SUBHEAD: We might we ask ourselves if there anything to the US’s complaint that Russia is not bombing the right ISIS?

By James Kunstler on 5 October 2015 for -

Image above: Cartoon by Gary Varvel of Putin and Obama about Syria int the Indianapolis Star. From (

Senior administration officials say the new offensive holds promise and may change the dynamics on the ground.

Whew…. That’s reassuring. Finally, a Middle East policy you can believe in.

It’s apparently based on a joint Kurdish-Arab army that our side (the USA) is pretending to assemble around the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, near the Turkish border. We’re informed also that American military officials have screened the leaders of the Arab groups to ensure that they meet standards set by Congress when it approved $500 million last year for the Defense Department to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. Thank God we have a functioning HR department over there.

Is it safe to say that the table is now set for World War Three? King Salman of Saudi Arabia is itching to mix it up. Of course, the moment he sends official KSA ground troops in there, he will be eligible to have his oil terminal at Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf blown up. Imagine what that would do to the S & P index.

The Turks, too, are none too happy with their currency imploding and their economy falling apart, and perhaps view a widened war as politically refreshing.

And let’s not forget Iran — having concluded the long, torturous negotiations to make America feel better about their nuke program, Iran is eager to put an end to this barbaric (Sunni-flavored) ISIS nonsense.

Oh, did I leave out Israel. Probably a good idea since so many people just want to hate on it if the subject even comes up. But suffice it to say they are in the mix, too, with the ability to turn their adversaries into ashtrays, should it come to that.

As the old song goes: someone left the cake out in the rain.

You had to at least admire the forthrightness of Mr. Putin. His economy of motion is breathtaking. He goes to the UN and says: “The situation in Syria is intolerable and we’re going to do something about it,” and a few days later they did. Russia commenced bombing groups that the US had labeled “the moderate opposition” to Bashar al-Assad.

The quandary for the US, of course, as Mr. Putin pointed out at the UN, is that we keep on arming and training “moderate oppositions” to this regime and that regime and abracadabra (to use an old Middle Eastern term-of-art) they break bad on us. 

They use the Humvee’s we give them to control the landscape and they blow stuff up with the ordnance we give them, and cut off the heads of Americans on video in the rudest and cruelest manner imaginable.

So, might we ask ourselves: is there anything to the US’s complaint that Russia is not bombing the right ISIS?

I suspect world opinion is not buying our claim that Bashar al-Assad has to go because he bombed his own citizens and used gas on them. I mean, we say that a lot, but is it actually true? US officials say a lot of things a lot that happen not to be true (e.g. the Federal Reserve’s claim that the US economy is humming.) In fact, we’re in this predicament precisely because we have squandered our credibility.

We go into one country after another and destroy the institutions that held these places together, and leave a train of death and chaos behind. Iraq, Libya, Somalia, now Syria.

Maybe we just ought to step aside for a while and see what happens. The Russians could shoot themselves in the foot over there, of course. They did it before in Afghanistan. But that was back in Soviet times, with its clunky leadership. Mr. Putin proved pretty nimble in Georgia.

Whatever else you can say about that little war, the region has been stable for years now. They’re not cutting off people’s heads on TV there. Similarly, you don’t hear much about Chechnyans perpetrating terrorist acts anymore.

Ukraine, for all its faults and troubles, was a stable country until the US decided to pull off regime change there. The deposed president Yanukovych was pressed into choosing between NATO and the Russian-backed Eurasian Custom’s Union and he chose wrong. The US pulled a few levers and a
bracadabra: civil war.

So, Assad still heads a government in Syria. We don’t like him because he is cozy with Iran, and their proxy war machine, Hezbollah. But will eliminating him make the situation any better?

Saudi Arabia may enter war

By Tyler Durden on 5 Octrober 2015 for Zero Hedge - 

While the US has certainly made some epic strategic blunders in Syria that raise serious questions about just how “intelligent” US intelligence actually is, there’s little doubt that if one were to look behind all of the media parroting, the Pentagon and Langley understand all too well what’s going on in the Middle East.

That is, the significance of the Russia-Iran “nexus” in Syria isn’t lost on anyone in the US military and you can bet there have been quite a few high level discussions over the past 72 hours about the best way to counter Moscow and Tehran’s powerplay before it spills over into Iraq and ends up degrading Washington’s influence in Baghdad.

As we put it on Friday, “if Russia ends up bolstering Iran's position in Syria (by expanding Hezbollah's influence and capabilities) and if the Russian air force effectively takes control of Iraq thus allowing Iran to exert a greater influence over the government in Baghdad, the fragile balance of power that has existed in the region will be turned on its head and in the event this plays out, one should not expect Washington, Riyadh, Jerusalem, and London to simply go gentle into that good night.”

