Category - USA: Foreign Relations

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

Secret Pentagon report reveals West saw ISIS as strategic asset

Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’

Insurge Intelligence, By Nafeez Ahmed, May 22

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of the strategy, but described this outcome as a strategic opportunity to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

U.S. President Barack Obama in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya

Al Arabiya, By Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, May 15

The White House Map Room – Q Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.

Q You concluded the summit. Was it successful? Were there any sticking points that either you or your government did not achieve?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it was very successful. And the intentions here were to deepen and broaden what is already an excellent relationship between the GCC countries and the United States.

Obviously, we have a whole range of bilateral security arrangements with the various GCC countries. We’ve consulted and worked with them on a range of regional challenges. But I thought the time was ripe for us to be able to come together as a group, to talk face-to-face about a wide range of these issues, and then to put forward very specific plans in terms of how we can address them.

So the joint statement that we issued I think reflected the wide range of topics that were discussed. We discussed the important security assurances that I had delivered publicly in venues like the United Nations and had discussed privately, but I think it was important for them, at a time when there’s so much chaos in the region, for the GCC members to hear that the United States is committed, if they are subject to external attack or the threat of attack, to work with the GCC to deter such attacks and to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the GCC countries.

We also talked about the joint work that we have to do to counter violent extremism in a whole range of areas, from ending the financing of terrorist organizations to improving intelligence, to what kinds of capabilities — for example, maritime security or cybersecurity — that are needed. And some of these areas are ones where it’s better if we do them together in integrated fashion.

Aspen Cabin, Camp David: Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after GCC Summit

U.S. rushing new weapons to Iraq as Islamic State advances in Ramadi

McClatchy, By Mitchell Prothero, May 15

Irbil – The Islamic State on Friday took control of the provincial government center of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province, and appeared to be in control of most of the city in a major defeat for the Iraqi government.

Islamic State forces also appeared to be closing in on government positions in two other key locations in Anbar province, the towns of Baghdadi and Karmah, in a broad offensive that if successful would end the government presence in all of the province’s major population centers. The capture of Baghdadi also would cut the supply lines to the Iraqi garrison protecting the strategic Haditha Dam.

U.S. officials offered conflicting views of the events, with the State Department and the Pentagon at first downplaying the significance of what had taken place. But a later statement from the White House made clear that the situation was urgent and that the United States was rushing shipments of heavy weapons, ammunition and supplies to Iraq to deal with the Islamic State advance.

The new weapons shipments will include an unspecified number of shoulder-fired rockets especially useful in blasting car bombs, which the Islamic State used particularly effectively in its Ramadi offensive.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/05/15/266798/islamic-state-takes-ramadi-government.html#storylink=cpy

Senate Cuts Deal To Pass Obama’s Secretive Trade Bills

Huffington Post, By Jessica Schulberg & Michael McAuliff, May 13

Washington – Senate leaders reached a deal Wednesday to push ahead with votes on President Barack Obama’s trade deals.

The agreement came after Democrats blew up an earlier agreement Tuesday over fears that key measures they have sponsored would fail, or never get votes.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday afternoon that leaders had found a way around the impasse by agreeing to let Democrats have votes on key trade enforcement measures before holding votes on the fast-track authority that Obama needs to finish new massive trade deals with Pacific Rim countries and Europe.

“I think that we’ve come up with something that is fair,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Obama hails ‘extraordinary’ Saudi relations

Al Arabiya, May 14

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the “extraordinary friendship and relationship” Washington has with Riyadh after meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the White House after King Salman pulled out of the visit.

“The United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to [President] Franklin Roosevelt,” Obama said at the start of the meeting.

He added: “We are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.”

King Salman decided abruptly to skip the White House meeting and a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the president’s Camp David retreat in Maryland outside Washington on Thursday.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

The London Review of Books, By Seymour M. Hersh, May 21

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’
Read More

As hundreds of civilians killed, Saudis propose pause in Yemen fighting

CNN, By Hakim Almasmari, Jason Hanna & Josh Levs, May 7

Sana’a, YemenSaudi Arabia proposed a five-day ceasefire Thursday in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can be distributed.

The nation of more than 27 million people, to Saudi Arabia’s south, has been racked by war. A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes to assist the ousted, but still internationally recognized, Yemeni government in its fight against Houthi rebels.

“There will be a ceasefire everywhere (in Yemen) or nowhere,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday, sending the message to rebel leaders that violence anywhere in the country could end a ceasefire.

Houthi leadership will meet and discuss the proposal, two senior Houthi officials told CNN.

At a news conference in Riyadh with al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United Sates welcomes the proposal and that work is being done to determine the details. Kerry said he believes more would be announced Friday, when he and al-Jubeir are expected to be in Paris.

Asia Times Online: Rejoice with the ‘new’ House of Saud
Empire Burlesque: Murder’s Loophole: US Cluster Bombs Rain Mass Death on Yemen
Empire Burlesque: Sham and Shame: Saudi-US Slaughter in Yemen Shows Truth of Terror War
CounterPunch: Saudi Arabia’s Attack on Yemen
CTV: Saudi-led airstrikes batter rebel stronghold in Yemen
Gannett’s Military Times: Saudi intensifies bombing of Yemeni rebel stronghold



Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More

Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation

US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage — and did nothing to stop it.

