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Tuesday, February 20

Agrabah to install military base in Syria


When asked why Agrabah would want a base in Syria, the country's Defense Minister, Hussein Al-Booyah, replied, "To distribute humanitarian aid there, of course. Besides, everyone has set up a military base in Syria -- the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Lebanese, the Americans and if you count the Golan Heights as Syrian territory, the Israelis. We wouldn't want to feel left out at the next UN General Assembly meeting."

Asked if Syria's government had given permission to Agrabah to set up a base in the country, the minister responded that the Americans had at least six military bases in Syria and they hadn't asked for permission. 

"Nobody has permission except Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia.  It's the way things are, these days. Everyone tries to see how many bases they can set up in another country to liberate it from despotism, nepotism, terrorism and inadequate foreign direct investment."

As to how many troops and how much air power Agrabah is able to dedicate, the minister replied, "Fourteen of our crack special forces if they're not busy with the harvest, a helicopter and three mule trains. In fact, we're the first country to recognize the value of mules in the fight against international terrorism."

When asked if the base could adequately secure itself from attacks by terrorist groups in the country, Al-Booyah replied somewhat cryptically, "We owe the Saudis and Americans too much money to worry about that."

I might be able to throw a little light on the minister's remark as soon as I finish reading Voltaire Network's February 13 report The illusion of the eradication of Daesh for the third time so I am sure I understand it.

The fall of the Caliphate and the scattering of the jihadists of Daesh open a new phase for recycling these troops. Perceived, according to each case, either as fanatical combatants or common psychopaths hiding behind an ideology, they are being courted by the States and multinationals who once employed them indirectly.
For three years, the global anti-Daesh Coalition alternated ineffective bombing raids with the delivery of weapons to the jihadists, as the Iraqi Parliament revealed at length. It only played a decisive role during the battle for Mosul, when it attempted to exterminate the surviving jihadists by completely destroying the city. 
As near as I've been able to gather, one way for a foreign military to stay in a country forever is to arm and train insurgent terrorists with one hand and fight them with the other. Sort of a perpetual motion military budget bonanza.  

But to return to less abstract matters it looks as if the U.S. has added yet another base to its collection in Syria, although the flag in the FARS picture of the based could be photoshopped.  From FARS, February 19:

US Turns Prison in Northeastern Syria into Military Base

TEHRAN (FNA)- The US forces have turned Hasaka city's Central prison into a military base, media activists reported on Monday, adding that a US military helicopter has recently landed in prison area.

The prison is located in a high region between al-Layliyeh and Qariwan neighborhoods in the Central part of Hasaka city, they added.

In the meantime, the militant-affiliated Orient website reported that several US army officers were transferred to the Hasaka prison in a heliborne operation to pave the ground for changing the prison into a military base.

Other sources reported that the newly-made base has been reinvigorated and equipped in the last two months as its has been a main site for dispatching arms and ammunition to the Kurdish fighters in Deir Ezzur in Eastern Syria and Manbij in the Northern part of the country.

Local sources in Hasaka said on Saturday that the US helicopters conducted heliborne operations in the village of Tuwaimin, 50km Northeast of al-Shadadi, in Southern Hasaka.

The sources said that 4 militants, including an ISIL security commander, were evacuated from the region in the operations.

The area where the operation took place is still occupied by the terrorist group.

As long as Pundita is serving as an outlet for Syrian war news from Iran, which everyone knows is a pack of lies anyhow:
Northern Syria: Terrorists to Form New Militant Group in Coordination with Turkey
February 19, 2018
TEHRAN (FNA)- Ahrar al-Sham and Nouralddeen al-Zinki are set to merge into a new militant group in Northern Syria with Ankara's green light, field source reported on Monday.
The sources said that Ahrar al-Sham and Nouralddeen al-Zinki have agreed on merging their members and establishing a new group to be called Syria's Tahrir Front.
The sources added that Former Commander of Ahrar al-Sham Jaber Ali Pasha is to command Syria's Tahrir Front.
Also, the Arabic-language al-Watan daily quoted well-informed sources as saying that Ankara organized a meeting between the commanders of Ahrar al-Sham and Nouralddeen al-Zinki last month to persuade the two groups to merge their gunmen and form a Joint Operation Room and boost unity between the terrorists.
Al-Watan further added that Ankara's intention to create friendly relations among terrorists in Idlib is aimed at occupying the province.

