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Tag: Syria

Whatever happened to Seymour Hersh?

Thursday, 26 July, 2018

That’s the title of an article by Steve Bloomfield in the August issue of Prospect Magazine. The subtitle chronicles a career that’s ending in ignominy: “The strange story of how a legendary investigative journalist came to echo Assad’s propaganda.”

Hersh became a journalistic icon in 1968 when his report of a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by US troops in the village of My Lai, which he filed for Dispatch News Service, was picked up by newspapers worldwide. He was hired by the New York Times and later began a lengthy relationship with the New Yorker magazine. That arrangement came to an end in 2012 when the editor, David Remnick, rejected a conspiratorial piece about the death of Osama bin Laden. But Hersh found willing believers at the London Review of Books, for a while, but they soon tired of his unsourced fantasies.

He found one final outlet for his fabrications before the total descent into shame and the platform was provided by the once-respected German newspaper, Die Welt. What it headlined as “Trump’s Red Line” was rubbished quickly and decisively, however, by Belling Cat. Summing up the Hershian ravings about the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, Steve Bloomfield notes in his Prospect article: “Chemical weapons experts say this is impossible.”

Shame then, on Die Welt, the London Review of Books and the New Yorker for offering so much space to a crackpot who is now being treated as a hero by RT, which Bloomfield calls “the Kremlin-funded news channel that slavishly echoes the Russian government’s line on Syria (and, indeed, everything else).”

The decline and fall of a media star is aptly summed up in two letters: RT.


Cavafy on the Mediterranean migrants

Monday, 14 May, 2018 0 Comments

One can read C.P. Cavafy’s In the Harbour-Town as a poem about home-sickness or a poem about migration, or both, as the two are often intertwined. In another way, it can be interpreted as a poem that speaks to our times because he mentions “a Syrian harbour” in the same breath as “the great pan-Hellenic world”. Recent reports of a rise in unaccompanied child migrants reaching Greece and Cyprus through the Central and Western Mediterranean Routes make this Cavafy poem sound uncannily prescient.

In the Harbour-Town

Emis – young, twenty-eight –
reached this Syrian harbor in a Tenian ship,
his plan to learn the incense trade.
But ill during the voyage,
he died as soon as he was put ashore.
His burial, the poorest possible, took place here.
A few hours before dying he whispered something
about “home,” about “very old parents.”
But nobody knew who they were,
or what country he called home
in the great pan-Hellenic world.
Better that way; because as it is,
though he lies buried in this harbour-town,
his parents will always have the hope he’s still alive.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

Harbour town


Syria and OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence)

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 0 Comments

Remarkable, indeed, is the wealth of information now at our fingertips. And it’s not just Wikipedia. There’s also the OECD Aid Database, Google Data Explorer and Enigma Public. When it comes to what’s happening on the darker side, Bellingcat uses open source data to investigate everything from Mexican drug lords to Russian gangsters, er, politicians.

Then, there’s The Aviationist run by David Cenciotti, a journalist based in Rome. Since its launch in 2006, it has become one of world’s most authoritative military aviation sites. His post yesterday, Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria, is based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) “since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.” Snippet:

“Interestingly, at least two packages of 5 fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles — actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.”

Should this level of transparency worry us? After all, if David Cenciotti can access all this data easily, so can the Iranians. On the other hand, the abilities of people like David Cenciotti and Eliot Higgins to access and interpret Open Sources Intelligence means that the Iranians and their pals cannot get away with murder as easily as they once did. Their fingerprints are everywhere now, and they can be revealed in real time. Same goes for their lies. Take Russia’s claims that 71 out of 105 Cruise Missiles were shot down in the US-led strike. David Cenciotti casts a critical eye:

“If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.”

Question: What’s the toughest job in the world right now?
Answer: Sales rep for Russian air defense systems.