Sure enough, some experts now predict Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey will move to counter Russia militarily if Moscow continues to rack up gains for Assad. Here’s The Guardian with more:
Regional powers have quietly, but effectively, channelled funds, weapons and other support to rebel groups making the biggest inroads against the forces from Damascus. In doing so, they are investing heavily in a conflict which they see as part of a wider regional struggle for influence with bitter rival Iran.

In a week when Russia made dozens of bombing raids, those countries have made it clear that they remain at least as committed to removing Assad as Moscow is to preserving him.

“There is no future for Assad in Syria,” Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir warned, a few hours before the first Russian bombing sorties began. If that was not blunt enough, he spelled out that if the president did not step down as part of a political transition, his country would embrace a military option, “which also would end with the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power”. With at least 39 civilians reported dead in the first bombing raids, the prospect of an escalation between backers of Assad and his opponents is likely to spell more misery for ordinary Syrians.

“The Russian intervention is a massive setback for those states backing the opposition, particularly within the region – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – and is likely to elicit a strong response in terms of a counter-escalation,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Syrian civil war has unfolded, Saudi Arabia has been clear about its position, say analysts. “Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, the view in Riyadh has been that Bashar al-Assad must go. There is no indication what-soever that Riyadh will change this position,” said Mohammed Alyahya, associate fellow at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“What is clear to Riyadh and its regional allies is that the recent Russian and Iranian escalation will only create a more unstable region and spill more blood,” he said.

Riyadh has focused support on rebels in the south, say analysts, while allies Turkey and Qatar have reportedly backed northern rebels, including conservative Islamist militias such as Ahrar al Sham.

That group, in alliance with the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, recently reached a local ceasefire deal with Assad in the north. Its success in taking on government forces is thought to have been one trigger for the Russian bombing campaign and put them among the jets’ first targets.

“Most probably, the coming efforts will focus on boosting the effectiveness of major coalitions, co-ordination and co-operation between the most influential and effective groups in Syria,” said regional analyst Ali Bakeer.
Of course that isn’t going to work.

Say what you will about how successful guerilla/urban warfare can be when it comes to bogging down a conventional army (examples of this include Vietnam, the Soviet-Afghan war, and Somalia during the Black Hawk down debacle), but the disorganization of the Syrian resistance combined with the fact that Iran has its own well-armed militias on the ground that, in combination with Hezbollah, are providing the ground support for Russian airstrikes, means the situation is all but hopeless for the various Riyadh- and Doha-backed groups operating in Syria.

The only way to turn the tide here would be to intervene directly.

But just as Iran is unwilling to risk direct intervention on behalf of the Houthis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will likely be unwilling to risk direct intervention on behalf of their proxy armies in Syria. The problem for Riyadh and Doha: Syria is a lot more strategically important than Yemen. Here’s The Guardian again:
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already embroiled in an expensive and bloody war in Yemen that may limit both their military and financial resources. They have also so far deferred to western bans on transferring hi-tech weapons – including missiles that could take down aircraft – over fears that they might change hands in the chaos of the war and be used against their makers.

“The uncertain question today is the degree of power combined with efficiency that regional powers will be willing to bring to the table,” said Barnes-Dacey. “Do the Saudis now try to take matters decisively into their hands, including by providing rebels with sophisticated weaponry long denied them?

“The new [Saudi] king [Salman] has shown a willingness to be much more assertive and take measures into the kingdom’s own hands. If the Saudis see the situation slipping out of their hands, and there is a real sense that the Iranians are consolidating their position in Syria, you could see much stronger response.”
And speaking of a “strong response,” Russia continued to hit anti-regime targets for a fourth consecutive day on Sunday, making good on the Defense Ministry’s promise to step up strikes. Here’s Reuters:
Air strikes by suspected Russian jets hit targets around the town of Talbiseh in western Syria on Sunday, residents and a group which monitors the civil war in Syria said, a day after Russia promised to step up its air campaign.

Ambulances rushed wounded people to hospital in Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, and one resident said at least five bodies had been recovered from the western part of the town.

"So far there are seven or six raids in the town," said Abdul Ghafar al Dweik, a former government employee and volunteer rescue worker.

He said he believed the raid was carried out by Russian jets. "They come suddenly... With the Syrian planes, we would get a warning but now all of a sudden we see it over our heads," he said.
We have said time and again that there’s no question Russian airstrikes will contribute to human suffering in Syria. After all, when you drop bombs on populated areas you’re bound to kill civilians (including women and children) no matter what Moscow says. However, the highlighted passages above shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you want your airstrikes to be effective, you’re not going to warn anyone about them beforehand unless of course you're dropping a nuke in which case you can tell civilians to leave ahead of time because you're reasonably sure the destruction will be so vast as to make the element of surprise a non-factor.

