Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why Russ Baker's Wrong on Arab Spring & Media

Russ Baker Writes: 

Russ, while I usually like and agree with most of what you write, I think you are really off base on Libya (a topic I really know something about) and Syria and your take on the Arab Spring revolutions. Now I also usually agree with my friends John Judge, Peter Dale Scott, Cynthia McKinney and Wayne Madsen, but disagree with their knee-jerk reactionary response to USA policy on the Arab Spring revolts. They weren’t interested at all until the USA and NATO got involved in Libya and then suddenly took notice and took the typical leftist anti-war position without putting it into the context of the Arab Spring regional revolutions and the protests against the police states these people live(d) in. While I disagree with them and argue with them, they have remained my friends, and I hope you can take this in the same spirit. But I feel that I have to set you straight on this issue. -

Russ Baker wrote:

For those versed in the black arts of propaganda, the hijacking of Arab Spring must be a beauteous thing to behold.

Bill Kelly responds: Russ, I do consider myself well versed in the black arts of propaganda, and have written extensively about the black propaganda operations conducted in league with the assassination of JFK at Dealey Plaza, a covert operation.

I don’t believe the hijacking of the Arab Spring is beauteous thing to behold, and question whether it has been hijacked or just temporarily bogged down in Syria, Yeman and Bahrain.

First came evidently spontaneous uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Then some up-and-comer in Washington or London or Paris had a brainstorm, a new twist on a very old idea: if you can’t beat em, join em. Or even better, co-opt them, and use them for your own purposes.

BK: I think the change in US policy from blind allegiance to dictators who backed US anti-communist and anti-terrorist policies, to one of support for democratic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and hopefully Syria, is a major change in policy and it wasn’t made by some unknown “up-and-comer” in some unknown city who had a brainstorm. It was a clear and calculated change to a long held decades-long policy that was wrong. Supporting these democratic revolutions is the right thing to do.

The old way of getting rid of “inconvenient” leaders was so 20th-century — in the case of Saddam Hussein, a monstrous lie followed by a massive bloodletting on both sides.

BK: Indeed Iraq was a major misdeed, one that I vocally opposed, just as I had opposed the Vietnam War, something for which I was beaten and tear gassed and arrested in the Chicago riots at the 1968 Democratic National convention.

Tahrir Square suggested how to bring down a regime in a manner far less costly and far more palatable to the public: lots of medium-sized and little lies, war through Twitter, war through expendable proxies. Provide financial incentives to key figures to publicly renounce the old leadership, create a steady stream of heart-rending moments and photos and allegations, generate endless “human rights violations” by baiting the government into a military response, then very publicly petition international bodies for redress of humanitarian concerns.

BK: Wait a minute Russ, what were the lots of lies at Tahrir Square? The USA, especially the US military supported Mubarak and his regime, just as they supported the dictators of Tunisa and Bahrain and Gadhafi, they were “Our Guys,” already, and the CIA and the US military and the State Department and the oil companies were all honky-dory with the dictators they already had in their pocket. That the Egyptian students, women, intellectuals, professionals used non-violent protest techniques and did not have the support of the Muslim Brothers, is not a lie. They were real and sincere and are still fighting for a liberal, open, secular democratic society, not something that the CIA or the USA or anyone outside of Egypt wanted or sought. As a victim of police state violence myself, I object to your insinuation that the Egyptian state’s violence against the Egyptian people were instigated or baited by anyone as fake “human rights” violations. Many hundreds of young people in Egypt and thousands in Libya and Syria have died for what they believe in - an end to the police state and the creation of a free, open, secular, democratic society.

Muammar Qaddafi, a fiercely independent, quasi-socialistic African transnationalist, was the guinea pig.

BK: I have been studying the history of US-Libyan relations for over a decade now, and have personally dealt with Saif Qaddafi and know people who have personally dealt with his father, and he was not a “a fiercely independent, quasi-socialist African transnationalst,” though he may have been a guinea pig. His wealth was dependent on oil, he was not a socialist but spread the oil money around to family and cronies, and he wanted to expand his power to all Africa, if that’s what you call “transnationalist.” He was a sociopath mass murder, who on this day – June 29, some years ago, killed over a thousand political prisoners, whose families’ protests in Benghazi began the revolution that ended in his execution by his own people. I started a blog – a few weeks after the Tunisia and Egyptian revolutions began and predicated, knowing the history,  that the revolution in Libya would begin in Benghazi, as it did, two weeks later.

brilliant disinformation campaign isolated him, authentic domestic grievances were encouraged, and a whole war was conducted on behalf of the West with nary a Western soldier putting boots to ground.