The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria

Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 0 Comments

That’s the title of Kathy Gilsinan’s excoriating article in The Atlantic, which was, and is, an Obama-friendly publication. But there comes a time when the most loyal subjects and supporters have to face the truth, even when it is painful, and this is very, very painful, indeed. Snippet:

Four years ago, it almost looked as if chemical attacks on Syrian civilians would stop. “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” declared then-Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press in 2014. Kerry was referring to Bashar al-Assad’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons which, under a 2013 deal struck by the Obama administration following a sarin nerve gas attack that brought the U.S. to the brink of striking Syrian government forces, were dismantled and shipped out of the country.

But there were two important and deadly loopholes. The first was that Assad did not declare everything—a reality that Kerry acknowledged in a farewell memo to staff, in which he wrote that “unfortunately other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly against the Syrian people.” The second was that chlorine gas, which has legitimate civilian uses, was not part of the deal. The Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets civil-defense group have documented 200 chemical attacks in Syria since 2012, many involving chlorine.

At the time, those familiar with the ways of the Syrian tyrant knew that this was a rotten deal. Yes, Damascus gave up some material to make it look like it was complying and the Washington spin-doctors were able to sell the story that Obama and Kerry had done something heroic, but Assad was left with an intact chemical arsenal. Terrible.


Russian mercenaries fighting and dying in Syria

Tuesday, 27 February, 2018 0 Comments

If you live near Yekaterinburg in Russia and want to fight with pro-Assad forces in Syria, the go-to guy is a paramilitary boss who advises Russians looking to work for the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked military contractor. “Each week I receive five or six new requests,” he told FRANCE 24. He said that interest has only increased since the Russian foreign ministry reported that five Russians died in a US bombing raid on pro-regime troops attacking opposition forces in Deir Ezzor province on 7 February.

“Now, it’s more about getting revenge than it is about money,” he said, but he warned that revenge-seekers don’t know the full story. He says it wasn’t just five Russians killed in the American raid — it was 218. US officials have said about 100 pro-regime fighters were killed, without specifying whether they were Syrian army, Russian mercenaries or other forces.


Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 0 Comments

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Moscow today and will there meet his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What makes the trip particularly noteworthy is that it comes after the US strike on Moscow’s Middle East proxy and armaments purchaser, Syria. President Trump has sent an unmistakable message that he is holding President Putin accountable for Bashar al-Assad and red lines mean red lines from now on for the new administration in Washington.

The oleaginous Lavrov learned his trade by in the days of Hafiz al-Assad, father of the current tyrant, and one wonders if Tillerson has prepped for his meeting by reading Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East by the late Patrick Seale. First published in 1988, it has lost little of its relevance despite the passing of time. Indeed, given what’s now going on in Syria, its 552 pages remain ultra- relevant. Despite, or perhaps because of his anti-Israel prejudice, Patrick Seale was an influential commentator on events in the Arab world and he possessed a deep understanding of the Arab mind and how it works. On page 412 of Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale displays his skills as an observer and writer when describing the cunning of Hafiz al-Assad. Snippet:

Assad “Over the years, Assad had developed a negotiating technique which he frequently used with foreign guests, and [Robert] McFarlane [national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985] was no exception. He would begin by exchanging a few pleasantries. Then he might ask, ‘How is the weather in your country?’ A Western guest would usually reply to the effect that at home it was colder than in Syria , giving Assad his opportunity. ‘Indeed’, he would say, ‘it’s warm here because the United Sates is stoking the fire!’ There were two sorts of climate in the world, he would explain, one given by God, the other by the United States, and step by step he would make his point that the tension, crises and wars in the area must all be laid at Washington’s door. An American visitor would feel compelled to defend himself, starting the meeting at a disadvantage.

Assad’s next stratagem was to be extraordinarily digressive and argumentative. If the name of God were mentioned, this might set him off on a long discourse about Islam, Judaism and Christianity before he could be brought back to the matter in hand. Negotiating sessions would last for hours. More than one envoy who suffered this treatment came to the conclusion that Asad raised all sorts of irrelevant subjects simply to tire his visitors the better to control them. At the end of a wearisome session the temptation was to accept what he had to say simply to escape.”