As for the effectiveness of the strikes, The Kremlin is out again claiming that ISIS is on its heels. Via Bloomberg and the Russian Defense Ministry (translated):
  • Russian warplanes have made 20 sorties, attacked 10 ISIS targets in Syria in past 24h, Russian Defense Ministry says on website.
  • Air force has attacked militant training camps in Raqqa, Idlib provinces; destroyed explosives workshop
  • Warplanes destroyed at least 4 ammunition depots, several command posts
  • Russian forces have broken “the management and logistics of the terrorist organization” and caused “significant damage to the infrastructure used for preparation of terrorist attacks”
And here's David Cameron repeating the Assad "butcher" accustations (again, via Bloomberg):
Russia is “backing the butcher Assad, which is a terrible mistake for them and for the world,” Cameron told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “It’s going to make the region more unstable, which will lead to further radicalization and increased terrorism.”

Cameron continued: “I would say to them change direction, join us in attacking ISIL but recognize that if we want to have a secure region we need an alternative to Assad,” using an alternative designation for Islamic State. Assad “can’t unite the Syrian people.”
Yes, Assad "can't unite the Syrian people", because clearly that's what this is all about, which explains why the West has been doing anything and everything to promote disunity among Syrians for the better part of a decade, and on that note, we close with the following excerpt from a leaked diplomatic cable penned by then-Deputy Head of Mission in Syria William Roebuck in 2006 which shows just how concerned the West is with Syrian "unity":
-- PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE:  There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis.  Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. 

US Syrian propaganda advise

SUBHEAD: State Department prep sheet for mass media outlets on handling stories on Syria.

By Gary Leupp on 2 October 2015 for

Image above: CNN's Christine Amanpour spews the John Kerry State Department's line on Syrian atrocities. From (

State Department talking points on Syria for cable news anchors:

KEEP mentioning the barrel bombs. Do not mention how their use was pioneered by the Israeli Air Force in 1948, and how they were used by the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam in Operation Inferno in 1968. Keep repeating, “barrel bombs, barrel bombs” and stating with a straight face that the Syrian regime is using them “against its own people.” Against its own people. Against its own people. Against its own people.

KEEP mentioning “200,000.” (The UN estimates that 220,000 have been killed in the conflict since 2011.) Declare like you really believe it that this is the number of civilians the Syrian government of Bashar Assad has killed during the war. (Do not be concerned about any need to back the figure up. No one is ever going to call you on it publicly.)

DO NOT mention that around half of the war dead (estimates range from 84,000 to 133,000) are Syrian government forces waging war against an overwhelmingly Islamist opposition, and an additional 73,000 to 114,000 are anti-government combatants.

DO NOT discuss these figures because they would call into question the claim that the Syrian government is targeting and killing tens of thousands of civilians willy-nilly. (If feeling any qualms of conscience, recall Karl Rove’s immortal dictum that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”)

KEEP mentioning the “Arab Spring” and how in 2011 Syrians peacefully mobilized to challenge the regime were violently repressed. But don’t dwell on the Arab Spring too much. Realize that the State Department was actually shocked by it, particularly by its repercussions in Egypt, where democratization brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power before the U.S.-backed military drowned its opponents in blood.

DO NOT mention how in Bahrain, peaceful demonstrations by the majority Shiites against the repressive Sunni monarchy were crushed by a Saudi-led invasion force tacitly supported by the U.S. And NEVER mention that the bulk of the peaceful protesters in the Syrian Arab Spring want nothing to do with the U.S.-supported armed opposition but are instead receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran for dialogue towards a power-sharing arrangement.

DO NOT explain that the pro-democracy student activists and their allies fear most is the radical Islamists who have burgeoned in large part due to foreign intervention since 2011.

KEEP mentioning the “Free Syrian Army” and the “moderate opposition” to give the impression that they actually exist in the real world.

DO NOT point out that the FSA organization is actually a joke; that its leaders live in Turkey; that its remaining units are headed by CIA officers; that U.S. efforts to train over 5000 FSA troops have been an utter failure; that the tiny group of 54 recently sent to the front were immediately captured by the al-Nusra Front and another 70 dispatched from Turkey immediately turned over their arms to that al-Qaeda-linked group; that their chief of staff has resigned protesting U.S. incompetence; that Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American commander in the Middle East, told Congress last month that only “four or five” Syrians had been trained by the U.S. to fight ISIL; and that the U.S.-trained forces have been accused of multiple human rights abuses.

DO NOT mention these things. They are so totally embarrassing that the State Department officials responsible just want to curl up into a ball and roll into a corner. Your mission is to put a bright face on this and continue to pretend there’s something in Syria, supported by the U.S., that falls between the terrorists and the Assad regime.