BK:  If it was a “brilliant disinformation campaign” then someone must have been the “brilliant” person, but you can’t identify the person just as you don’t identify who had the “brainstorm” to “join” the revolution (I believe it was Chris Stevens) or what the lies of Tahrir Square are. The US had at least two boots on the ground, those worn by Chris Stevens, the US State Dept. liaison to the rebels who was sent to Benghazi to evaluate the situation, and his reports led to the switch in U.S. policy from support of the government to support to the rebels. Stevens is now the new US ambassador to Libya, though that has been kept quiet for some reason. For photos of Stevens as Ambassador see my blog: 

Next up: Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. So began, again, the covert arming of real domestic opponents, and an extensive and variegated propaganda campaign.

As with Libya, Western countries were covertly overthrowing a Middle East regime, just as they have done over the decades. And, as before, the media said not a word about what was really going on. So the public did not really understand, and there was practically no debate at all.

BK: What’s to debate? Assad, like Qaddafi, is a psychopathic mass murder responsible for the death of thousands through his artillery barrages, a tactic he borrowed from Qaddafi, and will hopefully suffer the same fate. He’s a barbaric tyrant who will someday meet his fate, but clings to power in the false belief that he owns the country, and doesn’t care if he totally destroys it to maintain his power. Death to tyrants! Was what the US military officers said in 1804 when they fought the Barbary Pirates and that holds true today.

A Diverse Media, But a Single Message
Thanks to the Internet, we have what appears to be a more diverse range of media offerings than ever before.

BK: Including my blogs and the blogs of those on the scene, two of whom won Nobel Peace prizes and Youtube videos of the action that aren’t filtered through the mainstream media.

We know the corporate-owned American media won’t take any kind of risks to warn us about what is going on. We are lucky we have alternatives: easy access to high quality foreign media (BBC, Guardian, Al Jazeera and the like). And we have a plethora of “alternative” media, from Left to Right to Other.

With this cornucopia of competing entities, we have every reason to expect that we will get good, hard-hitting, tough-minded reporting and analysis. Right? Wrong. Almost no news organization of any note, of any kind, has called Libya and Syria for what they really are.

The reasons may be various, but perhaps the most decisive one is this: All have seemingly fallen victim to a superb propaganda strategy that associates critical reporting and critical thinking on Syria with defending a regime (that is of course dictatorial and brutal) against “the people.”

When almost no media anymore question these barely disguised coups against uncooperative standing governments, we are in very deep trouble.

BK: These revolutions aren’t “barely disguised coups” like the JFK assassination was, as the Diem coup was, as the Chile coup was, as the Valkyrie plot against Hitler was, these are revolutions by the people, mainly young people, many women involved, and their purpose isn’t to assume power, but to strip those with the power of it, and install some sort of democracy. That’s not a “barely disguised coup.” And Tunisia, Libya and Egypt were not “uncooperative standing governments,” they were all cooperative with the US and received much money and military support, supplies and training.

Because if we can’t count on the media to tell us what is going on in far-off places, what may we expect of them closer to home?  We are witnessing a crisis for journalism that is nothing less than a crisis for democracy itself.

BK: I don’t count on the media to tell me anything. Why are you surprised at the mainstream media? They still don’t have the JFK assassination right, and I don’t depend on them for anything. I have personal friends on the ground in Libya and Turkey and have many sources for my information.

The “Limited Hangout”

Yet one more example of how this debilitating game is played was on display the other day in the New York Times, just one of many news organizations that have essentially acquiesced in this sophisticated Western power propaganda operation.

BK: I don’t read the NY Times, but they read my blogs, as a NY Times photo editor tracked me down after reading one of my articles that identified a photo they had posted on their web site as being a fabrication. They contacted me to confirm it was a composite, thanked me and removed it. So they at least strive for accuracy on some counts.

The paper, whose reporting on Syria has been lackluster at best, finally provided us with a peek at what is actually going on. But the revelations were spun so as to benefit those seeking to depose Assad—and bury the matter of foreign sponsorship in plain sight.

The Times piece, under the headline, “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” begins:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

Let’s stop and consider what is being said here. If the CIA is “operating secretly,” then what are “American officials and Arab intelligence officers” doing publicizing their efforts? Are these leakers courageous whistleblowers, risking a nice visit to the Bradley Manning Hall of Detention? Don’t bet on it.

