s interference in Syria, journalists and their political masters are presenting Western actions as having benign, peaceful motives. For example, in his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron argued “since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”. The Guardian’s foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall echoed this idea of the West’s “basic benevolence” in 2013 when henoted in passing that President Obama “cannot count on Russian support to fix Syria”.

Compare, this propagandistic framing with what Andrew Mitchell, the former British Secretary of State for International Development, had to say about the West’s role in the 2012 United Nations peace plans on the BBC Today Programme earlier this month:

“Kofi Annan, the very distinguished former General Secretary of the United Nations, came forward with his plan, asked by the UN General-Secretary to do so. Part of that plan was to say that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is part of the problem here and, therefore, by definition, is part of the solution, and therefore he must be included in negotiations. And that was vetoed by the Americans and, alas, by the British Government too.”

Mitchell’s astonishing revelation is backed up by two highly respected Middle East experts. In September 2015 Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Oxford University, noted that Western insistence that Assad must step down sabotaged Annan’s efforts to set up a peace deal and forced his resignation. Professor Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, concurs, writing “the Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”. Indeed, the US Secretary of State himself conceded this reality when he recently noted that demanding Assad’s departure up front in the peace process was “in fact, prolonging the war.”

A quick survey of recent history shows this warmongering isn’t an unfortunate one-off but a longstanding US policy of blocking peace initiatives in times of conflict.

In 1999 the US used Serbia’s rejection of the Rambouillet Agreement to justify its 78-day bombing campaign. However, the proposed agreement included the military occupation and political control of Kosovo by NATO, and gave NATO the right to occupy of the rest of Yugoslavia. It was a document “that no sovereign country on earth would have signed”, reporter Jeremy Scahill noted.

Two years later as the US geared up to bomb and invade Afghanistan, the Taliban raised the idea of handing over Osama bin Laden if the US produced evidence of his involvement in the attack on 9/11. According to the New York Times “the White House quickly rejected the move” because “it did not ‘meet American requirements’ that Afghanistan immediately hand over the prime suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon”

Several months into the 2003 Iraq War, the Guardian reported that “in the few weeks before its fall, Iraq’s Ba’athist regime made a series of increasingly desperate peace offers to Washington, promising to hold elections and even to allow US troops to search for banned weapons.” Like Afghanistan, the Guardian noted “the advances were all rejected by the Bush administration, according to intermediaries involved in the talks.”

And finally, in January 2015 the Washington Times highlighted the various attempts made by the Libyan government to push for a negotiated settlement during the 2011 NATO intervention. Citing secret audio recordings between an intermediary working for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Libyan government, the newspaper noted the head of the US African Command attempted to negotiate a truce but was ordered to stand down by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s State Department. This account resonates with other reports that show how NATO ignored peace initiatives coming from the Libyan Government and the African Union.

Of course, some or perhaps all of these peace overtures may have been disingenuous and/or unworkable. However, we will never know because they were never seriously considered or explored by the West in its rush to war.

Turning back to Syria, the facts clearly show the West, by blocking the UN’s peace initiative while continuing to arm the insurgency, played a key role in prolonging and escalating a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to a staggering 11 million refugees.

Of course, Russia and Iran, by backing the Assad Government, have also played a central role in prolonging and escalating the war but as a British citizen whose taxes fund the British government my primary concern is the actions of the UK and its allies. As Noam Chomsky has noted “You’re responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions. You’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions.”

Roberts clearly understands what the predictable consequences of the US and UK actions in Syria have been: “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

As always, the government prefers to treat the public like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit. And with our supposedly crusading, disputatious, stroppy and difficult fourth estate unable or unwilling to report basic facts and to connect some very simple dots, what chance does the general public have of ever gaining even a basic understanding of what the West is doing in Syria?

Roundtable: how should the West respond to the Paris attacks?

Roundtable: how should the West respond to the Paris attacks?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
16 December 2015

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British Government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.

Ian Sinclair asked campaigners and academics to give their analysis on the on-going crisis.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Seeking to continue or escalate western intervention and war in the Middle East, as our government does, is the worst response, either to the Paris atrocities or as a solution to the region’s problems. The war on terror unleashed this nightmare – the failures of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – following more than a century of colonialism which created the conditions for the rise of terrorist organisations. Further war and intervention will only make the situation worse, fuelling support for terrorist organisations; war is not the answer. The UN resolution outlines crucial steps to help achieve a solution, including closing off funding channels and recruitment routes to Islamic State (IS). These two initiatives alone would significantly assist in breaking the strength of IS. Increased bombing will only boost their support and result in the deaths of countless innocents. We must stand united against any attempts to divide our communities, to stoke the fires of racism and Islamophobia. We must stand in defence of refugees, so many of whom are fleeing the very forces that have inflicted this tragedy on France. Neither they, nor our Muslim communities, can be made scapegoats for the terrorists. Only a negotiated political settlement can bring peace to Syria and the region, and ultimately there has to be a rebalancing of international relations. As part of that we must fight for a new foreign policy for Britain, rejecting its imperialist past and present, rejecting its interventionism, whether military, political or economic. The long road to peace can only be built through respect, equality and solidarity amongst peoples.