KEEP expressing consternation if not outrage that Russia is “interfering” in Syria. Scrunch up your face and act like you think it’s puzzling.

DO NOT mention that Syria is much closer to Russia than  to the U.S. and that Russia faces a much greater threat of Islamist terror than the U.S. (in places like Chechnya and Dagestan that your viewers can’t locate on a map).

DOWNPLAY the fact that Russia has had a military relationship with Syria since the 1950s no more nor less legitimate that the U.S. military relationship with Saudi Arabia. (And avoid any objective comparisons of the human rights records of Saudi Arabia and Syria since the former’s is manifestly so much worse than the latter’s!)

DO NOT imply any moral equivalence between Russia’s desire to prevent U.S.-backed regime change in Syria and the U.S.’s desire to inflict another Iraq or Libya-type regime change on that tragically war-torn country.

KEEP treating the Assad regime as an obvious pariah, whose leader has “lost legitimacy.” Say that with an air of authority, like you really believe that U.S. presidents—like Chinese emperors of the past or medieval popes— enjoy so much “legitimacy” that they can confer this on, or remove it from, anybody else.

STUDY CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s facial expressions and body language when he announces—so matter-of-factly, as a self-evident fact, as a done deal—that (come on, everybody!) “Assad hast lost legitimacy.”

(Chris is your model. He’s the State Department’s pleasantly vapid headed scion-of-privilege poster boy, whose occasional dark flashes of indignation—especially those directed towards anyone questioning the official talking points on Russia—embody the attitude Foggy Bottom seeks to encourage in the corporate press.)

DO NOT remind viewers that the Syrian government is internationally recognized, holds a UN seat, retains cordial relations with most nations and is engaged in a life-and-death struggle against people who enslave, crucify, behead, bury alive and burn alive people and want to replace Syria’s modern secular government with a medieval religious one intolerant of any diversity.

KEEP insisting that the Assad regime somehow is responsible for, and even in league with, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and ISIL. Since this makes no logical sense, just have faith in the ignorance of the viewership and its disinclination to distinguish one Arab from another and to assume that they’re all linked in ways that aren’t worth even trying to sort out. Imply that by staying in power (and not complying with Obama’s demand that he step down) Assad has actually invited the presence of radical Islamists to his country, or provoked their emergence.

DO NOT  mention that al-Qaeda offshoots have proliferated globally since the U.S. invaded and wrecked Iraq in 2003, in a war based entirely on lies, and that there was no al-Nusra Front or ISIL until the U.S. set out to effect regime change throughout the Middle East. Do NOT let on that State Department PR strategy is precisely to obfuscate the real causal relationship, and to impute to the beleaguered Assad phenomena actually generated by U.S. aggression in the region.

KEEP treating Russian President Vladimir Putin as America’s Enemy Number One, an ally of a Syrian government that U.S. has said must go, deploying force in Syria to bolster Assad rather than (as Moscow claims) to target ISIL.

DO NOT lend any credence to the Russian assertion that the Syrian Army is the force best placed to defeat ISIL. Do NOT point out the incongruity of the U.S. invading and attacking countries from Pakistan to Libya since 2001 while expressing alarm that Moscow is (after much hesitation) taking action against Islamist terrorists at Damascus’s invitation.

DO NOT harp on the past, revisit history, or attempt to place the contemporary situation in Syria in perspective. Do NOT complicate the storyline by mentioning Damascus’s cooperation in the “War on Terror” and the U.S. use of Syrian torture chambers in its “special renditions” program after 2001. Do NOT mention Syria’s large Christian minority or its historical support for Assad’s Baath party, which was co-founded by a Syrian Christian.

KEEP everything simple, following the examples set by MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Scarborough and CNN’s Cuomo, and inculcate in the mind of the viewer that Assad is the main problem and most horrible actor in the Syrian situation. Tell them that Putin, while striving to revive the tsarist empire, is backing Assad as a loyal ally and using his military to prolong his rule that Washington condemns rather than (as he states) taking action against ISIL.

If you do all this, you will demonstrate your loyalty to the State Department, the bipartisan foreign policy consensus, the military-industrial complex, the One Percent, your advertisers, your producers and editors, and the unsung heroes behind the scenes who arrange your teleprompter scripts.

You too could be an Andrea Mitchell, or Christiane Amanpour, posturing as an “expert” while trotting out our talking points. And even after they’re exposed as bullshit, you won’t have to say you’re sorry. People will soon forget anyway.

Those unconscionable barrel bombs! 200,000 civilians killed by the illegitimate regime! U.S. support for the moderate opposition! Russia up to no good, supporting Assad and not really targeting ISI!. Russian moves “worrisome” (whereas U.S. moves are not.)

• Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at:


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