Der Spiegel, By Maik Baumgärtner, Nikolaus Blome, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid, April 24

It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”

The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.

The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.

But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets.

The Germans noticed — in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.

Via Naked Capitalism: Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse

AP-GfK Poll: Most favor drone strikes, even on Americans

AP, By Emily Swanson & Ken Dilanian, May 1

Washington – Most Americans support using drones to target and kill members of terrorist groups overseas, and a large majority think it’s acceptable to target American citizens if they are members of terrorist organizations, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

But fewer think such strikes are acceptable if an innocent American might be killed.

The poll was conducted in the days after President Barack Obama publicly apologized for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that inadvertently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein and Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto. The strike also killed Ahmed Farouq, an American citizen who was an al-Qaida planning leader. Another strike killed Adam Gadhani, an American citizen who joined al-Qaida and became Osama Bin Laden’s spokesman.

Here are five things to know about Americans’ opinions on drone strikes:

Few Oppose Drone Strikes

Six in 10 Americans favor using drones to target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaida, while only 13 percent are opposed, according to the new AP-GfK poll. Another 24 percent say they don’t favor or oppose those strikes.

William Pfaff, Critic of American Foreign Policy, Dies at 86

New York Times, By Marlise Simons, May 1

Paris — William Pfaff, an international affairs columnist and author who was a prominent critic of American foreign policy, finding Washington’s intervention in world affairs often misguided, died on Thursday in a hospital here. He was 86.

His wife, Carolyn Pfaff, said the cause was a heart attack after a fall.

Mr. Pfaff, who moved to Paris in 1971, wrote a syndicated column that appeared for more than 25 years in The International Herald Tribune, now The International New York Times. He was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and other publications, the articles informed by his deep knowledge of history and philosophy.

Mr. Pfaff (pronounced FAFF) also wrote eight books, which further examined American statecraft as well as 20th-century Europe’s penchant for authoritarian utopianism. In “The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia,” published in 2004, he examined what drove European intellectuals to embrace communism, fascism and Nazism.

[…]

“What has occurred since 1945,” he wrote in its introduction, “has amounted to an American effort to control the consequences of the 20th-century crisis in Europe and the breakdown of imperial order in Asia, the Near and Middle East, and latterly in Africa while maintaining that supervisory role over the Americas first claimed by the United States in 1823” with the Monroe Doctrine.

New Pentagon cyber strategy to discuss nation’s offensive capabilities

The Baltimore Sun, By Ian Duncan, April 23

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter will lay out the military’s new strategy for fighting battles over computer networks Thursday, today, officials said, revealing what analysts say appears be a tougher, more offensive approach to cyber warfare.

It’s the first major update to the Pentagon’s cyber strategy in four years, a period during which American businesses have suffered major attacks, including the assault late last year on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The document, to be unveiled as Carter delivers a speech at Stanford University, includes descriptions of ways the military can use computers in all stages of a conflict, according to a summary provided by defense officials Wednesday — a sign that the department is opening up about its offensive capabilities.
Read More

Yemen crisis: US beefs up naval patrols as Iran convoy approaches

BBC, April 21

The US is sending an aircraft carrier to boost its patrols in the waters off Yemen, amid suspicions that an Iranian naval convoy in the area is carrying arms intended for Yemeni Houthi rebels.

The US has warned Iran against arming the rebels – but a US spokesman said the ships would not stop the convoy.

The US navy, which already has seven boats in the area, says its deployment aims to secure shipping lanes.

Meanwhile, BBC: Saudi Arabia’s new muscular foreign policy

But almost every conversation with Saudis about the Yemen military operation leads to a wider discussion about the region, the kingdom’s new role as the leader of a military coalition and in many cases, people’s desire to see this translate into action elsewhere.

At a bowling alley in Riyadh one evening, I met a young couple enjoying an evening out. The man was in the military so he would only give his name as Hamed. His eyes lit up when I asked him whether he supported the war.

“We support the king’s decision to go to war 100%, it’s long overdue. Hopefully, we will move to help Syria next, and bring down President Assad who has been causing so much death and destruction for his people,” he said.

Moon of Alabama: What Is The Purpose Of This U.S. Fleet Concentration Next To Iran?

CFR: The New Saudi Foreign Policy
Reuters: Yemen foes fight on despite declared end to Saudi strikes


The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Toward Absolutist Capitalism

Naked Capitalism, By Lambert Strether, April 20

There are many excellent arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two of which — local zoning over-rides, and loss of national sovereignty — I’ll briefly review as stepping stones to the main topic of the post: Absolutist Capitalism, for which I make two claims:

1) The TPP implies a form of absolute rule, a tyranny as James Madison would have understood the term, and

2) The TPP enshrines capitalization as a principle of jurisprudence.

Zoning over-rides and lost of national sovereignty may seem controversial to the political class, but these two last points may seem controversial even to NC readers. However, I hope to show both points follow easily from the arguments with which we are already familiar. Both flow from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, of which I will now give two examples. more

MoJo Explicator: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left

3bb1012ca7881a903f6bb688401857a5453d3be4