Hugh Roberts, Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History, Tufts University

Mr Cameron’s proposal to bomb ISIS in Syria is wrong. It will inflict scant damage on ISIS, which will have evacuated likely targets in advance and, as for solidarity with the French people, is an entirely empty gesture. ISIS can be defeated only once sufficient ground troops are engaged against it. The only troops available in Syria are those of the Kurds, which Turkey, with NATO’s assent, is impeding, and those of the Assad regime, which can fully engage ISIS only once the other rebel forces arrayed against it have been defeated. This is what Russia is undertaking. The Western powers should have adopted a variant of this policy a long time ago and have themselves to blame for the fact that it is being pursued by Russia in its own interest instead of by an international coalition in the general interest. Since Cameron’s proposal does not have the agreement of Damascus, it suggests that London remains wedded to the regime change agenda that has brought so much destruction on Syria, not to mention Iraq and Libya. The pursuit of this agenda is the single most important cause of the terrorism which has hit Beirut, Paris and Tunis in the last three weeks. This agenda should be clearly renounced and our government induced to support and promote a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict as the indispensable prerequisite of dealing with ISIS.

Joe Emersberger, activist and commentator on Western foreign policy

Sadly, there are no quick and easy solutions to the problem of anti-Western terrorism. If the UK decided tomorrow to completely alter its foreign policy (refuse to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, refuse to support Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its war crimes; refuse to pour fuel on the fire of Syria’s civil war either through airstrikes or other support for non-existent “moderate rebels”) all that would greatly reduce the risk of terrorism against the UK but not eliminate it. The US and its allies have killed millions of Muslims since 1990, and have long made use of Islamic extremists when it has suited them as they are doing in Syria and as they did in Libya in 2011. Given that history, anyone offering a quick and completely effective way to keep westerners safe from terrorism is either ignorant of the history or ignoring it. Fixing the problem is a difficult and long term undertaking. A country like the UK (or France) would not only have to drastically change its own foreign policy but also pressure the US to change. That‘s very a tall order. On the other hand, there is a very quick and easy way to make the problem worse. Keep doing what has been done – with horrific consequences – for decades.

Christopher Davidson, Reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University and author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies

The attacks seem most likely the work of a Belgium-based cell which, in a sort of franchising system, has used the Islamic State’s banner. It has picked a ‘soft target’ in Parisian suburbs to demonstrate that no amount of French surveillance-state measures can ultimately block its attacks. As a hot-bed of Salafi-jihadism, ever since the beginning of substantial Saudi-Wahhabi donations to its mosques in the 1960s, Belgium has long been suspected of providing conditions conducive to such extremists.  EU or British military action in Syria serves no practical purpose given that the ‘enemy’ is a transnational non-conventional force that can move freely between borders and regroup rapidly wherever states have been sufficiently destabilized. Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that such military action worsens the situation, adding a further layer to the perceived credibility of the Islamic State in its self-claimed anti-Western, anti-imperialist stance. The EU’s response should be to counter the root causes of such European radicalisation, which will involve revisiting its members’ de facto alliances with the state sponsors of such groups or their antecedents along with suitable pressure and condemnation of those states which foster a permissive environment for their wealthy citizens to serve as private sponsors. In their present state, the Western governments are unable and unwilling to develop strategies that can actually thwart the rise and expansion of such movements. Instead, the only workable solution is for the citizens of the Western states themselves to use the mechanisms available to them to force their governments to curtail the foreign policies that continue to arm, equip and provide diplomatic coverage for the states most responsible for the present-day spectre of extremist Islamism.

Symon Hill, socialist pacifist author and campaigner

Nothing can justify the actions of the murderers in Paris. Nearly all commentators and politicians have rightly condemned these attacks. Sadly, few seem willing to demonstrate consistency by condemning other killings of innocent civilians.

These include the killing of more than 2,000 civilians in Yemen by Saudi forces. The Saudi regime is morally comparable to Daesh. Far from bombing the terrorists who run Saudi Arabia, David Cameron and his ministers sell them weapons.