Like father, like son when it comes to cruelty and cynicism, but Bashar al-Assad remains unable to read the writing on the wall, despite his training in London as an ophthalmologist. Maybe Rex Tillerson can help his patrons see things more clearly.


Glossolalia: Aramaic lessons

Friday, 20 May, 2016 0 Comments

This is the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things semantic, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We started on Monday with Singlish, followed up on Tuesday with decacorns, moved on to Euro English on Wednesday and met Parsey McParseface yesterday. To end this mini-series, it’s time to consider whether past language can tell us anything about present and future language.

First, the present: A new study from the Gallant Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley has major implications for how we understand language structuring in the brain. Published in Nature on 28 April, “Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps That Tile Human Cerebral Cortex” reveals that we use our entire brain — and not just the temporal lobe, as once believed — to group words by meaning. Every “brain dictionary” appears to be unique, but they share some surprising similarities.

Now, the past: Aramaic was once the lingua franca of empires, but today it’s reduced to about half a million speakers, who call it Assyrian, Chaldean, Mandaic and Syriac, to name but four varieties. According to the Bible, the Aramaeans were named after Noah’s grandson Aram and they started out a small nomadic group. By the 11th century BC, however, they ruled large tracts of Mesopotamia, covering parts of modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq, including the fabled city of Babylon. Modern Aramaic Aramaic was the English of its day and unified a large number of peoples across an enormous region. It was a sign of sophistication; it was the key to experiencing life beyond the parish, and it was the language Jesus spoke.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic — English is apparently easy to learn, while Aramaic is not — but that had little effect on English’s emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic’s rise and fall argues John McWhorter in “Where Do Languages Go to Die? The tale of Aramaic, a language that once ruled the Middle East and now faces extinction.” Snippet:

“At this point, I am supposed to write that English’s preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic’s. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even — arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.”

As John McWhorter notes, literacy and media are driving the dominance of English. Those Gallant Laboratory finding about the brain’s semantic maps were published in English in Nature, the world’s most cited scientific journal. Empire is playing a role as well. The Gallant Laboratory is located in California, not in China. If the Chinese rule the world someday, “I suspect they will do it in English,” says McWhorter. Maybe. But Beijing has imperial ambitions, too, and the language of the Ghost Fleet masters and commanders will not be English. More about that another day, however.


Foreign

Sunday, 8 November, 2015 0 Comments

Egypt’s five million Copts, the last remaining major Christian sect in the Middle East, are fearful for their future in a hostile home. Yemen is now the biggest source of refugees in Africa, and at some 25 million it is as populous as Afghanistan. Talking of Afghanistan, what if the Taliban continue to expand their territorial writ, causing even more people to flee? And what if Islamic State terrorists extend their barbaric rule across Iraq and Syria? A Gallup Poll, based on data compiled from more than 450,000 interviews in 151 countries from 2009 to 2011, found that in Nigeria, which has double the population of Germany, 40 percent of the people would leave if they could. And the lesson of 2015 — for them and millions more — is that they can.

When they cross the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande, many migrants find life in the “West” comes with a price tag, and Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, looks at this side of the displaced experience in Foreign. As a professional user of language herself, Duffy asks us to consider the lot of migrants who are marginalized because of their lack of linguistic proficiency. The stress of thinking in one language and having to translate into another renders people inarticulate. The “local dialect” in the foreigner’s head is associated with the memory of a mother singing, while “writing home” is a desperate attempt to keep in touch with a lost world. Imagine that.

Foreign

Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years.
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.

Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what’s the word for this.

You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one night
you saw a name for yourself sprayed in red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.

And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream
. Imagine that.