Meantime, Hawar news quoted well-informed sources as disclosing on Friday that the Turkish government agreed to transfer the ISIL groups, deployed in Idlib, to the Turkish territory and later forward them to Jandaris region in Northwestern Aleppo.
Local sources in Jandaris have reported movement of black-wearing militants with ISIL flag.
The militant-affiliated sources had previously reported that hundreds of ISIL gunmen have joined other terrorist groups in Idlib.

See also this FARS report, filed today, which is related to the above one from yesterday. Doesn't look as if the new terrorist group is going to last:

Tahrir Al-Sham Gains Control over Rival Terrorists' Base in Northern Syria

TEHRAN (FNA)- Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) seized control of a positions of a newly-formed terrorist group named "Syria's Tahrir Front" in Western Aleppo amid intensified infighting among militants.

Field sources reported on Tuesday that just a few hours after the merger of Ahrar al-Sham and Nouralddeen al-Zinki terrorist groups in the form of Syria's Tahrir Front, Tahrir al-Sham militants attacked the newly-founded terrorist group's positions in Western Aleppo.

According to the sources, during the clashes, Tahrir al-Sham terrorists won control of the rival group's military base in al-Mohandesin 2 region along with a cache of weapons and ammunition.

Meantime, other members of Syria's Tahrir Front warned Tahrir al-Sham terrorists to withdraw from the base before they resort to any military action.

Also, reports said that members of Abu Omar Saraqib battalion terrorist group have defected Tahrir al-Sham and joined Syria's Tahrir Front.

Militant sources said on Sunday that Al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at or the Levant Liberation Board) has put its gunmen on alert for an imminent attack on a rival terrorist group after one of its senior commanders was assassinated in Western Aleppo.

The Al-Nusra has accused Nouralddeen al-Zinki terrorists of assassinating its field commander Abu Ayman al-Mesri in Western Aleppo, and issued a call to place all its forces on alert for an imminent attack on al-Zinki positions in the region, militant sources said.

In the meantime, the chief commander of Ahrar al-Sham warned the newly-appointed chief commander of Al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, to avoid any "stupid move or wait for a fall".


Have a nice day, CENTCOM!  


Monday, February 19

In the roots of Russiagate U.S. politics are not found. The highlights, in pictures.

The Key Incidents:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev, elected Russian President in 2008,  forge a surprisingly good working relationship

For the first time troops from NATO countries -- U.S., U.K., France (which had rejoined NATO just the year before) and Poland -- march in Red Square to celebrate Russia's WW2 Victory Day

Sitting together in the parade reviewing stand:President Medvedev, China's President Hu Jintao, Chancellor Merkel,and Vladimir Putin (in the office of Russia's Prime Minister) 

Despite Putin's great popularity in Russia, the largest street protests in the history of post-Soviet Russia 'spontaneously' break out across the country against the country's Duma (parliamentary) elections, with protestors claiming that Putin's political party rigged votes to pave the way for him to win the 2012 presidential election

Putin elected Russia's President with a majority of 63.64 percent. He dismisses his tears during the outdoor victory speech by saying they were caused by sharp winds

Chancellor Merkel and President Putin hit it off famously

Washington -- and London -- react

Leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine, photographed below with Belarus President, Alexandr Lukashenko, establish The Normandy Format to work out a resolution to the Ukraine Crisis. American and European Union officials are excluded from the negotiations

There are important ramifications to the incidents I've highlighted, which readers with a background in NATO/EU doings should know or be able to infer. But if you accept my outline of the real roots of Russiagate, it's clear American political contests played virtually no role in the storm that struck Europe. 

The storm was Merkel's ruling party and the Kremlin determined to establish an entirely new security order on the European continent, one with no need for NATO and American leadership, coupled with the reaction from many European quarters and NATO against any such new order. 

Was Donald Trump aware of the seismic change underway in Europe while he ran for the presidency and during his first year in office? I think it's likely he knew, at least as early as his candidacy, or at least was aware of the gist of the situation. 

Either way, I'd say President Trump's stumble was that he overlooked how Britain's defense establishment, including its intelligence agencies, would measure the impacts of Brexit against a seismic change led by the EU's most powerful member -- Germany. They feared Brexit would completely isolate the U.K. in a new European security order. And given how much they'd invested in a continued NATO and their 'special' relationship with Washington, a genuinely Russia-friendly American administration would have been intolerable to them and their strongest supporters in the British Parliament.

To put it bluntly, charges that Moscow meddled in the American 2016 president campaign are probably better directed at London. Thus, the growing rumors that Russiagate was a product of GCHQ, and probably using various East European and Russian 'cutouts' or frontmen.