The reason we are being told about this, in all likelihood, is that they want us to know.Why? Because this is, in spy jargon, a “limited hangout” that hides the real truth.

By “leaking” potentially controversial material, they get ahead of the curve, and by framing it in the most benign possible way, they control any discussion. Read on, please:
The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

So there’s another soft spin: covert American operatives are helping keep weapons “out of the hands” of terrorist groups. Or, to be precise, out of the hands of terrorist groups opposed to American interests, while channeling them to terrorist groups more amenable to our policies in that region. The identity of these friendly “opposition fighters” is not stated, but they are presumably groups the CIA approves of — perhaps because they were originally created or at least co-opted by these very same CIA people. Of course, the history of Western support for selected terrorist groups in this region is not encouraging; recall the extensive CIA funding of anti-Soviet mujahedeen who morphed into anti-American fighters (including Taliban and Al-Qaeda) after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended in 1989.

The Times article goes on to say that the US is not providing arms but that US allies—particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar—are. What it neglects to mention is that the US provides arms to these allies, and all but tells these countries what to do with those arms. The trick: Washington uses these intermediaries in order for the US to say that it is not involved in overthrowing the Assad regime.

That’s why the US government can hypocritically chastise Russia for sending in helicopters to the beleaguered Assad government. Perhaps Russia should, Western-style, simply look the other way (wink, wink) while its own allies send in weapons?

BK: But you are not hypocritically chastising the USA for providing arms yet saying its okay for Russia to give Assad weapons to kill his own people? The USA, NATO and the UN are trying to allow the Syrians to resolve their own political situation without foreign military intervention, but its okay for Russia to intervene? Whose the hypocrite again?

Unfortunately for Russia, it is increasingly isolated, and, since the end of the Soviet bloc, has nothing comparable to the Western alliance. All it can do is provide direct aid to the regime and raise objections at the UN to those arming the opposition.

BK: Unfortunate for the people of Syria who being shelled by Assad’s Russian artillery and tanks, as they have nothing comparable to what Assad has amassed, thanks to the Ruskies. Edward Lutwak, in his book Coup d’etat – A Practical Handbook (1968), wrongly wrote that such popular insurrections and revolutions are obsolete because of the modern mechanized army that is arrayed against it, but the Arab Spring has proven this analysis false. Lightly armed civilians can defeat a mechanized army, though it would help if a no-fly zone was established and the revolutionaries had an air force like they did in Libya.

The fact that the United States government, and notably a Democratic administration, is waging war against another government through surrogates is a really, really big deal.

BK: What is really, really a big deal is that the USA administration has ended the long standing policy of supporting foreign dictators who backed their anti-Communist anti-terrorist policies, and instead is supporting fledgling, democratic revolutionaries who oppose those tyrants that are propped up by US military machines and money. How come nobody wants to talk about that?

Yet our media—almost all of it, Left, Right and Other—walks in lockstep with a shared dubious narrative of an essentially spontaneous uprising being crushed by a ruthless government and of a West helping “the people” purely for humanitarian purposes.

BK: It’s not “purely for humanitarian purposes,” it’s supporting the right side for a change, not the fascist  police states but ordinary people fighting for what they want – freedom from tyranny.

It turns out that the US government really did learn a lesson from Vietnam. Win those hearts and minds. But not in foreign jungles or deserts. The real battle is right here at home.

BK: I don’t think most American give a damn what happens in Syria, Tunisia, Libya or Egypt, as long as their gas prices keep going down.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Bodies killed by government military shelling are lined up in the city of Douma 

Syria death toll spirals: 170 killed in one day
06/29/2012 14:03

Activists say more than 50 of those killed died in Douma in one of the deadliest days in Syria's 16-month uprising.

BEIRUT - Syrians in the besieged city of Douma wrapped mangled and bloodied corpses in white burial shrouds early on Friday, according to video posted online, after 190 people were killed in one of the deadliest days of Syria's 16-month-old uprising.
Activists said more than 50 of those killed on Thursday died in Douma, about 15 km (9 miles) outside the capital Damascus.

Video published onYouTube showed rows of shrouded bodies lining what activists said was a street in Douma. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 41 people had died in the city, while other activists placed the toll at 59 or higher.

"Douma, the morning of June 29, 2012. This is the massacre committed against the people of Douma. God is our savior. Two whole families are here (among the dead) ... God help us," said the man filming the scene.