Carol Ann Duffy


Putin: Sicilian mobster, European darling

Thursday, 22 October, 2015 0 Comments

Andrei Illarionow was an economics adviser to Vladimir Putin from 2000 to 2005. Today, he’s a senior fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. In an interview with New Eastern Europe Illarionow explains why Putin has such an astonishing number of friends in Europe: from Marine Le Pen to Gerhard Schröder:

“Unlike communism, which was rather alien to European culture even if it had some roots in European history, Putin’s Sicilian way of rule is much more familiar to Europe and closer to the European heart. It is also a reason why it is so hard to fight it.

The Sicilian mafia has not yet been taken down. It is very much alive in Italy. We see very similar types of behaviour in many other European states like Greece, Bulgaria or Hungary. Even in the Baltic states there are elements of this attitude. This type of behaviour is associated not only Russians or the Russian psyche. Yes, some Russians behave this way, but it is not exclusively a Russian problem. Look at Croats or Serbs. It is in fact deeply rooted in European human nature.”

And what can we say so far about Putin’s operations in Syria? In the north of the country, Russia has fired rockets at four of the five areas controlled by anti-Assad rebels and avoided hitting the nearby positons of the Islamic State. This has allowed the Damascus regime and the Islamists to advance further towards Aleppo. In fact, what Russia is doing is equipping IS with an air force of its own. In this way, it is advancing the goals of Assad, whose planes are bombing the very places that are being attacked by IS terrorists. “Four-fifths of Russia’s Syria strikes don’t target Islamic State: Reuters analysis.”

Now is hardly the time for the West to kowtow to Putin or ease up on IS, but this is exactly what Justin Trudeau, the prime minister-designate of Canada, is doing. What an awful signal to send to those who have to endure the wrath of the new Sicilians.


The cruelty and inhumanity of the “brothers”

Friday, 4 September, 2015 1 Comment

The image of Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach is being portrayed as Europe’s disgrace. What it really illustrates, in fact, is the cruelty and inhumanity the wealthy Gulf Arab states that are refusing to help Syria’s refugees. On Wednesday, Amira Fathalla of BBC Monitoring sought to explain “Why Syrians do not flee to Gulf states.” The harsh reality is that “Without a visa, Syrians are not currently allowed to enter Arab countries except for Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen,” she wrote. One cannot imagine that there’s a long line of refugees waiting to enter Sudan and Yemen.

Today, in the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor follows up and spells out the inhumanity of the neighbours: “The Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing next to nothing for Syria’s refugees.” Here, he names and shames: “six Gulf countries — Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.” Shame be upon them.

Arab states


Millions of migrants are on the march

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015 0 Comments

“It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next 20 years. Of these, at least 200 million will be young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.” So wrote Massimo Nava in Corriere della Sera a week ago.

The European Union is deeply divided about how to deal with the massive migration crisis that’s unfolding on its shore, in its mountains and at its train stations. Border controls are being blatantly ignored and policy is being made up on the fly. The proverb becomes reality: “Every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost).” Example: A law aimed at discouraging refugees from settling in Denmark comes into effect today.

The plight of millions of human beings, exploited by traffickers and terrorized by religious fanatics, is distressing and only a person with a heart of stone would deny refuge to the exhausted and the traumatized, but beyond the individual and group suffering there’s a bigger challenge that demands an urgent, global response. The mass migration we are currently witnessing is a consequence of the real-time disintegration of states in the Middle East and North Africa. If this is not addressed, these endless waves of the displaced will erode the stability of the host countries. Such instability would turn Europe into a very disagreeable place, for both natives and migrants.

Those who find this kind of scenario apocalyptic, should note that countries and federations that wish to protect their sovereignty and citizens (the real purpose of government, after all) must control their borders. This does not exclude sympathy for those fleeing failed states, but the solution is to stabilize and rebuild failed states, not accept massive, unplanned shifts in population.

If the citizens of Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Bangladesh and all the other places that people are fleeing from cannot have decent lives at home, they’ll try to find better ones abroad. Unless Brussels, Washington, the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN co-operate on this emergency, the situation is going to get much more frightening and Raspail’s fiction will become fact.

Syria