Proving the rumors to be factual would be hard. But in this reading of the roots of Russiagate, the Hillary Clinton campaign and its paid anti-Trump operatives were nothing more than useful idiots, as the Russians describe people who can't see much farther than their noses. It would have been the same for any in the Obama Administration who  played along.


Sunday, February 4

Jerry Brown: California's rural-coastal cultural divide spans the U.S.

[California gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom] also is attempting to speak to the growing sense among the state’s more conservative rural voters that they are paying too much for services that primarily benefit those who live on the coast. That east-west divide largely has replaced the north-south rivalry that once shaped state politics.
In his final State of the State address on Jan. 25, [Governor Jerry Brown] said California is “prospering,” a nod to a growing economy that is the sixth-largest in the world.
But in an interview after the speech, Brown said that “does not mean all Californians are prospering,” and he made a distinction between the coastal “consulting class” and rural laborers whose “culture of working with their hands” is disappearing.
The state’s December unemployment figures tell the story: The rate in San Francisco County was 2.2 percent; in Imperial County, which borders Mexico and Arizona, the rate was nearly 18 percent.
“The state is more divided,” Brown said. “And it’s divided this way right across the country.”
Bridging the rural-coastal divide will be a difficult task for Newsom, who grew up in San Francisco’s Marina district with a divorced mother. He spent time with his father in rural Placer County — which stretches through California gold country, from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe — but his politics and well-tailored appearance are distinctly urban.
“There are often two different worlds in the same cities, not just the same state,” Newsom said. “There’s a cultural divide. And we’re not able to communicate on a level that is not seen as arrogant and dismissive. We need a new vernacular.”
From Think California politics is on the far-left fringe? Just wait for the next elections; Scott Wilson, February 3, The Washington Post.

Also, listen to the John Batchelor Show's latest "Pacific Watch" report with Jeff Bliss "Homeless & Abandoned in San Pedro." Podcast - February 2. 

And while the situation discussed in Nomadland isn't specific to California it's worth mentioning here because it will be happening to more Americans in the rural part of California -- and America's -- divide. 

The book is a report on older Americans who make too little income to afford housing in either the rural or coastal divides and live a nomadic existence in search of low-paying work. Marketwatch has reprinted Next Avenue's interview with Nomadland's author and I think it's a 'must read.'  Here's the introduction to the interview:
In her powerful new book, “Nomadland,” award-winning journalist Jessica Bruder reveals the dark, depressing and sometimes physically painful life of a tribe of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are — as the subtitle says — “surviving America in the twenty-first century.” Not quite homeless, they are “houseless,” living in secondhand RVs, trailers and vans and driving from one location to another to pick up seasonal low-wage jobs, if they can get them, with little or no benefits.
The “workamper” jobs range from helping harvest sugar beets to flipping burgers at baseball spring training games to Amazon’s ... CamperForce,” seasonal employees who can walk the equivalent of 15 miles a day during Christmas season pulling items off warehouse shelves and then returning to frigid campgrounds at night. Living on less than $1,000 a month, in certain cases, some have no hot showers.
As Bruder writes, these are “people who never imagined being nomads.” Many saw their savings wiped out during the Great Recession or were foreclosure victims and, writes Bruder, “felt they’d spent too long losing a rigged game.” Some were laid off from high-paying professional jobs. Few have chosen this life. Few think they can find a way out of it. They’re downwardly mobile older Americans in mobile homes.
During her three years doing research for the book, conducting hundreds of interviews and traversing 15,000 miles, Bruder even tried living the difficult nomad life; she lasted one workweek. I recently interviewed Bruder to learn more about the lives in Nomadland and what the future holds for these people:

Laptop Bombardiers: "the moral ADD afflicting America's pundit class"

"But this would only be fair if the conflict weren’t partly funded and armed by the United States and its allies in the first place. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have actively armed, funded, and fueled the opposition for years. One Washington Post report puts the total CIA spending on anti-Assad forces at $1 billion a year—or one in every 15 dollars of the CIA’s official budget. This inconvenient fact is tossed into the memory hole in favor of a simplistic fable of Rwanda-like indifference."

Pundits, Decrying the Horrors of War in Aleppo, Demand Expanded War
By Adam H. Johnson
SEPTEMBER 12-19, 2016, ISSUE 
The Nation

As with Iraq and Libya, these laptop bombardiers offer no clear plan for how to actually end the suffering of the Syrian people.