One man held up the limp body of a girl, her pink blouse drenched in blood.

"This is another massacre of the massacres by Assad and his secret police," he said. "This is another massacre of the massacres by the international community, of all the great nations that have conspired against our people."

Douma has been under siege for weeks by security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Activists say rockets have been raining down on the city for days amid heavy fighting between rebels and government forces. Video showed homes whose roofs had caved in and clouds of dust rising from crumbling buildings.

An activist called Mohammed Doumany told Reuters by Skype that 22 people from a single family had been killed.

"Dozens of the victims are still waiting to be buried, as cities continue to be under fire," said a statement from activists posted online. Many of the injured were in critical condition.

Syria's revolt has grown bloodier in recent weeks.

Rebels, apparently getting access to heavier weapons that can be used against tanks, have inflicted higher losses on Assad's forces.

The army has also intensified its onslaught, using helicopter gunships to attack rebels and laying siege to rebellious towns.

Opposition activists accuse the international community of inaction. Diplomacy has failed to produce an agreement between Western powers, who favor the opposition, and Russia, which has used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to block Western and Sunni Arab moves to drive Assad from power.

Syria carnage persists on eve of Geneva meet

BEIRUT: Syrian troops bombarded a rebellious suburb of the capital with tank and artillery shells Friday, killing dozens of people during two bloody days across the country which saw over 190 people killed, activists said.

The violence is part of a fierce government offensive aimed at regaining control of parts of Damascus suburbs where rebels operate and came on the eve of a major meeting of world powers in Geneva Saturday to try to hash out a political transition plan for Syria.
It’s difficult to get an accurate death toll in tightly controlled Syria, where journalists and human rights groups are either banned or severely restricted. But two opposition groups that compile and document casualties reported the death of more than 125 civilians in fighting across the country Thursday alone.

Death tolls take several days to compile due to communication difficulties.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday’s toll included more than 60 soldiers. If confirmed, it would be one of the highest death tolls on a single day since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011.

Activists said at least 43 were killed in more than two days of shelling in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which has been a hotbed of dissent and has put up strong resistance to the Assad regime. The dead included three children and five members of a single family.
A local activist who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons said the shelling had been “relentless’’ throughout Thursday, and exploding shells had killed people in their homes.

“They [government troops] are trying to bring Douma under control, but they are being met by fierce resistance,’’ said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the observatory director. He said most of the dead were civilians.

The Local Coordination Committees network said 59 people had been killed in Thursday’s shelling of Damascus suburbs, most of them in Douma. The difference in tolls could not be reconciled.

The state-run SANA news agency said troops continue to pursue “terrorist groups’’ in Douma, raiding their hideouts and destroying their communications and other equipment.
Amateur videos posted by activists online showed bloodied bodies lying on blankets in a room and others shrouded in white sheets and placed on stretchers. “A new massacre by Bashar Assad,’’ cried a man holding a dead girl in a pink blouse, a large gash on her face.
The Syrian General Revolution Commission Friday reported 25 people killed, most of them in central Homs.

Overnight Thursday, Syrian rebel sources in Turkey’s Hatay region said Assad’s helicopters attacked Saraqeb, a strategic town in northern Idlib, but kept away from the area directly along the Turkish border in the rural regions of Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Turkey has deployed missile batteries along the border region following Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish warplane a week ago, which has sharply raised tensions between the two nations.

General Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Higher Military Council, a grouping of senior officers who defected from Assad’s forces, said around 170 Syrian tanks had assembled at an infantry school near the village of Musalmieh northeast of the city of Aleppo, just 30 km from the Turkish border.

“They’re either preparing to move to the border to counter the Turkish deployment or attack the rebellious [Syrian] towns and villages in and around the border zone north of Aleppo,’’ Sheikh told Reuters by telephone from the border.

Omar Abdullah, an activist in Idlib coordinating with the Free Syrian Army, said: “After taking hits in rural Aleppo and Idlib, the army is regrouping ... There is speculation that these forces intend to ring Aleppo, starting July 1.’’

Their claims could not be independently verified.

Much of the violence that has gripped Syria has been sanctioned by the government to crush dissent. But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets. A bomb blast rocked central Damascus Thursday near a busy market and the country’s main justice complex, wounding at least three people and sending a cloud of black smoke into the air.

The latest carnage came as world powers show new urgency to resolve the crisis, which so far has resisted international efforts.