We can only stop terrorist attacks by tackling their causes. We can ask why there are people who want to kill us. To understand is not to justify. Successive UK governments have used UK forces as a tribute band for US foreign policy. To much of the world US forces are both murderous and hypocritical, with Obama and his colleagues condemning terrorism while helping their allies to practise it.

Fewer people are now fooled by the militarist’s trick of presenting the only alternative to bombing as “doing nothing”. The bombing of Syria will kill innocent people and it will not defeat Daesh. Putting pressure on Turkey to seal the border would make a greater difference. Ending UK support for the US and Saudi regimes would change international attitudes. Such options would not suit the aims of the British ruling class, who have far more in common with other elites around the world than they do with their own people. Militarism is international. Our resistance must be international too.

The West’s responsibility for the slaughter in Syria

The West’s responsibility for the slaughter in Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
24 September 2015

In a recent editorial the Guardian argued that “when debating the Syrian war, it is important to discriminate between the various external state involvements.” For the Guardian “Russia has a special responsibility” because it is “much more implicated – directly and indirectly – in the massacre of civilians.”

By arming Bashar al-Assad’s government and protecting him diplomatically, Russia certainly bears significant responsibility for the thousands of Syrians slaughtered by their government forces in airstrikes, artillery bombardments, small arms fire and summary executions – all extensively documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However, as a British citizen I share responsibility for the actions of the UK Government and its allies. This is because I pay my taxes and, more importantly, have immeasurably more power to influence UK Government policy than I do the Russian Government. As the US dissident Noam Chomsky noted: “It’s a very simple ethical point: you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions, you’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions.” The same logic, of course, should apply to British journalists and British newspapers.

So what has the UK and its allies been up to in Syria? And do we bear any responsibility for the on-going war that has killed more than 220,000 people and forced over four million to flee the country.

According to Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East Editor, “Russia has supported Assad, while the US advocates a political transition to end his rule while backing armed opposition groups.” Compare this subtle propaganda to a recent report – also in the Guardian – that noted Russia proposed a peace deal in February 2012 in which Assad would step down. According to the person leading the negotiations, the former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, the US, UK and France ignored this offer because they “were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks.” Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, echoed Ahtisaari’s testimony in the London Review of Books in July 2015. “The Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”, Roberts wrote. “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

As Black mentions, isolated media reports have shown the US, often supported by the UK and working with Turkey and many of the Gulf monarchies, has been helping to arm and train the Syrian rebels since summer 2012. For example, in September 2013 the New York Times explained “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria”. This was done covertly, Syrian rebel groups told the New York Times, because US and UK intelligence did not want their support publicly known.

Moreover, the West has been arming the rebels in the full knowledge that the insurgency was increasingly dominated by extremist groups. After “extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama Administration” McClatchy’s Hannah Allam recently noted Obama’s government “was warmed early on that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.” Similarly, a recently released formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report noted that from atleast August 2012 the West knew “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq]” were “the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”. The US’s support for “the crazies” in Syria was confirmed by General Michael T. Flynn, the Director of the DIA from 2012-14, in an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera in July 2015.

By 2013 an analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor had already concluded that “the current level of external intervention in Syria is similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.” Two years later in June 2015 the Washington Post was quoting US officials as saying “the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years.”

These inconvenient facts are presumably why in April 2015 Peter Ford, a former UK ambassador to Syria, argued “we are… arsonists, causing the situation to deteriorate by indirectly giving succour and encouragement to the Islamists.”

Not that you would know all of this from reading British newspapers. Other than a few honourable exceptions, journalists have repeatedly downplayed the scale of Western intervention in Syria. A Guardian editorial earlier this month referred in passing to “the refusal [of the West] to intervene against Bashar al-Assad”, while in August 2015 the Guardian’s foreign affairs commentator Natalie Nougayrède chastised Obama because he had “refrained from getting involved in Syria.” In the US Matt Schiavenza wrote an article in the Atlantic magazine titled Why The US Can’t Build An Opposition Army in Syria which, incredibly, failed to mention the 10,000 rebels the US claims to have armed. Over at the Brookings Institution Shadi Hamid argues the US has been “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”. How, I wonder, would these commentators describe a foreign power arming and training thousands of rebels intent on overthrowing the UK or US governments?

Contrary to the actual actions of the West in Syria, much of the reporting and analysis of the mainstream press has presented a false narrative of Western inaction and benevolence. This blackout of reality raises huge questions about the quality and purpose of our so-called free and rambunctious media, our democracy and our foreign policy. How, for example, is the general public supposed to understand our own role in exacerbating the refugee crisis if they are not aware of it? As David Yelland, the former editor of the Sun, once said “People attack papers for what they print. But what they don’t print is often the bigger story.”

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press.