The devastating photo of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in an ambulance after his home was bombed in Syrian or Russian air strikes has amped up calls for direct US military intervention against the Syrian government. The now-viral photo of Omran—and the broader siege of east Aleppo—was prominently featured in most major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and several other publications. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all ran stories on the photo, and editorial boards and pundits weighed in as well, with several insisting that President Obama must “do something” to stop the suffering of the Syrian people.

According to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, State Department officials “sent a cable to Obama, urging stronger military action against Syrian government forces. They suggested that could include cruise missiles and ‘targeted airstrikes.’ That’s what we mean by leverage, of a sort Putin would comprehend.”

In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote (in response to the siege of Aleppo, but before the photo went viral): “Many experts recommend trying to ground Syria’s Air Force so it can no longer drop barrel bombs on hospitals and civilians. One oft-heard idea is to fire missiles from outside Syria to crater military runways to make them unusable.”

And on Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough proclaimed: “Inaction by the United States and the West and the world is not only responsible for this [holding up the Omran image] and 500,000 deaths, it’s responsible for those images of those Syrian refugees, the little boy we saw washed up on the beach…. The world will look back. Save your hand-wringing…you can still do something right now. But nothing’s been done.”

So what do these outraged observers want “us” to do to ameliorate Syrian suffering? For prominent pundits and leading editorial boards, the answer is usually bombing the Syrian government. More often than not, they use humanitarian euphemisms like “safe zones” or “no-fly zones.”

Rarely mentioned is the fact that establishing these zones would require US bombing of Syria’s air capacity, including infrastructure, planes, buildings, possibly troops. That would, in effect, be a declaration of war. How Russia would respond is anyone’s guess, but it would certainly heighten tensions between Washington and Syria’s longtime ally (which also happens to have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal).

One 2012 Pentagon estimate found that enforcing a no-fly zone would involve at least “70,000 American servicemen”; another estimate insisted such an effort would involve “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers.” These messy details are hardly ever mentioned when the do-something crowd calls for “action” in Syria.

The pundits also omit the rather glaring fact that the United States and its allies have done quite a bit already. Those pushing for bombing repeatedly assert that Washington sat “idly by”; while they sometimes concede that the Libya intervention was bad, they still insist that “doing nothing” in Syria has been far worse. The overall assumption is that US-led airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government would have been preferable to the long-drawn-out conflict that has taken place.

But this would only be fair if the conflict weren’t partly funded and armed by the United States and its allies in the first place. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have actively armed, funded, and fueled the opposition for years. One Washington Post report puts the total CIA spending on anti-Assad forces at $1 billion a year—or one in every 15 dollars of the CIA’s official budget. This inconvenient fact is tossed into the memory hole in favor of a simplistic fable of Rwanda-like indifference.

Even if they could make the case that Obama has, in some rhetorical sense, “done nothing” by not doing enough, the pundit hawks still have their work cut out for them. The pro-intervention pundits now widely accept that Washington neglected to plan for the aftermath in Iraq and Libya (President Obama even called the latter case his “worst mistake”). 

Yet almost no one calling for a ramped-up war in Syria has offered a clear indication of what it would entail. What are the risks? What is the endgame? Is there a realistic alternative to jihadi extremists seizing power, or—perhaps even worse—continued brutal warfare between rival militias after Assad is gone? We should be wary of pundits who use the horrors of Aleppo to rush Washington into bombing, just as they did with Iraq’s alleged WMDs and Gadhafi’s hypothetical massacres.

This is part of the broader problem of moral ADD afflicting our pundit class—jumping from one outrage in urgent need of US bombs to the next, without much follow-through. Kristof, for example, was just as passionate about NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, writing several op-eds that called for bombing in equally moralistic terms. Yet as Libya descended into chaos, the country faded into the background for him. His last post on the subject? September 2011. The plight of Libyans was urgent for the Times columnist when it involved selling war to weary liberals, but once the smoke cleared, his bleeding heart dried up and he moved on to the next cause.

Will Kristof and other pundits do the same with the Syrian people in the event that Assad’s government collapses after sustained US bombing? Given their track record and the lack of serious discussion about what “doing something” entails, this is the most important question—and one that few are bothering to address.

Adam H. Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org.


Saturday, February 3

If you don't have evidence, Sec. Mattis, why not keep your mouth shut?