A ministerial meeting of world powers aimed at salvaging a failed peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan will go ahead Saturday in Geneva, the former U.N. chief’s spokesman said, despite deep differences between world powers over a proposal for political transition in the country.

Annan expressed optimism ahead of the meeting of representatives from the U.S., Russia, Britain, China, France, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait, but diplomatic signals emerging Friday were less than positive.

Annan’s plan, obtained by AFP, said an interim government could include Assad officials and the opposition “but would exclude ... those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.’’

But Russia proposed changes Thursday, despite initially supporting it, objecting to a proposal that could limit membership of the transitional government in Syria, diplomats said.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday said Assad’s fate “must be decided within the framework of a Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves.’’

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected any suggestion that Annan was proposing a transition imposed from outside, saying Thursday that Annan’s transition document “is a Syrian-led transition, but you have to have a transition that complies with international standards on human rights, accountable governance, the rule of law.’’

Following preparatory meetings between Clinton and Lavrov in St. Petersburg late Friday, Lavrov told reporters there was a chance that world powers would find common ground on how to resolve the conflict in Syria at talks Saturday, but warned that it would be counterproductive to try to impose the outcome of the political transition process in advance.

“We have a very good chance to find common ground at the conference in Geneva tomorrow,’’ Lavrov said.

One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian delegation pressed its own proposed amendments to Annan’s text during the talks.

“The Russians are being difficult. We’re still hoping for a positive outcome from the meeting tomorrow.’’

Russian diplomats told Reuters after the meeting that Moscow could not agree to a political solution imposed on Syri

Syria shelling kills dozens in rebel town

BEIRUT –  Government troops rained tank and artillery shells down on a rebellious suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus Friday, killing at least 43 people over two days, opposition groups and activists said.

The barrage is part of a fierce government offensive aimed at regaining control of parts of Damascus suburbs where rebels operate, particularly Douma, a sprawling suburb that has been a hotbed of dissent against President Bashar Assad's regime.

A local activist who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons said the shelling was "relentless" throughout Thursday, and exploding shells killed people in their homes.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 41 people died in all-day shelling of Douma Thursday, including three children and five members of a single family. At least two more were killed Friday morning.

"They (government troops) are trying to bring Douma under control, but they are being met by fierce resistance," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the group's director. He said most of the dead were civilians.

The Local Coordination Committees network said 59 people were killed in Thursday's shelling of Damascus suburbs, most of them in Douma. The difference in tolls illustrated the difficulty of verifying information coming out of tightly controlled Syria, where journalists and human rights groups are either banned or severely restricted.

Amateur videos posted by activists online showed bloodied bodies lying on blankets in a room and others shrouded in white sheets and placed on stretchers. "A new massacre by Bashar Assad," cried a man holding a dead girl in a pink blouse, a large gash on her face.
The violence around the capital's suburbs mirrored fighting across many parts of Syria that killed dozens of other people Thursday, according to the groups.

Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.

Much of the violence that has gripped Syria has been sanctioned by the government to crush dissent. But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets, and several huge suicide bombings this year suggest al-Qaida or other extremists are joining the battle. A bomb blast rocked central Damascus on Thursday near a busy market and the country's main justice complex, wounding at least three people and sending a cloud of black smoke into the air.

The latest carnage came as world powers show new urgency to resolve the crisis, which so far has resisted international efforts.

World powers will meet Saturday in Geneva for talks on Syria, but few observers expect a breakthrough. Syria has the protection of Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, and has so far been impervious to international pressure.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow will not endorse a call on Assad to give up power.

"We are not supporting and will not support any external meddling," he said. "External players must not dictate ... to Syrians, but, first of all, must commit to influencing all the sides in Syria to stop the violence."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday it was "very clear" that all the participants at the Geneva meeting -- including Russia -- are on board with a transition plan created by international envoy Kofi Annan. His plan calls for the formation of a national unity government that would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

Clinton told reporters that the invitations to Saturday's meeting in Geneva made clear that representatives "were coming on the basis of (Annan's) transition plan."

Lavrov said it was "obvious that a transitional period is needed to overcome the Syrian crisis," but insisted the major powers in Geneva must focus on convincing the opposition groups to soften their demands.

Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia to agree to a plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades. Russia is Syria's most important ally, protector and supplier of arms.

There are few options besides keeping up diplomatic pressure, as an international military intervention is all but ruled out in the near future. Few countries are willing to get deeply involved in such an explosive conflict, and Russia and China have pledged to veto any international attempt to intervene militarily.