Politico, February 2:
The Syrian regime should think carefully before using chemical weapons again, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Friday, in an apparent reference to last year’s U.S. military strike on a regime airfield in retaliation for a previous chemical attack.
“You’ve all seen how we reacted to that,” Mattis said, adding that the Syrian regime “would be ill-advised” to launch more chemical attacks, as some recent reports from inside the country suggest. 
Mattis acknowledged those reports and said the Pentagon was looking for evidence to confirm them. “Groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters have said" that the regime has used sarin gas in recent attacks, he said, but “we do not have evidence.”
The regime appears to have weaponized chlorine again, Mattis said, but “we are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use.” ... 
Yes we did see how the U.S. regime reacted to stories from al-Qaeda-linked sources -- or was it IS sources, I can't remember -- alleging that the Syrian Army used a chemical weapon last year. Why the army would have used such a weapon then, and why now, is a question only low-information Americans would seriously consider. 

Assad's government has had every reason to refrain from the use of chemical weapons and this remains as true now as it was in 2017. For years now, hardly a week has passed without news of a peace deal between Syria's government and insurgents -- the genuine insurgents, that is, not mercenaries for foreign regimes. Just today FARS reported:
Militants in More Regions Endorse Peace Agreement with Syrian Army
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Russian Defense Ministry announced in its latest report on Saturday that militants in more regions have laid down weapons and ended fighting against the Syrian Army.
The ministry said that representatives of militants in more regions endorsed the nationwide reconciliation plan and ended battle against the army, adding that the total number of villages, towns and regions that have thus far joined the peace agreement with the army stands at 2,344.
It added that peace talks are underway between Damascus and militants in Aleppo, Idlib, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Quneitra provinces.
Local officials reported last month that 350 militants that had laid down arms and accepted the terms of the government for amnesty were pardoned in Southwestern Damascus.
The sources said that the army has granted amnesty to 350 gunmen that had handed over their weapons to the army men and joined peace in Beit Jinn region in Southwestern Damascus.
The sources added that they gunmen returned to normal life in the Northeastern province, adding that laying down arms and delivering them to the Syrian army is underway in the region. [END REPORT]
This kind of situation happens so often it's hardly news anymore, and of course the reconciliations are rarely mentioned in the U.S. press -- and then usually accompanied by claims that the hapless pardoned militants are dragooned into the Syrian military.

A more interesting question is how James Mattis, a worthy general, came to be a puppet for the fiends trying to wrest control of Syria. Last year Mattis should have told President Trump to go to hell if he wanted to bomb a Syrian military installation on the basis of an obvious false-flag operation.


America's New Cold War is run by the Office Co-workers from Hell

The first and irredeemable mistake is asking the co-worker, 'How was your weekend?' Soon one is enduring daily accounts of the co-worker's complicated personal life. The second mistake is pretending interest. The third mistake -- made only by the naive -- is offering the co-worker advice. 

According to a description by Philip Giraldi I don't think Browder would dispute, William Browder is a "hedge fund operator who made his fortune in the corrupt 1990s world of Russian commodities trading."

That one sentence should explain everything about William Browder that a person who doesn't want to be driven crazy by complicated people would want to know about him. 

But then comes the hook. Giraldi continues:
Browder is also symptomatic of why the United States government is so poorly informed about international developments as he is the source of much of the Congressional “expert testimony” contributing to the current impasse [between Russia and the United States]. He has somehow emerged as a trusted source in spite of the fact that he has self-interest in cultivating a certain outcome. Also ignored is his renunciation of American citizenship in 1998, reportedly to avoid taxes. He is now a British citizen.
Well of course any American would be interested in learning how a British hedge fund operator became a trusted source for U.S. congressional committees engaged with U.S. defense policy.

That's how I ended up at the Business Insider reading these sentences:
A fierce but muted battle erupted last year between Bill Browder, a banker turned human-rights activist, and Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm that produced the explosive, unverified dossier that detailed President Donald Trump's alleged ties to — and escapades in — Russia.
That battle escalated on Tuesday when the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, unilaterally released the transcript of an interview the committee conducted last August with Glenn Simpson, a Fusion cofounder.
In the interview, Simpson said his work for the American law firm BakerHostetler — which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company the US government accused of laundering money into New York City real estate — was focused "on trying to get William Browder to testify under oath about his role in this case and his activities in Russia."
As to how Mr Browder went from hedge fund operator to banker and human rights activist is a complicated story from what I've been able to gather. Just as the Fusion GPS story is complicated. 

Indeed, the more I delve into the story of the New Cold War, the more I come across complicated people with very complicated motives and associations.

However, I have yet to find one account in which any of these complicated people jockeying for influence in the U.S. government held a gun to the head of a Member of Congress. That simple fact towers above every tale of America's New Cold War and its parade of complicated people engaged in complicated maneuvers. Every single congressional committee engaged with U.S. defense matters is entangled with people who are too damn complicated for America's good.     


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